December 22

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

Providence Gazette (December 22, 1770).

“On Wednesday next will be Published … Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”

Advertisements for almanacs were ubiquitous in American newspapers in late December during the era of the American Revolution.  They began appearing in late summer or early fall, usually just brief announcements that printers planned to publish and start selling them within the coming weeks.  The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall and continued as winter officially arrived just before the end of the year.  Printers continued to advertise almanacs in January, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that cut into their revenues.  Advertisements tapered off in February and beyond, though some notices occasionally appeared well into the new year.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both that almanac and the Providence Gazette, were among the promoters of almanacs in the public prints in 1770.  They offered “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity.”  In other words, shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others received discounts for buying by volume, thus allowing them to charge competitive retail prices.

By the first day of winter, West and Carter had already been advertising the New-England Almanack for more than a month.  The advertisement that ran in the December 22 edition of the Providence Gazette likely looked familiar to readers, but the conclusion announced a new product that would soon be available for customers.  Within the next week, Carter planned to publish “Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”  This condensed version of the pamphlet organized the contents on a single broadsheet to hang on a wall in a home or office for easy reference.  West and Carter realized that consumers might have use for an almanac in a different format instead of or, even better, in addition to the standard pamphlet version.  Their decision to publish a sheet almanac presented customers with choices.  Waiting to publish the sheet almanack until just a week before the new year may have been a savvy decision when it came to customers who preferred that format but who already purchased the pamphlet version.  For printers of all sorts, including those who published newspapers, almanacs were an important source of revenue.  For Carter, that made introducing a sheet almanac just a week before the new year worth the risk.

November 17

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

Providence Gazette (November 17, 1770).

“A Collection of HYMNS for social Worship … By that eminent and illustrious Servant of Christ, the late Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the weeks after George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, printers, booksellers, and others supplied the grieving public with commemorative items that honored the memory of one of the most influential ministers associated with the religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  The commodification of Whitefield’s death was widespread.  Advertisements for broadsides and books appeared in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  As colonists joined together in mourning the minister, they also joined together to participate in a culture of consumption inspired by his death.

Garrat Noel, a bookseller in New York, advertised titles by Whitefield already in his inventory.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to turn a profit by reprinting Whitefield’s popular Collection of Hymns for Social Worship.  He inserted a subscription notice in the November 17 edition of the Providence Gazette, calling on prospective buyers to indicate their interest by “subscribing” for their own copies.  Subscription notices helped printers assess demand for proposed publications.  As Carter explained in his advertisement, “As soon as a Sufficiency of Subscriptions are obtained barely to defray the Charge of Printing, the Work will be prepared for the Press.”  If he did not attract enough subscribers then he would not lose money on the enterprise.  As a means of confirming their commitment, Carter asked subscribers to pay half “at subscribing” and the other half upon delivery.

Carter made several marketing appeals to entice subscribers to reserve their copies.  They should acquire it, he argued, as a means of religious edification.  “This valuable Work,” the printer stated, “forms of itself a Body of Divinity, and ought to be in the Hands of every Christian.”  Furthermore, it was a bargain.  The previous twelve editions printed in London sold for twice as much as Carter charged for his American edition.  If that was not reason enough, then prospective subscribers needed to take into account the politics of making this purchase.  Carter asserted that the hymnal would be printed on “good Paper, of the Manufacture of America,” rather than imported paper that had been subject to duties under the Townshend Acts until only very recently.  Subscribers could demonstrate their righteousness in honoring the memory of Whitefield while simultaneously encouraging domestic production that served as an alternative to relying on imported goods.

November 10

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

Providence Gazette (November 10, 1770).

“NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771.”

In eighteenth-century America, November was one of the most important months for marketing almanacs. Advertisements began appearing as early as August or September in some newspapers, but those were usually brief notices that printers planned to publish almanacs in the coming weeks or months.  More advertisements appeared with greater frequency in October, November, and December, many of them much more extensive than the earlier notices.  Those advertisements often included lists of the contents to convince prospective buyers that almanacs contained a variety of practical, educational, and entertaining items.  Sometimes they also featured excerpts taken from one of those features.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, ran a lengthy advertisement on November 10, 1770.  It extended more than half a column, much of that space filled with a list of its contents.  Practical entries included “High Water at Providence, and Differences of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent” and “Courts in the New England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method.”  The almanac also contained items intended to educate or entertain or both, such as “select Pieces of Poetry” and “an Essay on ASTROLOGY.”  A few verses appeared near the end of the advertisement, previewing what readers would encounter when they perused the almanac.  The astronomical calculations were “Fitted for the Latitude of PROVIDENCE,” but the almanac also included useful information for anyone venturing beyond the city, such as a “Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected, with the most noted Inns prefixed, for the Direction of Travellers.”

