March 16

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 16, 1768).

“WHEREAS the following advertisement was stuck up at divers places …”

John Joachim Zubly placed an advertisement concerning a dispute over real estate in the March 16, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In it, Zubly responded to a separate advertisement that George Galphin and Lachlan McGillivray “stuck up at divers places at Augusta and New-Windsor the beginning of this month.” Zubly opened his own advertisement with an extensive quotation from Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement, providing readers with the context they needed to understand his rebuttal.

Although the Adverts 250 Project usually features advertisements for consumer goods and services rather than real estate, this notice merits inclusion because it provides a glimpse of another medium used for advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspaper notices comprised the vast majority of advertising of the period, but advertisers also distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, magazine wrappers, catalogs, and a variety of other printed media for the purposes of disseminating information or attempting to incite demand for goods and services. Although Galphin and McGillivray’s advertisement concerned real estate, others “stuck up” advertisements that promoted the goods they sold in their shops. On occasion, the charges recorded in printers’ ledgers indicate that advertisers paid an additional fee for a boy from the shop to paste their advertisements around town, saving them the time and effort of distributing the advertisements themselves.

Based on Zubly’s description, the advertisement “stuck up at diverse places at Augusta and New-Windsor” was most likely a broadside, a sheet printed on only one side, the eighteenth-century equivalent of a poster (though the size of this particular item may have been closer to a handbill or flier). Zubly responded in print, intending that his advertisement in the Georgia Gazette would reach as many colonists as possible, but he may have also commissioned his own broadside to post in the same places that Galphin and McGillivray distributed theirs.

Even more ephemeral than newspapers, most eighteenth-century broadsides have likely been lost over time. Zubly’s advertisement, however, testifies to the rich landscape of advertising that colonists encountered in their daily lives beyond the pages of the newspapers.

July 6

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

Jul 6 - 7:6:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 6, 1767).

“At the London BOOK-STORE.”

Bookseller John Mein regularly advertised in Boston’s newspapers in the 1760s, often inserting lengthy advertisements that extended over multiple columns or even filled an entire page. Yet newspaper notices were not the only marketing media utilized by Mein and other eighteenth-century booksellers. They also used broadsides and catalogs to inform potential customers of the titles they sold.

To promote the “Grand Assortment of the most MODERN BOOKS, In every Branch of Polite LITERATURE, ARTS, and SCIENCES” at his “LONDON BOOK-STORE,” Mein distributed a small broadside in 1766. Measuring 20 x 13 cm (8 x 5 in), it could have been posted around town or passed out as a handbill. Unlike his newspapers advertisements, the broadside did not include titles of many books. Instead, Mein listed more than two dozen genres that might interest readers, from Divinity and Philosophy to Travels and Voyages to Anatomy and Midwifery. Potential customers need to visit his shop to discover which titles he stocked.

Jul 6 - Mein Broadside
John Mein’s broadside advertisement (Boston: 1766). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Mein adopted the opposite strategy in the fifty-two-page “CATALOGUE OF CURIOUS and VALUABLE BOOKS” he distributed the same year, listing (and numbering) 1741 different titles. For some, particularly bibles and prayer books, he also described the material aspects of the books, such as “Baskerville’s large Octavo Prayer-Book, bound in red Morocco, gilded” (#1734) and “Tate and Brady’s Psalms, fine Paper, bound in Morocco and Calf, gilded” (#1739). Mein used two different methods in categorizing his books. The first 367 were organized by size: octavo or folio. The remainder, however, fell under subject headings similar to those listed on the broadside. Under certain headings, some books were further demarcated by size. The bookseller aimed to help readers find books that corresponded to their interests, their budgets, their preferences for storing them, and their tastes for displaying them.

Mein’s newspaper advertisement melded aspects of his broadside and catalog, listing multiple titles under several categories. He also added a blurb to promote one book, Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield. Lest potential customers not see any books that interested them, Mein concluded by stating that he “has for Sale a grand Assortment of the best AUTHORS in evry Art and Science, and in every Branch of polite Literature.” Like other eighteenth-century booksellers, he experimented with media and organization in his efforts to market his wares. His advertising may have helped to fuel a reading revolution as colonists’ habits veered from intensive reading of devotional literature to extensive reading of many genres, including novels.

