October 27

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

Pennsylvania Journal (October 27, 1773).

“As he is determined to quit Trade and settle his Affairs, he will sell off all his remaining Goods at public Sale.”

Randle Mitchell advertised a “going out of business” sale in the fall of 1773.  He announced that he “is determined to quit Trade and settle his Affairs” and “is now selling off his stock of European and India GOODS, Imported in the last Vessels from London and Bristol.”  The merchant outlined the terms of the sale in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Journal for several weeks in October.

Mitchell ran the advertisement in advance of commencing the sale, hoping to build both anticipation and competition among wholesalers and retailers interested in acquiring his wares.  The sale would start on November 1, but interested parties could examine the merchandise at Mitchell’s store on Water Street “three days before the sale.”  He pledged that “the Good [will be] arranged in order for any person to view them.”  In addition, he distributed “Hand bills with the particulars of the goods … thro’ the city and country, a week before the sale.”  Mitchell did not rely on newspapers notices as the only means of advertising his “going out of business” sale.  Though none of those handbills survive, Mitchell’s reference to them suggests that colonizers encountered more advertisements in various formats than have been preserved in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.

To entice prospective buyers, Mitchell declared that he “will sell off in the Packages to any Merchant or Shopkeeper at prime cost or the usual credit.”  He offered more generous terms to those who bought in greater volume, setting “Six Months Credit” for “All Persons purchasing above Fifty Pounds value.”  Those purchasing “only £20 value and under £50” received just three months credit, while smaller purchases had to be paid in cash at the time of sale.  Furthermore, anyone eligible for six months credit who instead chose to pay case “may have a discount of Five per cent.”  Those who qualified for three months credit, in turn, received “a discount of Two and a half per cent” for paying cash.  Mitchell considered these terms “so very convenient, and advantageous to the Purchasers, that they must see their Interest in purchasing at the Sale.”

Although Mitchell did not use the term “going out of business” to describe his sale, that was the kind of event that he sponsored at his store.  With newspaper advertisements and handbills distributed far and wide, he attempted to create a buzz of anticipation for the bargains soon available to merchants and shopkeepers interested in buying in volume.  To inspire them to imagine how they could manage such purchases, Mitchell explained the discounts and credit available.  In the process, he devised a structure that encouraged larger purchases in his efforts to liquidate his inventory.  Mitchell did not merely announce that he was going out of the business.  He made his decision “to quit Trade” an event that demanded the attention of merchants and shopkeepers in and near Philadelphia.

September 28

What was advertised in colonial America 250 years ago today?

Handbill: Mr. Bates, “Horsemanship,” (Boston: [likely Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks], 1773). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

“He will perform on ONE, TWO, THREE, and FOUR HORSES.”

In the course of examining newspaper notices, the Adverts 250 Project also explores all sorts of advertising media that circulated in the eighteenth century, including trade cards, billheads, broadsides, handbills, magazine wrappers, subscription papers, and shop signs.  Those media likely circulated more widely in early America than the examples that survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest.  Unlike newspapers that have been preserved in complete or nearly complete runs, other advertising media were much more ephemeral.  In addition, those available for study often lack dates, while the mastheads declare dates for newspaper notices.  Sometimes manuscript additions, such as a receipted bill on the back of Mary Symonds’s elegant trade card, testify to when an advertisement circulated, though additional research suggests that the trade card quite likely had been produced earlier.

Exceptions exist.  For instance, a broadside announcing the auction of enslaved men, women, and children in Charleston, South Carolina, bears the date the slave traders composed the copy, July 24, 1769, and the date of the sale, August 3, indicating the period that the broadside circulated.  Similarly, a handbill that advertised feats of horsemanship performed by Mr. Bates in Boston includes a date, “TUESDAY next the 28th. of September.”  Though lacking a year, the advertising copy corresponds to a series of newspaper notices that ran in several publications in the fall of 1773.  That makes this a rare occasion that the Adverts 250 Project presents an advertisement other than a newspaper notice that definitely circulated 250 years ago today.  As colonizers traversed the streets of Boston, they encountered Bates’s handbills.  They likely saw a variety of other advertising media, including broadsides posted around town, trade cards and billheads distributed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans, and signs that marked the locations of shops and taverns.  Bates’s handbill testifies to the presence of advertising beyond newspapers in the busy port on the eve of the American Revolution.

June 26

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

Providence Gazette (June 26, 1773).

“Hand-Bills in particular done in a neat and correct Manner.”

Like many other colonial printers who published newspapers, but not all of them, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette used the colophon at the bottom of the final page to promote services available at his printing office rather than merely giving the name and location of the printer.  In the early 1770s, the colophon for the Providence Gazette regularly advised that customers could place orders for job printing “at Shakespear’s Head, … where all Manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”  Job printing orders included broadsides, trade cards, handbills, and blanks (or forms) of various sorts.

