What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, used the colophon to promote the various goods and services available “at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head.” He advised the community that he accepted “Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper and performed “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK.” In addition to job printing, Carter also produced a variety of blanks or printed forms for commercial and legal purposes, from “Bills of Lading” and “Policies of Insurance” to “Long and short Powers of Attorney” and “Summonses for the Superior and Inferior Courts.” Carter did not, however, mention blanks in the colophon; instead, he regularly ran advertisements about them.
Consider the extant issues of the Providence Gazette for 1770. The America’s Historical Newspapers database includes fifty-one of the fifty-two issues published on Saturdays that year. (It includes the supplement, but not the standard issue, for February 10.) Advertisements for blanks appeared in thirty-two of those issues, nearly two out of three published that year. This suggests that Carter considered blanks an important supplement to the revenue he earned from subscriptions, advertising, and job printing. Those advertisements took three forms. A short version consisted of only two lines that informed readers “BLANKS of all Kinds Sold by the Printer hereof.” It ran fifteen times. A variation ran twice more. It added two lines promoting “A fresh Parcel of DEEDS, printed on beautiful Paper.” A lengthier advertisement listed a dozen blanks for use in Rhode Island as well as “various Kinds of Blanks for the Colony of CONNECTICUT.” Carter served a regional market. That advertisement ran fifteen times.
In addition to increasing revenues, these advertisements had another purpose. They operated as filler in the sense that they completed the columns and the pages of the Providence Gazette, often appearing at the bottom of a column. The compositor chose the advertisement of the appropriate length to fill the space. While that use of these advertisements should not be overlooked, it also should not be exaggerated. The issues of the Providence Gazette that did not include any version of the advertisement for blanks tended to feature advertisements for almanacs, pamphlets, and books sold at the printing office. Carter reserved space in his newspaper for advertisements about his own merchandise, highlighting new publications when they came off the press but reverting to notices about blanks on other occasions.
 February 3, 17, 24; March 3; July 28; August 4, 18; September 1, 22; October 20, 27; November 3, 24; December 1, 8.
 November 10, 17.
 March 17, 24; April 14, 21, 28; May 12, 19, 26; June 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; July 7, 14.