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.