July 18

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

Providence Gazette (July 18, 1772).

Thurber and Cahoon WANT to purchase … Red Oak Staves.”

In the early 1770s, Thurber and Cahoon regularly advertised imported goods for sale at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES” in Providence.  For instance, they hawked a “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS, Of almost every Kind” in an advertisement in the July 18, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, they promoted a “general Assortment of WEST-INDIA GOODS” in the same notice.  A notation at the end, “(3 M),” indicated that they planned to run the advertisement for three months.

Thurber and Cahoon did not turn to the public prints solely to market merchandise to consumers in Providence and nearby towns.  They also placed advertisements seeking resources they needed to participate in transatlantic trade, including wooden barrel staves.  Two such advertisements ran on the final page of the Providence Gazette on July 18, 1772.  In one, Thurber and Cahoon joined with Edward Thurber in calling on the public to supply them with a “Quantity of LONG STAVES.”  They needed the staves “immediately,” offering “good Pay” for them.  In another advertisement, they stated that they “WANT to purchase a Quantity of square edged Yellow Pine Boards, and Red Oak Stvaes.”  Again, they offered “good Pay” for those items.  The notation “(T. b. c.)” appeared on the final line, alerting the compositor that that Thurber and Cahoon intended for the advertisement “to be continued” until they alerted the printing office to discontinue it.

As Thurber and Cahoon utilized the Providence Gazette for both selling merchandise at their shop and acquiring supplies from other colonizers, John Carter, the printer, enjoyed a steady revenue stream.  Those advertisements helped in funding the distribution of news from London, Marseilles, Albany and Boston that appeared in the July 18 edition, including “the report of a Committee of the Honourable House of Representatives” in Massachusetts “to consider of a message from his Excellency the Governor.”  That report raised concerns about the governor, Thomas Hutchinson, “receiving his support, independent of the grants and acts of the General Assembly,” considering it a “dangerous innovation” because it made the governor less accountable to “the people” of Massachusetts.  Readers of the Providence Gazette learned about some of the most important issues that eventually resulted in the colonies declaring independence in part because Thurber and Cahoon ran advertisements seeking barrel staves “(T. b. c.)”

December 8

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

Providence Gazette (December 7, 1771).

“(T. b. c.)”

Did printers require advertisers to pay for their notices in advance?  They frequently extended credit to subscribers and regularly placed their own notices threatening to sue subscribers who had not paid for months or years, though they rarely seemed to follow through on those threats.  Did printers offer such leeway to subscribers because they more strictly enforced policies that advertisers had to pay before seeing their notices in print?  After all, advertising had the potential to generate significant revenue, eclipsing subscriptions.

John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, included his policy in the colophon at the bottom of the last page: “ADVERTISEMENTS) of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”  Did he enforce his own policy?  Some evidence suggests that he did not always do so, especially for advertisements placed by customers who established good relations with the printing office.

Last week, I examined a notation, “(T. b. c.),” that appeared on the final line of George Olney’s advertisement.  That advertisement ran for eight weeks, for the first four weeks without the notation and for the final four weeks with the notation.  I suggested that “(T. b. c.)” meant “to be continued,” a signal to the compositor to continue inserting the notice until instructed otherwise by the advertiser.  How did that correlate with paying for advertisements in advance?  I hypothesized that since the notation did not initially appear in Olney’s advertisement that he paid for several weeks and then Carter extended credit for the remainder of the advertisement’s run.

Providence Gazette (December 7, 1771).

Today, I am testing that theory against two other advertisements that featured the “(T. b. c.)” notation, one for a “compleat assortment of English and India GOODS” placed by Edward Thurber and the other for “DRUGS and MEDICINES” placed by Amos Throop.  Thurber’s advertisement ran without the notation for three weeks (November 2, 9, and 16, 1771) and then ran for ten weeks with the notation.  In addition, Thurber ran a different advertisement for three weeks in October that did not have the “(T. b. c.)” notation as well as other advertisements earlier in the year that similarly did not include the notation.  If Thurber did indeed pay for inserting those advertisements in advance, then Carter very well could have extended credit for his “(T. b. c.)” advertisements.

