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.

December 30

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

Dec 30 - 12:30:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 30, 1769).

The Price of a Year’s paper is in itself trifling.”

As 1769 drew to a close, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, placed two timely advertisements in the final edition for the year. In one, he continued marketing the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” In the other, he called on “Subscribers to this GAZETTE” to settle accounts, noting that “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.”

Although January 1 marked a new year on the calendar, Carter asserted that November 9 “closed the Year” for most of his subscribers. In the seven weeks that had elapsed since then, many neglected to pay what they owed, “to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.” Carter lamented that during the past year “he has not received of his Subscribers a Sufficiency barely to defray the Expence of Paper on which the GAZETTE has been printed.” Yet he had expenses other than paper, including the “Maintenance and Pay of Workmen.” Like other printers who issued similar notices to subscribers, Carter suggested that publishing a newspaper did not pay for itself, at least not readily. If subscribers wished for the Providence Gazette to continue circulation, they had a duty to pay for that service to the community. Otherwise, “the Publication of this GAZETTE must be discontinued.”

Doing so required little sacrifice on the part of any particular subscriber. “The Price of a Year’s Paper is in itself trifling,” Carter argued, “and ‘tis certainly in the Power of every Subscriber once in Twelve Months to pay Seven Shillings.” He hypothesized that because the annual subscription fee was so low that it made it easy for subscribers to overlook it or even dismiss its importance. What did seven shillings one way or another matter to Carter? They mattered quite a bit, the printer answered, noting “that a Thousand such Trifles, when collected, make a considerable sum.”

Carter very likely exaggerated the number of subscribers for the Providence Gazette. He did so to make a point, but it served another purpose as well. The success of colonial newspapers depended at least as much on advertising revenue as subscription fees. Prospective advertisers needed to know that inserting notices in the Providence Gazette would likely yield returns on their investments because the newspaper circulated to so many subscribers throughout the colony and beyond. Inflating his circulation helped Carter encourage more advertising. That did not mean, however, that it would solve his financial difficulties. Although most of the notice addressed subscribers, Carter concluded by requesting that “EVERY PERSON indebted to him, either for the GAZETTE, Advertisements, or in any other Manner, immediately … settle and discharge his respective Account.” Apparently some advertisers were just as delinquent as subscribers when it came to paying their bills.

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 18, 1769).

“Containing, an accurate Ephemeris … Containing likewise, a beautiful Poem …”

In the fall of 1769, John Carter launched his marketing campaign for “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” with a full-page advertisement in the Providence Gazette. He likely posted a broadside around town as well. In subsequent weeks, Carter followed up the full-page advertisement with additional notices in the Providence Gazette; these included all of the same copy, but compressed to fit in a single column. Almanacs generated sufficient revenue for colonial printers to merit allocating considerable space in their newspapers to advertising them.

The contents of almanacs included reference items for information and other items for entertainment. Carter adopted a similar approach in his advertisements, publishing a poem for the enjoyment of prospective customers while also listing the contents of the almanac. Those contents included the usual astronomical data, such as the “Sun, Moon, and Seven Stars Rising and Setting; for every Day on the Year” and “Eclipses of the Luminaries,” as well as the tides. Other useful reference material included dates for the “Courts in the New-England Government,” “Times of the Stage-Coaches and Passage-Boats going and returning,” “a Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected.” Items intended for entertainment included “a beautiful Poem on Creation,” “a List of portentous Eclipses, with the remarkable Events that followed them,” and “a curious Essay on Comets, with some Remarks on the extraordinary one that appeared in August and September last.” Carter attempted to leverage potential ongoing interest in a recent event to spur sales of the almanac.

When it comes to retailing books, one modern marketing strategy harkens back to a method already in use by Carter and other printers in the eighteenth century. New technologies allow consumers to examine the table of contents online when considering whether to purchase a book, but publishing a table of contents as a means of bolstering interest in a book does not itself qualify as innovative. Modern marketers merely use new technologies to replicate a technique already in use for centuries. Certainly the strategy has been adopted more widely, given that the internet allows retailers more space than their counterparts could purchase in eighteenth-century newspapers, but the basic idea remains the same. Show consumers what a book contains and let the contents aid in selling the book. Carter and printers throughout the colonies regularly used that strategy for almanacs, books, and pamphlets in the eighteenth century.

