June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:18:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 18, 1768).

“Lessening the unnecessary Importation of such Articles as may be fabricated among ourselves.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin), a clockmaker, placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette fairly frequently in the late 1760s. In fact, he ran a notice for four weeks in August 1766 when the newspaper resumed publication after the repeal of the Stamp Act and the printer resolved other concerns related to the business. He had also inserted a notice in one of the few “extraordinary” issues that appeared while the Stamp Act was still in effect.

Although Spalding sometimes recycled material from one advertisement to the next, at other times he submitted completely new copy that addressed current political and commercial issues, attempting to leverage them to the benefit of his business. In June 1768, for instance, he linked the clocks and watches made and sold in his shop with efforts to achieve greater self-sufficiency throughout the colonies as a means of resisting the Townshend Act and other abuses by Parliament. To that end, he opened his advertisement by announcing two recent additions to his workshop. First, he had “just supplied himself with a compleat Sett of Tools.” He also “engaged a Master Workman” to contribute both skill and labor. As a result, Spalding advised potential customers that he was particularly prepared “to carry on his Business in a very extensive Manner.”

Artisans often invoked that standardized phrase when making appeals about their skill and the quality of the items produced in their workshop, but Spalding did not conclude his pitch to potential patrons there. Instead, he mobilized that common appeal by explaining to prospective customers that since he produced clocks and watches of such high quality – in part thanks to the new tools and “Master Workman” – that they did not need to purchase alternatives made in Britain only because they assumed imported clocks and watches were superior in construction. Spalding took on the expenses of new tools and a new workman in his shop “to contribute his Mite towards lessening the unnecessary Importation of such Articles as may be fabricated among ourselves.” That appeal certainly resonated with ongoing conversation about domestic production that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers in 1768.

Ultimately, Spalding placed the responsibility on consumers: “To this Undertaking he flatters himself the Public will afford all die Encouragement.” It did not matter if leaders advocated in favor of “local manufactures” and artisans heeded the call if colonists did not choose to purchase those products. Spalding wished to earn a living; the imperial crisis presented a new opportunity for convincing customers that they had not a choice but instead an obligation to support his business.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 20, 1767).

“For further Particulars inquire of EDWARD SPALDING, in Providence.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin in other advertisements) had two purposes when he took an advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1767. First, he wished to sell a farm in Coventry. As long as he was purchasing space in the newspaper, he also opted to promote his business. He reminded readers that he “still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES” at his shop across the street from the printing office. In the past, Spalding advertised fairly regularly. He was one of the first advertisers to insert commercial notices in the Providence Gazette when it resumed publication the previous year. He must have considered it a good return on his investment since he decided to include commercial marketing at the end of his notice concerning real estate.

Spalding’s hybrid advertisement presents a conundrum for conducting any sort of quantitative study of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspapers of the era did not have classifieds. They did not organize advertisements in any particular order or by categories that suggested the general purpose of the notices. Sometimes, as seen here, individual advertisements had multiple purposes. Spalding and the printers of the Providence Gazette did not classify this advertisement. How should historians do so? It would not be appropriate to categorize it solely as a real estate notice or solely as marketing consumer goods and services. More appropriately, it should count as both, but that sort of double counting does not address another issue. Together or separately, both halves of Spalding’s advertisement were relatively short compared to many others for both real estate and consumer goods and services inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. This suggests that tabulating column inches devoted to advertisements (or portions of advertisements) might produce more accurate data for assessing the proliferation of advertising in relation to news and other content as well as comparing the quantity of advertising space utilized for various purposes. This, however, would be extremely labor intensive. It also requires access to the original newspapers rather than digital surrogates. Working with digitized sources allows for examining other sorts of questions concerning advertising in early America.

Earlier in my career I was much more enthusiastic about incorporating quantitative analysis into my study of advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America. Over time, however, I have determined that identifying general trends rather than hard numbers provides a sufficiently accurate portrait of the expansion of advertising in the era that the colonies became a nation.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:30:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 30, 1766).

“JUST IMPORTED … BY THOMPSON AND ARNOLD …”

“Still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS …”

“The Partnership … being now expired …”

“TO BE SOLD … A FARM containing seventy acres of good land …”

“READY MONEY given for Linen Rags of any Sort …”

Aug 31 - 8:23:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 23, 1766).

Rather than examine a single advertisement, today’s entry explores the day-to-day operations of the printing trade by examining the advertisements and news items that appeared in the final pages of two consecutive issues of the Providence Gazette: August 23 and 30, 1766. At a glance, these two pages look nearly indistinguishable from each other, thanks in part to the way that Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement draws the eye. But it is not merely the repetition of that particular advertisement that creates the perception of two nearly identical pages. In addition, all five advertisements in the August 30 issue were repeated from in the same configuration that they appeared in the August 23 issue. Finally, the Providence Gazette’s colophon runs across the bottom of each page. New content appeared only in the first column: an extract from the Gentleman’s Magazine and a report about a trial and execution in New Jersey had been replaced with reports of bandits in western Massachusetts and slaves attaching their masters in New Hampshire.

