May 29

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

May 29 - 5:26:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 26, 1768).

“Said Humphreys makes, and has now on Hand, a large Quantity of good Sickles, Scythes.”

Stephen Paschall and Benjamin Humphreys jointly placed an advertisement in the May 26, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. In it, they promoted several items they both manufactured, including “Screws for Clothiers, Timber-Carriages, Tobacconists, [and] Packing” and “Iron Work for Grist-Mills, Saw-Mills, and Fulling-Mills.” In addition, Paschall announced that he made and sold bellows for blacksmith forges on Market Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets. Similarly, Humphreys marketed sickles, scythes, and other cutlery that he made and sold at the corner of Ninth and Market Streets.

Their advertisement included a visual image uniquely associated with Humphreys’s business: a woodcut of a sickle mounted on a handle suspended from a scythe blade. This image likely approximated a sign that marked Humphreys’s workshop. That would explain why a single link connected the two blades. Each blade also bore the name HUMPHREYS, identifying the artisan but also marking his place of business. Humphreys did not advise prospective customers that his workshop was located at the Sign of the Scythe and Sickle, but given that he expressed concern that his “Distance from Market” might “discourage his Friends, and others” from visiting his shop he may have considered it most important to list the cross streets by name and allow the woodcut to speak for itself in terms of the sign that marked his location. Relatively few American shop signs that predate the Revolution survive, but woodcuts that accompanied newspaper advertisements suggest some of the marketing images colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns.

For modern researchers, this image raises a cautionary tale about the shortcomings of consulting digital surrogates to the exclusion of original sources. I downloaded a PDF of the entire May 26, 1768, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. As the image above reveals, the photography and remediation of the original source make it difficult to discern that the name HUMPHREYS does indeed appear on the blades. This was a detail I overlooked the first time I read the advertisement and only noticed when I gave the woodcut additional scrutiny. To determine whether I had mistaken the shading of the blades with a depiction of the artisan’s name, I visited the American Antiquarian Society to examine an original issue. The photograph below confirms that the name HUMPHREYS appears quite legibly, much more so than the digital surrogate suggests. In many ways, working with microfilm and digital images can be much more efficient than consulting originals. Both formats provide greater access while also preserving original documents. But they must be used judiciously. Sometimes examining the original yields information otherwise unavailable, as was the case with Benjamin Humphrey’s woodcut in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

May 29 - 5:26:1768 Detail AAS Pennsylvania Gazette
Detail of Paschall and Humphreys Advertisement in May 26, 1768 edition of Pennsylvania Gazette. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

May 3

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

May 3 - 5:3:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 3, 1768).

“… that a Tax of … all Slaves, and … ENCE on every … he Expences of … Third Day of …”

This advertisement presented a conundrum when I set about compiling the advertisements from the May 3, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal for inclusion in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. It includes a reference to slaves, seemingly in connection to taxes to be collected, but the majority of the advertisement has been obscured. Working with a digital surrogate available in Accessible Archives‘s database of newspapers published in South Carolina rather than an original copy, it is difficult to determine exactly why a large portion of the advertisement is not visible. It does not seem to be the result of poor photography or digitization but rather a faithful rendition of the state of the original issue as the result of the treatment it received in the quarter millennium since it was published.

May 3 - Left Side South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 7As I have worked my way through the digitized copies of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal from 1768 I have discovered that many issues include portions that are similarly illegible. It appears that at some point someone attempted to repair rips and tears in those issues with tape. (See the image of today’s advertisement and others to the left.) Most often the concealed portion appears at the edge of the page, the place most easily ripped. In the case of this advertisement, the items printed on the opposite side of the page do indeed display evidence of two tears. (See the image below. Note the mirrored tears that appear to have happened when the page was folded in half.) Taping one side preserved the contents on the other. Whether the tape remains on the page is not clear. It appears that it may have been removed, damaging the newspaper in the process. If this is indeed the case, examining the original may not reveal anything that cannot be viewed in the digital surrogate. If the tape remains on the page, however, it may be possible to examine the original from other angles that reveal more than the single image of the page yields.

