December 17

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

Providence Gazette (December 17, 1768).

A NEW EDITION. … THE New-England TOWN and COUNTRY Almanack.”

With only two weeks remaining before the new year, John Carter placed the most extensive advertisement yet for the New-England Town and Country Almanack … for the Year of our Lord 1769 in the December 17, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. It filled an entire column. Carter and his former partner, Sarah Goddard, had previously advertised the almanac, commencing their promotional campaign in the final week of August with a notice that was almost as lengthy. Just a few weeks later they ran an updated advertisement announcing that they had published a second edition, implying significant demand for the New-England Town and Country Almanack. Their advertising efforts tapered off as fall continued.

Perhaps other concerns, especially Goddard’s retirement, the dissolution of their partnership, and Carter assuming sole responsibility for the Providence Gazette and the other operations of the printing office, took precedence over advertising an almanac that may have been selling quite well already. After all, this advertisement, even more extensive than any previous notice, proclaimed, “A NEW EDITION. Just PUBLISHED.” Steady demand may have prompted Carter to take the almanac to press once again, but he hedged his bets by making sure that readers of the Providence Gazette were aware that they could purchase it “Wholesale and Retail” at the printing office or from “the several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.” For the past five weeks Carter ran his address “To the PUBLIC” in the newspapers that he now operated on his own. Publishing and promoting a new edition of the New-England Town and Country Almanack signaled that the transition had concluded.

The transition to sole proprietorship of the Providence Gazette and the printing office did not, however, lead to new strategies for marketing the almanac. Carter’s advertisement reiterated many of the appeals made in earlier notices, including lengthy descriptions of the contents to convince prospective customers of the almanac’s value. He once again emphasized the frontispiece, “a Portrait of the celebrated JOHN WILKES, Esq; engraved from an original Painting,” expecting that the portrait and “some Anecdotes of that most extraordinary Personage,” a defender of American liberties, would resonate with colonists. He did conclude with a new offer: “A considerable Allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” Such discounts were standard, but worth underscoring now that Carter had “A NEW EDITION” and only two weeks before the new year.

Almanacs were big business for colonial printers, comprising an important revenue stream. The potential profits may have convinced Carter to issue one more edition of the New-England Town and Country Almanack in hopes of getting his new enterprise off to a successful start. To that end, he devoted significant space in his own newspaper to promoting the almanac, filling an entire column that otherwise would have contained news content or paid notices. Doing so signaled his willingness to take reasonable risks and, ultimately, his confidence in operating the printing office as the sole proprietor.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:26:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 26, 1768).

“The GAZETTE is daily receiving an additional Number of Subscribers.”

John Carter became the sole proprietor of the Providence Gazette upon the retirement of his partner, Sarah Goddard, in November 1768. He immediately inserted an editorial note to that effect as the first item of the first page in the November 12 edition. His notice “To the PUBLIC,” however, functioned as more than a mere announcement. It also marketed the newspaper to readers, encouraging current subscribers to continue patronizing the publication and all readers to support the various enterprises undertaken at the printing office. Carter stated that he had purchased the “compleat and elegant Assortment of Types, and other Printing Materials.” He stood ready to pursue the printing trade “in all its various Branches,” including publishing the Providence Gazette. Carter promised “that no Consideration whatever shall induce him, in the Course of his Publications, to depart from the Principles of Rectitude and Honour.” He touted himself as an “impartial Printer” who provided a valuable public service to the entire colony.

Carter apparently considered his notice as much an advertisement as an editorial. Had it been an editorial he would have inserted it once and then discontinued it in favor of other content. He did, after all, promote the Providence Gazette as “a regular weekly Communication of the freshest and most interesting Intelligence.” Yet Carter published “Intelligence” that included news items, editorial content, and advertisements, including his own. His notice ran in five consecutive issues, not unlike paid advertisements contracted by other colonists. For regular readers of the Providence Gazette, it would have become as familiar as advertisements placed by Samuel Chace or Joseph Bucklin and Company. In subsequent issues it moved from the front page to the third or fourth page. No longer did it appear alongside news items exclusively. In most instances both news and advertising were featured on the same page as Carter’s notice, but at the end of its run it did appear on a page otherwise devoted entirely to advertising. The placement within each issue testifies to the various purposes Carter intended for his address “To the PUBLIC.”

November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:12:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 12, 1768).

“To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE.”

