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).


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.

September 25

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

Sep 25 - 9:15:1767 Page 3 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 25, 1767).


John Mein, prominent bookseller in Boston, placed an extraordinary advertisement in the September 25, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. A regular advertiser in Boston’s newspapers, Mein previously experimented with a full-page advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette two months earlier. The length of his advertisement in the New-London Gazette, however, far exceeded that previous notice: it extended nearly two full pages and amounted to almost half of the entire issue. Mein’s advertisement for “A very GRAND ASSORTMENT of the most modern BOOKS, in every Branch of polite Literature, Arts and Sciences” filled the entire third page and all but the second half of the final column on the fourth page. It took up so much space that Timothy Green, the printer, inserted a notice at the bottom of the second page to assure readers (and advertisers whose notices had been squeezed out to make room for Mein) that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.” Although not unknown, full-page newspaper advertisements were not common in the 1760s. When they did appear they merited special notice, yet they seemed restrained compared to Mein’s nearly-two-page advertisement.

Mein’s extensive advertisement qualified as exceptional for another reason: he operated the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” on King Street in Boston, yet he supplemented his marketing efforts in local newspapers with a newspaper notice in faraway New London, Connecticut. Retailers frequently acknowledged that they served customers in the hinterlands that surrounded their own cities and towns, but they rarely placed advertisements in newspapers published in other colonies if they had local alternatives. Retailers in Boston, for instance, expected that when they advertised in any of the city’s four newspapers that they would attract customers from other parts of Massachusetts beyond the busy port. They typically did not, however, insert advertisements in newspapers printed in other towns, each with their own hinterlands in other colonies. Mein deviated from standard practices related to newspaper advertising, apparently considering the opportunity to enter new markets worth the investment. He had previously published book catalogs that may have been distributed far beyond Boston. Any customers they generated may have encouraged him to consider advertising in newspapers in distant cities. He acknowledged customers who resided outside Boston in the final paragraph of his advertisement: “Gentlemen, Traders, &c. who send Orders, may depend on being served with the utmost Fidelity and Dispatch, and as cheap as if present.” In his efforts to gain customers from markets beyond Boston, Mein anticipated and addressed potential obstacles that might prevent them from patronizing his business.

Sep 25 - 9:15:1767 Page 4 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 25, 1767).

September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (September 7, 1767).

“Now ready for Sale by JOLLEY ALLEN, At his Shop.”

Jolley Allen regularly placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers published in the port city. On most occasions, readers could readily identify his notices, even at just a glance, because Allen made arrangements with printers to have them enclosed in decorative borders. This was a consistent feature from one newspaper to another, a relatively rare example of an advertiser exerting influence over typographical decisions in the eighteenth century. In most cases, advertisers generated copy but compositors made determinations about format and layout. Realizing the value of making his commercial notices easy to distinguish from others on the page, Allen insisted on retaining control over some of the visual aspects. Distinctive borders created with printing ornaments became his brand in multiple newspapers.

Allen neglected to utilize a border in some of his advertising during the summer of 1767, a decision he reversed in the September 7 edition of the Boston-Gazette. The border around his advertisement in that issue, however, was not its most distinctive element. Except for the colophon, Allen’s advertisement filled the entire final page. Spread over three columns, the merchant listed an assortment of imported goods – from textiles to groceries – that he sold “Wholesale and Retail” to customers in both town and country. Even without the decorative border, the size of the advertisement alone demanded attention. Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few full-page advertisements, each of them all the more noteworthy considering that a standard issue consisted of only four pages. The printers gave over a significant amount of space that might otherwise contain additional advertisements or news items.

Experimenting with a full-page advertisement must have been an expensive investment for Allen. He usually placed identical advertisements in all four of Boston’s newspapers, but not during the week that his full-page advertisement ran in the Boston-Gazette. None of the other local newspapers carried any advertising by Allen. He may have exhausted the money he budgeted for marketing in a single advertisement. He might also have wished to see what kind of response it garnered, waiting to place full-page advertisements in other publications only if he determined doing so was worth the investment.

Historians of advertising and print culture usually describe full-page advertisements as nineteenth-century innovations, but colonial merchants and shopkeepers had already experimented with the format. Though uncommon, such advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century America.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 16, 1767).

“Just imported and to be Sold by John Mein At the LONDON BOOK-STORE.”

John Mein regularly advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette in 1767. He also advertised in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy. With so many local publications carrying news and advertising to local consumers, he increased the likelihood that potential customers would be exposed to his advertisements.

The length of Mein’s advertisements may have also drawn attention. Shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements that extended half a column or more, but rarely did they exceed a single column. Mein, however, inserted advertisements that overflowed into second and sometimes even third columns. The variable length of his advertisements suggests that he may have submitted extensive sample advertisements to newspaper offices with an understanding that they would include as much as possible but truncate them to fit the space available. In such cases, printers and compositors would have played a role in editing advertising copy even though they were not responsible for generating it.

This particular advertisement may have also drawn attention because it covered almost the entire front page of the July 16 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, almost squeezing out a notice for a “Variety of Millenary Goods” at the lower right. Its placement may seem strange considering the importance associated with front-page news in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but it also demonstrates the evolution in journalism practices and consumption practices. Neither publishers nor readers engaged with newspapers and their content in quite the same way in the eighteenth century that they have in time since then.

