August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:11:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 11, 1766).

“DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES.”

Advertisements associated with the potash industry appeared quite regularly in colonial newspapers. Some advertisers wanted to buy it, offering a good price in exchange for potash. Others supplied some of the equipment, such as oversized kettles, necessary for producing potash. Although not necessarily directly involved in potash production, printers also published advertisements that indicated they stood to profit from it all the same. Some sold “Justices Blank Certificates” used in the packing and regulation of potash, while others peddled instruction manuals to those who wanted to participate in the industry or improve on their previous efforts.

Such was the case with a short pamphlet (less than twenty pages) devoted to “DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES, As practised in Hungary, &c.” Samuel Hall, the printer of the Newport Mercury, sold the pamphlet at his shop “on the North Side of the Parade,” but the imprint on the pamphlet itself indicated that it was “Printed for and sold by JOHN MEIN, at the London Book-store” in Boston. Both printers (and quite likely others throughout New England that exchanged stock with Mein) looked to make a profit from indirect involvement in the potash trade through the sale of ancillary products.

Aug 12 - Potash Pamphlet
Directions for Making Calcined or Pearl Ashes, as Practised in Hungary, &c. with a Copper-plate Drawing of a Calcining Furnace (Boston:  John Mein, 1766).  Boston Public Library.

Both the advertisement and the title page of the pamphlet underscored that it included “a Copper-Plate Drawing of a calcined Furnace.” This would have certainly increased the expense of producing the pamphlet and, ultimately, the cost to the customer, but such an investment could be readily justified. The accompanying image likely offered valuable insight into the text, making it more comprehensible. Art historian Nancy Siegel has argued that engraved images that accompanied eighteenth-century cookbooks were imperative in demonstrating the meaning of the text to readers. The same would have been true for an instruction manual detailing equipment and processes for producing potash, especially for readers not already well versed in the subject. After all, the directions in the pamphlet were “founded on the most extensive Knowledge of Pearl Ashes—a Knowledge acquired by long Practice, Experience and Success. The advertisement warned readers that this was “the only Means to establish Matters of Fact.” It concluded by jeering that “plausible Theories” were “little better than ingenious Amusements.”

In other words, both the text and the engraved copperplate drawing merited attention from anybody serious about potash production. Both were worth the expense.

May 16

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

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

“THE Publisher of the GAZETTE, will esteem it as a Favour.”

Special circumstances prompt me to deviate from the usual “featured advertisement” format today. On this day 250 years ago William Rind published the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, as promised in an advertisement featured last week. This presents an opportunity to look at advertising as it appeared from the very start of a publication. Considering that colonial newspapers tended to make any profit from advertising, not from subscriptions, I was curious to examine to what extent advertising appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Advert Extra 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinaryreprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766) and noted when it also appeared in the Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766). It quite likely appeared in many other newspapers in April and May 1766. The original and the reprints in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Newport Mercury all included this final line: “P.S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Although this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” did not generate any revenue for Rind, it was valuable content that demonstrated to readers that they could depend on the printer’s connections to deliver news of interest from throughout the colonies.

May 16 - Lee 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The next two advertisements that appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette took a distinctly partisan tone, making them appropriate complements to the “Advertisement Extraordinary.” In one, Francis Lightfoot Lee, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned friends and acquaintances against picking up letters addressed to him at the post office because “he is determined never willingly to pay a Farthing of any TAX laid upon this COUNTRY, in an UNCONSTITUTIONAL MANNER.”

May 16 - 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The other advertisement with a partisan valence marketed a pamphlet that examined ‘THE PROPRIETY OF IMPOSING TAXES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, For the Purpose of raising a REVENUE, by ACT of PARLIAMENT.” Although “LATELY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD by WILLIAM RIND,” these two descriptions need to be separated from each other. Rind likely sold a pamphlet that had recently been published by another printer. This same advertisement, except for the information about where it was sold, previously appeared in a variety of newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic. Either the pamphlet’s printer provided printers and booksellers with copy to place their own advertisements or Rind borrowed the copy from other newspapers (just as he had done with the “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.” Either way, the newspaper did not generate any revenue from this advertisement; Rind inserted it to advance his other branches of his printing and bookselling business. (This calls into question whether Lee paid to insert his advertisement, dated a month earlier, into Rind’s Virginia Gazette or if Rind reprinted it from another publication.)

May 16 - Stray Horse 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Daniel Baxter’s notice (dated May 12) about a stray or stolen horse was certainly a new advertisement. Similar advertisements appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies. The misfortune of the advertisers financially benefited the printers who published their advertisements.

Rind inserted one more advertisement of his own, an abbreviated version of his request for “Gentlemen who have obliged him by taking in Subscriptions” to return the lists to him as soon as possible. A more extensive version appeared a week earlier in the competing Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Finally, the colophon encouraged readers to become subscribers and presented the terms for advertising in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3 s. the First Week, and 2 s. each Time after: And long Ones in Proportion.” Rind adopted a price structure that exactly replicated that of the Virginia Gazette. He didn’t seek to undercut the competition (doing so might not have allowed for any profit), but he also attempted to make advertising in his newspaper as attractive as possible.

