April 1

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

Apr 1 - 3:29:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (March 29, 1770).

“ASSORTMENT of GOODS, Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson informed consumers in and around Boston that they stocked “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants)” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  On the same day, James McCall took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette to announce that he carried an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” imported in the Sea Venturefrom Bristol “Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”  This marketing strategy was less common in the newspapers published in Charleston than in Boston, but not unknown.

In both cities, purveyors of goods believed that asserting that they acquired their goods according to the terms of nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of import duties Parliament imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea would incite demand.  They offered colonists the opportunity to continue participating in the consumer revolution without violating the political principles that inspired the “RESOLUTIONS” or the “late Agreements.”  Yet their newspaper notices did more than reassure prospective customers.  McCall intended to safeguard his own reputation, as did Smith and Atkinson.  They wanted all readers and, by extension, the entire community to know that they abided by the nonimportation agreements.  Making such declarations not only amounted to good business sense but also aided in maintaining their status and relationships.

In Charleston and Boston, both advertisers and prospective customers spoke a common language of consumption that was inflected with politics.  T.H. Breen makes in this argument in The Marketplace of Revolution:  How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.  At the nexus of consumer culture and print culture, newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services played an important role in developing and propagating the language of consumption.  This yielded what Benedict Anderson termed imagined communities – communities of readers and communities of consumers – that made colonists in faraway places like Boston and Charleston feel as though they shared a common identity.

March 13

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 13, 1770).

“A CHINA MANUFACTURE.”

In January 1770 an advertisement for “New China Ware ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  In it, the “CHINA PROPRIETORS in PHILADELPHIA” advised both retailers and consumers that they had set up production of porcelain “as good … as any heretofore manufactured at the famous factory in Bow, near London, and imported into the colonies.”  This enterprise aimed to provide colonists with alternatives to imported merchandise; both imported goods and “domestic manufactures” assumed new political significance when merchants and shopkeepers adopted nonimportation agreements to protest the duties levied on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts.

Two months later an advertisement about the “CHINA MANUFACTURE … now erecting” in Philadelphia appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The proprietors, G. Bonnin and G.A. Morris, had two purposes in placing that notice:  recruiting workers and marketing their wares.  They reiterated the claims they made in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, proclaiming that “the Clays of America are productive of as good PORCELAIN as any hitherto manufactured in, and imported from England.”  Given those resources available to them, the proprietors also needed “Workmen skilled in the different branches of Throwing, Turning, Moulding, Pressing, and Handling.”  In a nota bene at the conclusion of the advertisement they proclaimed that “None will be employed who have not served their Apprenticeships in England, France, or Germany.”  Bonnin and Morris eschewed imported goods, but they still wished to draw on skills that had been learned on the other side of the Atlantic.  The quality of the “Clays of America” alone did not yield finished goods that competed with those produced in England.  To assist in acquiring the skilled workers they needed, the proprietors designated a local agent in Charleston.  They instructed “such in South-Carolina as are inclined to engage” that they would be “assisted in procuring their Passages to Philadelphia by Mr. EDWARD LIGHTFOOT.”

In addition to seeking workers, Bonnin and Morris made an appeal to prospective customers, “those who are inclined to encourage this Undertaking.”  They did not explicitly state that consumers had a duty to purchase goods produced in the colonies, but given the news and commentary that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper the proprietors likely depended on readers making such connections between consumption and politics.  Bonnin and Morris both invoked a sense of urgency and suggested existing demand for their wares, requesting customers “to be expeditious in forwarding their Commands” while also clarifying that “all Orders will be obeyed in Rotation” with “the earliest executed first.”  In so doing, they again repeated marketing strategies incorporated into their earlier advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

Bonnin and Morris’s efforts to produce “domestic manufactures” and promote them to consumers were not merely local or even regional endeavors.  They looked far beyond Philadelphia and the Middle Colonies when recruiting workers and customers, further strengthening networks of both print and consumption that increasingly contributed to a sense of an imagined community that stretched from New England to Georgia.

January 23

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

Jan 23 - 1:23:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 23, 1770).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in by the Printer of this Paper.”

