February 6

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

Providence Gazette (February 6, 1773).

Advertisements omitted will be in our next.”

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, did not publish many advertisements in the February 6, 1773, edition of his newspaper, despite usually reserving a page or more for that kind of content.  The third page featured six brief advertisements that accounted for less than half a column and a longer notice about the benefits of “building a Bridge, across Seaconk River, between the Towns of Providence and Rehoboth.”  Having published many advertisements for his own projects, including the New-England Almanack for 1773 and subscription proposals for English Liberties, or, The Free-born Subject’s Inheritance, in recent issues, the printer did not include any of his own notices among the half dozen that made it into the February 6 edition.  He likely did not want to upset paying customers by giving space to his own advertisements over those they paid him to publish.  A short note appeared after those advertisements that did appear: “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.”  Carter alerted readers to additional content while also assuring advertisers that the newspaper would indeed disseminate their notices in the near future.

The note about the advertisements was one of several that gave directions and helped readers navigate that issue of the Providence Gazette.  Carter devoted most of the issue to a response to a speech that Thomas Hutchinson, governor of Massachusetts, recently delivered.  That response occupied the entire first page.  A note at the bottom of the third column instructed readers to “[See the Fourth Page.]”  The response filled most of that page.  Carter inserted another response, the one that spurred Isaiah Thomas to publish an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Spy on January 29, midway through the third column.  At the bottom, another note directed readers to “[See the Second Page.]”  That response filled the entire second page and continued onto the third page, but readers did not need additional directions to follow the flow.  That item did not conclude on the third page.  Instead, Carter inserted a note, “[The Remainder in our next.],” and provided brief news updates from New York, Newport, and Providence as well as the public service announcement about the proposed bridge and the six brief advertisements.  Carter provided a substantial amount of news from Massachusetts, but also created a cliffhanger to encourage readers to peruse the next issue.

What explained the strange format and all the jumping from page to page required to make sense of the content in that edition of the Providence Gazette?  Carter, like other printers, published a newspaper that consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Printers usually set the type and printed the first and fourth pages on one side, let the ink dry while they set the type for the second and third pages, and then printed those last two pages.  That process explains why the news began on the first page, continued on fourth page, moved back to the second page, and continued once again on the third page.  It also explains why so many notes giving directions to readers appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette.

Although printers depended on advertising revenue to make newspapers viable, they sometimes opted to temporarily delay publication of some notices.  Such was the case when Carter received news that he considered important enough to displace most advertisements for a week.  Patriots in Massachusetts making their case in favor of the liberties of colonizers in opposition to the abuses of Parliament, Carter concluded, justified delaying publication of some advertisements by a week.

January 30

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

Providence Gazette (January 30, 1773).

“The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1773.”

By the end of January 1773, it was a familiar advertisement to readers who regularly perused the Providence Gazette.  John Carter once again promoted the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1773,” though it was not “Just PUBLISHED” as the advertisement purported.  Instead, Carter, the printer of both the newspaper and the almanac, sought to sell surplus copies and achieve a better return on his investment.  With each passing day, portions of the almanac, especially the “astronomical Calculations,” became obsolete.

Carter announced the imminent publication of the almanac in the October 24, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, treating it as a news item, following immediately after an update about the Gaspee incident, rather than an advertisement.  A week later, the advertisement that ran in late January appeared for the first time (with a brief note about the price staying the same as the previous year despite “valuable Improvements” that made the almanac “a Quarter Part larger than usual”).  Carter gave it a privileged place, first among the advertisements.  A week later, he gave it even more prominence, the first item in the first column on the first page of the November 7 edition.  That made it difficult for readers to miss it.

