July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1769 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (July 7, 1769).

“Hugh Glassford … now carries on his Business, at Glen and Gregory’s.”

Moving to a new location prompted Hugh Glassford, a leather breeches and glove maker in New Haven, to place an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal in the summer of 1769. Glassford stated that he resided with Mr. Beers for the past year, but he “now carries on his Business, at Glen and Gregory’s.” He reported that he served customers “much to their Satisfaction” at his former location, suggesting that he would offer the same quality of service at his new location. It does not appear that Glassford inserted an advertisement in the local newspaper when he first arrived in New Haven. He likely engaged customers via word of mouth. After building a clientele for his leather breeches and gloves and cultivating a reputation in the town and beyond, however, he likely considered an advertisement worth the investment. Advising the public of his new location would help Glassford retain current customers as well as encourage new ones to seek out his services.

To quickly discover if Glassford had previously advertised, I did a keyword for his last name in all 2752 issues of the Connecticut Journal, spanning dates from October 23, 1767 to December 26, 1820, available in America’s Historical Newspapers database. That search yielded zero results, but that did not surprise me since I had searched for the breeches and glove maker’s name as I read it – Glassford – rather than as optical character recognition software would interpret it – Glafsford. As a person with experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, I possess knowledge and creativity that the software lacks. I easily recognize the long s commonly used in the eighteenth century and effortlessly translate “Glafsford” into “Glassford.” The database’s OCR does not.

Armed with that knowledge, I did a second keyword search, this time for “Glafsford.” It yielded five results, all of them for the advertisement Glassford ran in the summer of 1769. According to the keyword search, his notice appeared five times: June 30, July 7, 14, and 28, and August 25. In order to produce these results, I had to adopt a methodology that tricked the software into doing what I needed. This is a valuable lesson that I pass along to students when we work with primary sources. Beyond our usual manner of thinking, we also have to think like people from the era we are investigating and think like the tools we deploy in doing our work. For the latter, sometimes that means thinking about how a cataloger might have organized a collection of documents, but other times it means thinking about the shortcomings of optical character recognition.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 20, 1769).

“CANDLES … Very cheap.”

On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, selecting which advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project is often particularly difficult due to three factors: the original publication schedule in 1769, incomplete digitization of extant eighteenth-century newspapers, and the limits of my own ability to read German.

The project incorporates approximately two dozen newspapers printed in the American colonies in 1769. Each newspaper was published once a week, with the exception of the semi-weekly Boston Chronicle. For a few months near the end of the year, the New-York Chronicle also experimented with circulating two issues each week. (This innovation did not save the New-Chronicle from ending its run with its January 4, 1770, edition.) The publication days were not spread evenly throughout the week. The majority of newspapers were published on Mondays and Thursdays (the corresponding dates in 2019 falling on Wednesdays and Saturdays). For the purposes of the Adverts 250 Project, this means many newspapers and many advertisements to choose among on those days. On other days, however, the featured advertisement comes from the single newspaper published on that day. Such is the case for the Georgia Gazette, published on Wednesdays (corresponding to dates that fall on Fridays in 2019) and the Providence Gazette (corresponding to dates that fall on Mondays in 2019). The number of advertisements, especially advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, varied from week to week in those newspapers, often limiting the choices available for this project.

Although more than one newspaper was published in colonial America on Tuesdays in 1769 (corresponding to dates that fall on Thursdays in 2019), incomplete digitization also limits the available choices. Issues of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published in 1769 have been transcribed, but not digitized. Issues published in both 1768 and 1770 have been digitized; advertisements drawn from that newspaper regularly appeared in the Adverts 250 Project in 2018 and will return in 2020. Published in the bustling port of Charleston, this newspaper usually ran two entire pages of advertising and often four. In contrast, the Essex Gazette, founded in 1768, has been digitized, but it did not feature nearly as many advertisements in 1769 as its counterparts in the largest port cities. The number of advertisements more closely matched newspapers from smaller towns on the same days as those published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. As a result of the abundance of advertisements in those newspapers, the publications from smaller cities and towns are often eclipsed because they ran far fewer paid notices. As the only newspaper available to consult on Thursdays, however, the Essex Gazette (like the Providence Gazette on Mondays and the Georgia Gazette on Fridays) is disproportionately represented in the Adverts 250 Project due to the methodology that calls for selecting advertisements published 250 years ago that day.

