July 29

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

Boston-Gazette (July 29, 1771).

“The Particulars in our next.”

In late July 1771, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, ran short on space for advertising.  In the July 22 edition, they included a note that “ADVERTISEMENTS omitted will be in our next.”  A week later they apparently had sufficient space to insert notices from all advertisers that submitted them to the printing office and even had room for a note of their own to remind “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above Twelve Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.”  Not every advertisement, however, appeared in its entirety.  Samuel Parkman’s advertisement for a “neat & fresh Assortment of English and India Goods” concluded with a note advising, “The Particulars in our next.”

Boston-Gazette (August 5, 1771).

Parkman’s complete advertisement did indeed appear in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette.  Perhaps to make amends for truncating its earlier appearance, the printers gave it a privileged place at the top of the third column on the first page.  The first two columns consisted of news, making Parkman’s advertisement the first commercial notice that readers encountered when perusing the August 5 edition.  The copy for the complete advertisement suggests that the printers consulted with Parkman about how to abbreviate his initial advertisement.  In most cases, the compositor would have set the type for the first portion of the advertisement and later added additional material, in this case a list of goods available at Parkman’s shop, without making revisions to the introductory section.  In this case, however, it appears that the compositor started afresh in setting type for the second iteration of the advertisement.  Notice, for instance, the spacing for “the Diana” in the first and “theDiana” in the second as well as the changing line breaks for “Union-Street” and “Assortment of English and India Goods.”  More significantly, the first advertisement stated that Parkman “will sell be Wholesale or Retail, as low as can be bought at any Store or Shop in Town.”  In the second advertisement, this shifted to “will sell on the best Terms by Wholesale or Retail.”  That version did not make explicit comparisons to other stores and shops.  In general, advertisers were responsible for copy and compositors responsible for design, so it seems likely that Parkman at least approved the revisions incorporated into the second advertisement.

As with many aspects of the business of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers, this conclusion rests on reasonable conjecture based on close examination of advertising in the Boston-Gazette and many other newspapers.  The advertisements offer clues about what might have happened or what likely happened, but often no definitive answers about the relationship between advertisers and printers.

July 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 26, 1771).

“Hatts of all kinds.”

John Beck, a hatter, placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette on multiple occasions during the summer of 1771.  Although the copy remained consistent, the format varied, an unusual situation when it came to early American advertising.  Printers and compositors usually conserved time and effort by setting type for advertisements just once and then running them in that format for as long as advertisers wished for them to continue to appear.  For some reason, however, that was not the case with Beck’s advertisement.

When the advertisement appeared in the July 5 edition, it occupied only three lines.  In its entirety, it informed readers of “HATTS of all Kinds, made and Sold by JOHN BECK, as usual, at the Sign of the HATT and BEVER, in Queen Street, Portsmouth.”  The advertisement did not run again until July 26.  It did not appear in the same format.  The copy remained the same, including the variations in spelling, but the new version made use of larger fonts, distributed the copy across five lines that occupied twice as much space as the previous iteration, and discontinued the use of italics.  The revised version then ran several times in August.

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 5, 1771).

Who made decisions about changing the format of the advertisement, someone in the printing office or the advertiser?  Unfortunately, that question is impossible to answer from the sources available.  Certain aspects of the advertisements allow for reasonable conjectures about a portion of the process, but not all the details.  The identical copy, for instance, testifies to an attribute seen in other advertisements placed in multiple newspapers.  Advertisers usually exercised control over the copy.  Advertisements with identical copy placed in multiple newspapers also demonstrate that compositors usually made decisions about format, including font size and the use of capitals and italics.  This instance, however, concerns an advertisement placed multiple times in one newspaper, not an advertisement placed in multiple newspapers.  It presents the possibility that Beck, dissatisfied with the original advertisement, negotiated for a different format.  Yet that may not have been the case at all.  Alternately, the compositor may have inadvertently broken down the type after Beck’s advertisement ran the first time and then someone had to set it again, making new choices in the process.  Or something else altogether may have occurred.  Something unusual happened, deviating from the standard practices for producing newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century.  This raises questions about the roles of the advertiser and the compositor, the influence of each, but no definitive answers that might better illuminate the evolution of business practices associated with advertising in early America.

March 10

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 7, 1771).

Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”

On March 7, 1771, John Stavers and Benjamin Hart inserted an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform thew public that the “POST-STAGE from and to Portsmouth in New-Hampshire” had a new location in Boston.  Formerly at the Sign of the Admiral Vernon on King Street, the stage now operated from “Mrs. Bean’s at the Sign of the Ship on Launch” on the same street.  It arrived on Wednesdays and departed on Fridays, carrying passengers, packages, and newspapers between the two towns.

