January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s.”

How much did it cost to place an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper? That question does not always yield ready answers. Most printers did not regularly publish their advertising rates. Those that did publish them usually did so in one of two places: the plan in the first issue of a new publication and the colophon that ran at the bottom of the final page of each issue. Some printers commenced publication of their newspapers with a plan or overview of their purpose and the kinds of information they intended to publish as well as details that included the quality of the paper and type and subscription and advertising rates. Other printers treated the colophon as a place for recording more than just their names and place of publication. They used the colophon as a mechanism for marketing the various operations at the printing office. There they sometimes indicated subscription fees, advertising rates, or both.

Such was the case in the Maryland Gazette published by Anne Catharine Green and William Green in Annapolis in 1770. The colophon listed the costs of both subscribing and advertising. The Greens declared that “all Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE at 12s. 6d. a Year.” In addition, “ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted the First Time, for 5s. and 1s. for each Week’s Continuance. Long ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.” The Greens followed standard practices, yet also introduced one modification. Most printers who published their advertising rates had both an initial fee and then an additional fee for “each Week’s Continuance.” However, for most printers that initial fee included publishing the advertisement for several weeks, usually three or four, before incurring additional costs. The Greens did not offer any sort of package deal that included multiple insertions. This had the benefit of lowering the initial cost, but may have prevented prospective advertisers from feeling as though they got a bargain on the second and third insertions. Still, the fee structure suggests that the Greens charged four shillings for setting type and another shilling for the space the advertisement occupied the first time. After that, they charged only a shilling for each additional insertion, the type having already been set. Like other printers, they increased the rates for lengthy advertisements that took up more space. Prices for advertisements much larger than a “square” were assessed “in Proportion to their Number of Lines” rather than by the number of words.

That the Greens published the price of an annual subscription, twelve shillings and six pence, allows for comparison of the relative costs of subscribing and advertising. At five shillings for the first insertion, an advertisement cost 40% of a subscription. Advertisements that ran for multiple weeks steadily gained on the price of subscriptions, only needing to run for nine weeks for the former to exceed the latter. The financial viability of many colonial newspapers often depended much more on their ability to attract advertisers rather than subscribers.

January 11

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

Jan 11 1770 - 1:11:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (January 11, 1770).

“THE MARYLAND ALMANACK, FOR THE YEAR 1770.”

The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project draw their contents from several databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized to make them more accessible to the scholars and the general public. Readex has made most of the newspapers included in the projects available through its America’s Historical Newspapers collection. Although extensive, that collection is not comprehensive. For the period investigated in the projects so far, 1766-1770, America’s Historical Newspapers provides broad coverage of New England, the Middle Atlantic, and Georgia. That collection has complete or nearly complete runs of newspapers printed in those places. However, it includes only occasional issues of newspapers from the Chesapeake and the Lower South.

Fortunately, digitized copies of eighteenth-century newspapers from those regions are available via other databases. Accessible Archives has two collections relevant to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project: South Carolina Newspapers and The Virginia Gazette. The projects regularly draw from issues of the South-Carolina Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, all published in Charleston during the late 1760s and early 1770s. Rather than consult the various publications all known as the Virginia Gazette, including Alexander Purdie and John Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and William Rind’s Virginia Gazette, via Accessible Archives, the projects instead rely on the digitized copies made available by Colonial Williamsburg via its Digital Library. Scholars and the general public can both access Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library free of charge, compared to the individual or institutional subscriptions required to examine the newspapers digitized by Readex and Accessible Archives. This means that the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project can provide links to the source material so readers can view advertisements in the larger context of an entire page or an entire issue.

Today’s featured advertisement comes for “THE MARYLAND ALMANACK, FOR THE YEAR 1770” comes from the Maryland Gazette, drawn from the Archives of Maryland Online series created and maintained by the Maryland State Archives. That series “currently provides access to over 471,00 historical documents that form the constitutional, legal, legislative, judicial, and administrative basis of Maryland’s government.” Those documents include the Maryland Gazette Collection, incorporating several newspapers of that name published between 1728 and 1839. Like Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, scholars and the general public can access Archives of Maryland Online for free. The Maryland Gazette Collection is new to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, expanding the coverage of both of the projects and providing a more complete portrait of the role of the press, especially advertising, in promoting consumer culture and perpetuating slavery in eighteenth-century America.

