November 4

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

Nov 4 - 11:4:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 4, 1769).

“To be Sold … by the several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.”

John Carter continued to advertise the New-England Almanack for 1770 in the November 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. A week earlier he launched his advertising campaign with a full-page advertisement, but he did not continue to give over as much space in subsequent issues of his newspaper. Instead, he condensed the advertisement, filling approximately three-quarters of a column. This made room for other content, especially paid notices that accounted for an important source of revenue for any newspaper printer.

Although the new version of the advertisement filled less space in the Providence Gazette, Carter still managed to insert almost everything than ran in the original. The new version left out only a note to retailers that had appeared at the end: “A considerable Allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” It also featured a slight revision to the list of sellers, which originally stated that the almanac was sold “At SHAKESPEAR’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE, and by the AUTHOR.” The new advertisement made a nod to the popularity of the almanac and the distribution network that Carter devised. Prospective customers could purchase it at the printing office, from the author, of from any of “several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.” Otherwise, the text of the advertisement did not change from one version to the next.

The addition of merchants and shopkeepers in Newport reveals two important aspects of early American print culture. First, it speaks to the distribution of the Providence Gazette beyond the city where it was printed. Carter expected that colonists who resided in Newport as well as those who lived closer to Newport than Providence would see the advertisement in the Providence Gazette and then obtain copies of the almanac from retailers in Newport.

Second, this strengthens the case that the original full-page advertisement also doubled as a broadside (or poster) that Carter displayed in his shop and posted around town. Business ledgers from eighteenth-century printing offices include records of apprentices hanging posters. (See, for instance, Robert Aitken’s ledger at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Carter could have had boys from his shop post broadsides around Providence without incurring additional expenses or having to give complicated instructions. Making arrangements to have posters hung in Newport, on the other hand, would have been much more complicated and expensive. Thus the Newport merchants and shopkeepers were absent from the full-page advertisement that probably doubled as a broadside but did appear in a subsequent iteration that occupied less space in the newspaper and did not circulate separately. Carter altered the advertisement slightly, likely out of consideration that the two formats had different methods of distribution to prospective customers.

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:10:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (November 10, 1768).

“Orders from the West-Indies, or any part of America, &c. shall be faithfully complied with.”

When Richard Mason placed an advertisement for his “FIRE-ENGINES of the newest construction” in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the fall of 1768, he anticipated reaching an audience far beyond the residents of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Gazette, formerly published by Benjamin Franklin but then published by David Hall (Franklin’s partner who assumed control of the printing office upon his retirement from printing) and William Sellers, was one of the most successful and widely circulated newspapers in the colonies. It regularly included a supplement devoted entirely to advertising, sometimes two pages printing on both sides of a half sheet but often four pages that required an entire broadsheet and doubled the amount of content of a standard issue. The proportion of paid notices to other items made it clear that the Pennsylvania Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertising that happened to carry some news.

And deliver advertising it did! After describing in detail the fire engines that he made and sold, Mason advised that “Orders from the West-Indies, or any part of America, &c. shall be faithfully complied with.” In addition, he “will also undertake to keep all the fire engines of this city in repair.” With a single advertisement, Mason strove to position himself in multiple markets, near and far. It comes as no surprise that he offered goods and services to residents of Philadelphia. His call for orders from the West Indies and mainland North America, however, suggests that he had a reasonable expectation that the Pennsylvania Gazette would find its way into the hands of readers and prospective customers in faraway places. Even if they did not maintain their own subscription, they might read the Pennsylvania Gazette at coffeehouses that made newspapers from Europe and the colonies available to their clients, or they might come into possession of a copy that passed from hand to hand via the networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic world. Mason may not have anticipated that the bulk of his business would derive “from the West-Indies, or any part of America,” but he recognized the possibility. Another advertisement on the same page offered “Freight or Passage” aboard the Clarendon bound for “KINGSTON, in JAMAICA.” In addition to goods and people, it likely carried news, including copies of the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers, to other port cities.

January 5

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

Jan 5 - 1:5:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 5, 1768).

“At his store in Beaufort.”

Samuel Grove advertised imported textiles and “a general assortment of other goods” in the January 5, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Unlike most of the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who advertised in that newspaper or its local competitors, Grove’s business was not located in Charleston. Instead, he owned a store in Beaufort, “kept by Mr. PETER LAVINE.” Grove’s advertisement testifies to the reach of both consumer culture and print culture, especially the distribution of newspapers, in eighteenth-century America.

Chartered in 1711, Beaufort is located on Port Royal, one of the Sea Islands in the South Carolina Lowcountry, approximately midway between Charleston and Savannah. The town did not have its own newspaper; instead the newspapers printed in Charleston served the residents of Beaufort and the rest of the colony. According to Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Table of American Newspapers, South Carolina’s newspapers were published exclusively in Charleston until the appearance of the South-Carolina Gazette in Parker’s Ferry in 1782, just as the revolution neared its end.[1] Only one issue survives, though items reprinted in other newspapers suggest that the Parker’s Ferry South-Carolina Gazette commenced in April and continued at least until the end of June.[2] No other newspaper printed beyond Charleston appeared until James Carson published the South-Carolina Independent Gazette in Georgetown, also in the Lowcountry, in 1791.[3] In the interim, a variety of newspapers commenced (and many of them ceased) publication in Charleston. The colony’s oldest city remained the primary hub for disseminating information, both news and advertising, for a quarter century after Samuel Grove inserted his advertisement for a store in Beaufort in Charleston’s South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He placed that advertisement with confidence that prospective customers in Beaufort would see it. In addition, he realized that readers in other parts of the country would also encounter it. To that end, he accepted “orders from the country” beyond Beaufort.

