Review of Don N. Hagist’s “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World”

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending a public lecture, “The Stamp Act Riots Heard ‘Round the World,” presented by Don N. Hagist at the Newport Historical Society. Hagist, an independent scholar, is the author of several books about the era of the American Revolution, including The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers Behind the Photographs; British Soldiers, American War: Voices of the American Revolution; and General Orders, Rhode Island: December 1776 – January 1778. He has also compiled four hundred advertisements in a volume that may be of particular interest to regular visitors here: Wives, Slaves and Servant Girls: Advertisements for Female Runaways in American Newspapers, 1770-1783.

For this presentation, Hagist set about exploring how the world heard about protests against the Stamp Act that took place in Newport, Rhode Island. To do so, he consulted American and British newspapers, demonstrating how local history telescoped out to tell a much larger story about the initial acts of resistance to Parliamentary authority and how protests in Newport were viewed on both sides of the Atlantic.

If we want to know about the reception the Stamp Act received in Newport, why not go to the Newport Mercury directly? Hagist deftly explained how changes in demographics and communications made reading newspapers in the eighteenth century much different than reading them in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Even a busy port like Newport was a small town compared to today’s standards, and keep in mind that newspapers were published once a week. There was little need for the local printer to provide extensive details about events that happened in town. Either local residents witnessed the protests against the Stamp Act themselves or they heard about them via word of mouth before the next issue of the local newspaper was published. Hagist explained that colonists consulted newspapers to learn about what was happening in faraway places, not their own neighborhoods. Indeed, news items were usually organized geographically, with items from London, the metropolitan center, and the English provinces appearing first, followed by news from other countries in Europe, then news from around the Atlantic world and the globe, and finally news from other colonies in British mainland North America.

As a result, the most extensive newspaper coverage of public demonstrations against the Stamp Act in Newport appeared not in the Newport Mercury but instead in publications printed in other cities. According the Hagist, the September 2, 1765, issue of the Newport Mercury, the first to appear after local residents made effigies, built a gallows, hanged and burned the effigies, and threatened the local stamp agent and forced his resignation in late August, mentioned these events, but not in nearly as much detail as the edition of the Boston Evening-Post, also published on September 2. (Here we see how printing a newspaper only once a week allowed for information to travel some distance and thus appear in print “simultaneously” as “the freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”)

The Boston Evening-Post devoted an entire column to providing extensive details about recent events in Newport. On the same day, the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, also offered coverage of the protests in Newport. Even though readers were treated to only half a column, this still exceeded the amount of detail in the Newport Mercury. In its September 6 issue, the New-Hampshire Gazette reprinted the coverage from the Boston Evening-Post. Printers continued a practice common in the colonial era: spreading news by borrowing generously from newspapers they received from their counterparts in faraway places. Reprinting news items verbatim was a standard practice, for all kinds of events and not just the protests against the Stamp Act.

Hagist then demonstrated that coverage of the protests in Newport crossed the Atlantic. The earliest report he found appeared in the London Chronicle on October 5, 1765, indicating that letters received from Boston included accounts of a “dangerous mob” in Newport. Over the course of the next month, an assortment of newspapers in London and other cities in Great Britain offered further coverage of the protests in Newport. This was news, but not “big news,” Hagist argued. One reprinting of the coverage from the September 2 Boston Evening-Post appeared between news from the continent and theater notices. Hagist explained that riots and other forms of political violence were much more common in the eighteenth century than today. Although we may think of the Stamp Act protests in Newport and elsewhere as exceptional, early modern newspaper printers and readers did not always think that they merited special attention.

Still, as time passed many London newspapers continued to insert items about the protests in Newport, sometimes rehashing information previously published when it came via a new source on one of the most recent ships to arrive at a port in England. The conclusion that Hagist reached next may have been the most surprising material for his audience: not everybody in London and the rest of England agreed that the Stamp Act was a good idea. Some sympathized with the colonists. British printers inserted the entire text of colonial charters in their newspapers so readers could decide for themselves if the traditional rights and privileges of colonists to govern themselves had been violated.

Hagist also offered one item of particular interest to me: an advertisement in which a London printer and bookseller announced that he sold about half a dozen pamphlets opposing the Stamp Act, each printed in Newport. This demonstrated both the flow of ideas and the flow of printed goods across the Atlantic. During the question-and-answer period I challenged Hagist on his interpretation of that advertisement, asking if he might have been too generous in asserting that such advertisements demonstrated any particular sentiment toward the colonists’ plight rather than opportunistic printers seeking to make a profit off of a political controversy. He acknowledged that the profit motive was indeed present, even a driving force, but argued that making a profit and engaging in an open exchange of ideas and rigorous debate were not mutually exclusive. (I’ve made similar arguments about a variety of advertisements featured here and that I have examined elsewhere, so it’s not surprising that his answer satisfied me.)

Hagist concluded, as I will now, with a brief summary of his presentation. Newspaper coverage of the Stamp Act protests in Newport was accurate. He did not find evidence of exaggerated rumors. The event, like other demonstrations occurring throughout the colonies, was major news in the American press. It was also considered news in Great Britain, but not accorded the same importance. It merely appeared alongside other news from the colonies, though over time it did spark additional debate in English newspapers. In general, coverage in British newspapers was remarkably balanced, defying modern expectations.

Over the past three months I have attempted to demonstrate that the content and appeals of many of the advertisements featured here were shaped by the events, especially continuing opposition to the Stamp Act, covered elsewhere in colonial newspapers. It’s necessary to examine the advertisements in the context of the news items in order to achieve a complete picture of how attempts to market various goods would have resonated with potential customers. Don N. Hagist’s lecture provided some of that context in a lively presentation that clearly engaged a standing-room-only audience at the Newport Historical Society last night.

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If you’d like to learn more about Don N. Hagist’s work, visit his blog:  British Soldiers, American Revolution.

The Stamp Act and Advertisements: The Plan

The Stamp Act, that instrument of taxation without representation that invigorated protests among so many colonists, was officially repealed 250 years ago today on March 18, 1766. Today I will explore how the Stamp Act, one of the most important precursors to the American Revolution, both included and affected newspaper advertisements.

Royal assent for the Stamp Act had been given nearly a year earlier on March 22, 1765, and the measure went into effect on November 1, 1765. (If you’d like to see day-by-day coverage drawing from colonial newspapers printed in late 1765, check out the impressive Twitter project undertaken by Prof. Joseph M. Adelman’s American Revolution class at Framingham State University during the fall 2015 semester.) Colonists began protesting the Stamp Act almost as soon as they learned about it.

On February 21, 1766, Parliament passed a resolution to repeal the Stamp Act. The king gave royal assent nearly a month later. (During the week that the king assented to repealing the Stamp Act, several American newspapers reprinted items had that been published in London newspapers the previous December. A bit of time would pass before colonists learned that the Stamp Act was no more.) On the same day the king also gave royal assent to the Declaratory Act, a warning to the colonists that although the Stamp Act had been repealed Parliament possessed the same authority to oversee affairs in America as it had in Britain.

Advertisements were enumerated in three places in the Stamp Act. Let’s have a closer look at each of them.

