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.

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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.