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.

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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.

February 6

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 7, 1769).

“Those Persons who are pleased to send their Advertisements to the CHRONICLE.”

When the Pennsylvania Chronicle completed its second year of publication and began its third, William Goddard, the printer, inserted a notice to mark the occasion. Colonial printers often marked such milestones, though the length of the notices varied from newspaper to newspaper.

Goddard used the occasion to express his appreciation to subscribers and advertisers. He offered “his most sincere Thanks to his kind and numerous Customers,” pledging that he would make it “his constant Study” to continue to earn their “Favours” as he tended to “their Amusement and Satisfaction.” To that end, he envisioned making “several Improvements” in the third year of publication, stating that he would do so “when a large and valuable Quantity of Materials arrive.” He did not, however, elaborate on those improvements. All of Goddard’s commentary was designed to retain current customers as well as attract new subscribers and advertisers from among readers who had not yet done business with him.

In his efforts to drum up additional advertising revenue, he emphasized the “extensive Circulation” that made choosing the Pennsylvania Chronicle “very advantageous,” though he did not make any direct comparisons to the circulation of competitors like the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal. To aid advertisers in maximizing the impact of their notices, Goddard requested that they submit their notices “as early as possible,” thus allowing time for the “due Care” necessary to make them “appear in a correct, fair, and conspicuous Manner.” In addition, he edited advertising copy as a free service, noting that “Foreigners, and others” sometimes did not “write in a proper Manner for the Press.” This was a rare instance of an eighteenth-century printer offering to participate in generating advertising copy or suggesting that he possessed particular skills in shaping messages that advertisers wished to disseminate in the public prints.

Early American printers did not frequently comment on the business of advertising or the particular practices they adopted in their printing offices. The annual messages that marked the completion of one volume and the beginning of another, however, sometimes included acknowledgments to advertisers as well as subscribers. On such occasions, printers provided details about how they managed advertising in their newspapers.

December 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 13, 1768).

“Be early in sending their Advertisements for Insertion, and not to exceed Monday Noon.”

Just as Mein and Fleeming marked the first anniversary of publishing the Boston Chronicle by placing a notice in their own newspaper, a day later Charles Crouch celebrated three years of publishing the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal with his own advertisement. Like his counterparts in Boston, Crouch addressed advertisers as well as subscribers, encouraging them to place notices in his publication. In the process, he provided details about the mechanism for publishing advertisements that did not often appear in the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers.

To entice advertisers, Crouch first underscored the popularity of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country, a necessary step considering that it competed with Peter Timothy’s South-Carolina Gazette and Robert Wells’s South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Crouch did not mention either by name, but when he addressed “the Friends to this Gazette” he did note that their “Number are as great as any other in the Place.” In other words, his newspaper had as many subscribers and advertisers as the others. Advertisers could not go wrong by placing notices in his South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal “as the Circulation of his Papers are very numerous.”

Crouch distributed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on Tuesdays. To keep to that schedule, he requested that advertisers “be early in sending their Advertisements for Insertion, and not to exceed Monday Noon.” Despite the time required to set type and print the newspaper on a hand-operated press, advertisers could submit their notices as late as a day prior to publication, though Crouch probably limited the number of last-minute submissions out of practicality. He aimed to keep to his schedule for the benefit of his readers, but also to adhere to what seems to have been an informal agreement among Charleston’s printers to stagger publication throughout the week. Until recently, the South-Carolina Gazette appeared on Mondays, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on Tuesdays, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette on Thursday. Crouch asserted that he was “fully determined to CONTINUE always punctual to his Day,” perhaps rebuking other printers in the city for recently deviating from the usual schedule and potentially infringing on his circulation and sales as a result.

Crouch did not offer much commentary on the other contents of his newspaper, other than noting that “Letters of Intelligence, Speculative Pieces, &c. are kindly received” and considered for publication. In promoting the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal as it “begins the fourth Year of its Publication,” he called on subscribers to pay their bills and assured prospective advertisers that he could place their notices before the eyes of numerous readers. He asserted that his circulation was as large as that of any other newspaper printed in South Carolina, making it the ideal venue for advertising.

April 7

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

“A Large and neat assortment of GOODS.”

I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates something common in advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers, a general store offering a wide array of products. Reeves, Wise and Poole stated that they possessed “A Large and neat assortment of GOODS” at their shop. Throughout my research I have encountered many advertisements placed by shopkeepers. They varied in length and detail, but almost always communicated that they offered a wide array of goods. An advertisement placed by Ancrum and Company is another example of such an advertisement below. These merchants either chose to keep their advertisements short or made them short out of necessity (perhaps because space was expensive). Some advertisements, on the other hand, went on for a quarter of a column. Regardless of the length, the content was the same: an effort to get consumers. Newspaper advertisements were an important way to keep a constant flow of customers and revenue in colonial stores.

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 Ancrum South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

However, newspapers also relied on advertisements for their profits and longevity. Virtually all newspapers in colonial America included advertisements as a way to make money. This practice was widespread. In fact, the first weekly newspaper, the Boston News-Letter (1704) had an advertisement for advertisements, stating that for the price of “Twelve Pence to Five Shilling and Not to exceed” interested parties could buy space to market goods and services or place other sorts of notices. Not only did advertisements provide printers with consistent sources of income for every advertisement, but a newspaper that contained a good variety of news and advertisements could attract new paying subscribers. Advertising was a key part of newspaper printing. As Jack Lynch states, “The newspaper business and the advertising business got under way together.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

The same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that carried advertisements by Reeves, Wise, and Poole and George Ancrum and Company also carried twelve advertisements concerning slaves. Six offered slaves for sale. Three cautioned against runaways. One described nine captured runaways “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE.” Another listed a variety of consumer goods and a horse confiscated from two runaway slaves, seeking the rightful owner to claim their possessions. The final advertisement described a horse “TAKEN up by a Negro fellow belonging to Mr. Arthur Peronneau.” As far as the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was concerned, this was a relatively small number of advertisements and total column space given over to slavery. That newspaper regularly issued a two-page advertising supplement in order to publish even greater numbers of notices concerning slaves, as well as other sort of advertisements, including those for “A Large and neat assortment of GOODS” that Megan examined today.

Megan makes an important point about the role advertisements played in underwriting the publication of newspapers and, by extension, the dissemination of information in eighteenth-century America. Advertisements place by merchants, like those featured today, as well as similar notices from shopkeepers, artisans, and others who provided consumer goods and services comprised a significant portion of newspaper advertising, yet “subscribers” (in the eighteenth-century sense of “contributors”) submitted a variety of other kinds of announcements. David Waldstreicher has long argued that those other kinds of advertisements included a significant number of advertisements for runaways, both slaves and indentured servants, as well as other notices that facilitated the slave trade and maintained slavery as an institution in early America.

Megan asserts two industries, advertising and newspaper publishing, were inextricably linked almost as soon as the colonists began publishing their first weekly newspaper. In doing so, she acknowledges an important aspect of eighteenth-century print culture. As the Adverts 250 Project has evolved and the companion Slavery Adverts 250 Project developed, one of my aims has been to demonstrate to students the simultaneous significance of advertisements for consumer goods and services and advertisements for slaves. In an era before classifications organized their layout on the page, these two types of advertisements mixed together indiscriminately as they sustained and expanded newspaper publication in the eighteenth century.

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 Ancrum and Slave South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
George Ancrum and Company’s advertisement for consumer goods appeared immediately below an advertisement about a runaway slave in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).