The many and various advertisements for consumer goods and services in the January 23, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included a subscription notice for “Essays on … the Indians, on the Continent of North-America” by James Adair, who had resided “the greater Part of 33 Years among the Indians themselves.” Those essays focused “Particularly” on the Catawbas, Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws “inhabiting the western Parts of the Colonies of Virginia, North and South-Carolina, and Georgia.” Given their proximity, the author or publisher expected that the proposed book would resonate with prospective subscribers in South Carolina … and in Georgia. The same subscription notice ran on several occasions in the Georgia Gazette in late 1769 and early 1770.

Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, acted as local agents on behalf of the author or publisher. The book would not go to press until enough “subscribers” expressed interest and confirmed their intention to buy it by putting down a deposit in advance. By enlisting local agents and seeking subscribers in South Carolina, Georgia, and likely other places as well, the author or publisher aimed to enlarge the market and make the proposed book a viable endeavor.

The advertisements in the two newspapers contained exactly the same copy (except for the final word, “Paper” instead of “Gazette”). The author or publisher may have written out the advertisement once and then carefully copied it into letters directed to multiple printing offices. Alternately, the subscription notice may have appeared once in one newspaper and then the author or publisher forwarded clippings along with requests to insert the notice in other newspapers when soliciting the cooperation of additional local agents. Depending on the sophistication of the marketing efforts, the author or publisher may even have distributed broadside subscription notices with space for subscribers to sign their names. The copy for newspaper advertisements could have been drawn directly from such broadsides.

Regardless of how the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the Georgia Gazette ended up publishing advertisements with identical copy, readers in the two colonies encountered the same subscription notice within a single week. This contributed to the creation of an imagined community among colonists, a common identity as readers and consumers, as the press presented the same news items, reprinted from one newspaper to another to yet another, and, sometimes, the same advertisements as well.

October 17

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

Oct 17 - 10:17:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 17, 1769).

“JUST PUBLISHED … A Volume of Curious Papers.”

A brief advertisement in the October 17, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette (published in Salem) announced that “A Volume of Curious Papers collected by His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, which may serve as an Appendix to his History of Massachusets Bay” had gone to press and was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers by T. and J. FLEET, Printers in Boston.” This notice was a variation on advertisements that ran in newspapers throughout New England during the previous week. One variation ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette (published in Portsmouth) on Friday, October 13 and in the Providence Gazette on Saturday, October 14. The Fleets inserted a slightly different version in their own newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post, on Monday, October 16. That same day, variations ran in the Boston-Gazette, the Connecticut Courant (published in Hartford), and the Newport Mercury. Following publication in the Essex Gazette on October 17, a similar notice appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on Thursday, October 19. Over the course of a week, the Fleets inserted notices about the publication of this “Volume of Curious Papers” in eight newspapers printed in six cities and towns in four colonies.

This meant that readers in Boston, Hartford, Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, Salem, and beyond encountered similar advertisements for the same product, a book about the history of Massachusetts, as they perused their local newspapers. Although most advertisers were not so enterprising when it came to publishing notices in multiple colonies, members of the book trades often relied on subscription notices distributed widely as a means of creating markets for books they wished to publish. Printers published proposals in several newspapers and, later, published updates for subscribers who pre-ordered books, including, ultimately, announcements informing both subscribers and the general public when they published a proposed work.

These advertisements contributed to the formation of what Benedict Anderson termed “imagined communities” of geographically dispersed people drawn together through the experience of simultaneously reading the same content in newspapers. In the eighteenth century, most of this content consisted of news and editorials, especially since colonial printers liberally reprinted material from one newspaper to another. T.H. Breen has argued that colonists also formed imagined communities around consumption practices, demonstrating that the same sorts of goods appeared in newspaper advertisements from New England to Georgia. Subscription notices and subsequent advertisements, however, did not merely expose readers to similar wares. Like the news and editorials reprinted from one newspaper to another, they replicated content associated with particular products, in this case a “Volume of Curious Papers” about the history of Massachusetts. Print helped to knit together colonists in the era of the American Revolution, but the print that did so was not limited to newspaper reports or political pamphlets distributed far and wide. Sometimes advertising also contributed to the formation of imagined communities in early America.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:19:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 19, 1769).

“PROPOSALS FOR CONTINUING AND IMPROVING The PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE.”