West and Carter aimed their advertisement at both consumers and retailers.  They promised “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity” or a discount for buying by volume.  They hoped to supply shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others with almanacs to sell to their own customers, further disseminating them beyond what the author and printer could accomplish by themselves.  The lengthy advertisement in the Providence Gazette also served the interests of those prospective retailers.  They did not need to post their own extensive advertisements to convince buyers of the benefits of acquiring this particular almanac but could instead advise customers that they carried the New England Almanack.  West and Carter already did much of the marketing for retailers gratis.

Readers of the Providence Gazette could expect to see similar advertisements throughout the remainder of November and into December and January before they tapered off in late winter.  Just as falling leaves marked the change of the season in New England, the appearance and length of newspaper advertisements for almanacs also signaled that fall had arrived and winter was on its way.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 25, 1770).

“ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof … are AGAIN requested to settle their respective Balances.”

In 1770, every issue of the Providence Gazette concluded with a colophon that informed readers that the newspaper was “Printed by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeares Head; where Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles, and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received.”  Like any other printer, Carter needed both subscribers and advertisers to make his newspaper a viable enterprise.  Subscribers constituted the foundation, but for many printers the real money was in advertising.  Neither the number of subscribers nor the number of advertisers mattered much, however, if they did not pay their bills.

Colonial printers frequently found it necessary to run notices calling on their customers to pay their debts.  Carter inserted such a notice into the August 25 edition of the Providence Gazette.  He proclaimed, “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, either for the Gazette, Advertisements, or in any other Manner, are AGAIN requested to settle their respective Balances, that he may be enabled to discharge his own Contracts.”  That “AGAIN” appeared in capital letters communicated Carter’s exasperation, which he further underscored in the process of threatening legal again.  “Those who pay as little Regard to this as they have done to many and repeated Notices of a like Nature,” he warned, “cannot reasonably expect any further Indulgence.”  He considered taking his customers to court “disagreeable” and a last resort, but something he was “compelled” to do under the circumstances.  Having taken a strident tone throughout the notice, Carter attempted to conclude on a positive note.  “[W]hile the Printer justly complains of those who neglect their Arrearages,” he declared, “he cannot but return his grateful Thanks to such Gentlemen as have paid him with Honour and Punctuality.”  In thanking his customers who paid their bills, he also launched an implicit critique of those who had not.

Such notices were a standard feature of colonial newspapers.  Like other entrepreneurs, printers extended credit to their customers but sometimes found themselves overextended or their customers too slow in settling accounts.  For merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others, placing such notices represented an additional cost of doing business.  Newspaper printers, on the other hand, did not incur additional expenses when running such advertisements.

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 30, 1770).

“BLANKS.”

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, used the colophon to promote the various goods and services available “at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head.”  He advised the community that he accepted “Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper and performed “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK.”  In addition to job printing, Carter also produced a variety of blanks or printed forms for commercial and legal purposes, from “Bills of Lading” and “Policies of Insurance” to “Long and short Powers of Attorney” and “Summonses for the Superior and Inferior Courts.”  Carter did not, however, mention blanks in the colophon; instead, he regularly ran advertisements about them.

Consider the extant issues of the Providence Gazette for 1770.  The America’s Historical Newspapers database includes fifty-one of the fifty-two issues published on Saturdays that year.  (It includes the supplement, but not the standard issue, for February 10.)  Advertisements for blanks appeared in thirty-two of those issues, nearly two out of three published that year.  This suggests that Carter considered blanks an important supplement to the revenue he earned from subscriptions, advertising, and job printing.  Those advertisements took three forms.  A short version consisted of only two lines that informed readers “BLANKS of all Kinds Sold by the Printer hereof.”  It ran fifteen times.[1]  A variation ran twice more.[2]  It added two lines promoting “A fresh Parcel of DEEDS, printed on beautiful Paper.”  A lengthier advertisement listed a dozen blanks for use in Rhode Island as well as “various Kinds of Blanks for the Colony of CONNECTICUT.”  Carter served a regional market.  That advertisement ran fifteen times.[3]

In addition to increasing revenues, these advertisements had another purpose.  They operated as filler in the sense that they completed the columns and the pages of the Providence Gazette, often appearing at the bottom of a column.  The compositor chose the advertisement of the appropriate length to fill the space.  While that use of these advertisements should not be overlooked, it also should not be exaggerated.  The issues of the Providence Gazette that did not include any version of the advertisement for blanks tended to feature advertisements for almanacs, pamphlets, and books sold at the printing office.  Carter reserved space in his newspaper for advertisements about his own merchandise, highlighting new publications when they came off the press but reverting to notices about blanks on other occasions.

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[1] February 3, 17, 24; March 3; July 28; August 4, 18; September 1, 22; October 20, 27; November 3, 24; December 1, 8.

