June 13

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

Providence Gazette (June 13, 1772).

“BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE.”

John Carter exercised his prerogative as printer of the Providence Gazette in placing an advertisement for “BOOKS … for Sale at the PRINTING OFFICE” immediately below the governor Joseph Wanton’s proclamation about the GaspeeAffair.  The Gaspee, a British schooner that enforced the Navigation Acts in Rhode Island, ran aground near Warwick while pursuing another vessel on June 9, 1772.  Colonizers boarded and burned the ship.  For several years, colonizers in Rhode Island and other colonies protested against increased British regulation of trade and Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes via the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  The Boston Massacre in March 1770 intensified tensions.  Although colonizers had not yet determined to declare independence, the Gaspee Affair became significant for deploying violence in resistance to the crown’s authority.  The Boston Tea Party, more famous today, occurred more than a year after the burning of the Gaspee.

Just four days after that event, the Providence Gazette carried Wanton’s proclamation.  Many colonizers likely already heard what happened, but the weekly newspaper offered an opportunity to examine the governor’s account and his response.  Wanton stated that “a Number of People, unknown, boarded his Majesty’s armed Schooner the Gaspee[,] … dangerously wounded Lieutenant William Dudingston, the Commander, and by Force took him, with all his People, put them into Boats, … and afterwards set Fire to the said Schooner, whereby she was entirely destroyed.”  Wanton called on “His Majesty’s Officers” in Rhode Island, “both Civil and Military, to exert themselves, with the utmost Vigilance, to discover and apprehend the Persons guilty of the aforesaid atrocious Crime.”  He also offered a reward to anyone “who shall discover the Perpetrators of the said Villainy.”  Finally, Wanton commanded “the several Sheriffs in the said colony” to post the proclamation “in the most public Places in each of their Towns in their respective Counties.”

Readers of the Providence Gazette likely encountered the proclamation there before it appeared on broadsides posted in their towns.  As breaking news, it may have attracted more attention than many other items that appeared elsewhere in the issue.  Anticipating that would be the case, Carter made a savvy decision to place his own advertisement immediately after the proclamation, increasing the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of it.

February 7

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1772).

“Ames’s Almanack, for 1772, may be had at the Printing-Office.”

Colonial printers usually began advertising almanacs for the coming year in the fall, first alerting prospective customers of their intentions to take certain popular titles to press and later informing them that they could purchase copies.  Occasionally printers made initial announcements in the summer, but most appeared in colonial newspapers in October and November.  Starting in November, printers proclaimed that they “just published” almanacs and called on consumers to acquire copies of their favorites.  Many also offered discounts to retailers who bought in bulk.  Not surprisingly, the greatest number of advertisements for almanacs ran in newspapers in November and December as the new year approached.  During those months, practically every issue of every newspaper printed in the colonies carried at least one advertisement for almanacs, those published by the printer of that newspaper, and many carried multiple advertisements.  Almanacs generated significant revenues for printers.

Advertising for almanacs continued in January, but tapered off over time.  By February, most advertisements disappeared, though some printers continued to run short notices to attract stragglers.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a brief notice in the February 7, 1772, edition.  It announced, “Ames’s Almanack, for1772, may be had at the Printing-Office.”  The Fowles apparently had surplus copies that reduced any profit they earned on the venture.  They exercised their prerogative as printers in making decisions about the format and placement of the advertisement.  Even though it extended only two lines, the words “Ames’s Almanack” featured some of the largest type on the final page of the newspaper.  The Fowles placed the notice at the top of the center column, likely in an attempt to draw even more attention to it.  In contrast, their advertisement for “BLANKS of most Sorts, for respective Counties, sold by the Printers” ran at the very bottom of the final column on the third page, seemingly filler as much as intentional marketing.  The advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack” may have functioned in part as filler as well, but its format and placement suggest that the Fowles made deliberate decisions beyond merely seeking to complete a column or fill a page.

October 23

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 22, 1771).

“ALL Persons indebted to the Printer of this Paper …”

The masthead for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal proclaimed that its pages “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.”  The newspaper also disseminated a lot of advertisements, on some occasions more advertising than other content.  The October 22, 1771, edition, for instance, consisted primarily of advertisements.  They filled the entire front and back pages.  News appeared on the second page and overflowed into the first column on the third, but “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” comprised the remainder of that page.  Charles Crouch received so many advertisements at his printing office that he published a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising.

Those advertisements represented significant revenue for Crouch, but only if advertisers actually paid for the time and labor required to set the type and for the space that their notices occupied when they ran week after week.  Many advertisers, as well as subscribers, were slow to pay, prompting Crouch to insert his own notice that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer of this Paper, whose Accounts are not discharged by the first Day of January next … may rely on having them put into the Hands of an Attorney at Law, or Magistrate, as the Case may require.”  He made an exception for “those of his good Customers who have been punctual in their Payments,” but otherwise extended “no Indulgence” to others.

