September 10

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

Connecticut Courant (September 10, 1771).

“The Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House, In King Stret BOSTON.”

As summer turned to fall in 1771, Ebenezer Bridgham, the proprietor of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House” on King Street in Boston, attempted to cultivate a regional reputation for his store.  Not content seeking customers in Boston and the surrounding towns, he also placed advertisements in newspapers published in other places in New England. On September 7, for instance, he inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, informing prospective customers that he stocked “a very large and elegant Assortment of China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” that he imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool.”  Three days later, the same advertisement also ran in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, and the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  Bridgham disseminated information about the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse far more widely than if he had placed his notice solely in the several newspapers published in Boston.  To entice customers in towns throughout New England to place orders from his store, he pledged to part with his wares “as low as they were ever sold in America.”

Essex Gazette (September 10, 1771).

The appearance of Bridgham’s advertisement in several newspapers demonstrated a division of responsibilities in the creation of marketing materials in the eighteenth century.  As the advertiser, Bridgham supplied the copy.  The composition, however, made decisions about the format.  In each newspaper, the graphic design of Bridgham’s advertisement looked consistent with other paid notices in that publication.  In the Essex Gazette, for example, the advertisement promoted “a very large and elegant Assortment of CHINA, GLASS, DELPH and STONE WARE,” the various categories of goods in capital letters.  Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette also featured key words in all capitals.  On the other hand, notices in the Connecticut Courant did not tend utilize that means of drawing attention to particular goods, reserving capitals for names of advertisers and towns.  Similarly, “Staffordshire” and “Liverpool” appeared in italics in the headline in the Essex Gazette, but “King Street” appeared in italics in the Connecticut Courant.  The compositors made decisions independently when they set type.  As a result, Bridgham’s advertisement had variations in design, but not copy, when it ran in multiple newspapers.

August 27

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Connecticut Courant (August 27, 1771).

“I think it high time to clip the wings of these public spirited gentlemen, that make so great an appearance in our weekly papers.”

A trio of advertisements about “runaway wives” appeared in the August 13, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, each of them describing the misbehavior of a woman who absconded from her husband and warning others not to extend credit because their aggrieved husbands refused to pay any debts they contracted.  Richard Smith placed one of those advertisements, claiming that his wife, Hannah, “makes it her business to pass from house to house with her [busy] news, tattling and bawling and lying.”  In addition, he accused her of “carrying out things out of my house, things contrary to my knowledge.”

Such advertisements told only part of the story.  In most instances, wives did not possess the same access to the press as their husbands, especially once husbands published notices that they refused to make payments on behalf of recalcitrant wives, so runaway wife advertisements largely went unanswered in the public prints.  Occasionally, however, women defended their behavior and their reputations by publishing notices of their own.  When Hannah Smith did so, she told a very different story than the one her husband previously presented in the Connecticut Courant.

Hannah blamed both her husband and his children from a previous marriage for the discord in their household.  She first pointed to the “perfidious instigation” of his children that “represented me in a false and ungenerous light, to be wastful, tattling, and wilfully absenting myself.”  Problems arose, Hannah claimed, because she had a husband “who keeps himself (for the most part) intoxicated ten degrees below the level of a beast.”  She also experienced emotional and physical abuse, reporting that Richard “allows some of his children to treat a step mother with the most abusive, ignominious language, not sparing to kick her.”  None of these details appeared in Richard’s advertisement!

Since Richard made accusations against her in a public forum, Hannah in turn insisted that the situation “absolutely necessitated” that she “ask the public, how a woman ought to behave” in such circumstances.  At the same time, she critiqued advertisements for runaway wives more generally, perhaps reacting to the three that appeared one after the other and concluded with Richard’s advertisement concerning her alleged misconduct.  “As the woman is the weaker vessel,” Hannah asserted, “I think it high time to clip the wings of these public spirited gentlemen, that make so great an appearance in our weekly papers.”  Richard Smith had not told an accurate or complete story in his advertisement; neither had Samuel Pettibone and John Savage in their notices.  In a rare rebuttal that appeared in print, Hannah Smith defended not only herself but also Mary Pettibone, Nancy Savage, and other women targeted by runaway wife advertisements.

August 14

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

Connecticut Courant (August 13, 1771).

“I am so unhappy in my last marriage.”

