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 GaspeeAffair.  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.

December 21

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

Providence Gazette (December 21, 1771).

“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK … For the Year of our LORD 1772.”

As the first day of winter arrived and the new year approached, John Carter and Benjamin West continued marketing the almanacs that West wrote and Carter printed.  In the December 21, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, they inserted an advertisement that advised prospective customers that they could purchase “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” from either the printer of the author.  The contents included “the usual Astronomical Calculations,” undertaken by West, an astronomer, mathematician, and professor at Rhode Island College (now Brown University), as well as “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining.”  In addition, the printer and the astronomer also sold “West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year 1772,” giving consumers a choice of formats.  The pamphlet version was more portable, but the broadsheet better for hanging on a wall for easy reference.

Carter and West had been marketing these products for several months.  On September 21, they advised prospective customers that the New-England Almanack would be published just days later.  To generate demand, especially among retailers, they listed prices that included a discount for purchasing a dozen and an even more significant discount for purchasing at least two dozen.  A little over a month later, they advertised the sheet almanac, once again offering a discount for purchasing a dozen.  For a while, they ran separate advertisements for the two formats, but by the end of the year incorporated parts of each advertisement into a single notice.  Perhaps they determined that they had already achieved any additional visibility garnered from multiple advertisements.  Alternately, Carter, who also printed the Providence Gazette, may have streamlined the advertisements to create more space for paid notices, news, and other items in the newspaper.  After several months of promoting the almanacs, Carter and West may have decided that additional advertisements, even though they proclaimed “JUST PUBLISHED,” operated as reminders for most readers, making multiple or elaborate notices ineffective or unnecessary.  Having worked together on publishing almanacs for several years, they very well may have calibrated their advertising with the same attention that West gave to performing the astronomical calculations.

November 2

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

Providence Gazette (November 2, 1771).

West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”

In the fall of 1771, Benjamin West, an astronomer and mathematician, and John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, collaborated in producing, marketing, and selling the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”  It was West’s tenth almanac.  Over a decade he worked with a succession of printers of the Providence Gazette, including William Goddard (almanacs for 1763, 1764, and 1765), William Goddard and Sarah Goddard (1766), Sarah Goddard and Company (1767), Sarah Goddard and John Carter (1768), and John Carter (1769, 1770, 1771, and 1772).  West not only provided the “usual Astronomical Calculations” but also assisted in selling copies to both readers and retailers.  Advertisements for the New-England Almanack consistently informed buyers that it was “Sold by the Printer hereof, and by the Author.”

West and Carter also collaborated in developing more than one format to suit the needs of their customers.  In late September, they announced the imminent publication of the standard edition, a pamphlet containing twenty-four pages.  In early November, they marketed an additional product, “West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”  Colonists who purchased that broadside as an alternative to the standard edition could post it for easy reference throughout the year.  The broadside cost a little less than the standard edition, four coppers compared to six.  In addition, West and Carter offered discounts for purchasing a quantity.  For the standard edition, buyers paid a lower rate “per single Dozen” and an even lower rate “per Dozen by the Quantity.”  The pricing structure for the broadside edition, however, was less complicated; buyers received a discount “per Dozen” regardless of how many dozens they purchased.

Rather than combine the marketing into a single advertisement, West and Carter promoted the two editions separately.  Doing so may have allowed them to gain greater notice through repetition since the advertisements ran on different pages of the Providence Gazette.  As printer of the newspaper, Carter exercised control over where notices appeared, an advantage not available to other advertisers.  In their efforts to sell the New-England Almanack, West and Carter brought together several strategies, including multiple formats, discounts for retailers and others who bought a quantity, and privileged placement on the page within the newspaper.

October 12

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

Providence Gazette (October 12, 1771).

“The PRINTING-OFFICE is removed to a new Building.”

In the fall of 1772, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, moved to a new location.  When he did so, he exercised his prerogative as printer to give his announcement a privileged page in the newspaper he published.  The first item in the first column on the first page of the October 12 edition proclaimed, “The PRINTING-OFFICE is removed to a new Building on the main Street, fronting the COURT-HOUSE.”  In case that was not enough to draw attention, Carter also resorted to ornamental type.  Three asterisks preceded the copy of his notice.  A decorative border enclosed the entire announcement, distinguishing it from other advertisements in the same issue.