May 3 - Right Side South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 8Historical documents are fragile things that sometimes present a variety of problems when working with them. Digital surrogates sometimes compound those problems. Although photography and digitization have been performed to aid in the preservation of eighteenth-century newspapers and other sources, to prevent them from sustaining further damage as a result of continued use, sometimes the surrogates do not sufficiently replicate the originals. Digital surrogates are not replacements for original documents. Instead, they are complements that allow greater numbers of people to gain access to historical sources. In this case, unfortunately, the complement does not tell the complete story … and it is difficult to tell from the surrogate if examining the original would reveal more. As much as we celebrate the advantages of digitization in this technological age, we must also acknowledge the various shortcomings and challenges of working with digitized sources.

May 2

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

May 2 - 5:2:1768 Page 183 Boston Chronicle Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Chronicle (May 2, 1768).

LONDON BOOK-STORE, North-side of KING-STREET, Boston.”

Like many other printers in eighteenth-century America, John Mein and John Fleeming took advantage of publishing a newspaper to insert advertisements for their own goods and services. In addition to a note in the colophon advising prospective clients that “All Manner of Printing-work performed at the most reasonable Rates” at their printing office in Newbury Street, the partners included two advertisements for books they sold in the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle. One appeared in the standard issue and the other in the supplement that accompanied it.

The first did not deviate significantly from the length of most other advertisements in their newspaper. It promoted their pamphlet that collected together John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania,” proclaiming that each was “Printed exactly from the Philadelphia papers, in which these Letters were first published.”

The second occupied significantly more space. In it, Mein published a book catalog that listed many of the titles from the “very GRAND ASSORTMENT of the BEST BOOKS in every branch of POLITE LITERATURE, ARTS, and SCIENCES” in stock at the London Book-Store on King Street. This advertisement filled an entire page as well as the first column of the next page, four of the twelve columns in the supplement.

Full-page advertisements were rare but not unknown in the 1760s. Still, scholars of advertising and printing history must be careful when distinguishing among such advertisements, especially when working primarily with digitized sources. No matter the actual size of an original, databases of digitized newspapers standardize it to the size of the screen. When scholars print those sources they are once again standardized when remediated, this time to an 8.5×11 sheet of office paper. Thus a page from the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle appears to be the same size as a page from the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.

Yet that was not the case. The production process created material texts of two different sizes. The Boston Evening-Post, like most other newspapers printed in the colonies at the time, was a folio newspaper. In other words, each issue consisted of four pages created by printing two per side and folding a broadsheet in half. The Boston Chronicle, on the other hand, was a quarto newspaper. It had been folded once again, yielding eight pages from a single broadsheet rather than just four. The pages were smaller, changing the experience of carrying and reading the newspaper.

This also changed the proportion of space constituted by a single page in quarto-sized newspapers. In standard issues, each page accounted for one-eighth rather than one-quarter of the content. In supplements, each page accounted for one-quarter rather than one-half. This does not diminish the significance of Mein and Fleeming devoting so much space in the May 2, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle to their own advertisements, especially since the full-page advertisement in the supplement flowed through an entire column on a subsequent page. At the same time, however, the magnitude of this innovation must be measured against the size of the actual page rather than the deceptive size of the remediated image. The publishers created a spectacle, but since a full-page advertisement required less space in their newspaper than in most others they also left room for news items and paid notices.

May 2 - 5:2:1768 Page 184 Boston Chronicle Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Chronicle (May 2, 1768).

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:4:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 4, 1768).


An advertisement seeking “LIVE WILD TURKIES” occupied a strange place on the sixth and final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The text was rotated and printed near the bottom of the page, nestled between another advertisement and the colophon that advised readers that the newspaper had been “Printed by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY.” Indeed, this advertisement was one of several that gave the page a strange appearance, though one not completely uncommon in eighteenth-century newspapers. In an attempt to squeeze as much content as possible onto the fifth and sixth pages, two sides of a single sheet, the compositor had rotated several advertisements already set in type. This created a fourth column of text perpendicular to the other three columns on the page.

Compositors deployed this trick when using paper that deviated from the usual size for their newspapers. Although the digitized images of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette are not supplemented with metadata that indicates the measurements of each page, it is possible to reach some reasonable conclusions through close examination of the contents. First, this newspaper usually ran four columns per page. That was the case for the first four pages of the March 4 issue, all of which would have been printed on a single sheet and folded in half to yield four distinct pages. The fifth and sixth pages, however, featured only three columns plus the narrow column of rotated text. Viewed on a screen as part of a database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, the fourth page and the sixth page appear the same size. When printing those images, both take on the standard size of a sheet of office paper. Further examination of the contents, however, suggests that the originals were different sizes. Upon comparing several advertisements on the fifth and sixth pages of the March 4 issue to their appearance in previous issues, it seems that the compositor used type that had already been set when preparing the new pages. The sheet must have been smaller, wide enough for only three columns with just enough space to rotate some of the short advertisements and squeeze them into an extra narrow column at the edge of the page. Not wanting to waste any space, the compositor did have to set two advertisements, each approximately half as wide as the standard column. The advertisement concerning “LIVE WILD TURKIES” thus found a spot near the bottom of the sixth page. Another advertisement of a similar size mirrored its location on the other side of the sheet, that one announcing “To be Let, A Genteel LODGING ROOM and a very good Cellar, by WILLIAM GOWDEY.”

