August 4

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

Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1772).

“The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold.”

Booksellers Smith and Coit had a true full-page advertisement in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  They came close in the previous issue, but the compositor squeezed another advertisement into the space that otherwise would have been the right margin.  When readers perused the August 4 issue, they encountered only Smith and Coit’s advertisement on the final page.  Not even a colophon stating that Ebenezer Watson printed the Connecticut Courant in Hartford appeared at the bottom of the page.

Smith and Coit likely distributed this advertisement via other methods.  They may have placed an order for handbills or broadsides.  They certainly did so a year later when they disseminated a broadside promoting “a universal assortment of drugs, medicines, painter’s colours, and grocery articles; together with the following books” on sale “at their store east of the Court-House in Hartford.”  According the notes in the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, this broadside was “Primarily booksellers’ catalog” and the “complete text of the broadside appeared in the July 6, 1773, issue of the Connecticut Courant, printed by Ebenezer Watson.”  It did not run in the standard issue of the July 6 edition, but Watson may have distributed a supplement not included in America’s Historical Newspapers.  The broadside did do double duty as the second page of the July 13 edition.  Considering that Watson collaborated with Smith and Coit in creating a broadside book catalog that also served as a full-page newspaper advertisement in the summer of 1773, they probably did so in 1772 as well.

Smith and Coit had several options for circulating their book catalog.  They may have posted it at their shop or pasted it up around town.  They may have passed it out as a handbill.  They may have given customers a copy when they made purchases, encouraging them to consider buying other titles on a subsequent visit.  They may have treated it as a circular letter, writing a short note, folding the catalog into a smaller size, sealing it, addressing it, and sending it via the post.  They may have sent copies to booksellers in other towns, alerting them to titles they had in stock to sell or exchange for others.  Smith and Coit may have distributed their book catalog in some or all of these ways.  Other advertisers utilized all of them in the second half of the eighteenth century.

July 28

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

Connecticut Courant (July 28, 1772).

“BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON.”

Booksellers Smith and Coit took out a full-page advertisement in the July 28, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Or did they?

A headline that extended four lines ran across the top of the final page, advising readers that “The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold cheap for Cash, by SMITH and COIT, At their Store in HARTFORD.”  The booksellers provided a list of authors and titles, arranged in four columns with one item per line.  They further aided prospective customers in navigating the list by organizing it according to genre, providing headings for each category, and alphabetizing the entries under Divinity; Law; Physic, Surgery, &c.; Schoolbooks; History; and Miscellany.  This design allowed Smith and Coit to distribute the advertisement separately as a broadside book catalog, if they placed an order for job printing with Ebenezer Watson, the printer of the Connecticut Courant.

Smith and Coit may have intended to run a full-page advertisement, but another notice also appeared on the final page, that one printed in the right margin on the final page.  To make the advertisement that William Jepson placed in the previous issue fit in the margin, either Watson or a compositor in his printing office rotated the type perpendicular to the other contents of the page and divided the notice into five columns of five or six lines each.  A common strategy for squeezing content into the margins, that saved the time and energy of completely resetting the type.

Jepson’s advertisement could be easily removed.  Indeed, it did not appear on the same page as Smith and Coit’s advertisement in the next edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Instead, the booksellers had the entire page to themselves, a true full-page advertisement.  Did Watson make the adjustment of his own volition?  Or had Smith and Coit complained that Jepson’s notice intruded into their advertisement, its unusual format distracting from the impression they hoped to make with a full-page advertisement?

August 18

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

“The following BOOKS, many of them late publications.”

During the week of August 15, 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford had more content than would fit in the four pages of a standard issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.  To solve that dilemma, they distributed a two-page supplement composed entirely of advertising.  One side consisted primarily of twenty-two paid notices submitted by residents of Philadelphia and nearby towns, though the Bradfords interspersed five advertisements for books published and available at their printing office among them.  The other side, however, promoted books sold by the Bradfords exclusively.  In effect, they published a full-page advertisement, one that resembled a broadside catalog and could have been produced and distributed separately if they wished.

Although the list of books filled an entire page, the advertisement featured only fifty-five titles.  In most instances, the Bradfords provided more than the names of the authors and short titles of the books.  Instead, they offered blurbs that previewed the contents for prospective customers.  For instance, one entry described “Salmon’s New Geographical and Historical Grammar, or the present state of the several kingdoms of the world, containing their situation and extent, cities, chief towns, history, present state, form of government, forces, revenues, taxes, revolutions, and memorable events; together with an account of the air, soil, produce, traffic, arms, curiosities, religion, languages, &c. &c. illustrated with a new set of maps and other copper-plates.”  In crafting the blurbs, the Bradfords drew heavily from the extensive subtitles of the books and the tables of contents, but they also noted any ancillary items that added value, such as the maps and images that accompanied Thomas Salmon’s Geographical and Historical Grammar.  For works divided into multiple volumes, they also listed how many were included in a complete set.