Samuel Pettibone, John Savage, and Richard Smith had something in common.  Each of them experienced marital discord and failed to exercise proper patriarchal authority to maintain order in their households.  The situation for each spiraled so far out of control that all three men resorted to placing advertisements in the Connecticut Courant to instruct others in their communities not to extend credit to their wives.

“I am so unhappy in my last marriage,” lamented Pettibone, “as to inform the public that my wife Mary has privately run me in debt at many places, and has absented herself from my bed and board.”  Furthermore, she “carried off with her all she bro’t with her” to the marriage “and thirty pounds or upwards of my estate.”  Smith told a similar tale about his wife, Hannah, who “makes it her steady business to pass from house to house with her [busy] news, tattling and bawling and lying.”  Just as Mary Pettibone supposedly had done to her husband, Richard accused Hannah of “carrying out things out of my house, things contrary to my knowledge.”  Savage was not nearly as animated in his account, instead resorting to standardized language that appeared in many “runaway wife” advertisements.  “Whereas Nancy the wife of me the subscriber,” he stated, “has eloped from my bed an[d] board and has run me in debt … I utterly refuse paying any debt contracted by her after this date.”  Pettibone and Smith could have also deployed formulaic accounts; that they did not testifies to the exasperation they felt in the face of such recalcitrance and disobedience by their wives.

Pettibone, Savage, and Smith intended for others to view them as aggrieved husbands.  They published unflattering narratives about their wives, using the power of the press to frame events according to their understanding or liking.  Eighteenth-century readers, especially those who knew the families or heard gossip, certainly realized that none of these men provided all of the details of what transpired in their households.  Arranged one after another, these advertisements served as a catalog of misbehaving women, but they also demanded readers ask questions about how the men who placed the notices comported themselves.  In what ways did the husbands contribute to the turmoil in their households?

August 13

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

Connecticut Courant (August 13, 1771).

“Catalogue of BOOKS.”

Like purveyors of consumer goods who provided elaborate lists of their merchandise, colonial booksellers frequently published lists of the books available at their shops in their newspaper advertisements.  Those lists often amounted to book catalogs adapted to a different format.  In the case of an advertisement that Lathrop and Smith placed in the August 13, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, the booksellers even described their notice as a “Catalogue of BOOKS.”

Arranged in five columns with a headline extending across the entire page, the impressive list occupied most of the third page.  It accounted for almost one-quarter of the issue.  The first three columns filled the space allotted to two columns on the other pages.  The fourth and fifth columns, however, were even more narrow in order to fit in the space of a single column.  That allowed the compositor to insert four additional advertisements, all of them unrelated to the book catalog, in the lower right corner of the page.  By maintaining the standard column width, those advertisements could be moved within the newspaper to appear in other places in subsequent editions without needing to set the type all over again.  This configuration suggests that Lathrop and Smith did not invest in broadsheet catalogs to disseminate separately, but instead relied solely on the Connecticut Courant to reach prospective customers.

Although they neglected one marketing innovation, the booksellers did adopt another.  To aid readers and prospective customers in finding items of interest, the booksellers divided their inventory into several genres, including Divinity; Law; Physic, Surgery, &c.; School Books; History; and Miscellany.  Within each genre, they listed the books in alphabetical order by author or, in the case of some popular works, by title.  Readers perusing the Divinity section spotted “Edwards on Original Sin” and “Whitefield’s Hymns.”  Those browsing books about Law encountered “Blackstone’s Commentaries” and “Every Man his own Lawyer.”

Filling nearly an entire page, this advertisement likely attracted attention.  Readers could hardly have ignored it, nor could they have ignored Lathrop and Smith’s names in a larger font than even the name of the newspaper in the masthead on the first page.  Published in Hartford, the Connecticut Courant usually devoted less space to advertising than newspaper printed in larger towns and cities.  That made Lathrop and Smith’s “Catalogue of BOOKS” all the more noteworthy.

Connecticut Courant (August 13, 1771).

August 6

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

Connecticut Courant (August 6, 1771).

Many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College.”

Colonial printers sometimes blurred the lines between news and advertising.  Such was the case with an item that appeared in the August 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  As the last item among the news in that issue or as the first item among the advertisements, Ebenezer Watson inserted a notice that functioned as both.  “Whereas many Gentlemen are enquiring concerning the situation, circumstances, &c of Dartmouth College,” Watson announced, “this may inform the public, That A Continuation of the Narrative of the Indian Charity-School in Lebanon in Connecticut; From the Year 1768 to the Incorporation of it with Dartmouth-College, and removal and settlement of it in Hanover, in the Province of New Hampshire, 1771 is lately published.”  The notice seemed to provide an overview of the recent history of Dartmouth College, but, like many advertisements for books, it simply listed the extensive title of the publication it promoted.