The Essex Gazette, however, is not the only newspaper published on Tuesdays in 1769 that has been digitized. All fifty-two issues of the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, published to serve the growing population of German settlers in Philadelphia and its environs, have been digitized. Despite their availability, I rarely include advertisements from that newspaper in this project because I do not read German well enough to work with the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote regularly. This means that the range of newspapers that appear in the Adverts 250 Project on Thursdays has been circumscribed compared to those published in 1769 on the corresponding days. The choice has been narrowed from three – the Essex Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote – to only one – the Essex Gazette alone. As a result, the Essex Gazette has been overrepresented in the Adverts 250 Project throughout 2019.

In addition to examining what advertisements from 1769 tell us about commerce, politics, and everyday life in the era of the imperial crisis, it is important to realize how the methodology of the project shapes which advertisements receive attention. Despite the relatively small number of advertisements in the Essex Gazette and the Georgia Gazette, perhaps it is beneficial that the methodology forces their inclusion in the project. Otherwise, it might be tempting to turn almost exclusively to newspapers published in the largest and busiest port cities, newspapers that overflowed with advertising. Some particular newspapers may be overrepresented in the project, but overall their inclusion insures a balance between newspapers published in major ports and their counterparts in smaller towns.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:7:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 7, 1769).

SOLOMON SOLOMONS … A fmall Affortment of JEWELERY.”

Earlier this week NPR commentator Cokie Roberts caused quite a hullabaloo when she suggested that historians had significantly inflated the frequency of advertisements for abortion providers that appeared in nineteenth-century newspapers. Roberts stated, “There are many articles by abortion rights proponents who claim the procedure was so common that newspapers advertised providers. Look, I did a search of nineteenth-century newspapers and couldn’t find them.”[1] Historians quickly responded via Twitter, with Dr. Lauren MacIvor Thompson, a specialist in the history of medicine, public health, and the law, in the forefront with a tweet thread that corrected the record.

In addition to addressing content, historians representing various other fields within the discipline addressed the flaws in Roberts’s methodology. Roberts, a pundit rather than a trained historian, apparently did not realize that the absence of results generated by keyword searches does not mean that the historical evidence was not there. Like many of my colleagues, I pointed out two relevant issues. Both are so fundamental that I discuss them with undergraduate students in introductory and upper-level history courses on the first day that we begin working with databases of historical newspapers.

First, keyword searches have many shortcomings, especially because OCR (optical character recognition) is so imperfect. I explain to my students that computers are often, for lack of a better word, stupid. They do not always recognize or make sense of visual images (photographs or digital scans of historical sources) as effectively as people do. Computer software lacks the necessary creativity and flexibility. This is especially true when working with eighteenth-century printed sources that use the long “s” that looks like an “f” to twenty-first-century eyes. What human readers recognize as “Assortment,” for instance, looks like “Affortment” via OCR. (See Solomon Solomons’s advertisement from the June 7, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette.) Yet the long “s” is not the only pitfall for OCR. If the original printed words were not clear or subsequent remediation (photographs, microfilm, digital scans) was poorly done, then OCR has no chance of decoding the words on the page.

Second, when doing historical research it is necessary to think like the people from the period, especially to use the words they would have used rather than impose modern terminology. Context matters. Roberts, lacking an historian’s understanding of the period she investigated, apparently did not choose her keywords carefully or appropriately. When I train my undergraduate students to serve as guest curators for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I underscore that they must look for words beyond just “slave” (and that they have to examine every advertisement because keyword searches will exclude MANY advertisements that belong in the project). In addition to “slave,” they must also keep their eyes open for “negro,” “mulatto,” and “wench,” some of the words most often used to describe enslaved men, women, and children even when the word “slave” did not appear in an advertisement.

To demonstrate the shortcomings of keyword searches, I like to provide a practical example of an advertisement that I know exists yet a keyword search will not produce. Consider an advertisement from the June 7, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. I previously downloaded the entire issue via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. I know that it contains an advertisement for jewelry placed by Solomon Solomons. Say that I want to know the extent of Solomons’s advertising campaign in 1769. Doing a keyword search with his last name would be a good place to start. To make the search as efficient as possible, I set several parameters. I limit the date under consideration to 1769. I restrict the newspapers to be searched to the Georgia Gazette. Then I enter “Solomons” as the keyword. This yields only two results: Solomons’s advertisement when it appeared in the May 24 and May 31 editions, but not the June 7 edition. This certainly tells me more about the frequency that Solomons advertised, but it did not yield an advertisement that I already knew existed! The digitized image of the advertisement is fairly clear (especially compared to many others), yet it appears that just enough ink bled through from the other side of the page to trick the OCR into overlooking this advertisement when doing a keyword search for “Solomons.”

