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.

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 27, 1770).

“It is impossible to carry on Business without Money.”

Printers, like members of other occupations, frequently extended credit to their customers in early America.  Indeed, the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century depended on extensive networks of credit on both sides of the Atlantic.  As a result, colonial newspapers carried notices calling on consumers to settle accounts nearly often as advertisements hawking goods and services.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, profited from both sorts of advertisements … provided that his customers paid their bills.  He sometimes found himself in the position of placing his own notices “earnestly request[ing] all his good Friends and Customers to pay off their Accounts.”

Such was the case at the end of April 1770.  He declared it “impossible to carry on Business without Money.”  Wells offered generous terms to his “Friends and Customers,” asking them to catch up only “to the End of last Year.”  He did not call on them to pay any charges incurred in the past five months, nor did he threaten legal action.  Most similar advertisement concluded with such warning, some of them more polite than others.  Wells also challenged his customers to compare what they owed him to the magnitude of credit he extended to all of his customers.  Their “Accounts separately amount only to small Sums,” he declared, while implicitly suggesting that those small sums represented a much larger total when considered together.  Wells pleaded with customers not to dismiss the impact of settling accounts just because they considered what they owed so trifling as to not matter.  The printer issued a special appeal to “Ladies and Gentlemen in the Country” to pay for their “Gazettes, Advertisements, and other Articles,” advising that they could have “their Factors or other Friends in Town” settle accounts on their behalf.  Rather than overlook his entreaty because they lived at a distance, Wells offered a solution.  What they owed made it just as “impossible to carry on Business” as what those who resided in Charleston owed.

Like other printers, Wells frequently placed notices in his own newspaper.  Usually he advertised books and stationery, but on occasion he placed another sort of notice.  He could not continue to publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette if “Friends and Customers” did not settle accounts.  More than any advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, or others calling on customers to pay what they owed, Wells stood to generate the most revenue from this particular advertisement, provided that his customers heeded it and submitted payment.

February 10

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

Feb 10 - 2:8:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (February 8, 1770).

“Advertisements, &c. of a moderate size, shall be done at two hours notice.”

Having previously advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal in November 1770 when he first acquired “ALL the large and valuable assortment of Printing-Types, together with all the other necessary utensils for carrying on the printing business” from the estate of Andrew Steuart, William Evitt placed a new advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in February 1770. That advertisement reiterated much of the previous one, but more extensively described the various services Evitt provided at “the Bible-in-Heart, in Strawberry-Alley,” the new location for his printing office.

The “various branches” of the printing trade practiced by Evitt included producing advertising materials, especially handbills and broadsides. He assured prospective customers that they “may depend upon having their work done with great care and dispatch” before noting that “Great care will be taken of blanks and hand-bills in particular.” Evitt also gave details about the extent of the assistance he provided in the production of advertisements. While advertisers were welcome to submit copy of their own, “Transient and other persons, who are not acquainted with drawing up advertisements in a proper manner … may have them done gratis.” Evitt meant that he guided advertisers through the process of writing copy as a free service.

Evitt also revealed how quickly he could produce advertisements in his printing office. He proclaimed, “Advertisements, &c. of a moderate size, shall be done at two hours notice, and larger ones in proportion.” Presumably this promise applied to those customers who submitted copy ready to go to press and excluded any time spent on consultation about the copy. The process required operating a manual press after first setting type, hence the variation in the amount of time needed to prepare an order. Evitt could produce handbills and broadsides with a “moderate” amount of copy in just two hours, but needed slightly more time to set type for advertisements with extensive copy.

Newspaper printers and job printers rarely discussed the mechanics of advertising in their newspapers or in the notices they placed to promote the “various branches” of the printing trade, although they did frequently call on colonists to employ them to print advertisements. Evitt provided more detail than most, encouraging a culture of advertising in early America while also helping readers understand how the process worked.

January 28

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

Jan 28 1770 - 1:25:1770 New-York JournalFREEMAN’s NEW-YORK ALMANACK, For the Year 1770.”

In the final week of January 1770, John Holt continued in his efforts to rid himself of surplus copies of Freeman’s New-York Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1770. He did so much more vigorously than other printers who reduced the length and size of their advertisements significantly as January came to an end, perhaps an indication that Holt seriously miscalculated demand for Freeman’s New-York Almanack, printed far too many, and now had an excessive quantity on hand.

Three advertisements for the almanac appeared on the final page of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal, Holt’s newspaper. He exercised his privilege as the printer to insert and arrange advertisements as he saw fit. The first of those notices was not at first glance an advertisement for the almanac. Instead, it appeared to be a public interest piece about “raising and preparing FINE FLAX” and the advantages of “farmers in North America” doing so. A separate paragraph at the end, just two lines preceded by a manicule, informed readers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” That note appeared immediately above the most extensive of Holt’s advertisements for the almanac. He had previously run the notices about “FINE FLAX” and the almanac separately, sometimes even on different pages, and left it to readers to discover the synergy for themselves. A month into the new year, however, he no longer left it to prospective customers to make the connection on their own.

To further increase the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of the almanac, Holt placed a third advertisement next to the second one. Even if readers perused a page comprised almost entirely of advertisements so quickly that they did not notice how the “FINE FLAX” advertisement introduced an advertisement listing the contents of the almanac, it would have been difficult to skim all three columns without taking note of Freeman’s New-York Almanack.