I.  … And for and upon every paper, commonly called a pamphlet, and upon every news paper, containing publick news, intelligence, or occurrences, which shall be printed, dispersed, and made publick, within any of the said colonies and plantations, and for and upon such advertisements as are herein after mentioned, the respective duties following (that is to say) …

For every advertisement to be contained in any gazette, news paper, or other paper, or any pamphlet which shall be so printed, a duty of two shillings.

The Stamp Act placed a tax on each newspaper printed in the colonies, but that was not the total potential revenue garnered from newspapers. Many colonists would probably have considered that imposition enough; they certainly did not appreciate an additional duty on every individual advertisement. Depending on the publication, some issues included dozens of advertisements that filled entire columns or pages, sometimes as much as two of the four pages of a broadsheet folded in half to create a four-page newspaper.

While expensive for advertisers, this provision would have been especially devastating for printers. They were unlikely to absorb the costs themselves (see Article XXVIII below), but if they insisted that advertisers paid the duty in addition to the usual costs then they risked attracting far fewer advertisers. Colonial printers rarely made a profit off of newspaper subscriptions. The real money in printing a newspaper came from the advertising.

In addition, printers frequently inserted advertisements for their own wares and services in the newspapers they published. In addition to drumming up business, this sometimes helped them to fill a column or page. Having to pay a duty on their own advertisements, traditionally inserted gratis as a benefit of operating the press, further challenged printers’ business model.

X.  Provided always, That this act shall not extend to charge any proclamation, forms of prayer and thanksgiving, or any printed votes of any house of assembly in any of the said colonies and plantations, with any of the said duties on pamphlets or news papers; or to charge any books commonly used in any of the schools within the said colonies and plantations, or any books containing only matters of devotion or piety; or to charge any single advertisement printed by itself, or the daily accounts of goods imported and exported, so as such accounts or bills do contain no other matters than what have been usually comprized therein; any thing herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding.

This portion of the Stamp Act provided exceptions for God and government: no duties for prayer books or announcements that a day of thanksgiving would be observed nor for official proclamations or reports on voting in colonial legislatures. Schoolbooks and customs information were also exempted.

This section also stated that no duty would be charged for “any single advertisement printed by itself.” This suggests that various advertising media – broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, subscription notices – were exempt, provided that they did not carry other material. Newspaper advertising, however, comprised the vast majority of advertising in colonial America in the 1760s. Trade cards, for instance, gained in popularity after the Revolution, but they were not nearly as common in the colonies in the first two-thirds of the eighteenth century as they were in London. Very few advertisers who used newspapers to disseminate commercial notices also invested in alternate media, in part because doing so would have cost significantly more. Perhaps Parliament’s intention had been either generosity or softening the blow when it approved this provision; if so, it missed the mark.

XXVIII. And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no officer appointed for distributing stamped vellum, parchment, or paper, in the said colonies or plantations, shall sell or deliver any stamped paper for printing any pamphlet, or any publick news, intelligence, or occurrences, to be contained in one sheet, or any lesser piece of paper, unless such person shall give security to the said officer, for the payment of the duties for the advertisements which shall be printed therein or thereupon.

This provision specified that printers could not even receive the paper necessary for continuing their usual business operations without first giving “security” that the duties on advertisements printed in newspapers would be turned over to stamp agents. In effect, this put printers in the position of collecting duties themselves, making them unwilling arms of Parliament in London. Certainly many colonial printers profited from serving as official printers for colonial assemblies and royally appointed governors, but in such positions they disseminated information. Requiring them to collect stamp duties from their customers would have significantly changed printers’ role in colonial society. The Stamp Act attempted to compel their assistance and cooperation in new ways.

Many colonists objected to the Stamp Act for a variety of reasons, but printers had perhaps more incentives than others to protest Parliament’s new means of raising revenue. The Stamp Act’s treatment of advertising has sometimes been overshadowed by attention to its many other provisions, but its effects on the ability of early Americans to market their goods and services would not have been insignificant.

Reflections on Working with Guest Curators

Those who visit regularly are aware that I have incorporated the Adverts 250 Project into the Public History course that I am teaching this semester.

Each of the students has taken a turn serving as guest curator for a week, taking on a variety of responsibilities: creating a census of newspapers published in colonial America during the same week 250 years earlier, selecting seven advertisements to feature according to the methodology I have designed for featuring the most current advertisements, conducting independent research to gain a better understanding of each advertisement, writing a short analysis of each advertisement (at least 150 words but often much more), submitting appropriate links and images to supplement and corroborate what they have written, and consulting with me as necessary throughout the process.

I continued as editor and permanent curator. In addition to providing guidance behind the scenes, I also contributed additional commentary about some aspect of each advertisement, sometimes building on the story the guest curator told and other times examining another aspect of an advertisement. So many of the advertisements are so rich that it would be impossible for anybody – student or professor – to comment on every detail exhaustively, but working as a team the guest curators and I have explored some of the most important attributes of a variety of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements over the course of the past several weeks.

In addition to the duties listed above, each student wrote a brief reflection (at least 500 words) at the end of his or her week as guest curator. Given that my work has paralleled theirs, today I am offering my own reflection on working with the guest curators on this project.

First, I knew that this was going to be a collaborative process, but I did not anticipate just how truly collaborative it would be. I tell all of my students – whether they are enrolled in an introductory survey, an upper-level elective, or a capstone research seminar – that I expect them to be junior colleagues in the endeavor of historical enquiry. More than in any class I have taught, Public History students working on the Adverts 250 Project have comported themselves as junior colleagues who have worked collaboratively with me (though I must also tip my hat to students who have conducted original research in capstone research seminars who have also consulted with me closely to produce impressive final projects).

The manner in which we worked together very quickly took a different form than I originally envisioned. When we first decided which student would serve as guest curator for each week, I instructed them that they should submit a draft of all seven of their commentaries by the end of the day on the Wednesday before their first advertisement would be featured on the Sunday of their week. That would give me a chance to read through them and schedule a one-on-one meeting with the guest curator during office hours to go through all of them together.

That plan turned out to be too idealistic. It did not conform to the way that most undergraduates work and, quite honestly, it would have been too restrictive for me as well. The guest curators and I soon worked out a system: anything that was to be published on the Adverts 250 Project had to be submitted to me at least twenty-four hours in advance. That would give me time to review it and, if necessary, suggest revisions.

As a result, it turned out that we did not have as many face-to-face conversations about content and analysis as I expected. Instead, extended conversation in my office that I originally anticipated turned into daily email exchanges: messages shuttling back and forth. Often I was not teaching students by speaking directly to them in person. Instead, I was reading what they wrote and then they were reading my responses. Information was exchanged, context was elaborated, and details were clarified, but via email and attached documents rather than via spoken words. For me, this transformed the instructor-student relationship by incorporating some of the practices of professional communication with colleagues.

In their reflections, some of the guest curators commented explicitly that working on this project made them feel like professional historians rather than students in a generic history course (and my conversations with others revealed that all of them felt this way to one extent or another, whether they mentioned it in their reflection or not). From my perspective, this was in part due to addressing the so-called “audience of one” problem. Many assignments for history courses (and courses in just about every other discipline) have an audience of only one person who will ever see it, read it, or assess it in any way: the professor. Since those assignments feel artificial to students (a hoop to jump through to complete a college course) they often do not recognize the value of the skills the assignments were designed to develop (critical thinking, analytical writing, research methods, to name a few). Sometimes they submit work that does not correspond to their abilities, shrugging off assignments that only a professor will see.