This particular instance is not as “fraught,” to invoke Roberts’s term, as advertisements placed by abortion providers in the nineteenth century, but it is a practical example of how technology cannot substitute for historical expertise and appropriate methodologies for conducting research with primary sources. As many other historians have done in recent days, I encourage reporters and pundits to call on trained historians rather than make misleading assertions based on incomplete understandings of the past and shoddy research methods.

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[1] This quotation comes from Thompson’s tweet thread. NPR has updated the original audio and transcript to excise Robert’s incorrect and misleading assertions.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:14:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 14, 1768).

“ALL Person who are anywise indebted to the Estate of JOHN DUTARQUE, deceased, are desired to make payment.”

The “missing” Georgia Gazette from June 15, 1768, presents an opportunity to discuss methodology. Each day the Adverts 250 Project republishes an advertisement originally published in an American newspaper exactly 250 years ago that day, along with a short essay that provides historical context and analysis of the contents of the advertisement. These advertisements are drawn from databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized: the Virginia Gazette from Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, newspapers published in Charleston from Accessible Archives’s South Carolina Newspapers, and an extensive array of newspapers from throughout the colonies from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers.

If no newspaper was published on a particular day (or if no newspaper published on a particular day has been digitized as part of one of those databases), the Adverts 250 Project instead features an advertisement printed sometime during the previous week. Although colonial printers clustered newspaper publications on Mondays and Thursdays in the late 1760s, at least one newspaper was published somewhere in the colonies on every day of the week except Sundays. This means that usually there is only one day of the week that the Adverts 250 Project needs to feature an advertisement not published exactly 250 years to the day.

The clustering of publications on Mondays and Thursdays means that some days offer many more choices for both newspapers and advertisements. During most weeks, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was the only [extant and digitized] newspaper printed on Tuesdays, the Georgia Gazette was the only newspaper printed on Wednesdays, and the Providence Gazette was the only newspaper printed on Saturdays. As a result, the Adverts 250 Project features an advertisement from each of these publications once a week. During the rest of the week the project draws from among more than a dozen other newspapers, attempting an informal rotation to feature as many as possible.

This methodology causes some newspapers to be featured much more often than others. Even though it carried relatively little advertising compared to some of its counterparts published in the largest port cities, the Georgia Gazette contributes an advertisement to the Adverts 250 Project once a week because it was only newspaper published in the colonies on Wednesdays in the late 1760s. (Dates that fell on Wednesdays in 1768 fall on Fridays in 2018.)

Jun 15 - Georgia Gazette Calendar
This calendar indicates which issues of the Georgia Gazette from 1768 have been digitized for Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database.

Today’s advertisement should have come from the Georgia Gazette, but the issue for June 15, 1768, is “missing.” Note the availability of other issues summarized in the calendar provided via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. On closer investigation of some of those other issues it turns out that the June 15 edition is not missing after all. The June 8 edition is numbered 246. June 22 is numbered 247. June 29 is numbered 248, indicating that the June 22 edition is indeed numbered correctly and not the result of the printer or compositor neglecting to advance the number if there had been a June 15 edition (that would have been 247). For whatever reason, printer James Johnston did not issue the Georgia Gazette on June 15, 1768. Despite the noticeable gap in the calendar depicting publication in 1768, complete runs of the Georgia Gazette for that year have been preserved in archives and reproduced via America’s Historical Newspapers.

Rather than examine an advertisement published sometime during the previous week, the not-missing-after-all issue of the Georgia Gazette presents an opportunity to discuss the Advert 250 Project’s methodology in greater detail as well as describe the schedule of publication throughout the colonies in the late 1760s. This should give readers a better sense of why advertisements from some newspapers appear so frequently and advertisements from other newspapers are featured much less often.

February 3

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

Feb 3 - 2:3:1768 Image 1 Georgia Gazette
Greyscale jpeg converted from gif. Georgia Gazette (February 3, 1768).

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Feb 3 - 2:3:1768 Image 2 Georgia Gazette
Black-and-white jpeg converted from PDF. Georgia Gazette (February 3, 1768).

“PROPOSED to be published, a PAMPHLET.”

Digital surrogates have significantly expanded the ability of scholars and the general public to access historical sources. The Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project would not be possible without the databases of digitized eighteenth-century newspapers created by institutions like the American Antiquarian Society and Colonial Williamsburg forming partnerships with companies like Accessible Archives and Readex. Such databases make sources available online as well as portable when downloaded for further reference. This greatly expands the questions we can ask – and answer – about the past.

