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.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 25, 1767).

“Advertisements omitted this Week, for want of Room, will be inserted in our next.”

Sarah Goddard and Company, the publishers of the Providence Gazette, apparently received more advertisements than space permitted them to insert in the July 25, 1767, edition. As a result, they included a notice frequently seen in rival newspapers in other cities: “Advertisement omitted this Week, for want of Room, will be inserted in our next.” This signaled to readers that they would discover new material in the next issue, but it also communicated to advertisers not to fret when they did not spot their notice in the current issue.

Space was indeed at a premium in that edition of the Providence Gazette. Advertising filled nearly five of the twelve columns (including the entire final page), which was quite a change from the scarcity of advertising that plagued Goddard and Company the previous winter. The printers no longer resorted to filling the last page with their own advertisements (although one short notice did inform readers that “THE new Digest of the LAWS of this Colony, printed in One Volume, are to be sold at the Printing-Office in Providence”). Instead, they printed advertisements of various sorts, including legal notices, real estate pitches, and one seeking the capture and return of “a Negro Man named Caesar.” The majority of advertisements, however, promoted consumer goods and services. William Logan announced that he “now carries on the Painting Business in all its Branches.” Thomas Sabin advertised his stagecoach service to Boston (also advertised in Boston’s newspapers) and Ebenezer Webb advertised his “Passage-Boat” between New London and Long Island (also advertised in the New-London Gazette). Several merchants and shopkeepers – Black and Stewart, William Brown, James Green, John Mathewson, Philip Potter, Benjamin West – sought to attract customers.

What accounted for this spirit of competition in the public prints that had been absent during the winter months? Why did Goddard and Company now have more advertisements than they squeeze into the weekly issue of the Providence Gazette? Did other marketing efforts beget more advertising? In recent weeks, several advertisers made bolder claims (such as James Green proclaiming that “he will sell as cheap as can be bought in any Shop in this Town, or an of the neighbouring Governments”), became rancorous (such as Black and Stewart lamenting “the Knavery of some, and the Collusion of others” to their detriment), and singled out specific competitors (such as Philip Potter pledging “he will sell as Cheap as the Messrs. Thurbers”).   A combination of increasingly vocal marketing efforts in the pages of the local newspaper and concurrent events revived the advertising section of the Providence Gazette in the summer of 1767.