What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“All of the above BLANKS are … suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.”
Colonial printers often used the pages of their own newspapers to advertise other goods they sold at their printing offices. Advertisements for blanks (what we would call forms today) regularly appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia, suggesting that supplying blanks for various purposes to colonists engaged in commercial transactions and legal agreements comprised an important source of revenue for printers. Most advertisements for blanks were fairly short, extending only a few lines. In addition to informing colonists that printers had blanks on hand, those shorter advertisements also allowed compositors to complete columns of text that fell just shy of having enough content. Yet not all advertisements for blanks were mere announcements. Some were rather lengthy, listing the many different kinds of blanks that printers had on hand.
Such was the case for Samuel Hall’s advertisements for blanks that ran in the Essex Gazette on several occasions in the fall of 1769. After its initial publication, Hall even expanded his advertisement to provide a more comprehensive list of blanks as well as describe them in greater detail. He added “Bills of Cost, and Complaints” to the list (with “Complains” inexplicably in a much larger font than anything else in the advertisement). Most advertisements for blanks simply listed the various kinds available, such as “Bills of Lading,” “Apprentices Indentures,” and “Short Powers of Attorney.” Hall, however, supplemented his list with a note that “All of the above BLANKS are neatly printed, on good Paper, and most of them suited, in a particular Manner, for the County of Essex.” He did not elaborate on that “particular Manner,” but this note did suggest to prospective customers that he had not produced generic forms drawn from templates produced by other printers in other towns. Instead, he adapted his blanks to suit the legal and commercial landscape of his community. He likely intended to make his blanks more attractive to local customers than any they could have purchased from other printers, including the many printers in nearby Boston whose own blanks may have been “suited, in a particular Manner” for use in that city. The Essex Gazette offered an alternative source of news to the several newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s. Its printer offered an alternative source for other printed items produced in the printing offices in Boston.