August 26

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

Newport Mercury (August 26, 1771).

“(Too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.)”

Merchants and shopkeepers offered colonial consumers abundant choices, inviting them to make selections among their merchandise according to their own tastes and finances.  In the August 26, 1771 edition of the Newport Mercury, for instance, Thomas Green declared that he had on hand at his shop a “very neat and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS.”  Similarly, Christopher Champlin proclaimed that he imported a “general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS.”  He then listed several items, concluding with “&c. &c. &c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that he carried an even greater variety of merchandise.  Imanuel Case, John Hadwen, and Edward Wanton all went to even greater lengths to advise prospective customers of the many choices available at their shops.  Each placed advertisements extending half a column, filling most of the space with extensive lists of their inventory.  Case concluded with a promise of “many other articles.”

Some advertisers acknowledged that strategy but claimed it did not do justice to the choices they made available to consumers.  Gideon Sisson trumpeted his “GRAND ASSORTMENT OF ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” that he sold for prices as low as at “any shop or store in the colony.”  He did not, however, include even a brief list; instead, he almost seemed to mock his competitors and their methods by asserting it would have been “Too tedious to insert [a list] in an Advertisement.”  John Bours took a similar approach, promoting a “very handsome Assortment of English & India GOODS, Too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”  Like Sisson, he also made an appeal to price, pledging to sell his wares “at the lowest rates.”  Bours and Sisson likely benefited from Case, Hadwen, and Wanton whetting consumers’ appetites for the many different kinds of goods they listed in their advertisements, all while seeming to promise even more since an accounting of their inventory supposedly would not fit within the pages of the Newport Mercury.  By adopting that strategy, they saved on advertising expenses while piggybacking on the marketing efforts of their competitors.

August 5

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

Newport Mercury (August 5, 1771).

“Where may be gad all kinds of BLANKS commonly used in this Colony.”

Colonial printers often used the colophons on the final pages of their newspapers for more than merely providing the name of the printer and the place of publication.  Many printers treated colophons as spaces for promoting various aspects of their businesses, transforming them into ancillary advertisements.

In a relatively brief example, Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, informed readers that he supplied “all Kinds of BLANKS” (or printed forms for commercial and legal transactions) “commonly used in this Colony.”  Anne Catherine Green included a much more extensive colophon in Maryland Gazette.  Like many other printers, she hawked subscriptions and advertisements, but she also promoted other goods and services available at her printing office in Annapolis.  “At same Place may be had, ready Printed,” she declared, “most kinds of BLANKS, viz. COMMON and BAIL BONDS; TESTAMENTARY LETTERS of several Sorts, with their proper BONDS annexed; BILLS of EXCHANGE; [and] SHIPPING BILLS.”  In addition to blanks, “All Manner of PRINTING-WORK performed in the neatest and most expeditious Manner.”

Isaiah Thomas also used the colophon of his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, to solicit job printing in addition to subscriptions and advertisements.  “PRINTING, in its various Branches,” he proclaimed, “performed in a neat Manner, with the greatest Care and Dispatch, on the most reasonable Terms.”  In particular, Thomas produced “Small Hand-Bills at an Hour’s Notice.”  According to the colophon for the New-York Journal, John Holt did “all Sorts of Printing Work … in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition.”  Alexander Purdie and John Dixon deployed similar language in the colophon for the Virginia Gazette: “All sorts of PRINTING WORK done at this Office in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition.”

Not every newspaper printer transfigured the colophon into an advertisement.  The colophon for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter, for instance, simply stated, “BOSTON: Printed by R. Draper.”  A substantial number of printers, however, did seize the opportunity to do more than merely list their name and location at the bottom of the final page.  Their colophons became advertisements that perpetually appeared in their newspapers, promoting goods and services in a different format than other commercial notices.

March 6

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

Newport Mercury (March 6, 1771).

“Advertisements, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines … will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9.”

Colonial printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  Solomon Southwick, printer of the Newport Mercury, did so in the March 6, 1771, edition, enclosing his notice in a decorative border to draw attention.  He advised that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer hereof, either for this Paper, Advertisements, or otherwise, are earnestly requested to make immediate Payment.”  Unlike some of his counterparts who published newspapers in other towns, he did not threaten legal action against those who ignored his notice.

