GUEST CURATOR: Kathryn J. Severance
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“We the subscribers, appointed … Commissioners to receive and examine the several Claims and Demands on the Estate of Lieut. Thomas Mumford, late of Groton, deceased.”
This advertisement is of a different nature than many others featured within the Adverts 250 Project. This is due to the fact that it is not advertising goods or services. Instead, this advertisement is a probate notice, a type of memorandum about managing the estate of the deceased. In this particular case, the deceased individual was Thomas Mumford. Joseph Hurlbut and Russell Hubbard were appointed by a judge as executors of his estate.
From this example, we can conclude that probate notices were constructed very differently than advertisements for goods and services were. The text within the notice seems as if it is printed in small type, unlike many of the advertisements for goods that I came across in my time examining Colonial newspaper advertisements for this project. This may be because the text is lengthier and formed in complete sentences, rather than in list format, as some of the advertisements for goods were.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
This advertisement reminds us of one of the many different purposes that colonists turned to the public prints to publish notices of various sorts. As I explained when I inaugurated the Adverts 250 Project, I am primarily interested in advertisements for goods and services, their methods of marketing wares to potential customers, and their role in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. This eliminates a fair number of advertisements from consideration for inclusion here. However, I have instructed my students that during their time as guest curators they are permitted to choose one of these other kinds of advertisements per week. If it caught their attention and helped them to learn more about early American society and print culture, then it was fair game.
Kathryn makes some important observations about this probate notice. Even though it includes some italics and capitals (exclusively for people and place names), it does not vary the font size or experiment with white space at all. It appears very dense, even more dense than many of the advertisements for goods and services. As Kathryn points out, advertisements listing assorted goods also included a lot of text, but often the format provided more variation. Probate notices, on the other hand, followed a rather standard formula (both for the wording of the text and its format). The responsibility for drawing readers to advertisements promoting goods and services fell on the advertisers. On the other hand, the “Commissioners” appointed “to receive and examine the several Claims and Demands on [an] Estate” may very well have felt that it was the responsibility of the “several Creditors” to stay informed of any legal notices appearing in the local newspaper. In publishing a probate notice the commissioners had fulfilled their responsibility. They were not required to devise flashy advertisements.