September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 5, 1769).

“BLANKS.”

Like printers in other towns and cities in the colonies, Samuel Hall sought to generate revenue by taking advantage of his access to the press to promote his own enterprises in the Essex Gazette. In addition to publishing a newspaper, Hall also produced “BLANKS” at his printing office in Salem. Colonists used blanks (or printed forms, as they would be described today) for a variety of common commercial and legal purposes. They saved significant time compared to writing out the same transaction repeatedly. In some instances, resorting to blanks allowed colonists to sidestep hiring a conveyancer or lawyer to draw up documents.

Most printers simply announced that they stocked blanks of all sorts at their printing offices. On occasion, however, some printers listed the different kinds of blanks, providing a better glimpse of how purchasing them could increase efficiency and streamline all variety of transactions. In his advertisement, Hall listed sixteen different blanks for purposes that ranged from “Apprentices Indentures” to “Bills of Lading” to “Short Powers of Attorney.”

Through his typographical choices, he made sure that readers of the Essex Gazette would notice his advertisement. Many eighteenth-century advertisements that listed goods for sale, especially those that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s, clustered the items together in dense paragraphs. Hall’s advertisement, on the other hand, listed only one type of blank per line, making it easier to read and identify forms of particular interest. Hall also selected a larger font for his advertisement than appeared throughout the rest of that edition of the Essex Gazette. His notice occupied nearly twice as much space as any other in the same issue. The combination of white space incorporated into Hall’s advertisement and the oversized type made it one of the most striking items on a page that included both news and paid notices. Another advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a ship at sea, but it appeared immediately above Hall’s advertisement for blanks, leading directly into it.

Hall promoted other aspects of his business in the Essex Gazette, hoping to generate revenue beyond subscriptions and advertising fees. In the process, he effectively used graphic design to draw attention to other products from his printing office, an array of blanks for commercial and legal purposes. His access to the press gave him opportunities to experiment with the format of his own advertisements to an extent not available to other colonists.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 12, 1769).

“BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKS sold at the Printing-Office.”

Three advertisements placed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette rounded out the final page of the May 12, 1769, edition. Each appeared at the bottom of a column, immediately above the colophon that listed Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle in Portsmouth as the printers. Each notice testified to a different aspect of the printing business.

The notice in the first column warned that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printers, for News-Papers, &c. are NOW desired to make payment, if ever they design it, and would avoid unnecessary Trouble and Expence.” Colonial printers frequently inserted such appeals into their newspapers, but the Fowles did so more regularly than most others in the 1760s. Some printers incorporated their calls to settle accounts into annual messages that commemorated the completion of one year of publication and the beginning of another. Such messages to subscribers and other readers often outlined improvements to be made in the coming year, but also earnestly requested that customers pay their debts. The Fowles used some of the most creative and colorful language, once even threatening to publish the names of any who did not settle accounts within a short time, though they never followed through on that strategy for public shaming.

The advertisement in the second column informed readers that “BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKs [are] sold at the Printing-Office.” Operating the newspaper was not the extent of how the Fowles earned their livelihood. They also sold books, some that they had printed but most imported from Britain. In addition, they did job printing and produced “BLANKS of all Kinds,” better known to day as printed forms. Colonists used these blanks for a variety of commercial and legal transactions, relying on the standardized language. A similar advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette provided a list of the various sorts of blanks available at the local printing office: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, indico certificates.” Some, such as the indigo certificates, were specific to local usage, but most were used throughout the colonies.   Like advertisements, blanks supplied an important revenue stream for printers.

Finally, the third column concluded with an advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack, for 1769, to be Sold at the Printing Office, in Portsmouth.” This was incredibly late for an advertisement for an almanac to appear; some of the contents certainly remained useful for the remainder of the year, but more than one-third of 1769 had already elapsed. By and large, printers, booksellers, and others had ceased advertising almanacs for quite some time. The appearance of this notice indicates that the Fowles still had surplus almanacs in stock. They hoped for some sort of return on their investment if they could sell any of them at that point. Its position as the last item in the May 12 issue, with the exception of the colophon, tells another story. The Fowles needed to fill the space to complete the column and the issue. This advertisement may have been just as valuable for that purpose as for any sales that resulted from it.

Indeed, the placement of all three advertisements from the printers suggests that they served dual purposes. Each tended to some aspect of operations at the printing office in Portsmouth while simultaneously completing a column and contributing to the tidy appearance of the final page of the May 12 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 3 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

“BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”

Like almost every other colonial printer who published a newspaper, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, regularly inserted advertisements for their own goods and services. Although they sometimes promoted books they sold at the printing office, including John Dickinson’s popular “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES,” they most often ran short notices that informed readers they sold printed blanks (better known as forms today). Blanks included a variety of common legal and commercial devices, such as bills of sale, indentures, and powers of attorney. They were stock-in-trade for printers throughout the colonies.

I have previously argued that advertisements for blanks in particular (and goods sold by printers more generally) had a dual purpose in colonial newspapers. Selling blanks certainly generated revenues for printers. In that regard, advertisements for blanks appeared for the same reason as advertisements for any other consumer goods and services. Advertisements for blanks, however, also served as filler when the rest of the issue fell short of content to fill the pages.