When John Carter assumed control of the Providence Gazette as the sole publisher on November 12, 1768, the colophon dropped Sarah Goddard’s name and slightly revised the description of services available at the printing office. “Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper.” Carter added articles, indicated his willingness to accept news items from readers and others beyond the network of printers and correspondents that previously supplied content for the newspaper. In addition, he expanded on the previous description of the printing work done at the office. Where Goddard and Carter had proclaimed that they did job printing “with Care and Expedition,” Carter now stated that he did that work “in a neat and correct manner, with Fidelity and Expedition.” This may not have been commentary on work previously produced at the printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” but rather assurances that Carter took his new responsibilities seriously now that the partnership with Goddard had been dissolved and he alone ran the printing office.

In addition to updating the colophon, Carter placed a notice “To the PUBLIC” on the first page of his inaugural issue. He offered a brief history of the Providence Gazette following its revival after the repeal of the Stamp Act, an expensive undertaking given that the newspaper had difficulty attracting sufficient subscribers. He thanked those friends, subscribers, and employers who had supported the Providence Gazette and the printing office over the years, but also pledged “that nothing shall ever be wanting, on his Part, to merit a Continuance of their Approbation.”

Carter also took the opportunity to assert the primary purpose of the newspaper, the principle that justified its continuation even when expenses overwhelmed revenues. “To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty,” Carter trumpeted, “and the inestimable Blessings derived from thence to Mankind … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE: This, with whatever else may contribute to the Welfare of America, in general, or the Colony of Rhode-Island in particular, will continue to be the principal Ends which it is intended to promote.” Carter further indicated that the newspaper daily increased its number of subscribers, suggesting that readers in Providence and beyond endorsed its purpose and recognized the necessity of a newspaper that kept them apprised of current events and attempts to inhibit the liberty of the colonists. Although it took the form of an editorial, Carter’s address to the public was also an advertisement intended to boost his business. He leveraged politics and patriotism in his effort to increase readership of the Providence Gazette, arguing that the press played a vital role in maintaining liberty.

November 5

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

Nov 5 - 11:5:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 5, 1768).

“Sentiments of Gratitude to the Subscribers for the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE.”

The colophon of the Providence Gazette read “Printed by SARAH GODDARD, and JOHN CARTER, at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” for the last time on November 5, 1768. For over two years Sarah Goddard had been the publisher of the Providence Gazette, ever since it recommenced in August 1766 following the repeal of the Stamp Act. It had not been the Stamp Act, however, that caused the newspaper’s suspension. Instead, insufficient subscribers prompted William, Sarah’s son and the original publisher of the Providence Gazette, to suspend the newspaper in May 1765. He hoped that local readers would so miss the publication that enough would subscribe in order to revive it in six months. Then the Stamp Act made doing so prohibitively expensive. Once that legislation had been repealed and sufficient subscribers had pledged to support the newspaper, the Providence Gazette returned, but now published by Sarah rather than William. For approximately a year the colophon listed “SARAH GODDARD, and Company” as the printers, before Carter’s name replaced “and Company.”

On the occasion of her retirement, Goddard inserted a farewell address after the news and before the paid notices in her final issue as publisher. It served as an announcement, a note of appreciation, and a promotion of the continued publication of the Providence Gazette under the direction of Carter. She planned to relocate to Philadelphia, where William published the Pennsylvania Chronicle, though she would have been content “to have passed the Remainder of her Days in a Town where she has so many Friends and Acquaintance, for whom she entertains the highest Regard, and from whom she has received many Favours and Civilities.” Only the “more endearing Ties of Nature which exist between a Parent and an only Son” motivated her to leave Providence.

As she prepared for her departure, Goddard recognized both the subscribers and Carter for everything they had done, each in their own way, to make the Providence Gazette into a successful venture. For the subscribers and “all who have kindly favoured the [Printing] Office with their business” (including advertisers), she “acknowledges herself peculiarly obligated.” She then endorsed Carter, encouraging readers to continue their patronage of the newspaper now that he took the helm alone. She proclaimed that it was due to his “Diligence and Care” that “the GAZETTE has arrived to its present Degree of Reputation.” Combining her affection for the readers and her support for her successor, Goddard “takes the Liberty to request a Continuance of the public Favour in his behalf, which will be considered as an additional Mark of their Esteem conferred on her.”

Goddard’s notice served multiple purposes in the final issue of the Providence Gazette that bore her name as printer and publisher. It was simultaneously a news item, an editorial, and an advertisement. In fulfilling each of those functions, it promoted print culture to the residents of Providence and beyond.

October 29

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

Oct 29 - 10:29:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 29, 1768).