Yet we must also be careful consumers of digitized sources: not all digital surrogates are created equal. Consider, for instance, these two digitized versions of the same advertisement from the final page of the February 3, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Although they contain the same content, they look rather different from each other. The first is much more legible than the second, especially to readers with less experience working with digitized sources.

Why do these two images appear so different? Although I’ve converted both to jpegs, that is not the original format of either when I downloaded them from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. The first image represents what users see on their screen when they examine the newspaper in the database, a greyscale rendition of the page derived from a photograph of the original. It disguises the actual color and texture of the eighteenth-century newspaper, but the visual variations do make it possible for the human eye to distinguish what was printed on the page and what bled through from the other side. I acquired this image by selecting Readex’s option to “Print,” which opened a new page with instructions for printing the entire page of the newspaper (complete with a citation at the top). I then deviated from the procedure intended by Readex by instead dragging a gif image of the entire page to my desktop before cropping the advertisement and converting it into a jpeg (which I have learned through trial and error is the most efficient method for pursuing this project). Had I followed through on the instructions provided by Readex, I could have printed a copy of the greyscale image of the entire page or saved it to my computer as a PDF (which I then could have cropped and converted into a jpeg, achieving the same result but requiring a few extra clicks on my part).

The second image resulted from using a different method to download the page from Readex’s database. America’s Historical Newspapers has a very useful function that allows users to “Download Issue” as a multipage PDF (which can then be cropped and converted into jpegs, as I did to create the second image of today’s advertisement). Rather than working page by page, this saves a great deal of time when it comes to the type of research I do on this project. However, when I select the “Download Issue” function it remediates the newspaper into black-and-white images rather than greyscale. The resulting images are not nearly as legible since it is more difficult to recognize what was printed on the page, what bled through from the other side, and what represents creases, paper texture, or discolorations of the page. Although portable, such images are not as accessible as their greyscale counterparts.

This compromises some of the convenience and functionality of the “Download Issue” option. It saves time, but sometimes at the expense of legibility. When working with black-and-white PDFs of entire issues, sometimes it becomes necessary to return to online database to examine the greyscale image, negating the portability of the PDF.

As digital surrogates proliferate, their users – scholars, students, and the general public – must be aware of their variations. Each digital surrogate remediates an original document. Some result from multiple generations of remediation. In the process, the images have been altered, sometimes to a greater and sometimes to a lesser degree, so users must be wary that they are not viewing a representation exactly as they would experience seeing the original document. They must devise research strategies that allow them to effectively use the digital surrogates that provide greater access to historical sources.

January 4

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

Jan 4 - 1:4:1767 South-Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (January 4, 1767).

“A Large assortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Jonathan Sarrazin, a jeweler in Charleston, used a woodcut of a teapot, one of the items he sold, to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from others that also appeared among the pages of dense type. Throughout 1767 and into 1768, his advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette regularly included this device. Sarrazin’s enthusiasm for associating an image of a fashionable teapot with his business, however, has been partially obscured by a gap in the archive.

Sarrazin could have advertised in any of the three newspapers published in Charleston. In addition to Robert Wells’ South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Peter Timothy printed the South Carolina Gazette and Charles Crouch printed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Although all three newspapers had print runs that extended through 1767 and 1768, not all of the issues have been converted into digital surrogates that are digitally accessible to historians, other scholars, and the general public. Accessible Archives provides a complete digital archive for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal for 1767 and 1768, but lacks images of the South-Carolina Gazette for several months of 1767. (The database does include transcripts of the text of issues published during the period.) As a result, consideration of Sarrazin’s advertising campaign in 1767 has been truncated. Working with the available issues reveals that the jeweler advertised regularly in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, but not in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Consulting the transcripts of the South Carolina Gazette could establish whether Sarrazin also advertised in that publication, but that process requires much more time and labor than examining photographs of the original issues. This method also eliminates the most striking feature of Sarrazin’s commercial notices, the woodcut that made it so easy for readers – then and now – to identify his advertisements. (Keyword searches are notoriously unreliable, rendering them inconclusive as well.) Furthermore, the transcripts do not include metadata that indicates when woodcuts accompanied advertisements and news items. In the absence of photographs of the original issues, Sarrazin’s advertising campaign cannot be reconstructed definitively.