For the Adverts 250 Project, however, students were aware from the start that I would not be the only person reading their work. They knew that the material they produced would be available on the Internet for anybody who wanted to read it. I underscored that my own reputation was on the line; while the students certainly respected that and strove to do well so they would not let me down, I believe that they also submitted their best possible work so they could be proud of their own contributions to the project. Whether they realized it or not at the time, they were also further developing the same kinds of skills that would have been emphasized in more traditional assignments.

Each student will return for a second week as guest curator after spring break. Now that each has learned more about what is involved in the project I anticipate that their experiences will be a bit different the next time around. I know that I certainly have different (and probably more realistic) expectations. Each student will offer another reflection at the end of his or her second week as guest curator.

Similarly, I will offer my own reflection once again at the end of the semester. For now, I will conclude by echoing a sentiment that many of the guest curators voiced. The Adverts 250 Project has been a lot of work, but it has also been a lot of fun. The students have reported (with sufficient enthusiasm and sincerity to dispel suspicions they were only angling for good grades) that they enjoyed working on the Adverts 250 Project. I have also very much enjoyed working with them. So far, our collaborative efforts have been fun as well as intellectually and professionally rewarding.

In Which Digital Surrogates Must Be Used as Complements to, Rather than Replacements for, Original Sources

In recent weeks I have questioned some of the decisions made by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette in the early months of 1766. Several of the advertisements the guest curators have selected featured rather unconventional formats, sometimes as a line or two running across the bottom of a page and other times entire advertisements tilted counterclockwise ninety degrees. I discovered other irregularities as I consulted Early American Newspapers to see these advertisements in the context of the entire printed page. What were the printers thinking?!

I’ve suggested a couple of theories. For instance, I hypothesized that some of the unusual layout might have been the result of the printers attempting to create front and back pages with equal coverage of text. I also questioned whether some of the decisions about the layout might have been innovative experiments to draw readers’ attention to the advertising. In both instances, I promised to consult the originals, rather than the digital surrogates, to see if that would answer any questions.

It turns out that examining original issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette helped me to solve the mystery! This is an instance that demonstrates that digital surrogates cannot replace original sources. Instead, the two complement each other, allowing scholars to ask new questions and find answers that would not have been possible (or, at the very least, much less likely) when relying on only one or the other.

Here’s what was happening with the New-Hampshire Gazette in 1766. Like other newspapers of the era, this one was published on a broadsheet that was folded in half to create an issue with four pages. In this case, each page measured 9½ inches wide by 14¾ inches high. Each page featured three columns whose width each measured 2¾ inches. Let’s call that a “standard” format for the purposes of this examination.

For the February 7 issue, however, the printers switched to smaller broadsheets. I imagine that the larger ones were in short supply or not available. That issue, as well as the next two (February 14 and 21) still included four pages, but each page was 8 inches wide by 13 inches high rather than 9½ inches x 14¾ inches. Instead of three columns measuring 2¾ inches wide each, the new size accommodated two columns that were 3½ inches wide (in most cases, but I will soon describe some of the very interesting exceptions). Let’s consider these new parameters a “temporary” format for the purposes of this examination.

Starting with the February 28 issue, the newspaper returned to the larger size broadsheet, but not to any sort of “standard” format. That and the following issue, March 7, featured advertising layouts that were even more visually jolting. With the March 14 issue the New-Hampshire Gazette returned to publishing “standard” format issues of four pages with three columns measuring 2¾ inches wide each.

Although Early American Newspapers revealed to me the difference in the number of columns, it did not offer any metadata explaining the transition. The difference was immediately apparent, however, when I viewed the originals at the American Antiquarian Society. I spent quite a bit of time with a ruler measuring the pages and the columns for each issue from January 31 through March 14.

This particular kind of metadata is currently lacking in Early American Newspapers. That is an observation rather than a complaint. I realize that it would be prohibitively expensive to develop this particular metadata: all the measuring, recording, coding, and other tasks required to link this data to the digitized images that substitute for the original newspapers. As somebody who regularly uses digitized newspapers I would much prefer that the partnership of the American Antiquarian Society and Readex continue to produce digital images of as many newspapers as possible, allowing for even more expansive research by scholars working on a variety of projects and members of the general public asking a variety of questions. I understand that the trade off for access to a greater number of sources will often be less metadata for most of them. Still, I feel that the strategy that has been pursued here has been appropriate, as long as those using the digital surrogates are aware that the digital images cannot reveal everything that the original sources do.

This raises important questions about what we miss when we rely exclusively on digital sources. I first began thinking about this issue as a result of Leon Jackson’s presentation at the Digital Antiquarian Conference last summer: “Historical Haptics: Digital and Print Cultures in the Nineteenth Century.” (Check out the slides from his presentation.) He pointed out that every issue of a newspaper appears to “be” the same size when consulting digital sources: the size of the screen. That was certainly my experience with the New-Hampshire Gazette. The digital surrogates hid some important information – the size of the page – from me.

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Let’s have a look at some of the unusual layout decisions the printers made when they temporarily used smaller sheets for their newspaper.

NH Gaz 2:7:1766 Third Page
Third page of the New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).

Consider the third page of the February 7 issue. The first two pages featured the “temporary” format: two columns that were each 3½ inches wide. The third page, however, had two columns supplemented by a third column of four advertisements each rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise. It turns out that each column measures 2¾ inches wide, as do each of the four advertisements in the extra column with perpendicular text. Each of those advertisements previously ran in earlier issues. The printers likely still had the advertisements in the forms. Rather than reset the type for the new format of the newspaper they saved time by reusing the work they had already done (and keep in mind that they would have reused it all the same if they had access to the larger broadsheets that week).

This issue also included advertisements featured here previously, both from Jonathan Moulton. On the first and fourth pages they ran for two lines across both columns at the bottom of the page. Why? Perhaps this was a means of squeezing in a little more advertising. Perhaps it was because Moulton offered a March 1 deadline for purchasing cows, making his notice time sensitive, prompting the printers to insert it even after the rest of the issue had been set for printing.

NH Gaz 2:14:1766 Second Page
Second page of the New-Hampshire Gazette (February 14, 1766).

The second page of the February 14 issue included other curious decisions about the layout. At first glance it appears that the printers followed the same course as they did for the third page for February 7. On closer examination, however, it turns out that the first column measure 3½ inches wide while the second is only 2¾ inches wide. The four advertisements rotated to form the third column all measure 2¾ inches wide.

With one exception, the first column features either new items or advertisements repeated from the previous issue and set with a 3½-inch width at that time. The exception is a “new” advertisement from Moulton which combines the two that appeared on the first and last pages of the previous issue into a single advertisement (which was then repeated in subsequent weeks).

All of the advertisements in the second column, measuring 2¾ inches wide, were repeated from issues printed on larger broadsheets on January 31 or earlier. Again, the printers reused type already set in the forms.

Careful attention to the perpendicular column reveals that all four advertisements measure 2¾ inches wide. Each was repeated from type set for the “standard” format. However, one of them underwent minor alterations to make it fit into the space available. The font size for “EDWARD EMERSON” (formerly “Edward Emerson”) was reduced and the advertisement was truncated, removing “at the lowest Rates” and shaving off a line of text as a result.

