March 21

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

Mar 21 - 3:21:1768 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 21, 1768).

“(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)”

Compared to newspapers published in most other towns and cities, Hartford’s Connecticut Courant featured relatively little advertising. The March 21, 1768, edition devoted even less space to advertisements than usual, presumably because the printer, Thomas Green, opted to insert “Letter X” of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” in its entirety. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, a short notice from the “Treasury-Office” immediately below the masthead as the first item in the first column on the first page and four others that comprised less than a column on the third page.

Samuel Gilbert’s notice concerning “A good, convenient Dwelling-House and Garden” for sale or rent was the last of those advertisements. “Letter X” filled the remainder of the issue, but Green first inserted an announcement at the conclusion of Gilbert’s advertisement: “(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)” These directions suggest that Green did indeed have other paid notices to disseminate to the public, but the copy of the Connecticut Courant photographed and digitized by Readex for its America’s Historical Newspapers database does not include a supplement. The database does include, however, a nearly complete run of that newspaper for 1768, lacking only two of the issues printed on each Monday of the year. (Gaps in the issue numbers make it clear that two are indeed missing.) Readex reproduced supplements to other issues when they were among the collections of the libraries and archives that partnered with the company in making these historical sources more widely available and accessible. That the database does not include the supplement for the March 21, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Courant suggests that no extant copy had been located. This is disappointing but hardly surprising. We are fortunate to have an almost complete archive of the Connecticut Courant, a situation that demonstrates that newspapers were less ephemeral than other printed media that disseminated advertising in eighteenth-century America. The traces of other forms of advertising, including broadsides and catalogs, mentioned in early American newspapers, printers’ ledgers, and other sources indicate that our collections of newspapers and their advertisements will always be much more complete than our collections of other advertising media from the period.

An ephemeral advertising supplement that disappeared over time, however, might not be the only explanation. Alternately, Green may have gotten ahead of himself when he advised readers to consult the supplement for other advertisements. The printer may have intended to publish and distribute an additional half sheet, a common practice for other newspapers but less common for the Connecticut Courant, but ultimately ran out of time or determined that he did not have sufficient advertising content to merit the expenditure of resources. Green may have announced a supplement that has not survived to the twenty-first century because it never actually existed in the eighteenth century. Our archive of the Connecticut Courant may be more complete than the evidence from the period otherwise suggests. The announcement concerning an advertising supplement may testify to the aspirations of the printer rather than the work he accomplished.

March 20

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

Mar 20 - 3:17:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (March 17, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted in it for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.”

Alexander Purdie and John Dixon published the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1768. William Rind also published the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1768, though it was not the same newspaper despite bearing the same name. The printers competed for subscribers, readers, and advertisers as well as customers for job printing. Most eighteenth-century printers did not regularly list their rates for subscriptions or advertisements in their newspapers, but Purdie and Dixon did so in the colophon of their Virginia Gazette, as did Rind in the colophon of his Virginia Gazette.

Not surprisingly, the competitors set the same rates. An annual subscription cost 12 shillings and 6 pence. Advertisements were much more lucrative for printers. Purdie and Dixon specified that colonists could have “ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted … for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.” Rind named the same prices, though he also offered a further clarification: “long ones in Proportion.” Among eighteenth-century printers who did publish their advertising rates that was a standard practice. Purdie and Dixon most likely adopted the same practice even if they did not underscore it in the colophon of their Virginia Gazette. What qualified as an advertisement “of a moderate Length” likely depended on negotiations between printer and advertiser. Neither Purdie and Dixon nor Rind indicated whether they defined length by the number of words or the amount of space on the page or both. Although the two would have been roughly proportional, inserting woodcuts or deploying several lines of type set in larger font did occupy more space.

These rates reveal that advertising could generate significant revenues that contributed to making it possible for printers to publish their newspapers and disseminate news and other content, including editorial pieces like the tenth missive in the “LETTERS From a FARMER in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British colonies” that appeared in both Virginia Gazettes on March 17, 1768. In “Letter X,” John Dickinson warned about the progression of tyranny that colonists could expect if the current abuses by Parliament were not challenged but instead became precedent for future governance from the other side of the Atlantic.