Fortunately, Accessible Archives does make available photographs for extant issues of the South Carolina Gazette for all of 1768. Those issues reveal that not only did Sarrazin opt to advertise in a second publication but that he also included a woodcut depicting an ornate teapot in his notices. This demonstrates the jeweler’s commitment to establishing a trademark for his business. He wanted consumers in Charleston and its hinterland to readily identify his advertisements and associate his wares with the fashionable and genteel teapot that appeared in his notices and perhaps doubled as the sign that marked the location of his shop. This testifies to a thoughtful effort to achieve consistency in his advertising in multiple newspapers.

August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:6:1767 Massacgusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (August 6, 1767).

“A Fresh and general Assortment of English Goods.”

In his short advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette, William Fisher used “Fine Hyson TEA,” a popular commodity, to attract the attention of readers, but Fisher did not sell just tea “at his Shop in Cornhill near the Post-Office.” Once he had their attention, he informed potential customers that he had also “lately Imported a fresh and general Assortment of English Goods.” To make his merchandise more alluring, he also pledged to charge “the cheapest Rates.” Although brief, especially compared to popular list-style advertisements that enumerated dozens or even hundreds of items, Fisher’s advertisement made several appeals to consumers, including choice, price, and quality.

I chose this advertisement to highlight a recent change in the methodology used for selecting advertisements featured by the Adverts 250 Project. Since the project commenced, every day it has consistently examined an advertisement published 250 years ago that day. When no newspaper had been published on a particular day, the methodology required going back a day to select an advertisement from among newspapers that would have been published most recently in the colonies, a version of consulting the “freshest advices” so often promoted in mastheads of the era. The project resorted to this fairly regularly during the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act crisis because so many newspapers ceased publication while the act was in effect. After repeal, however, scarcity of newspapers – and advertisements – rarely presented a problem. Colonial printers returned to distributing their weekly publications in the late spring of 1766; that meant that curating the Adverts 250 Project involved working with a much fuller slate of newspapers in the spring of 2016, at least one new publication every day …

… with one exception. No colonial printers distributed newspapers on Sundays. The methodology for selecting advertisements required going back one day. As noted yesterday, the Providence Gazette was the only colonial newspaper distributed on Saturdays in 1766 and 1767. Strict adherence to the project’s methodology meant featuring advertisements from the Providence Gazette two consecutive days every week. Yesterday I celebrated the inclusion of the Providence Gazette in this project. Similarly, the regular inclusion of advertisements from the Georgia Gazette, the only newspaper printed on Wednesdays, has enhanced the project by incorporating yet another newspaper from a smaller city. Yet drawing two out of every seven advertisements from the Providence Gazette seemed to do more than shift the emphasis away from exclusively examining the most significant commercial centers and the advertisements inserted in their more fully developed newspapers. On Mondays and Thursdays, printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia issued multiple competing publications, each with a much, much greater array of advertising than appeared in the pages of the Providence Gazette, the Georgia Gazette, and other newspapers from smaller cities and towns. Strict adherence to the project’s methodology meant sometimes passing over important and interesting advertisements.

That prompted an adjustment to the methodology, but only as far as Sundays were concerned. (Keep in mind that Sundays in 1767 correspond to Wednesdays in 2017). The Adverts 250 Project continues to feature an advertisement originally published 250 years ago that day throughout most of the week. However, on the day that no newspapers were published the project now draws from any newspaper published during the previous week. This yields a better representation of advertising from early America. I will continue to consult newspapers from smaller cities regularly, but not at the expense of quite so disproportionately underrepresenting the multitude of publications from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

As a result of this modification, William Fisher’s advertisement for “Fine Hyson TEA” and other imported goods found its way into the Adverts 250 Project, displacing a second advertisement from the August 8, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. That issue featured only a page and a half of advertising, whereas newspapers from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia usually had at least two pages of advertising and some of them regularly distributed advertising supplements. That being the case, a slight adjustment to the project’s methodology, one that acknowledged its spirit and original intent, seemed appropriate and warranted.

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.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 20, 1767).

“For further Particulars inquire of EDWARD SPALDING, in Providence.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin in other advertisements) had two purposes when he took an advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1767. First, he wished to sell a farm in Coventry. As long as he was purchasing space in the newspaper, he also opted to promote his business. He reminded readers that he “still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES” at his shop across the street from the printing office. In the past, Spalding advertised fairly regularly. He was one of the first advertisers to insert commercial notices in the Providence Gazette when it resumed publication the previous year. He must have considered it a good return on his investment since he decided to include commercial marketing at the end of his notice concerning real estate.