Weatherwise’s ALMANACK, For the Year 1769, To be Sold by the Printers hereof.”

During the fall of 1768 printers throughout the colonies participated in an annual ritual: advertising new almanacs for the coming year. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers of the Providence Gazette, got an early start that year. They first advertised Abraham Weatherwise’s “N. England Town and Country Almanack” at the end of August. That advertisement extended nearly three-quarters of a column and advanced several appeals to prospective customers.

It ran for just two weeks before Goddard and Carter replaced it with a different advertisement of a similar length. This one focused on various aspects of the contents, including “a beautiful poetical Essay on Public Spirit, wrote by an American Patriot,” “a Table of Roads,” and “Bearings of different Places from the Rhode-Island Light-House, with Directions for entering the Port of New-London, very serviceable to Navigators, more particularly to those unacquainted with the Coast.” The notice concluded with some comments on its brisk sales so far: “The first Impression of Weaterwise’s Almanack, through the Encouragement of the Public, having met with a Sale far exceeding the Printers most sanguine Expectations, they were nearly all disposed of before several large Orders from our Country Friends came to Hand; but as another Edition will be published on Monday, they may depend on having their Orders immediately completed.” The following week Goddard and Carter updated that advertisement, eliminating the final paragraph and adding a bold new headline proclaiming that they had “Just PUBLISHED” a “SECOND EDITION.” Weatherwise’s almanac was popular, or so the printers wanted it to seem.

Over the next several weeks Goddard and Carter irregularly inserted that advertisement. It appeared in some issues, but not in others. Perhaps other content sometimes crowded out the lengthy notice. At the end of October, the printers shifted to yet another advertisement, this time resorting to a notice of only three lines: “Weatherwise’s ALMANACK, / For the Year 1769, / To be Sold by the Printers hereof.” Like other short advertisements place by printers, this one likely served two purposes. It complete a column that otherwise did not have sufficient content while also promoting a product that generated revenues beyond the newspaper’s subscription and advertising fees. Goddard and Carter had already committed significant space to marketing the almanac to readers of the Providence Gazette. This brief advertisement reminded prospective customers who had not yet purchased copies of their availability without occupying as much space as other notices had in previous issues.

September 17

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

Sep 17 - 9:17:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 17, 1768).

“SECOND EDITION … New-England TOWN and COUNTRY Almanack.”

Sarah Goddard and John Carter began advertising the New-England Town and Country Almanack … for the Year of our Lord 1769 in the Providence Gazette in late August 1768, allowing readers a little more than three months to acquire a copy before the new year commenced. Just three weeks later they inserted a substantially revised advertisement to announce that they had “Just PUBLISHED” a “SECOND EDITION.” Either the initial notice had been quite effective and the printers decided they needed to issue a second edition to continue to meet popular demand or they calculated that an advertisement about a second edition would incite demand that had not yet manifested.

In addition to selling the almanac both “Wholesale and Retail” at their printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, Goddard and Carter had several agents who peddled it on their behalf, including “the several Gentlemen Merchants of Providence and Newport, and Mr. SOLOMON SOUTHWICK, Printer in Newport.” Goddard and Carter may have sold enough copies and received indications of the almanac’s success from their agents that they quickly decided to issue a second edition. The original advertisement extended three-quarters of a column and advanced several appeals, including one that addressed the current political and economic climate in Rhode Island in particular and the colonies more generally. The advertisement stressed that both the contents and the paper qualified as “domestic manufactures,” drawing on public discourse about the surplus of imported goods that created a trade imbalance with Britain.

That advertisement may have yielded substantial sales of the almanac, especially if Goddard and Carter had been conservative in the number they printed for the first edition. On the other hand, they may have planned from the start to advertise a second edition shortly after promoting the first edition. Doing so would have made the New-England Town and Country Almanack appear especially popular, prompting prospective customers to obtain their own copies now that they were aware of the approval it had received from other consumers.

The new advertisement occupied approximately two-thirds of a column, but it attempted to stimulate demand with new copy. In particular, the advertisement for the second edition focused on the contents other than the astronomical calculations. Like the previous advertisement, it emphasized politics, leading with a description of “a beautiful poetical Essay on Public Spirit, wrote by an American Patriot” and concluding with a description of “a Portrait of the celebrated Mr. WILKES, engraved from an original Painting; to which is prefixed, some Anecdotes of that most extraordinary personage.” The advertisement also included two rhyming couplets devoted to John Wilkes, a radical journalist and politician in England who inspired the colonists in their own acts of resistance in the face of abuses by Parliament. Goddard and Carter devoted nearly half of the page to reprinting a letter by Wilkes. The advertisement for the almanac immediately followed that news item. The printers apparently expected readers to make connections between the two.

