September 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 2, 1772).

“All kinds of office and other blanks, hand-bills, &c. &c.”

When James Humphrey, Jr., opened a printing shop in Philadelphia in the summer of 1772, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Journal to inform the public that he sought orders for “PRINTING, In all its VARIOUS and DIFFERENT BRANCHES.”  Perhaps he received a discount for notices he placed in that newspaper, despite being a competitor for job printing, having apprenticed to William Bradford, one of the partners who printed the Pennsylvania Journal.  Humphreys stated that he “earnestly requests the favour and encouragement of the Public in general, and of his friends and acquaintance in particular.”  That encouragement likely commenced with a mentor who had a thriving business and could afford to help his former apprentice establish his own printing office.  Humphreys eventually published the Pennsylvania Ledger from January 1775 through November 1776 with a brief revival when the British occupied Philadelphia, but he focused on books and job printing when he first entered the business.

In particular, he solicited orders for “All kinds of office and other blanks, [and] hand-bills.”  Throughout the colonies, printers produced and sold a variety of blanks, printed forms that facilitated common commercial and legal transactions.  Humphreys listed some of the blanks available at his printing office, including “arbitration bonds, bonds and judgments, common bonds, powers of attorney, bills of lading, bills of sale, [and] apprentices and servants indentures.”  Concluding the list with “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) signaled that he had others on hand to sell “either by the ream, quire, or single sheet.”  Some colonizers purchased blanks in volume, making them an even more lucrative revenue stream for printers.  Humphreys also declared that he printed handbills “in the neatest and most speedy manner.”  When they advertised, printers often included handbills among the items they produced, suggesting that many more advertisements circulated in eighteenth-century America, especially in urban centers, than survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.  Such ephemera may have been much more numerous and visible than bibliographies of early American imprints suggest.  Newspaper advertisements like the one that Humphreys inserted in the Pennsylvania Journal in 1772 hint at a vibrant culture of advertising during the era of the American Revolution.

April 5

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

South-Carolina Gazette (April 2, 1772).

“Be very punctual in their Publications … and be particularly careful in circulating the Papers.”

The first page of the April 2, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette consisted almost entirely of the masthead and advertisements placed by colonizers.  At the top of the first column, however, Peter Timothy, the printer, inserted his own notice before the “New Advertisements” placed by his customers.  In it, he announced that “my present State of Health will not admit of my continuing the PRINTING BUSINESS any longer.”  Effective on May 1, “Thomas Powell, Edward Hughes, & Co.” would “conduct and continue the Publication of this GAZETTE.”  Wishing for the success of his successors, Timothy assured readers that they could expect the same quality from the publication under new management that he had delivered “during the Course of Thirty-three Years.”  Picking up where he left off, the partners “will have the Advantage of an extensive and well established Correspondence” with printers and others who provided news.  In addition, Timothy declared that they would “be very punctual in their Publications—regular and exact in inserting the Prices Current—continue my Marine List—and be particularly careful in circulating the Papers.”

Timothy addressed subscribers and other readers when he mentioned the “Charles-Town Price Current” and “Timothy’s Marine List,” as the printer called his version of the shipping news obtained from the customs house.  In making promises about the punctually publishing newspapers and attending to their circulation, however, he addressed both readers and advertisers.  Colonizers who paid to insert notices wanted their information disseminated as quickly and as widely as possible, whether they encouraged consumers to purchase goods and services, invited bidders to attend auctions and estate sales, or offered rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves.  Certainly subscribers wanted their newspapers to arrive quickly and efficiently, but Timothy understood the importance of advertising when it came to generating revenues.  After all, he devoted only five of the twelve columns in the April 2 edition to news (including the “Charles-Town Price Current” and “Timothy’s Marine List”) and the other seven to advertising.  In addition, he distributed a half sheet supplement, another six columns, that consisted entirely of advertising.  Paid notices accounted for just over two-thirds of the content Timothy disseminated on April 2, even taking his “extensive and well established Correspondence” into consideration.

As he prepared to pass the torch to Powell and Hughes, Timothy did not address advertisers directly, but he certainly addressed concerns that would have been important to them.  The South-Carolina Gazette competed with two other newspapers published in Charleston at the time.  Timothy sought to keep both subscribers and advertisers loyal to the publication he would soon hand over to new partners.

February 1

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

Providence Gazette (February 1, 1772).

“He does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.”

It was a familiar refrain.  John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, called on subscribers to pay their bills, echoing notices that printers throughout the colonies regularly inserted in their own newspapers.  He appealed to reason, but also threatened legal action.  In the process, he provided an overview of his persistent attempts to convince subscribers to settle their accounts.