At 12 pence per shilling, a subscription to either Virginia Gazette cost 150 pence total, just under 3 pence per issue. An advertisement, however, cost twelve times as much, three shillings, just for its first insertion. This model, advertising funding the distribution of other content, continued into the nineteenth century and beyond with the introduction of new media made possible by advancing technologies. Although we take this system for granted today and even lament the intrusion of advertising into practically every aspect of daily life, colonists depended on advertising for its role in delivering the news at a crucial point in American history. Advertising provided an important alternate revenue stream for printers, helping them to spread news and editorial content during the imperial crisis that eventually resulted in the American Revolution.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 19, 1768).

“Their assortment is very large.”

In their efforts to convince prospective customers of the many choices available at their shop at “the Sign of the GOLDEN EAGLE,” Joseph Russell and William Russell placed an advertisement exceptional for its length in the March 19, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Unlike most advertisements in colonial newspapers, their list of goods extended more than a column, dominating the third page of the issue. In it, the Russells named everything from “Beautiful black figured sattin” to “Paper hangings for rooms” to “Pewter dishes and plates” to “The best Scotch snuff.” In effect, they presented a catalog of their merchandise to the public.

Yet the Russells did not merely list their extensive inventory. They also provided descriptions that further developed their marketing strategy. For instance, rather than listing “Irish linens” they instead proclaimed that they stocked “A Large and neat assortment of Irish Linens, of all widths and prices.” They emphasized variety for other types of goods as well, including “A neat and genteel assortment of dark ground calicoes and chintz,” “a neat assortment of brass candlesticks,” “A large assortment of saddlers ware, Compleat assortment of shoemakers tools, A large assortment of files,” “A beautiful assortment of china cups and saucers,” and “A variety of new fashioned stuffs.”

In addition, the Russells promoted the selection of colors available for many of their textiles and adornments, such as “Single and double damask of all colours,” “Sewing silk of all colours, Silk knee straps of all colours,” and “German serges of all colours.” For other items they emphasized variations in price, including “Black Barcelona handkerchiefs of all prices,” “Shaloons, tammies and durants, of all prices,” “Mens common worsted [silk hose] of al prices,” and “Ivory and horn combs of all prices.” They combined those appeals when describing “Broadcloths of all colours and prices,” encouraging potential customers to imagine all the possible varieties.

When it came to housewares and tools, the Russells highlighted variations in sizes and types, suggesting consumers could find items that fit their tastes, needs, and desires. These included “Brass kettles of all sizes,” “Snuff boxes of all sorts,” “Looking glasses of all sizes,” “Blankets of all widths,” “Gimblets of all sizes,” “Brads and tacks of all sorts,” and “Hinges, locks and latches of all sorts and sizes.” They provided even more detail about “THE very best hemp cordage, of all sizes, from a ratline to a 4 and an half inch rope.”

In their brief remarks that followed this list of goods the Russells even more explicitly made an appeal to consumer choice: “As their assortment is very large, customers will have the advantage of a fine choice.” In so doing, they confirmed the strategies they had adopted concerning the space the advertisement occupied on the page and the reiteration of words that emphasized a wide selection of goods throughout the notice.

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 18, 1768).

“A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed, to be sold by Richard Woodhull, in New-Haven.”