The last two pages of the March 4 issue may appear unusual to twenty-first century eyes, but eighteenth-century readers would have been familiar with this strategy. The printer and compositor of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette selected a sheet just large enough to contain the news and advertisements for publication that week. At a time when imported paper was taxed under the Townshend Act, this may have been an especially important method of lowering the costs of publication.

Mar 4 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Page 6
Final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

February 3

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

Feb 3 - 2:3:1768 Image 1 Georgia Gazette
Greyscale jpeg converted from gif. Georgia Gazette (February 3, 1768).


Feb 3 - 2:3:1768 Image 2 Georgia Gazette
Black-and-white jpeg converted from PDF. Georgia Gazette (February 3, 1768).

“PROPOSED to be published, a PAMPHLET.”

Digital surrogates have significantly expanded the ability of scholars and the general public to access historical sources. The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project would not be possible without the databases of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers created by institutions like the American Antiquarian Society and Colonial Williamsburg forming partnerships with companies like Accessible Archives and Readex. Such databases make sources available online as well as portable when downloaded for further reference. This greatly expands the questions we can ask – and answer – about the past.

Yet we must also be careful consumers of digitized sources: not all digital surrogates are created equal. Consider, for instance, these two digitized versions of the same advertisement from the final page of the February 3, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Although they contain the same content, they look rather different from each other. The first is much more legible than the second, especially to readers with less experience working with digitized sources.

Why do these two images appear so different? Although I’ve converted both to jpegs, that is not the original format of either when I downloaded them from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. The first image represents what users see on their screen when they examine the newspaper in the database, a greyscale rendition of the page derived from a photograph of the original. It disguises the actual color and texture of the eighteenth-century newspaper, but the visual variations do make it possible for the human eye to distinguish what was printed on the page and what bled through from the other side. I acquired this image by selecting Readex’s option to “Print,” which opened a new page with instructions for printing the entire page of the newspaper (complete with a citation at the top). I then deviated from the procedure intended by Readex by instead dragging a gif image of the entire page to my desktop before cropping the advertisement and converting it into a jpeg (which I have learned through trial and error is the most efficient method for pursuing this project). Had I followed through on the instructions provided by Readex, I could have printed a copy of the greyscale image of the entire page or saved it to my computer as a PDF (which I then could have cropped and converted into a jpeg, achieving the same result but requiring a few extra clicks on my part).

The second image resulted from using a different method to download the page from Readex’s database. America’s Historical Newspapers has a very useful function that allows users to “Download Issue” as a multipage PDF (which can then be cropped and converted into jpegs, as I did to create the second image of today’s advertisement). Rather than working page by page, this saves a great deal of time when it comes to the type of research I do on this project. However, when I select the “Download Issue” function it remediates the newspaper into black-and-white images rather than greyscale. The resulting images are not nearly as legible since it is more difficult to recognize what was printed on the page, what bled through from the other side, and what represents creases, paper texture, or discolorations of the page. Although portable, such images are not as accessible as their greyscale counterparts.

This compromises some of the convenience and functionality of the “Download Issue” option. It saves time, but sometimes at the expense of legibility. When working with black-and-white PDFs of entire issues, sometimes it becomes necessary to return to online database to examine the greyscale image, negating the portability of the PDF.

As digital surrogates proliferate, their users – scholars, students, and the general public – must be aware of their variations. Each digital surrogate remediates an original document. Some result from multiple generations of remediation. In the process, the images have been altered, sometimes to a greater and sometimes to a lesser degree, so users must be wary that they are not viewing a representation exactly as they would experience seeing the original document. They must devise research strategies that allow them to effectively use the digital surrogates that provide greater access to historical sources.

January 8

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

Jan 8 - 1:8:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 8, 1768).