The middle of September may have seemed exceptionally early to advertise a second edition of an almanac for the coming year, especially considering that the printers in many American towns and cities had not yet even begun to advertise almanacs. Given that Goddard and Carter faced particularly stiff competition from printers in the Boston, they may have devised a scheme intended to establish their position in the marketplace before other almanacs became available.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 3, 1768).

“We have a sensible Pleasure in finding, that our weekly Publications, have hitherto afforded general and entire Satisfaction.”

With the exception of two extraordinary issues (extras) published on August 24, 1765, and March 12, 1766, the Providence Gazette went on hiatus between May 11, 1765, and August 9, 1766. Some of this period coincided with the Stamp Act, but other factors played a role as well. The Providence Gazette halted publication nearly six months before the Stamp Act went into effect and did not resume until a couple of months after colonists learned that it had been repealed. When Sarah Goddard and Company revived the Providence Gazette they explained that “the Procrastination of a weekly Paper in this Town, was unavoidably owing to the inadequate Number of Subscribers to carry it on with Credit, and to defray the necessary Charges that will always attend such an Undertaking.” By early August 1766 they had enough subscribers to risk printing weekly issues once again, thus offering an important service to the public. As they explained in an address in the first issue upon commencing publication once again, “the Productions of the Press have ever been esteemed one of the principal Means of defending the glorious Cause of Liberty.”

A year later, Sarah Goddard and Company inserted a short notice to “inform their candid Readers, this this Week’s Paper compleats the Year since the PROVIDENCE GAZTTE, &c. was revived.” They encouraged subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts, but also invited the further “Encouragement” of those who understood the importance of a having a newspaper published in Providence. A year later, the publishers – now Sarah Goddard and John Carter – composed a lengthier acknowledgment that ran for several weeks. Rather than merely calling on readers to pay their bills, Goddard and Carter had three purposes. First, they thanked their “Friends” who had “patronized and endeavoured to promote the Success of this Paper.” Then they pledged to continue serving the public in general and their readers in particular by further improving upon a newspaper that had “hitherto afforded general and entire Satisfaction.” They vowed that “no Pains or Expence shall be spared,” but they also requested “the Assistance of Gentlemen of Learning and Ingenuity.” The usefulness of the Providence Gazette to all readers depended on the publishers’ ability to acquire interesting and timely content to better inform the public. Goddard and Carter invited readers to become correspondents who submitted items for publication. Only after expressing their gratitude for past favors and their plans for further improvements did Goddard and Carter turn to settling accounts. In so doing, they underscored that their ability to serve the public depended on debtors paying their bills.

Many eighteenth-century printers inserted similar notices alongside other advertisements that appeared in their publications. They called for payment, but argued that readers, advertisers, and others also performed a service to the public when they settled accounts. Such transactions were not strictly a private matter. Instead, they had repercussions that reverberated throughout the community, determining whether or not a newspaper continued publication and pursuing its mission to keep the public informed and vigilant.

March 27

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

Mar 27 - 3:26:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 26, 1768).

“To be Sold at the Printing-Office, in Providence, A VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books.”

Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, included an advertisement for their services in every issue of their newspaper. The colophon at the bottom of the final page did not list merely the particulars of publication, that the newspaper was “Printed by SARAH GODDARD, and JOHN CARTER, at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head.” Instead, the colophon also advised readers that “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence, are received for this Paper” and “all Manner of PRINTING WORK is performed, with Care and Expedition.” In adopting this method to market their services as job printers, Goddard and Carter became the most consistent advertisers in their own newspaper.

The partners did not, however, limit their advertising to the space reserved for them in the colophon. Like other colonial printers, they sometimes asserted their privileges as publishers to insert their own advertisements among the paid notices submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other colonists. In some cases, printers likely devised short advertisements out of necessity to fill pages that fell short of content. Whatever their reasons, Goddard and Carter inserted their own notice in the lower right corner on the third page of the March 26, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. In it, they promoted a “VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books, among which are, the West-India Pilot, Mariner’s Compass, Calendar, and Daily Assistant.”