The February 21 issue, the final one printed on smaller broadsheets and featuring the “temporary” format, had a very regular appearance compared to the previous two. All four pages had two columns that measured 3½ inches wide each, giving the issue a rather clean appearance compared to those that came immediately before it (and, as we will see, those that came after). The only exception was a one-line advertisement that ran across both columns at the bottom of the second page.

NH Gaz 2:28:1766 Third Page
Third Page of New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

Printed once again on the larger broadsheets, the February 28 issue returned to the “standard” format of three columns, each measuring 2¾ inches wide, on every page except the third one. That page had what was becoming a familiar layout: two columns accompanied by a narrow column of advertisements rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise. Unlike either of the previous examples, however, the first and second columns measured 3½ inches wide each. All of the content was either new or repeated from issues for which type had been set to accommodate the smaller broadsheets. Again, the printers efficiently used type already in forms.

That final rotated column is definitely the most curious. The printers certainly attempted to maximize content. It featured three items that measured 2¾ inches wide: a news item from London, a new probate notice, and Edward Emerson’s advertisement (restored to its original format). The printers also inserted an advertisement that was 3½ inches in width that had originally appeared in the February 14 issue. It was too long to be wedged in along the right edge of the broadsheet so the printers removed the final four lines and inserted them as a narrow (1 inch wide) addendum next to the rest of the advertisement, giving the upper right corner of the page a rather strange appearance.

NH Gaz 3:7:1766 Third Page
Third page of the New-Hampshire Gazette (March 7, 1766).

The printers got even more creative/efficient with the layout of the third page of the March 7 issue. (All the other pages of that issue returned to the “standard” layout.) The upper quarter of the page featured two columns measuring 3½ inches wide each and a now-familiar third column with the text rotated. All of the material in the first two columns was either new or repeated from an issue that had been set intentionally with column widths of 3½ inches.

In order to maximize the number of advertisements they could squeeze into that rotated column, the printers chose two that were 3½ inches wide and a third that was 2¾ inches wide. This allowed them to fill the page in the upper right corner. As with Edward Emerson’s advertisement previously, the font size for the first line of John Wheitfield’s advertisement was reduced in order to make it fit on the page. Similarly, the first line of George Jaffrey’s notice about excise taxes on liquor (“PROVINCE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE”) was removed in the interest of space. The probate notice was left intact from the previous issue.

The lower portion of the page included three columns, each 2¾ inches wide. The printers were continuing to transition back to the “standard” format and setting new type accordingly now that they had access to the larger broadsheets once again. The first two columns included a fresh news item from London and a new advertisement for a “Milch COW.” The third column included slightly updated advertisement by shopkeeper Joseph Bass. To save space, the first line (“Just imported from LONDON”) and a nota bene at the end were removed.

All told, the third page of the March 7 issue is the most visually striking. It also most effectively demonstrates the printers’ creativity and efficiency in printing on the paper that was available to them and conserving their energy and efforts by not completely resetting type for all the advertisements as their paper supply changed and then changed again.

As noted above, the March 14 issue returned to the “standard” format. None of the layout merits further mention, except perhaps acknowledging that the missing lines from Joseph Bass’s advertisement returned now that more space was available. This and other examples in these issues suggest that printers played the primary role in decisions about format even if advertisers called the shots when it came to content.

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In the end, I am not able to make the argument that I initially hoped to make about some of the innovative layouts for advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the early months of 1766. I wish I could argue that the printers were experimenting with the layout as a means of drawing readers’ (and potential customers’) attention to the advertisements, but after consulting the original issues I realize that the evidence just does not bear out that interpretation. What I took for innovation in advertising turned out to be an innovation of necessity and practicality as the printers creatively and efficiently inserted as many advertisements as possible in the wake of printing on smaller broadsheets.

I would not have been able to reach this conclusion had I relied on digitized images of the newspapers alone since that format obscures the size of the newspapers and the changes in the paper supply. As much as possible, original sources and digital surrogates really must be consulted in combination as complements to each other.

Binder’s Labels and Trade Cards: Or, Paratexts that Transformed Books into Advertisements

Readers who visit regularly know that I usually post extended commentary about methodological issues on Fridays, but I would like to depart from that today. It has been a while since I featured any marketing materials other than the day’s featured advertisement. When I expanded this project from Twitter to a blog I intended to use the “extra” space available to incorporate posts exploring other aspects of advertising in eighteenth-century America more regularly. After all, my handle on Twitter is @TradeCardCarl, so let’s see some trade cards!

In addition, in the course of my research I have identified more than a dozen forms of printed ephemera that circulated as advertising in eighteenth-century America, including trade cards, magazine wrappers, billheads, furniture labels, catalogues, and broadsides. I would like the Adverts 250 Project to explore all of those, even as it remains faithful to its primary mission, a “new” newspaper advertisement featured every day.

As I include diverse advertising media in the coming weeks and months, much of it will come from decades other than the 1760s. For today, however, I have chosen two items that would have been in circulation at the same time as the newspaper advertisements featured throughout the week: trade cards issued by bookbinder Andrew Barclay in the mid 1760s.

The first, according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1764 through 1767. It measures 11 cm x 12 cm (or 4¼ in x 4¾ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 1
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1764-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

(Let’s take a little digital humanities detour here. As I have stated repeatedly, digital sources are wonderful and have revolutionized the work done by scholars and opened up new levels of access to historic sources for scholars and general audiences alike. But digital sources are not without their shortcomings. Viewing original sources on screens tends to standardize them. They appear to “be” whatever size the screen happens to be. As a result, all sources take on the same size. Others with much more digital humanities experience have commented on this at great length, but it bears repeating here, especially since I will be returning to the actual size, rather than the virtual size, of today’s featured trade cards later.)

The second, again according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1765 through 1767. It measures 6 cm x 9 cm (or 2½ in x 3½ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 2
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1765-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

Both trade cards list the same address, but use slightly different language: “Next Door but one to the sign of the Three KINGS … in Cornhill Boston” and “next Door but one North of the three KINGS, in Cornhill Boston.” Thomas Johnston (1708-1767) engraved both. (Johnston’s death explains why both cards have been dated to 1767 at the latest.)

Unlike most of the newspaper advertisements for goods and services printed in the 1760s, these trade cards used both text and images to make appeals to potential customers. In addition to giving Barclay’s location, both announced that he bound and sold books, “Gilt or plain.” Consumers were accustomed to making choices and selecting goods that corresponded to their rank and stature. Offering “Gilt or plain” bindings allowed customers to choose features that corresponded to other decisions they made about how to present themselves to others.

Each trade card included an image of man leaning over a bookbinding press, hard at work. Shelves stocked with books are on display in the background. The books, bookbinding press, and assorted tools were testaments to Barclay’s trade. Both images also suggested an important quality that Barclay wanted past and potential customers to associate with him: industriousness. In both images, a bookbinder wearing an apron could be seen busily at work. Benjamin Franklin did not begin writing his famous Autobiography until 1771 (and it was not published until 1791, after his death), but other eighteenth-century artisans certainly knew the value of industry and the appearance of industriousness that Franklin extolled in his memoir.

