March 24

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

Mar 24 - 3:24:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 24, 1770).

(23).”

A brief advertisement in the March 24, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette announced, “GARDEN PEASE.  The very best Early Garden Pease to be sold at the GOLDEN EAGLE. (23).”  Consisting primarily of information for consumers, this advertisement also featured a notation intended solely for the printer, compositor, and others who labored in John Carter’s “PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head.”  The “(23)” at the far right of the final line corresponded to the issue number in which the advertisement first ran, “NUMB. 323” on March 17.  Other advertisements included similar notations to the far right on the final line.  Robert Nesbitt’s advertisement for a variety of textiles ended with “(22).”  James Lovett’s advertisement for bread and flour concluded with “(20).”  Another advertisement offering a “Likely, healthy, smart NEGROE BOY” for sale also featured “(20)” on the final line.  The issue numbers presumably aided with bookkeeping and alerted compositors when to remove advertisements that had appeared for a specified number of weeks.

Not all advertisements, however, included issue numbers, suggesting that the system was more complicated than simply signaling whether a notice should continue publication.  Carter’s own advertisement for printed blanks did not feature an issue number, but that was because the printer could insert notices promoting various aspects of his business at his own discretion.  In another notice that lacked an issue number, Stephen Hopkins, John Brown, and John Jenckes called on local “Gentlemen … to become Benefactors” of the college being built in the town.  Perhaps it did not carry an issue number because Carter was not concerned about when it commenced or how many times it appeared in the Providence Gazette.  Perhaps his contribution consisted of running the fundraising advertisement gratis in his newspaper for as long as the committee desired.  Other advertisements, including two for real estate and one about runaway indentured servants, also did not have issue numbers on the final line.  The advertisers may not have contracted for a certain number of weeks but instead determined for them to run until they achieved their purpose.

The issue numbers that appeared in some, but not all, advertisements in the Providence Gazette (and other eighteenth-century newspapers) hint at the day-to-day operations in colonial printing offices, but they raise as many questions as they answer.  They suggest that printers, compositors, and others followed a system for organizing and keeping track of advertisements, but they do not reveal all of the particulars.

April 1

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Providence Gazette (April 1, 1769).

“Joseph Belcher … will take in Pay … old Pewter.”

“Pewter is an alloy of two metals, tin and lead,” explains Robert P. Rich. Pewter goods like plates, cups, and pitchers were common in colonial America, but there was a problem with pewtersmith’s supplies. The colonies lacked tin, one of the elements needed for making pewter, so it needed to be imported from Britain. However, not much tin was imported, which was designed to give British pewtersmiths an advantage over American pewtersmiths. This takes us back to the advertisement where Joseph Belcher said he would take old pewter as payment. Lacking one of the metals needed to make pewter, American pewtersmiths wanted old pieces of pewterware that they could use to make new pewterware. Rich notes that “due to the low metaling point of pewter metal, it could easily be melted down and re-cast into new forms with little loss of material.” To learn more visit “Recycling in Colonial America.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The “(69)” on the final line of Joseph Belcher’s advertisement was not part of the copy submitted to the printing office by the pewtersmith. Instead, it was a notation inserted by the compositor. It indicated that Belcher’s advertisement first ran in issue “NUMB. 269” published on March 4, 1769. Other paid notices in the Providence Gazette included similar numbers on the final line, including “(71)” at the conclusion of an advertisement for an iron forge for lease and “(72)” alongside “STEPHEN ARNOLD, Proprietors Clerk” in a legal notice. These numbers helped the compositor and others keep track of how many times advertisements appeared so they could be discontinued at the end of the period specified by the advertiser. Other advertisements included “(T.b.c.)” rather than an issue number, perhaps indicating “to be continued” until such time that the advertiser sent instructions to discontinue those notices. Like many other printers throughout the colonies, John Carter had a portion of his bookkeeping practices on display within the pages of his newspaper.

In most cases the compositor could have simply compared the current issue number to the issue number listed in the advertisement to count how many times it had appeared. That system, however, had been disrupted in the Providence Gazette in the March 25 edition. Carter published more news than usual, squeezing out advertising. He acknowledged as much in a brief notice that assured readers and, especially, advertisers that “Advertisements omitted, for Want of Room, shall be in out next.” Belcher’s advertisement was one of those omitted. After its initial insertion on March 4, it ran in the next two issues before its brief hiatus and then returned for one last time in the April 1 edition.

This example raises questions about common practices related to advertisements in printing offices throughout the colonies. The issue numbers that appeared at the conclusion of so many advertisements were certainly a helpful tool for bookkeeping and other purposes or else compositors would not have expended the time and energy to include them. Yet they had to be used in combination with other records, such as ledgers and previous issues, in order to tell the whole story. Did printers and compositors generate other sorts of documents, such as weekly checklists, to aid in keeping track of which advertisements needed to be inserted in new issues or discontinued because advertisers agreed to pay for only a certain number of insertions? How closely did printers or others who kept the account books coordinate with the compositors that set the type and transferred (or not) advertisements from one issue to the next? Answering these questions would reveal more about the hierarchies and distribution of responsibilities in early American printing offices.

February 18

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

Providence Gazette (February 18, 1769).

“He wants good Hoops, Boards and Staves, some very good Horses, and a new Milch Cow. (51)”

Readers of the Providence Gazette may have noticed that some, but not all, of the advertisements concluded with a number in parentheses. In the February 18, 1769, edition, Samuel Chace’s advertisement for a “NEW and general Assortment of English and India GOODS,” for instance, ended with “(51)” on the final line. Thomas Greene’s advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” immediately above it featured “(64).” Elsewhere in the issue, other advertisements included “(55)” and “(62).” The first three advertisements all had “(67)” on the final line. What purpose did these numbers serve?