Jonathan Sarrazin once again placed his advertisement for “a LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” in the January 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, continuing a series that originated in that newspaper in early December 1767. The same advertisement, including a woodcut depicting a fashionable teapot, also appeared in another newspaper published in Charleston, the South Carolina Gazette.

Last week I examined some of the difficulties in tracing Sarrazin’s marketing efforts in the face of an incomplete archive. Missing or inaccessible issues make it impossible to definitively document when and how often advertisers placed newspaper notices. Today I offer some comments on another challenge inherent in working with surrogates, whether photographs, microfilm, or digital databases, rather than original sources.

A woodcut of a teapot did indeed accompany Sarrazin’s advertisement in both newspapers that carried his notice. Was it the same woodcut? Or was it two separate woodcuts that closely resembled each other? Seemingly trivial at first glance, the answer offers important insights into the effort and expense Sarrazin invested in advertising as well as the business practices of the printers of the newspapers.

Careful examination of the images in the South Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette suggests that Sarrazin did commission two separate woodcuts. However due to imperfect remediation, via photography and digitization, it is impossible to definitively state that Sarrazin had two nearly identical woodcuts of an ornate teapot, even thought the visual evidence indicates that was most likely the case.

Accepting that assumption leads to certain conclusions. Along with the copy for his advertisement, Sarrazin submitted a woodcut to the printing office for each newspaper. Acquiring two woodcuts meant that the jeweler incurred greater costs. It also eliminated any need for Sarrazin to shuttle a single woodcut back and forth between printing offices, carefully coordinating with the printers and their production schedules. It also eliminated the possible need for printers to engage in any sort of cooperation required for incorporating a single woodcut into multiple publications. Had Sarrazin commissioned only one woodcut, publishing it in two newspapers would have necessitated greater coordination between advertiser and printer and perhaps even cooperation between competing printers.

The available evidence suggests the most likely circumstances, but examination of the original sources would allow for a much more forceful assertion. Digitized sources tell much of the story, but they are not exhaustive in the clues about the past they reveal. Accurately telling the most complete story of the past requires using digitized and original sources in combination.

January 4

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

Jan 4 - 1:4:1767 South-Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (January 4, 1767).

“A Large assortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Jonathan Sarrazin, a jeweler in Charleston, used a woodcut of a teapot, one of the items he sold, to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from others that also appeared among the pages of dense type. Throughout 1767 and into 1768, his advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette regularly included this device. Sarrazin’s enthusiasm for associating an image of a fashionable teapot with his business, however, has been partially obscured by a gap in the archive.

Sarrazin could have advertised in any of the three newspapers published in Charleston. In addition to Robert Wells’ South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Peter Timothy printed the South Carolina Gazette and Charles Crouch printed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Although all three newspapers had print runs that extended through 1767 and 1768, not all of the issues have been converted into digital surrogates that are digitally accessible to historians, other scholars, and the general public. Accessible Archives provides a complete digital archive for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal for 1767 and 1768, but lacks images of the South-Carolina Gazette for several months of 1767. (The database does include transcripts of the text of issues published during the period.) As a result, consideration of Sarrazin’s advertising campaign in 1767 has been truncated. Working with the available issues reveals that the jeweler advertised regularly in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, but not in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Consulting the transcripts of the South Carolina Gazette could establish whether Sarrazin also advertised in that publication, but that process requires much more time and labor than examining photographs of the original issues. This method also eliminates the most striking feature of Sarrazin’s commercial notices, the woodcut that made it so easy for readers – then and now – to identify his advertisements. (Keyword searches are notoriously unreliable, rendering them inconclusive as well.) Furthermore, the transcripts do not include metadata that indicates when woodcuts accompanied advertisements and news items. In the absence of photographs of the original issues, Sarrazin’s advertising campaign cannot be reconstructed definitively.

Fortunately, Accessible Archives does make available photographs for extant issues of the South Carolina Gazette for all of 1768. Those issues reveal that not only did Sarrazin opt to advertise in a second publication but that he also included a woodcut depicting an ornate teapot in his notices. This demonstrates the jeweler’s commitment to establishing a trademark for his business. He wanted consumers in Charleston and its hinterland to readily identify his advertisements and associate his wares with the fashionable and genteel teapot that appeared in his notices and perhaps doubled as the sign that marked the location of his shop. This testifies to a thoughtful effort to achieve consistency in his advertising in multiple newspapers.