October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 9, 1767).

“ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES.”

Each issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a colophon that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the final page. Most colonial newspapers included a colophon on the final page, though they differed in length and content. The colophon for the October 8, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette simply stated “Printed by Richard Draper.” On the same day, the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy included a longer colophon: “New-York: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Parker used the colophon as an advertisement for his own newspaper. One of his local competitors did the same in a more elaborate colophon for the New-York Journal, but also promoted job printing and offered relatively rare information concerning prices for newspaper advertisements. “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.”

Among this variation, Robert Wells devised one of the most elaborate colophons that graced the pages of colonial newspapers in the 1760s. Had the type been set in a single column and inserted among the advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, the contents of the colophon would have been indistinguishable from the paid notices inserted by colonial entrepreneurs. It first indicated Wells’s location, “at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY,” and then mentioned specific services related to the newspaper, “Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS.” To entice potential advertisers to choose his newspaper rather than either of the other two printed in Charleston at the time, Wells underscored that the South-Carolina and American General Gazette “circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES.” Advertisers could reach broad markets of prospective consumers.

Yet Wells did not conclude the colophon there. He inserted two more lines about his work as a bookseller and stationer, invoking common appeals to prices, quality, and choice found in advertisements placed by retailers of all sorts. He also hawked bookbinding services, making the “Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY” a location for convenient one-stop shopping. Wells accepted “ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES,” but also promised that “a large Stock is constantly kept up.” He did “all Kinds PRINTING and BO[O]K-BINDING Work … executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.”

Robert Wells took advantage of the space allotted in his newspaper for a colophon by inserting what amounted to an advertisement for the goods and services he provided. Such was the privilege of operating the press that every issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a message to colonial consumers.

June 6

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

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

Books, Pamphlets, and Blanks of all Sorts, &c. &c.”

For several weeks in the winter and early spring of 1767 advertising was sparse in the Providence Gazette. Many of the advertisements that did appear were placed by Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers of the newspaper, for goods and services they sold. Others came from associates in the printing trades, including extensive proposals for the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a new publication that William Goddard, Sarah’s son, launched in Philadelphia in January 1767. It seemed as though Goddard and Company struggled to fill the pages of the Providence Gazette, sometimes inserting many of their own advertisements as means of generating sufficient content to fill the pages of each weekly issue.

That changed as summer approached. New advertisers placed commercial notices. Previous advertisers returned to the pages of the Providence Gazette. Advertising comprised about one-third of the contents of the June 6 edition, just as it had the previous week and would again the following week. Goddard and Company did not place any advertisements among those that appeared in the June 6 issue, yet the partnership still managed to inform readers about the services they offered.[1] Indeed, Goddard and Company’s promotional efforts accounted for the first and last items printed in that issue.

On the first page, below a masthead that proclaimed the newspaper carried “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” an announcement from the printers appeared at the top of the first column, preceding foreign “advices” from London. In addition to informing readers that the printing office had moved to a new location, the announcement concluded with a list of printed materials Goddard and Company offered for sale: “where may be had Books, Pamphlets, and Blanks of all Sorts, &c. &c.” On the final page, the colophon appeared across the bottom as usual. In addition to providing publication information, it also solicited business for the printers. Goddard and Company accepted subscriptions and advertisements directly associated with the Providence Gazette, but they also did job printing (“all Manner of PRINTING WORK”) to the specifications of clients.

Even as the Providence Gazette gained advertisers in the spring of 1767, the printers controlled the layout of the newspaper. More advertising meant less space for their own notices, which may have been a welcome relief if advertisers paid in a timely manner, yet Goddard and Company continued to devise ways to promote their own goods and services. Their privileged position as operators of the press allowed them to begin and end the June 6 edition with brief marketing messages.