Holt’s advertisements for the almanac accounted for a significant portion of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal. Even taking into account the two-page supplement distributed with it, the entire issue consisted of only eighteen columns. The three advertisements for the almanac filled more than an entire column, displacing news items and editorials that Holt could have published instead. He apparently calculated that he included sufficient news between the standard issue and the supplement to satisfy subscribers, thus allowing him to aggressively advertise the almanac.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:23:1769 South-Carolina Gazette Additional Supplement
Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (November 23, 1769).

“New Advertisements.”

In the fall of 1769 Peter Timothy did good business when it came to publishing advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette. Consider the November 23 edition. Advertising appeared on every page. Indeed, the space devoted to advertising eclipsed the space for news items. A headline directing readers to “New Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column of the first page. The other two columns consisted of news items. The second page also delivered news, but two “New Advertisements” ran at the bottom of the last column. Timothy divided the third page evenly between news items (including a list of prices current in Charleston and the shipping news from the customs house, branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”) and more “New Advertisements.” The final page consisted entirely of advertisements. Overall, paid notices compromised half of the standard issue, which likely suited Timothy just fine since advertising usually generated greater revenue than selling subscriptions.

Yet even giving over that much space to advertising in the standard issue did not allow Timothy to disseminate all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office. A two-page Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette accompanied the November 23 edition. Except for the masthead, it consisted entirely of advertisements, though the “New Advertisements” headline that ran three times in the standard issue did not appear in the supplement. Timothy may have made a concerted effort to give new content, whether news or advertising, a privileged place in the standard issue. Still, even by publishing the supplement Timothy did not gain sufficient space to include all of the advertisements for the week. He went to the extraordinary step of printing and distributing an Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette. Printed on a smaller sheet, this two-page supplement featured only two columns per page. It still allowed Timothy to circulate an additional sixteen advertisements. The “New Advertisements” headline ran at the top of the first column on the first page, though the notices were repeats from previous editions. Did Timothy deploy that headline indiscriminately? Or did he use it strategically in an attempt to draw readers weary of advertisements into the Additional Supplement rather than dismiss it as content they had already perused in recent weeks?

Timothy very nearly had more advertisements than he could publish in the South-Carolina Gazette. Assuming that advertisers actually settled accounts in a timely manner, Timothy operated a booming business at his printing office. The volume of paid notices testified to both the extensive circulation of the newspaper and colonists’ confidence in the effectiveness of advertising. Some colonial newspapers, such as the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, the New-York Journal or General Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, and the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, positioned their purpose as twofold right in the masthead. Timothy very well could have billed the South-Carolina Gazette as an Advertiser.

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.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:15:1769 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 15, 1769).

“ROBERT AITKEN, Bookseller, From Glasgow.”

Robert Aitken, a bookseller, kept shop in Philadelphia only briefly in 1769. In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, he announced that he had “just now arrived” from Glasgow and “opened his store” on Front Street. His inventory consisted of “a valuable variety of books,” including literature, history, law, medicine, and divinity as well as novels, plays, songs, and ballads. Aitken offered something agreeable to the tastes of practically any reader.

To stimulate sales, the bookseller advised “Such who intend to furnish themselves with any of the above articles” to make their purchases as soon as possible or else miss their chance because he did not intend to remain in Pennsylvania long. Indeed, he did make “but a short stay” in Philadelphia, returning to Scotland before the year ended. Yet he must have been encouraged by the prospects available in Philadelphia. He returned two years later and remained in the city until his death in 1802.

In his History of Printing in America, Isaiah Thomas offers an overview of Aitken’s career. Born in Dalkeith, Scotland, Aitken apprenticed to a bookbinder in Edinburgh. After his initial sojourn as a bookseller in Philadelphia in 1769, he returned in 1771 and “followed the business of bookselling and binding, both before and after the revolution.”[1] In 1774, he became a printer. In January 1775 he founded the Pennsylvania Magazine, one of only seventeen magazines published in the colonies before the American Revolution.[2] It survived for a little over a year, ending its run in July 1776. He earned some renown for publishing an American bible in 1802, though Thomas contests the claim that it was the first printed in America.

Aitken Broadside
Robert Aitken, Advertising Broadside (Philadelphia: 1779). Courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia.

Like other eighteenth-century printers, Aitken contributed to the culture of advertising in early America. His ledger, now in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, lists several broadsides, billheads, and other printed materials distributed for the purposes of advertising that are otherwise unknown since, unfortunately, copies have not survived. He delivered the Pennsylvania Magazine enclosed in advertising wrappers; these are also rare, though some can be found among the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia. He also printed broadsides listing books he printed in Philadelphia. One also advised prospective clients that Aitken bound books and “PERFORMS All KINDS of PRINTING-WORK, PLAIN and ORNAMENTAL.” The ornamental printing on that broadside was a model of the advertising that Aitken could produce for his customers.  Aitken’s first newspaper advertisements in 1769 barely hinted on the influence he would exert over early American advertising, both as an advertiser of his own goods and services and as a producer of advertising for others who enlisted him in printing broadsides, handbills, magazine wrappers, trade cards, and other media intended to stimulate consumer interest.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, History of Printing in America with a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; 1874; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 401.

[2] See “Chronological List of Magazines” in Frank Luther Mott, A History of Americasn Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1939), 787-788.