Southwick did take the opportunity to invite others to become subscribers or place advertisements.  Some printers listed their subscription rates, advertising fees, or both in the colophon on the final page, but otherwise most rarely mentioned how much they charged.  Southwick’s notice listed the prices for both subscriptions and advertisements.  He specified that “Any Person may be supplied with this Paper at 6s9 Lawful Money per Year.”  That six shillings and nine pence did not include postage.  Southwick expected subscribers to pay “One Half on subscribing, and the other at the End of the Year.”  Extending credit for a portion of the subscription was standard practice among printers.

Southwick charged advertisers by the amount of space their notices occupied, not the number of words.  “Advertisement, not exceeding 10 or 12 Lines,” he declared, “will be inserted 3 Weeks for 3s9, and be continued, if required, at 1s per week.”  Once again adhering to standard practices in the printing trade, Southwick charged proportionally more for longer advertisements, contingent on their length.  If inserting an advertisement for an additional week cost one shilling, then the initial cost of running an advertisement for three weeks amounted to three shillings for the space in the newspaper and nine pence for setting type, bookkeeping, and other labor undertaken in the printing office.

Running an advertisement for only three weeks cost more than half as much as an annual subscription, demonstrating the significance of advertising revenue for early American printers.  Perhaps because that revenue helped to make publishing the Newport Mercury a viable enterprise, Southwick stated that advertisements should be “accompanied with the Pay” when delivered to his printing office.  He apparently extended credit for advertisements prior to March 1771, but then discouraged that practice in his notice that simultaneously requested that current customers submit payment and outlined the subscription and advertising fees for new customers.

March 2

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

Providence Gazette (March 2, 1771).

“Advertisements should be inserted in the Newport and Providence News-Papers, calling upon all Persons to bring in their Old Tenor Bills.”

Colonists often found information relayed in advertisements just as newsworthy or important as the contents of articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in early American newspapers.  Consider, for instance, an announcement by Joseph Clarke, General Treasurer of Rhode Island, on behalf of the General Assembly that ran in multiple issues of the Newport Mercury and Providence Gazette in 1771.  Clarke informed readers that “from and after the First Day of January, 1771, no Old Tenor Bills should be received in Payment for Goods sold, or paid away for any Goods bought, but that they should wholly cease passing as a Currency” in Rhode Island “and be all carried into the Treasury.”  In turn, the General Treasurer would issue “a Treasurer’s Note or Notes, for the Sums they shall deliver into the General Treasury.”  Colonists had six months to tend to this matter.  Clarke warned that “all those Persons who shall neglect to bring in their bills … shall lose the Benefit of having them exchanged.”

As part of this act, the General Assembly specified that “Advertisements should be inserted in the Newport and Providence News-Papers, calling upon all Persons to bring in their Old Tenor Bills.”  The Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette were the only newspapers published in the colony at the time.  Both ran the advertisement widely.  It appeared in the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in 1771 and then in eighteen consecutive issues of that weekly newspapers.  From January through June, it appeared in every issue except May 25 and June 1 and 15.  Curiously, it also ran in three issues in July and one in August, after the deadline for exchanging bills passed.  Perhaps Clarke or the General Assembly wanted readers to be aware they had missed their opportunity.

Not as many issues of the Newport Mercury are available via Early American Newspapers, likely the result of few extant issues in research libraries and historical societies.  For the first six months, only the editions from February 25, March 6 and 20, and June 17 and 24 are available in their entirety.  The first two pages of the May 27 issue are available, but not the last two.  Clarke’s advertisement ran in each of the issues available in their entirety.  In the February 25 edition, a notation at the end specified “(51),” matching the issue number, 651.  Printers and compositors often included such notations to keep track of when an advertisement first appeared or should last appear, aiding them in determining which content to include when they prepared new editions.  Both iterations of the advertisement for March bore “(40)” as a notation.  The advertisements published in June, in the final weeks before the deadline for exchanging bills,” both had notations for “(40 – 68).”  The “68” corresponded to the issue number, 668, for the final issue for June.  The “40,” on the other hand extended back to the middle of December, earlier than the advertisement would have initially appeared.  It may have been an estimation to remind the printer or compositor of the longevity of the notice.

Whatever the explanation for that small inaccuracy, the “(40 – 68)” notation strongly suggests that the advertisement ran consistently in the Newport Mercury over the course of the first six months of 1771.  It certainly appeared in the Providence Gazette almost every week during the same period.  The General Assembly depended on delivering news to colonists via advertisements in the colony’s two newspapers, realizing that readers would consult the notices in addition to news accounts and editorials for important information.