November 4

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

Nov 4 - 11:4:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 4, 1769).

“To be Sold … by the several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.”

John Carter continued to advertise the New-England Almanack for 1770 in the November 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. A week earlier he launched his advertising campaign with a full-page advertisement, but he did not continue to give over as much space in subsequent issues of his newspaper. Instead, he condensed the advertisement, filling approximately three-quarters of a column. This made room for other content, especially paid notices that accounted for an important source of revenue for any newspaper printer.

Although the new version of the advertisement filled less space in the Providence Gazette, Carter still managed to insert almost everything than ran in the original. The new version left out only a note to retailers that had appeared at the end: “A considerable Allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” It also featured a slight revision to the list of sellers, which originally stated that the almanac was sold “At SHAKESPEAR’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE, and by the AUTHOR.” The new advertisement made a nod to the popularity of the almanac and the distribution network that Carter devised. Prospective customers could purchase it at the printing office, from the author, of from any of “several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.” Otherwise, the text of the advertisement did not change from one version to the next.

The addition of merchants and shopkeepers in Newport reveals two important aspects of early American print culture. First, it speaks to the distribution of the Providence Gazette beyond the city where it was printed. Carter expected that colonists who resided in Newport as well as those who lived closer to Newport than Providence would see the advertisement in the Providence Gazette and then obtain copies of the almanac from retailers in Newport.

Second, this strengthens the case that the original full-page advertisement also doubled as a broadside (or poster) that Carter displayed in his shop and posted around town. Business ledgers from eighteenth-century printing offices include records of apprentices hanging posters. (See, for instance, Robert Aitken’s ledger at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Carter could have had boys from his shop post broadsides around Providence without incurring additional expenses or having to give complicated instructions. Making arrangements to have posters hung in Newport, on the other hand, would have been much more complicated and expensive. Thus the Newport merchants and shopkeepers were absent from the full-page advertisement that probably doubled as a broadside but did appear in a subsequent iteration that occupied less space in the newspaper and did not circulate separately. Carter altered the advertisement slightly, likely out of consideration that the two formats had different methods of distribution to prospective customers.

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 28, 1769).

“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

John Carter wanted prospective customers to know that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, FOR THE Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” and that it was ready for sale “At SHAKESPEARS’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE.” To make certain that readers of the Providence Gazette were aware of this publication, Carter exercised his privilege as printer of the newspaper to devote the entire final page of the October 28, 1769, edition to promoting the New-England Almanack. Full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century American newspapers, but they were quite rare. In the late 1760s, the printers of the Providence Gazette played with this format more than any of their counterparts in other cities and towns. Still, they did not resort to it often.

Appreciating the magnitude of such an advertisement requires considering it in the context of the entire issue. Like most other newspapers of the era, the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages printed and distributed once a week. Each issue usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a single broadsheet and then folding it in half. That being the case, Carter gave over a significant portion of the October 28 edition to marketing the New-England Almanack, devoting one-quarter of the contents to the endeavor. By placing it on the final page, the printer also made the advertisement visible to anyone who happened to observe someone reading that issue of the Providence Gazette. Readers who kept the issue closed while perusing the front page put the back page on display. Those who kept the issue open while reading the second and third pages also exhibited the full-page advertisement to anyone who saw them reading the newspaper. Given the size of the advertisement and its placement, prospective customers did not have to read the Providence Gazette to be exposed to Carter’s marketing for the New-England Almanack.

Carter also eliminated the colophon that usually ran at the bottom of the final page. In addition to providing the usual publication information (the name of the printer and the city), the colophon doubled as an advertisement for services provided at Carter’s printing office. Why eliminate it rather than adjust the size of the advertisement for the New-England Almanack? Carter very well likely could have printed the full-page advertisement separately on half sheets that he then distributed and displayed as posters, augmenting his newspaper advertisements with another popular medium for advertising. Broadsides (or posters) were even more ephemeral than newspapers; far fewer have survived. Yet the format of Carter’s full-page advertisement suggests that he had an additional purpose in mind.