August 1

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

Pennsylvania Packet (July 26, 1773).

“MAKES and sells soap and candles … for exportation.”

The front page of the July 26, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser featured two images.  As usual, a woodcut depicting a ship at sea appeared in the masthead.  The newspaper took its name from the packet ships that crisscrossed the Atlantic, transporting passengers and freight.  Significantly, packet ships also carried information, whether written in letters, printed in newspapers, or shared by captains, other officers, and crew.  The Pennsylvania Packet, like a packet ship, disseminated news to every destination it reached.  Whether accounts of current events, rosters of vessels arriving and departing from customs houses, prices current for commodities, or advertisements, the contents of the Pennsylvania Packet facilitated commerce in Philadelphia, its figurative home port, and readers wherever they happened to peruse the newspaper.

Andrew Kennedy certainly hoped that the Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser would facilitate his own commercial interests.  The “soap-boiler and tallow-chandler” ran a shop in Philadelphia, though he aimed to serve consumers far beyond that bustling port.  Like packet ships and newspapers, he envisioned the soap and candles that he made and sold “at the lowest rates” reaching faraway places.  He offered them to “merchants, for exportation,” and to “storekeepers, to sell again,” presenting those options for buying by volume first before mentioning “families orders.”  Like many other artisans and shopkeepers who advertised in colonial newspapers, he promoted the “prices and quality of his goods” and concluded with overtures about customer satisfaction.  Kennedy commenced his advertisement with an image that readers immediately recognized, stacks of blocks on the right and left to support a string dangling six freshly-dipped candles.  Without even skimming the rest of the advertisement, readers knew that Kennedy sold candles.

Only two other images appeared in that issue of the Pennsylvania Packet, both of them woodcuts of indentured servants who ran away from their masters.  John Dunlap, the printer, provided those stock images to the advertisers, but Kennedy commissioned a woodcut for his own exclusive use.  That image likely helped attract attention to the appeals to price and quality that he intended to resonate with merchants, shopkeepers, and other prospective customers.

July 14

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 14, 1773).

“He is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.”

At a glance, readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that Frederick Hubley was a distiller.  After all, the woodcut that adorned his advertisement in the July 14, 1773, edition depicted a still.  On closer examination, however, they discovered that Hubley was a coppersmith who plied his trade in Lancaster.  He advised prospective customers in and near that town that he “MAKES all sorts of COPPER and BRASS WARE, in the neatest and best manner.”  In particular, he made “STILLS, brewers, hatters, wash, fish and tea kettles, bake-pans, [and] sauce-pans,” though repeating “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) indicated that he accepted orders for other items.

To entice prospective customers, Hubley advanced some of the appeals most commonly deployed by colonial artisans who placed newspaper advertisements.  He offered assurances about the quality of the items he produced in his shop, declaring that he made them “in the neatest and best manner.”  Such declarations simultaneously testified to his skill as a coppersmith.  Hubley also leveraged price as a means of attracting customers.  He did not merely mention low prices or reasonable prices.  Instead, he compared his prices to those charged by his competitors, both coppersmiths and shopkeepers, near and far, stating that he “is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.”  Prospective customers, Hubley asserted, would not find better deals, not even in Philadelphia, the largest city and busiest port in the colonies.

Hubley advertised in a newspaper published in that city because Lancaster did not yet have its own newspaper in 1773.  The Pennsylvania Gazette and several other newspapers published in Philadelphia, as well as Germantowner Zeitung, served the entire colony and portions of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.  Lancaster would not have its own newspaper until late November 1777 when John Dunlap temporarily moved the Pennsylvania Packet to town when the Continental Congress briefly relocated there during the British occupation of Philadelphia.  Although the Continental Congress quickly moved to York in hopes that even more distance meant more safety from the British, Dunlap and his press remained in Lancaster.  For six months, he printed the Pennsylvania Packet in Lancester, but ceased when he returned to Philadelphia to resume the newspaper there on July 4, 1778.  The war disrupted publication of several newspapers.  In addition, some folded completely, while printers established others.  In the summer of 1773, however, Hubley and others in Lancaster who wished to advertise did so within a fairly stable media environment, one with a center of gravity in Philadelphia.

