May 24

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

May 24 - 5:24:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 24, 1770).

“AN entire Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS.”

In eighteenth-century American newspapers, compositors did not organize advertisements according to category or classification.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services, legal notices, advertisements concerning runaway servants and enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage, and notices placed for a variety of other purposes appeared one after the other.  This required active reading on the part of subscribers in their efforts to locate advertisements of interest.

Occasionally, however, compositors did cluster together certain kinds of advertisements.  When the female seed sellers of Boston placed their advertisements in the spring, compositors working for several of the newspapers published in that city often tended to place their notices in a single column in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Similarly, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Gazette often arranged legal notices placed by the sheriff one after the other during the same period, though this may have been prompted in part from receiving them all at once.  Still, notices placed by different sheriffs often tended to appear in succession in a single column.  Whatever the explanation, these examples were exceptions rather than standard practice.

Did compositors sometimes experiment with grouping other advertisements according to their purpose?  That may have been the case in the May 24, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Advertisements appeared on the third and fourth page of the standard issue as well as both pages of the supplement.  Advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists could have been dispersed throughout the issue, yet three of them ran together in the upper left corner of the final page.  Robert Bass, apothecary, advertised “AN entire fresh Assortment of all Kinds of DRUGS [and] … a great Variety of Patent Medicines.”  Duffield and Delany, druggists, promoted their “fresh and general Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  John Day and Company listed some of the items available among their “LARGE and general assortment of the very best Drugs” at their “Medicinal Store.”  Due to their placement one after the other, readers could easily consult and compare these advertisements.

Yet if that were the intention of the compositor, it was not fully realized.  Further down the column, separated by four advertisements (a real estate notice, another for horses and a carriage for sale, one for grocery items, and the last for hardware), another advertisement announced that John Gilbert, physician and surgeon, had opened “AN APOTHECARY’S SHOP.”  A newcomer to the city, Gilbert focused on establishing his credentials rather than providing a list of medicines similar to those that appeared in the advertisements by Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company.  On the previous page, Isaac Bartram and Moses Bartram, apothecaries, ran an advertisement that more closely resembled those placed by their competitors.

The cluster of advertisements placed by apothecaries and druggists in the May 24,1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette was notable because such placement was unusual.  Elsewhere in the same issue and its supplement, the compositor arranged legal notices together, but not all of them.  No particular organizing principle seems to have guided the placement of other advertisements, except for fitting them to the page to achieve columns of equal length.  Perhaps the cluster of advertisements for Robert Bass, Duffield and Delany, and John Day and Company was a mere coincidence.  Alternately, it may have been a rudimentary attempt at classifying and organizing at least some of the advertisements for the benefit of readers.

May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 2, 1770).

“Will engage to cut any Quantity of Live Oak and Cedar Ship Timbers.”

Printers did not organize or classify advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Instead, advertisements placed for various purposes appeared indiscriminately next to each other and above and below each other.  Readers could not consult a particular portion of the advertisements in the newspaper to find notices of interest, such as consumer goods for sale or real estate or legal notices.  Instead, they had to peruse all of the advertisements throughout the entire issue to determine if any contained the kind of information they sought.

That may have been just as well when it came to the advertisement John Morel placed in the May 2, 1770, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  His lengthy advertisement defied classification.  In it, he aimed to achieve five different goals.  On Ossabaw Island, one of Georgia largest barrier islands, he offered several commodities for sale, including “Exceeding good barreled Beef,” “Myrtle-wax and Tallow Candles plain and fluted,” and “Hard Soap of the best kind.”  He had a different and more extensive array of goods to sell in Savannah, such as “an Assortment of Hinges and Locks,” “some neat Mens, Womens, and Youths Shoes and Hose,” and “some Sets of Dutch Tile.”  In the third portion of his advertisement, Morel encouraged prospective customers to place their orders for “any Quantity of Live Oak and Cedar Ship Timbers.”  He would cut them to “any shape and size required” and deliver them on Ossabaw Island.  In addition to these various consumer goods and commodities Morel also had “Part of a Tract of Land known by the name of Bewlie” for sale.  He described various aspects of the property, noting that it was “well stored with live oak and other valuable timber.”  Finally, Morel called on “all of those indebted to him” to settle accounts.  He did not threaten legal action as some colonists tended to do when they placed such notice.

