June 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 18, 1773).

“(6 w.)”

In the spring and summer of 1773, George Deblois ran an advertisement to inform readers of the New-Hampshire Gazettethat he stocked a ‘GENERAL ASSORTMENT of English, India and Hard Ware GOODS” at his shop in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers of the era, he listed a variety of items in an effort to demonstrate the array of choices he made available to consumers.  One element of his advertisement, however, was not intended for prospective customers.  A notation, “(6 w.),” on the final line provided the compositor and others working in the printing office information about how long Deblois’s advertisement should appear in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The merchants made arrangements for it to run for six weeks.

Curiously, the advertisement did not appear in six consecutive issues.  Dated May 5, it first ran in the May 14 edition.  It then appeared in the next two issues on May 21 and May 28, but did not run on June 4 and June 11.  The newspaper revived the advertisement for another three consecutive issues, June 18, June 25, and July 2, before discontinuing it following the sixth insertion.  One the type had been set, the compositor could include the advertisement (or not) and move it around within each edition.  An error, “the SIGN of the GOLNEN EAGLE,” remained consistent throughout the run of the advertisement.

The publication history of this advertisement raises questions about the business of advertising and communications between advertisers and printing offices.  Did Deblois intend for his advertisement to appear in six consecutive issues?  Or did he send instructions to Daniel Fowle, the printer of the New-Hampshire Gazette, that he wished for it to run six times over the course of a couple of months but not necessarily for six consecutive weeks?  Did Deblois consult the New-Hampshire Gazette each week to confirm whether his advertisement appeared?  If so, did he note the error in the name of his shop sign?  How accommodating would the printing office have been to fixing such an error at the request of an advertiser, especially one who placed such a lengthy advertisement for so many weeks?  What kind of bookkeeping system did the Fowle and others in the printing office use to keep track of how many times each advertisement appeared?  What kind of system, such as entering that information into a ledger or adding it to a running list of recent advertisements, became part of the weekly ritual of publishing the New-Hampshire Gazette?  When it came to adding and removing advertisements, what kind of coordination among the printer and other workers occurred within the printing office? Surviving primary sources may provide partial answers to some of these questions, but other aspects of the day-to-day operations of colonial printing offices, especially the business of advertising, may never have definitive answers.

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