What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Enquire of the Printers.”
This short advertisement from the April 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazetteoffered several books for sale. Interested readers were advised to “Enquire of the Printers” to learn more about the conditions of the sale. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, publishers of the Providence Gazette, may have placed the advertisement. After all, many colonial printers simultaneously sold books and stationery at their shops. However, this advertisement more likely promoted books from a private library. For various reasons, colonists interested in selling used goods often placed anonymous notices in newspapers, instructing potential buyers to “Enquire of the Printers.” As a result, printing offices became clearinghouses for disseminating information, not only in print but also via letters and conversations. Newspaper printers also served as brokers who made introductions between buyers and sellers when the latter did not wish to disclose their identity to the general public.
That Goddard and Carter placed this advertisement seems especially unlikely considering that they more explicitly marketed their wares and services elsewhere in the same issue. The colophon consistently invited readers to purchase subscriptions and advertisements as well as commission “all Manner of PRINTING WORK.” In another short advertisement, Goddard and Carter forthrightly stated, “BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.” In contrast, “Enquire of the Printers” did not assume the same level of responsibility for an anticipated sale. Furthermore, the majority of the books listed in the advertisement were medical texts, suggesting that they came from the library or estate of a reader who had specific interests.
That being the case, the fees that some advertisers paid to place their notices in newspapers apparently covered more than setting the type and the amount of space occupied in the publication for a series of weeks. Advertisers who asked readers to “Enquire of the Printers” expected to receive additional services; they relied on printers to expend additional time and energy in facilitating transactions with potential buyers. For their part, printers absorbed this as the cost of doing business. The revenues generated from advertisements justified any additional labor required when they published “Enquire of the Printer” notices in their newspapers.