In subsequent weeks, the advertisement moved around among the paid notices that ran in the Providence Gazette.  When it appeared in the January 30, 1773, edition, Carter once again attempted to direct attention to it via its placement in the first column on the first page.  Only one item appeared before it, a public service announcement about an upcoming meeting “to consider of some Method for erecting and building a Bridge from the Town of Providence (across the Lower Ferry) to the Town of Rehoboth.”  In this instance, Carter did not place his own interest in selling the remaining copies of the almanac ahead of all other items in his newspaper, but he did give it priority by having the announcement about an important public works project flow into his advertisement for the New-England Almanack.

December 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 18, 1772).

“PROPOSALS for Re-printing by Subscription, ENGLISH LIBERTIES.”

In the first week of November in 1772, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, issued a proposal for “Re-printing by Subscription, ENGLISH LIBERTIES, OR, The free-born Subject’s INHERITANCE,” a volume “Compiled first by HENRY CARE, and continued with large Additions, by WILLIAM NELSON, of the Middle Temple, Esq.”  The contents of the book included the “Magna Charta, or the Great Charter of English Liberties,” “a short History of the Succession, not by any hereditary Right,” “a Declaration of the Liberties of the Subject, and of the Oath of Allegiance and Supremacy,” and other essays.

Carter inserted the subscription proposal in the Providence Gazette, sometimes placing it on the front page to give it greater prominence.  Except for notices about goods and services available at his printing office, advertisements appeared on the final pages of that newspaper.  Carter also arranged to have the subscription proposal published in other newspapers in New England, including in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The proposal stated that ‘SUBSCRIPTIONS are received by JOHN CARTER, the Publisher, and by T. and J. FLEET,” printers of the Boston Evening-Post, as well as “by a Number of Gentlemen in the neighbouring Towns and Governments, to whom Subscription Papers are sent.”  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, likely had subscription proposals, either broadsides posted in their office or handbills to distribute to customers, and collected names of those who wished to reserve copies of the book.

In the proposal, Carter advised that he would not take the work to press without first knowing that he had generated sufficient interest to make it a viable venture.  “As soon as the Names and Residences of 500 Subscribers are collected,” he declared, “the Work will be immediately put to the Press, & compleated with all Expedition.”  It apparently took some time for Carter to convince that many consumers to subscribe to the project.  Unlike many books advertised via subscription proposal, however, he was eventually successful, publishing English Liberties more than a year later in 1774.  True to his word, Carter included a list of subscribers, six pages at the end of the book.  The “Friends of Libertyand useful Knowledge” that the printer addressed in the subscription notice could see their names listed among other “Friends of Liberty and useful Knowledge.”

December 5

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

Providence Gazette (December 5, 1772).

“The PRINTING and POST-OFFICES are removed to Meeting-Street.”

John Carter’s printing office had a new location.  In early December 1772, the printer of the Providence Gazette moved from his location “in King-Street, opposite the Court-House” to a new location “in Meeting-Street, near the Court-House.”  The colophon in the November 28 edition listed the former address.  Carter updated the colophon in the December 5 edition.

That was not his only means for letting readers know that the printing office moved.  He also inserted a notice that stated, “The PRINTING and POST-OFFICES are removed to Meeting-Street, nearly opposite the Friends Meeting-House.”  To draw attention to it, Carter enclosed the notice within a border made of decorative type and gave it a prominent spot on the front page.  It was the first item in the first column, making it difficult for readers to miss it, even if they only skimmed other content in that issue.  That strategy was not new to Carter.  The printing office previously “removed to a new Building on the main Street” in October 1771.  At that time, Carter published an announcement enclosed within on a border as the first item on the first page of the October 12 edition.  He also revised the colophon to reflect the new location.

Other elements remained the same.  Carter continued to use a sign depicting “Shakespear’s Head” to identify the printing office.  Colonizers still encountered it as they traversed the streets of Providence, a familiar sight in the commercial landscape of the city.  The printer also continued to promote other services in the colophon, advising that “all Manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition” at his office.  In particular, “Hand-Bills … done in a neat and correct Manner, at a very short Notice, and on reasonable Terms.”

