April 16

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 16, 1772).

Last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Advertisements accounted for important revenue for colonial printers.  That was certainly the case for Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  So many colonizers submitted advertisements for inclusion in the April 16, 1772, edition, that he resorted to distributing a half sheet supplement devoted almost exclusively to paid notices.  That helped, but still did not provide enough space for all of the advertisements that he should have published that week.  That prompted him to insert a brief note to address the situation.  “A Number of Advertisements,” Draper stated, “are omitted for want of Room.”  He then tried to convince advertisers that they did not need to be concerned because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road, (where we have a great many Customers)” so that meant that “last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Would that mollify advertisers who expected to see their notices in print?  Draper did the best he could to give a favorable impression of the situation, assuring advertisers that readers would indeed see their notices that week even if they did not happen to appear in the most recent edition or its supplement.  He did not, however, attempt to explain why they should not be concerned that delivery of the previous edition had been delayed by a week, perhaps because everyone understood he had less control over the post than his press.  He simply expected advertisers to accept that their notices had not been distributed as widely as they anticipated as soon as they intended.  What truly mattered, he sought to convince them, was that their advertisements were now before the eyes of readers.  Interestingly, Draper’s note explicitly addressed advertisers, not subscribers.  He made no apology to subscribers outside of Boston that they had to wait a week to receive either news or notices.  Through that omission, he once again positioned delivery as further beyond his control than the contents of his newspaper.  In this instance, maintaining good relationships with customers and safeguarding an important revenue stream meant focusing on the concerns of advertisers.

October 9

What was (not) advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 9, 1771).

“Advertisements omitted this Week, will be inserted in our next.”

Nearly three dozen advertisements appeared in the October 7, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but William Goddard, the printer, did not have enough space to publish all of the notices submitted to his printing office on Arch Street in Philadelphia.  Neither did he have room for all of the news.  The final column of the third page concluded with a brief note advising that “Advertisements omitted this Week, will be inserted in our next.  Also a Variety of Intelligence which we are now obliged to postpone, in order to oblige our advertising Customers.”

Colonial newspapers generated revenue along two trajectories:  subscriptions and advertising.  Subscribers purchased access to the “freshest advices, foreign and domestic,” as the mastheads for many newspapers described the news. Advertisers, in turn, purchased access to readers.  They sought to place their notices before the eyes of as many readers as possible.  Printers sometimes commented on how many subscribers received their newspapers as a means of encouraging prospective advertisers to place notices.  In making decisions about what to publish, printers had to balance news and advertising in order to satisfy both subscribers and advertisers.  Displeasing one constituency or the other had the potential to negatively affect revenues.

Printers regularly informed readers that they postponed advertisements, a means of assuring advertisers that their notices would indeed soon appear.  Most printers, however, did not often explicitly comment on their endeavors to serve their advertisers, making Goddard’s note about “oblig[ing] our advertising Customers” all the more remarkable.  He revealed to readers, subscribers and advertisers alike, that publishing advertisements sometimes took priority over “a Variety of Intelligence” that he might otherwise have published.  While he framed this as a service to customers who placed notices, the revenues those advertisements represented could not have been far from his mind.  Goddard was willing to delay some advertisements until the next edition, but not too many of them as he aimed to please both subscribers and advertisers.

April 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 25, 1771).

“Many other Advertisements for want of Room must be deferred till next Week.”

On April 25, 1771, Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, faced the same conundrum that Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General, navigated the previous day.  He had more content than would fit in the standard four-page issue of his newspaper.  Wells opted to distribute a supplement that consisted entirely of advertising.  To conserve resources and minimize expenses, he printed that supplement on a smaller sheet.  Draper, on the other hand, inserted a note alerting readers (and advertisers who expected to see their notices in that issue) that “Many other Advertisements for want of Room must be deferred till next Week.”

In the end, Draper did print a supplement.  Like Wells, he printed it on a smaller sheet.  His supplement, however, did not include any advertising.  Instead, it relayed “Fresh London Articles,” news that just arrived in Boston via theThomas from London.  The placement of Draper’s notice about the delayed advertisements suggests the sequence of events.  Like other printers, het set the type and printed the first and fourth pages first, leaving the second and third pages for later.  As a result, the most current news usually appeared on the second page, inside the standard four-page issue, rather than on the front page.  For the April 25 edition, the first page included news from “BOSTON, April 19” as well as news from other towns from earlier in April.  The fourth page contained advertisements.  The second page included news from “BOSTON, April 25,” the same day Draper printed the issue, as well as shipping news from the customs house news from Hartford, an item reprinted from a London newspaper, and advertisements.  Like the fourth page, the third page consisted entirely of paid notices, with the addition of the printer’s note about delayed advertisements at the bottom of the final column.

