February 13

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

Connecticut Courant (February 13, 1769).

“Said Atherton makes shears, in a new invented manner.”

When Cornelius Atherton advertised that he “makes and repairs fuller’s SHEARS” in the February 13, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Courant, he balanced some of the most familiar appeals to prospective customers with an innovative marketing strategy. Throughout the colonies, artisans emphasized quality and price in their advertising. Atherton was no different. He stated that he performed his work “in the best manner … at a reasonable rate.”

A nota bene that accounted for half of the advertisement, however, made a unique appeal to consumers: technological innovation. “Said Atherton makes shears, in a new invented manner, which is of the greatest advantage to the buyer, as one of the blades is put on with a screw, so that it can be taken off at any time to be ground, without putting the shears out of their proper order.” Atherton asserted that his product should be attractive to prospective customers because improvements to the design and construction facilitated repairs and maintenance.

Given that he advertised “fuller’s SHEARS,” Atherton addressed a relatively narrow audience of buyers. Fullers processed cloth, especially woolens, to various mechanical processes in order to clean and thicken it. Experienced fullers certainly would have been familiar with the challenges presented by working with the standard equipment of their trade. Atherton did not need to elaborate on the shortcomings of other shears; instead, he underscored the “new invented” design that bestowed “the greatest advantage” to those who used his shears. His customers would experience greater efficiency due to the convenience of being able to remove the blades to sharpen them when necessary.

In the late nineteenth century and beyond, this sort of advertisement would have more likely appeared in a trade publication intended for those who practiced similar occupations or those who supplied them with the necessary equipment. Advertising media was not yet differentiated in that manner in the eighteenth century, so Atherton’s notice ran among the various kinds of advertisements that general readers encountered whenever they perused colonial newspapers. Not all readers would have understood the technical details, but Atherton expected that those details would indeed make a difference to fullers and others who had occasion to use the shears that he produced.

December 19

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

Connecticut Courant (December 19, 1768).

“SAMUEL BROOME, and Co. have the following GOODS … at their Store in NEW-YORK.”

By the time it made its final appearance in the December 19, 1768, edition, regular readers of Hartford’s Connecticut Courant would have been quite familiar with Samuel Broome and Company’s lengthy advertisement for an assortment of goods available at their store in New York. Over the past five months the advertisement had appeared frequently, replicating its publication schedule in New Haven’s Connecticut Journal.

Broome and Company’s first inserted their advertisement in the August 1 edition of the Connecticut Courant. It then ran in alternating issues, appearing again on August 15 and 29, September 12 and 26, October 10 and 24, November 7 and 21, and December 5 and 19. It did not run on August 8 and 22, September 5 and 19, October 3, 17, and 31, November 14 and 28, and December 12. I have assumed that this advertisement did run on August 15, but not on October 31. Extant copies of those issues were not available to consult, but this would match the schedule throughout the five months the advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Courant. Furthermore, a similar schedule in the Connecticut Journal strongly suggests that Broome and Company’s advertisement did indeed consistently run in alternating issues for the final five months of 1768.

This advertising campaign was ambitious and probably expensive, not just for its frequency but also due to the length of the advertisement. It filled the better part of two out of three columns in the Connecticut Courant, dominating any page on which appeared. Similarly, it filled an entire column in the Connecticut Journal, a newspaper that featured only two columns per page. Despite its length, Broome and Company indicated that they also sold “many other articles too tedious to mention.”

Broome and Company also placed the same advertisement in the New-York Journal. Most merchants and shopkeepers in New York opted to advertise in one or more of the newspapers printed in that city, trusting the extensive circulation of those newspapers to distribute their commercial notices to towns and villages far beyond the city. Broome and Company took a more calculated approach to cultivating new customers and enlarging their share of the market. Their persistent advertising in newspaper published in Hartford and New Haven likely helped to establish greater name recognition on a regional level.

November 21

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

Nov 21 - 11:21:1768 Connecticut Courant
Supplement to the Connecticut Courant (November 21, 1768).

“Catalogue of BOOKS, just imported from LONDON.”

