January 6

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 3, 1771).

“Said EVITT prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”

At first glance, many readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that William Evitt’s notice in the January 3, 1771, edition was yet another advertisement for an almanac.  Such advertisements were common at the turn of the new year as printers attempted to sell surplus copies not purchased before the new year began.  David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of both the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, inserted their own advertisement on the previous page.  The prologue to Evitt’s advertisement suggested that he would devote the entire notice to describing the contents of “THE UNIVERSAL and POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACKS, for the year 1771.”  Although he did promote those two publications, as well as “The GENTLEMAN and CITIZEN’S POCKET ALMANACK” with its “greater variety of useful lists, tables, &c. &c. &c. than any other almanack printed in America,” Evitt addressed a variety of other endeavors in the second half of his advertisement.  He informed customers that he sold books, stationery, and patent medicines, like many other printers, but he also carried other merchandise, including stockings, handkerchiefs, sieves, brushes, soap, and common grocery items.

Near the conclusion of his advertisement, Evitt returned to goods and services more closely associated with printers.  He advised prospective clients that he “prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”  In other words, he did job printing.  Jobs included advertisements, broadsides (today known as posters), circular letters, and a vast array of printed blanks (or forms).  Clients submitted copy or, in the case of blanks, chose from among popular options, then Evitt set the type and produced the specified number of copies.  Evitt did not elaborate on the forms of advertising he printed, but they likely included handbills, catalogs, trade cards, bill heads, broadsides, and circular letters.  He produced them quickly, though the process of manually operating the press meant that he could produce only a limited quantity in that time.  Still, most orders were likely relatively small, in the range of a couple hundred copies.  Evitt considered job printing, especially advertisements, lucrative enough and potentially steady enough to merit mentioning alongside his other enterprises.  In emphasizing the speed of production, he suggested that he competed to provide a service already in demand.  It is quite likely that handbills, broadsides, and other advertisements that came off his press have been lost over time.  Evitt’s newspaper advertisement testifies to a more extensive circulation of other forms of advertising, each of them more ephemeral than newspapers systematically collected and preserved since the eighteenth century.  While newspaper advertising was by far the most common form of marketing in early America, colonists likely encountered other formats more regularly than the numbers of those that survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest on their own.

December 30

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

Maryland Gazette (December 27, 1770).

“Catalogues may be had at Mr. Thomas Williams and Company’s Store in Annapolis.”

Newspaper advertisements were the most common form of marketing media in eighteenth-century America, but they were not the only means of advertising.  Entrepreneurs also produced and distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, furniture labels, subscription papers, circular letters, and catalogs.  Given the ephemeral quality of those genres, they have not survived in the same numbers as newspaper advertisements, but those that have been identified in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest that various forms of advertising circulated widely.

Sometimes newspaper advertisements from the period made reference to other advertising materials that consumers discarded after the served their purpose, especially subscription papers for books and other publications, auction catalogs for an array of goods, and book catalogs that often also included stationery wares.  Such was the case in an advertisement for “LAW BOOKS” in the December 27, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Thomas Brereton advertised that he sold law books in Baltimore.  Seeking to serve prospective customers beyond that town, he advised readers that they could acquire catalogs “at Mr. Thomas Williams and Company’s Store in Annapolis.”  Consumers could shop from the catalog and place orders via the post, the eighteenth-century version of mail order.

Brereton likely recognized benefits of simultaneously distributing two forms of marketing.  The newspaper advertisements went into widespread circulation throughout the colony and beyond, enlarging his market beyond Baltimore.  Yet the rates for publishing lengthy newspaper advertisements, such as a list of titles from a book catalog, may have been prohibitively expensive.  Instead, resorting to job printing for a specified number of catalogs may have been the more economical choice.  In addition, doing so created an item devoted exclusively to the sale of Brereton’s law books without extraneous materials.  Interested parties who encountered Brereton’s advertisement in newspapers they read in coffeehouse or taverns or borrowed from friends or acquaintances could request their own copies of the catalog to carry with them, mark up, and otherwise treat as they pleased.

Compared to the frequency that newspapers advertisements promoted book catalogs as ancillary marketing materials, relatively few have survived.  Some historians suspect that advertisers did not produce all of the catalogs they mentioned in their newspaper notices, especially those that advertisers promised would soon become available.  Despite that possibility, it did not serve Brereton to direct prospective customers to a catalog that did not exist.  In this instance, he noted that the catalogs were already available, increasing the likelihood that he did indeed produce and circulate them.