Carter also updated the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page each week, revising the second line to read “in King-Street, Opposite the Court-House” rather than “in King-Street, near the Court-House.”  The remainder of the colophon remained the same, including the invocation of “Shakespear’s Head” as the sign that marked the building where Carter operated the printing office.  When Carter moved to a new location, a sign that assisted residents and visitors in navigating the streets of Providence also moved.  The printer was not the only advertiser who directed prospective customers to the new location for that landmark.  Halsey and Corlis instructed readers that they had “removed their Shop” where they sold imported goods “on the West Side of the Great Bridge, to a new Store directly opposite the Court-House, at the Sign of Shakespear’s Head.”  The sign that marked Carter’s printing office for years moved with him.  When it did, it became a device that helped identify other businesses that opened in a new building.

The advertisements in the Providence Gazette helped readers re-imagine the streets of the town, aiding them in finding the businesses they wished to visit.  A notice on the front page, a slight revision to the colophon, and an advertisement placed by shopkeepers located in the same building all worked together in reorienting the public to the new location of “Shakespear’s Head … opposite the Court-House.”

September 21

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

Providence Gazette (September 21, 1771).

“Price Three Shillings per single Dozen, Two Shillings and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”

As fall arrived in 1771 advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  On September 21, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted an advertisement that he would publish “THENEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” by Benjamin West.  For several years West, an astronomer and mathematician, and Carter collaborated on almanacs, the former as author and the latter as printer.  As always, the newest edition included “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining” in addition to “the usual Astronomical Calculations.”

Like others who promoted almanacs, Carter and West offered the New-England Almanack wholesale and retail.  Consumers could purchase single copies for “Six Coppers” or six pence from the author or at the printing office.  Shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others who bought by the dozen, however, received discounts.  Carter and West charged “Three Shillings per single Dozen,” but offered an even better bargain to those who bought in even greater volume.  Those customers paid “TWO SHILLINGS and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”  In other words, a dozen almanacs cost thirty-six pence (or three pence each), but two dozen almanacs cost thirty pence per dozen (or two and a half pence each).

This pricing structure suggests just how much retailers could mark up prices for almanacs.  Those who bought only a dozen still acquired them for half the retail price that Carter and West charged.  Retailers who purchased two dozen or more could double the price they paid to five pence per almanac and still charge less than Carter and West did for single copies.  The printer and author probably did not worry too much about being undersold by retailers who assumed the risk for finding consumers for the almanacs, preferring the revenues guaranteed in bulk sales.  For their part, some readers may have decided to hold off on purchasing new almanacs for their homes, hoping to get better bargains from local shopkeepers and booksellers.

August 31

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

Providence Gazette (August 31, 1771).

“A few of Mr. Wesley’s Sermons on the Death of the Rev. George Whitefield.”

Eleven months had passed since George Whitefield died on September 30, 1770, while visiting Newburyport, Massachusetts, when John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, once again advertised “A few of Mr. Wesley’s Sermons on the Death of the Rev. George Whitefield.”  The death of one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening was one of the most significant news stories of the year.  Coverage originated in Boston’s newspapers the day after Whitefield’s death and then spread to newspapers throughout the colonies.  From New England to Georgia, printers inserted stories reprinted from one newspaper to another to another.  They also provided original coverage of local reaction, noting funeral sermon delivered in the minister’s memory and children named after Whitefield at their baptisms.

In addition to commemorating the minister, printers and others also quickly turned to producing and marketing items that commodified his death.  Almost immediately, printers in Boston announced that they would publish funeral sermons.  In the next several weeks, they advertised broadsides with verses memorializing Whitefield (including one penned by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet) as well as funeral sermons and other books and pamphlets associated with the minister. Marketing tapered off by the end of the year, only to be rejuvenated in the spring when vessels arrived carrying news of reaction to Whitefield’s death in England.  Those ships also carried pamphlets published in London, including John Wesley’s funeral sermon in memory of the deceased minister.  A new round of advertising Whitefield memorabilia, including notices about a medal, commenced.