Publishing this book catalog as part of an advertising supplement for their newspaper presented an opportunity for the Bradfords to market “A New Publication,” an imported History of France during the Reigns of Francis II and Charles IXby Walter Anderson, as well as hawk other titles among their inventory.  The fees they collected from other advertisers whose notices appeared on the other side of the supplement reduced or eliminated the expense of publishing and distributing a full-page advertisement.

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (August 15, 1771).

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 28, 1769).

“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

John Carter wanted prospective customers to know that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, FOR THE Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” and that it was ready for sale “At SHAKESPEARS’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE.” To make certain that readers of the Providence Gazette were aware of this publication, Carter exercised his privilege as printer of the newspaper to devote the entire final page of the October 28, 1769, edition to promoting the New-England Almanack. Full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century American newspapers, but they were quite rare. In the late 1760s, the printers of the Providence Gazette played with this format more than any of their counterparts in other cities and towns. Still, they did not resort to it often.

Appreciating the magnitude of such an advertisement requires considering it in the context of the entire issue. Like most other newspapers of the era, the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages printed and distributed once a week. Each issue usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a single broadsheet and then folding it in half. That being the case, Carter gave over a significant portion of the October 28 edition to marketing the New-England Almanack, devoting one-quarter of the contents to the endeavor. By placing it on the final page, the printer also made the advertisement visible to anyone who happened to observe someone reading that issue of the Providence Gazette. Readers who kept the issue closed while perusing the front page put the back page on display. Those who kept the issue open while reading the second and third pages also exhibited the full-page advertisement to anyone who saw them reading the newspaper. Given the size of the advertisement and its placement, prospective customers did not have to read the Providence Gazette to be exposed to Carter’s marketing for the New-England Almanack.

Carter also eliminated the colophon that usually ran at the bottom of the final page. In addition to providing the usual publication information (the name of the printer and the city), the colophon doubled as an advertisement for services provided at Carter’s printing office. Why eliminate it rather than adjust the size of the advertisement for the New-England Almanack? Carter very well likely could have printed the full-page advertisement separately on half sheets that he then distributed and displayed as posters, augmenting his newspaper advertisements with another popular medium for advertising. Broadsides (or posters) were even more ephemeral than newspapers; far fewer have survived. Yet the format of Carter’s full-page advertisement suggests that he had an additional purpose in mind.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 9, 1769).

“A very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, experienced a disruption in their paper supply for two months in the late spring and early summer of 1769. As a result, they temporarily published the newspaper on slightly larger broadsheets, expanding the number of columns to four rather than three while reducing the length of most issues to two pages instead of four. This meant that overall they published eight columns of content in each issue (compared to the usual twelve) during the time they resorted to larger sheets. On June 9, however, the Fowles distributed a four-page edition that consisted of sixteen columns, one-third more content than a standard issue printed on slightly smaller broadsheets.

William Appleton’s advertisement for “a very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS” accounted for three of those columns. In the headline, Appleton identified several genres to entice prospective customers: “Law, Physic, History, Anatomy, Novelty, Surgery, Navigation, Divinity, Husbandry, and Mathematicks.” He then listed more than two hundred titles available at his store in Portsmouth. As many booksellers did in their notices, he concluded with a short list of stationery and writing supplies. Had it appeared on a broadside rather than in a newspaper, this advertisement would have been considered a book catalog in its own right. Indeed, many newspaper advertisements placed by booksellers in eighteenth-century America amounted to book catalogs that were not published separately but instead integrated into other media.

The amount of space that Appleton’s advertisement occupied in the New-Hampshire Gazette was impressive. Had it been included in an issue printed on a broadsheet of the usual size, it would have filled an entire page on its own. Although rare, full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century newspapers. John Mein, bookseller and printer of the Boston Chronicle, regularly inserted full-page advertisements (and some that even overflowed onto a second page) in his newspaper in the late 1760s. Other booksellers who were not printers as well as merchants and shopkeepers also published full-page advertisements, though not nearly as often as Mein since they did not have immediate access to the press or need to generate content for publication.

While not technically a full-page advertisement, Appleton’s catalog of books in the June 9, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been if it had been published during almost any other month that year. Still, it dominated the page and demonstrated that advertisers recognized the value in purchasing significant amount of space in newspapers as part of their efforts to attract customers.

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?

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).

November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 7, 1767).

WILLIAM RUSSELL is just arrived from London.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell frequently placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette after Sarah Goddard and her partners revived that publication in the late 1760s. The Russells ran advertisements innovative for both their appeals and their length, including a full-page advertisement that inspired other local shopkeepers to publish their own full-page advertisements. Yet the boldness and creativity of the Russells’ marketing efforts seemed to decline over time, possibly indicating that they might not have considered the returns worth the investment when it came to developing and paying for cutting-edge newspaper advertisements.

Then they once again published a full-page advertisement in the November 7, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. Like their earlier full-page advertisements, it invited prospective customers to visit “their STORE, the Sign of the GOLDEN EAGLE, near the Court-House” and promised low prices for a “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India and Hard-Ware GOODS.”