Richard Woodhull’s advertisement for “A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed” benefited from its fairly unique yet conspicuous placement in the March 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Unlike some printers who reserved certain pages for news items and other pages for advertisements, brothers Thomas Green and Samuel Green distributed news and advertising throughout the entire issue, though only news and the masthead appeared on the first page. The second, third, and fourth pages all featured both news and paid notices, with news first and advertising filling in the remainder of the page. In other words, readers encountered news and then advertising when they perused the page from left to right. On the second and fourth pages, advertisements comprised nearly the entire final column. On the third page, however, a single paid notice appeared at the bottom of the last column …

… except for Woodhull’s advertisement, a short announcement printed on the far right of the page. The type had been rotated to run perpendicular to the rest of the text, replicating a strategy sometimes deployed by printers and compositors in other colonial newspapers. In this instance, however, the execution was rather clumsy in comparison. The text of Woodhull’s advertisement was positioned flush against the contents of the third column rather than set slightly to the right with at least a narrow strip of white space separating them. Unfortunately, examining a digital surrogate does not allow for any assessment of whether this was done out of necessity to fit the size of the sheet or if the Greens had sufficient margins that they could have moved Woodhull’s advertisement to the right and away from the third column. The March 18 edition was only issue “No. 22” of the Connecticut Journal. Given that the Greens had been publishing the newspaper for less than six months, they still may have been experimenting to determine their preferred format when it came to graphic design and visual aspects.

Alternately, the Greens may have resorted to squeezing Woodhull’s advertisement on the third page because they neglected to insert it when they set the type for the columns. The same advertisement appeared in the March 11 edition (in what appears to be the same size font, though working with a digital surrogate makes it impossible to definitively state that was the case), but in four lines in a column with other advertisements. The spacing between words seems to be replicated in the perpendicular insertion the following week, suggesting that the Greens at some point took four lines of type that had already been set and positioned them side by side to make a single line. A new version of the advertisement, completely reset and extending only three lines, appeared in a regular column in the March 25 issue. Yet another version, again completely reset but this time in only two lines, was inserted as the final item the last column in the April 1 issue before the advertisement was discontinued in subsequent issues.

Woodhull may have requested these variations as a means of drawing attention to his advertisements, but it seems more likely that they resulted from the Greens working through their practices for the publication process for what was a relatively new endeavor. Although Thomas had more than a decade of experience as a printer, setting up shop with his brother Samuel was a new enterprise. The two may have been working out a system for operating their business and organizing tasks. Whatever the reason for the awkward insertion of Woodhull’s advertisement, it had the effect of making his notice difficult to overlook. Casual observers could not help but notice the strange line of text, in larger font, set perpendicular to the rest when they glanced at the page. Those who actively read the news from Boston or the shipping news from New Haven’s Custom House could not have missed Woodhull’s advertisement. Whether done intentionally or not, the unusual typography made Woodhull’s advertisement more visible to potential customers.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 17, 1768).


Although he ran a shop in Lancaster, Henry Stuber sought local customers by placing advertisements for his “FRESH and universal supply of DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the Pennsylvania Gazette, printed in Philadelphia more than fifty miles to the east. His advertisements demonstrate the reach of colonial newspapers in an era before most towns had printing presses and local newspapers. Lancaster did not have its own newspaper in 1768. Instead, English-speaking residents treated those printed in Philadelphia – the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal – as their local newspapers, while others who spoke German read the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote printed in Germantown, just outside of Philadelphia. As the titles of the English-language newspapers suggest, they served the entire colony of Pennsylvania – and beyond. Colonists in Delaware and portions of New Jersey and Maryland also considered these regional newspapers to be their local publications, reading them and inserting advertisements in them.

Stuber relied on the extensive geographic distribution of the Pennsylvania Gazette when he composed his advertisement. Realizing that he would probably not attract many customers from the busy port where residents had access to many apothecary shops, he instead targeted customers who lived in the hinterlands. In particular, he addressed “Doctors in the country” who were likely to purchase in volume, informing them that it “will be much easier to get [medicines] from Lancaster” than from Philadelphia. He also promoted his wares to “families who live at a distance from a Doctor” in towns and villages throughout the colony. He supplied “medicine boxes, with ample directions” so they could tend to their own minor ailments as necessary. In addition to convenience, he suggested other benefits: acquiring drugs from his shop could be done with “much less risk” and “will save the expence of so far carriage.” Just in case skeptical prospective customers assumed that the prices would already reflect the costs Stuber paid for transporting his inventory to Lancaster, he assured readers that “he will sell as cheap as any one in Philadelphia.”