They were not part of the copy submitted by advertisers. Instead, the compositor inserted these numbers to record the first issue in which an advertisement appeared. According to the masthead, the February 18 edition was “NUMB. 267.” The “(67)” indicated three of the advertisements made their inaugural appearance in that issue. Similarly, “(51)” was associated with issue number 251 and “(64)” first ran in issue number 264. The printer and compositor made use of these numbers for bookkeeping and other aspects of producing the Providence Gazette. They made it much easier to determine when it was time to remove an advertisement from subsequent issues.

That the advertisements in the February 18 edition did not appear in numerical or chronological order also demonstrates another aspect of newspaper production. Compositors set the type for each advertisement only once. Once the type had been set, however, compositors moved advertisements around to fit them on the page. In general, no advertisements received privileged placement based on how many weeks they ran in the newspaper, nor did the compositor attempt to organize them according to any principles other than the most efficient use of space. Advertisements making their inaugural appearance, however, were an exception to that rule. In the February 18 issue, all of the advertisements marked “(67)” appeared before any other advertisements. Printers and compositors did give new advertisements a place of prominence, knowing that readers sometimes looked for those in particular. Although the Providence Gazette did not do so, some newspapers even ran special headings for “New Advertisements” to distinguish them from others that already ran in previous issues.

Printers and compositors intended for subscribers and other readers to ignore the numbers they inserted on the final line of many advertisements. Those numbers made important information readily accessible to those who worked in printing offices, but it was not information intended to shape public reaction to the contents of the paid notices.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 2, 1768).

“At their Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House. (23).”

Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement for “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” available “at their Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House” in Providence incorporated graphic design elements intended to attract the attention of newspaper readers and prospective customers. The copious use of all capitals and large fonts distinguished their advertisement from many others that appeared in the Providence Gazette in the spring and summer of 1768. As a result of their decisions concerning the visual aspects of their advertisement, the Russells’ notice included far less text than many others of a similar length. They traded the extra copy for distinctive graphic design.

Yet not every element of their advertisement was intended for the readers of the Providence Gazette. Like many other paid notices that appeared in that publication, it concluded with a number in parentheses: in this case, “(23).” Several other advertisements in the July 2, 1768, edition also featured two-digit numbers. Shopkeepers J. Mathewson and E. Thompson and Company both had “(32)” on the final line of their advertisement. The same number appeared at the end of Joseph Whitcomb’s notice concerning a stolen horse. Isaac Field, executor to the estate of Joseph Field, inserted a notice with “(33)” on the same line as his name. Nicholas Clark’s advertisement seeking “an Apprentice to the Block-making Business” included “(34),” as did Moses Brown’s notice concerning a house for sale.

Each of these numbers corresponded to the issue in which the advertisement first appeared. The July 2 edition was issue “NUMB. 234.” The “(34)” in Clark’s and Brown’s advertisements indicated that they ran for the first time. Those with “(33)” were originally published a week earlier in the previous issue, whereas those with “(32)” were making their third appearance. The Russells’ advertisement, with its “(23),” had been running for quite some time.

These numbers aided printers and compositors in determining when to remove advertisements, especially if the advertisers had contracted for a certain number of insertions. While intended primarily for the use of those in the printing office, astute readers may have also consulted them to determine which advertisements were new and which were not. Those who perused the Providence Gazette every week would certainly have recognized advertisements they had seen multiple times, but others who did not peruse the newspaper as frequently did not have that advantage. Those numbers – likely the only portion of the copy not composed by the advertisers – were tools intended to aid those who operated the press, but they also helped readers to distinguish among notices that were new, relatively new, and not new at all.

October 1

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

Oct 1 - 10:1:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 1, 1767).

NEW ADVERTISEMENTS. 91 93.”

The list-style advertisement placed by Henry Remsen, Jr., and Company in the October 1, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal concluded with two numbers that seemed to have no connection to the content of the notice: “91 93.” Of the seventeen other advertisements printed on the third page, fourteen included similar numbers. Why?

These numbers were not intended for readers. Instead, they were aids for the compositor to determine whether to continue inserting each advertisement in subsequent issues. According to the masthead, the October 1, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal was also issue “NUMB. 1291.” In the case of Remsen and Company’s advertisement, “91 93” indicated that it originated in issue 1291, continued for a total of three issues, and concluded with issue 1293. From consumer goods to real estate to runaway slaves, most of the other advertisements on the same page concluded with “91 94,” suggesting that John Holt, the printer, often sold advertising space for four consecutive issues.

Remsen and Company’s notice appeared under the heading “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.” That seems to have been an accurate representation of the advertisements on that page. Each that included numbers to guide the compositor started with 91. On the following page, the advertisements included lower numbers, indicating that they had been published in earlier issues. For instance, a notice calling on “ALL Persons that have any Demands against the Estate of John Leversage” to settle accounts with the executor first appeared in 1289 and was slated to continue through issue 1292, according to the “89 92” printed on the final line. In the two-page supplement that accompanied the October 1 issue, some of the advertisements featured numbers whose range deviated significantly from the current issue. Gerardus Duyckinck’s familiar advertisement for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” for example, concluded with “67 70.” These numbers provided a guide for the minimal number of insertions paid for by the advertiser, but also suggest that printers and compositors sometimes published older advertisements, perhaps free of charge, in order to fill space.

Bookkeeping and keeping track of which advertisements must appear in any given issue could be difficult tasks for colonial printers and compositors. John Holt relied on a system that inserted some of that information directly into the advertisements in order to streamline the process.