Carter placed a subscription proposal for an edition of “ENGLISH LIBERTIES, OR The free-born Subject’s INHERITANCE” below the notice about the new location.  In the previous issue, that subscription proposal and an advertisement for the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK” that Carter published and sold appeared on the front page.  As usual, all other advertisements ran on the final pages.  Carter exercised his prerogative as printer to give his own notices prime spots in the newspaper.

November 7

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

Providence Gazette (November 7, 1772).

“Just PUBLISHED … The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

The advertising campaign for the 1773 edition of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY” continued in the November 7, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The author, Benjamin West, and the printer, John Carter, both sold copies, as did Thurber and Cahoon at the Bunch of Grapes on Constitution Street.

Marketing efforts in the public prints began two weeks earlier.  Carter, who also happened to be the printer of the Providence Gazette, included an announcement among the news to inform prospective customers that “WEST’s ALMANACK … is now in the Press, and will be speedily published by the Printer hereof.”  He nestled it between an update about the Gaspee incident, the burning of a British customs schooner near Warwick, Rhode Island, in June, and shipping news from the customs house.  Exercising his discretion as printer, Carter treated the impending publication of the almanac as news.  The following week, he placed an advertisement for the almanac first among the advertisements, increasing the chances that readers interested only in news would at least glimpse it even if they did not peruse other advertising.

Carter increased the likelihood that readers would see the advertisement when he moved it to the front page on November 7.  It appeared as the first item in the first column, immediately below the masthead.  Readers could not help but notice it.  Carter usually reserved advertising for the final pages of the Providence Gazette.  Except for his own notice about the almanac, he did so again.  All of the other advertisements in that issue ran on the last two pages.

Printing almanacs was often a very lucrative venture for colonial American printers.  Carter sought to generate as much revenue as possible for the New-England Almanack by placing advertisements in prime places in his newspaper.  The imprint on the title page indicated that Carter sold the almanac “wholesale and retail.”  He intended for his message to reach shopkeepers as well as consumers.  His newspaper notices facilitated distribution to retailers in Providence and the surrounding area as well as individual sales.  Thurber and Cahoon already included “WEST’s ALMANACK” in the list of merchandise available at their store.  Carter likely desired that others would acquire copies to sell at their own locations.

October 31

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

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).

“Just PUBLISHED … The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

In advance of having copies of the “The NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, Or Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1773” available for sale, John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, inserted an announcement among the local news to inform prospective customers that the almanac “is now in the Press, and will be speedily published.”  The following week, he once again exercised his power as printer to give an advertisement for the almanac a privileged place in the newspaper.  It ran first among the advertisements in the October 31, 1772, edition.  Even if readers did not peruse all of the advertisements, they likely noticed the one about the almanac that immediately followed the news.  In subsequent issues, Carter placed the advertisement among the paid notices, but the first time it appeared it occupied a prime place on the page.

Prospective customers would have been familiar with the New-England Almanack, written by West.  The astronomer and mathematician had a decade of experience authoring the almanac and collaborating with the printers of the Providence Gazette in marketing and selling it.  As the newspaper changed hands over the years, the new printers continued publishing both the Providence Gazette and the New-England Almanack, augmenting their revenue by doing so.  For the 1773 edition of the almanac, Carter and West declared that it included “Some valuable Improvements” and “is a Quarter Part larger than usual, but the Price is not advanced.”  For the same price they paid the previous year, customers could acquire an almanac that contained thirty-two pages rather than twenty-four, certainly a bargain.

Providence Gazette (October 31, 1772).