Stavers and Hart’s advertisement included two notes that Richard Draper, printer of the Weekly News-Letter, likely added, perhaps after consulting with the stage operators.  Both appeared in italics, distinguishing them from the rest of the contents of the advertisement.  One note called on “Customers to this Paper, on the Eastern Road and at Portsmouth, that are indebted more than one Year … to send the Pay by the Carriers.”  In other words, Draper asked any subscribers who lived along the circuit traversed by Stavers and Hart to submit payment to them for delivery to his printing office in Boston.  The other note proclaimed that “Advertisements in this Paper are well circulated by this Conveyance and by the Western Rider.”  Colonial newspapers depended on revenues generated by advertising.  In this note, Draper sought to assure prospective advertisements that placing their notices in his newspaper would be a good investment because the Weekly News-Letter reached audiences well beyond Boston.  He also encouraged prospective advertisers who lived outside the city, both to the north and the west, to place notices in the Weekly News-Letter in order to reach readers in their own communities.

Draper seems to have piggybacked messages concerning his own business on an advertisement placed by clients who operated a stage between Boston and Portsmouth.  He likely figured that a notice about transporting passengers and packages between the two towns would attract the attention of current subscribers in arrears with their accounts.  He also seized the opportunity to tout the circulation of the newspaper in order to promote it as a vehicle for disseminating advertising.  An advertisement for the “POST-STAGE” ended up doing a lot of work in the interests of the printer.

March 6

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

Newport Mercury (March 6, 1771).

“Advertisements, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines … will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9.”

Colonial printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, did so in the March 6, 1771, edition, enclosing his notice in a decorative border to draw attention.  He advised that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, either for this Paper, Advertisements, or otherwise, are earnestly requested to make immediate Payment.”  Unlike some of his counterparts who published newspapers in other towns, he did not threaten legal action against those who ignored his notice.

Southwick did take the opportunity to invite others to become subscribers or place advertisements.  Some printers listed their subscription rates, advertising fees, or both in the colophon on the final page, but otherwise most rarely mentioned how much they charged.  Southwick’s notice listed the prices for both subscriptions and advertisements.  He specified that “Any Person may be supplied with this Paper at 6s9 Lawful Money per Year.”  That six shillings and nine pence did not include postage.  Southwick expected subscribers to pay “One Half on subscribing, and the other at the End of the Year.”  Extending credit for a portion of the subscription was standard practice among printers.

Southwick charged advertisers by the amount of space their notices occupied, not the number of words.  “Advertisement, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines,” he declared, “will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9, and be continued, if required, at 1s per week.”  Once again adhering to standard practices in the printing trade, Southwick charged proportionally more for longer advertisements, contingent on their length.  If inserting an advertisement for an additional week cost one shilling, then the initial cost of running an advertisement for three weeks amounted to three shillings for the space in the newspaper and nine pence for setting type, bookkeeping, and other labor undertaken in the printing office.

Running an advertisement for only three weeks cost more than half as much as an annual subscription, demonstrating the significance of advertising revenue for early American printers.  Perhaps because that revenue helped to make publishing the Newport Mercury a viable enterprise, Southwick stated that advertisements should be “accompanied with the Pay” when delivered to his printing office.  He apparently extended credit for advertisements prior to March 1771, but then discouraged that practice in his notice that simultaneously requested that current customers submit payment and outlined the subscription and advertising fees for new customers.

March 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 1, 1771).

“Some of our Advertising Customers are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct.”

On March 1, 1771, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again informed delinquent subscribers that if they did not settle accounts they would find themselves facing legal action.  Newspaper printers regularly made such threats, but the Fowles did so more often than most.  Were they more aggressive in addressing overdue accounts?  Were their customers more recalcitrant than others?  Either way, they proclaimed that “Customers for this Paper, whose Accounts are of so long standing, but not sufficient for Court Writs, may depend on being sued before some Justice in Portsmouth, unless immediately paid.”  The Fowles seemed especially exasperated with “those at the Eastward indebted for many Years Papers,” vowing to bring them “to a proper Sense of their Duty” when the court at York met in April “unless this last Hint Rouses them.”

