What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be Sold … by the several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.”
John Carter continued to advertise the New-England Almanack for 1770 in the November 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. A week earlier he launched his advertising campaign with a full-page advertisement, but he did not continue to give over as much space in subsequent issues of his newspaper. Instead, he condensed the advertisement, filling approximately three-quarters of a column. This made room for other content, especially paid notices that accounted for an important source of revenue for any newspaper printer.
Although the new version of the advertisement filled less space in the Providence Gazette, Carter still managed to insert almost everything than ran in the original. The new version left out only a note to retailers that had appeared at the end: “A considerable Allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” It also featured a slight revision to the list of sellers, which originally stated that the almanac was sold “At SHAKESPEAR’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE, and by the AUTHOR.” The new advertisement made a nod to the popularity of the almanac and the distribution network that Carter devised. Prospective customers could purchase it at the printing office, from the author, of from any of “several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.” Otherwise, the text of the advertisement did not change from one version to the next.
The addition of merchants and shopkeepers in Newport reveals two important aspects of early American print culture. First, it speaks to the distribution of the Providence Gazette beyond the city where it was printed. Carter expected that colonists who resided in Newport as well as those who lived closer to Newport than Providence would see the advertisement in the Providence Gazette and then obtain copies of the almanac from retailers in Newport.
Second, this strengthens the case that the original full-page advertisement also doubled as a broadside (or poster) that Carter displayed in his shop and posted around town. Business ledgers from eighteenth-century printing offices include records of apprentices hanging posters. (See, for instance, Robert Aitken’s ledger at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Carter could have had boys from his shop post broadsides around Providence without incurring additional expenses or having to give complicated instructions. Making arrangements to have posters hung in Newport, on the other hand, would have been much more complicated and expensive. Thus the Newport merchants and shopkeepers were absent from the full-page advertisement that probably doubled as a broadside but did appear in a subsequent iteration that occupied less space in the newspaper and did not circulate separately. Carter altered the advertisement slightly, likely out of consideration that the two formats had different methods of distribution to prospective customers.