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