For three weeks in November 1768 the partnership of Lathrop and Smith placed a full-page advertisement in the Connecticut Courant. It first appeared in the November 7 issue and again on November 14 and 21. Although Lathrop and Smith described themselves as “Apothecaries in Hartford,” they published a “Catalogue of BOOKS, just imported from LONDON” in their advertisement, listing approximately 250 titles available at their shop. To help prospective customers identify books of particular interest, they organized them by genre: Divinity, Law, Physick, School Books, History, and Miscellany.

While not unknown in the late colonial period, full-page advertisements were rare. They merited attention due to their size and the expense incurred by the advertisers. Given that the standard issue of most newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and folding it in half, full-page advertisements dominated any issue in which they appeared, accounting for one-quarter of the content. That was the case the first two times Lathrop and Smith published their book catalog in the Connecticut Courant. For its third and final insertion it comprised the second page of a half sheet supplement devoted entirely to advertisements. That supplement brought the number of pages distributed to subscribers up to six for the week. Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement still accounted for a significant proportion of content placed before readers. Its size may have prompted the printers to resort to a supplement in order to make room for other content.

In addition to filling all three columns, the first insertion also featured a nota bene printed in the right margin. “N.B. Said Lathrop & Smith, have for Sale as usual,” it advised, “A great Variety of little Cheap Books for Children.—A Variety of Tragedies, Comedies, Operas, &c.—Writing Paper, Dutch Quills, Scales & Dividers, A Universal Assortment of Medicines and Painters Colours.—Choice Bohea Tea, Chocolate, Coffee, Spices, Loafsugar, Indico, &c. &c. &c.” The nota bene may have also appeared in the subsequent insertions, but decisions about preservation and digitization of the original issues made at various points since they first circulated in colonial America may have hidden the nota bene from view.

Separate issues of the Connecticut Courant have been bound into a single volume. As a result, the original fold of the newspaper has been incorporated into the binding. This means that the inside margins are partially or completely obscured. Recall that the nota bene for Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement appeared in the right margin. That is the outside margin for odd-numbered pages, but the inside margin for even-numbered pages. The advertisement appeared on the third page when it was first published on November 7, making the nota bene quite visible, even in the volume of newspapers bound together. On November 14, however, it appeared on the fourth page. On November 21, it appeared on the second page of the supplement. In both instances the nota bene, if it remained part of the advertisement, became part of the inner margin, the portion of the page given over to binding issues together. It is impossible to tell from the photographs that have been digitized if the nota bene survived into subsequent insertions. Examination of the originals might reveal traces or confirm that it disappeared.

As the image for this advertisement makes clear, working with surrogate sources – whether microfilm or digitized images – sometimes has its limitations. Questions that cannot be answered from such sources might be addressed with more certainty when examining originals. If the nota bene was indeed discontinued after the first insertion, that raises interesting questions about the reasons. Did Lathrop and Smith request its removal? Or did the printers choose to eliminate it? What might this instance tell us about the consultation that took place between printers who produced newspapers and advertisers who paid to have their notices included in them?

July 25

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

Jul 25 - Connecticut Courant 7:25:1768
Connecticut Courant (July 25, 1768).


When Ephraim Smith, “an assigned Servant,” ran away from Dr. Eliot Rawson of Middletown in the summer of 1768, the doctor placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant in hopes that someone would “take up said Runaway, and secure him in any of his Majesty’s Goals.” Once Smith had been captured and committed to jail, Rawson pledged to pay a reward as well as other expenses. One aspect of Rawson’s advertisement especially distinguished it from other notices concerning runaway servants, apprentices, and slaves. The headline featured unique typography, the word “RUN-AWAY” in capital letters printed upside down.

Was this intentional? Or was it merely an error made by the compositor? If it was an error, nobody associated with the runaway notice – not the advertiser, not the compositor, not the printers of the Connecticut Courant – considered it consequential enough to remedy. The advertisement ran for three weeks, the standard time specified in rate structure listed in the colophon, before being discontinued. Throughout its entire run it likely attracted attention as a result of the upside down text that introduced the description of Smith and the reward offered by Rawson.

The compositor certainly had opportunities to correct the error. The advertisement first appeared in the July 11 edition, at the top of the center column and immediately below the masthead on the front page. It moved to different positions on the fourth page in the next two issues, indicating that the compositor viewed and handled the type.

