July 18

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

Providence Gazette (July 18, 1772).

Thurber and Cahoon WANT to purchase … Red Oak Staves.”

In the early 1770s, Thurber and Cahoon regularly advertised imported goods for sale at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES” in Providence.  For instance, they hawked a “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS, Of almost every Kind” in an advertisement in the July 18, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, they promoted a “general Assortment of WEST-INDIA GOODS” in the same notice.  A notation at the end, “(3 M),” indicated that they planned to run the advertisement for three months.

Thurber and Cahoon did not turn to the public prints solely to market merchandise to consumers in Providence and nearby towns.  They also placed advertisements seeking resources they needed to participate in transatlantic trade, including wooden barrel staves.  Two such advertisements ran on the final page of the Providence Gazette on July 18, 1772.  In one, Thurber and Cahoon joined with Edward Thurber in calling on the public to supply them with a “Quantity of LONG STAVES.”  They needed the staves “immediately,” offering “good Pay” for them.  In another advertisement, they stated that they “WANT to purchase a Quantity of square edged Yellow Pine Boards, and Red Oak Stvaes.”  Again, they offered “good Pay” for those items.  The notation “(T. b. c.)” appeared on the final line, alerting the compositor that that Thurber and Cahoon intended for the advertisement “to be continued” until they alerted the printing office to discontinue it.

As Thurber and Cahoon utilized the Providence Gazette for both selling merchandise at their shop and acquiring supplies from other colonizers, John Carter, the printer, enjoyed a steady revenue stream.  Those advertisements helped in funding the distribution of news from London, Marseilles, Albany and Boston that appeared in the July 18 edition, including “the report of a Committee of the Honourable House of Representatives” in Massachusetts “to consider of a message from his Excellency the Governor.”  That report raised concerns about the governor, Thomas Hutchinson, “receiving his support, independent of the grants and acts of the General Assembly,” considering it a “dangerous innovation” because it made the governor less accountable to “the people” of Massachusetts.  Readers of the Providence Gazette learned about some of the most important issues that eventually resulted in the colonies declaring independence in part because Thurber and Cahoon ran advertisements seeking barrel staves “(T. b. c.)”

April 10

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

Connecticut Journal (April 10, 1772).

“The Printers hereof earnestly request all those who are indebted to them for Newspapers, Advertisements, Blanks, or in any other Way … to make speedy Payment.”

Colonial printers regularly called on customers to settle accounts, placing notices in their own newspapers for that purpose.  The appearance of those notices often coincided with an anniversary; as printers completed one year of publication and commenced another, they requested that customers make payments.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, however, did so halfway through their fifth year of publishing the Connecticut Journal.  They inserted a notice in the April 10, 1772, edition to inform readers that “THIS Day’s Paper (No. 234) completes Four Years and an Half since the first Publication of the CONNECTICUT JOURNAL, and NEW-HAVEN POST-BOY.”  They then lamented that “many of the Subscribers for it, have not paid a single Farthing, and others are indebted for Two or Three Year’s Papers.”

The Greens focused most of their attention on subscribers who had fallen behind or never paid, but they did not limit their efforts to collecting from those customers.  Instead, they “earnestly request all those who are indebted to them for News Papers, Advertisements, Blanks, or in any other Way, (whose Accounts are of more than a Year’s standing) to make speedy Payment.”  They continued to allow credit for those whose accounts did not extend more than a year, but they wanted others to pay their bills because “Printing a Weekly News-Paper, and carrying on the other Branches of the Printing-Business is attended with great Expence.”  While some printers may have considered advertising the more significant source of revenue and required that advertisers pay for notices in advance while extending credit to subscribers, that was not always the case.  For a time in the early 1770s, the colophon for the Providence Gazette, printed by John Carter, stated that “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three weeks.”  Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, apparently updated his policy about paying for advertisements in advance of publication.  On February 25, 1772, he informed readers that “No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid, unless it be for such persons as have open accounts with The Printer.”  Watson continued to accept advertisements without payment from existing customers in good standing, but no longer did so for new advertisers.  The Greens did not change their policy, but their notice did indicate that they extended credit for advertisements as well as subscriptions.  Payment in advance was not always required for publishing advertisements in early American newspapers.