In the same issue, the Fowles also inserted a brief note to current and prospective advertisers.  “Some of our Advertising Customers,” the printers declared, “are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct, or an Interpreter with them.”  Once again, the Fowles took an exasperated tone.  That they published the only newspaper in New Hampshire may have afforded them greater latitude in doing so than their counterparts in places with multiple newspapers.  They did not reveal what they found lacking in the copy advertisers submitted, only that they experienced difficulty in making sense of some of the notices they received from those who sent them by post or messenger rather than visiting the printing office to make arrangements for their publication.  On occasion, newspaper printers advised prospective advertisers that they would assist with writing copy.  Many other printers also may have lent an editorial eye to copy they received, helping to explain the standardized language in many advertisements.  Doing so required understanding the purpose of an advertisement and clarifying the details.  The Fowles suggested that some copy they received lacked a clear purpose, unambiguous details, or both.

Although printers sometimes offered assistance, advertisers possessed primary responsibility for generating copy for paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers.  The Fowles apparently expected their advertisers to refer to notices that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette as models when composing their own advertisements.  They may have performed some editorial work upon receiving copy, but the Fowles expected that advertisers would submit notices that needed little revision before publication.

February 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 28, 1771).

”All Persons … who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette … are requested to send the Money with them.”

Advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream for early American printers … when advertisers opted to pay for the notices they inserted in newspapers.  Printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  In most instances, they addressed subscribers, advertisers, and others, but on occasion they singled out advertisers.  Such was the case when David Hall and William Sellers directed a missive to prospective advertisers in the February 28, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

“NOTICE is hereby given,” Hall and Sellers proclaimed, “to all Persons, living at a Distance from this City, who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, that they are requested to send the Money with them.”  Apparently, the printers experienced particular frustration with advertisers who lived far from Philadelphia. In the era of the American Revolution, newspapers served entire colonies or regions rather than just the cities in which they were printed.  The same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette that included this notice from the printers also carried real estate notices from other parts of the colony and advertisements offering rewards for apprentice and convict servants who ran away from masters in Maryland and Virginia.  In their efforts to convince customers to pay their bills, Hall and Sellers had more difficulty contacting faraway advertisers than their local counterparts.  Another issue exacerbated the situation.  The printers asked advertisers “also to pay the Postage of Letters in which they may be contained,” warning that “otherwise they will not be inserted.”  Colonists often sent letters with the expectation that the recipients would pay for postage upon receiving them.  That cut into the revenues gained by printing advertisements.  Hall and Sellers lamented that they had “already been great Sufferers in that Respect.”

This notice ran among the other advertisements in the February 28 edition.  The printers placed it at the top of a column, perhaps to give it greater visibility.  Beyond the stories told in ledgers and account books, this notice and others inserted by printers in newspapers from New England to Georgia reveal eighteenth-century business practices and some of the challenges of running printing offices.

February 10

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

Feb 10 - 2:8:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (February 8, 1770).

“Advertisements, &c. of a moderate size, shall be done at two hours notice.”

Having previously advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal in November 1770 when he first acquired “ALL the large and valuable assortment of Printing-Types, together with all the other necessary utensils for carrying on the printing business” from the estate of Andrew Steuart, William Evitt placed a new advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in February 1770. That advertisement reiterated much of the previous one, but more extensively described the various services Evitt provided at “the Bible-in-Heart, in Strawberry-Alley,” the new location for his printing office.

The “various branches” of the printing trade practiced by Evitt included producing advertising materials, especially handbills and broadsides. He assured prospective customers that they “may depend upon having their work done with great care and dispatch” before noting that “Great care will be taken of blanks and hand-bills in particular.” Evitt also gave details about the extent of the assistance he provided in the production of advertisements. While advertisers were welcome to submit copy of their own, “Transient and other persons, who are not acquainted with drawing up advertisements in a proper manner … may have them done gratis.” Evitt meant that he guided advertisers through the process of writing copy as a free service.

Evitt also revealed how quickly he could produce advertisements in his printing office. He proclaimed, “Advertisements, &c. of a moderate size, shall be done at two hours notice, and larger ones in proportion.” Presumably this promise applied to those customers who submitted copy ready to go to press and excluded any time spent on consultation about the copy. The process required operating a manual press after first setting type, hence the variation in the amount of time needed to prepare an order. Evitt could produce handbills and broadsides with a “moderate” amount of copy in just two hours, but needed slightly more time to set type for advertisements with extensive copy.

Newspaper printers and job printers rarely discussed the mechanics of advertising in their newspapers or in the notices they placed to promote the “various branches” of the printing trade, although they did frequently call on colonists to employ them to print advertisements. Evitt provided more detail than most, encouraging a culture of advertising in early America while also helping readers understand how the process worked.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 18, 1769).

“John Prince HAS a Quantity of the best Isle of May SALT.”