Classifying and cataloging early American advertising media is as much art as science. Such items often defy strictly defined categories. I have described both of these items as “trade cards.” In the AAS catalog, however, both are described as “advertising cards” in the genre/form field. That seems like an appropriate description. Although I have heard curators and other staff at the AAS refer to such items as “trade cards,” there are a variety of reasons why catalogers would choose the alternate (and perhaps broader) “advertising cards” to classify these items.

One of these trade cards was featured in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, the first volume of the impressive History of the Book in America. There it is described as a “binder’s label.” That is a much narrower category than either “trade card” or “advertising card.” It is likely more accurate for its specificity (but I believe that fewer researchers would find it in the AAS catalog if it were classified only as “binder’s label” rather than “advertising card”).

This is where the size of these items becomes important. Most trade cards were larger, making them easier to pass from hand to hand, but also significant enough that they would not be misplaced easily. Many also tended to be large enough that vendors could record purchases and write receipts on the reverse (transforming them into billheads, of sorts).

These relatively small items, on the other hand, would have much more easily gotten lost in the shuffle or discarded … unless they were secured inside a book. Andrew Barclay likely pasted one of these labels inside some of the books he bound for his patrons. In the process, he transformed both the service he provided and the goods he sold into advertising media. When that happened, colonial consumers did not possess their books exclusively; instead, they shared ownership with an artisan who left his mark on a material object that happened to be in their possession. Some readers pasted their own bookplates in the volumes they owned, but Andrew Barclay’s binder’s label pre-empted that practice. Consumers could still place a bookplate in books bound by Barclay, but unless they pasted their own bookplate over his label, their act of taking possession competed with, rather than negated, Barclay’s label.

In the end, readers who took their books to Barclay to be bound ended up purchasing an advertisement that they would later encounter every time they used the item they had purchased from him.  Every time they opened a book bound by Barclay consumers were once again exposed to his binder’s label advertisement.

In Which One Digital Archive Nearly Replicates One Existing Archive

In recent weeks I’ve spilled a fair amount of ink considering how both methodology and access shape the Adverts 250 Project. I’ve demonstrated three different levels of access to newspapers printed in 1766 included in Early American Newspapers: 14 via my college’s library, 15 via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources (including the extremely significant addition of the Pennsylvania Gazette) and 21 via the digital resources available in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society (which has access to all the titles in Early American Newspapers because the AAS and Readex are partners in the endeavor).

I’ve also demonstrated how my methodology for selecting advertisements (each must come from that date or a newspaper published most immediately before that date in cases of no newspapers printed on a particular date) has caused certain newspapers to receive disproportionate coverage due to most newspapers being published at the beginning of the week and relatively few at the end.

Feb 19 - Masthead for New-York Gazette 2:18:1766
Masthead for an Extraordinary (“Extra”) to the New-York Gazette (February 18, 1766).

I’ve made promises that when my Public History students’ tenure as guest curators comes to an end that I will resort to the resources available in the AAS’s reading room as a means of featuring a greater number of publications and achieving more extended geographic reach.

 

However unintentionally, I may have implied that accessing Early American Newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society means that I am working from a complete archive of publications from 1766. There are several reasons why this assumption is not completely accurate. The project will be migrating toward the best possible digital access, but that is not the same as complete access to every newspaper in an archive. Today I’d like to examine how closely the most extensive access to Early American Newspapers mirrors what is available in the stacks at the AAS.

Recall that I previously identified these newspapers printed at some point in 1766 (from Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820) that are not available via even the AAS’s most extensive access to Early American Newspapers.

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known September 29)

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known February 24)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (suspended starting October 31, 1765; resumed June 2, 1766)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Feb 19 - Masthead for Connecticut Courant 2:17:1766
Masthead for the Connecticut Courant (February 17, 1766).

I consulted the AAS’s online catalog and, especially, Clarence to find out if the AAS collections included these newspapers. (Clarence – named for Clarence Brigham, librarian (1908-1930) and director (1930-1959) of the AAS and author of the two-volume History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 – is a database that indicates which specific issues of early American newspapers are in the AAS collections, replicating and updating portions of Brigham’s monumental bibliography.) Here’s what I discovered:

 

  • Portsmouth Mercury: scattered issues from 1766.
  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy: weekly issues and occasional supplements through October 9.
  • Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten: photostat copy of only known issue (as indicated in the catalog record; Clarence does not specify this detail).
  • North-Carolina Gazette: AAS does not possess any issues.
  • South-Carolina and American General Gazette: scattered issues from 1768 through 1778, but none from 1766.
  • South-Carolina Gazette: one damaged issue from 1766 along with scattered issues from 1737, 1740, 1760, 1763, 1767, 1768, 1770, 1772, and 1774.
  • South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal: scattered issues from 1766 as well as scattered issues from 1768 through 1775.

Based on these findings, it appears that digital access to newspapers printed in 1766 via Early American Newspapers very nearly replicates the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society. For the most part, the AAS possesses only scattered issues of the titles not included in Early American Newspapers. This is a major achievement that allows researchers to view the contents of these publications while also preserving the originals.

For the purposes of this project, a digital archive that nearly completely replicates the newspaper holdings of the AAS (at least, those printed in 1766) also streamlines the research process. Having compiled a calendar of which newspapers were printed on which dates in 1766, I can quickly scan the relevant issues when selecting an advertisement to feature on any given date. I imagine that the reading room staff at the AAS also appreciates that I am not repeatedly requesting large bound volumes of eighteenth-century newspapers that they then have to page, process, deliver to me, and later return to their designated places in the closed stacks.

On the other hand, for other sorts of projects, the research process goes much more smoothly and efficiently when I can quickly – but carefully – flip through the pages of a bound volume of newspapers, scanning for particular content. To preserve the originals, scrolling through microfilm copies serves the same purpose. When it’s necessary to examine a large number of issues published sequentially, digital access via Early American Newspapers can be slow and cumbersome by comparison. That’s not a criticism but rather recognition that digital surrogates are not always the best format for conducting research. (On the flip side, the ability to do keyword searches in Early American Newspapers can streamline the research process significantly. I’ll write more about the virtues and imperfections of keyword searching digitized newspapers some other time.)

Feb 19 - Masthead for Boston Evening-Post 2:17:1766
Masthead for the Boston Evening-Post (February 17, 1766).

I noted above that in the coming months this project will migrate to the best possible digital access, but that is not the same as complete access to every newspaper in an archive (although in this case it is really close). Next week I will consider the difference between access to every newspaper in an archive and access to every newspaper printed. Once again, these distinctions may seem merely academic at first glance, but I continue to maintain that researchers must be aware of the scope and limitations of their resources and we have an obligation to others who read our work to share that information.

 

As I consider these issues, I keep returning to two of the main arguments presented by Kenneth Carpenter (Harvard Libraries, retired) and Michael Winship (English, University of Texas – Austin) in their keynote address at the Digital Antiquarian Conference last May: (1) digital sources should be consulted as complements to, rather than replacements for, original sources and (2) be conscious of the metadata that provides the foundation for digitized sources so you know how closely digital surrogates replicate original documents.

In Which Methodology, as well as Access, Significantly Shapes the Project

Last week I demonstrated that different institutions have varying levels of access to the titles included in Early American Newspapers, arguing that this shaped the scope of the project. The access from the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society includes 21 newspapers published in 1766 with broad geographic reach, while accessing Early American Newspapers via my college’s library allows me to examine only 14 newspapers. Those titles are confined mostly, but not exclusively, to New England and New York.