October 1

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

Newport Mercury (October 1, 1770).

“It is hoped he will meet with the Encouragement of the Public in General, and particularly of all true Lovers of their Country.”

Like many other newspapers published in eighteenth-century America, the masthead of the Newport Mercury informed readers that it carried “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.”  Starting with the December 18, 1769, edition, Solomon Southwick, the printer, included an additional line in the masthead: “Undaunted by TYRANTS, —– We’ll DIE or be FREE.”  Amid protests over duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts and other abuses perpetrated by both Parliament and British soldier quartered in the colonies, Southwick asserted that defending the liberty of American colonists was one of the main purposes of publishing his newspaper.

Staying informed about current events was not the only way for readers to support the American cause.  Advertisers argued that colonists could practice politics through the decisions they made as consumers.  Consider the notice that Jonathan Stoddard inserted in the October 1, 1770, edition of the Newport Mercury.  In it, he informed the public that “he has set up the NAIL-MAKING Business.”  He made all sorts of nails “of much better Quality than those imported.”  In addition to quality, he made an appeal to price, pledging to “sell as cheap as any imported Nails of the same Size can be had at any Retail Shop in Town.”

Stoddard hoped to “meet with the Encouragement of the Public in General,” but he also extended a challenge to “all true Lovers of their Country” to acquire nails from him rather than resorting to imported alternatives.  He used patriotism and politics to frame his advertisement, reminding consumers that price and quality were important but not the only factors they should take into account when shopping for nails or any other goods.  Stoddard’s advertisement appeared on the first page of the Newport Mercury, the second item in the first column.  In quick succession, readers encountered Southwick’s rallying cry that “Undaunted by TYRANTS, —– We’ll DIE or be FREE” and Stoddard’s appeal to “all true Lovers of their Country” to purchase goods produced in the colonies.  These messages likely reinforced each other as readers perused them and read more about current events throughout the rest of the newspaper.

Newport Mercury (October 1, 1770).

September 19

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

Newport Mercury (September 17, 1770).

“The ACADEMY in LEEDS … in England.”

Readers of the Newport Mercury likely recognized many or even most of the names that appeared among the advertisements for goods and services in the early 1770s.  Such advertising tended to be local in nature, though local could be broadly defined since colonial newspapers tended to serve regions rather than just the towns where they were printed.  One of two newspapers printed in Rhode Island, for instance, the Newport Mercury served all of the southern portions of the colony.  The Providence Gazette provided news and advertising throughout the north.  Thomas Green, Paul Mumford, Gideon Sisson, and Nicholas Tillinghast all ran businesses in Newport and placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury.  John Borden operated a ferry between nearby Portsmouth and Bristol.  He also placed advertisements in the Newport Mercury.

Most advertisements did not come from places outside of the region that the Newport Mercury served, though occasional exceptions did find their way into the pages of that newspaper.  A. Grinshaw’s notice in the September 17, 1770, edition was one such exception.  Grinshaw, a schoolmaster, promoted his “ACADEMY in LEEDS, Which is pleasantly situated in the County of York, in England.”  He made arrangements from the other side of the Atlantic to place his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, hoping to attract pupils for his boarding school from among the merchant elite who resided in the busy port.  The appearance of Grinshaw’s advertisement raises questions about printing and bookkeeping practices.  Colonial printers frequently ran notices calling on their customers, including advertisers, to settle their accounts or face legal consequences.  Did Solomon Southwick, the printer of the Newport Mercury, extend credit to an advertiser so far away?  Or did he insist that Grinshaw pay in full before printing his advertisement?  Did Grinshaw deal directly with Southwick?  Or did he work through an associate who traveled between England and the colonies?  Did Grinshaw ever see his advertisement in print?  Did that even matter to him?  Did the schoolmaster find a receptive audience in Newport?  Did he gain any new students as a result of placing it?  Other sources may reveal the answers to some of these questions, but the advertisement itself does not.

August 14

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

Aug 14 - 8:14:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 14, 1769).

““ADvertisements of a common Length will be inserted 3 Weeks in this Paper at Three Shillings and Nine Pence Lawful Money.”

