What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“READY MONEY given for Line Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk.”
Printers regularly inserted calls for rags (intended to be used in making paper) in their newspapers, but this appeal was much more extensive than most that appeared during the eighteenth-century.
The proprietors of the Providence Paper Manufactory accepted “Linen Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk.” Furthermore, they listed the prices they would give for each item, even dividing the rags between those “fine than Oznabrigs” and others “coarser than Oznabrigs.” In the process, they also used terminology that would have been familiar to eighteenth-century readers. Colonists would have readily recognized “Oznabrigs” as a type of coarse and plain fabric and “Junk” as old rope that was beyond its usefulness.
The advertisement listed several locations where readers could exchange “Linen Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk” for “READY MONEY.” They could visit the printers or the proprietors of the “Paper Manufactory” in Providence as well as Jonathan Wilson in Newport or another printer, Benjamin Mecom, in New Haven.
Finally, the advertisement concluded with an interesting proposition for subscribers to the Providence Gazette. The rags, sail cloth, and junk could be exchanged for the newspaper itself, as payment “in lieu of Cash.” This established an interesting relationship between the printer of the Providence Gazette and subscribers who traded in their rags. Eventually those subscribers could expect those rags to be returned to them, transformed into linen paper with news and advertisements printed on it.
When it came to paper, the cycle of advertising and consumption in colonial America had a far reach. A colonist could see an advertisement for textiles and make a purchase. After using and wearing out those textiles, he or she could hand them over to the Providence Paper Manufactory or the printers of the Providence Gazette in exchange for more newspapers with additional advertisements for textiles that could be purchased to replace those that had been reduced to rags. At some point in the cycle, colonists could read advertisements for textiles they would purchase printed on linen paper made from textiles that had previously worn or possessed.