November 15

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

Nov 15 - 11:12:1767 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (November 12, 1767).

“A large ASSORTMENT of STATIONARY.”

Purdie and Dixon’s advertisement reveals several aspects of consumer culture, commercial exchange, and everyday life in colonial America, yet when considered alone it tells only a partial story of print culture and advertising practices in the eighteenth century. When disembodied from the rest of the newspaper in which it appeared, this advertisement does not fully communicate how readers would have interacted with its visual aspects. Viewers get a sense of the typography – different font sizes, the selective use of italics and capitals, and the deployment of white space – but cannot compare those details to their treatment in other advertisements. Only in examining the entire page or the entire issue does the full significance of the typographical choices become apparent.

When viewing Purdie and Dixon’s notice in isolation, it would be natural to consider the size of the font throughout most of the advertisement to be the standard or default size. The quasi-headline “STATIONARY” stands out not only because it appeared in italics and capitals but especially because the compositor chose a font significantly larger than that used for the remainder of the text. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that font size replicated what was used in other advertisements in the same issue. Throughout the rest of the newspaper, both advertisements and news items appeared in a significantly smaller font, making them appear more dense and more difficult to read. By printing their advertisement in a larger font, Purdie and Dixon called special attention to it.

In addition, this advertisement occupied a privileged place in the November 12, 1767, edition of the Virginia Gazette. The four-page issue featured slightly over one page of news items; advertisements filled nearly three pages. About one-third of a column of news flowed onto the second page before a header for “Advertisements” indicated the purpose of the remaining content. Purdie and Dixon’s advertisement, with its larger font, appeared at the top of the second (and middle) column on the second page. This positioned it at the head of the first full column devoted to advertising, practically implying that the advertisements began there rather than at the header (printed with much smaller type). As a result of these typographical decisions, readers turning from the first to second page likely noticed Purdie and Dixon’s advertisement before their gaze landed anywhere else. Any readers who intended to continue perusing the news could hardly help but notice “STATIONARY” immediately to the right of what little news appeared on the second page. (Purdie and Dixon may have been especially keen to sell as much stationery as quickly as possible since the Townshend Act, which assessed new duties on imported paper, was scheduled to go into effect just eight days after their advertisement appeared.)

While it may be tempting to dismiss all of this as circumstantial, keep in mind that Alexander Purdie and John Dixon printed the Virginia Gazette. While they may not have set the type themselves, the compositor would have acted on their behalf as the publishers of the newspaper. The typography benefited their business interests in particular, an element that gets lost when viewing just their advertisement but not the entire page or the rest of the issue in which it appeared. As printers, they exercised power over what appeared in their publication, but they also exercised privilege in the presentation of the selected contents.

To examine the entire issue of the Virginia Gazette, visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library.

September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 19, 1767).

“Every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.”

In September 1767, Sarah Goddard and Company inserted an impassioned notice in the newspaper they published. They thanked subscribers of the Providence Gazette for their patronage, especially those who had already paid their bills, while also calling on others to settle accounts. They politely requested that “those who have not yet settled for the last Year’s Papers, will be so considerate as to follow the Example of those who have already paid.” Settling the “Company Accounts” would allow Goddard and Company to “carry on the useful and necessary Business of Printing in this Town.” They concluded their advertisement with an elaborate argument about the value derived from a local newspaper, portraying their work not only as a means of earning a living but, more importantly, as a service to the entire community.

The timing and urgency of that advertisement became even more apparent in a notice that appeared at the top of the first column on the first page of the September 19, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette. In an address “To the PUBLIC,” they reported the dissolution of the “Partnership between SARAH GODDARD and COMPANY.” In his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Clarence Brigham states that a history of the newspaper appeared in the March 6, 1779, edition.[1] This history identified Samuel Inslee as Goddard’s partner. The advertisements calling on subscribers to pay their bills had not merely been part of the regular business of operating a printing office. The publishers knew that one partnership was coming to an end and another on the verge of commencing. They wanted subscriber to settle accounts in order to facilitate the transition.