Throop’s advertisement ran for six weeks in November and December 1771, each time with “(T. b. c.)” on the final line.  That deviates from Olney and Thurber first running their advertisements without the notation and then with it.  However, Throop had recently inserted another advertisement that ran for three weeks (September 28 and October 5 and 12) without the “(T. b. c.)” notation.  He also ran other advertisements earlier in the year, establishing a recent history with Carter.  That may have been sufficient for the printer to extend credit when Throop submitted an advertisement to appear for the first time on November 23.  It made its final appearance on December 28, perhaps as part of an agreement that credit would not extend into the new year.

Newspapers were important vehicles for disseminating information (via news accounts, letters, editorials, advertisements, and other features) in the era of the American Revolution, so much so that the business practices of printers merit scrutiny.  Notices placed by printers make clear that they extended credit to subscribers, but sometimes those notice made more general references to “customers” instead.  Those customers may have purchased advertisements, job printing, books, stationery, or a variety of other goods and services commonly available at printing offices.  Even though some printers declared that advertisements must pay in advance, it seems likely that they extended credit to some advertisers that they knew well.

November 30

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

Providence Gazette (November 30, 1771).

“(T. b. c.)”

For eight weeks in the fall of 1771, George Olney ran an advertisement for a “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette.  His advertising campaign commenced on October 12 and concluded on November 30.  From week to week, an identical notice appeared in the public prints, with one exception.  The last four insertions included an additional line with a notation, “(T. b. c.),” that was not part of the original advertisement.  Readers likely passed over that notation, realizing that it was intended for the compositor and other workers in John Carter’s printing office.

Similar notations appeared at the end of advertisements in many colonial newspapers, many of them listing issue numbers that corresponded to the first and last appearance so compositors could easily determine whether to include advertisements when preparing the next edition.  Other notations require more systematic attention to multiple advertisements published over the course of weeks or months to decode.  What did “(T. b. c.)” mean?  Perhaps it meant “to be continued” until the advertiser decided to discontinue the notice.  In that case, Olney likely initially paid to have his advertisement run for four weeks and then requested that it continue until he instructed otherwise.  That, however, would have run contrary to the policy that Carter stated in the colophon: “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”  Carter did not seem inclined to extend credit to advertisers, but the notation on Olney’s advertisement suggests that the printer may have exercised some discretion for those who paid for an initial run.

Consulting ledgers and account books might reveal practices in the printing office that deviated from the policy in the colophon, but in their absence an examination of other advertisement with the same notation might establish a pattern.  Other advertisements in the Providence Gazette bore the “(T. b. c.)” notation.  Next week, the Adverts 250 Project will examine another of those advertisements to determine when in its run it acquired the notation.  That may help to outline some of the likely business practices adopted by Carter as he managed advertising in his newspaper.

October 8

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

Oct 8 - 10:8:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 8, 1768).


Thurber and Cahoon placed a new advertisement in the October 8, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.   The partners promoted a “new and general Assortment of English and India GOODS, Imported in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” They listed some of that merchandise in a two short paragraphs, one for textiles and trimmings and the other for hardware. They also informed prospective customers about the location of their store at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES,” across the street from their houses in “the North End of Providence.”

Yet not all of the contents of their advertisement provided information intended for readers and consumers. The final line included a notation in brackets – “[48—6W.]” – intended to aid the compositor when laying out the pages of subsequent issues. The printers also likely referred to that notation in the course of their own bookkeeping. The “48” revealed that the advertisement first appeared in issue number 248. The “6W” presumably indicated that it was supposed to run for six weeks before being discontinued.

Several other advertisements concluded with issue numbers that corresponded with when they first appeared in the Providence Gazette. John White’s advertisement for candles and soap, for instance, listed “(46)” on the final line. Similarly, prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell inserted a notice about their “neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that also stated its initial issue number, “(47).” None of those advertisements, however, included any indication of their intended duration, but “6W” did apparently mean six weeks. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement ran in the next five issues, appearing for the last time in the November 12 edition. It moved from column to column and page to page, but the notation apparently served its purpose in reminding the compositor when to remove the advertisement.

The Providence Gazette was not the only newspaper that inserted such notations into advertisements in the colonial era. Throughout the colonies compositors and printers used this device to facilitate operating their publications. Readers may have taken note and decoded the notations on their own, but they were not the primary audience for those portions of the advertisements.