In some ways the effects might be minimized, especially if we take into account T.H. Breen’s argument about the standardization of consumer culture throughout the colonies in the eighteenth century. Colonial consumers, he maintains, purchased imported goods that were increasingly uniform from port city to port city, region to region, in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. Indeed, Breen claims that having similar experiences in the marketplace and speaking a common language of consumption facilitated Americans’ ability to speak to each other about political matters, especially as they imbued consumption with political valences in the wake of the Stamp Act and other measures enacted by Parliament.

That being said, I would still prefer to demonstrate that advertisements from the Chesapeake and the Lower South marketed the same or similar goods and deployed the same or similar appeals as the commercial notices printed in newspapers from New England and the Middle Atlantic. I would like to be able to show – visually and through commentary – rather than merely tell. In addition, even if colonists did have access to increasingly standardized goods and services throughout the colonies that does not necessarily mean that regional differences did not also emerge, especially in terms of marketing. Did advertisers throughout the colonies make similar appeals as they marketed the same assortment of goods?

These are some questions I wanted to raise last week, but the bibliographic details were already so extensive that I held them in reserve. This week I would like to raise some other questions about the contours of this project, but these are based on my methodology rather than access to Early American Newspapers.

Recall that whenever possible I select an advertisement published on that date 250 years ago. When no newspapers were published on that date (or, at least, none that I can access!) I resort to a newspaper printed as close to that date as possible (but always previously printed: it must have been in the hands of colonists somewhere). In addition, I consult newspapers from as many different cities, colonies, and regions as possible. On some days I have multiple options. To help illustrate this, guest curator Kathryn J. Severance and I worked out this census of newspapers that we can access via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources for the current week, Sunday, February 7 through Saturday, February 13.

February 6, 1766

  • Boston News-Letter
  • Pennsylvania Gazette
  • These newspapers fall outside of this week. Consult them only if there were no acceptable adverts in the newspapers published on February 7.

February 7, 1766

  • Connecticut Gazette
  • New-Hampshire Gazette

February 8, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 8. Use any newspaper published on February 7 or, if necessary, February 6.

February 9, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 9. Use any newspaper published on February 7 or, if necessary, February 6.

February 10, 1766

  • Connecticut Courant
  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
  • Newport Mercury
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

February 11, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 11. Use any newspaper published on February 10.

February 12, 1766

  • No newspapers were published on February 12. Use any newspaper published on February 10.

February 13, 1766

  • Boston News-Letter
  • Pennsylvania Gazette

Notice that no newspapers were published on February 8 and 9, 1766. For those dates the methodology dictates selecting advertisements from either the Connecticut Gazette or the New-Hampshire Gazette. I know from experience that both of those can be rather slim pickings when it comes to advertisements for consumer goods and services. The Connecticut Gazette often did not feature any, while the New-Hampshire Gazette tended to reprint the same advertisements for multiple weeks.

This census helps to illustrate the somewhat surprising origins of the first 30 advertisements featured in 2016 (before my Public History students assumed their guest curator responsibilities). I included this list last week, but did not have sufficient space to evaluate it.

  • 7 advertisements: Massachusetts Gazette (Boston)
  • 7 advertisements: New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • 4 advertisements: Newport Mercury
  • 3 advertisements: New-York Gazette
  • 3 advertisements: New-London Gazette
  • 2 advertisements: Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Evening-Post
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Gazette
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Post-Boy
  • 1 advertisement: New-York Mercury

In seeking to be current, to provide “the freshest advices foreign and domestick,” my methodology gives disproportionate attention to the New-Hampshire Gazette, a relatively minor newspaper from a relatively small town. (I know, I know: harsh words for what now bills itself as “The Nation’s Oldest Newspaper,” having been in continuous publication in one form or another since 1756.) The New-Hampshire Gazette did not publish nearly as many advertisements for consumer goods and services as its counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. That the New-Hampshire Gazette has been featured so prominently is a consequence of selecting advertisements from the most recently published newspaper on any given date.

The New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette, which included even fewer advertisements, were printed on Fridays in 1766. No newspapers were printed on Saturdays or Sundays. As a result, my methodology prescribes that I select advertisements from these two publications three days of the week. Sometimes neither featured enough advertisements to make this possible, forcing me to go back to the Massachusetts Gazette, which also helps to explain why so many advertisements featured here derive from its pages. (Keep in mind that I used accessed Early American Newspapers via my college throughout January, which meant that the Pennsylvania Gazette was not an option. Since my students are using the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources to access Early American Newspapers they have incorporated the Pennsylvania Gazette into this project. When I am once again responsible for selecting the featured advertisement each day I will incorporate an even greater number of publications by accessing Early American Newspapers in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society.)

I’ll close today’s extended commentary by reiterating that the New-Hampshire Gazette has received disproportionate attention due to the methodology I have developed for pursuing this public history and digital humanities project, not solely due to variations in access to Early American Newspapers. Quite simply, newspapers were printed on the day they were printed. On the other hand, I have developed a much different sampling method for my book project. The methodology I use here would not be appropriate in a manuscript seeking to analyze the development of advertising in eighteenth-century America.

In Which Bibliography of Early American Newspapers Is Too Much of a Good Thing

Bibliographers of early American newspapers, rejoice! You’re going to love the details in this post. Others may not be as enthusiastic about comparing which newspapers are accessible via which archives. If you’re in that camp, I invite you to skip to the final two paragraphs where I sum up why the (excessive) details are important.

Last week I concluded my post on the incompleteness of the digital archive by promising to explore varying levels of access to Early American Newspapers and how that shapes the scope of this project. To get started at that, I’d like to offer a census of the advertisements featured from January 1-30, the period before my students assumed their duties as guest curators.

The first thirty advertisements for 2016 (1766) came from:

  • 7 advertisements: Massachusetts Gazette (Boston)
  • 7 advertisements: New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • 4 advertisements: Newport Mercury
  • 3 advertisements: New-York Gazette
  • 3 advertisements: New-London Gazette
  • 2 advertisements: Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Evening-Post
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Gazette
  • 1 advertisement: Boston Post-Boy
  • 1 advertisement: New-York Mercury
Feb 5 - New-York Gazette Masthead 2:3:1766
Masthead for the New-York Gazette (February 3, 1766).

As I’ve previously explained, my first priority is to choose an advertisement published on that date 250 years earlier or, in the case of dates on which no newspaper was published, an advertisement from a newspaper printed as close to that date as possible (but before that date: it must come from a newspaper that would have been available to readers somewhere in colonial America 250 years earlier). My secondary consideration is to move around geographically as much as possible. Given these guiding principles, I still contend that I have achieved appropriate coverage based on the resources available to me, namely my college’s access to Early American Newspapers.

That turns out, however, to be a limiting factor that has significantly influenced the shape and scope of this project so far. What do I mean? It turns out that varying levels of access to Early America Newspapers are available. For a variety of reasons, access to Early American Newspapers is not consistent from institution to institution.

Let’s say that I want to continue to pursue this project exclusively from my chair in my office and my couch in my living room. As a resident of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I qualify for a digital library card that allows me to access a variety of electronic resources via the Boston Public Library’s website. (Thank you, Boston Public Library!) When I access Early American Newspapers via the BPL’s website I have access to one additional and very important newspaper: the Pennsylvania Gazette (previously published by Benjamin Franklin, but undertaken by the partnership of David Hall and William Sellers throughout most of 1766 and the next several years).