Here we see that printing advertisement offered several advantages to the men and women who printed newspapers. Not only did these notices generate revenue, once set in type they also streamlined the production of newspapers from week to week. In an age when all type was set by hand, printers benefited from inserting advertisements for multiple weeks. In most instances individual advertisements moved around the page, though it is clear from their format that the type had not been reset. Today we see a more extreme example: none of the advertisements moved at all. For the ease of the printer, they likely stayed in the form, reducing the amount of time and labor necessary to produce the new issue.

The following week the first column of the final page of the Providence Gazette once again included new content, as did the second and third columns on the upper third of the page, but Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement had been shifted to the bottom. The printer once again benefited from reprinting content that subscribers expected to see more than once in their newspapers. At the same time, the printer realized that she could not be too repetitive or risk alienating readers who also demanded new content and desired the “freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”

August 24

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

Aug 24 - 8:23:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 23, 1766).

“THE Subscriber … still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES.”

Publication of the Providence Gazette lapsed for more than a year from May 11, 1765, to August 9, 1765 (with the exception of two “extraordinary issues” on August 24, 1766, and March 12, 1766). The Stamp Act played a role in temporarily suspending the newspaper, but in the revival issue Sarah Goddard and Company indicated that an “inadequate Number of Subscribers” had delayed its return after the hated legislation had been repealed.

When the Providence Gazette once again commenced publication, it included an advertisement from clock- and watchmaker Edward Spauldin, an advertisement that appeared in all four issues published in August 1766. This advertisement had previously appeared in the most recent extraordinary on March 12, 1766. For the August iterations, a nota bene promoting compasses for mariners had been removed and the date listed below Spauldin’s name had been updated. Otherwise, the advertisement was the same, from the text to some rather curious line breaks. It’s possible that the type may not have been reset at all; it may have been sitting in the form for months.

Edward Spauldin made a decision to advertise in the extraordinary issue published nearly half a year earlier. Upon learning that the Providence Gazette would be revived, did he once again decide to place an advertisement in hopes of attracting customers? Or did the Providence Gazette publish his advertisements in order to fulfill a bargain that had been made months earlier? The reappearance of his advertisement can be interpreted in more than one way. It might indicate an enthusiastic advertiser who saw returns from his marketing efforts earlier in the year and hoped to make similar gains once again. Alternately, since the printer had been attempting to revive the newspaper for some time, it might have merely been the continuation of a set number of insertions that had been delayed.

March 12

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1766 Providence Gazette Extraordinary Supplement
Supplement to A Providence Gazette, Extraordinary (March 12, 1766).

Given the publication history of the Providence Gazette, it is interesting that this advertisement appeared at all.

On March 12, 1766, William Goddard published “A Providence Gazette, Extraordinary.” Note that it was “A Providence Gazette” rather than “The Providence Gazette.” (The most recent issue had featured a masthead proclaiming “Vox Populi, Vox Dei. A PROVIDENCE GAZETTE Extraordinary” nearly seven months earlier on August 24, 1765. Not surprisingly, its contents focused on the then-impending Stamp Act. Regular publication on a weekly schedule had ceased with the issue of May 11, 1765. The newspaper finally resumed weekly publication in August 1766.) The four-page issue included “PROPOSALS for reviving the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE,” assorted news items from throughout the colonies, and testimonials from former and potential customers interested in Goddard resuming publication of the newspaper.

A half dozen or so advertisements appeared in a two-page “SUPPLEMENT to ‘A PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, Extraordinary,’ of Wednesday March 12, 1766.” (Did this supplement accompany the extraordinary issue? Or was it published later? The masthead does not make this clear.)

Edward Spauldin and a handful of other local shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants chose to insert advertisements in a newspaper that was not published on a regular schedule and did not have a slate of subscribers. They may have envisioned that the Extraordinary issue and its SUPPLEMENT would garner a fair amount of attention, allowing them an opportunity to present their goods and services for the consideration of potential customers in the area.

Spauldin’s advertisement was dated “PROVIDENCE, March 10, 1766.” (I checked the previous five issues to confirm that this was a new advertisement rather than one repeated from earlier but with an updated date.) Goddard may have approached him about inserting a commercial notice, but Spauldin ultimately made the decision about advertising in A Providence Gazette. This suggests that he believed in the effectiveness of advertising to incite business in the 1760s. He did not operate his business in an environment of pent-up demand but instead used advertising to create that demand with appeals to price and quality. In addition, he also included a money-back guarantee to get customers through the door: “If any of his Work fails, he will repair the same gratis.”

When “Sarah Goddard, and Company” resumed publication of the Providence Gazette on August 9, 1766, Edward Spaulding placed the same advertisement, except the nota bene had been eliminated and the date was revised to “Providence, August 8, 1766.” Perhaps he attributed new business in March to the original advertisement and decided to give it another try.