Even if the headline initially appeared upside down as a mistake, perhaps everyone involved considered it a fortuitous one and intentionally chose not to reset the type in the first line of the advertisement. After all, it made Rawson’s notice difficult to miss on a page that consisted almost entirely of densely text. An advertisement for a runaway servant might not have merited a second glance by readers who had previously encountered it in another edition, but the incongruity of the upside down text in all capitals and a larger font demanded subsequent notice. It forcefully reminded readers to keep their eyes open for the delinquent Smith when they might otherwise have passed over the advertisement as old news.

Whether intentional or an error, the unique headline produced benefits that relied on the visual elements of the advertisement rather than the copy, making it unnecessary or undesirable to flip the headline to the proper orientation in subsequent iterations of the advertisement. Especially in the absence of visual images, typography played an important role in the quest to have readers take note of newspaper advertisements.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1768 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (July 18, 1768).

Those who have Advertisements to insert in this Paper, are desired to send them … to the Printers, by Saturday Noon.”

Most eighteenth-century newspapers did not regularly publish their advertising rates, though several included calls for advertisements (along with subscriptions and job printing) alongside information about the printer and place of publication in the colophon on the final page. For instance, throughout 1768 the colophon for the Georgia Gazette read: “SAVANNAH: Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.” Johnston solicited advertisements for the Georgia Gazette, but did not reveal the costs for advertisers.

Among those who did use the colophon to promote the various services offered at the printing office, a few did indicate advertising rates. Green and Watson, printers of the Connecticut Courant, listed this pricing scheme in the summer of 1768: “ADVERTISEMENTS of not more than ten Lines, are taken in and inserted for Three Shillings, three Weeks, and Six Pence, for each Week after, and longer ones in Proportion.” Green and Watson gave prospective advertisers a sense of how much they could expect to pay to insert a notice in their newspaper.

Beyond the information provided in colophons and occasional notices calling on subscribers and advertisers to settle accounts, eighteenth-century printers rarely published other instructions that revealed the mechanics of advertising. Occasionally, however, some did insert additional guidance for advertisers. In the lower right corner of the first page of the July 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Courant, Green and Watson specified the deadline for submitting advertisements in order for them to appear in the next issue, published each week on Mondays. “Those who have Advertisements to insert in this Paper,” the printers advised, “are desired to send them (accompanied with the Pay) to the Printers, by Saturday Noon.” Green and Watson required two days notice to insert advertisements in their newspaper, allowing sufficient time for setting type and printing the next issue on a press operated by hand. Their notice indicated how quickly advertisements could be incorporated into their newspaper, yet also cautioned that advertisers needed to submit their copy in a timely fashion of they did not wish for it to be delayed by a week between issues.

March 21

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

Mar 21 - 3:21:1768 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 21, 1768).

“(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)”

Compared to newspapers published in most other towns and cities, Hartford’s Connecticut Courant featured relatively little advertising. The March 21, 1768, edition devoted even less space to advertisements than usual, presumably because the printer, Thomas Green, opted to insert “Letter X” of John Dickinson’s “LETTERS from a FARMER in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies” in its entirety. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, a short notice from the “Treasury-Office” immediately below the masthead as the first item in the first column on the first page and four others that comprised less than a column on the third page.

Samuel Gilbert’s notice concerning “A good, convenient Dwelling-House and Garden” for sale or rent was the last of those advertisements. “Letter X” filled the remainder of the issue, but Green first inserted an announcement at the conclusion of Gilbert’s advertisement: “(For other Advertisements, see the Suppliment.)” These directions suggest that Green did indeed have other paid notices to disseminate to the public, but the copy of the Connecticut Courant photographed and digitized by Readex for its America’s Historical Newspapers database does not include a supplement. The database does include, however, a nearly complete run of that newspaper for 1768, lacking only two of the issues printed on each Monday of the year. (Gaps in the issue numbers make it clear that two are indeed missing.) Readex reproduced supplements to other issues when they were among the collections of the libraries and archives that partnered with the company in making these historical sources more widely available and accessible. That the database does not include the supplement for the March 21, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Courant suggests that no extant copy had been located. This is disappointing but hardly surprising. We are fortunate to have an almost complete archive of the Connecticut Courant, a situation that demonstrates that newspapers were less ephemeral than other printed media that disseminated advertising in eighteenth-century America. The traces of other forms of advertising, including broadsides and catalogs, mentioned in early American newspapers, printers’ ledgers, and other sources indicate that our collections of newspapers and their advertisements will always be much more complete than our collections of other advertising media from the period.