How much did advertising in colonial newspapers cost? Printers rarely published advertising rates in their newspapers. A few did include this information in the colophon that appeared at the bottom of the final page of each issue, but most did not make their rates so readily available. On occasion, some printers published their plan of publication, including advertising rates, in the first edition as part of launching a newspaper, but did not incorporate that information into subsequent issues. That made Solomon Southwick’s advertisement in the August 14, 1769, edition of the Newport Mercury all the more notable. It did not receive a place of prominence on the first page or in the colophon. Instead, it appeared among other advertisements on the final page, sandwiched between Elizabeth Mumford’s advertisement that John Remmington continued making shoes at her shop following the death of her husband and John Fryer’s notice about a house for rent. The first column of the first page consisted almost entirely of advertising; Southwick could have increased the visibility for his own advertisement about advertising rates (as well as a call for advertisers who had not yet made payment to settle accounts) by inserting it as the first item readers would encounter.

Despite his decision not to exercise his privilege as printer of the Newport Mercury, Southwick did provide important information for prospective advertisers (and for historians of print culture in early America). He informed readers that “ADvertisements of a common Length will be inserted 3 Weeks in this Paper at Three Shillings and Nine Pence Lawful Money, and Nine Pence for every Week after.” His pricing scheme corresponded to those published by other printers. He charged a flat rate for setting the type and inserting an advertisement for three weeks. Some printers ran advertisements for four weeks, but most chose three weeks as the standard for an initial run. At three shillings and nine pence, this cost advertisers nine pence for each insertion and eighteen pence for setting type. This system allowed Southwick to generate revenues based on both labor involved in preparing an advertisement for publication and the space it occupied in the newspaper. His own advertisement, which did not appear the following week, would have cost the printing office twenty-seven pence – eighteen pence for setting the type and nine pence for the space in the August 14 edition – but Southwick likely considered it a good investment if it brought in new advertisers or convinced delinquent customers to make payments on their outstanding accounts.

Although eighteenth-century printers frequently advertised books, stationery, printed blanks, and other goods they sold, they rarely advertised advertising as a service they provided. Many may not have considered it necessary since the pages of their newspapers practically overflowed with advertisements. Those that did reveal advertising rates in the public prints demonstrated a high level of consistency in their business practices, charging an initial fee for setting type and running an advertisement for a specified number of weeks and then another fee for each additional week. According to his own advertisement, Southwick adopted just such a plan.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 31, 1769).

“The Shoe-making Business is still carried on at her Shop.”

Elizabeth Mumford did not insert herself into the public prints until necessity forced her to do so. When her husband Samuel, a cordwainer, passed away in the summer of 1769, she ran advertisements in the Newport Mercury calling on “her late Husband’s Friends and Customers” to continue to patronize the family business. She referred to the shop on New Lane as “her Shop” and reported that she employed John Remmington, “who has work’d with her late Husband several Years.” Former customers may have been familiar with Remmington already, having interacted with him in the shop in the past. Whether or not they had previously made the acquaintance, Mumford underscored that the “Shoe-making Business” continued without disruption and that customers could “depend on being served with as good Work of every Sort as in her Husband’s Life-time.” Remmington’s presence provided continuity in the production of shoes, but Mumford likely made other contributions, such as waiting on customers and keeping accounts.

Mumford, however, downplayed any role that she had played or continued to play in the family business as partner, supervisor, or assistant. Instead, she presented herself as a widow who happened to own the shop yet otherwise depended on the good will of others. She reported that Remmington continued working at her Shop “for the Benefit of her and her Children,” making her appeal to “her late Husband’s Friends and Customers” all the more poignant. Without husband and provider, the widow and children found themselves in a vulnerable new position. Mumford crafted her advertisement to encourage sympathy and a sense of collective responsibility for her family among friends and patrons. She took what steps she could in engaging Remmington’s continued employment at her shop, but that did not matter if their former customers did not return in the wake of Samuel’s death. In other circumstances, the quality of the shoes produced in the shop on New Lane may have been sufficient promotion in newspaper advertisements, but Mumford did not consider that enough following the death of her husband. She crafted a narrative with greater urgency even as she noted the continuities in the shop. As a widow she enjoyed new financial and legal powers, but she tempered her portrayal of herself as an independent entrepreneur in her efforts to retain her husband’s clientele and “the Continuance of their Favours.”

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 24, 1769).

“This valuable tincture … sold … at Mrs. CROSSWALL’S in Thames-street[,] Newport.”