I am excited to add the Maryland Gazette to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. This will benefit readers and followers, but it will also benefit the undergraduates at Assumption College who work on these projects as part of the requirements for my upper-level History courses. Each database of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers has a different interface. As students learn how to navigate each of them, they enhance their information literacy skills … and sometimes their problem solving skills as well. Sometimes errors get introduced when creating online repositories. Other times the databases replicate errors made in classifying and cataloging at a library or archive. These minor issues are usually easily resolved, but they allow undergraduates working with digitized primary sources for the first time important opportunities to play detective and, in the process, achieve a better understanding of both historical sources and research methods.

In short, adding the Maryland Gazette Collection to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project will enhance both my research and my teaching by adding newspapers from another colony and resources from another database of digitized primary sources.

August 28

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

Aug 28 - 8:28:1766 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (August 28, 1766).

“In your Paper of the 15th ult. I Advertised a Conditional SALE of my Houshold Furniture, &c.”

John Evitts packed so much into his open letter to Jonas Green, the printer of the Maryland Gazette, a letter reprinted in its entirety as an advertisement, that it is difficult to know where to start.

Let’s start by having a look at the genre of this advertisement. Although advertisements were not grouped together with other similar advertisements in the eighteenth century (legal notices with other legal notices; runaway slaves with other runaway slaves; consumer goods with other consumer goods), they did fall into several broad categories easily recognizable by readers. Advertisers occasionally played with form and genre by dividing the advertising space they purchased into two sections and submitting copy that pursued two different purposes, but within the distinct sections of such advertisements they usually relied on standard or formulaic wording.

To some extent, John Evitts departs from that practice, perhaps as the result of his advertisement originating as a letter (itself an interesting transformation of genre). His notice combines aspects of standard advertisements for vendue sales with aspects of standard advertisements for runaway wives (although it does not name his wife), but those elements comprised only the last two of four paragraphs. Either or both of the third and fourth paragraphs would not have appeared out of place as standalone advertisements.

Evitt’s letter-cum-advertisement, however, included much more. In the second paragraph he provided details about his ongoing dispute with his wife. While it might have seemed questionable to air private affairs in the public prints, Evitts may have felt that he had nothing to lose. After all, he was certain “that many of yours” were already aware of “the unhappy Difference subsisting between my Wife and me.” Annapolis was not a big town. Word got around. Perhaps Evitts felt he was better served to address gossip directly in the newspaper. It also gave him an opportunity to score some points. Despite the personal embarrassment he may have experienced from making a public acknowledgment about the disharmony in his household, his letter was calculated to diminish the reputation of his wife (at least from his rendition of events, which may or may not have matched what actually happened). Evitts stated that he had “endeavoured for a Reconciliation,” but that his wife “absolutely refused.” Furthermore, she responded with “insulting Language,” hardly becoming of a woman in the eighteenth century. In addition, he ahd been “insulted by her Friends.” Most advertisements for runaway wives were as formulaic as the third paragraph, but Evitts provided more details elsewhere in his advertisement.

It seems that Evitts was preparing to sell his house and his “Houshold Furniture, &c.” as a result of the discord with his wife. He had advertised this sale several weeks earlier, but, unfortunately for him, it “has not succeeded to my Wish and Expectation.” One of the most difficult parts of studying eighteenth-century advertising concerns the reception and effectiveness of commercial notices. Did they work? Very rarely did advertisers give any sort of indication about the results their marketing efforts generated. In this case, however, Evitts did report a rather disappointing result. It was possible that his advertisement was not especially effective, but, given the very public nature of the squabble with his wife, it was also possible that neighbors and other residents did not want to insert themselves into the Evittses’ domestic antagonisms. Whatever the explanation, Evitts retained hope that advertising could yield successful results. He sent the subsequent advertisement, the fourth paragraph of his open letter, desiring that it “may prove more effectual” than the first.