April 25

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 24, 1769).

“CHOICE CHOCOLATE … Cocoa manufactured for Gentlemen in the best Manner.”

When most people read the word “chocolate,” they probably pictures a Hershey’s chocolate bar. However, chocolate to the typical eighteenth-century colonist was a kind of frothy drink made from cocoa beans. According to Rodney Snyder, the chocolate drink originated in Mesoamerica, its first contact with Europeans being traced back to one of Christopher Columbus’s voyages in 1502. Chocolate was mentioned in a colonial newspaper for the first time in 1705, and it quickly became a colonial staple, since it was affordable and could be consumed by people from any class. Around the time of the printing of this newspaper, the colonies were importing over 320 tons of cocoa beans. So readily available was chocolate that it was actually given out as rations to soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Colonists commonly drank chocolate in coffeehouses, a place where they met to discuss politics, current events, and anything else.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Sam first consulted with me about this advertisement via email, I had a little difficulty finding it in the Boston-Gazette. She told me that it was on the third page, yet it is actually on the second page of the supplement. Sam did not, however, make an error. Instead, she reported the information available to her as a result of a design flaw for one of the databases of digitized newspapers that make the Adverts 250 Project possible.

I regularly sing praises for America’s Historical Newspapers. That database makes my research possible. It also allows me to bring my research into the classroom in meaningful ways, especially when I invite students to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Beyond those projects, America’s Historical Newspapers is a valuable resource for examining primary sources in class, allowing me to present digital surrogates with much more context than modern editions in course readers allow.

That being said, I have learned from experience that the database does have a flaw in the manner that it incorporates supplements. Consider the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. It consists of the standard four-page issue and a two-page supplement. Ideally, the database would present the standard issue first and then the supplement. However, when viewing this issue online the first page of the supplement appears first, then the first page of the standard issue, then the second page of the supplement, followed by the second, third, and fourth pages of the standard issue. The pages appear in the same order when downloading a PDF of the entire issue. For issues with four-page supplements, the pages are interspersed back and forth between the supplement and the standard issue. I have learned to collate the pages in the correct order when I print them out to mark them up.

Guest curators with less experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, digitized primary sources, and, especially this idiosyncrasy, do not always realize that the pages presented online and in the PDF appear out of order … nor should they expect that the pages appear in any order other than first to last. When Sam consulted her digital copy of the Boston-Gazette for April 24, John Goldsmith’s advertisement for “CHOICE CHOCOLATE” appeared at the bottom of the third page in the document, hence her notation that I could find it there. I consulted a hard copy that I had collated into the proper order, which led me to a different page and created confusion. In the end, this yielded a teachable moment about how historians must continuously assess their sources, not just the contents but also the format and the media employed to make them available to us.

April 18

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

Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (April 20, 1769).
“[illegible]”

Working extensively with primary sources is one of the benefits of serving as a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Before I incorporated these projects into my upper-level courses on early American history, I provided students with representative advertisements that I had carefully selected to demonstrate particular aspects of consumer culture or the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children. For instance, a shopkeeper’s advertisement listing dozens or hundreds of items for sale suggested the many choices available to customers during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Another advertisement describing the skills possessed by enslaved men and women made the point that they worked as coopers, blacksmiths, midwifes, and laundresses, to name just a few examples. An advertisement describing someone who escaped and offering a reward for their capture testified to acts of resistance by enslaved men and women.

In delivering these selected examples to students, I distributed either transcripts reprinted in modern textbooks and course readers or copies drawn from my own exploration of eighteenth-century newspapers made available via databases produced by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. For the latter, the legibility of the digitized editions played a role as I selected advertisements. If we only had time in class to examine a few representative advertisements, then I wanted those primary sources to be as easy to read as possible.

The idea of a few representative advertisements, however, no longer applies when students assume their responsibilities as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. They are tasked with examining digital copies of every extant newspaper originally published during a particular week in the 1760s. This means that they encounter an archive of newspapers that are not nearly as perfect as the representative examples that I would otherwise distribute in class. Some copies were damaged in the eighteenth century; others deteriorated over time. This page of the Virginia Gazette shows signs of water damage, making portions illegible. The empty space below “POETS CORNER” resulted from someone clipping the poem, removing both the verse and whatever content was on the other side of the page from the original newspaper and any subsequent remediated copies, whether microfilm or digital surrogates.

