What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“CANDLES … Very cheap.”
On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, selecting which advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project is often particularly difficult due to three factors: the original publication schedule in 1769, incomplete digitization of extant eighteenth-century newspapers, and the limits of my own ability to read German.
The project incorporates approximately two dozen newspapers printed in the American colonies in 1769. Each newspaper was published once a week, with the exception of the semi-weekly Boston Chronicle. For a few months near the end of the year, the New-York Chronicle also experimented with circulating two issues each week. (This innovation did not save the New-Chronicle from ending its run with its January 4, 1770, edition.) The publication days were not spread evenly throughout the week. The majority of newspapers were published on Mondays and Thursdays (the corresponding dates in 2019 falling on Wednesdays and Saturdays). For the purposes of the Adverts 250 Project, this means many newspapers and many advertisements to choose among on those days. On other days, however, the featured advertisement comes from the single newspaper published on that day. Such is the case for the Georgia Gazette, published on Wednesdays (corresponding to dates that fall on Fridays in 2019) and the Providence Gazette (corresponding to dates that fall on Mondays in 2019). The number of advertisements, especially advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, varied from week to week in those newspapers, often limiting the choices available for this project.
Although more than one newspaper was published in colonial America on Tuesdays in 1769 (corresponding to dates that fall on Thursdays in 2019), incomplete digitization also limits the available choices. Issues of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published in 1769 have been transcribed, but not digitized. Issues published in both 1768 and 1770 have been digitized; advertisements drawn from that newspaper regularly appeared in the Adverts 250 Project in 2018 and will return in 2020. Published in the bustling port of Charleston, this newspaper usually ran two entire pages of advertising and often four. In contrast, the Essex Gazette, founded in 1768, has been digitized, but it did not feature nearly as many advertisements in 1769 as its counterparts in the largest port cities. The number of advertisements more closely matched newspapers from smaller towns on the same days as those published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. As a result of the abundance of advertisements in those newspapers, the publications from smaller cities and towns are often eclipsed because they ran far fewer paid notices. As the only newspaper available to consult on Thursdays, however, the Essex Gazette (like the Providence Gazette on Mondays and the Georgia Gazette on Fridays) is disproportionately represented in the Adverts 250 Project due to the methodology that calls for selecting advertisements published 250 years ago that day.
The Essex Gazette, however, is not the only newspaper published on Tuesdays in 1769 that has been digitized. All fifty-two issues of the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, published to serve the growing population of German settlers in Philadelphia and its environs, have been digitized. Despite their availability, I rarely include advertisements from that newspaper in this project because I do not read German well enough to work with the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote regularly. This means that the range of newspapers that appear in the Adverts 250 Project on Thursdays has been circumscribed compared to those published in 1769 on the corresponding days. The choice has been narrowed from three – the Essex Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote – to only one – the Essex Gazette alone. As a result, the Essex Gazette has been overrepresented in the Adverts 250 Project throughout 2019.
In addition to examining what advertisements from 1769 tell us about commerce, politics, and everyday life in the era of the imperial crisis, it is important to realize how the methodology of the project shapes which advertisements receive attention. Despite the relatively small number of advertisements in the Essex Gazette and the Georgia Gazette, perhaps it is beneficial that the methodology forces their inclusion in the project. Otherwise, it might be tempting to turn almost exclusively to newspapers published in the largest and busiest port cities, newspapers that overflowed with advertising. Some particular newspapers may be overrepresented in the project, but overall their inclusion insures a balance between newspapers published in major ports and their counterparts in smaller towns.