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 4 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

The October 21, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette makes this especially clear. It was a standard four-page issue created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first two pages consisted entirely of the masthead and news items, but the final two pages featured a mixture of news and advertising. A short advertisement, just five lines, appeared in the lower right corner of the third page: “BLANKS of most sorts, and a great variety of BOOKS, Pamphlets, &c. sold at the Printing Office, which is kept near the State House, in the Street leading to the Market. And Ferry.—Where Isle Shoals and Newmarket Lottery Tickets are sold.” Another short advertisement, this one only two lines, appeared as the final item on the fourth page, immediately above the colophon. “BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth,” it starkly announced. In both cases, the placement at the bottom of the last column on the page indicates that the compositor inserted these advertisements only after including other content, both news and advertising. Advertising their own wares benefitted newspaper printers, but those short notices also played a role in meeting other goals in the publication process.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 6, 1768).

“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”

All of the advertisements on the final page of the August 6, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette would have looked familiar to readers who perused that newspaper regularly. They included advertisements that Joseph Russell and William Russell had inserted in every issue for the past two months as well as a notice by Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark announcing that they had “set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.” In addition to earning their livelihood, Bucklin and Clark argued that they served the public by reducing dependence on imported knives and other cutlery. Another advertisement detailed the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” intended to raise funds “for amending the Great North Road heading from Providence to Plainfield.” It also called on readers to consider the benefits to the general public when making decisions about how to spend their money.

The final advertisement in the August 6 edition would have looked the most familiar since it appeared often but not necessarily in every issue. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, regularly published a short notice that reminded readers “BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.” Printed blanks (better known as forms today) included a variety of common legal and commercial devices, such as bills of sale, indentures, and powers of attorney. Goddard and Carter’s notice served a dual purpose. It promoted items sold at their printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, yet it also played a role in the production of that issue of the newspaper itself. The brief advertisement completed the final column on the final page, a column filled almost entirely with the lengthy advertisements placed by Bucklin and Clark and the directors of the Great North Road Lottery. It was not imperative for it to appear in that issue of the Providence Gazette. After all, the colophon advertised “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” done at the printing office. The compositor inserted the brief advertisement for printed blanks as necessary to fill the page. Its purpose was as much to streamline production of the newspaper as to facilitate sales of widely used legal and commercial forms.

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 30, 1768).

“BLANKS of several sorts to be sold at [t]he Printing-Office.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement indicating that he sold “blanks” at his printing office in Savannah. These printed forms, a mainstay of eighteenth-century job printing, came in many varieties for commercial and legal use. Although Johnston’s notice in the March 30, 1768, edition simply announced “BLANKS of several sorts to be sold at [t]he Printing-Office,” he usually ran a longer advertisement that listed the many forms readers could purchase: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, [and] indico certificates.” Johnston concluded the list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in eighteenth-century America), suggesting that he stocked or could print other blanks. The revenue generated from these forms supplemented the fees for subscriptions and advertisements for the newspaper as well as income from job printing the “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c.” promoted in the colophon of every issue of the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s.

While Johnston certainly hoped that readers would respond to his notice by purchasing “BLANKS of several sorts,” that may not have been the only reason he published this abbreviated notice in the March 30 edition. It ran on the final page as the last item in the first column, wedged between an estate notice for “Nicholas Cassiel, late of Augusta, merchant, deceased,” and the colophon. Johnston (or the compositor) may have ended up just shy of having enough content to fill the page and complete the issue. Given the printing technologies of the period, the most efficient solution would have been to set type for a one-line advertisement. This had the additional benefit of potentially enticing readers to become consumers of other printed goods beyond the newspaper in which Johnston printed the advertisement.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 16, 1768).

“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”

The shortest advertisement – consisting of only nine words – in the January 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette appeared at the bottom of the first column on the final page. In it, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers, advised readers that that they sold “BLANKS of all Kinds,” deploying contemporary terminology for items known today as forms. Goddard and Carter suggested that they could supply any sort of printed blanks customers desired, making it unnecessary to provide a list. Other printers, however, sometimes specified the various types of blanks they produced on their presses.

For instance, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement in his newspaper that enumerated more than a dozen blanks, each with a distinct purpose. He kept on hand “bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants,” and other legal or commercial documents. He also concluded his list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that the list was not exhaustive. Goddard and Carter likely stocked all or most of these forms. They could also print any others for clients who submitted orders for job printing.

The advertisement about “BLANKS of all Kinds” supplemented the announcement in the colophon published in every issue of the Providence Gazette. In addition to specifying the printers and place of publication, Goddard and Carter treated the colophon as advertising space for the various endeavors undertaken in their shop. They invited others to submit “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper to their printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” but they also stated that they did “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” at the same location. Despite its brevity, their advertisement for “BLANKS of all Kinds” testified to a wide range of printed forms that circulated widely and would have been familiar to colonists in Providence and beyond.

November 12

GUEST CURATOR: Carolyn Crawford

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

nov-12-11121766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 12, 1766).

“BLank bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney.”