That Henry Stuber, a “DRUHGGIST in Lancaster,” opted to advertise in a newspaper printed in Philadelphia in hopes of enticing customers from throughout the countryside testifies to the wide dissemination and readership of eighteenth-century newspapers. Those publications not only delivered information far and wide but also facilitated commerce beyond the largest and busiest port cities.

March 16

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 16, 1768).

“WHEREAS the following advertisement was stuck up at divers places …”

John Joachim Zubly placed an advertisement concerning a dispute over real estate in the March 16, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In it, Zubly responded to a separate advertisement that George Galphin and Lachlan McGillivray “stuck up at divers places at Augusta and New-Windsor the beginning of this month.” Zubly opened his own advertisement with an extensive quotation from Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement, providing readers with the context they needed to understand his rebuttal.

Although the Adverts 250 Project usually features advertisements for consumer goods and services rather than real estate, this notice merits inclusion because it provides a glimpse of another medium used for advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspaper notices comprised the vast majority of advertising of the period, but advertisers also distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, magazine wrappers, catalogs, and a variety of other printed media for the purposes of disseminating information or attempting to incite demand for goods and services. Although Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement concerned real estate, others “stuck up” advertisements that promoted the goods they sold in their shops. On occasion, the charges recorded in printers’ ledgers indicate that advertisers paid an additional fee for a boy from the shop to paste their advertisements around town, saving them the time and effort of distributing the advertisements themselves.

Based on Zubly’s description, the advertisement “stuck up at diverse places at Augusta and New-Windsor” was most likely a broadside, a sheet printed on only one side, the eighteenth-century equivalent of a poster (though the size of this particular item may have been closer to a handbill or flier). Zubly responded in print, intending that his advertisement in the Georgia Gazette would reach as many colonists as possible, but he may have also commissioned his own broadside to post in the same places that Galphin and McGillivray distributed theirs.

Even more ephemeral than newspapers, most eighteenth-century broadsides have likely been lost over time. Zubly’s advertisement, however, testifies to the rich landscape of advertising that colonists encountered in their daily lives beyond the pages of the newspapers.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 15, 1768).

“A fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.”

James McCall stocked and sold a variety of imported merchandise “at his store in Tradd-street” in Charleston. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he attempted to incited demand for his wares by placing an advertisement that listed many of them in a dense paragraph, everything from “neat Wilton carpeting” to “shot of all sizes” to “coffee and chocolate.” His inventory included groceries, clothing, housewares, and much more.

For the most part McCall did not make special efforts to promote any particular items, with one exception. Deploying typography strategically, he did draw attention to his “fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.” Very few words in his advertisement appeared in all capital letters; most of those that did were names: his own name that served as a headline, the name of the ship and captain that transported the goods, and the name of the English port of departure. In the main body of the advertisement, the list of items for sale, the first word appeared in all capitals, as was the convention for all advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Otherwise, the words “GARDEN SEEDS” about midway through the list of goods were the only words in all capitals in the body of McCall’s notice.

Although advertisers usually wrote copy and left it to compositors to determine the graphic design elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, deviations from the standard appearance of notices within particular publications suggest that advertisers could and did sometimes request specific typography for certain aspects of their notices. Such appears to have been the case for McCall’s advertisement since the compositor would have had little reason to randomly set “GARDEN SEEDS” in all capitals. On the other hand, McCall had particular interest in drawing attention to such seasonal merchandise. In other advertisements, he developed a habit for singling out a specific item to promote to prospective customers. For instance, the previous August he included “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE” in a list-style advertisement that did not feature any other items in all capitals.

McCall could have chosen to highlight these items by listing them first or writing a separate nota bene to append to his advertisements. Instead, he opted to experiment with variations in typography to accentuate his “GARDEN SEEDS” and “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE.” Although rudimentary compared to modern understandings of graphic design, his choices indicate some level of understanding that the appearance on the page could be just as effective as the copy when it came to delivering advertising content to consumers.