April 5

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

South-Carolina Gazette (April 2, 1772).

“Be very punctual in their Publications … and be particularly careful in circulating the Papers.”

The first page of the April 2, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette consisted almost entirely of the masthead and advertisements placed by colonizers.  At the top of the first column, however, Peter Timothy, the printer, inserted his own notice before the “New Advertisements” placed by his customers.  In it, he announced that “my present State of Health will not admit of my continuing the PRINTING BUSINESS any longer.”  Effective on May 1, “Thomas Powell, Edward Hughes, & Co.” would “conduct and continue the Publication of this GAZETTE.”  Wishing for the success of his successors, Timothy assured readers that they could expect the same quality from the publication under new management that he had delivered “during the Course of Thirty-three Years.”  Picking up where he left off, the partners “will have the Advantage of an extensive and well established Correspondence” with printers and others who provided news.  In addition, Timothy declared that they would “be very punctual in their Publications—regular and exact in inserting the Prices Current—continue my Marine List—and be particularly careful in circulating the Papers.”

Timothy addressed subscribers and other readers when he mentioned the “Charles-Town Price Current” and “Timothy’s Marine List,” as the printer called his version of the shipping news obtained from the customs house.  In making promises about the punctually publishing newspapers and attending to their circulation, however, he addressed both readers and advertisers.  Colonizers who paid to insert notices wanted their information disseminated as quickly and as widely as possible, whether they encouraged consumers to purchase goods and services, invited bidders to attend auctions and estate sales, or offered rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves.  Certainly subscribers wanted their newspapers to arrive quickly and efficiently, but Timothy understood the importance of advertising when it came to generating revenues.  After all, he devoted only five of the twelve columns in the April 2 edition to news (including the “Charles-Town Price Current” and “Timothy’s Marine List”) and the other seven to advertising.  In addition, he distributed a half sheet supplement, another six columns, that consisted entirely of advertising.  Paid notices accounted for just over two-thirds of the content Timothy disseminated on April 2, even taking his “extensive and well established Correspondence” into consideration.

As he prepared to pass the torch to Powell and Hughes, Timothy did not address advertisers directly, but he certainly addressed concerns that would have been important to them.  The South-Carolina Gazette competed with two other newspapers published in Charleston at the time.  Timothy sought to keep both subscribers and advertisers loyal to the publication he would soon hand over to new partners.

March 28

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

The Censor (March 28, 1772).

The hurry of our other business prevents giving the Publick an additional half sheet.”

When Ezekiel Russell began publishing The Censor, a political magazine, in the fall of 1771, he did not include advertising as a means of generating revenue.  Each weekly issue of the publication consisted of four pages, two printed on each side of a broadsheet then folded in half.  In that regard, The Censor resembled newspapers of the period, but it did not carry short news articles reprinted from other newspapers, prices current, shipping news from the customs house, poetry, advertisements, and other content that appeared in other newspapers.  Instead, Russell used The Censor to disseminate political essays that expressed a Tory perspective on current events in Boston, often only one essay per issue.  Sometimes essays spanned more than one issue.  After a few months, Russell began distributing a half sheet Postscript to the Censor with content, including advertising, that more closely resembled what appeared in other newspapers published in Boston.

Russell devoted the entire March 28, 1772, edition of The Censor to a letter from a correspondent who defended Ebenezer Richardson, the customs official who killed eleven-year-old Christopher Seider.  On the night of February 22, 1770, Richardson fired into a crowd of protestors who objected to merchants bringing an end to their nonimportation agreement before Parliament repealed import duties on tea.  His shots killed Seider.  The boy’s funeral became an occasion for further anti-British demonstrations.  Less than two weeks later, heightened tensions overflowed into the Boston Massacre.  A jury convicted Richardson of killing Seider, but the authorities chose to imprison rather than execute him.  The king eventually pardoned Richardson and offered him a new post in Philadelphia in 1773, but he was still imprisoned in 1772 when a correspondent of The Censor examined his case.