Charleston’s newspapers served an extensive hinterland. Samuel Grove turned to the advertising pages of one of those newspapers to attract customers who resided in that hinterland.

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[1] Edward Connery Lathem, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1620-1820 (Barre, MA: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972), 21.

[2] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 1052.

[3] Lathem, Chronological Tables, 40

November 6

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

Nov 6 - 11:6:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 6, 1767).

“Care will be taken to have all the English and American News Papers, Magazines, and political Pamphlets.”

In the fall of 1767 Robert Calder informed residents of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and its environs that “he has open’d a COFFEE HOUSE, opposite the South Side of the Reverend Mr. HAVEN’s Meeting House.” He catered to his clients, promising that he served the most popular beverages – coffee, tea, and chocolate – “in the best and most agreeable Manner.” Calder, “LATE FROM LONDON,” paid special attention to cultivating an ambiance of sophistication for his patrons. In his other line of work as a hairdresser for both ladies and gentlemen, he adhered to the “genteelest Fashions.” Those who visited his coffeehouse could expect the same atmosphere as they sipped their drinks and conversed with friends and acquaintances. After all, the proprietor promised that “every other Means [would be] assiduously pursued to give Satisfaction.”

Yet Calder’s coffeehouse was more than just a place to gather for pleasant conversation over a pot of a hot beverage on a brisk fall day. It was also a place where the public could keep themselves informed about events taking place in the colony and, especially, other colonies and other places throughout the Atlantic world and beyond. Calder announced, “Care will be taken to have all the English and American News Papers, Magazines, and political Pamphlets, as early as possible.” Even though the issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette that carried this advertisement included news from Boston, Newport, New York, London, and Algiers, publishers Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle did not have sufficient space to reprint all the news from faraway places. The variety of newspapers available at Calder’s coffeehouse would allow colonists to keep up to date on current events, a prospect that likely loomed large considering that the Townshend Act was scheduled to go into effect in just two weeks. Realizing that prospective patrons wanted to keep informed, Calder provided magazines and political pamphlets as well. At his coffeehouse the public had access to printed materials that many colonists might not otherwise have had the means or the money to procure on their own.

In eighteenth-century America, coffeehouses were an important counterpart to printing shops that doubled as post offices. Both were places for disseminating and obtaining information via multiple media. Printers published and distributed the news, but coffeehouse proprietors facilitated delivering the news to even broader audiences. They offered an important service that benefited the civic life of their communities.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:24:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (September 24, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles suitable for this Market, and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.”

As spring turned to fall and colonists anticipated the arrival of winter in 1767, Philip Livingston inserted an advertisement for “A Very neat Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Season” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. In placing this notice, Livingston did not seek the patronage of end-use consumers; instead, he acted as a wholesaler in distributing imported textiles to retailers to sell to customers in their own shops throughout the colony. After listing a variety of fabrics (most of them in an array of colors), he described them as “suitable for this Market and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.” The merchant wanted potential customers to know that if they acquired his woolens and “other Articles” that the merchandise would not just sit on the shelves.

Livingston’s advertisement also demonstrates the wide distribution of newspapers in the late colonial period. He inserted his notice in a newspaper printed in New York City, confident that “Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony” would see it. At the time, printers in the busy port published four newspapers: the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on Mondays and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal on Thursdays. Livingston placed the same advertisement in all four publications, realizing that was the most efficient way to communicate with shopkeepers in towns beyond the city. After all, the four newspapers printed in New York City were the only newspapers published in the colony in 1767. Livingston did not have the option of buying advertising space in hometown publications because the four newspapers emanating from New York City were the local newspapers for residents throughout the entire colony! Subscribers beyond the city received copies delivered by post riders. After delivery, issues passed from hand to hand. Individual retailers “in the Northern Parts of the Colony” might not have access to each of New York’s newspapers during any given week, but Livingston knew that they likely would see at least one.

In distinguishing among the various components of colonial newspapers it might be tempting to view the news items as general interest for any reader but advertisements as limited to local markets. That, however, would not be an accurate assessment of many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Many advertisers – both wholesalers and retailers – sought to cultivate customers in towns beyond the cities where newspaper were published. The extensive distribution networks for colonial networks made that possible.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 30, 1767).

“John Hansen, Of the City of Albany, INTENDING soon for England …”

As part of his preparations in advance of his departure for England, John Hansen placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal calling on “every Person or Persons whatsoever, that have any lawful Demands against him” to visit his house “and receive immediate Payment.” He also wished to settle accounts with “all Persons, who are indebted unto him.”