Yet this advertisement featured one significant difference compared to all of their previous paid notices in the local newspaper. It informed consumers that “WILLIAM RUSSELL is just arrived from London,” where he had personally selected the merchandise now stocked at the Sign of the Golden Eagle. Given the time required to cross the Atlantic (twice!), William had been away from Providence for at least three months. He presumably spent some time in London, meeting with business associates and getting a sense of current tastes in the cosmopolitan center of the empire as well as visiting friends or relatives.

In William’s absence, Joseph oversaw their enterprises in Providence, including their advertising. This may explain why their advertisements became less bold and distinctive, if William was the partner more gifted and willing to take risks when it came to marketing. Joseph could have been a caretaker when it came to that aspect of their business, advertising only when necessary and following the standards already well established for advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. William, on the other hand, may have infused new vigor into their marketing when he returned from his long trip. Taking out a full-page advertisement in a four-page publication was a bold way to announce his homecoming and draw attention to the family business.

October 16

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

Oct 16 - 10:16:1767 Page 1 New-London Gazette
First Page of the New-London Gazette (October 16, 1767).

“MEIN, At the LONDON BOOK-STORE, North Side of KING-STREET, BOSTON.”

The Adverts 250 Project previously featured an extraordinary advertisement that John Mein placed in the New-London Gazette in the fall of 1767. Not only did Mein, a Boston bookseller, advertise in a distant newspaper, his advertisement occupied nearly two entire pages. That was a bold and innovative marketing strategy.

It was not a one-time gimmick. Mein placed a similar advertisement in the October 16, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette, an advertisement that was even more elaborate than the previous one. The new version extended over six columns, two entire pages (with the exception of the masthead on the first page). Mein’s advertisement accounted for half of that issue of the newspaper, limiting the amount of space for news items and prompting the printer to insert a notice that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.”

This new advertisement had another feature that distinguished it from the previous version. It appeared on the first and fourth pages of the four-page newspaper (rather than the final two pages). This meant that it was both the first and last item readers encountered when they read that issue of the New-London Gazette. In addition, if a reader held the open newspaper aloft to read the second and third pages, observers would glimpse only the first and last pages. From their perspective it would appear that the New-London Gazette contained nothing except Mein’s advertisement. Similarly, a closed copy of the newspaper sitting on a desk or table assumed the appearance of a broadsheet book catalogue since no other advertisements or news items would have been visible.

Theses visual aspects that depend on the material qualities of the newspaper might be overlooked when working with a copy bound into a volume with other issues of the New-London Gazette, a common practice for preserving and archiving eighteenth-century newspapers. Deprived of the ability to exist as a separate issue but instead reduced to four consecutive pages in a larger book, the transformed newspaper does not immediately suggest all of the visual characteristics that early American readers would have experienced. The same could also be said of digitized versions of the advertisement, each page completely disembodied from the others. The greater significance of Mein’s advertisement becomes apparent only upon contemplating how the form in which the New-London Gazette was originally delivered to readers, not just the format the issue happens to occupy in the twenty-first century.

Oct 16 - 10:16:1767 Page 4 New-London Gazette
Final Page of New-London Gazette (October 16, 1767).

 

October 8

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

Oct 8 - 10:8:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 8, 1767).

The Advertisements taking up so much Room, the several Articles intended for this Page are thrown into a SUPPLEMENT.”

This notice appeared at the bottom of the first column on the second page of the October 8, 1767, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. Richard Draper followed a standard procedure among eighteenth-century printers: when faced with too much content to fit into the allotted space he opted to distribute a two-page supplement along with the regular issue. This happened fairly frequently, especially in major port cities. Higher concentrations of residents meant greater numbers of advertisements to squeeze into each week’s four-page issue, sometimes yielding supplements devoted almost exclusively to advertising. The October 8 supplement, however, consisted primarily of news items as a result of “The Advertisements taking up so much Room” in the regular issue.

Draper and the Massachusetts Gazette did not have a higher number of advertisers than usual. Instead, advertisements placed by two local shopkeepers occupied significant amounts of space. Shopkeeper Jolley Allen continued publication of his lengthy list-style advertisement that filled two entire columns on the final page. Not to be outdone, bookseller John Mein commenced a new full-page advertisement for his “grand Assortment of the most MODERN BOOKS In every Branch of Polite Literature Arts and Sciences,” the one that he intended to launch in the Boston-Gazette three days earlier. That advertisement combined a previous advertisement for “A NEW EDITION of Dilworth’s Spelling Book” (set apart almost as a distinct advertisement in the lower right corner) and descriptions of two other books followed by a list of other books and stationery supplies in stock. The compositor created four narrow columns instead of the usual three slightly wider ones, resulting in a new look for that particular page compared to the rest of the newspaper.

Overall, just two advertisements accounted for nearly half of the October 8 issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, making the supplement practically a necessity. This happened as a result of both the printer and the advertisers experimenting with the format for newspaper notices. Although colonial newspapers published full-page advertisements sporadically in the 1760s, having an issue dominated by only two advertisements would have been an extraordinary event for readers, one that would have garnered even more notice among potential customers for John Mein and Jolley Allen.