That correspondent’s letter did not fit in a single issue of The Censor.  Russell concluded with a brief note that “The Remainder must be omitted until next Week.”  He further explained that “the hurry of our other business prevents giving the Publick an additional half sheet” with other news, advertising, and other content.  He did find space, however, to insert a short teaser about a forthcoming publication.  “It is with pleasure the Printer can promise his Customers,” Russell declared, “that in a few days will be published, a PAMPHLET, intimately connected with the present Times, and perhaps one of the most agreeable Entertainments ever offered the sensible Publick.”  He did not further elaborate on the topic of that pamphlet, but his announcement suggested that he could be savvy in his efforts to incite interest and anticipation among consumers.  In this instance, Russell emphasized his own marketing but did not tend to the paid notices that would have appeared in the “additional half sheet.”  Isaiah Thomas, the patriot printer of the Massachusetts Spy and author of The History of Printing in America (1810), claimed that The Censor quickly failed because Russell published unpopular political views.  While that may have been the primary reason, it also looks as though Russell did not sufficiently attend to the business aspects of publishing it.  Not distributing the “additional half sheet” meant delayed advertising revenues and dissatisfied advertisers.

March 7

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (March 7, 1772).

“Several Negroes to be sold, belonging to said Estate.”

Estate notices regularly ran among the advertisements in the Providence Gazette and other colonial newspapers.  On March 7, 1772, for instance, Deborah Paget and Joseph Olney inserted a notice calling on “ALL Persons who have any Accounts against the Estate of HENRY PAGET, Esq; late of Providence, deceased, … to bring them to us … for Settlement.”  Similarly, they requested that “all those who are in any Manner indebted to said Estate … make immediate Payment” so Paget and Olney “may be enabled to discharge the Debts due from said Estate.”

The notice also included a nota bene that advised, “Several Negroes to be sold, belonging to the said Estate.”  That was not the only mention of enslaved people for sale in that edition of the Providence Gazette.  Another advertisement proclaimed, “TO BE SOLD, FOR no Fault, but for Want of Employ, a stout, likely NEGRO MAN, who understands Farming, and almost all other Kinds of Business.”  No colonizer signed that advertisement.  Instead, it instructed anyone interested in purchasing the enslaved man to “Enquire of the Printer.”  In this instance, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, not only generated revenue from disseminating the advertisement but also served as a broker in the slave trade.  Throughout the colonies, newspaper printers regularly assumed that dual role.

Elsewhere in the March 7 edition of the Providence Gazette, Carter reprinted an essay that ran in the Essex Gazette two weeks earlier.  It made a case for the colonies united in a “Grand American Commonwealth” to become “an independent state,” noting that “liberty has taken deep root in America, and cannot be eradicated by all the Tories in the universe.”  The author, who adopted the pseudonym “FORESIGHT,” challenged printers to fill the pages of newspapers “with essays against the present tyranny” perpetrated by Britain.  Carter may have believed that he joined that effort by reprinting the essay, but his decision to publish advertisements offering enslaved people for sale and to act as a broker in those transaction demonstrated the juxtaposition of liberty and enslavement in the era of the American Revolution.  Over and over, throughout the colonies, printers promoted the rights of colonizers against the tyranny of Britain while simultaneously perpetuating slavery and the slave trade.  Revenues generated from advertisements offering enslaved people for sale helped fund essays that advocated for the liberties of American colonizers.

February 25

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

Connecticut Courant (February 25, 1772).

No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid.”

Colonial printers frequently inserted notices into their newspapers to advise subscribers to make payments or face legal action.  Usually those were empty threats.  After all, printers depended on subscribers, even those who did not actually pay, to bolster circulation and, in turn, make their newspapers attractive places to run advertisements.  Many historians assert that the most significant revenues associated with publishing newspapers in colonial America came from advertising rather than subscriptions.  That has prompted some to assume that printers required advertisers to pay upfront even though they extended credit to subscribers.  That may have often been the case, but in many of their notices printers did call on subscribers and others indebted to the printing office (perhaps including advertisers) to settle accounts.

Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, inserted a notice that directly addressed paying for advertising in the February 25, 1772, edition.  He advised the public that “No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid, unless it be for such persons as have open accounts with The Printer.”  In so doing, he did not invoke a blanket policy.  New advertisers, perhaps colonizers unknown to Watson prior to placing advertisements in his newspaper, had to submit payment at the same time that they provided the printing office with the copy for the advertisements.  Existing customers, however, those advertisers who “have open accounts,” could apparently continue to publish advertisements with the intention of paying later.

