February 6

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

Providence Gazette (February 6, 1773).

Advertisements omitted will be in our next.”

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, did not publish many advertisements in the February 6, 1773, edition of his newspaper, despite usually reserving a page or more for that kind of content.  The third page featured six brief advertisements that accounted for less than half a column and a longer notice about the benefits of “building a Bridge, across Seaconk River, between the Towns of Providence and Rehoboth.”  Having published many advertisements for his own projects, including the New-England Almanack for 1773 and subscription proposals for English Liberties, or, The Free-born Subject’s Inheritance, in recent issues, the printer did not include any of his own notices among the half dozen that made it into the February 6 edition.  He likely did not want to upset paying customers by giving space to his own advertisements over those they paid him to publish.  A short note appeared after those advertisements that did appear: “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.”  Carter alerted readers to additional content while also assuring advertisers that the newspaper would indeed disseminate their notices in the near future.

The note about the advertisements was one of several that gave directions and helped readers navigate that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Carter devoted most of the issue to a response to a speech that Thomas Hutchinson, governor of Massachusetts, recently delivered.  That response occupied the entire first page.  A note at the bottom of the third column instructed readers to “[See the Fourth Page.]”  The response filled most of that page.  Carter inserted another response, the one that spurred Isaiah Thomas to publish an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Spy on January 29, midway through the third column.  At the bottom, another note directed readers to “[See the Second Page.]”  That response filled the entire second page and continued onto the third page, but readers did not need additional directions to follow the flow.  That item did not conclude on the third page.  Instead, Carter inserted a note, “[The Remainder in our next.],” and provided brief news updates from New York, Newport, and Providence as well as the public service announcement about the proposed bridge and the six brief advertisements.  Carter provided a substantial amount of news from Massachusetts, but also created a cliffhanger to encourage readers to peruse the next issue.

What explained the strange format and all the jumping from page to page required to make sense of the content in that edition of the Providence Gazette?  Carter, like other printers, published a newspaper that consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Printers usually set the type and printed the first and fourth pages on one side, let the ink dry while they set the type for the second and third pages, and then printed those last two pages.  That process explains why the news began on the first page, continued on fourth page, moved back to the second page, and continued once again on the third page.  It also explains why so many notes giving directions to readers appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette.

Although printers depended on advertising revenue to make newspapers viable, they sometimes opted to temporarily delay publication of some notices.  Such was the case when Carter received news that he considered important enough to displace most advertisements for a week.  Patriots in Massachusetts making their case in favor of the liberties of colonizers in opposition to the abuses of Parliament, Carter concluded, justified delaying publication of some advertisements by a week.

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