Unlike other advertisements I examined this week, I found this particular advertisement fascinating because it focused on various products that were sold at the “Printing-Office” and nowhere else: all sorts of printed blanks (which Prof. Keyes explained was the eighteenth-century way of saying “blank forms”). As I analyzed this advertisement, I discovered that printing offices served as a central distribution centers for colonists to gather and acquire information as well as the forms they needed to pass along information.

According to William S. Reese, “Blank forms for business and law were a mainstay of job printing.” With this in mind, colonists were able to obtain forms, such as “Bills of sale, mortgages, [and] powers of attorney,” and then complete them by filling in the necessary information. These forms were used to facilitate legal and business transactions. Ultimately, this “job printing” of blank forms meant income for printers.

Another advantage of the “Printing-Office” was that printers were often postmasters too, which meant colonists gathered there to send and retrieve mail. Additionally, they could regularly receive local newspapers and newspapers sent from other cities. These newspapers, filled with current news and advertisements, encouraged colonists to explore and purchase what was available.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, inserted advertisements for the printed blanks he produced and sold on a fairly regularly basis. Like many other colonial printers, he sought to generate additional revenues through such job printing, supplementing the fees he received for newspaper subscriptions and advertisements.

In the November 12, 1766, issue of the Georgia Gazette Johnston used a separate advertisement, the one Carolyn selected for today, to list the various sorts of business and legal documents he sold. That advertisement appeared in addition to a regular feature of the newspaper: the colophon that listed the publication information across the bottom of the final page. The colophon did more than announce that the Georgia Gazette came from “SAVANNAH: Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street.” It also announced that readers could go to the printing shop, “where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

Here we see many sorts of work printers did to earn a living. Newspapers allowed for two streams of income: subscriptions and advertisements. To draw readers and attract subscribers for those newspapers, printers needed content. As Carolyn has indicated, some of it came through the post, either in letters or newspapers from other cities and towns. Some of it also came from local correspondents in the “Letters of Intelligence” solicited in the colophon. Johnston printed some or all of such letters when he received them, keeping his readers better informed.

In addition to printing newspapers, Johnston also did a variety of job printing, including the “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c.” that appeared every issue in the colophon and the assortment of printed blanks (at least fourteen different sorts of forms!) listed in the advertisement Carolyn selected. In this way, Johnston used the advertising space in his own newspaper to drum up additional business for his own shop. He did not merely provide advertising space for others who purchased it. He used his own newspaper to advertise other printed goods he sold to the public.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 13, 1766).

“BLank bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading …”

Like other colonial newspapers, the Georgia Gazette consistently ended with a colophon that gave the particulars concerning publication: it was printed “by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah. Also like other colonial newspapers, the colophon announced a variety of printed goods for sale. Johnston solicited advertisements and subscriptions for the Georgia Gazette, but he supplemented that revenue with job printing: “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

Regular readers may have grown accustomed to seeing the colophon and largely ignored its contents. It would have been harder to skip over this advertisement, strategically positioned as the final item in the final column on the final page (and immediately above the colophon). Whether reading the advertisements intensively or merely skimming over them, this one would have left a lasting impression among most readers thanks to its placement on the page.

The “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) in the colophon covered an array of printed items, but Johnston elaborated on them in this advertisement. In total, he listed a dozen kinds of printed blanks, forms intended to streamline a variety of economic transactions and legal interactions. Even this extensive list, however, ended with another “&c.” Blank forms, whether printed or online, are part of everyday life in the twenty-first century, but this advertisement suggests that colonial Americans were not strangers to filling out, handling, and reading forms themselves. It also indicates that the work done by printers facilitated diverse commercial and legal activities as their printed blanks passed from person to person within and beyond their communities.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 23, 1766).

“Most Kinds of BLANKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.”

Eighteenth-century printers often inserted advertisements for their own wares and services in the newspapers they published. They hoped to generate additional revenues, but they may have also strategically placed their own advertisements as a means of generating content that would fill space. Unlike other advertisers who usually purchased “squares” of advertising, thus paying by the length of the advertisement, printers who promoted their own enterprises did not have to factor the length of their advertisements into their calculations. That sometimes resulted in lengthy advertisements or multiple notices in a single issue.

In this case, however, printer James Johnston inserted a very brief advertisement, a single line announcing, “Most Kinds of BLANKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.” (By blanks, Johnston meant a variety of forms, including indentures.) The advertisement appeared at the bottom of the second and final column on the last page of the newspaper, nestled right above the colophon. Johnston needed one more line of text to complete the column. This one had the added benefit of drawing attention to one of the services he provided.

Jul 23 - 7:23:1766 Colophon Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 23, 1766).

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Johnston also used the colophon (the space devoted to publication information, including printer and location, at the end of the newspaper) to promote both the newspaper and other parts of his business. In addition to noting that the Georgia Gazette was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah, it also announced that he sold subscriptions and advertisements. Furthermore, he did job printing (like the blanks) “at the shortest Notice,” including handbills and other forms of advertising (such as broadsides, trade cards, or circular letters).

Throughout the eighteenth century, Johnston and other printers creatively shaped newspaper colophons to do more than provide basic publication information. They use them to promote other services available in their printing shops.