When news from London arrived via the Thomas, however, Draper decided to print a supplement rather than get scooped by his competitors.  Most newspapers published before the American Revolution appeared weekly rather than daily, meaning that waiting for the next issue to print breaking news meant a significant delay.  Draper managed to take news from London to press first.  Four days later, the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy each carried the same news, but in both cases that news ran on the front page as a result of the printers having it in their possession longer.  The introductory comments in the Post-Boy explained, “Monday last arrived here the ShipThomas, Capt. Davis, from London, by whom we have Papers to the 1st of March; from which we have the following Advices.”

The Thomas arrived in port on Monday, April 22.  Either it took a couple of days for Draper to come into possession of the London newspapers that Davis delivered or the printer decided to create a supplement to call special attention to that news, underscoring that the News-Letter reported it before any competitors.  In both scenarios, Draper selected a smaller sheet and devoted the entire supplement to the “freshest advices,” as so many printers described the news in their publications.  Advertising, Draper determined, could wait a week.  News from London could not.  Given that newspaper printers depended on advertising revenue, Draper could not always make the same call.  After all, colonists who submitted paid notices were familiar with advertising supplements, a regular feature of many newspapers.  In this instance, however, Draper apparently figured that advertisers would be forgiving of the delay, provided it did not continue indefinitely.  Like other printers, he sought a balance between news and advertising that would satisfy both subscribers and advertisers.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:24:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 24, 1770).

The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”

John Crosby, who sold citrus fruits “at the Sign of the Basket of Lemmons,” and George Spriggs, “Gardner to JOHN HANCOCK,” were fortunate.  Their advertisements were the last two that appeared in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  At the bottom of the third column on the final page, Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a brief notice that “The other Advertisements must be deferred to next Week.”  Unlike Crosby and Spriggs, some advertisers did not see their notices in print in that issue.

Draper had too much content to include in the standard four-page edition that week.  He may have considered producing a two-page supplement, as eighteenth-century printers often did in such situations, but perhaps he did not have sufficient advertisements to fill the space.  Alternately, lack of time or other resources may have prevented him from distributing a supplement that week.  Compared to other issues, the May 24 edition contained relatively few advertisements.  They comprised just over two columns, less than an entire page in a publication that often delivered just as much advertising as news.

Like other newspaper printers, Draper had to strike a balance between news and advertising.  Subscribers expected to receive the news, not just advertising, but advertisers contributed significant revenue to the operation of colonial newspapers.  Advertisers expected to put their notices before the eyes of readers.  They wished to reach as many readers as possible, which meant that printers could not alienate subscribers by skimping on the news or else risk their newspapers becoming less attractive venues for placing advertisements because subscription numbers decreased.  This was especially true in the larger port cities where printers published competing newspapers.  When it came to attracting both subscribers and advertisers, Draper contended with the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in 1770.  Delaying advertisements by a week on occasion was unlikely to convince his advertisers to post their notices in other newspapers, but it was not something that Draper could do on a regular basis and expect to maintain his clientele of advertisers and attract new ones.

February 23

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

Feb 23 - 2:23:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 23, 1770).

“(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)”

The February 23, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with two brief notices from the printer: “(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)” and “The Eastern Post not returned.”  Both of these concerned the production of the newspaper, especially the contents that appeared and those delayed.

In compiling the news and editorials that appeared in their newspapers, eighteenth-century printers liberally appropriated material from other newspapers that they received through networks of exchange with their counterparts in other cities and towns.  Quite simply, they literally reprinted items from one newspaper to another, often, but not always, with an attribution to either the original source or the source in which they encountered it.  The February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included a lengthy essay by “Junius” drawn “From the LONDON Evening-Post, Dec. 19.”  That issue also contained a letter “To the FREEHOLDERS, FREEMEN, and INHABITANTS of the Colony of New-York; and to all the Friends of LIBERTY in North-America” from Alexander McDougall who was confined in “the New Gaol [Jail] in New-York.”  The printer did not indicate how he came into possession of the letter, whether he reprinted it from another newspaper.  That edition of the New-London Gazette did not feature news from Boston, one of the centers of patriot activism, that the printer might have chosen if the “Eastern Post” had returned with newspapers and letters.  As in any other colonial newspaper, the news items presented to readers were contingent on which sources the printer recently received.