[2] November 10, 17.

[3] March 17, 24; April 14, 21, 28; May 12, 19, 26; June 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; July 7, 14.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 12, 1770).

“B L A N K S.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement for printed blanks into his own newspaper in 1770, using one element of his business to promote another.  Even when he did not run his notice for “BLANKS,” each edition concluded with a colophon that listed more than just Carter’s name and the place of publication.  It also advised readers that “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms, with Fidelity and Expedition” at Carter’s printing office at “the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head” in Providence.  The advertisement for “BLANKS” often supplemented the perpetual advertisement for job printing at the bottom of the final page of the Providence Gazette.

Carter catered to a variety of prospective customers, producing blanks (or forms) for “Apprentices Indentures,” “Bills of Lading,” “Bonds of several sorts,” and “Long and short Powers of Attorney,” to name just a few.  He also carried “various Kinds of Blanks for the colony of CONNECTICUT” for anyone tending to legal or commercial matters in the neighboring colony.

This advertisement moved around within the pages of the Providence Gazette.  Eighteenth-century printers often saved advertisements for their own goods and services for the bottom of columns, bringing those columns to the desired length after first inserting news and paid notices submitted by their customers.  Perhaps to increase the likelihood that readers would take note of it, Carter moved his advertisement around the page from week to week.  In the May 12, 1770, edition it occupied a privileged place as the first advertisement.  It also appeared in the center of the page, drawing the eye due to the amount of white space created by listing only one item per line.  Both the news and the other advertisements on the page consisted of dense paragraphs with little variation of font sizes.  Carter’s advertisement with its headline, “B L A N K S” in the largest font on the page, and ample white space positioned at the center of the page would have been nearly impossible for readers of the Providence Gazette to overlook.

March 31

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 31, 1770).

We have neither Time nor Room for any Extracts.”

Several advertisements ran at the bottom of the final column on the third page of the March 31, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, concluding with a notice from the printer:  “A New-York Paper, which came to Hand before the Publication of this Day’s Gazette, contains addresses of both Houses of Parliament to the King, and some London Articles to the 13th of January; but we have neither Time nor Room for any Extracts.”  This notice reveals quite a bit about the production and dissemination of the news in eighteenth-century America.

First, it alludes to the widespread practice of reprinting articles, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another.  John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, indicated that he planned to publish “Extracts” from the other newspaper, but often printers copied important or interesting items in their entirety.  Sometimes they credited their sources; other times they did not.  Either way, printers often tended to edit or compile news from other publications instead of producing new content.

Carter’s notice also testifies to the production of newspapers as material objects, not just amalgamations of ideas.  Each weekly edition of the Providence Gazette took the form of a four-page issue, the standard for colonial newspapers prior to the American Revolution.  Each copy consisted of a single broadsheet with two pages printed on each side and then folded in half to produce a four-page newspaper.  This usually meant that the first and last pages were printed first and then the second and third pages later.  The position of Carter’s notice as the last item in the last column on the third page suggests that it was the final item added by the compositor before taking the issue to press.  Carter asserted that he did not have “Room for any Extracts,” indicating that the front page had been printed and the type already set for the remaining pages.  In stating that he also did not have time to insert extracts, the printer explained why he could not make substitutions for some of the material on the second and third pages as well as why he did not produce a supplement to accompany the issue.

Finally, Carter’s notice served as an advertisement for the newspaper itself.  The printer previewed the contents for the following week, enticing readers to return to read extracts or possibly even the entire “addresses of both Houses of Parliament to the King” as well as articles drawn from the London press by way of a “New-York Paper.”  In general, Carter’s notice evokes images of a busy printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head in Providence.

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 27, 1770).

JUST PUBLISHED … A SERMON … by the Rev. MORGAN EDWARDS.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, continued to advertise “WEST’S ALMANACKS, For the present Year” and “his ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS” in the January 27, 1770, edition of his newspaper. Both were written by Benjamin West, an astronomer, mathematician, and one of the first professors at Rhode Island College (now Brown University), and printed by Carter. The printer also advertised another book for sale at his printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, though he had not published “A SERMON delivered January 1, 1770, by the Rev. MORGAN EDWARDS, A.M. one of the Fellows of Rhode-Island COLLEGE, and Pastor of the Baptist Church in Philadelphia.” The advertisement announced that the sermon was “JUST PUBLISHED at NEWPORT,” though Carter had acquired copies to sell in Providence.

This advertisement referred to A New-Years-Gift: Being a Sermon, Delivered at Philadelphia, on January 1, 1770, and Published for Rectifying Some Wrong Reports, and Preventing Others of the Like Sort, but Chiefly for Giving It Another Chance of Doing Good to Them Who Heard It. Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, reprinted the sermon after Joseph Crukshank first printed an edition in Philadelphia. Southwick presumably believed that the sermon would find a market in Newport because of Edwards’s affiliation with the college and his role as a “prime mover” in its founding. Similarly, Carter likely hoped to capitalize on the college’s imminent move to its permanent home in Providence in 1770 when he advertised the sermon.

