September 23

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Sep 23 - 9:23:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 23, 1769).

“A DILIGENT Journeyman PRINTER.”

After he became sole proprietor of the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s, John Carter concluded every issue with a colophon that he ran the “PRINTING-OFFICE, [at] the Sign of Shakespear’s Head… where all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed.”  Carter did not operate the printing office alone, as a notice in the September 23, 1769, edition makes clear.  “A DILIGENT Journeyman PRINTER,” Carter announced, “to work both at Case and Press, will meet with constant Employ, and good Wages.”  The colophon indicated other qualities that Carter sought in a new employee; the journeyman had to do his work “in a neat and correct Manner, with Fidelity and Expedition” in order to maintain the reputations of both the printing office and Carter himself.

In asserting that he sought a journeyman printer “to work both at Case and Press,” Carter offered a job description of sorts.  Candidates needed to possess several skills, including knowledge of how to operate a manual press as well as how to set type from individual pieces stored in the case. (Capital letters were typically stored in a case above the one that housed smaller letters; hence the terms uppercase and lowercase to describe them.)  The advertisement itself suggested some at the skills the journeyman printer would need as a compositor.  It interspersed uppercase and lowercase type, some in italics, of various sizes.  It had a “neat and correct” appearance, even though set in mirror image on the compositing stick. That meant that compositors had to be especially careful when setting type since some letters looked like the mirror image of another letter, as was the case for the letter “p” and the letter “q.” (This gave rise to the maxim that instructs, “Mind your Ps and Qs.”  The lowercase versions of these letters could be easily confused, especially when setting type quickly.)  Beyond the employment notice and the colophon, the rest of the issue also testified to the skills a journeyman printer should possess before contacting Carter about the position.  Only those who could set type “in a neat and correct Manner” and operate a manual press “with Fidelity and Expedition” need apply!

Leave a Reply