Colonists who pursued all sorts of occupations frequently placed similar advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers throughout the colonies, but Crouch had an advantage when it came to placing his notice in front of the eyes of the customers that he wanted to see it.  As printer, he determined the order of the contents in his newspaper.  He strategically placed his notice as the first item in the first column on the first page, immediately below the masthead, making it more likely that readers would notice it even if they merely skimmed other advertisements or looked for the news.  Other advertisers usually did not choose where their notices appeared in relation to other content.  As part of the business of operating printing offices and publishing newspapers, Crouch and other printers often made the placement of their own notices a priority.  After all, the financial health of their newspapers served not only themselves but also subscribers who kept informed about current events, advertisers who wished to share their messages with the public, and entire communities that benefited from the circulation of information.

October 7

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 7, 1771).

“High Gaine has for sale, a great variety of books.”

Although some colonial printers reserved the final pages of their newspapers for advertising, not all did so.  In many newspapers, paid notices could and did appear on any page, including the front page.  Such was the case in Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Consider the issue for October 7, 1771.  Gaine divided the first page between news items and advertising, filling the first two columns with the former and the last two with the latter.  He did the sane on the second page.  On the third page, he arranged news in the first column and into the second, but the bottom half of the second column as well as the remaining two columns consisted entirely of advertising.  Gaine gave over the entire final page to paid notices.

In general, Gaine placed news and advertising next to each other, but, like other printers who followed that method, he did not intersperse news and advertising on the page.  He delineated space intended for news and space intended for advertising rather than having paid notices appear among news items and editorials … with one exception.  He inserted an advertisement for books, stationery, and other items available at his printing office among the news on the third page. That advertisement appeared below a death notice for “Mrs. Cooke, Wife of the Rev. Mr. Cooke, Missionary at Shrewsbury,” and above the shipping news from the New York Custom House.  A line of ornamental type then separated the news (and Gaine’s advertisement) from the advertisements that completed the column and filled the remainder of the page.  In choosing this format, Gaine increased the likelihood that readers perusing the newspaper for news and skipping over the sections for advertising would see his own advertisement.  He was not the only colonial printer who sometimes adopted that strategy, leveraging his access to the press to give his own advertisement a privileged place.  Gaine inserted other advertisements elsewhere in the October 7 edition, most of them short notices intended to complete a column, but he exerted special effort in drawing attention to his most extensive advertisement by embedding it among the news.  His customers who purchased space for their notices did not have the same option.

August 17

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

Providence Gazette (August 17, 1771).

ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”

Colonial printers often inserted advertisements in their own newspapers, taking advantage of their access to the press to promote various aspects of their businesses.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, for instance, regularly ran advertisements for “BLANKS of various Kinds” or printed forms for legal and commercial transactions available for sale at his printing office.  He placed other notices concerning the operations of the newspaper, including an advertisement in the August 17, 1771, edition indicating that “ALL Persons indebted for this Gazette one Year, or more, are desired to make immediate Payment.”  Colonial printers regularly advanced credit to subscribers and periodically called on them to settle accounts.

To increase the likelihood that subscribers would take note of this advertisement, Carter placed it immediately after the news.  Some readers likely perused advertisements more quickly than they examined news items, so positioning this notice first among the advertisements made it more likely that those readers would see it as they transitioned between different kinds of content in that issue of the Providence Gazette.  In addition, Carter placed a lively letter from “AFRIEND to the PUBLIC” above his notice about making payments for the newspaper.  The “FRIEND” told a tale of “Fraud and Villainy” involving insurance and the “many Contradictions contained in the Papers” related to the loss of the sloop Betsy.  The “FRIEND” acknowledged that Robert Stewart, the alleged perpetrator, might have been innocent, but still declared that “the whole appears to be a designed Fraud.”

Carter had choices about where to place his notice requesting payment.  He ran another brief notice concerning blanks in the same issue, a notice that he could have inserted after the letter about insurance fraud instead of giving that spot to his advertisement directed to subscribers.  Indeed, he could have placed any of the advertisements in that issue immediately after the news, but he reserved that space for his attempt to collect on overdue subscription fees.  As printer, he exercised his prerogative when it came to the order of advertisements as well as the order of the news.

April 14

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

Pennsylvania Journal (April 11, 1771).

“A POEM. By Doctor GOLDSMITH, author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD and THE TRAVELLER.”