June 21

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (June 21, 1773).

“Esteemed to be a paper of as good credit and utility as any extant.”

As Samuel F. Parker and John Anderson prepared to take over publishing the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy when the lease held by Samuel Inslee and Anthony Car came to an end in August 1773, they placed notices in both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Packet.  They hoped to attract local subscribers in New York and nearby towns as well as distant subscribers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, just as James Rivington had successfully solicited subscriptions for Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer or Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser from far beyond the bustling urban port in recent months.

To entice prospective subscribers, Parker and Anderson emphasized that they intended to publish content “for the especial service of the commercial interest” in addition to articles “for the amusement and information of private families.”  They realized that merchants in Philadelphia and other towns served by the Pennsylvania Packet benefitted from various features that regularly appeared in newspapers published in New York, including prices current for commodities, entries about vessels arriving and departing from the customs house, and news about the location and progress of ships as reported by captains and others when they arrived in port.  Even paid notices, such as advertisement for consumer goods and legal notices, provided valuable intelligence for merchants keeping track of markets.

Parker and Anderson boasted about the reputation of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy when Parker’s father previously published it, declaring that it was “esteemed to be a paper of as good credit and utility as any extant.”  The printers suggested that under their management the newspaper would rival any of the others published in New York, making it as good or better a choice for merchants in Philadelphia who wished to consult newspapers from that city.  Parker and Anderson did not invest as much effort in marketing their newspaper to prospective subscribers and other readers in neighboring colonies as Rivington did, but their advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet demonstrates that they recognized the potential to increase their circulation by acquiring subscribers beyond New York.

March 1

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 1, 1773).

“Every particular that may contribute to the improvement, information, and entertainment of the public, shall be constantly conveyed through the channel of the NEW-YORK GAZETTEER.”

A week after James Rivington’s proposal for publishing a newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, first appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle, it ran in the Pennsylvania Packet.  During that week, Rivington also inserted the proposal, with variations, in the Connecticut Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  In advance of publishing a newspaper intended to serve an expansive region, the bookseller, printer, and stationer launched an advertising campaign in multiple newspapers throughout that region.  Once his notice appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet on March 1, 1773, all four English-language newspapers in Philadelphia carried it to readers dispersed far beyond that busy urban port.

These advertisements likely helped Rivington attract subscribers.  In his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas notes that Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “was patronized in all the principal towns by the advocates of the British administration who approved the measures adopted toward the colonies” and “obtained an extensive circulation.”  Furthermore, the newspaper “undoubtedly had some support from ‘his Majesty’s government.’”  Patriots found Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “obnoxious.”  On November 27, 1775, “a number of armed men from Connecticut entered the city, on horseback, and beset his habitation, broke into his printing house, destroyed his press, threw his types into heaps, and carried away a large quantity of them, which they melted and formed into bullets.”  Rivington departed for England soon after that encounter, but he returned to New York once the British occupied the city.  In October 1777, he began publishing Rivington’s New-York Gazette; or the Connecticut, Hudson’s River, New-Jersey, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser once again.  That title lasted for two issues before he changed it to Rivington’s New-York Loyal Gazette and, not long after that, the Royal Gazette.[1]

Although Thomas did not care for Rivington’s politics, he did give him credit for his skills as an editor, a printer, and an entrepreneur who disseminated his newspaper widely.  Thomas acknowledged that “for some time Rivington conducted his paper with as much impartiality as most of the editors of that period; and it may be added, that no newspaper in the colonies was better printed, or was more copiously furnished with foreign intelligence.”  In addition, Thomas reported that Rivington claimed that “each impression of his week Gazetteer, amounted to 3,600 copies” in October 1773.[2]  For the period, that was an extensive circulation indeed.


[1] Isaiah Thomas, History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 508-9.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 511.

January 25

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (January 25, 1773).

“A LAWYER … lent the fourth volume of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES … to some gentleman whose name he hath forgot.”