Such business practices likely differed from newspaper to newspaper.  Notices published in newspapers reveal some of the particulars, but printers’ records still extant likely help to tell a more complete story.  Like Watson’s notice in the Connecticut Courant, however, account books require careful examination to reconstruct relationships to determine how printers actually put policies into practice.  Further investigate should incorporate working back and forth between ledgers and newspapers to compare dates advertisers made payments and dates their notices appeared in the public prints.

February 18

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

Essex Gazette (February 18, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”

How much did advertising cost?  How much did advertising cost compared to subscriptions?  These are some of the most common questions I encounter when discussing eighteenth-century advertising at conferences and public presentations.  The answer is complicated, in part because most eighteenth-century printers did not list advertising rates or subscription fees in their newspapers.  A significant minority, however, did regularly publish that information in the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page.

Such was the case with Samuel Hall and Ebenezer Hall, printers of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  Over the course of two lines, the colophon in their newspaper announced, “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 4s. 6d. if sent by the Post) to be paid at Entrance.  ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”  The colophon revealed how much the Halls charged for subscriptions and advertising as well as other business practices.

Subscribers paid six shillings and eight pence per year, but that did not include postage for delivering the newspapers.  The printers expected subscribers to pay half, three shillings and four pence, in advance.  Like many other eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, the Halls extended credit to their customers.  Newspaper subscribers were notorious for not paying for their subscriptions, as demonstrated in the frequent notices calling on subscribers to settle accounts placed in newspapers throughout the colonies, prompting the Halls to require half from the start.  They asked for even more, four shillings and six pence, from subscribers who lived far enough away that they received their newspapers via the post, though the colophon does make clear if the additional shilling covered postage.  The Halls may have charged a higher deposit because they considered it more difficult to collect from subscribers at a distance.

Short advertisements, those “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” cost three shillings or nearly half what an annual subscription cost.  Other printers specified that they adjusted advertising rates “in proportion” to length.  The Halls likely did so as well, making the cost of an advertisement that extended twenty lines about the same as a subscription.  They did not specify in the colophon that they required payment before running advertisements.  Some printers made that their policy but apparently made exceptions.  When they inserted notices calling on subscribers to send payment, they sometimes addressed advertisers.  For many eighteenth-century printers, advertising generated significant revenue. Considering that a single advertisement could cost as much or more as an annual subscription in the Essex Gazette, the Halls had good reason to cultivate advertisers as well as subscribers.

January 19

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 16, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS taken in … Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”

Advertising represented significant revenues for early American printers.  For many, advertising, rather than subscriptions, determined the viability and profitability of their newspapers.  Some printers included invitations to submit advertisements along with publication information in the colophons that appeared at the bottom of the final page of their newspapers.  In the colophon for the Massachusetts Spy, for instance, Isaiah Thomas proclaimed, “ADVERTISEMENTS taken in.”  Considering how much revenue advertisements generated, some printers devoted as much space (or more!) to paid notices in their newspapers as to other content, though others made efforts to balance news and advertising.  For his part, Thomas did not allow advertising to crowd out local news for Boston, “AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE” from other cities, letters to the editor, and other content.  In the January 16, 1772, edition, for instance, he filled one-third of the columns with advertising and the rest with news.  He also inserted a note that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next,” alerting advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked but merely delayed.

At the same time, Thomas produced other forms of advertising, including handbills, and promoted such work as well as other job printing performed “on the most reasonable Terms.”  Those services appeared in the colophon of every issue of the Massachusetts Spy in the early 1770s.  The printer alerted prospective advertisers that he produced “Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”  Though relatively few of those handbills survive today, especially compared to newspapers (and the advertisements in them) preserved in their entire runs, they were part of a vibrant culture of advertising in the second half of the eighteenth century.  As they traversed the streets of Boston and other cities and towns, colonizers glimpsed broadsides pasted to buildings and grasped handbills thrust at them as they passed.  Merchants and shopkeepers gave out trade cards to promote their businesses and wrote accounts and receipts on billheads.  Booksellers and auctioneers distributed catalogs.  Advertisements were not the only kind of job printing undertaken by Thomas, but singling out handbills for special attention in the colophon of his newspaper suggests that he saw advertising as an especially lucrative endeavor.