Not only did readers of the Georgia Gazette have to examine all of the advertisements to determine which interested them, they also had to scrutinize the various segments of Morel’s advertisement to ascertain what it actually contained.  If the printer had required advertisers to place classified notices that fit within specific categories, Morel would have needed to divide his lengthy advertisement into several shorter notices.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:8:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 8, 1770).

“[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”

The first page of the March 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted almost entirely of the masthead and news items, though the last column did carry three advertisements followed by the brief notice that instructed readers “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”  Colonial printers and compositors made little effort to organize or classify the notices that ran in the page of their newspapers.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services ran alongside notices about wives, indentured servants, and horses that ran away and enslaved people who escaped from bondage.  Legal notices and announcements about ships preparing to sail for faraway ports were interspersed with those various kinds of advertisements.  Headlines had not yet been developed as a means of informing readers of the contents of articles.  As Joseph M. Adelman explains, “News was published by paragraphs with no headlines; the only way to determine what news was important was to read all of it.”

Advertisements did have headlines of sorts.  The Pennsylvania Gazette often featured generic headlines for advertisements, such as “TO BE SOLD” or “WANTED,” though many were more specific, “such as “AUCTION OF BOOKS.”  Advertisers sometimes used their names as their headlines, including “GARRETT & GEORGE MEADE” and “THOMAS STAPLETON, Brush-Maker.”  Some advertisements had introductory headers that provided overviews of the dense text that comprised the remainder of the advertisements, though most were too extensive to be considered headlines.  One of the more succinct versions extended five lines:  “Neat DRUGS and MEDICINES, / SOLD BY / ROBERT BASS, / APOTHECARY in MARKET-STREET, / Wholesale and Retail, at the usual moderate Rates.”  With few visual images, advertisements looked similar to news items.  All of the content of early American newspapers required close examination to determine purpose and significance.

Occasionally printers and compositors provided some aid intended to help readers navigate the contents of their newspapers.  Such was the case with the notice about “new Advertisements” on the “Fourth Page” of the March 8 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  That notice let readers interested in perusing new content know that they pass over the advertisements that filled half of the third page.  Those new advertisements were not organized by purpose.  Some had the headlines listed above, while most had no headline or introductory header at all.  Colonial printers and compositors still had work to do to make the contents of newspapers more accessible for their readers.  That brief notice, “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page,]” suggested that some were contemplating what could be done on that count.

October 18

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

Oct 18 - 10:18:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (October 18, 1769).

For the Remainder of new Advertisements … turn to the last Page.”

Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, included instructions to aid subscribers and other readers in navigating the October 18, 1769, edition of the newspaper. The front page consisted primarily of news items, but it also featured three paid notices of various sorts under the headline, “New Advertisements.” These advertisements ran at the bottom of the final column on the page, which concluded with further instructions. “For the Remainder of new Advertisements, Charles-Town News, &c.” Timothy explained, “turn to the last page.” There readers found local news, the shipping news from the customs house (which the printer branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”), and a dozen more paid notices under the same headline that ran on the front page, “New Advertisements.”

These were not the only advertisements that ran in the October 18 issue. Paid notices, nearly fifty of them, comprised the entire second and third pages. Like most other American newspapers published in the late 1760s, the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Except for the news items on the front page and Timothy’s Marine List and a brief account of local news on the final page, advertising accounted for a significant proportion of the issue.