In the spring of 1771, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers in Philadelphia, published the first American edition of “The Deserted Village,” a poem penned by Oliver Goldsmith.  Later that year, John Holt published another edition in New York.  As they prepared their edition for press, the Bradfords also alerted the public that they would soon have copies available for sale at their printing office.  They placed an advertisement to that effect in the April 14 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the newspaper they published.

As many printers did when they inserted advertisements for other goods and services in their own newspapers, the Bradfords took advantage of their position to give their notice about “The Deserted Village” a privileged place.  It was the first advertisement in the April 14 issue, appearing immediately below the shipping news that listed vessels that arrived and departed in the past week.  That increased the likelihood that readers interested primarily in news would at least skim the advertisement even if they passed over the rest of the paid notices that appeared on the same page.  That the title of the poem ran in large capital letters, surrounded with plentiful white spice compared to the dense text in most other advertisements, most likely also drew eyes to the Bradfords’ notice.

The printers did not offer much additional information about this publication.  They did not describe the material qualities of the paper or type used in production, nor did they incorporate blurbs promoting the work to refined readers.  Some booksellers adopted those strategies in their advertisements, but many did not.  To incite demand, the Bradfords did introduce one innovation intended to resonate with consumers.  They noted that Goldsmith was also the “author of THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD,” a popular novel, and “THE TRAVELLER,” another poem.  Both works enjoyed great popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.  Perhaps the Bradfords did not consider it necessary to elaborate on their edition of “The Deserted Village,” but instead expected Goldsmith’s popularity sufficient recommendation for prospective customers to acquire their own copies of the poem.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:27:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 27, 1770).

They have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street.”

Colonial printers adopted various strategies when it came to inserting advertisements in their newspapers.  Some reserved advertisements for the final pages, appearing only after news items, editorials, lists of prices current, shipping news from the custom house, poems for amusement or edification, and other content selected by the editor rather than paid for inclusion by advertisers.  Others placed advertisements on the first and fourth pages, with other content on the second and third pages.  Doing so reflected practical aspects of producing newspapers.  Most consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  That meant the first and fourth pages were printed with one pull of the press and the second and third pages with another.  Advertisements, often repeated from week to week, could be printed first on the first and last pages, allowing for any breaking news to be set in type as late as possible before the second and third pages went to press.  Both of those methods kept advertisements clustered together, either at the end of an issue or bookending it.  Another method more evenly distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing advertisement on every page, often, but not always, at the bottom or in the final column.

For the August 27, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill included advertising on each of its four pages.  Advertisements constituted the first of three columns on the first page, but only a few short advertisements appeared at the bottom of the third column on the second page.  Advertisements accounted for half of the third page, but, like the second page, they ran after news content, sequestered at the bottom of the second column and in the third.  The fourth page consisted entirely of advertising, with the exception of the colophon at the bottom of the final column.  No matter which page they perused, readers encountered advertising in this edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In the midst of all those paid notices, Edes and Gill reserved a privileged place for an advertisement concerning their own business.  In the first item in the first column on the first page, “THE PUBLISHERS of this Paper” placed an advertisement to “hereby inform their Customers and others, That they have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street, to the House formerly improv’d by Messieurs Kneeland & Green, directly opposite the new Court-House.”  Edes and Gill exercised their power as printers of the Boston-Gazette and their access to the press to increase the chances that readers would see and take note of their advertisement.  Other advertisers paid for access to the press, but they usually had little control over where their advertisements appeared in the newspaper.  When it came to the placement of advertisements within newspapers, printers had an advantage that “their Customers and others” did not.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:10:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 10, 1770).

“All Persons indebted to him, to discharge the same.”

Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, wanted to make sure that readers saw his notice calling on “all Persons indebted to him” to settle accounts before August 1, 1770.  He inserted that notice in his newspaper multiple times in June and July 1770, sometimes interspersing it with other advertisements.  That was not the case in the July 10 edition.  Instead, it was the first item on the first page, making it nearly impossible to overlook.  With the exception of the masthead, that page consisted entirely of advertisements, most of them notices that others paid to have inserted.  Even if readers opted to skip the first page in favor of seeking out the news items on the second, they were most likely to read at least a portion of Crouch’s notice.

The printer meant business.  He meant it in exercising his power over the publication to give his notice a privileged place on the page.  He also meant it in the organization of the notice.  Like many other eighteenth-century advertisements, it had more than one purpose.  Crouch called on others to discharge their debts, but he also informed the public that he “has plenty of Hands, and will undertake any Kind of Printing-Work, which will be executed with the greatest Care and utmost Dispatch, and on reasonable Terms.”  He sought orders for job printing to increase revenues (though customers may have requested credit when submitting some of those orders), but simultaneously made it clear that that collecting on debts was his primary purpose in placing the notice.  This also made it clear to new customers that he expected them to make payment in a timely manner.  He warned those who were already in arrears that if they did “not pay a due Regard to this Notice” that they “must expect he will take proper Steps to obtain Payment, tho’ the Circumstance will be disagreeable to him.”  In others words, they could expect legal action.  Crouch did not make this subtle threat out of spite or malice.  Instead, he wished “to PAY his own DEBTS” and depended on his former customers to make that possible.