Eleazar Wheelock, president of Dartmouth College, penned the volume.  Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, printed the book and, in the notice that he placed in his own newspaper, informed readers that copies “may be had at the Printing Office in Hartford.”  He exercised his prerogative as printer to place his advertisement in a place that it looked like news, likely hoping to increase the number of readers who would take note of it even if they did not peruse other advertisements.  The items that appeared after it all had a format that readily identified them as advertisements, but Watson’s notice was more difficult to distinguish from the news items that filled most of the page.

In addition to using this advertisement as a transition between news and paid notices, Watson also made a request of other newspaper printers.  In a nota bene, he declared that “If the Printers in general would be so kind as to insert the above in their respective paper, the favor will be gratefully acknowledged, and possibly the public benefited.”  In asking his counterparts in other cities and towns to reprint his advertisement, Watson continued to treat it as a news item that delivered information for the purpose of better informing the public, not merely a commercial endeavor and means of generating revenue at his printing office in Hartford.  He apparently hoped that other printers would similarly present his advertisement as news of interest to their readers.

April 16

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

Connecticut Courant (April 16, 1771).

“All gentlemen passengers, [who are] inclined to favour him with their custom[, will] meet with good usage, from their humb[le ser]vant.”

From the early spring through the late fall, Jeremiah Lord operated a “Passage-Boat” or ferry that transported passengers along the Connecticut River and crossed the Long Island Sound, connecting the inland village of Middletown, Connecticut, and the coastal towns of Saybrook, Connecticut, and Sag Harbor, New York.  The passage boat sailed from Middletown on the first and third Monday each month and returned from Sag Harbor the following Thursday, “winds and weather permitting.”  Each passenger paid “half a Dollar” if on foot and twice as much if transporting a horse.

Though dated “March 1771,” Lord’s advertisement first appeared in the Connecticut Courant, printed in Hartford, on April 9.  It then ran for two more weeks.  That it appeared more than once allows historians and other modern readers to discover many of the details obscured in the April 16 edition as a result of collection and preservation practices.  Many eighteenth-century newspapers currently in the collections of research libraries have not been preserved as single issues but instead have been bound together with others.  Depending on the size of the newspaper and its frequency of publication, those volumes include six months, an entire year, or even more issues.  Because they have been bound, the newspapers can no longer be laid flat.  For newspapers with generous margins, this does not matter, but for this with narrow margins it means that often some of the text has been absorbed into the binding.  Often this affects only a small portion of the text, perhaps the last couple of letters at the edge of the column, but in other instances even more text remains hidden by the binding.  Such is the case with the rightmost column on the first and last pages and the leftmost column on the second and third pages of the April 16 edition of the Connecticut Courant.

Modern readers interested in advertising overcome this obstacle by examining other issues.  Advertisements ran multiple times, their placement on the page usually changing.  Lord’s advertisement, for instance, did not appear in the column adjacent to the binding in the April 9 and April 23 editions.  It is more difficult to recover the contents of news accounts, letters, and other items usually printed only once.  Even when most of the print remains legible, other aspects of the production or preservation of historical newspapers conceal portions of the contents.

January 8

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

Connecticut Courant (January 8, 1771).

“He will sell for the following Prices.”

K. Sexton sold books at a shop “Near the Great Bridge in Hartford” in the early 1770s. Like many other early American booksellers, he placed newspaper advertisements that listed various titles available at his shop. In his advertisement in the January 8, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, however, he included an enhancement not part of most newspaper advertisements or book catalogs published during the period.  He gave the prices of his merchandise.

In orderly columns that ran down the right side of his notice, Sexton listed prices in pounds, shillings, and pence, allowing prospective customers to anticipate what they would spend on his books as well as identify bargains.  He charged, for instance, fourteen shillings for a two-volume set of “SMALL Morrocco Bibles, bound in the neatest Manner,” five shillings and four pence for a “large” edition of a popular novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and four shillings and eight pence for a “small” edition, and ten pence for “Cato’s Tragedy.”