June 9

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

South-Carolina Gazette (June 6, 1771).

“A Number of ADVERTISEMENTS … will be inserted in a CONTINUATION.”

The South-Carolina Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertising, often devoting more space to paid notices than to news.  The printer, Peter Timothy, must have generated significant revenues, assuming advertisers paid their bills.  Like other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but other distributed advertisements throughout an issue, including on the front page.

Consider the contents of the June 6, 1771, edition.  News from London comprised most of the first and third columns, but several advertisements filled the entire column between them.  In addition, a single advertisement appeared at the bottom of the first and third columns, each with a header proclaiming “New Advertisements.”  Local news and a poem filled most of the second page, but an advertisement appeared at the bottom of the last column.  It also bore a header for “New Advertisements,” leading into the facing page.  Advertisements accounted for the first two columns and a portion of the third on that page, though it concluded with “Timothy’s Marine List,” the shipping news from the customs house.  Paid notices filled the entire final page.  In total, advertising comprised seven of the twelve columns in the standard issue.

In addition, Timothy distributed a half sheet supplement, two more pages that contained nothing except paid notices.  Printers who ran out of space for the content they wished to print – or needed to print to satisfy agreements made with advertisers – often resorted to supplements.  In this instance, a header for “Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column on the first page.  Timothy also inserted a notice in the standard issue to explain that “A Number of ADVERTISEMENTS, which we could not get into this Day’s Paper, will be inserted in a CONTINUATION, to be published on Monday next.”  That meant even more advertising, though the printer’s notice may have been misleading. Timothy may or may not have printed and distributed another supplement on Monday.  The supplement dated June 6 may have been that supplement, taken to press earlier than anticipated at the time Timothy composed his notice and printed the standard issue.

Even without a midweek Continuation in addition to a Supplement that accompanied the June 6 edition, advertising constituted the majority of content delivered to subscribers.  Paid notices filled thirteen of the eighteen columns in the standard issue and supplement, amounting to more than two-thirds of the space.  Revenues generated from that advertising supported the production and distribution of the news, even in the colonial era.

May 11

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

Providence Gazette (May 11, 1771).

“N.B. They have just received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”

The arrival of the Providence in Providence on May 1, 1771, was good for business for John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette.  Captain Phineas Gilbert brought a variety of information that quickly found its way into the town’s only newspaper.  He delivered newspapers from London and letters from distant correspondents to Carter.  In turn, the printer selected excerpts for publication in the Providence Gazette.  He also published updates about the progress made by several vessels the Providence encountered during its transatlantic voyage.

In addition to news, the Providence also generated advertising.  Merchants quickly placed advertisements announcing that they stocked consumer goods “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON … In the Ship Providence.”  John Brown made that pronouncement in the May 4 edition.  Joseph Russell and William Russell also advertised that Captain Gilbert delivered a “large Assortment of GOODS” to them.  A week later, several other entrepreneurs placed similar notices in the Providence Gazette.  The advertising section in the May 11 edition commenced with notification from “Nicholas, Joseph& Moses Brown, In Company” that they had “imported in the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a great Variety of English and India GOODS.”  Thurber and Cahoon made the same appeal, adding a nota bene to an advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette.  The new copy asserted that Thurber and Cahoon “have just recently received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”  Nathaniel Wheaton did not mention the Providence in his new advertisement, but he did declare that he “just imported from London” an assortment of merchandise that he offered to “the Gentlemen and Ladies both of Town and Country.”  Most likely the Providence transported his goods.  Not all entrepreneurs who placed such advertisements had shops in Providence. Richard Matthewson of East Greenwich promoted goods he received via the Providence, noting that he set prices “as cheap as any in the Colony.”

While Carter certainly welcomed any news that Captain Gilbert carried, he likely appreciated the goods and, especially, the advertisements they inspired even more.  After all, he regularly reprinted news from London that appeared in newspapers published in Boston.  That allowed him to satisfy subscribers, but it did not generate additional revenue.  The number of advertisements for consumer goods in the Providence Gazette significantly increased after the Providencearrived in port and delivered its cargo to merchants and shopkeepers.  That meant both additional content and greater revenue for the newspaper.