A curious story appeared among the advertisements in the supplement that accompanied the January 25, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, a story that may have been a complete fiction designed to incite interest in the forthcoming publication of “the FOURTH VOLUME of the AMERICAN EDITION of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND.”  The story concerned an unnamed lawyer seeking the return of a London edition that he lent “to some gentleman whose name he hath forgot,” but that lawyer and the missing book may very well have been creations of Robert Bell, a bookseller and publisher known for his innovative marketing strategies and flamboyant personality.  During the final third of the eighteenth century, Bell became one of the most vocal proponents of creating an American literary market, launching inventive advertising campaigns.

This particular advertisement described a lawyer who loaned the book and asked that the borrower “return it as soon as possible to ROBERT BELL, Bookseller, at the late Union Library in Third-street.”  The narrator of the advertisement, which may have been either Bell or the lawyer, stated that there was “reason to surmise the said fourth volume hath been lent to several persons since it left the proprietor’s library.”  Focus then shifted to anyone who had consulted the loaned-but-not-returned copy of the book.  “All the world assert it is a pity,” the narrator lamented, “that generosity should suffer; therefore it is hoped, even the second, third or fourth borrower possesseth integrity enough” to alert Bell about the whereabouts of the missing book.  Contending that so many readers consulted that copy of the book suggested both its utility and popularity.

That set the stage for the nota bene that appeared at the end of the advertisement.  The narrator announced that “Sometime in February” the fourth volume of the American edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries “will be ready for the subscribers.”  Bell just happened to be the publisher of that project, having advertised and distributed the first three volumes in 1771 and 1772.  (The title page for the fourth volume says 1772, but this advertisement suggests that may have been an error and that Bell actually released the fourth volume in early 1773.)  Although an extensive list of subscribers appeared before the title page of the fourth volume, Bell may have anticipated printing surplus copies to sell to customers who had not subscribed in advance.  Whether or not there was any truth to the story of the lawyer who loaned out a London edition of the book, Bell seems to have tried to generate even more interest in the forthcoming publication of his American edition.

January 18

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 18, 1773).


In January 1773, John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, announced that An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping, a work attributed to Benjamin Rush, was “Just published” and available for sale.  Dunlap leveraged his access to the press to give the announcement special prominence in his newspaper, treating it as an editorial rather than an advertisement.

Consider how Dunlap organized the contents of the January 18, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and the supplement that accompanied it.  In the standard issue, news items and editorials appeared on the first two pages, followed by advertising on the last two pages.  Similarly, the two-page supplement began with two columns of news and the remainder of the content consisted of advertising.  Dunlap’s announcement masqueraded as an editorial that ran in the first column of the second page and overflowed into the next column, followed by news from London, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia.  The printer inserted an excerpt from the pamphlet, hoping to entice readers to want more and purchase their own copies.  In giving prospective customers an overview of the essay, Dunlap noted that the “Author of the above Address after having showed the inconsistency of Slave-keeping with the principles of humanity – justice – good policy and religion; concludes as follows.”  After reading that conclusion, prospective customers could acquire the pamphlet and examine the various arguments about humanity, justice, good policy, and religion for themselves.  In treating this announcement as an editorial or news item, Dunlap adopted a strategy sometimes deployed by other printers to promote books and pamphlets they published.

Whatever the conclusions reached in the Address … upon Slave-Keeping, Dunlap apparently did not find them sufficiently convincing to alter his policies concerning the kinds of advertising that he printed in the Pennsylvania Packet.  Two advertisements about enslaved people appeared on the facing page, one offering a “HEALTHY country bred NEGRO LAD” for sale and the other seeking to hire a “SMART, active WHITE or NEGRO BOY … to wait on table and go on errands.”  Candidates for that position included enslaved youths who did the work while their enslavers received the wages.  An advertisement in the supplement described a “Negro Fellow named LONDON” who liberated himself by running away from his enslaver in Baltimore and offered a reward for his capture and return.  Even as Dunlap treated the conclusion of the Address … upon Slave-Keeping as an editorial intended to arouse interest in a pamphlet he sold, he generated revenue by printing and disseminating advertisements that perpetuated slavery.

January 11

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 11, 1773).


When Thomas Hale, a carpenter, arrived in Philadelphia from London in the late 1760s, he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advise prospective customers that he “undertakers the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.”  A woodcut depicting a bell adorned his advertisement.  Hale acknowledged that he was “a Stranger” in the city, but asserted that “any Person can be credibly assured of his Integrity.”