Often colonial printers cultivated multiple revenue streams by simultaneously working as booksellers and stationers. Yet Goddard and Carter stocked goods beyond paper, ink, and other accouterments for writing. Their advertisement listed navigation equipment, such as “Hadley’s and Davis’s best Quadrants, and a Variety of the best Gunter Scales and Dividers.” They carefully paired the specific titles they named in the first portion of their advertisement with some of the useful or necessary tools in the second, alerting prospective customers that they could conveniently acquire both reference works and equipment without visiting multiple shops.

Today’s advertisement and the colophon for each edition of the Providence Gazette reveal that “the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in Providence was a bustling place. Goddard and Carter did far more than edit and publish the local newspaper. They also earned their living and served the local community via job printing and selling books and navigation equipment. Like printers in other cities and towns, their printing office was a nexus for a variety of activities folded into a single enterprise.

March 10

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

Mar 10 - 3:10:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (March 10, 1768).
“SAGATHIES, duroys, grandurells.”

In March 1768, John Carter advertised dozens of items in stock at his store in Williamsburg, placing identical notices in the Virginia Gazette published by Alexander Purdie and John Dixon and the Virginia Gazette published by William Rind. His inventory included an array of textiles, among them “SAGATHIES, duroys, grandurells, … black silk satinet, black velverets, black and coloured jennets, silk damascus, … nankeen, India dimity, … [and] warpt and stript hollands.” The names of fabrics on this list seem incomprehensible to most twenty-first-century readers, but they would have been quite familiar to eighteenth-century readers and consumers throughout the British Atlantic world. Merchants and shopkeepers from New England to Georgia published similar lists in the advertisements they inserted in local newspapers.

Wholesalers and retailers distributed such lists with full confidence that their prospective customers understood this language of consumption. They knew that readers possessed such familiarity with imported textiles that they could make distinctions between, for instance, duroys and jennets, without needing additional explanation in the advertisements. They expected that consumers could assess the relative cost and quality of certain fabrics from the names alone. In turn, both sellers and prospective customers conceived of a hierarchy of textiles tied to the status of those who most often purchased or donned them. For example, they associated certain textiles, such as osnaburgs, with laboring and enslaved people, fully aware that middling sorts and the gentry had the means to avoid such coarse fabric.

Phrases like “blue cambrick handkerchiefs” and “yellow flowered serges for table covers” might not conjure particularly vivid images for modern readers, but they would have for the colonists who read Carter’s advertisement in the 1760s. Colonial consumers would have been able to imagine not only the appearance of these and other items but also how they felt to touch or to wear. This testifies to how actively colonists participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, acquiring both goods and knowledge of an extensive assortment of items available in the marketplace.

February 6

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

Feb 6 - 2:6:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 6, 1768).

“JUST PUBLISHED … THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

Despite the headline, Benjamin West’s “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1768” had not been “JUST PUBLISHED” when the advertisement appeared in the February 6, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. Marketing for the almanac commenced nearly four months earlier with a short notice in the October 17, 1767, issue. That notice briefly announced the almanac was “NOW IN THE PRESS, and speedily will be PUBLISHED.” The same notice ran again the following week before being replaced in the October 31 issue with a much more extensive advertisement. The new version ran exactly as it would appear for the next several months with the exception of the first line. The interim notice stated “On Saturday next will be Published” before being updated to “JUST PUBLISHED” in all subsequent advertisements. The notice in the February 6 issue had been inserted in the Providence Gazette regularly throughout November and December 1767 and January 1768.

Just like leaves changing color on trees, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs in colonial newspapers marked the arrival of fall, starting with just a few sporadically published in a couple of newspapers yet gradually increasing in number until just about every newspaper printed in the colonies featured advertisements for one or more almanacs by the time winter arrived. The frequency of such advertisements tapered off after the first of January, but they did not disappear immediately. Some printers continued to hawk surplus almanacs well into the new year, even as portions of the contents became obsolete with each passing week. In addition to the daily astronomical calculations, by early February the “neat TYPE of the solar Eclipse that will happen on the 19th of January” had already passed. Printers still attempted to generate as much revenue as possible by selling leftover almanacs to any customers they could attract.

Unlike modern merchandisers, however, they did not experiment with discounts that acknowledged that an almanac for 1768 did not have the same utility in early February that it possessed in late December. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers of the Providence Gazette, did not reduce the prices of their almanacs, at least not in their advertisements. They set a rate of “Two Shillings and Eightpence … per Dozen, or Fourpence single” in the fall and continued to list the same prices in February. Goddard and Carter aggressively marketed the almanac by extensively listing the contents and advertising it every week, but, like their counterparts throughout the colonies, they overlooked an opportunity for innovative pricing that later became standard practice when it came to merchandising calendars.