Otherwise the two institutions provide identical access: the Pennsylvania Gazette is the only additional newspaper available via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources.

For the sake of simplicity (too late, I know…), let’s consider all the newspapers published at some point in 1766 available through my college library’s access to Early American Newspapers and via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) [Boston Public Library only]
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)

Accessing Early American Newspapers via my college library’s databases, this amounts to 14 newspapers from 9 cities in 7 colonies. New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Lower South are all represented, but the Chesapeake is missing. The Boston Public Library’s access yields similar numbers: 15 newspapers from 9 cities in 7 colonies, covering the same regions.

Feb 5 - Newport Mercury Masthead 2:3:1766
Masthead for the Newport Mercury (February 3, 1766).

As I mentioned last week, Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers indicates that 28 newspapers were published in 15 cities in 11 colonies at some point in 1766. With the addition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources get closer to a complete archive, but that gain is not nearly as significant as what happens when consulting the access available in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society, which has partnered with Readex in making eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers digitally accessible. (Thank you, American Antiquarian Society! Thank you, Readex!) Here are the newspapers printed in 1766 I am able to access via Early American Newspapers in the reading room at the AAS. The six not accessible via my college library or the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources are listed in bold.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston News-Letter
  • Boston Post-Boy

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New Haven)
  • Connecticut Gazette (New London)

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Journal
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • Germantowner Zeitung (Germantown)
  • Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia)
  • Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia)
  • Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (Philadelphia)

Maryland

  • Maryland Gazette (Annapolis)

Virginia

  • Virginia Gazette [Hunter] (Williamsburg)
  • Virginia Gazette [Rind] (Williamsburg)

Georgia

  • Georgia Gazette (Savannah)

[In addition, it is possible to access five newspapers printed in 1766 in Britain’s colonies in the West Indies: the Antiqua Gazette, the Barbados Mercury, the Kingston Journal (Jamaica), the Royal Grenada Gazette, and the St. Christopher’s Gazette (Saint Kitts).]

Among the colonies that eventually became the United States, this amounts to 21 newspapers published in 13 cities in 9 colonies. Both of the Chesapeake colonies are included, leaving the Lower South the least represented. This is especially unfortunate given that Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the largest cities in colonial America (and a major port for the transatlantic slave trade). Advertisements for runaway slaves as well as notices about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children appeared frequently in other newspapers, including those published in northern colonies, but the absence of newspapers from Charleston will continue to skew the kinds of advertisements available for inclusion in this project.

Feb 5 - Pennsylvania Gazette Masthead 1:30:1766
Masthead for the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 30, 1766).

Of the 28 newspapers Lathem indicates were published at some point in 1766, these seven cannot be accessed via Early American Newspapers at the AAS.

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known September 29)

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known February 24)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (resumed June 2)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Given that several of these newspapers either had short runs or were not consistently published throughout 1766, the digital archive of newspapers from that year that can be accessed at the American Antiquarian Society seems remarkably complete (with the unfortunate exception of newspapers from South Carolina). Imagine the scope of this project made possible when pursuing it at the AAS!

Feb 5 - New-Hampshire Gazette Masthead 1:31:1766
Masthead for the New-Hampshire Gazette (January 31, 1766).

I’ve gathered a lot of data to make this point: the scope and possibilities of this project are contingent on varying levels of access to the various titles in Early American Newspapers. To this point I have incorporated only advertisements from newspapers I can access via my college library. My students who are acting as guest curators throughout much of this semester, however, are accessing Early American Newspapers via the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources. I wanted to give them more possibilities by including the Pennsylvania Gazette, but I also wanted them to be able to pursue this project from their dorm rooms or wherever they happen to have an Internet connection. For ten weeks the scope and coverage of the project will shift. Eventually, when I return to selecting advertisements myself, I will digitally access newspapers from the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society. This project will take on new contours. New England and the Middle Atlantic will no longer be privileged in the same ways. Instead, the Adverts 250 Project will achieve more even coverage.

Digitization is wonderful. I am grateful for the efforts of so many individuals and institutions for making it possible to access electronically so many early American newspapers and other sources. Yet researchers and our audiences need to be aware of the constraints on the sources we consult. As I argued last week, we have not (yet) achieved a complete digital archive. In turn, that fact shapes the work we do and the conclusions we are able to reach.

In Which the Digital Archive Is Incomplete

Last week I shared my process for charting which newspapers were published on which days during the third week of January 1766. I did so to demonstrate how I choose the “freshest Advices,” to borrow the tagline included on the Boston Post-Boy’s masthead that week (as well as the masthead of many other American newspapers throughout the eighteenth century).

As a result, I ended up selecting seven advertisements from six newspapers in five cities in four colonies, all of them in New England. Based on the newspapers available via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers, I recognize one possible improvement. I could have selected an advertisement from one of two newspapers published in New York, but I had recently featured notices from both of them. In an effort to rotate through newspapers to include relatively even coverage, I opted for publications from other cities. If I were to assess coverage over a month rather than a week, this problem would not be nearly as apparent. (After my students complete their time as guest curators over the next eleven weeks, I will aim to rectify this small problem by choosing newspapers from as many different cities and colonies as possible each week, planning further ahead to make that possible.)

Jan 29 - Wochenliche Masthead
Masthead for Der Wöchentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (January 27, 1766).

Still, based on when each newspaper was published during the week, even if I had included a newspaper from New York I would have only slightly improved the coverage: seven advertisements from six newspapers in six cities in five colonies. The most significant difference would have been including a newspaper from the Middle Atlantic, but this still would not have increased the geographic scope significantly.

This is especially striking when taking into consideration how many newspapers were published in the colonies in 1766. Here’s a list (with some notations), arranged geographically, from Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. [1]

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known issue on September 29)
  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; extra and supplement on March 12; resumed August 9)

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • [New Haven] Connecticut Gazette
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Journal (began publication on October 16)
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known issue on February 24)
  • Germantowner Zeitung (few known issues)
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Journal
  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

Maryland

  • [Annapolis] Maryland Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; issues on January 30, February 20; resumed March 6)

Virginia

  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Hunter) (suspended at beginning of year; resumed March 7)
  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Rind) (began publication on May 16)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known issue on February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; resumed June 2)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Georgia

  • [Savannah] Georgia Gazette (suspended at beginning of year, but resumed May 21)

(Why were so many newspapers suspended at the beginning of the year? Was that unusual? Yes! When the Stamp Act went into effect on November 1, 1765, many newspapers stopped publication out of protest. Others continued in defiance of the Stamp Act. I’m planning to address the Stamp Act and its effects on advertising in a later post.)

Lathem indicates that twenty-eight newspapers were published in fifteen cities in eleven colonies (but not Delaware or New Jersey) in 1766. Eliminating those with few known issues as well as others that had been suspended or had not yet begun publication still leaves nineteen newspapers published in ten cities in eight colonies during the fourth week of January 1766.  This includes newspapers published in New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Lower South (but not the Chesapeake).

Now compare that to the list of newspapers I was able to access via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers.