Hale was no longer “a Stranger” when he inserted a similar advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet in January 1773.  He reminded readers that he “CONTINUES to hang BELLS through all the apartments of houses, in the most neat and lasting manner.”  He once again adorned his advertisement with an image of a bell, likely the same woodcut from his advertisement in 1767.  Hale sought a return on his initial investment in commissioning the woodcut, using it to draw attention to his notice.  Elsewhere in the January 11 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, an image of a ship in the masthead was the only other image.  The bell certainly distinguished Hale’s advertisement from others.  The two-page supplement that accompanied that issue featured two woodcuts, both of them stock images of runaway indentured servants provided by the printer.  Among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who placed notices, Hale was the only advertiser who incorporated an image, humble through it was, directly linked to the business he operated.

If it was the same woodcut that Hale used in his advertisement more than half a decade earlier, that suggests that he collected it from the printing office and retained possession of it after he discontinued his previous advertisement.  The same week that he advertised in the Pennsylvania Packet he also ran an advertisement with identical copy but no image in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the newspaper that previously carried his advertisement with the woodcut of the bell.  Including an image enhanced an advertisement, but when Hale opted to advertise in more than one newspaper, he had to make a choice about which one should feature the image … or invest in a second woodcut.  He apparently did not consider the image so essential to his business that he needed to make the additional investment.  It was one of several choices that he made when budgeting for marketing, including the length of his advertisement and where to publish it.  For instance, he did not insert it in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, or the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, the other newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  With limited resources to devote to marketing, Hale decided to get more use out of the woodcut in one newspaper and supplement that advertisement with a notice in a second newspaper.

December 7

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 7, 1772).

“At the sign of the Spinning Wheel.”

In December 1772, James Cunning took the pages of the Pennsylvania Packet to advertise the “large assortment of Dry Goods” available at his shop on Market Street in Philadelphia.  He took the opportunity to express his “grateful acknowledgments to his friends and customers,” thanking them for “the many obliging favours he has received since he first commenced business.”  In order to “merit a continuance of their favours,” Cunning declared that he would set favorable “terms” for both wholesale and retail sales.  Those “terms” certainly included price and likely credit as well.  They may have also included packaging, delivery, and other services.

Cunning advised readers that they would find his shop “At the sign of the Spinning Wheel.”  To strengthen the association between that symbol of industriousness and his business, Cunning adorned his advertisement with a woodcut that depicted a spinning wheel.  Larger than the stock images of vessels at sea and horses in the upper left corners of half a dozen advertisements in the December 7 issue and its supplement, the spinning wheel accounted for more than half the space occupied by Cunning’s advertisement.  That represented significant expense for Cunning, first for commissioning a woodcut tied to his business and for his exclusive use, then for the space required to publish it.  Printers charged by the amount of space, not the number of words.

Cunning apparently considered including the image in his notices worth the expense, especially since he continued to use it when placing new advertisements.  The image first appeared in advertisements Cunning inserted in the Pennsylvania Journal in October 1771.  By the end of the month, he transferred the woodcut to the printing offices of the newly-launched Pennsylvania Packet.  It appeared in an advertisement in the inaugural issue.  More than a year later, Cunning included the image in a new advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, convinced that it would result in a satisfactory return on his investment in commissioning it.  He could have retired the image after it appeared in that initial run of advertising if he did not believe that it resulted in greater attention for his business.  That he used it again suggests that he determined that image and text together helped to draw “friends and customers” to his shop.

September 14

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

Pennsylvania Packet (September 14, 1772).

“The curious in books … are requested to call for the Catalogue.”

An advertisement in the September 14, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet invited readers to visit “the Book-Store of WILLIAM WOODHOUSE” to receive a free copy of “A CATALOGUE OF A COLLECTION OF NEW AND OLD BOOKS, In all the Arts and Sciences, and in various Languages.”  The advertisement indicates that the lengthy title of the catalog included “Also, as large quantity of entertaining Novels, with the lowest price printed to each book.”  At a glance, it appears that Woodhouse was responsible for compiling and promoting this catalog, but closer inspection reveals that Woodhouse almost certainly collaborated with another bookseller, Robert Bell.