An ephemeral advertising supplement that disappeared over time, however, might not be the only explanation. Alternately, Green may have gotten ahead of himself when he advised readers to consult the supplement for other advertisements. The printer may have intended to publish and distribute an additional half sheet, a common practice for other newspapers but less common for the Connecticut Courant, but ultimately ran out of time or determined that he did not have sufficient advertising content to merit the expenditure of resources. Green may have announced a supplement that has not survived to the twenty-first century because it never actually existed in the eighteenth century. Our archive of the Connecticut Courant may be more complete than the evidence from the period otherwise suggests. The announcement concerning an advertising supplement may testify to the aspirations of the printer rather than the work he accomplished.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1767 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (July 14, 1767).

“The following BOOKS.”

Compared to newspapers published in major port cities in the 1760s, Hartford’s Connecticut Courant included relatively little advertising. Even compared to other newspapers from smaller towns (such as Savannah’s Georgia Gazette, Portsmouth’s New-Hampshire Gazette, and the New-London Gazette) the amount of space the Connecticut Courant devoted to commercial notices and other sorts of paid advertisements was modest, usually limited to a few short items on the final page or scattered throughout an issue.

This aspect of Thomas Green’s newspaper made Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement particularly striking and unexpected. In addition to promoting the “large and universal Assortment of fresh genuine MEDICINE” they had just imported from London, the apothecaries also listed scores of books they sold. Their advertisement extended across the entire page, divided into four columns (rather than three columns throughout the rest of the newspaper) in order to squeeze in as many titles as possible.

In addition to its length, Lathrop and Smith’s advertisement dominated the front page of the Connecticut Courant; it hardly could have escaped the notice of subscribers and other readers. It also would have been readily visible to anyone who observed someone reading the newspaper, especially if it was held aloft while perusing the items in the center pages. Except for the masthead at the top and a snippet of news relayed from New York at the bottom, the apothecaries’ advertisement filled the entire first page.

Lathrop and Smith almost certainly were familiar with the standards and conventions of newspaper advertising in Hartford, yet they likely also read newspapers from Boston and New York, at least occasionally, since eighteenth-century newspapers tended to circulate far beyond their places of publication. Certain booksellers, especially John Mein in Boston and Garret Noel in New York, frequently placed lengthy advertisements listing the titles they stocked. With those notices and others as models of what was possible when it came to newspaper advertising, Lathrop and Smith devised their own marketing efforts accordingly. Their advertisement more closely replicated those placed by their counterparts in other cities than the usual notices for consumer goods and services in their local newspaper. They designed an advertisement considered appropriate and effective among others who pursued the same occupation.

Jul 13 - 7:13:1767 Front Page Connecticut Courant
Front Page of the Connecticut Courant (July 13, 1767).

November 3


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

Connecticut Courant (November 3, 1766).

“Choice Bohea Tea.”

In this notice in the Connecticut Courant, William Lamson advertised different goods, such as “Bohea Tea,” “Cod Fish,” and “Black Barcelona Handkerchiefs.” Lamson sold his goods at the stores of Ebenezer Bernard in Hartford and Oliver Pomeroy at Rockey-Hill.

Drinking tea was an important part of colonial life. Drinking tea was a symbol of status in England; this was true in colonial society also. According to Rodris Roth, “During the first half of the eighteenth century the limited amount of tea, available at prohibitively high prices, restricted its use to a proportionately small segment of the population. About mid-century, however, tea was beginning to be drunk by more and more people, as supplies increased and costs decreased, due in part to the propaganda and merchandising efforts of the East India Company.”[1] (Bohea tea, a category of black and oolong teas, originates from China. The East India Company acquired it and distributed it to England and the colonies.) As tea became more accessible more people were able to buy it and partake in the social rituals of drinking tea.



William Lamson’s advertisement for tea, codfish, handkerchiefs, sugar, and mackerel included a rather unique feature. He included a price for each of the items listed. Eighteenth-century advertisements rarely included prices. Advertisers that hawked only one or two commodities sometimes indicated their prices. Shopkeepers occasionally named a price for one or two items included in their lengthy lists of merchandise. It was rare, however, for any advertisement to match a price to every item offered for sale.