On April 25, 1772, Carter added an additional line to the colophon, advising prospective customers about “Hand-Bills in particular done in a neat and correct Manner, at a very short Notice, and on reasonable Terms.”  Among the newspaper printers who inserted extended colophons that doubled as advertisements for their printing offices, others also gave handbills special emphasis.  In Boston, Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, included a note in his colophon that declared, “Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”  In Philadelphia, the colophon for William Goddard’s Pennsylvania Chronicle concluded with “Blanks and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”  Solomon Southwick, the printer of the Newport Mercury, on the other hand, focused on “all Kinds of BLANKS commonly used in this Colony.”

That several printers made a point of including handbills among the services listed in their colophons suggests that they regularly received orders for such items, likely far more orders than those examples in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest.  That Thomas proclaimed that his printing office could produce handbills so quickly further testifies to the likelihood that merchants, shopkeepers, and others distributed handbills as an alternative or as a supplement to newspaper notices, creating a more visible and vibrant culture of advertising in early America, especially in urban ports, than surviving primary sources alone indicate.  Since handbills were intended to be ephemeral and disposable, colonizers did not save and preserve them in the same manner that newspaper printers and some subscribers compiled complete runs of many eighteenth-century newspapers, complete with the advertisements they contained.

May 13

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

Massachusetts Spy (May 13, 1773).

“Hand and Shop BILLS.”

At the bottom of the final page of each issue of the Massachusetts Spy, the colophon informed readers that they could purchase subscriptions from Isaiah Thomas at his printing office in Boston or from local agents in several other towns in the colony.  In addition, the colophon stated, “ADVERTISEMENTS taken in,” “PRINTING in its various Branches, performed in a neat Manner,” and “HAND BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”  Thomas aimed to generate revenue from both notices in the newspaper and advertisements printed to distribute separately.

In the spring of 1773, the printer enhanced his efforts to encourage colonizers to purchase advertising.  He commenced with a newspaper notice that appeared as the first item at the top of the first column on the first page of the April 16 edition.  Thomas advised that “THE extensive circulation of the MASSACHUSETTS SPY, through town and country, renders it very beneficial for those who ADVERTISE therein.”  Furthermore, “Advertisements (sent in season) are inserted in a neat and conspicuous manner on the most reasonable terms.”  The remainder of the notice solicited subscriptions, though the printer’s comment that the newspaper “has met with very great encouragement from the public” also assured advertisers of its “extensive circulation” that made advertising a good investment.

Three weeks later, Thomas inserted another advertisement about advertising, this time for “Hand and Shop BILLS.”  Printers occasionally hawked handbills, as Thomas did in the colophon, but rarely did they advertiser shop bills.  Those billheads, the precursors to modern letterheads, included the name and location of the merchant, shopkeeper, or artisan.  They often featured a visual image or a brief advertisement describing the goods and services available at the shop or both.  Most of the sheet remained blank, leaving space to write in a list of purchases.  Billheads simultaneously served as both advertisements and receipts.

Thomas apparently sought to increase the amount of advertising produced at his shop.  He declared that he “furnished himself with an elegant assortment of LARGE, and other TYPES, for the purpose of printing in the best manner, SHOP and other BILLS.”  He acknowledged that the type he used for printing the newspapers was not always the best choice for freestanding advertisements like broadsides, handbills, and billheads.  Instead, Thomas acquired the necessary equipment for crafting the most effective advertisements.

He also gave his notice about “Hand and Shop BILLs” a privileged spot the first time it appeared, placing it after news from Boston dated May 5 and before news from Boston dated May 6.  Even readers who only skimmed or completely skipped over advertisements were likely to see it there.  His previous notice about advertising in the Massachusetts Spyran as the final item in the Postscript, the only advertisement in that supplement, reinforcing the printer’s efforts to market advertising.  As with other instances of advertising ephemera mentioned in newspaper notices, the “Hand and Shop BILLS” that Thomas promoted in the spring of 1773 testifies to a vibrant culture of advertising in early America, though most such items have not been collected and preserved in research libraries and historical societies.

September 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 2, 1772).

“All kinds of office and other blanks, hand-bills, &c. &c.”

When James Humphrey, Jr., opened a printing shop in Philadelphia in the summer of 1772, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Journal to inform the public that he sought orders for “PRINTING, In all its VARIOUS and DIFFERENT BRANCHES.”  Perhaps he received a discount for notices he placed in that newspaper, despite being a competitor for job printing, having apprenticed to William Bradford, one of the partners who printed the Pennsylvania Journal.  Humphreys stated that he “earnestly requests the favour and encouragement of the Public in general, and of his friends and acquaintance in particular.”  That encouragement likely commenced with a mentor who had a thriving business and could afford to help his former apprentice establish his own printing office.  Humphreys eventually published the Pennsylvania Ledger from January 1775 through November 1776 with a brief revival when the British occupied Philadelphia, but he focused on books and job printing when he first entered the business.