In the spring of 1769, William Goddard launched an advertising campaign intended to garner subscriptions for the Pennsylvania Chronicle from throughout the colonies. In outlining its contents, Goddard described a weekly publication that prospective subscribers may have considered as much a magazine as a newspaper. He proclaimed, “Several Gentlemen of great learning and ingenuity, in this and the neighbouring provinces, have promised to lend their assistance, so that there may not be wanting dome original productions, which may exhibit agreeable specimens of American humour and genius.” That being the case, Goddard did not produce a local or regional newspaper that merely delivered news reprinted from one newspaper to another, but instead a “Repository of ingenious and valuable literature, in prose and verse.” Goddard intended for subscribers to preserve their copies of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, pledging to distribute a title page, index, and two copperplate engravings (one for use as a frontispiece) to be bound together with the several issues each year. Such plans paralleled those distributed by magazine publishers in eighteenth-century America.

Goddard’s “PROPOSALS FOR CONTINUING AND IMPROVING The PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE” radiated out from Philadelphia. They first found their way into newspapers published in New York and then others published in New England. Eventually they appeared in newspapers published in southern colonies. Dated “May 1, 1769,” Goddard’s “PROPOSALS” did not run in the Georgia Gazette, the newspaper most distant from Philadelphia, until July 19, eleven weeks later. Goddard envisioned what Benedict Anderson termed an imagined community of readers. Although dispersed geographically, readers formed a sense of community and common interests through exposure to the same information via print culture. Colonial newspapers served this purpose as printers established networks for exchanging their publications and liberally reprinting news and other content from one to another. Goddard presented an even more cohesive variation: subscribers throughout the colonies reading the same information in a single publication and feeling a sense of community because they knew that other subscribers in faraway places read the same news and literature contained in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, rather than whichever snippets from other publications an editor happened to choose to reprint for local and regional consumption.

Creating an imagined community depended in part on establishing a sense of simultaneity, that readers were encountering the same content at the same time. Communication and transportation technologies in the eighteenth century made true simultaneity impossible, as seen in the lag between Goddard composing his “PROPOSALS” on May 1 and their eventual publication in the Georgia Gazette on July 19. Yet readers could experience a perceived simultaneity from knowing that they read the same publication as subscribers in other colonies. Reprinting items from one newspaper to another already contributed to this, but the widespread distribution of a single publication made that perceived simultaneity much more palpable and certain. Readers encountered Goddard’s “PROPOSALS” in several newspapers published in cities and towns throughout the colonies, but they could experience the same contents, pitched as political and cultural and distinctively American, in the pages of the publication that Goddard made such great effort to distribute as widely as possible.

February 7

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

“Subscriptions are taken … by S. Hall in Salem.”

Essex Gazette (February 7, 1769).

This subscription notice for “The WORKS of the celebrated John Wilkes, Esquire, in Three VOLUMES” ran in the February 7, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, yet that was not the first place that colonial readers encountered it. The “PROPOSALS” had previously appeared in at least two newspapers, the New-York Journal in December 1768 and the New-London Gazette in January 1769. The Essex Gazette and the New-London Gazette both reiterated the copy exactly, except for the final paragraph indicating where prospective customers could reserve their copy. The notice in the New-York Journal stated that “Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.” The version in the New-London Gazette updated the list to include “at New London in Connecticut” after listing the four largest port cities in the colonies. Rather than add his name to a growing list, the printer of the Essex Gazette instead substituted “and by S. Hall in Salem” for “at New London in Connecticut.” Perhaps Hall was not aware that Timothy Green also took in subscriptions. Both printers may have received copies of the original advertisement accompanied by requests to join the network of subscription agents, but the coordination may have ended there.

The revisions to the lists of subscription agents testify to ongoing attempts to create an imagined community of readers throughout the colonies. In addition to reading many of the same news items reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, readers also encountered the same advertisement encouraging them to purchase and read the same book. In the process, geographically dispersed colonists had similar experiences as they perused the same information in the public prints – and imagined their counterparts in distant colonies simultaneously perusing the same information. Yet creating a sense of an imagined community did not require extending the list of locations whenever possible. The original notice depended on just the four most significant urban ports. Subsequent notices in the Essex Gazette and the New-London Gazette added their own location, but did not add others that also participated. Making connections to the largest cities was sufficient for envisioning an imagined community, even if compiling more extensive lists would have been even more effective. That would have required additional coordination. By the end of the century, some publishers did attempt to harness lengthy lists of subscription agents in their marketing efforts. For instance, Mathew Carey listed dozens of local agents who sold his magazine, the American Museum, in the late 1780s and early 1790s. Doing so required overseeing an extensive network of colleagues and associates. The efforts to promote the works of Wilkes in the late 1760s did not benefit from that level of coordination, though the inclusion of additional agents in more locations may have played a role in inspiring others to take a more systematic approach in subsequent marketing campaigns.