In contrast, printers sometimes made decisions to exclude advertisements, even advertisements with type already set.  To accommodate the two lengthy items in the February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette (together they accounted for eleven of the twelve columns), the printer opted to delay publication of some of the advertisements that might otherwise have appeared.  The notice about “Advertisements omitted” invited readers to consult the next issue for the information contained in legal notices, advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, and notices about servants and slaves who escaped, but it also served as a communication to the advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked or forgotten.  Such notices appeared fairly regularly in eighteenth-century newspapers, suggesting that advertisers generally did not make contracts for their advertisements to appear in specific issues.  Most expected that their notices would run for a set number of weeks (as the issue numbers at the end of advertisements in some newspapers indicate), but also anticipated some fluidity in the printer delivering on this service.  Although some advertisements were time sensitive, in most instances advertisers appear not to have specified particular dates but instead the number of weeks that their advertisements should run.  Printers exercised their own discretion in terms of when newspaper advertisements appeared in print.

November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:9:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 9, 1769).

Advertisements, &c. not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement.”

Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, inserted a brief note in the November 9, 1769, edition to inform readers that “The European Intelligence, received by Captain Carter from Bristol, Charles-Town News, Advertisements, &c. not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement, on Tuesday next.” In so doing, he simultaneously provided a preview for subscribers and assurances to advertisers that their paid notices would indeed appear in print shortly. The South-Carolina Gazette, like most other colonial newspapers, was a weekly, but Timothy pledged to distribute a supplement five days later rather than asking subscribers and advertisers to wait an entire week for the content he did not have space to squeeze into the November 9 issue.

Whether Timothy did print a supplement on November 14 remains unclear. Accessible Archives includes issues for November 9 and 16, consecutively numbered 1782 and 1783, but not a supplement issued any time during the week between them. The November 16 issue does not, however, include news from Europe received from Captain Carter that had been delayed by a week, suggesting that it could have appeared in a supplement no longer extant. Advertising filled nearly three of the four pages of the November 16 edition. The headline “New Advertisements” appeared on two pages. While this might suggest that Timothy did not print “European Intelligence, received by Captain Carter, from Bristol” and simply delayed publishing the advertisements, the several newspapers printed in Charleston in 1769 regularly overflowed with advertising. Timothy very well could have printed overdue advertisements in a supplement and still had plenty more advertisements for the standard weekly edition.

While it is quite possible that the promised supplement never materialized, Timothy’s reputation was on the line. He promised certain content to his subscribers who had other options for receiving their news from papers printed in Charleston, including the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Whether or not Timothy issued a supplement on November 14, Robert Wells did publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that day, complete with two extra pages devoted exclusively to advertising. The most important European news received from Captain Carter would have spread by word of mouth by the time it appeared in any supplement distributed by Timothy, but the printer needed to be wary of disappointing advertisers, not just subscribers. After all, those advertisers also had other options. Advertisements accounted for significant revenue for colonial printers. Timothy’s notice that “Advertisements … not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement” very well could have resonated with advertisers more than subscribers. After all, they paid for that service and each expected a return on their investment, a return that could not manifest as long as the printer delayed publication of their advertisements. Although listed third in his notice, advertisements may have been the most important content that Timothy sought to assure readers would soon appear.

October 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (October 20, 1769).

Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.”

In the late 1760s, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy carried significantly less advertising than its counterparts printed in the largest port cities. Newspapers published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia often overflowed with advertising, sometimes prompting printers to issue supplements in order to include all of the paid notices. The Connecticut Journal, on the other hand, rarely had enough advertising to fill an entire page.