Carter reported that the “Ninth of November closed the Year with most of the Subscribers to this Gazette.”  That milestone made it a good time to make payments, but nearly three months later “Numbers of them are now greatly in Arrear.”  Carter had already attempted to collect, noting that he “repeatedly called on” subscribers “by Advertisements,” but they “still neglect settling their Accounts, to the great Disadvantage of the Printer.”  He suggested that continuing to publish the Providence Gazette depended on subscribers paying what they owed.  So many of them were so delinquent that Carter claimed that he “does not receive a Sufficiency from his Subscribers to defray even the Expence of Paper on which the Gazette is printed.”  Subscriptions, however, were not the only source of revenue for Carter or any other printer.  Advertising also generated revenues, often making newspapers profitable (or at least viable) ventures.

The printer hoped that subscribers would feel some sympathy about the costs he incurred, but he also determined, “reluctantly … and with the utmost Pain,” to sue those who still refused to pay.  Carter lamented that “he finds himself compelled to acquaint ALL such, that their Accounts must and will be put in Suit, if not very speedily discharged.” Despite his exasperation and emphasizing that he felt “compelled” to pursue such a course, Carter likely never initiated any suits.  Printers frequently made such threats, but rarely alienated subscribers by following through on them.  After all, selling advertising depended in part on circulation numbers.  Printers realized they had the potential to come out ahead on advertisements even if they took a loss on subscriptions.

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.

March 9

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

Providence Gazette (March 9, 1771).

“Several Kinds of Blanks.”

Like his counterparts in other cities and towns, John Carter did more than print a newspaper at his printing office.  In addition to distributing a new edition of the Providence Gazette on Saturdays, Carter also produced and sold blanks (or printed forms) and did job printing on behalf of customers.  Many also sold books, most of them imported.  Those various services established multiple sources of revenue for printers throughout the colonies.

Printers regularly promoted blanks in short advertisements in their own newspapers.  Some of those notices were very brief, just a couple of lines that completed a column, but others were more extensive.  In the March 9, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, Carter died more than inform readers that he provided blanks for sale at his printing office “at Shakespear’s Head, in King-Street, near the Court-House.  Instead, he listed many of the different kinds of blanks on hand, including “SUPERIOR and INFERIOR Court Executions, … long and short Powers of Attorney, … Bills of Sales, Bills of Lading, … Policies of Insurance, [and] Apprentices Indentures.”  The Providence Gazette served an entire region, not just local residents, so Carter also printed and sold “several Kinds of Blanks for the Colony of Connecticut, such as Writs of Attachment, [Writs] for Recovery of Notes and Book-Debts at a County Court, [and Writs] before a Justice.”  Colonists used standardized blanks to facilitate a variety of legal and commercial transactions.

Carter focused primarily on the many different kinds of blanks available at his printing office, but he also promised quality.  He assured prospective customers that no matter which of his blanks they selected, they were “all neatly printed on good Paper.”  The printer combined skill in execution and quality of materials in his appeal to customers.  The appearance and durability of these blanks enhanced any legal or financial transaction they recorded.

Carter supplemented revenues from subscriptions and advertisements in the Providence Gazette with additional revenues from printing and selling blanks intended for a variety of legal and financial purposes.  Like other printers, he inserted notices about blanks in his newspaper, leveraging one of his endeavors in support of another for the overall benefit of the entire operation of his printing office.

August 9

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

Aug 9 1770 - 8:9:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 9, 1770).

“Has removed his PRINTING-OFFICE from Philadelphia to Burlington.”

In the summer of 1770, printer Isaac Collins closed his printing office in Philadelphia in favor of relocating to Burlington, New Jersey.  He announced his new venture in an advertisement in the August 9, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  David Hall and William Sellers, printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette, gave Collins’s notice a privileged place on the first page of their newspaper.  It immediately followed letters to the editor; as the first advertisement in the issue, readers were more likely to peruse it as they transitioned from news to paid notices.  This may have been a professional courtesy on the part of Hall and Sellers, though Collins’s success in Burlington stood to benefit them as well.  If Collins managed to establish a thriving business in another town then that meant one less competitor in Philadelphia.  Even though Collins called on “his Friends in other Places” to “continue their Favours,” ultimately his new endeavor depended on cultivating a local clientele in his new location.

To that end, Collins proclaimed that he possessed both the skill and the equipment to “give Satisfaction” to his customers and “merit the Approbation of those who may please to favour him with their Commands.”  He pledged that he would spare no “Care or Pains” to “perform PRINTING in as correct, expeditious, and reasonable a Manner, as those of his Profession in the adjacent Colonies.”  New York and Pennsylvania both had numerous skilled printers.  To meet the expectations of customers, he “furnished himself with a new and elegant ASSORTMENT of PRINTING MATERIALS, at a considerable Expence.”  To showcase his industrious and commitment to serving the public in his new location, he concluded by noting that “speedily will be published, The BURLINGTON ALMANACK, for the Year 1771.”  Residents of New Jersey might prefer such an edition to the alternatives published in New York and Philadelphia.  If not the first mention of an almanac for 1771 in the public prints, it was one of the first, nearly five months before the new year.  In promoting it so soon, Collins not only sought to incite demand but also to demonstrate his commitment to fulfilling all of his responsibilities as printer in a new location.  Although he hoped to turn a profit on the Burlington Almanack, publishing it was also a service to the public.

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.