Sometimes the process of remediation from the original newspaper to microfilm to digital image to a hard copy that comes off the printer in my office alters the legibility of a document. It does not matter if an original newspaper is in perfect condition if poor photography produced an unusable image. The process of moving between PDF and JPG files also alters the appearance of these digital surrogates for primary sources. The same is true for digital images and hard copies produced on the office printer. Even when I supply students with hard copies of all the newspapers for their week as guest curator I recommend that they work back and forth between those hard copies and the digital ones they have compiled. The digital versions are often more legible. They can also be enlarged to gain a better view of a newspaper page that has been condensed to a standard sheet of 8.5×11 office paper.

In working with digital surrogates for dozens of eighteenth-century newspapers drawn from various databases, undergraduate guest curators experience some of the challenges that historians regularly face when they work with primary sources. The process of “doing” history becomes even more complicated, messy, and nuanced as they grapple with both the sources as material items (or digital representations of material items) and the ideas contained within those sources. Guest curators must engage in problem solving that they would not do if I simply handed them perfectly legible copies of representative advertisements from eighteenth-century newspapers. They must take on greater responsibilities as they develop their critical thinking skills and gain experience interpreting the past.

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?

October 10

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

Oct 10 - 10:10:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 10, 1768).

“To be sold … by Freelove Saunders.”

In October 1768, Freelove Saunders inserted an advertisement for imported textiles, adornments, and other goods in four consecutive issues of the Newport Mercury. Commencing on October 10, the advertisement last appeared on October 31. It moved from page to page, initially appearing on the third page, then in a privileged place as the first item in the first column on the first page, and ultimately on the final page for its last two insertions. The headline, “Freelove Saunders” in a larger font with generous white space surrounding it, makes the advertisement easy to spot when looking for it in particular … at least to the human eye.

Recent technological developments have revolutionized historical research. The Adverts 250 Project, for instance, is possible due to the digitization of eighteenth-century newspapers by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. Colonial Williamsburg photographed and digitized newspapers from its own collections, but Accessible Archives and Readex partnered with research libraries in their efforts to make historical sources more widely accessible (by creating a product, it should be acknowledged, to market and sell to scholars, educators, and their institutions). In addition to images of primary sources, many databases also feature other tools, including the ability to search texts for keywords.

Such searches, however, must be deployed carefully. Say that in examining the October 10, 1768, edition of the Newport Mercury I encounter the advertisement placed by Freelove Saunders 250 years ago and that I want to know more about its publication history. I have sufficient information to pursue a keyword search in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. Limiting the year to 1768 and the newspapers to the Newport Mercury, I choose “Freelove” as the only search term. The results return only the insertion in the October 24 issue. The search returns the same results when substituting “Saunders” for the keyword. Choosing the phrase “Freelove Saunders” instead yields zero instances of the advertisement. These results run counter to the historical record, something I already know because examining the advertisement in the digitized October 10 edition first prompted me to conduct the subsequent searches. Page-by-page examination of all issues of the Newport Mercury published in October and November 1768 reveals that Freelove Saunders did insert the same advertisement for four consecutive weeks before discontinuing it.

OCR (optical character recognition) oftentimes streamlines the research process. Using it can be much more efficient than skimming through either original or digitized copies of primary sources. Yet OCR is also fallible, though in different ways than the naked human eye. From long experience working on the Adverts 250 Project and using digitized sources for other research endeavors, I have learned that OCR often overlooks text that I already know exists because I have a hard copy sitting right next to the computer. Sometimes this is merely frustrating, but it can also skew the results of an inquiry. Scholars must use OCR keyword searches cautiously. Such searches often lead to sources of interest, but they do not definitively identify all relevant sources. When an OCR keyword search does not yield any results that does not necessarily mean that there was nothing to find. Scholars should supplement such searches with other methods. Relying on keyword searches alone would have resulted in evidence of Freelove Saunders’s participation in the colonial marketplace becoming less rather than more visible in the historical record.

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).

“LIVE WILD TURKIES.”

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).

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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, JEWELLER.”

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.