The First Full-Page Advertisement in an American Newspaper

I usually refrain from selecting an additional advertisement to examine on days that my students are serving as guest curators, but I am making an exception in this case because Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement on the final page of the November 22, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette was just too significant to allow it to pass without acknowledgment. I believe that this is the first full-page advertisement that appeared in an American newspaper!

Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766, left; November 29, 1766, right). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

For months I have been tracking the innovative layouts designed by Mary Goddard and Company when they began publishing the revived Providence Gazette in the summer of 1766. Between August and November, a trio of advertisers – Thompson and Arnold, Benjamin and Edward Thurber, and Samuel Nightingale, Jr. – placed advertisements that featured decorative borders to set them apart from everything else on the page. Each spanned two columns, dominating the pages on which they appeared. They deviated so significantly from standard eighteenth-century advertisements that they certainly would have attracted the attention of readers. No matter the goods they listed or the appeals the shopkeepers made, these advertisements already caused a visual sensation even before colonists read any of the copy.

Each of these advertisements looked like it could have been printed separately as a trade card that the shopkeepers would have distributed on their own, perhaps recording purchases on the reverse. For the issues of the Providence Gazette in which they appeared, it looked like the oversized advertisements had been positioned in one corner of a page and then the remaining columns built around them.

Given that Mary Goddard and Company were experimenting with size, format, and other graphic design elements on the advertising pages of the Providence Gazette, it probably should not have come as any surprise to find a full-page advertisement occupying the final page of the November 22, 1766, issue. Still, I could not believe my eyes when I saw the digitized image in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. I needed confirmation, so I visited the American Antiquarian Society and examined the original issue.

Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766).

If trade cards had inspired the design of the earlier advertisements, then broadsides must have inspired Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement. Mary Goddard and Company had already played around with mixing genres by placing a trade card within the pages of a newspaper. Making a broadside the entire final page of the newspaper was the logical next step, one that was even more likely to attract notice. Imagine a reader holding up this issue of the Providence Gazette while perusing the pages in the middle. Instead of columns of smaller advertisements typical of other newspapers, observers would have been confronted by a single advertisement larger than any they had preciously encountered in an American newspaper.

I frequently argue that many of the advertising innovations of the twentieth century had precursors in the eighteenth century. Here we see yet another example of eighteenth-century printers and advertisers creating sophisticated marketing materials that have been largely forgotten or overlooked.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1766 South Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (September 8, 1766).

“DAVID & JOHN DEAS, HAVE JUST IMPORTED … an assortment of other goods.”

Contrary to what this short advertisement, rather plain and unremarkable in its appearance, may suggest, David and John Deas made their mark on the history of advertising thanks to the infamous broadsides (what we would call posters today) that they distributed in Charleston, South Carolina, in the decade before the American Revolution.

Not much distinguishes this advertisement for textiles, including “A LARGE supply of WHITE and COLOURED PLAINS,” from other commercial notices about imported goods that appeared in the same issue of the South Carolina Gazette. David and John Deas are much better remembered (and not just by scholars who specialize in economic history or advertising) for this broadside that circulated in Charleston and beyond nearly three years later.

Sep 8 - Deas Broadside
David and John Deas’s broadside for a slave auction (Charleston, 1769). American Antiquarian Society.

This broadside measures 32 x 20 cm (12 ½ x 8 in), which would have made it a good size to post around town or pass out as a handbill. The woodcuts depicting “PRIME, HEALTHY NEGROES” and the graphic design are both crude, but exceptionally memorable, at least to modern viewers. The haunting images of Africans treated as commodities elicit emotional responses today, but that would not necessarily have been the case in the 1760s. While it would have been impossible not to notice the images on the broadside, colonial consumers would not have been shocked by advertisements treating people as commodities. Accustomed to trade cards and billheads with images more skillfully and effectively rendered, colonists likely would not taken particularly favorable notice of the artistic or aesthetic qualities of the broadside.

David and John Deas’s newspaper advertisement for textiles did not indicate any direct involvement with the slave trade, though the merchandise they stocked made them part of transatlantic networks of commerce and consumption that depended on human cargoes and the staple crops produced through the labor of enslaved men, women, and children. Still, the juxtaposition of their newspaper advertisement and their broadside offers an important reminder that advertisements often provide evidence concerning only a portion of a shopkeeper’s, merchant’s, or firm’s business enterprises. How many other advertisers who promoted general merchandise via their advertisements at one time or another imported and auctioned slaves?