For some items, Sexton sought buyers among both consumers and retailers.  He sold “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God, a Sermon preach’d by the Rev’d Jon. Edwards at Enfield, at a Time of great awakenings” for six pence for a single copy or four shillings for a dozen.  Retailers and others who bought in volume enjoyed a significant discount when they paid four shillings or forty-eight pence for twelve copies; Sexton reduced the retail price by one third.  He offered similar savings for purchasing at least a dozen copies of six other titles, including “Mr. Moodys Sermon to Children” and “Watts’s Catechism.”  For each of those, he charged either four pence each or three shillings (or thirty-six pence) for a dozen.  Those who bought a dozen save one quarter of the retail price.

Most booksellers did not specify prices for their merchandise in newspapers advertisements that listed multiple titles, though they were more likely to mention prices in advertisements for single titles and almost always did so in subscription notices for proposed books, magazines, and pamphlets.  In general, most purveyors of goods and services in eighteenth-century America did not indicate prices in their advertisements, except to offer assurances that they were low or reasonable.  Setting prices and promoting them to prospective customers eventually became a standard marketing strategy, but it was not common in eighteenth-century advertisements.  In the early 1770s, Sexton’s use of prices in his newspaper notices amounted to an experiment and innovation in marketing.

December 26

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

Connecticut Courant (December 25, 1770).

“ADVERTISEMENTS of not more than ten Lines, are taken in and inserted for THREE SHILLINGS three weeks.”

On November 13, 1770, Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson, printers of the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, announced that they planned to enlarge the newspaper and make other improvements before the end of the year.  The November 13 edition served as a specimen copy for current and prospective subscribers, though it did not feature a new colophon on the final page.  Green and Watson inaugurated that aspect of the newspaper on December 25 when the new size became official.  Compared to the previous colophon, “HARTFORD: Printed by GREEN & WATSON,” the new colophon was much more extensive, befitting a publication that sought to join the ranks of those from Boston and New York.

The new colophon included information about the costs of subscriptions and advertisements that not all printers made readily available to readers.  If subscription fees or advertising rates did appear in print, they were usually part of a colophon.  Some colophons incorporated one or the other, but usually not both.  When they enlarged and enhanced the Connecticut Courant, Green and Watson provided both in the colophon.  They set two prices for subscriptions, “NINE SHILLINGS, Lawful Money per Year, if sent by the special Post, or SEVEN SHILLINGS without Postage.”  That provided important insight into Green and Watson’s business practices, especially their means of circulating the Connecticut Courant to distant subscribers.  In the late 1760s and early 1770s, other printers who listed their subscription rates, most of them in busy and crowded urban ports, did not take the fees for post riders into consideration.  Separate advertisements sometimes tended to those concerns, though they typically offered services without specifying prices.  The colophon for the enlarged Connecticut Courant made the total costs for subscribing visible to customers.

In terms of advertising rates, Green and Watson charged three shillings to publish notices of ten lines or less for three weeks.  Prices increased “in Proportion” for longer advertisements.  As was typical, the initial fee included setting type, bookkeeping, and multiple insertions.  Some printers allowed for four insertions, but most opted for three, then charged additional fees for subsequent insertions.  Advertisers could continue running their notices in the Connecticut Courant for an additional six pence per week.  That meant that half of the initial fee, three shillings or thirty-six pence, covered setting type and bookkeeping because three weeks of inserting a notice amounted to eighteen pence.  Most newspaper printers derived greater revenues from advertising than subscriptions.  In the case of the Connecticut Courant, three advertisements cost the same as an annual subscription that included “the special Post.”

Subscription rates and advertising fees were an aspect of early American printers’ business practices that did not regularly find their way into print in eighteenth-century newspapers.  For many years Green and Watson did not incorporate this information into the Connecticut Courant, but when they enlarged the newspaper at the end of 1770, they added a new colophon as one of the improvements.  In so doing, they provided important information about the production of their newspaper.

December 11

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

Connecticut Courant (December 11, 1770).

“They have been at the expence of bringing workmen from Philadelphia.”

Herman Allen and Levi Allen embarked on a new venture in December 1770.  The Allens ran a store in Salisbury, Connecticut, where they sold a “LARGE and general assortment of European, East, & West India Goods.”  Their notice, along with others for shops in Hartford and other towns in Connecticut that ran in the Connecticut Courant, demonstrated that the consumer revolution extended beyond the major port cities and into the countryside.