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[1] The masthead lists “SATURDAY, JUNE 7, 1767” as the date for the issue, but that was not possible. In 1767, it could have been published on Saturday, June 6 or Sunday, June 7. Considering that the Providence Gazette was published on Saturdays throughout the rest of the year (and that no newspapers were printed on Sundays anywhere in the colonies), I consider it more likely that June 6 was the correct date. In addition, the printers did not offer any sort of apology for the late appearance of the issue. Goddard and Company regularly inserted notes explaining that the late arrival of the post affected which news appeared, making it likely that they would have also acknowledged publishing an issue a day later than usual. That being said, moving the printing office could have caused a one-day delay in publication, but most of the circumstances suggest that this edition appeared on Saturday, June 6, 1767.

April 29

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

Apr 29 - 4:29:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (April 29, 1767).

“Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

In the colophon for each edition of the Georgia Gazette, James Johnston informed readers that they could submit “Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper” at his “Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah. In effect, Johnston used the colophon to advertise advertisements. To some extent, it seemed to work. Advertising filled three out of eight columns of the April 29, 1767, issue, making the balance of news items and paid notices comparable to what appeared in many other newspapers throughout the colonies in the 1760s (at least those that did not distribute supplements devoted primarily to advertising). The nature of the advertising, however, differed significantly from the notices printed in newspapers in cities like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Advertisements for consumer goods placed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans accounted for a significant portion of all paid notices in those places. The Georgia Gazette, on the other hand, did not attract many advertisers promoting the assortment of goods featured so prominently in newspapers from other places.

Did this matter to Johnston? Did the printer care which sorts of advertisements he published as long he had enough to fill the pages of each issue and generate additional revenue to supplement the subscription fees? Perhaps not, but when he received newspapers from other colonies he almost certainly realized that he was missing out on a potentially lucrative opportunity. Many of his counterparts operated businesses that benefited from purveyors of consumer goods and providers of services competing with each other for potential customers in the public prints, placing new advertisements week after week.

Why did so few shopkeepers and merchants advertise in the Georgia Gazette? Certainly Savannah was a smaller town than most others with newspapers, but the shipping news did indicate the arrival of two vessels since the previous issue. The brigantine Ann had sailed from London, presumably carrying a similar assortment of consumer goods as those advertised regularly throughout the rest of the colonies. Did the relatively small size of the town alone account for the absence of any advertisements at least announcing the arrival of new merchandise? Merchants and shopkeepers in Savannah probably did not face the same level of competition as in bustling port cities, yet it was still in their own best interests to attempt to incite demand in their wares.

Many newspapers published in the quarter century before the Revolution contained a vibrant array of advertisements for consumer goods and services, testifying to a consumer revolution experienced in both Britain and the colonies. As they read their local newspaper, residents of Savannah (and New London and, to a lesser extent, Providence and Portsmouth) experienced a very different textual landscape of advertising for consumer goods compared to the multitude of advertisements for consumer goods that filled the pages of newspapers in larger cities and sometimes even flowed over into advertising supplements. Consumer culture was widespread throughout the colonies, but advertising was uneven.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 23, 1766).

“Most Kinds of BLANKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.”

Eighteenth-century printers often inserted advertisements for their own wares and services in the newspapers they published. They hoped to generate additional revenues, but they may have also strategically placed their own advertisements as a means of generating content that would fill space. Unlike other advertisers who usually purchased “squares” of advertising, thus paying by the length of the advertisement, printers who promoted their own enterprises did not have to factor the length of their advertisements into their calculations. That sometimes resulted in lengthy advertisements or multiple notices in a single issue.

In this case, however, printer James Johnston inserted a very brief advertisement, a single line announcing, “Most Kinds of BLANKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.” (By blanks, Johnston meant a variety of forms, including indentures.) The advertisement appeared at the bottom of the second and final column on the last page of the newspaper, nestled right above the colophon. Johnston needed one more line of text to complete the column. This one had the added benefit of drawing attention to one of the services he provided.

Jul 23 - 7:23:1766 Colophon Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 23, 1766).

