September 8

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

Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (September 5, 1771).
“PURDIE and DIXON have imported a fresh Assortment of all Kinds of Paper.”

Like many other colonial printers, Alexander Purdie and John Dixon took advantage of their access to the press to insert advertisements for goods and services they provided in the newspaper they published.  Such was the case in the September 5, 1771, edition of the Virginia Gazette.  Interspersed among the paid notices, the printers included their own advertisement for a vast array of imported goods.

Purdie and Dixon deployed a standard list format, creating a dense block of text.  Within their advertisement, however, they did organize their merchandise according to three main categories:  stationery wares, music, and patent medicines.  Many printers created additional revenue streams by selling books, stationery, and writing equipment.  Purdie and Dixon stocked “a fresh Assortment of all Kinds of Paper, fine large Dutch and Hudson Bay Quills, fine Japan Ink, shining Sand, red and black Dutch Sealing Wax,” and a variety of other items to equip any desk for business or correspondence.  They also carried several pieces of music, including “Midas, the Padlock, and Love in a Village, for the Harpsicord, Voice, German Flute, Violin, or Guitar” and “eight Italian Sonatas for two Violins or Flutes, with a Thorough Bass for the Harpsicord, by several eminent Composers.”  The printers had on hand both popular and genteel selections to suit the tastes of their customers.  Furthermore, most printers and booksellers who included music among their titles did not indicate such an extensive selection.  Purdie and Dixon concluded by enumerating a dozen patent medicines, including many of the most common ones marketed from New England to Georgia.  “Bateman’s Pectoral Drops; Stoughton’s Squire’s, and Daffy’s Elixirs; [and] Turlington’s Balsam” required no further explanation because they were so familiar to consumers.  That may have been one of the reasons that printers frequently supplemented their stock of books and stationery with patent medicines, even if they did not sell other sorts of consumer goods.

Purdie and Dixon’s printing office “at the POST OFFICE” in Williamsburg was a hub for collecting and disseminating information, but it was also a place to go shopping.  They made available a variety of equipment for writing, all kinds of sheet music for entertainment, and an assortment of patent medicines for customers to treat illnesses and chronic conditions.  In addition to the fees they generated for subscriptions, advertising, and job printing, Purdie and Dixon also generated revenues from selling items from select categories of imported goods.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 6, 1769).

Just Re-printed, and to be sold by T. & S. GREEN … The Connecticut Colony LAW-BOOK.”

Compared to many other colonial newspapers, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried relatively few advertisements. Thomas Green and Samuel Green founded the publication in 1767. Two years later, advertising remained sparse, comprising less space than in many other newspapers. In that regard, the Connecticut Journal was not much different than other newspapers published in smaller towns in the late colonial era. While newspapers in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia – overflowed with advertising and even those in places like Portsmouth, Providence, and Savannah usually filled at least an entire page with advertising, the Connecticut Journal, the Essex Gazette, and the New-London Gazette regularly devoted less space to advertising than their counterparts in larger cities and towns.

Consider the October 6, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Only ten advertisements appeared in that issue, all of them on the final page. They did not even fill that page. Of the three columns, two consisted of advertising. One short advertisement ran at the bottom of the first column. Revenues from advertising, rather than subscriptions, often made publishing newspapers viable business ventures for colonial printers. The Greens, however, did not cultivate the same culture of advertising in the Connecticut Journal that emerged in other publications. On the other had, they did pursue a strategy that put their business practices in line with those of other printers: they took advantage of their access to the press to promote their own wares. Newspaper printers frequently inserted one or more advertisements for books, pamphlets, blanks, and other merchandise, simultaneously seeking to stimulate demand for other segments of their operations and attempting to convince prospective advertisers of the advantages of advertising. Of the ten advertisements in the October 6 issue, two announced that the Greens sold books at their printing office. Not all of the advertisements in that issue were paid notices that generated revenues for the Connecticut Journal; the Greens used that space to bolster their business in other ways. With relatively few advertisements submitted by others, they resorted to publishing their own.