What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Thurber and Cahoon placed a new advertisement in the October 8, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. The partners promoted a “new and general Assortment of English and India GOODS, Imported in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” They listed some of that merchandise in a two short paragraphs, one for textiles and trimmings and the other for hardware. They also informed prospective customers about the location of their store at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES,” across the street from their houses in “the North End of Providence.”
Yet not all of the contents of their advertisement provided information intended for readers and consumers. The final line included a notation in brackets – “[48—6W.]” – intended to aid the compositor when laying out the pages of subsequent issues. The printers also likely referred to that notation in the course of their own bookkeeping. The “48” revealed that the advertisement first appeared in issue number 248. The “6W” presumably indicated that it was supposed to run for six weeks before being discontinued.
Several other advertisements concluded with issue numbers that corresponded with when they first appeared in the Providence Gazette. John White’s advertisement for candles and soap, for instance, listed “(46)” on the final line. Similarly, prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell inserted a notice about their “neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that also stated its initial issue number, “(47).” None of those advertisements, however, included any indication of their intended duration, but “6W” did apparently mean six weeks. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement ran in the next five issues, appearing for the last time in the November 12 edition. It moved from column to column and page to page, but the notation apparently served its purpose in reminding the compositor when to remove the advertisement.
The Providence Gazette was not the only newspaper that inserted such notations into advertisements in the colonial era. Throughout the colonies compositors and printers used this device to facilitate operating their publications. Readers may have taken note and decoded the notations on their own, but they were not the primary audience for those portions of the advertisements.