On occasion, however, printers Thomas Green and Samuel Green found themselves with too many advertisements to fit in the standard issue. That was the case during the week of October 20, 1769. Advertisements comprised the entire final page of the newspaper’s standard four-page issue. The Greens had more advertisements, but they opted not to distribute a supplement with the issue. Instead, they inserted a note at the bottom of the third page: “(The new Advertisements are in the last Page. Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.)” A headline on the final page proclaimed, “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” (not unlike the headline Peter Timothy inserted in the South-Carolina Gazette two days earlier), though not every notice that appeared below it ran for the first time in the October 20 edition. The Greens alerted readers to the presence of new content, an important service considering that most advertisements usually ran for several weeks, but the “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” headline did not provide much assistance in navigating the notices on the final page.

The note that “Advertisements omitted, will be in our next” invited readers to peruse the next issue of the Connecticut Journal, but it also served another practical purpose for the printers. Rather than correspond with each advertiser whose notice did not appear in that issue, the Greens issued a blanket statement to reassure their clients that their advertisements had not been overlooked or forgotten. This note also encouraged prospective advertisers to consider placing their own paid notices in the Connecticut Journal or else find themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors who already submitted so many advertisements that the Greens did not have space to feature all of them. Many colonial printers depended on revenue generated by advertising to make publishing newspapers viable enterprises. Brief notices like this one from the Connecticut Journal demonstrate some of the practices adopted by printers in managing that aspect of the newspaper business.

April 22

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Providence Gazette (April 22, 1769).

“Wanted, a Quantity of good Pot-Ash.”

The word “Pot-Ash” caught my attention as I was looking at this advertisement, since I had never heard of it. After doing some research, I learned from a journal article by Henry Paynter that potash is a type of potassium carbonate that was made from the ashes of trees and plants during the eighteenth century. Home potash production was encouraged during the American Revolution, since it could be used to produce saltpeter for gunpowder. For more day-to-day life, it was used to make goods such as soap and glass, to dye fabrics, and for baking. Potash soap was very popular in England during the middle of the eighteenth century. Similar to South Carolina indigo compared to indigo from French and Spanish colonies, Great Britain imported potash produced in the American colonies rather than Russia because of its cheaper price, sacrificing quality to save money. As the colonial potash industry matured, production shifted north in order to utilize trees more favorable for making potash. Unfortunately, this process led to mass amounts of forests being cleared by the late eighteenth century, and Americans had to find other ways to produce the money-making potash.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Like many other colonial newspapers, the masthead of the Providence Gazette proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” Although the printer, John Carter, and many readers may have considered news items the most significant of those “Advices,” advertisements also kept colonists informed of events and commerce by providing details not necessarily available elsewhere in the newspaper. On occasion, Carter did not have sufficient space to publish all of the “Advices,” whether classified as news or paid notices. The April 22, 1769, edition included a brief note to that effect: “Sundry Articles of Intelligence composed for the Day’s Paper, and a few Advertisements, omitted for Want of Room, shall be in our next.”

Even though some advertisements did not make it into the April 22 issue, Joseph Russell and William Russell were well represented in its pages. News comprised the first two pages, a portion of the third, and most of the fourth. Overall, advertising accounted for slightly less than an entire page. Yet the Russells managed to have two advertisements included among the contents, the notice concerning potash on the final page and another promoting “Barrel Pork,” pepper, indigo, and other commodities on the third page. Both would have been familiar to regular readers of the Providence Gazette, having appeared the previous week and in earlier issues. As a result, these “Advices” may have seemed less pressing than the information in other advertisements or the “Sundry Articles of Intelligence” already composed but omitted until the following week.

Carter may have granted preferential treatment to the Russells precisely because they were such prolific advertisers. They advertised often, sometimes placing multiple advertisements in a single issue. They also tended to insert lengthy advertisements, especially when they listed dozens or hundreds of items they imported and sold at their shop. Carter relied on revenues from advertising to make the Providence Gazette a viable enterprise. In the colophon, every week he called on readers to submit both subscriptions and advertisements to the printing office. Given that the Russells did so regularly advertise in the pages of his newspaper, Carter may have prioritized their advertisements over others when running low on space, even though the “Advices” provided by the Russells had already become familiar in Providence and beyond over the course of several weeks.

March 25

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Providence Gazette (March 25, 1769).

“Pepper by the Bag.”

