March 11

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 9, 1772).

“Said EVITT prints Advertisements.”

In the early 1770s, William Evitt regularly placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Philadelphia to announce that he “PERFORMS PRINTING IN ALL ITS BRANCHES, With the utmost CARE and EXPEDITION.”  He did not provide much more detail in an advertisement in the March 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, though he did include a nota bene about one of the “BRANCHES” of the printing business.  “Said EVITT,” he explained, “prints Advertisements, &c. at two hours notice, as usual.”  The “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) likely referred to printed blanks such as indentures, bills of lading, and other forms for legal agreements and commercial transactions.

Evitt did not print a newspaper, but he assisted colonizers in disseminating other kinds of advertising media.  The advertisements he printed “at two hours notice” probably included handbills, broadsides (or posters), trade cards (a combination of a handbill and business card), and billheads (a trade card with space for writing receipts by hand).  Each of those items consisted of a single sheet.  At the direction of his customers, Evitt may have embellished the advertising copy with ornamental type of the sort that ran across the top of his newspaper notice or woodcuts with visual images that he supplied.  To produce advertisements in such a short time, he quickly set the type and then worked with employees in operating a manual press.

In declaring that he printed advertisements “as usual,” Evitt suggested that handbills, broadsides, trade cards, billheads, and other items constituted a regular part of his business.  Marketing materials flowed off of his press into the hands of advertisers and, eventually, to colonizers in Philadelphia and beyond.  Compared to eighteenth-century newspapers and the advertisements that appeared in them, however, relatively few handbills, broadsides, trade cards, and billheads survive today.  I believe that historians have underestimated the extent that advertising media circulated in early America, especially in bustling port cities, as a result.  Evitt’s advertisement about printing advertisements suggests that colonizers encountered an array of marketing media on a daily basis.

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.

January 6

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 3, 1771).

“Said EVITT prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”

At first glance, many readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that William Evitt’s notice in the January 3, 1771, edition was yet another advertisement for an almanac.  Such advertisements were common at the turn of the new year as printers attempted to sell surplus copies not purchased before the new year began.  David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of both the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, inserted their own advertisement on the previous page.  The prologue to Evitt’s advertisement suggested that he would devote the entire notice to describing the contents of “THE UNIVERSAL and POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACKS, for the year 1771.”  Although he did promote those two publications, as well as “The GENTLEMAN and CITIZEN’S POCKET ALMANACK” with its “greater variety of useful lists, tables, &c. &c. &c. than any other almanack printed in America,” Evitt addressed a variety of other endeavors in the second half of his advertisement.  He informed customers that he sold books, stationery, and patent medicines, like many other printers, but he also carried other merchandise, including stockings, handkerchiefs, sieves, brushes, soap, and common grocery items.

Near the conclusion of his advertisement, Evitt returned to goods and services more closely associated with printers.  He advised prospective clients that he “prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”  In other words, he did job printing.  Jobs included advertisements, broadsides (today known as posters), circular letters, and a vast array of printed blanks (or forms).  Clients submitted copy or, in the case of blanks, chose from among popular options, then Evitt set the type and produced the specified number of copies.  Evitt did not elaborate on the forms of advertising he printed, but they likely included handbills, catalogs, trade cards, bill heads, broadsides, and circular letters.  He produced them quickly, though the process of manually operating the press meant that he could produce only a limited quantity in that time.  Still, most orders were likely relatively small, in the range of a couple hundred copies.  Evitt considered job printing, especially advertisements, lucrative enough and potentially steady enough to merit mentioning alongside his other enterprises.  In emphasizing the speed of production, he suggested that he competed to provide a service already in demand.  It is quite likely that handbills, broadsides, and other advertisements that came off his press have been lost over time.  Evitt’s newspaper advertisement testifies to a more extensive circulation of other forms of advertising, each of them more ephemeral than newspapers systematically collected and preserved since the eighteenth century.  While newspaper advertising was by far the most common form of marketing in early America, colonists likely encountered other formats more regularly than the numbers of those that survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest on their own.

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.