Lamson made it possible for potential customers to engage in comparison shopping more easily. He depended on readers remembering their recent purchases and having some general familiarity with the prices local shopkeepers charged for the popular commodities he sold. Many potential customers likely would have known at a glance if Lamson offered good deals. That made it unnecessary for him to resort to one of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertising, emphasizing low prices. Lamson did not need to underscore that these were low prices; readers would have made that determination on their own. Lamson also cultivated a sense of trust with prospective customers by letting them know in advance what they could expect to spend when they purchased any of these commodities from him.

On the other hand, Lamson may have also had some practical reasons for listing specific prices. As Ceara noted, he sold tea, sugar, and other goods “At Mr. Ebenezer Barnard’s in Hartford, and at Mr. Oliver Pomeroy’s at Rockey-Hill.” Lamson may never have been present at either location; instead, Bernard and Pomeroy may have sold his commodities on commission or by some other arrangement. By indicating specific prices, Lamson eliminated the possibility that potential customers would have to haggle with a third party. Lamson did not need to be present for transactions or empower agents to act on his behalf. His advertisement, with prices plainly indicated, could stand in on his behalf.


[1] Rodris Roth, “Tea Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America: Its Etiquette and Equipage,” in Material Life in America, 1600-1860, ed. Robert Blair St. George (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988), 442.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1766).

“All those who owe small trifling Debts, must discharge them before the End of August.”

Thomas Davidson wanted to settle accounts and catch up on his bookkeeping. To those ends he published an advertisement with a timetable for customers to pay their debts. Those with “small trifling Debts” had four weeks (“before the End of August”) to pay up, while others who owed more substantial amounts had nearly twice as long (“before the latter End of September next”). Davisdon warned that customers in both categories needed to be punctual or else he would take a step he considered “very disagreeable.” He threatened to sue those who did not heed his call to pay what they owed.

Davidson preferred cash, but he was more interested in settling accounts. If necessary, he was willing to accept a variety of goods that his customers presumably produced on their own farms: “Wheat, Rye, Indian-Corn or Pork.” Cash, credit, and barter all served as modes of exchange in the economy of colonial Connecticut as buyers and sellers negotiated final reckonings for their exchanges.

Although the primary purpose of Davidson’s advertisement seems to have been settling accounts, he also sought to generate more business. After warning customers with outstanding debts that he would sue them “without further Notice,” he announced that he sold “WEST-INDIA RUM, by the Hogshead, or smaller Quantity.” Apparently he did not want to find himself in a similar situation with prospective sales. He declared that he sold the rum “for Cash only.” Such was the tradeoff for purchasing the rum “very cheap.” Customers had to pay in cash.

Eighteenth-century account books, ledgers, and letters are the best sources for revealing business practices of merchants and shopkeepers, but advertisements often provide useful supplements that also demonstrate the public face that entrepreneurs presented to customers and their communities.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (July 14, 1766).

“Cheap for Cash, Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

Many eighteenth-century consumers bought a variety of goods – including sugar, shoes, tobacco, and handkerchiefs – on credit. Ebenezer Hazard, however, did not seem inclined to extend credit to potential customers. At least, he did not raise that as a possibility in his advertisement in the Connecticut Courant. Instead, he offered to sell this diverse assortment of goods either “for Cash” or in exchange for “Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

All sorts of colonists participated in the transatlantic consumption of goods in the eighteenth century, so many that English visitors to the colonies frequently expressed dismay over how many things, the so-called “baubles of Britain,” that were present in even the most humble households in rural villages and on the frontier. Colonists of modest means found a variety of ways to get their hands on some of the same items as the elites, though perhaps not always in the same quantity or of the same quality.

Barter was one of those means. When merchants and shopkeepers like Ebenezer Barnard offered to trade the “BEST Sort of double refin’d Loaf Sugar, Calimanco Shoes, best Kippen’s Snuff, [or] Barcelona Hankerchiefs, of different Colours,” they opened the marketplace to colonists who might not otherwise have had the means to participate. Such consumers came into possession of products produced in far away places (like sugar from colonies in the Caribbean or textiles from Europe) by trading the raw materials and supplies that they produced on their own farms and in their own communities. Barnard sought to incite even greater demand by making it possible for potential customers to imagine the possibilities they might experience as a result of alternate forms of payment beyond cash and credit.