August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 8, 1767).

“The Publishers of this Paper, hereby inform their candid Readers, that his Week’s Paper compleats the Year.”

Sarah Goddard and Company had two purposes for placing this advertisement in the August 8, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. First and foremost, they wished to acknowledge that the new issue “compleats the Year” since the newspaper “was revived.” On the occasion of that anniversary, they called on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle their accounts “as speedily as possible.” As a secondary goal, the publishers announced that “This Paper will still be carried on as usual” and requested further “Encouragement” from readers. In other words, if residents of Providence and its hinterland valued the Providence Gazette and wished for it to continue, they needed to subscribe, advertise, and pay their bills.

The previous iteration of the Providence Gazette had ceased publication with its May 11, 1765, issue and, except for extraordinary editions published on August 24, 1765, and March 12, 1766, did not resume publication until August 9, 1766. In the year since it sometimes struggled to attract advertisers, especially in the winter months. Goddard and Company may have developed certain innovations out of necessity, especially frequent oversized and full-page advertisements. Although the design would have caught the attention of reader-consumers, the format may have inspired primarily as a means of filling the page in the absence of other content.

The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper in colonial America printed and distributed on Saturdays in 1766 and 1767. In contrast, at least ten newspapers were published on Mondays (though not all have since been digitized). Similarly, multiple newspapers were published on Thursdays as well. As a result, the Adverts 250 Project has featured at least one advertisement from the Providence Gazette each week while selecting an advertisement from one among many newspapers on other days. Many of those newspapers featured a greater variety and volume of advertising that would merit more attention in a book or article; that being the case, given the nature of this digital humanities project the Providence Gazette might seem overrepresented among the advertisements included. On the other hand, the project’s methodology has required, at least as an outcome even if not originally by intentional design, attention to a smaller publication from a middling-sized port city, shifting focus away from the most significant population and commercial centers in colonial America. The history of advertising in early America would look very different if it focused exclusively on the cities with the most vibrant newspapers: Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Sustained consideration of the Providence Gazette and newspapers from other cities and towns tells a more nuanced story of the mobilization of print to influence consumer choices via advertising in the colonial era.

December 7

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

dec-7-1261766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“For New-York, the Brig General Conway; will sail in ten days, and for the sake of getting ballast, will carry freight for half price.”

More than any other printers who published newspapers in 1766, Mary Goddard and Company experimented with layout and graphic design for advertising. In collaboration with several shopkeepers, Goddard and Company mixed genres, placing advertisements that otherwise could have been separately printed and distributed as trade cards within several issues of the Providence Gazette during the summer and fall of 1766. Next, the printers continued producing hybrid publications with issues that featured full-page advertisements, effectively giving over the final page to what otherwise could have been an advertising broadside had it been produced separately.

For those efforts, Goddard and Company emphasized the size of the advertisements that appeared in the pages of the Providence Gazette. Today’s advertisement, however, was relatively short and took up little space on the page. What distinguished it from others was its position within the December 6, 1766, issue. It appeared on the third of four pages, running alongside, but perpendicular to, the column on the far right. It ran in the blank space usually reserved for the margin, making it the last text item readers would have seen when scanning the open pages of the newspaper from left to right.

dec-7-1261766-page-3-providence-gazette
Third Page of Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

This advertisement occupied space where text usually did not intrude, which would have encouraged curiosity among readers. Three columns appeared on each page of the Providence Gazette, all of them separated by sufficient white space to make them easily distinguishable from those on either side. This advertisement printed perpendicularly in the margin, however, did not have white space on its left. Instead, it was closely nestled next to the conclusion of a news article and an advertisement for the New-England Almanack. This format served both to hide and highlight the advertisement since it would have become distinguishable to readers as a distinct text only after doing a double take and realizing that the layout deviated from expectations of how the page should appear.

Mary Goddard and Company were not the first printers to deploy the single-line advertisement that ran in the margin, but they added a new twist to the relatively few examples from other printers and other newspapers. Such single-line advertisements, when they did appear, spanned multiple columns across the top or bottom of the page. Just as they had previously played with other graphic design elements for the layout and format of advertising in the second half of 1766, Goddard and Company added their own innovation to the single-line advertisement printed in the margin.

December 6

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

dec-6-1261766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“This Almanack is embellished with the above Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.”

In colonial America, December was the time for marketing and selling almanacs. Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project featured an advertisement for the New-Hampshire Almanack from the New-Hampshire Gazette. Today’s advertisement for the “true and originalNew-England Almanack, printed by Mary Goddard and Company, appeared in the Providence Gazette.

To spruce up their advertisement, Goddard and Company included a “Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.” As the only image that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette (except for the lion and union that always appeared in the masthead), the woodcut certainly distinguished this advertisement from the others. It did more, however, than entice potential customers by merely previewing the almanac’s contents. It also served as a means of distinguishing the almanac printed by Goddard and Company “from an Almanack under the same Title, published at Boston” that did not incorporate the woodcut.

The PRINTERS” devoted nearly half of their advertisement to a dispute with printers in Boston, claiming that a copy of Benjamin West’s calculations and other contents of the New-England Almanack had been “insidiously obtained, and unhappily sold, after the SOLE PROPERTY justly became ours, by a fair and honorable Purchase.” Goddard and Company stated that they possessed exclusive rights to print and distribute this particular almanac. When they read the newspapers from Boston they were dismayed to discover that competitors also printed it and distributed it to booksellers to sell. To their chagrin, they had supported West’s almanac “at our own Risque, ever since it had a Name, and ay a considerable Expence before it had Credit,” yet other printers now undermined their investment.

Potential customers might purchase the edition printed by Goddard and Company because the woodcut of the seasons was an attractive bonus or because the calculations were accurate and the contents “correctly printed.” If this was not enough to convince prospective readers to choose Goddard and Company’s edition over the other, then purchasers were encouraged to think of their choice in terms of justice. Unlike their competitors, Goddard and Company printed their edition “without the Prostitution of Virtue and Honor.” They encouraged potential customers to simultaneously reward them and deprive the Boston printers of their patronage.