Joseph and William Russell advertised a few different commodities, such as pork, pepper, cordage, duck, indigo, and nails. Pepper was one of the biggest imports that came from Asia into Europe; it was one of the most valuable resources that the British imported from British India to Europe and the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Pepper had been one of the bigger sources of conflict between the British and the Dutch in earlier years, according to K.N. Chaudhuri in The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660-1760. Though the wrestling for dominance over India by European powers took place earlier than the Russells published their advertisement in the Providence Gazette, it bore great weight when observing the later outcomes and rewards that the British and the colonists reaped from those earlier efforts in securing a steady flow of resources from India, including textiles and pepper.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When it came time to select which advertisement to feature today, Sean had very few options. The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published in colonial America on Saturday, March 25, 1769. While it often carried dozens of advertisements that filled the entire final page and often spilled over to other pages, only five paid notices ran in the March 25 edition. They did not amount to an entire column. Two were legal notices and one offered a forge for lease. Only two offered goods for sale: the advertisement placed by the Russells and an even shorter notice for “best English Hay and Hay-Seed” to be sold by Hezekiah Carpenter. Guest curator Zach Dubreuil already examined the Russells’ advertisement last week. While the methodology for the Adverts 250 Project usually specifies that an advertisement should be featured only once, I instructed Sean that he could work with this advertisement as long as he consulted with Zach to choose a different aspect to analyze.

Those five notices were not, however, the sole mention of advertising in the Providence Gazette that week. At the bottom of the column John Carter, the printer, inserted a short announcement: “Advertisements omitted, for Want of Room, shall be in our next.” The relative scarcity of advertising in that issue apparently was not for lack of notices submitted to the printing office, as often seemed to be the case with the Boston Chronicle, but rather too much other content that Carter considered more important at the moment. Printers needed to carefully manage such situations. Especially at times of political turmoil, they had an obligation to disseminate news to their readers as quickly as they acquired it or risk losing readers, yet revenues from advertising were essential to the continued operation of colonial newspapers. The notice that “Advertisements omitted … shall be in our next” informed clients who expected to see their advertisements in the March 25 edition that they would indeed appear the following week after only a brief hiatus. That strategy was not Carter’s only option. Printers throughout the colonies sometimes issued half sheet supplements comprised of advertising when news (and other advertisements) filled the standard issue. Carter may not have had sufficient additional paid notices to merit doing so, or he may not have had sufficient time to produce a supplement. Even though few advertisements ran in the March 25 issue, the printer still addressed the business of advertising in the pages of the newspaper.

September 24

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

Sep 24 - 9:24:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 24, 1768).

Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.”

The compositor who set type for the Providence Gazette inserted a series of instructions to aid readers in navigating the September 24, 1768, edition. Like all other newspapers published in the American colonies in the 1760s, a standard issue of the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages distributed once a week. This required a single broadsheet, folded in half. Some newspapers in largest port cities did regularly circulate an additional two-page supplement printed on a half or quarter sheet tucked inside the standard issue but often numbered sequentially as the fifth and sixth pages. The majority of newspapers, however, issued supplements, postscripts, and extraordinaries only rarely.

Printers and compositors produced four-page issues by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet. The second and third pages were printed side-by-side on one side. In the final issue, they appeared next to each other across the center fold. The first and fourth pages were printed on the other side of the sheet, with the fourth page on the left and the first page on the right. This put each page in the proper position once both sides had been printed and the broadsheet folded in half.

The instructions the compositor inserted in the September 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette make the order for setting the type clear, though not necessarily the order for printing the two sides of the broadsheet. Except for the masthead, the “Commission of the Board of Commissioners for this Continent, now held at Castle-William” in Boston harbor occupied the entire first page. The final line of the third column instructed readers to “[See the last Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, filling the entire page except for the colophon at the bottom. Again, the final line of the third column gave instructions: “[For the Remainder, turn to the second Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, in the middle of a word, and concluded after approximately one-quarter of a column. Other news from Boston rounded out the second page and a portion of the third page. The editors selected one column of local news. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, confined to the bottom of the second and the entire third column on the third page. A short note from the printers followed the paid notices: “Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.” The printers opted not to issue a supplement but instead held off on publishing additional content for a week.

These various instructions make it clear that the compositor set the type for the first and fourth pages first and only after that for the second and third pages. They also indicate that reading the issue start to finish required subscribers to jump around the pages, starting with the first, then the fourth, and finally the second and third. The technologies of printing led to readers experiencing the material text in ways that seem unfamiliar and counterintuitive to modern readers.