The number of advertisements and the amount of space devoted to advertising varied significantly from newspaper to newspaper in colonial America. Some newspapers operated as delivery mechanisms for advertising, often giving as much or more space to paid notices than to news items, editorials, and other content. Other newspapers featured far less advertising on their pages.

Consider the Essex Gazette, published by Samuel Hall in Salem, Massachusetts. The July 18, 1769, edition included only four advertisements. Three ran at the bottom of the final column on the last page. John Prince hawked salt and wine, David Britton announced the sale of the late John Dampney’s real estate, and John Simnet promoted himself as a watchmaker of note. The fourth advertisement, a runaway notice concerning “an indented servant Lad, named Robert Kilby,” appeared near the bottom of the last column on the previous page, sandwiched between the shipping news from the customs house for the port of Salem and Marblehead and the shipping news from the customs house in Boston. Unlike the advertisements that filled the pages of many other newspapers, these had the appearance of filler that occupied the space necessary to complete the issue. In total, they accounted for less than a column of that issue.

Hall certainly did not operate the Essex Gazette on revenue generated from advertising, though many other colonial printers found selling advertising space more lucrative than selling subscriptions. In addition, Hall did not use one common method of cultivating advertising for his newspaper. Other printers concluded each issue with a call for advertisements (as well as subscriptions and news items) in the colophon. However, the colophon for the Essex Gazette failed to invite colonists to submit advertisements for the newspaper; instead, it focused on selling subscriptions, making clear that subscribers were expected to pay half in advance.

The masthead for the Essex Gazette proclaimed that it contained “the freshest Advices, both foreign and domestic.” Many other newspapers invoked the same claim in their own mastheads. For some, those “Advices” included advertisements. Legal notices updated readers on local events. Advertisements for consumer goods and services were indicators of both commerce and changing fashions. Notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands told of marital strife among friends and neighbors. Advertisements about runaway servants or enslaved people who escaped bondage put the community on alert and drafted readers into providing surveillance on behalf of the advertiser. The Essex Gazette, however, featured far fewer advertisements. Instead of having some of the news filtered through the notices placed by fellow colonists, readers of the Essex Gazette encountered “Advices” selected almost exclusively by the editor.

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.

**********

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.

February 12

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 6, 1769).

“The following large assortment of GOODS.”

In January and February 1769, Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow attempted to maximize exposure for their advertisement concerning a “large assortment of GOODS” by running it in multiple newspapers. Over the course of several weeks, they first inserted it in the Pennsylvania Journal and then the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Gazette. The iterations in the Gazette and the Journal had strikingly similar appearances, almost as if the compositor for the former referred to an edition of the latter when setting type. The version in the Chronicle, however, looked quite different, even though it featured, for the most part, the same copy.

Rather than a lengthy paragraph of dense text that extended all or most of a column, the advertisement in the Chronicle treated each item separately. To achieve the necessary space for doing so, the compositor allowed the advertisement to extend more than one column. It filled two full columns and overflowed into a third. In addition, the compositor divided each column in half, thus giving the advertisement the appearance of running for four columns. That further underscored the appeal to consumer choice implicitly made within the advertisement, yet the format also made the contents easier to read. Prospective customers interested in particular kinds of merchandise could peruse the advertisement much more quickly and efficiently. The advertisement in the Chronicle left the order of the goods mostly intact, though instead of leading with “Blue, green, scarlet, claret, cinnamon, drab and copper coloured middling and low priced broadcloths” it instead moved “BEST bohea tea, by the chest” from the middle of the advertisement to become the first item.

This advertisement ran in the same issue that William Goddard, the printer, inserted a notice to subscribers and advertisers. In it, he informed advertisers that “due Care will be taken” that their notices would “appear in a correct, fair, and conspicuous Manner.” In addition, he asserted that since some advertisers were “unable to write in a proper Manner for the Press” that he “offers his Assistance gratis.” In other words, Goddard edited advertisements as a free service for his clients. Perhaps the familiar advertisement placed by the Benezets and Bartow demonstrates Goddard’s efforts in that regard. That could explain the significance differences in format when compared to the same advertisement in the Gazette and the Journal. Goddard may have also suggested listing tea first among their merchandise as a means of highlighting a popular product as well as making it immediately clear that the merchants carried grocery items as well as dry goods. Most evidence suggests that throughout the eighteenth century newspaper advertisers generally assumed responsibility for copy and compositors for format, but this advertisement considered in combination with Goddard’s notice suggests that sometimes printers took a more active role in designing advertisements to appeal to readers. In so doing, they anticipated an essential service provided by the advertising industry in the twentieth century.