New Hampshire

  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Mercury

Philadelphia

  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

This list consists of only eleven newspapers in seven cities in six colonies, compared to nineteen newspapers in ten cities in eight colonies actually published during the fourth week of January 1766. No newspapers from the Chesapeake or the Lower South appear on this list. (I am being generous here by including the German newspaper from Philadelphia even though I revealed a few weeks ago that I do not read German and will not be including German-language newspapers and advertisements in this project.)

I claimed last week that the geographic scope of advertisements I select derives from a methodology that is well-crafted and appropriate given the sources available. That claim comes into sharper focus now. I have been experimenting with what is possible using the resources available to me via an Internet connection from my living room or from my office, without stepping into an actual archive to examine original copies of newspapers or dreaded reels of microfilm.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

It should now be apparent that I am working with an incomplete archive! Digitization is wonderful in so many ways. I love that I have so many sources available any time I am connected to the Internet. I appreciate that I am able to introduce my students to colonial newspapers in a way that just was not possible when I was an undergraduate. As I think about their tasks as guest curators in the coming weeks and how I might have approached a similar assignment as an undergraduate I realize that it would have been possible, with a lot of effort, at the major research university I attended, with its massive library and banks of microfilm readers. It would not, however, have been possible at the small liberal arts college where I currently teach, at least not without extensively relying on interlibrary loan to procure microfilms of colonial newspapers.  My campus library certainly would not possess the budget to purchase all of these microfilms. Even then, the process might have been too cumbersome.

I now find myself on some sort of middle ground. Digitization of early American sources is a significant boon, both for research and teaching, but digital archives need to be approached with full awareness that they do not (yet and may never) replicate all the holdings of the physical collections in libraries, historical societies, and other institutions throughout the United States and beyond.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Supplement Masthead
Masthead for Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

Next week I’ll explore varying levels of access to Early American Newspapers and how that shapes the scope of this project.

[1] Edward Connery Lathem, compiler, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820: Being a Tabular Guide to Holdings of Newspaper Published in America through the Year 1820 (Barre, MA: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972).

Calendar Considerations: When Were Newspapers Published?

Last week I documented which newspapers printed during the third week of January 1766 were accessible via my campus library’s subscription to the Readex database of America’s Historical Newspapers. I included the following list, arranged geographically.

New Hampshire

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • Massachusetts-Gazette (Boston)

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury
Massachusetts Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the Massachusetts Gazette (January 16, 1766)

The list for the fourth week of January 1766 is the same. As I indicated last week, each of these newspapers was printed only once each week, making a list organized by chronology rather than geography more helpful in selecting which issues to examine and, eventually, which advertisements to select. This is what the publication history of these ten newspapers for the third week of January 1766 looks like when mapped out on a calendar.

January 16 (Thursday in 1766, but Saturday in 2016)

  • Massachusetts-Gazette (Boston) – plus a Supplement

January 17 (Friday in 1766, but Sunday in 2016)

  • New-Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth)
  • New-London Gazette

January 18 (Saturday in 1766, but Monday in 2016)

January 19 (Sunday in 1766, but Tuesday in 2016)

January 20 (Monday in 1766, but Wednesday in 2016)

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • Newport Mercury
  • Connecticut Courant (Hartford)
  • New-York Gazette
  • New-York Mercury

January 21 (Tuesday in 1766, but Thursday in 2016)

January 22 (Wednesday in 1766, but Friday in 2016)

Note that January 22, 1766, fell on a Wednesday, while January 22, 2016, fell on a Friday. It is important to realize when during the week these newspapers first came into the hands of eighteenth-century readers. Of these ten newspapers, seven were published on Monday, one on Thursday, and two on Friday. Three of the Boston newspapers appear to have competed with each other at the beginning of the week, while Richard Draper and Samuel Draper may have been attempting to eke out a space of their own with a fresh issue of the Massachusetts-Gazette midway through the week. Similarly, subscribers and other readers in New York enjoyed new issues of John Holt and Hugh Gaine’s newspapers on the same day. Overall, most printers distributed their current issue either at the very beginning or at the end of the week.

The fact that publication was clustered on just a few days affects which advertisements I select to include in this project. Whenever possible, I aim to feature an advertisement published on the same date exactly 250 years ago. As the calendar above demonstrates, this is not always possible because there are dates on which no newspaper was published (or at least no newspaper included in my subscription to Early American Newspapers, but more on that another time). In such cases I work backwards, going to the most recent date on which a newspaper had been published. As a result, I feature an advertisement that would have been among those most recently available to colonial American readers, somewhere, exactly 250 years ago.

Boston Post-Boy Masthead
Masthead for Boston Post-Boy (January 20, 1766)

Here’s how I worked through the past week. I only had one choice for last Saturday; the featured advertisement came from the Massachusetts-Gazette.

But I had two options for Sunday: the New-Hampshire Gazette or the New-London Gazette. I have discovered, however, that few advertisements were inserted in the New-London Gazette in 1766, which means that it rarely gets incorporated into this project. That also means that when I do discover an advertisement for goods or services in that newspaper I select it.

The fact that I do not have access to any newspapers on Monday or Tuesday further contributes to including the New-London Gazette whenever possible because most weeks I find myself in the position of featuring multiple advertisements – as many as three days in a row – from the New-Hampshire Gazette.

By comparison, I have access to an embarrassment of riches on Wednesday: seven newspapers were published on that date 250 years ago. This certainly gives me a lot more choice and flexibility. Looking ahead, I see that no other newspapers were printed on the next two days, which means that I will have to choose from among these seven for three days. In such instances, I do not draw from the same newspaper twice in the course of those three days. Not only do I seek to spread out coverage among multiple publications, I also attempt to achieve the most extensive geographic reach possible.

For Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week I was able to choose from three newspapers printed in Boston, two in New York, and two more from southern New England. This narrowed down my choices. I keep a running tabulation of which newspapers have been included (and how many times) since the project launched as a blog at the beginning of the year. This allows me to rotate through the newspapers to give relatively even coverage of each.

New-London Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)

Here’s what this process yielded for the past week:

  • Saturday, January 16: Moses Deshon, advertisement for female slave in Massachusetts-Gazette (January 16, 1766)
  • Sunday, January 17: Robert Hebbard, advertisement for runaway wife in New-London Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Monday, January 18: Thomas Bell, advertisement for tailoring services in New-Hampshire Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Tuesday, January 19: Jonathan Jackson, advertisement for imported goods in New-Hampshire Gazette (January 17, 1766)
  • Wednesday, January 20: Samuel Fletcher, advertisement aimed at women in Boston Post-Boy (January 20, 1766)
  • Thursday, January 21: Thomas Green, advertisement for almanacs in Connecticut Courant (January 20, 1766)
  • Friday, January 22: Joseph Fox, advertisement for legal services in Newport Mercury (January 20, 1766)

This is an interesting glimpse of early American advertising, commerce, and consumer culture during the third week of January 1766. In some ways it is representative, but in a variety of others it is also problematic. I believe that I have developed a methodology that is well-crafted and appropriate given the sources available, but I will devote next week’s extended commentary to an examination of some of the shortcomings that are apparent to those who work with early American newspapers regularly.

This may seem like excessive detail to some, but I had two purposes in writing this post. I wanted those who have not previously worked systematically with colonial newspapers to gain a better understanding of the process. In addition, my Public History students will soon be guest curating. I hope that this is a resource that will help them through selecting advertisements, in addition to our in-class workshops.