In addition to the notice placed “by the Printer hereof, and by the Author,” the New-England Almanack received attention in another advertisement the first week it was available for sale.  Thurber and Cahoon ran a lengthy advertisement that listed scores of items available at their shop at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.  They included “WEST’s ALMANACKS” among the books in the final paragraph.  That item appeared in all capitals, distinguishing it from the rest of the merchandise mentioned in the advertisement.  Did Thurber and Cahoon arrange to have the almanac highlighted in their advertisement in hopes of benefitting from retail sales?  Or did Carter make the intervention in their advertisement, recognizing any sales of the almanac as beneficial to his bottom line?  Either way, the advertisement suggests that Carter and West quickly distributed the almanac to retailers to increase sales.  As soon as it came off the press, consumers could purchase the almanac at several locations in Providence.

October 24

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

Providence Gazette (October 24, 1772).

“WEST’s ALMANACK … is now in the Press.”

Where advertisements appeared in colonial newspapers varied from publication.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, placing news items on the front and interior pages.  Others placed advertisements on the first and last pages since those were the first pages printed when producing a standard four-page edition.  Advertisements, which often repeated for multiple weeks, could be set in type and printed first, saving the second and third pages for the latest news that arrived in the printing office.  In some instances, printers distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing paid notices in the rightmost column on each page.

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, consistently placed advertising at the end of the newspaper.  Paid notices usually filled the final page, though sometimes news items ran in the upper left corner.  The third page often had advertising that appeared to the right of the news.  In general, Carter printed news and editorials in the first two pages.

That made the placement of an announcement about “WEST’s ALMANACK, for the Year of our Lord 1773, with some valuable Improvements and Additions” all the more noteworthy for its placement in the October 24, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Rather than appearing among the advertisements or even as the first of the advertisements, the notice ran on the third page, immediately below local news from Providence and above shipping news from the customs house, a regular news feature.  The first advertisements in the issue appeared lower in the column.  The notice about the almanac, authored by Benjamin West in an annual collaboration with the printer of the Providence Gazette, declared that it was “now in the Press, and will be speedily published by the Printer hereof.”  The notice appeared in larger type than the news above and below it, helping to draw attention to it.

Given his interest in the success of the almanac, Carter treated the notice about its publication as a news item.  In so doing, he exercised his prerogative as the printer of the newspaper to give the notice a privileged place, separate from other advertisements.  The following week, Carter inserted an advertisement to inform prospective customers that he “Just PUBLISHED” the almanac, placing it first among the advertisement in that issue.  In both his initial effort to incite interest and his subsequent attempt to market the almanac, Carter took advantage of his access to the press to increase the likelihood that consumers saw his notices.

August 15

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

Providence Gazette (August 15, 1772).

“Such as are indebted to the Printer for advertising … are requested to discharge their Accounts.”

In the colophon that appeared at the bottom of the final page of each issue of the Providence Gazette, John Carter offered a variety of services, asserting that “all Manner of Printing-Work is performed with Care and Expedition” in his printing office and “Hand-Bills in particular done in a neat and correct Manner, at a very short Notice, and on reasonable Terms.”  Even as he attempted to generate new business, he inserted notices calling on customers to pay their bills.  Throughout the colonies, newspaper printers regularly placed such notices after extending credit to subscribers and other customers.  Some subscribers fell years behind on settling accounts, but they were not alone in failing to make payment to printers.

In a notice in the August 15, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, Carter declared that “THE Subscribers to this Gazette, who are one or more Years in Arrear, likewise such as are indebted to the Printer for advertising, or in any other Manner (particularly those who have been repeatedly called on) are requested to discharge their Accounts, that he may be enabled to pay his own Debts.”  This notice merits particular attention because Carter included advertising among the unpaid bills.  Similar notices usually addressed subscribers as well as customers who engaged other services, but they did not identify advertising as one of those services.  That suggests that printers did not allow credit for advertising, choosing instead to build their subscription lists via extensive credit while generating significant revenue from advertisers who paid in advance.  That was indeed the practice adopted by some colonial printers.  It was even Carter’s policy at one point.  In February 1771, the colophon for the Providence Gazette advised readers that “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings.”  That line subsequently disappeared from the colophon and Carter apparently accepted advertisements without “the Pay.”  Other printers experienced similar difficulties with overdue payments for advertising, including the printers of the Connecticut Courant, the Connecticut Journal, and the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even if most printers did demand payment for advertisements before running them in their newspapers, that does not seem to have been a practice adopted universally in colonial America.