Ten months later, Bell distributed a catalog that replicated the title of the catalog advertised in September 1772, with the exception of adding his name: “ROBERT BELL’s SALE CATALOGUE Of a COLLECTION of NEW AND OLD BOOK, In all the Arts and Sciences, and in various Languages, Also, a large Quantity of entertaining NOVELS; with the lowest Price printed to each BOOK; NOW SELLING, At the BOOK-STORE of WILLIAM WOODHOUSE, Bookseller, Stationer, and Bookbinder, in Front-street, near Chestnut-street, Philadelphia.”  Woodhouse apparently provided retail space for Bell in both 1772 and 1773.

Yet more than merely identical titles testify to Bell’s role in producing and marketing the catalog.  The newspaper advertisement concluded with a nota bene that declared, “In this Collection are many uncommon BOOKS, seldom to be found;—therefore, the curious in books—the Directors of Libraries—and all others, that delight in the food of the mind, are requested to call for the Catalogue at said WOODHOUSE’S, as above.”  Those flourishes, especially “the curious in books” and “food of the mind,” echoed the language that the flamboyant Bell deployed in other advertisements.  For instance, he previously marketed “ROBERTSON’S celebrated History of CHARLES the Fifth” to “ALL Gentlemen that possess a sentimental TASTE.”

Bell was one of the most innovative and influential American booksellers and publishers of the eighteenth century.  Inserting the “lowest price” in the entry for each book in the catalog distinguished it from other catalogs that merely listed authors, titles, and, sometimes, sizes ranging from folio to quarto to octavo to duodecimo.  In addition, Bell supplemented newspaper advertisements and catalogs with broadsides and subscription notices, creating savvy marketing campaigns that incorporated multiple media to entice colonizers to become consumers of the books that he hawked.

September 7

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

Pennsylvania Packet (September 7, 1772).


As they perused the September 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, readers encountered a sign that fall would soon arrive.  Isaac Collins announced that the Burlington Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord, 1773 “IS JUST PUBLISHED, and to be SOLD” at his printing office in Burlington, New Jersey.  Hoping to entice customers, Collins provided a list of the “entertaining and useful” contents “Besides the usual Astronomical Calculation.”  It was one of the first advertisements for almanacs for 1773 that appeared in colonial newspapers, an early entry in an annual ritual for printers throughout the colonies.

Publishing almanacs generated significant revenues for printers.  Some produced several titles in their printing offices, catering to the preferences and brand loyalty of customers who purchased these handy reference manuals year after year.  Marketing began late in the summer or early in the fall, often with printers declaring their intentions to print almanacs.  In such instances, they encouraged readers to anticipate the publication of their favorite titles and look for additional advertisements alerting them when those almanacs were available to purchase.  Collins dispensed with the waiting period.  He made the Burlington Almanack available immediately, perhaps hoping to attract customers whom he suspected would choose more popular and familiar alternatives when other printers began marketing and printing them. After all, he first published the Burlington Almanack two years earlier, but others had annual editions dating back decades.  Just five days before Collins’s advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Packet, David Hall and William Sellers ran a brief advertisement about the popular “POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK for 1773,” just three lines, in their own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  They announced that copies would go on sale the following day.

The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall as printers shared their plans for publishing them and informed customers when they went to press.  Some printers inserted brief notices about popular titles, as Hall and Sellers did.  Other adopted the same strategy as Collins, disseminating lengthy descriptions of the “entertaining and useful matter” between the covers of their almanacs.  Such material became even more important in marketing almanacs after the arrival of the new year.  Printers often had surplus copies that they advertised in the winter and into the spring, the number and frequency tapering off.  The “Astronomical Calculations” became obsolete with each passing week and month, but the essays, poetry, remedies, and other contents retained their value throughout the year.

Collins concluded his advertisement with a note that he “performs Printing in its various branches” and sold a “a variety of Books and Stationary, Drugs and Medicines.”  Publishing almanacs accounted for only one of several revenue streams at his printing office, but an important one.  Especially with effective marketing, printing almanacs could be quite lucrative for colonial printers.