The Allens’ new venture also demonstrated that retailers and, likely, customers looked to larger cities for cues about consumption practices while also remaining mindful of local economies.  In addition to the “general assortment” of merchandise available at their store, the Allens also informed consumers that “they have been to the expence of bringing workmen from Philadelphia, for dressing Leather, and making Breeches and Gloves in the neatest Philadelphia fashion.”  They assumed that prospective customers in small towns were familiar with the manner of making breeches and gloves in the largest city in the colonies as well as the appearance of the finished products.  Furthermore, the Allens expected that their customers desired breeches and gloves that resembled those made in Philadelphia.  Even if prospective customers did not, the Allens suggested that they should.

The Allens also declared that their customers could gain access to the fashions of urban ports while still supporting the local economy.  Since the Allens brought the workmen to Connecticut to make breeches and gloves, “the public may be supply’d without sending the money out of this colony.”  Furthermore, customers did not have to pay a premium for that privilege.  Instead, the Allens set prices “as cheap as in New York or Albany or elsewhere.”  In terms of payment, they accepted cash and “all sorts of country produce” and extended “the usual credit.”

Colonists did not need to reside in urban ports where newspapers overflowed with advertisements for consumer goods in order to experience the pleasures of shopping and showing off the clothing and other possessions they acquired.  From stocking an assortment of goods to bringing workmen to the town of Salisbury to make breeches and gloves “in the neatest Philadelphia fashion” to low prices and credit, the Allens sought to make it easy and convenient for residents of Salisbury and other small towns in Connecticut to participate in the consumer revolution.

November 14

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

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).

We here offer them a Specimen.”

Subscribers and others who regularly read the Connecticut Courant immediately notices something different about the November 13, 1770, edition.  Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson printed it on a larger sheet than usual.  They acknowledged that they had done so in a message from “The PRINTERS to the PUBLIC” that filled the entire first column on the first page, making it difficult for readers to overlook.  Published in Hartford since 1764, the Connecticut Courant had not been as extensive a newspaper as its counterparts published in bustling urban ports like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Many of those newspapers commenced publication decades earlier and evolved over time. Green and Watson desired for their newspaper to experience a similar evolution, acknowledging that they “have often been obliged, for Want of Room, either wholly to omit, or else give the Public but a very partial Account of many very interesting and important Articles of News which in larger Papers, are more fully and largely set forth.”

The printers intended to “remedy and redress” that “Inconvenience” by enlarging the Connecticut Courant.  In addition to the lengthy message from Green and Watson on the first page, the entire November 13 edition served as an advertisement of sorts, “a Specimen” printed on larger sheets for the public to examine.  The printers proclaimed that they were “determined to enlarge the Connecticut COURANT to a Size no less than that of the Boston or York Papers.”  Such an upgrade would aid them in their efforts “of furnishing out the Paper with such Collections of News as will render it as entertaining, useful and profitable as lies in our Power.”  Green and Watson further explained that the posts from Boston and New York both arrived in Hartford on Sundays, giving them sufficient time to review newspapers they received from those cities and reprint “the Whole of the most material and important Advices” in the Connecticut Courant on Tuesdays.

Access to more extensive coverage of news from other colonies and beyond came at a price.  The “Enlargement will necessarily subject us to an additional Expence,” the printers explained as they informed readers that subscription rates would increase only modestly by one shilling per year.  The new price, they assured the public, was no more expensive than printers of other newspapers of similar size charged their subscribers.  Those who already subscribed had five weeks to decide if they wished to continue their subscriptions before Green and Watson transitioned to larger sheets and increased the rates for the Connecticut Courant.  The printers also invited those who did not yet subscribe to consider doing so in order to receive the more extensive news coverage they would soon provide.  At the same time, they called on “our good Customers who are in Arrears for the Paper, Advertisements, or any other Account” to make payment before the enlargement took place.  Green and Watson needed the “Ready Cash” to purchase paper and pursue their goals for enhancing the newspaper.  Furthermore, they would not publish any new advertisements without receiving payment in advance.

Green and Watson devoted a significant portion of the November 13 edition of the Connecticut Courant to promoting the newspaper itself.  They outlined improvements in the works that would soon be implemented, while also demonstrating those enhancements to current and prospective subscribers.  The entire issue was “a Specimen” intended to showcase the features of the new Connecticut Courant and convince readers that an extra shilling each year for a subscription would be money well spent.

Connecticut Courant (November 13, 1770).