Such notices were fairly common in the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers, but this one merits attention because of what it reveals about reading habits and the distribution of newspapers as well as networks of commerce in the colonial era. John Hansen did not reside in the urban port where the New-York Journal was printed. Instead, he described himself as “Of the City of Albany,” on the Hudson River approximately 150 miles to the north. Despite the distance, placing a notice in the New-York Journal was advertising in a local newspaper.

Who was the intended audience for Hansen’s advertisement? Quite possibly he did business with residents of Albany and New York as well as places in between. He needed a means of distributing his announcement to as many of them as possible. To that end, Hansen purchased space in the New-York Journal with a reasonable expectation that neighbors and business associates in Albany would see his notice nestled among so many others.

That was the case because local newspapers were not so much local as regional throughout most of the eighteenth century. Americans experienced an explosion in print after the Revolution: newspapers began publication in a far greater number of smaller cities and towns in the 1780s and 1790s. Until then, however, newspaper publication was concentrated in relatively few places, simultaneously serving local residents as well as all those in the vast hinterlands that surrounded the major settlements. John Hansen could place an advertisement in a newspaper printed in New York and expect his neighbors in Albany to read it because some were subscribers themselves or had access to newspapers from faraway places at local taverns, coffeehouses, or the post office (often the shop operated by a printer). In addition to post riders who delivered newspapers, readers encountered copies that passed from hand to hand.

Subscription lists and notices placed by post riders demonstrate the reach of colonial newspapers, but advertisements by colonists like “John Hansen, Of the City of Albany” further illustrate their broad dissemination. In addition, such advertisements suggest that colonists in faraway places read or skimmed entire issues (including advertisement), not solely foreign and domestic news.

February 8

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

feb-8-261767-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 8, 1767).

“Said Carrier will begin to Ride as soon as sufficient Number of Subscribers can be had.”

Like other colonial printers, Daniel and Robert Fowle inserted advertisements for their own business endeavors in the newspaper they published (though they did not use the colophon as a standing advertisement for the various services provided at their printing office in Portsmouth). The Fowles were responsible for four of the advertisements that appeared in the February 6, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Three of those advertisements were fairly short: four lines each. Two of them peddled leftover almanacs for 1767 and the third informed readers that the Fowles supplemented the revenues from newspaper subscriptions and advertisements by selling “BLANKS of all sorts – and a variety of Books, Pamphlets, &c.”

The fourth advertisement took up considerably more space on the page. It advertised the newspaper itself, the title appearing in a larger font and on a line by itself in the middle of the notice. The Fowles outlined a plan to have a rider continue to deliver newspapers to subscribers in towns and villages beyond Portsmouth. The proposed route included “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Dover, Durham, Newmarket, [and] Stratham.” The Fowles offered this as a service to subscribers, though they also indicated that demand already existed among “some Persons who live at the Heads of the Rivers” who were “desirous of having a Carrier continue to Ride.”

The printers placed this notice to gauge interest in this plan, stating that “Said Carrier will begin to Ride as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers can be had.” Yet interest was not sufficient to bring the plan to fruition: subscribers needed to demonstrate their commitment by paying half of the delivery in advance. The printers also requested that current subscribers “in Arrears” pay up “before the Carrier begins to Ride, in order to prevent any future Disputes.”

This advertisement made clear that the rider would provide a continuation of an existing service, delivery to the local town (if not directly to each subscriber’s home). In so doing, it demonstrated the geographic reach of colonial newspapers beyond the cities where they were printed and into the towns and villages in the hinterland. Certainly some copies were disseminated even further afield, but the success (or even the continuation) of newspapers depended on cultivating local and regional customers and readers.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 17, 1766).

“Ladies in the Country may be supplied by sending measures.”

It was not necessary to visit William Harvey’s shop for a fitting. He made “WOMEN’s and children’s stays, … women’s riding dresses, cloaks and cardinals, vests and tunicks” for “Ladies in the Country” who sent their measurements to him. Mail order and catalog shopping became especially popular at the end of the nineteenth century, but this service offered by a “STAY-MAKER and TAYLOR” in eighteenth-century Philadelphia” could rightly be considered a precursor of those methods of marketing and selling goods.

In addition to capturing a greater portion of the market, there were other advantages to conducting portions of the staymaking business solely through letters. Taking measurements required close personal contact between the staymaker and the customer. Harvey could avoid potential accusations of impropriety, at least as far as his patrons “in the Country” were concerned, by eliminating face-to-face encounters.

That Harvey acknowledged “Ladies in the Country” also demonstrates the reach of colonial newspapers and the advertisements in them. Newspapers did not serve only the city in which they were printed. Instead, they were distributed throughout a vast hinterland, in part because there were so few newspapers. In 1766, only four newspapers were printed in the entire colony of Pennsylvania, three in Philadelphia (two English and one German) and one in nearby Germantown (in German). That meant that the Pennsylvania Journal was a “local” newspaper for colonists who lived outside Philadelphia and William Harvey was a “local” staymaker and tailor. He advertised accordingly.