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.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 16, 1768).

“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”

The shortest advertisement – consisting of only nine words – in the January 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette appeared at the bottom of the first column on the final page. In it, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers, advised readers that that they sold “BLANKS of all Kinds,” deploying contemporary terminology for items known today as forms. Goddard and Carter suggested that they could supply any sort of printed blanks customers desired, making it unnecessary to provide a list. Other printers, however, sometimes specified the various types of blanks they produced on their presses.

For instance, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement in his newspaper that enumerated more than a dozen blanks, each with a distinct purpose. He kept on hand “bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants,” and other legal or commercial documents. He also concluded his list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that the list was not exhaustive. Goddard and Carter likely stocked all or most of these forms. They could also print any others for clients who submitted orders for job printing.

The advertisement about “BLANKS of all Kinds” supplemented the announcement in the colophon published in every issue of the Providence Gazette. In addition to specifying the printers and place of publication, Goddard and Carter treated the colophon as advertising space for the various endeavors undertaken in their shop. They invited others to submit “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper to their printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” but they also stated that they did “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” at the same location. Despite its brevity, their advertisement for “BLANKS of all Kinds” testified to a wide range of printed forms that circulated widely and would have been familiar to colonists in Providence and beyond.

September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 19, 1767).

“Every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.”

In September 1767, Sarah Goddard and Company inserted an impassioned notice in the newspaper they published. They thanked subscribers of the Providence Gazette for their patronage, especially those who had already paid their bills, while also calling on others to settle accounts. They politely requested that “those who have not yet settled for the last Year’s Papers, will be so considerate as to follow the Example of those who have already paid.” Settling the “Company Accounts” would allow Goddard and Company to “carry on the useful and necessary Business of Printing in this Town.” They concluded their advertisement with an elaborate argument about the value derived from a local newspaper, portraying their work not only as a means of earning a living but, more importantly, as a service to the entire community.

The timing and urgency of that advertisement became even more apparent in a notice that appeared at the top of the first column on the first page of the September 19, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette. In an address “To the PUBLIC,” they reported the dissolution of the “Partnership between SARAH GODDARD and COMPANY.” In his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Clarence Brigham states that a history of the newspaper appeared in the March 6, 1779, edition.[1] This history identified Samuel Inslee as Goddard’s partner. The advertisements calling on subscribers to pay their bills had not merely been part of the regular business of operating a printing office. The publishers knew that one partnership was coming to an end and another on the verge of commencing. They wanted subscriber to settle accounts in order to facilitate the transition.

The advertisement in the September 19, 1767, issue indicated that Sarah Goddard and John Carter now operated the printing office and published the newspaper. The colophon also shifted to read: “Printed by SARAH GODDARD and JOHN CARTER.” This partnership lasted until Goddard’s retirement in November of the following year. In the meantime, Goddard and Carter assured readers that publication of the Providence Gazette would continue without disruption to the quality they had come to expect: “every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.” Goddard and Carter promised that “Care and Diligence shall not be wanting” in the production of the newspaper as they invited the public to “continue to favour this Paper with their Subscriptions.”

**********

[1] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 2: 1008.