July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 14, 1770).

“All Cheap for Cash or Melasses.”

On July 14, 1770, John Fitton advertised “NEW-made Poughkeepsie Flour, by the Quantity and Barrel, and a few Barrels of Long-Island Pork” in the Providence Gazette.  Like most eighteenth-century purveyors of goods and services, he did not indicate prices in his advertisement, though he did assert that he sold these items “cheap.”  Fitton’s advertisement appeared next to the “PRICES CURRENT in PROVIDENCE,” a list of the going rates for a variety of popular commodities.  This gave prospective buyers a sense of what they could expect to pay Fitton for flour and pork.  According to the prices current, flour traded at sixteen shillings and six pence “By the Hundred Weight” and pork at seventy-two shillings “By the Barrel.”  If Fitton’s prices deviated too far above those listed in the prices current, buyers knew to look elsewhere to find better deals.  They could also assess the bargains he offered if his “cheap” prices fell below the rates reported in the prices current.  Fitton also informed prospective buyers that he accepted “Cash or Melasses” in payment.  The prices current included an entry for molasses, listing that commodity at one shilling and six pence per gallon.  Anyone with molasses to trade could use the prices current to calculate that a hundredweight of flour was worth eleven gallons of molasses and a barrel of pork was worth forty-eight gallons of molasses.  The prices current established baselines for all sorts of exchanges in the Providence marketplace.

Like most eighteenth-century newspaper printers, John Carter usually placed the prices current adjacent to advertisements, facilitating the process of using one to inform the other.  This required active reading on the part of colonists, but their efforts allowed them to use different items in the newspaper to craft a more complete portrait of the commercial landscape.  Carter’s curation of the content of the Providence Gazette provided readers with useful materials beyond news items that summarized current events near and far.

December 9

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

Dec 9 - 12:9:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 9, 1767).

“A NEAT SECOND HAND CHAIR … hams, gammons, jowls, and bacon.”

Many colonists placed newspaper advertisements for a particular reason. The December 9, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, included several real estate notices that focused exclusively on the properties for sale. Other advertisements cautioned against runaway slaves or described employment opportunities. Some marketed imported goods to consumers. Mary Hepburn’s short advertisement announced that she intended to depart from Georgia and wished to settle accounts.

In contrast, certain advertisements had more than one purpose. If colonial printers and compositors had practiced any sort of system of classification to organize the paid notices in their newspapers, such advertisements would have likely been divided into shorter notices and grouped with similar ones. Instead, the contents of individual advertisements sometimes seemed as haphazard as the assortment of notices printed in the same column or on the same page.

Such was the case with John Morel’s advertisement. In the course of two short paragraphs Morel, a prominent merchant, switched from hawking a used carriage, a “NEAT SECOND HAND CHAIR … with very good harness,” to selling pork products, including “hams, gammons, jowls, and bacon.” In the process, he addressed two very different sorts of readers. Due to the expense, only the most affluent colonists would have been in the market for a carriage, whether new or “SECOND HAND.” However, “any family” would have needed hams and bacon for sustenance.

The dual purposes of Morel’s advertisement, like the hodgepodge of content throughout the rest of the newspaper, testify to habits of intensive reading in the eighteenth century. Given that far more colonists would have been interested in purchasing pork than a used carriage, Morel depended on careful attention to his advertisement. He assumed that readers would not pass over the remainder of the advertisement when they noticed the carriage at the beginning but instead continue reading to the end, including the portion that marketed hams and bacon. Certainly not every reader actually read every word of the newspaper, but the lack of organization made it imperative for readers to cast more than a casual glance to find the content they desired.