The news in the July 10 edition consisted mostly of items from London along with a brief description of raising a statue of William Pitt in Charleston.  To get to that news on the inside pages, readers first had to glance at front page.  Crouch increased the likelihood that even a casual glance would include his notice by making it the lead item on the first page.

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:29:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 29, 1770).

“ALL Kinds of Blanks used in this Province, and good Writing Paper, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, regularly inserted advertisements for goods available at his printing office into his newspaper.  Consider the May 29, 1770, edition.  Under a heading for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” on the second page, Crouch ran a notice that called on “all Persons indebted to him” to settle accounts.  It further advised that he “has plenty of Hands” employed in his printing office and “will undertake any kind of Printing-Work, which will be executed with the greatest Care and utmost Dispatch, and on reasonable Terms.”  On the fourth page, Crouch ran an advertisement for “BLANK QUIRE BOOKS, ruled and unruled, and Blank Receipt Books” as well as a pamphlet concerning “An Act for regulating and ascertaining the Rates of Wharfage of Ships and Merchandize.”  That notice was interspersed among others that advertisers paid to have inserted.

Several other advertisements merit notice for their particular placement on the page.  One briefly informed readers: “JUST PUBLISHED and to be sold by the Printer hereof, A new CATECHISM for CHILDREN.”  Another advised prospective customers that “A Second EDITION of THOMAS MORE’s ALMANACK, for the present Year, may be had at Crouch’s Printing-Office in Elliott-street.”  A third, similarly short, announced, “ALL Kinds of Blanks used in this Province, and good Writing Paper, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”  These three advertisements were particularly noticeable because they concluded the first three pages of that issue.  The advertisement for the “CATECHISM for CHILDREN” appeared at the bottom of the final column of the first page.  It was the only advertisement on that page, conveniently placed to bring the third column to the same length as the first two.  The advertisement for the almanac and the advertisement for the blanks and paper appeared in the lower right corners of the second and third pages, respectively.  Only the fourth page did not conclude with one of Crouch’s advertisements.  Instead, the colophon occupied that space.  Arguably, it served as an advertisement as well.  Crouch used the colophon to promote the services he provided: “CHARLES-TOWN: Printed by CHARLES CROUCH, in Elliott-Street; where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”  As readers perused the newspaper, the last item they encountered on every page was a short advertisement that promoted some aspect of Crouch’s business.  Both the placement and the repetition likely made them more memorable.

Eighteenth-century printers frequently used their newspapers to promote other aspects of their business, including books, stationery, and blanks for sale as well as job printing.  Their access to the press allowed them to place their notices in advantageous places to garner additional attention from readers.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 12, 1770).

“B L A N K S.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement for printed blanks into his own newspaper in 1770, using one element of his business to promote another.  Even when he did not run his notice for “BLANKS,” each edition concluded with a colophon that listed more than just Carter’s name and the place of publication.  It also advised readers that “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms, with Fidelity and Expedition” at Carter’s printing office at “the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head” in Providence.  The advertisement for “BLANKS” often supplemented the perpetual advertisement for job printing at the bottom of the final page of the Providence Gazette.

Carter catered to a variety of prospective customers, producing blanks (or forms) for “Apprentices Indentures,” “Bills of Lading,” “Bonds of several sorts,” and “Long and short Powers of Attorney,” to name just a few.  He also carried “various Kinds of Blanks for the colony of CONNECTICUT” for anyone tending to legal or commercial matters in the neighboring colony.

This advertisement moved around within the pages of the Providence Gazette.  Eighteenth-century printers often saved advertisements for their own goods and services for the bottom of columns, bringing those columns to the desired length after first inserting news and paid notices submitted by their customers.  Perhaps to increase the likelihood that readers would take note of it, Carter moved his advertisement around the page from week to week.  In the May 12, 1770, edition it occupied a privileged place as the first advertisement.  It also appeared in the center of the page, drawing the eye due to the amount of white space created by listing only one item per line.  Both the news and the other advertisements on the page consisted of dense paragraphs with little variation of font sizes.  Carter’s advertisement with its headline, “B L A N K S” in the largest font on the page, and ample white space positioned at the center of the page would have been nearly impossible for readers of the Providence Gazette to overlook.