That was not uncommon, especially in newspapers published in the largest and busiest port cities, such as Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. New articles, editorials, and other news content were easy for readers to spot, in part because printers rarely reprinted such items. Advertisements, on the other hand, usually ran for multiple weeks. Some even appeared week after week for months. Compositors moved them around on the page or from one page to another in their efforts to make all the content for any particular issue fit. This usually required readers to skim all of the advertisements to discover anything appearing for the first time. Timothy’s occasional headlines and instructions, however, sometimes helped readers to scan the South-Carolina Gazette more efficiently. Readers interested in legal notices, inventory at local shops, or descriptions of enslaved people who escaped from bondage did not have to sort through the entire newspaper to find new content. Instead, Timothy sorted it, labeled it, and provided instructions for finding it. Clustering paid notices together under a headline for “New Advertisements” was the closest that eighteenth-century newspapers came to classifying advertisements. In a newspaper that featured as much advertising as the South-Carolina Gazette, this was an important service to readers.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

New-London Gazette (April 21, 1769).

“JUST IMPORTED … from Charlestown, South Carolina … INDICO.”

Indigo was used as a dye to create vibrant blues and some greens. Although this indigo from Charleston was sold in Connecticut, in an article on South Carolina indigo and its role in the European textile industry R.C. Nash points out that plantation owners preferred to sell their indigo in London rather than in the colonies.[1] During the mid to late eighteenth century, South Carolina indigo made up 25 percent of the product being traded in the Atlantic. The colony first began producing the dye after its rice industry started to fail following the Seven Years War. According to Nash, they quickly gained a foothold in the British market as textile industries in Great Britain grew.[2] Scholars have found that South Carolina indigo was actually of much poorer quality than its competitors from French and Spanish colonies, but it continued to dominate the market because of how cheap it was. As indigo production became more popular, those plantations that produced both rice and indigo began to acquire more and more slaves, eventually coming to own 30 percent more slaves than those that only sold rice or indigo.[3] By producing both rice and indigo, South Carolina plantation owners adapted to and shaped the changing Atlantic trade economy.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

With the exception of a short verse in the “Poets Corner” in the first column, advertisements filled the entire final page of the April 21, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Some of those notices marketed commodities, such as “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” “SALTS OF LYE,” and “Linseed Oil.” Others offered services, such as “WEBB’S Passage-Boat” that “Continues to ply between New-London and Sterling, as usual.” One offered a reward for the return of an apprentice who ran away from his master. Another reported that twenty-eight hogsheads of rum had been stolen from Nathaniel Shaw’s store and offered a reward for information about the culprits. Several legal notices appeared among these various advertisements, as did an advertisement for a book recently published and for sale by the printer. No classification system aided readers in navigating these advertisements. The compositor arranged them according to where they fit on the page, not by their contents or purpose.

The compositor did not, however, leave readers completely to their own devices. The advertisement for “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” immediately below the “Poets Corner” bore the title “ADVERTISEMENTS,” presumably to inform readers that only advertisements appeared throughout the remainder of that issue. Even the placement of that headline did not signal a strict classification system. A paid notice appeared on the previous page. In other issues of the New-London Gazette, the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline also appeared immediately below “Poets Corner” on the final page, even though numerous advertisements ran on the previous page. Such was the case a week earlier in the April 14 edition; the third featured page half a dozen paid notices before readers encountered the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline on the fourth page. Advertisements appeared immediately after the shipping news form the customs house, a visual marker just as reliable for indicating the placement of paid notices as the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline.

The first advertisement in the final column on the last page of the April 21 edition included an additional headline: “NEW ADVERTISEMENT.” All the others on the page, including those underneath it, ran in one or more previous issues. This headline likely aided readers in identifying new content if they skimmed the paid notices quickly. It was the closest the newspaper came to using a classification system for paid notices, though this classification was not based on the contents of advertisements.

**********

[1] R.C. Nash, “South Carolina Indigo, European Textiles, and the British Atlantic Economy in the Eighteenth Century,” Economic History Review 63, no. 2 (May 2010): 386.

[2] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 363-4.

[3] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 379.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 20, 1767).