In the summer of 1769, Mr. Hamilton, a “Surgeon Dentist and Operator for the teeth, from LONDON,” offered his services to residents of New York. He also advertised a tincture for curing toothaches that he made available beyond New York and its hinterlands. In marketing that remedy, Hamilton placed advertisements in multiple newspapers in New York as well as newspapers published in other cities. In those other locations, the advertisements specified local agents who distributed the tincture on Hamilton’s behalf. The Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, ran an advertisement identical to those that appeared in newspapers in New York except for the addition of local agents in Lancaster and Philadelphia. It made sense for Hamilton to commence his attempt to enlarge his market with the Pennsylvania Gazette. Printed in Philadelphia, the largest city in the colonies, the Pennsylvania Gazette had an extensive circulation as a regional newspaper whose “local” readers included colonists throughout Pennsylvania as well as Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and beyond.

Hamilton, however, did not confine his efforts to newspapers published in New York and Pennsylvania. He also inserted his advertisement in the Newport Mercury, hoping to attract customers in Rhode Island and other parts of New England. That advertisement featured identical copy except for the inclusion of a local agent who sold Hamilton’s tincture for curing toothaches. Hamilton instructed interested parties to acquire it “at Mrs. CROSSWALL’S in Thames-street[,] Newport.” The advertisement did not specify whether Crosswall or one of her boarders served as Hamilton’s local agent, nor did the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette specify whether it named local agents in Lancaster and Philadelphia or their landlords.

If these advertisements did name the local agents, Hamilton worked with women in Newport and Philadelphia. Although lacking titles like “Surgeon Dentists and Operator for the teeth,” these women exercised medical authority as they consulted with clients in the process of distributing the tincture and, especially, in making determinations about the “No CURE No PAY” guarantee that Hamilton included in every advertisement. He did not limit that guarantee to customers in New York who purchased the tincture directly from him. Instead, he extended it to customers who acquired the tincture in Lancaster, Newport, and Philadelphia, transferring responsibility to local agents for making assessments about the veracity of claims made by anyone who claimed that the tincture had not alleviated their pain.

Hamilton’s endeavor to enlarge the market for his tincture demanded attention to detail in distributing the product and “particular directions for using it.” He also had to cultivate relationships of trust with his local agents who represented him to distant customers. This was especially important since he depended on them exercising medical authority in their interactions with local clients. Hamilton sought to create a widely recognized brand, not unlike many patent medicines familiar to consumers throughout the British Atlantic world, but doing so required cooperation with associates and agents in faraway places.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 17, 1769).

“Almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.”

Thomas Green inserted a lengthy advertisement for “All Sorts of English, India, West-India, and Homespun Goods” in the July 17, 1769, edition of the Newport Mercury. Although the advertisement listed hundred of items available at his shop at the Sign of the Roe Buck, Green concluded with a note that he also carried “almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.” Prospective customers could hardly have doubted that this shopkeeper offered choices to suit their own tastes.

Green did “enumerate” so many items that his advertisement extended more than a column, which was relatively rare even for the most extensive list-style advertisements of the period. At a glance, however, it may not have looked as dense and difficult to navigate as other advertisements. The compositor, likely with instructions from Green, devised a unique format that gave much of the advertisement the appearance of a series of shorter notices. Each section concluded with a line that ran across the remainder of the column, creating a visual effect similar to the lines that separated notices from each other. In addition each new section commenced with one or two lines in a larger font, similar to the format for the headers for other advertisements. This technique highlighted particular goods for sale while also breaking this advertisement into shorter segments that readers could more easily peruse.

Compare Green’s advertisement to another lengthy advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury. Gideon Sisson sold similar merchandise at his shop on Thames Street. His advertisement fell a few lines shy of filling an entire column. Below the header, it featured only two sections of equal length, approximately half a column each. Many readers likely found the format imposing compared to the inviting layout of Green’s advertisement. Sisson required prospective customers to work harder when examining his inventory of goods.

Without close examination, many readers may have found it difficult to determine where Green’s advertisement ended. Encountering a series of shorter segments forced readers whose attention fixed on any particular section to scan backwards until they determined that it was part of Green’s lengthy advertisement. This exposed them to the rest of the advertisement, sometimes repeatedly if they happened to note more than one section of Green’s advertisement as they made their way through the newspaper. Such reiterative viewing would have introduced prospective customers to even more merchandise Green stocked at the Sign of the Roe Buck while simultaneously underscoring the extent of the choices he presented to consumers.

The format of Green’s advertisement played an important role in introducing prospective customers to his wares and increasing the likelihood that they took notice of his advertisement. Copy and layout played off each other to increase the effectiveness of both.