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.

February 16

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

Providence Gazette (February 16, 1771).

“ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Week for Four Shillings.”

In the eighteenth century, some printers used the colophon, the portion of the newspaper devoted to publication information, as advertisements for their own goods and services.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, did so in 1770.  He listed his location as “PROVIDENCE, in New-England … at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head … where all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms, with Fidelity and Expedition.”  Other printers hawked books, stationery, and other goods in their colophons.

Most printers did not list their advertising rates, but those who did placed that information in the colophon.  Carter updated his colophon with the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in 1771. He no longer promoted printing work but instead announced that “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful, and Ninepence for each Week after; longer Ones in Proportion.”  Carter adopted a pricing structure similar to that of other newspapers:  a flat fee for setting type and running an advertisement for a set number of weeks (usually three, but sometimes four) and additional fees for each subsequent insertion.  Longer advertisements cost proportionally more.  If the space an advertisement occupied in the Providence Gazette in those subsequent weeks was worth nine pence, that meant that Carter charged twenty-one pence for setting type.  The four shillings (forty-eight pence) for placing an advertisement amounted to twenty-seven pence for the three weeks it ran in the newspaper with the remainder for preparing the notice for publication.

The information about advertising in Carter’s colophon included one variation that did not appear in most others.  He specified that advertisements were to be “accompanied with the Pay.”  Eighteenth-century printers, like other purveyors of goods and services, frequently extended credit to their customers.  They also regularly published notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts, sometimes pleading and other times threatening legal action.  In the February 15, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, for instance, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a lengthy notice addressed to “those who neglect and are indebted for many Years Papers.”  The printers warned that those subscribers “may depend on being sued.”  When it came to advertisers, Carter apparently wanted to avoid finding himself in a similar position, insisting that advertisements must be “accompanied with the Pay.”  Considering that advertising constituted an important revenue stream for early American newspaper printers, this likely had beneficial effects on other aspects of the business Carter ran from his printing office.

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.