“For further Particulars inquire of EDWARD SPALDING, in Providence.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin in other advertisements) had two purposes when he took an advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1767. First, he wished to sell a farm in Coventry. As long as he was purchasing space in the newspaper, he also opted to promote his business. He reminded readers that he “still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES” at his shop across the street from the printing office. In the past, Spalding advertised fairly regularly. He was one of the first advertisers to insert commercial notices in the Providence Gazette when it resumed publication the previous year. He must have considered it a good return on his investment since he decided to include commercial marketing at the end of his notice concerning real estate.

Spalding’s hybrid advertisement presents a conundrum for conducting any sort of quantitative study of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspapers of the era did not have classifieds. They did not organize advertisements in any particular order or by categories that suggested the general purpose of the notices. Sometimes, as seen here, individual advertisements had multiple purposes. Spalding and the printers of the Providence Gazette did not classify this advertisement. How should historians do so? It would not be appropriate to categorize it solely as a real estate notice or solely as marketing consumer goods and services. More appropriately, it should count as both, but that sort of double counting does not address another issue. Together or separately, both halves of Spalding’s advertisement were relatively short compared to many others for both real estate and consumer goods and services inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. This suggests that tabulating column inches devoted to advertisements (or portions of advertisements) might produce more accurate data for assessing the proliferation of advertising in relation to news and other content as well as comparing the quantity of advertising space utilized for various purposes. This, however, would be extremely labor intensive. It also requires access to the original newspapers rather than digital surrogates. Working with digitized sources allows for examining other sorts of questions concerning advertising in early America.

Earlier in my career I was much more enthusiastic about incorporating quantitative analysis into my study of advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America. Over time, however, I have determined that identifying general trends rather than hard numbers provides a sufficiently accurate portrait of the expansion of advertising in the era that the colonies became a nation.

April 28

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

Apr 28 - 4:28:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (April 28, 1766).

“TAKEN out of the Shop … two Beaver Hatts supposed to be Stolen.”

Advertisements did not always serve a single purpose in the eighteenth century, as we saw last week in a notice that seemed to squeeze two separate advertisements – one for a sloop and the other for an enslaved woman – together into a single square. Neither seemed to be the primary purpose for the advertisement; instead, an auctioneer placed relatively equal emphasis on both sales.

Lazarus LeBaron, however, did have a purpose when he placed his notice. He proclaimed that a thief had stolen “two Beaver Hatts” from his shop and warned readers against “any suspicious Person” selling similar hats. LeBaron was agitated and he wanted justice, offering a reward to “any Person that can give Information so that the Person who took them may be convicted.” His indignation was apparent.

His demeanor in the notice made the nota bene that much more jarring: “Hatts of all Sorts made and Sold at the above Shop.” As long as he was paying for an advertisement in hopes of recovering his stolen goods, LeBaron likely figured that he might as well attempt to attract some business in the bargain. Even if the pilfered hats never turned up, perhaps the nota bene might have yielded new business to offset the loss and the price of the notice. Still, promoting his shop seemed to be an afterthought relative to his crusade to track down “any suspicious Person” who had absconded with his “Beaver Hatts.”

January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:3:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 3, 1766)

“- Who has to Sell all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates.”

At first glance, this does not appear to be an advertisement for consumer goods and services.  A variety of kinds of notices populated the advertising sections of eighteenth-century newspapers, often seemingly placed haphazardly without concerns for classification or categorization.  An advertisement for goods and services might appear above a legal notice, below an advertisement for a runaway wife, to the left of an announcement about a vessel departing port, and to the right of an advertisement to sell or lease property.  Indeed, printers’ practical concerns about fitting columns on a page or using type previously set for advertisements that previously appeared likely played a more significant role in the layout of advertisements than any deliberate effort to place similar items near each other.  Edward Emerson’s advertisement requires careful reading to discover that he sold “all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates” at all.

**********

UPDATE:  Emerson W. Baker notes, via Twitter, that “Edward Emerson lived in York, Maine.  His house is now part of the Museums of Old York.”  He also tweeted this image of the Emerson-Wilcox House.

Emerson-Wilcox House
Emerson-Wilcox House, Museums of Old York