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Johnston also used the colophon (the space devoted to publication information, including printer and location, at the end of the newspaper) to promote both the newspaper and other parts of his business. In addition to noting that the Georgia Gazette was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah, it also announced that he sold subscriptions and advertisements. Furthermore, he did job printing (like the blanks) “at the shortest Notice,” including handbills and other forms of advertising (such as broadsides, trade cards, or circular letters).

Throughout the eighteenth century, Johnston and other printers creatively shaped newspaper colophons to do more than provide basic publication information. They use them to promote other services available in their printing shops.

May 16

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

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

“THE Publisher of the GAZETTE, will esteem it as a Favour.”

Special circumstances prompt me to deviate from the usual “featured advertisement” format today. On this day 250 years ago William Rind published the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, as promised in an advertisement featured last week. This presents an opportunity to look at advertising as it appeared from the very start of a publication. Considering that colonial newspapers tended to make any profit from advertising, not from subscriptions, I was curious to examine to what extent advertising appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Advert Extra 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinaryreprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766) and noted when it also appeared in the Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766). It quite likely appeared in many other newspapers in April and May 1766. The original and the reprints in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Newport Mercury all included this final line: “P.S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Although this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” did not generate any revenue for Rind, it was valuable content that demonstrated to readers that they could depend on the printer’s connections to deliver news of interest from throughout the colonies.

May 16 - Lee 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The next two advertisements that appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette took a distinctly partisan tone, making them appropriate complements to the “Advertisement Extraordinary.” In one, Francis Lightfoot Lee, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned friends and acquaintances against picking up letters addressed to him at the post office because “he is determined never willingly to pay a Farthing of any TAX laid upon this COUNTRY, in an UNCONSTITUTIONAL MANNER.”

May 16 - 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The other advertisement with a partisan valence marketed a pamphlet that examined ‘THE PROPRIETY OF IMPOSING TAXES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, For the Purpose of raising a REVENUE, by ACT of PARLIAMENT.” Although “LATELY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD by WILLIAM RIND,” these two descriptions need to be separated from each other. Rind likely sold a pamphlet that had recently been published by another printer. This same advertisement, except for the information about where it was sold, previously appeared in a variety of newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic. Either the pamphlet’s printer provided printers and booksellers with copy to place their own advertisements or Rind borrowed the copy from other newspapers (just as he had done with the “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.” Either way, the newspaper did not generate any revenue from this advertisement; Rind inserted it to advance his other branches of his printing and bookselling business. (This calls into question whether Lee paid to insert his advertisement, dated a month earlier, into Rind’s Virginia Gazette or if Rind reprinted it from another publication.)

May 16 - Stray Horse 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Daniel Baxter’s notice (dated May 12) about a stray or stolen horse was certainly a new advertisement. Similar advertisements appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies. The misfortune of the advertisers financially benefited the printers who published their advertisements.

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted one more advertisement of his own, an abbreviated version of his request for “Gentlemen who have obliged him by taking in Subscriptions” to return the lists to him as soon as possible. A more extensive version appeared a week earlier in the competing Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Colophon 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Finally, the colophon encouraged readers to become subscribers and presented the terms for advertising in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3 s. the First Week, and 2 s. each Time after: And long Ones in Proportion.” Rind adopted a price structure that exactly replicated that of the Virginia Gazette. He didn’t seek to undercut the competition (doing so might not have allowed for any profit), but he also attempted to make advertising in his newspaper as attractive as possible.

Even though Rind had previously advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he intended to begin publishing his own newspaper, very little advertising appeared in the first issue. That makes sense since not even Rind seemed certain of how many people had signed up as subscribers. Potential advertisers likely waited to see how successful Rind’s Virginia Gazette would be, delaying decisions to purchase advertising space until they had a better sense that doing so would likely produce a satisfactory return on their investment. For his part, Rind inserted enough advertising to assure others that their marketing efforts would not stand alone in his newspaper.