Both printers may have also expected a particular passage in the sermon, one not mentioned in its long and ponderous title, would attract the attention of prospective customers. Carter’s advertisement stated that it had been “occasioned by his having been strongly impressed for a Number of Years past, that he should die on the 9th Day of March next.” According to Martha Mitchell in the Encyclopedia Brunonia, Edwards’s wife, who died in 1769, “had somehow foreseen the time of her death. Edwards now recalled a dream he had fifteen years earlier and became convinced he would die the next year.” Edwards survived the year, but his credibility did not. Another minister suggested “that the year was not to be that of Edwards’s death but of the death of his ministry,” which turned out to be the case. He resigned as pastor and did not preach again. Preaching the sermon damaged his reputation; that it circulated in print in several colonies compounded the problem, even as it provided an opportunity for printers and booksellers to augment their revenues.

January 20

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

Jan 20 - 1:20:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 20, 1770).

“WEST’s ALMANACKS … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

In late January 1770, John Carter, publisher of both the Providence Gazette and Benjamin West’s New-England Almanack, continued to advertise the almanac in the newspaper, though he shifted his strategy. He commenced the new year by running the lengthy advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette for many weeks once again in the January 6 edition, but then he did not advertise the almanac the following week. An advertisement appeared once again in the January 20 edition, though much abbreviated. Rather than enticing prospective customers with an extensive description of the almanac’s useful and entertaining contents, the new advertisement simply announced, “WEST’s ALMANACKS, For the present Year … To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Perhaps Carter weighed the space occupied in the Providence Gazette by continuing to insert the longer advertisement against how many surplus copies of the almanac remained in stock. As time passed, it became less likely that readers would purchase an almanac for 1770, but they did desire “the freshest ADVICES, Foreign and Domestic,” as the masthead described the news. Carter may have determined that he better served his subscribers and, in turn, his own business interests by designating space in subsequent issues for news items and editorials rather than an advertisement for an almanac with decreasing prospects of being purchased. He continued to promote the almanac in hopes of reducing his inventory, but he did so less intensively.

In the same short advertisement, Carter also noted that he sold West’s “ACCOUNT of the TRANSIT of VENUS,” another publication previously the subject of more extensive advertisements that ran in the Providence Gazette for multiple weeks. He also kept that title before the eyes of readers who might decide to purchase it, but devoted much less space to it.

The same short advertisement ran the following week, in the final issue of the newspaper for the month of January, but in the lower right corner of the final page, the very last item in that issue. Its placement may have been intended to leave an impression on readers who perused the Providence Gazette from start to finish, but it also suggests that Carter inserted the advertisement only after allocating space for news items and advertisements placed and paid for by other colonists. In compiling the contents of those issues of the Providence Gazette, he balanced his responsibilities as editor and publisher of the newspaper and his interests as printer and bookseller, choosing the shorter advertisements for the goods he sold.

January 6

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

Jan 6 1770 - 1:6:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 6, 1769).

NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK … 1770.”

In the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in the new year, John Carter continued promoting “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” He once again ran an advertisement that had been continuously appearing in the pages of the Providence Gazette for the past two months. Such was the lot for printers throughout the colonies. Most who published almanacs began each new year with surplus copies that became less useful with each passing week. Many attempted for weeks or even months to rid themselves of those extras rather than have them count against potential profits.

To that end, lengthy advertisements listing the various contents of almanacs served Carter and other printers well. Printers emphasized that these reference volumes contained not just the astronomical calculations for each day but also reference items, informative essays, and entertaining anecdotes that readers could enjoy throughout the year. Carter, for instance, attempted to entice customers with a list of contents that included “Courts in the New-England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method,” “a curious Essay on Comets, with some Remarks on the extraordinary one that appeared in August and September last,” and “a beautiful Poem on Creation.” Even though the dates would pass for predictions about the weather and calculations for high tide, the other contents of the almanac retained their value and justified purchasing a copy days, weeks, or even months after the first of the year.

Carter’s first advertisement for 1770 included a modification that he made to the notice after it ran for a month. On December 2, 1769, he added a note at the end: “A considerable Allowance is made to those who take a Quantity.” In other words, the printer offered a discount for buying in volume to booksellers, shopkeepers, and others. He continued to offer this bargain in early January. Because such an investment became increasingly risky for retailers with each passing week, it became all the more imperative to underscore the many and varied features of the New-England Almanack. Carter aimed his advertisement at both consumers and retailers, perhaps even more eager to sell to “those who take a Quantity” than to customers who wished to acquire only a single copy.