That also lasted only a couple of months, though printers and booksellers did occasionally continue to include Whitefield items among the many other goods they listed in their advertisements.  Carter did so when he advertised a variety of stationery items, books, and pamphlets in the August 31, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  He concluded with an entry for Wesley’s sermon, calling attention to it with three asterisks.  No other item in his notice featured any sort of similar adornment.  Even as Whitefield memorabilia became one item among a more extensive inventory, rather than the subject of its own advertisement, it still received special treatment to distinguish it from other merchandise.

August 17

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

Providence Gazette (August 17, 1771).

ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”

Colonial printers often inserted advertisements in their own newspapers, taking advantage of their access to the press to promote various aspects of their businesses.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, for instance, regularly ran advertisements for “BLANKS of various Kinds” or printed forms for legal and commercial transactions available for sale at his printing office.  He placed other notices concerning the operations of the newspaper, including an advertisement in the August 17, 1771, edition indicating that “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”  Colonial printers regularly advanced credit to subscribers and periodically called on them to settle accounts.

To increase the likelihood that subscribers would take note of this advertisement, Carter placed it immediately after the news.  Some readers likely perused advertisements more quickly than they examined news items, so positioning this notice first among the advertisements made it more likely that those readers would see it as they transitioned between different kinds of content in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, Carter placed a lively letter from “AFRIEND to the PUBLIC” above his notice about making payments for the newspaper.  The “FRIEND” told a tale of “Fraud and Villainy” involving insurance and the “many Contradictions contained in the Papers” related to the loss of the sloop Betsy.  The “FRIEND” acknowledged that Robert Stewart, the alleged perpetrator, might have been innocent, but still declared that “the whole appears to be a designed Fraud.”

Carter had choices about where to place his notice requesting payment.  He ran another brief notice concerning blanks in the same issue, a notice that he could have inserted after the letter about insurance fraud instead of giving that spot to his advertisement directed to subscribers.  Indeed, he could have placed any of the advertisements in that issue immediately after the news, but he reserved that space for his attempt to collect on overdue subscription fees.  As printer, he exercised his prerogative when it came to the order of advertisements as well as the order of the news.

March 9

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

Providence Gazette (March 9, 1771).

“Several Kinds of Blanks.”

Like his counterparts in other cities and towns, John Carter did more than print a newspaper at his printing office.  In addition to distributing a new edition of the Providence Gazette on Saturdays, Carter also produced and sold blanks (or printed forms) and did job printing on behalf of customers.  Many also sold books, most of them imported.  Those various services established multiple sources of revenue for printers throughout the colonies.

Printers regularly promoted blanks in short advertisements in their own newspapers.  Some of those notices were very brief, just a couple of lines that completed a column, but others were more extensive.  In the March 9, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, Carter died more than inform readers that he provided blanks for sale at his printing office “at Shakespear’s Head, in King-Street, near the Court-House.  Instead, he listed many of the different kinds of blanks on hand, including “SUPERIOR and INFERIOR Court Executions, … long and short Powers of Attorney, … Bills of Sales, Bills of Lading, … Policies of Insurance, [and] Apprentices Indentures.”  The Providence Gazette served an entire region, not just local residents, so Carter also printed and sold “several Kinds of Blanks for the Colony of Connecticut, such as Writs of Attachment, [Writs] for Recovery of Notes and Book-Debts at a County Court, [and Writs] before a Justice.”  Colonists used standardized blanks to facilitate a variety of legal and commercial transactions.

Carter focused primarily on the many different kinds of blanks available at his printing office, but he also promised quality.  He assured prospective customers that no matter which of his blanks they selected, they were “all neatly printed on good Paper.”  The printer combined skill in execution and quality of materials in his appeal to customers.  The appearance and durability of these blanks enhanced any legal or financial transaction they recorded.

Carter supplemented revenues from subscriptions and advertisements in the Providence Gazette with additional revenues from printing and selling blanks intended for a variety of legal and financial purposes.  Like other printers, he inserted notices about blanks in his newspaper, leveraging one of his endeavors in support of another for the overall benefit of the entire operation of his printing office.