In particular, he solicited orders for “All kinds of office and other blanks, [and] hand-bills.”  Throughout the colonies, printers produced and sold a variety of blanks, printed forms that facilitated common commercial and legal transactions.  Humphreys listed some of the blanks available at his printing office, including “arbitration bonds, bonds and judgments, common bonds, powers of attorney, bills of lading, bills of sale, [and] apprentices and servants indentures.”  Concluding the list with “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) signaled that he had others on hand to sell “either by the ream, quire, or single sheet.”  Some colonizers purchased blanks in volume, making them an even more lucrative revenue stream for printers.  Humphreys also declared that he printed handbills “in the neatest and most speedy manner.”  When they advertised, printers often included handbills among the items they produced, suggesting that many more advertisements circulated in eighteenth-century America, especially in urban centers, than survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.  Such ephemera may have been much more numerous and visible than bibliographies of early American imprints suggest.  Newspaper advertisements like the one that Humphreys inserted in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1772 hint at a vibrant culture of advertising during the era of the American Revolution.

January 19

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 16, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS taken in … Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”

Advertising represented significant revenues for early American printers.  For many, advertising, rather than subscriptions, determined the viability and profitability of their newspapers.  Some printers included invitations to submit advertisements along with publication information in the colophons that appeared at the bottom of the final page of their newspapers.  In the colophon for the Massachusetts Spy, for instance, Isaiah Thomas proclaimed, “ADVERTISEMENTS taken in.”  Considering how much revenue advertisements generated, some printers devoted as much space (or more!) to paid notices in their newspapers as to other content, though others made efforts to balance news and advertising.  For his part, Thomas did not allow advertising to crowd out local news for Boston, “AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE” from other cities, letters to the editor, and other content.  In the January 16, 1772, edition, for instance, he filled one-third of the columns with advertising and the rest with news.  He also inserted a note that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next,” alerting advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked but merely delayed.

At the same time, Thomas produced other forms of advertising, including handbills, and promoted such work as well as other job printing performed “on the most reasonable Terms.”  Those services appeared in the colophon of every issue of the Massachusetts Spy in the early 1770s.  The printer alerted prospective advertisers that he produced “Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”  Though relatively few of those handbills survive today, especially compared to newspapers (and the advertisements in them) preserved in their entire runs, they were part of a vibrant culture of advertising in the second half of the eighteenth century.  As they traversed the streets of Boston and other cities and towns, colonizers glimpsed broadsides pasted to buildings and grasped handbills thrust at them as they passed.  Merchants and shopkeepers gave out trade cards to promote their businesses and wrote accounts and receipts on billheads.  Booksellers and auctioneers distributed catalogs.  Advertisements were not the only kind of job printing undertaken by Thomas, but singling out handbills for special attention in the colophon of his newspaper suggests that he saw advertising as an especially lucrative endeavor.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:18:1769 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 18, 1769).

“Particular care will be taken to do Advertisements, Blanks, &c. on very short notice.”

When Joseph Crukshank opened a printing office in Philadelphia in 1769, he attempted to attract clients by placing an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. He pledged that his customers “may depend on having their work done in a neat and correct manner.” Crukshank anticipated that his job printing would include producing “Advertisements, Blanks, &c. on very short notice.” In that regard, he emphasized some of the same services as some newspaper printers regularly promoted in the colophons of their publications. The colophon on the final page of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, stated, “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.” Similarly, the colophon for the Pennsylvania Chronicle concluded with “Blanks and Hand-Bills in particular are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”

Printers generated revenue by printing handbills and other advertisements. For those who published newspapers, this revenue supplemented what they earned from subscriptions and advertisements inserted in the newspapers. For those who did not publish newspapers, like Crukshank, advertisements were an especially important component of their business. Handbills accounted for some of that work, but a variety of other sorts of advertising media came off of eighteenth-century printing presses, including trade cards, billheads, broadsides, furniture labels, catalogs, subscription notices, and magazine wrappers. Crukshank even promoted a catalog of the books he sold, inviting prospective customers to visit his shop to pick up their own copies.

All advertising could be considered ephemeral, but these other forms of advertising proved to be even more ephemeral than newspaper advertisements. Printers and others created repositories of eighteenth-century newspapers at the time of their creation, but handbills, trade cards, and other printed media deployed as advertising did not benefit from the same systematic collection and preservation. As a result, the sources for reconstructing the history of advertising in the colonial and revolutionary eras are skewed in favor of newspaper advertisements. Certainly newspaper advertisements were the most common form of advertising and merit particular attention, but they do not tell the entire story. The scattered billheads found among household accounts, labels still affixed to furniture, and other relatively rare eighteenth-century advertising media in modern libraries and archives belie their original abundance, according to the frequent references to “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c.” and “catalogues” in newspaper advertisements and colophons. Printers’ ledgers and correspondence also include references to advertisements with no known extant copies. These various sources indicate that, especially in the second half of the eighteenth century, Americans encountered a rich visual and textual landscape of advertising as they went about their daily lives.