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?

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.



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.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 20, 1766).

To be Sold by the Printers.”

Eighteenth-century printers earned their living by offering a variety of services, as this short advertisement indicates. Publishing the New-Hampshire Gazette was not Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle’s sole occupation in 1766. If they earned any profit at all from selling subscriptions, it was likely rather small. The important revenues from publishing newspapers came from the advertisements (which helps to explain why printers often gave over so much of the space in colonial newspapers to advertising rather than news or, on occasion, supplied half sheet supplements filled almost exclusively with commercial notices).

In this advertisement, the Fowles announced another branch of printers’ craft: printed blanks. Today such items are better known as blank forms. To record exchanges or legal transactions that took place so regularly that they were standardized, customers could purchase blank forms with boilerplate language. That meant that they did not have to start each new document from scratch with a quill pen. Printed blanks were convenient and saved time, making them a popular product. Often newspaper colophons indicated that the publishers printed the newspaper itself, standalone advertisements, and blanks, suggesting that the printed blanks were a significant part of their operations and revenues.

Some colonial printers also sold books, often imported books or imprints they exchanged with their counterparts in the colonies. Printing a book was a massive undertaking. Considering the time, effort, and capital required for newspapers, advertisements, printed blanks, and other job printing, printers who sold books tended to sell as many or more books printed by others than books that came off their own presses

This advertisement helps to demonstrate the various activities that took place in an eighteenth-century printing shop. Most printers did not specialize in one type of job. Instead, they generated revenues in multiple ways.