June 13

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

Providence Gazette (June 13, 1772).

“BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE.”

John Carter exercised his prerogative as printer of the Providence Gazette in placing an advertisement for “BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE” immediately below the governor Joseph Wanton’s proclamation about the Gaspee Affair.  The Gaspee, a British schooner that enforced the Navigation Acts in Rhode Island, ran aground near Warwick while pursuing another vessel on June 9, 1772.  Colonizers boarded and burned the ship.  For several years, colonizers in Rhode Island and other colonies protested against increased British regulation of trade and Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes via the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  The Boston Massacre in March 1770 intensified tensions.  Although colonizers had not yet determined to declare independence, the Gaspee Affair became significant for deploying violence in resistance to the crown’s authority.  The Boston Tea Party, more famous today, occurred more than a year after the burning of the Gaspee.

Just four days after that event, the Providence Gazette carried Wanton’s proclamation.  Many colonizers likely already heard what happened, but the weekly newspaper offered an opportunity to examine the governor’s account and his response.  Wanton stated that “a Number of People, unknown, boarded his Majesty’s armed Schooner the Gaspee[,] … dangerously wounded Lieutenant William Dudingston, the Commander, and by Force took him, with all his People, put them into Boats, … and afterwards set Fire to the said Schooner, whereby she was entirely destroyed.”  Wanton called on “His Majesty’s Officers” in Rhode Island, “both Civil and Military, to exert themselves, with the utmost Vigilance, to discover and apprehend the Persons guilty of the aforesaid atrocious Crime.”  He also offered a reward to anyone “who shall discover the Perpetrators of the said Villainy.”  Finally, Wanton commanded “the several Sheriffs in the said colony” to post the proclamation “in the most public Places in each of their Towns in their respective Counties.”

Readers of the Providence Gazette likely encountered the proclamation there before it appeared on broadsides posted in their towns.  As breaking news, it may have attracted more attention than many other items that appeared elsewhere in the issue.  Anticipating that would be the case, Carter made a savvy decision to place his own advertisement immediately after the proclamation, increasing the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of it.

February 1

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

Providence Gazette (February 1, 1772).

“He does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.”

It was a familiar refrain.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, called on subscribers to pay their bills, echoing notices that printers throughout the colonies regularly inserted in their own newspapers.  He appealed to reason, but also threatened legal action.  In the process, he provided an overview of his persistent attempts to convince subscribers to settle their accounts.

Carter reported that the “Ninth of November closed the Year with most of the Subscribers to this Gazette.”  That milestone made it a good time to make payments, but nearly three months later “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.”  Carter had already attempted to collect, noting that he “repeatedly called on” subscribers “by Advertisements,” but they “still neglect settling their Accounts, to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.”  He suggested that continuing to publish the Providence Gazette depended on subscribers paying what they owed.  So many of them were so delinquent that Carter claimed that he “does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.”  Subscriptions, however, were not the only source of revenue for Carter or any other printer.  Advertising also generated revenues, often making newspapers profitable (or at least viable) ventures.

The printer hoped that subscribers would feel some sympathy about the costs he incurred, but he also determined, “reluctantly … and with the utmost Pain,” to sue those who still refused to pay.  Carter lamented that “he finds himself compelled to acquaint ALL such, that their Accounts must and will be put in Suit, if not very speedily discharged.” Despite his exasperation and emphasizing that he felt “compelled” to pursue such a course, Carter likely never initiated any suits.  Printers frequently made such threats, but rarely alienated subscribers by following through on them.  After all, selling advertising depended in part on circulation numbers.  Printers realized they had the potential to come out ahead on advertisements even if they took a loss on subscriptions.