January 13

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

New-London Gazette (January 13, 1769).

“Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers.”

A subscription notice for “THE WORKS OF THE CELEBRATED JOHN WILKES” appeared among the advertisements in the January 13, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. The advertising copy exactly replicated that of a notice published in the New-York Journal a month earlier, with one exception. Like other subscription notices, it informed prospective customers where to submit their names to reserve a copy: “Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, Charles-Town, South-Carolina, and at New London in Connecticut.” The previous advertisement did not list New London. It had been added to the subscription notice in the New-London Gazette to better engage local readers.

Whether including New London or not, both versions of the subscription notice invoked the concept of what Benedict Anderson has famously described as “imagined community.” Print culture contributed to a sense of community among readers dispersed over great distances by allowing them to read the same newspapers, books, and pamphlets, all while imaging that their counterparts in other cities and towns were simultaneously reading them and imbibing the same information and ideas. This subscription notice envisioned readers in Boston and Charleston and place in between all purchasing and reading the same book. Anderson argues that imagined community achieved via print played a vital role in the formation of the nation. Wilkes, a radical English politician and journalist, had become a popular figure in the colonies during the imperial crisis. The subscription notice for his works appeared while the Townshend Act was in effect, at the same time that many colonists mobilized nonimportation agreements in protest and the New-Hampshire Gazette was printed on smaller sheets because the publishers refused to import paper from England that would require them to pay duties.

The slightly revised version of the subscription notice had the capacity to even more effectively invoke the idea of an imagined community among colonists. It did not limit the collection of subscriptions to the four largest port cities, the places with the most printers and the most newspapers. Instead, by listing New London with Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, the subscription notice expanded the sphere of engagement by making the proposed book more accessible on the local level for readers and prospective subscribers in New London and its environs. Reading Wilkes was not just for colonists in urban settings. Instead, it was an endeavor for colonists anywhere and everywhere.

December 18

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

New-York Journal (December 15, 1768).

“Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.”

A subscription notice for publishing “THE WORKS OF THE CELEBRATED JOHN WILKES, Esq” appeared among the advertisements in the December 15, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Wilkes, a radical English politician and journalist considered a friend to American liberties, was widely recognized in the colonies, so much so that the publishers of the New-England Town and Country Almanack inserted his portrait as the frontispiece and emphasized its inclusion as part of their marketing efforts. News concerning Wilkes regularly appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies. As the imperial crisis unfolded, Wilkes became a hero to Americans who opposed Parliament’s attempts to tax and otherwise interfere in colonial affairs. Printers and booksellers sensed that a market for his collected works might exist, but it required proper cultivation.

Such was the purpose of the subscription notice. It deployed several strategies intended to incite demand. Among them, it constructed what Benedict Anderson has described as an “imagined community” of readers, a community drawn together through their engagement with the same printed materials despite members being geographically dispersed. The advertisement noted that “Subscriptions are taken by all the Booksellers at New-York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charles-Town, South-Carolina.” Readers of the New-York Journal who encountered this advertisement and purchased Wilkes’s works would participate in an endeavor that was more than merely local. They would join with others in faraway places, people they likely would never meet but who were exposed simultaneously to the same ideas and ideals through common acts of purchasing and reading Wilkes’s works. The notice indicated that there were “but a few Sets left unsubscribed for,” suggesting that the community was already vast and those who had not yet reserved their copies risked their own exclusion. To further evoke a common sense of identity, the subscription notice pledged that “The Paper for this Edition was manufactured, and all the Printing performed in this Country.” This was an American edition, produced by colonists for colonists from New England to the Lower South.

In marketing this three-volume set of Wilkes’s works, the publisher resorted to more than invoking the politics of the imperial crisis. This subscription notice sought to foster a sense of belonging among prospective subscribers, suggesting that they formed a community that transcended residence in one colony or another. That common identity gave colonists a shared political purpose, but it also facilitated selling books.