May 16 - Colophon 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Even though Rind had previously advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he intended to begin publishing his own newspaper, very little advertising appeared in the first issue. That makes sense since not even Rind seemed certain of how many people had signed up as subscribers. Potential advertisers likely waited to see how successful Rind’s Virginia Gazette would be, delaying decisions to purchase advertising space until they had a better sense that doing so would likely produce a satisfactory return on their investment. For his part, Rind inserted enough advertising to assure others that their marketing efforts would not stand alone in his newspaper.

April 29

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

Apr 29 - 4:28:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766).

“Just published, and to be sold by the Printer hereof, CONSIDERATIONS upon the RIGHTS of the COLONISTS.”

When the Stamp Act was repealed a major political crisis came to a close (though the simultaneous passage of the Declaratory Act signaled that not all was resolved between Parliament and Britain’s colonies in North America). Colonial merchants imported goods from Britain. Advertisers encouraged consumers to purchase those goods.

Printers and booksellers continued to market other wares that had been for sale during the Stamp Act crisis: books and pamphlets about the “RIGHTS of the COLONISTS to the PRIVILEGES of British SUBJECTS.” Such items had been advertised frequently before the Stamp Act went into effect in 1765 and continuing through its repeal in the spring of 1766. The Stamp Act may have been repealed, but existing stock of these pamphlets did not disappear. Printers and booksellers needed to sell the leftovers in order to profit or at least break even on their investments. Surplus pamphlets did not suit their needs.

Apr 29 - Advertisement Extraordinary
Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766).

So they continued to advertise. Today’s featured advertisement was not the only one of its kind in the April 28, 1766, issue of the Newport Mercury. Other notices promoted books and pamphlets that advanced a similar political position. They appeared in the same issue that reprinted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” from the Boston Gazette (which we saw also reprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette earlier this week) celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act.

In all fairness, decisions to continue selling and marketing pamphlets about the “RIGHTS of the COLONISTS” did not necessarily depend solely on financial considerations to the exclusion of sincere political anxieties. Although the immediate crisis was over, the Declaratory Act dampened the colonists’ victory. Astute printers and booksellers likely realized that Parliament and the colonies would continue to experience tensions. By selling pamphlets like the one from today’s advertisements, printers and booksellers performed a civic duty that kept their fellow colonists informed and helped to frame future debates and discourse.

April 6

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Apr 6 - 4:3:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

“Just published, and to be sold … THE IMPORTANCE of the Colonies of NORTH-AMERICA, and the INTEREST of GREAT-BRITAIN, with Regard.”

This advertisement caught my eye because it is the most direct reference to the events leading up to the Revolutionary War that I have encountered. The advertisement addresses the tensions that had been present after the French and Indian War, which really damaged the colonists’ perception of Britain as their mother country. This advertisement mentions explicitly that the colonies and Great Britain were having a strained relationship.

The “just published” work included remarks on the widely despised Stamp Act, which would have been sure to draw in many readers. This also depended on public literacy. Newspapers were a part of it, but there were also smaller works, such as the pamphlets advertised here, published for ordinary colonists to read. Although the most famous, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, would not be published for another decade, these publications and others were meant to reach the minds of many Americans, giving them much to think about in regards to their relationship to Britain.



Like several of the other guest curators from my Public History class, Maia has been keeping her eyes open for advertisements that illuminate the political history of the period, especially the role of the Stamp Act in the unfolding imperial crisis. It would have been difficult to miss this advertisement. The printer inserted it at the top of the first column on the first page, immediately below the masthead, making it the first item – either news or commercial notice – that a subscriber would have read.

Apr 6 - First Page of Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 3, 1766).

Note how the layout of this page provides further context and suggests how the printer likely intended readers to interact with this advertisement. It appeared immediately to the left of a list of anti-Stamp Act resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence in Cecil County, Maryland. Continuing to scan across the top of the page, readers encountered a list of resolutions passed at a recent “Meeting of the SONS OF LIBERTY of the Township of Piscataway, in the County of Middlesex, and Province of East New-Jersey.”

Of all the possible news items and advertisements that could have appeared at the top of the first column, it hardly seems like a coincidence that an advertisement for anti-Stamp Act pamphlets appeared there. The printer stoked potential customers’ outrage with the resolutions from the Committee of Correspondence and the Sons of Liberty, increasing the chances they would be interested in purchasing pamphlets about colonists’ rights and the appropriate responses to the abuses they were suffering at the hands of a Parliament that overstepped its authority. The printer yoked politics and commerce, each in the service of the other.

The story becomes more interesting when we realize that David Hall, who advertised the pamphlets, was also the printer and publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette! He used his newspaper to advance political views. At the same time, he looked to make a profit from the controversy that incited the interest that made it possible to sell these pamphlets. In designing the first page of this issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, David Hall revealed himself to be a savvy printer and entrepreneur.