Spalding’s hybrid advertisement presents a conundrum for conducting any sort of quantitative study of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspapers of the era did not have classifieds. They did not organize advertisements in any particular order or by categories that suggested the general purpose of the notices. Sometimes, as seen here, individual advertisements had multiple purposes. Spalding and the printers of the Providence Gazette did not classify this advertisement. How should historians do so? It would not be appropriate to categorize it solely as a real estate notice or solely as marketing consumer goods and services. More appropriately, it should count as both, but that sort of double counting does not address another issue. Together or separately, both halves of Spalding’s advertisement were relatively short compared to many others for both real estate and consumer goods and services inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. This suggests that tabulating column inches devoted to advertisements (or portions of advertisements) might produce more accurate data for assessing the proliferation of advertising in relation to news and other content as well as comparing the quantity of advertising space utilized for various purposes. This, however, would be extremely labor intensive. It also requires access to the original newspapers rather than digital surrogates. Working with digitized sources allows for examining other sorts of questions concerning advertising in early America.

Earlier in my career I was much more enthusiastic about incorporating quantitative analysis into my study of advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America. Over time, however, I have determined that identifying general trends rather than hard numbers provides a sufficiently accurate portrait of the expansion of advertising in the era that the colonies became a nation.

February 9

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

feb-9-291767-pennsylvania-chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

“A neat Assortment of DRY GOODS, which he will sell cheap.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features its first advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and Universal Advertiser. Likewise, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project includes its first advertisement from that newspaper. William Goddard had been publishing proposals for the Pennsylvania Chronicle in Philadelphia’s newspapers (and even the Providence Gazette) for weeks before it commenced publication on January 26, 1767. The third issue, published February 9, 1767, is the first included in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database, though copies of the first two issues are extant in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.(*)

Goddard’s proposal included a call for advertisers to submit notices they wished to appear in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. In addition, the colophon advised readers that Goddard “gratefully received” all sorts of submissions for his newspaper, including advertisements, articles, and letters of intelligence. He achieved early successes attracting advertisers, devoting nearly half (seven of sixteen columns) of the third issue to thirty-five paid notices of varying lengths. Most promoted consumer goods and services, but some offered real estate for sale or called on debtors to settle accounts. One even offered a reward upon the return of “a young DOG of the Spaniel Breed” that had strayed from its master.

Compared to newspapers published in some smaller towns, the new Pennsylvania Chronicle overflowed with advertising, especially advertisements for consumer goods and services. The third issue even included advertisements from two entrepreneurs who branded their businesses with woodcuts that presumably replicated the shop signs that marked their locations: saddler John Young, Jr., “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE” and druggist Nathaniel Tweedy “At the GOLDEN-EAGLE.”

feb-9-291767-tweedy-detail-pennsylvania-chronicle
Detail of Nathaniel Tweedy’s advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

This stands in stark contrast to other newspapers, such as the Providence Gazette that seemed to struggle to attract advertisers in late 1766 and early 1767. Goddard appears to have experienced no difficulty generating advertising from entrepreneurs in the busy urban port of Philadelphia. The third issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle offered dozens of advertisements to its readers. A quarter of a millennium later, I am simultaneously excited by the range of advertisements that could potentially be incorporated into the Adverts 250 Project and disappointed to choose only one at a time.

I am also frustrated to skip over so many interesting and significant advertisements, though I continue to affirm the methodology that requires doing so. Part of this disappointment stems from the dearth of advertisements available at other times during the week. For instance, since the Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published on Saturdays in 1767 and no newspapers were published on Sundays, each week the Adverts 250 Project gives disproportionate attention to advertisements from the Providence Gazette in the process of featuring advertisements published exactly 250 years ago that day or as close to that day as possible. As a result, the Providence Gazette is overrepresented and other newspapers with much more advertising remain underrepresented. On the other hand, this means that marketing efforts in at least one smaller city are subject to examination alongside the copious newspaper advertisements published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Again, I stand by the project’s methodology, but recognize that both researchers and readers must take into account both its strengths and limitations.

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(*) Although this project relies primarily on digitized primary sources, I also examined original copies of the first two issues of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. From the very first issue William Goddard managed to attract advertisers.  A total of twenty-two advertisements spread over five (out of sixteen) columns appeared in the first issue (January 26, 1767), including an advertisement by Nathaniel Tweedy (without the woodcut).  The second issue (February 2, 1767) included thirty-three advertisements amounting to nearly seven columns, including advertisements by John Young, Jr., and Nathaniel Tweedy (both with woodcuts).