Early Americans expected (or at least would not have been surprised) to encounter major news stories nestled within the inner pages of any given issue. Taking into consideration the production of the July 16 edition helps to demonstrate what that was the case. A four-page issue, it resulted from printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first and fourth pages, comprised entirely of the masthead and advertisements the printer received well in advance (and most of them already set in type for previous issues), were printed first. Only after they dried were the second and third pages printed on the other side. In this case, those pages included the news content for the issue, including items dated the date before and the day of publication.

To modern eyes, John Mein’s (nearly) full-page advertisement on the front page of a newspaper may seem extraordinary. Its lengthy certainly merited notice in the eighteenth-century, but contemporary readers may not have been especially surprised by its placement. That it appeared on the front page just would not have resonated as being all that significant for readers accustomed to seeing advertising, rather than news, immediately under the masthead.

January 3

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

Providence Gazette (January 3, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD BY JAMES GREEN, At his Shop at the Sign of the Elephant.”

In the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in 1767, James Green became the third retailer over the course of two months, joining Joseph and William Russell and Thompson and Arnold. Such advertisements required collaboration between printers and advertisers. They also likely derived from competition and imitation among shopkeepers. In recent weeks I have questioned who was responsible for these advertisements and what motivated them to experiment with such an innovative (and presumably expensive) format. After all, at least one other advertiser complained about the high cost of the lengthy list advertisements that were standard parts of eighteenth-century newspaper advertising.

The January 3, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette provides another clue about what might have contributed to the appearance of some, but perhaps not all, of the recently published full-page advertisements. The fourth page of the issue was given over to Green’s (nearly) full-page advertisement and the colophon immediately beneath it. The third page concluded with this announcement:

“Our Readers are desired to excuse the late Publication of our Paper, for this Fortnight past, which has been entirely owing to the Western Post not being arrived; for whom we have waited, expecting that we should be able to oblige them with something more Material, than we are at Present able to furnish them with.”

The past fortnight encompassed the issues that included full-page advertisements by Thompson and Arnold and, now, James Green. If necessity was the mother of invention, then perhaps Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers of the Providence Gazette, played the lead role in devising full-page advertisements for Thompson and Arnold and James Green as a means of producing sufficient content to fill recent issues. Both advertisements adapted previous advertisements. The printers already had relationships with these retailers. Eager to fill the pages of their publication, they may even have offered reduced rates for these advertisements. Goddard and Company may have regretted the dearth of new news items to insert in recent issues, but they offset that shortcoming with the visual sensation of full-page advertising that likely attracted readers and additional advertisers.

Even if this accounts for the full-page advertisements published by Thompson and Arnold and James Green, it does not explain the initial and three subsequent appearances of full-page advertisements by Joseph and William Russell. The string of full-page advertisements that appeared in the Providence Gazette in the 1760s did not arise from a single cause.

December 27

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

Providence Gazette (December 27, 1766).


Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement for “a fresh and general Assortment of English and India GOODS” filled the entire final page of the December 27, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. It was not the first full-page advertisement that appeared in that publication: shopkeepers Joseph and William Russell ran a full-page advertisement on November 22, five weeks earlier, and inserted it almost every week since then. The Russells’ oversized advertisement ran on November 29 and December 13 and 20. Except for the December 6 issue of the Providence Gazette, a full-page advertisement on the final page became a regular feature of that publication.

Thompson and Arnold’s full-page advertisement was not the first of its kind, but that did not mean that it lacked significance. At the very least, purchasing the entire final page bolstered the shopkeepers’ prestige, but it also demonstrated that they paid attention to the marketing strategies deployed by their competitors and adopted them to promote their own enterprises. (Keep in mind that Thompson and Arnold previously experimented with oversized advertisements that resembled trade cards, rather than broadsides. Some of their competitors adopted this form in subsequent issues.) Running a full-page advertisement could have been a gimmick limited only to the Joseph and William Russell, a stunt that quickly dissolved into obscurity. The Russells’ advertisement, however, was not merely ephemeral. Other entrepreneurs experimented with the same form. Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers, also may have encouraged regular advertisers to upgrade to full-page advertisements. Clearly both advertisers and the printers of the Providence Gazette engaged with the possibilities offered by the full-page advertisement, a broadside distributed as the final page of the port’s weekly newspaper. In the first issue of 1767, shopkeeper James Green joined the ranks of local retailers who invested in full-page advertisements.

I have not yet had the opportunity to examine subsequent issues of the Providence Gazette published in 1767 too see how long full-page advertisements continued to appear, but I will continue to track this aspect of that newspaper as the Adverts 250 Project progresses through the new year. I do not know exactly what to expect, given the eagerness to experiment with oversized advertisements of various sorts exhibited by Sarah Goddard and Company. That being said, full-page advertisements did not become a staple of marketing notices in American newspapers in the second half of the eighteenth century. Indeed, most historians of both printing and advertising date the origin of full-page advertisements to the middle of the nineteenth century. Even though full-page advertisements did not become a standard feature of newspapers in the 1760s, those that appeared in the Providence Gazette – promoting the businesses of several different retailers – comprise a milestone of innovation and experimentation with marketing that merits additional investigation.