The advertisement in the September 19, 1767, issue indicated that Sarah Goddard and John Carter now operated the printing office and published the newspaper. The colophon also shifted to read: “Printed by SARAH GODDARD and JOHN CARTER.” This partnership lasted until Goddard’s retirement in November of the following year. In the meantime, Goddard and Carter assured readers that publication of the Providence Gazette would continue without disruption to the quality they had come to expect: “every proper Measure has been concerted to render the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE as useful and entertaining as possible.” Goddard and Carter promised that “Care and Diligence shall not be wanting” in the production of the newspaper as they invited the public to “continue to favour this Paper with their Subscriptions.”

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[1] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 2: 1008.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 12, 1767).

The useful and necessary Business of Printing in this Town.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, printers regularly turned to the pages of their own newspapers to insert notices calling on subscribers (and sometimes advertisers) to settle their accounts by paying their overdue bills. Printers often accompanied these reminders with threats to sue recalcitrant subscribers who did not respond.

Sarah Goddard and Company took a different approach when they called on “all those who have not yet settled for the last Year’s Papers.” First, they extended their “most sincere Thanks” to all subscribers, but then lauded the “Example of those who have already paid.” The printers pointed to them as role models to emulate; in so doing, they also implicitly shamed their counterparts who had not yet paid.

In addition, Goddard and Company suggested that the future of their printing business depended on settling accounts, yet it was not only their own livelihood at stake. Instead, the entire community benefitted from the “useful and necessary Business of Printing” undertaken by Goddard and Company. They positioned the Providence Gazette, revived thirteen months earlier after a hiatus that had lasted more than a year, as a public service, one that had met with great approval. More than just a service, the printers proclaimed that their newspaper was “absolutely necessary for many of the most useful Members of Society amongst us.”

Goddard and Company could have wheedled subscribers and threatened legal action. Instead, they asked readers to consider the benefits associated with the continuation of the Providence Gazette. They anticipated that such idealistic appeals would “enduce all our former Subscribers” to renew their commitment to the publication through a “Continuance of their past Favors.” They also expected this argument to convince others who had not previously subscribed to “encourage this Work.” Rather than inserting an ugly admonition, Goddard and Company challenged the community to provide “ready Assistance” and join in common cause in “promoting the Growth and extending the Progress of our Gazette” for the benefit of its printers and readers alike.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 6, 1767).

Books, Pamphlets, and Blanks of all Sorts, &c. &c.”

For several weeks in the winter and early spring of 1767 advertising was sparse in the Providence Gazette. Many of the advertisements that did appear were placed by Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers of the newspaper, for goods and services they sold. Others came from associates in the printing trades, including extensive proposals for the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a new publication that William Goddard, Sarah’s son, launched in Philadelphia in January 1767. It seemed as though Goddard and Company struggled to fill the pages of the Providence Gazette, sometimes inserting many of their own advertisements as means of generating sufficient content to fill the pages of each weekly issue.

That changed as summer approached. New advertisers placed commercial notices. Previous advertisers returned to the pages of the Providence Gazette. Advertising comprised about one-third of the contents of the June 6 edition, just as it had the previous week and would again the following week. Goddard and Company did not place any advertisements among those that appeared in the June 6 issue, yet the partnership still managed to inform readers about the services they offered.[1] Indeed, Goddard and Company’s promotional efforts accounted for the first and last items printed in that issue.

On the first page, below a masthead that proclaimed the newspaper carried “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” an announcement from the printers appeared at the top of the first column, preceding foreign “advices” from London. In addition to informing readers that the printing office had moved to a new location, the announcement concluded with a list of printed materials Goddard and Company offered for sale: “where may be had Books, Pamphlets, and Blanks of all Sorts, &c. &c.” On the final page, the colophon appeared across the bottom as usual. In addition to providing publication information, it also solicited business for the printers. Goddard and Company accepted subscriptions and advertisements directly associated with the Providence Gazette, but they also did job printing (“all Manner of PRINTING WORK”) to the specifications of clients.

Even as the Providence Gazette gained advertisers in the spring of 1767, the printers controlled the layout of the newspaper. More advertising meant less space for their own notices, which may have been a welcome relief if advertisers paid in a timely manner, yet Goddard and Company continued to devise ways to promote their own goods and services. Their privileged position as operators of the press allowed them to begin and end the June 6 edition with brief marketing messages.

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[1] The masthead lists “SATURDAY, JUNE 7, 1767” as the date for the issue, but that was not possible. In 1767, it could have been published on Saturday, June 6 or Sunday, June 7. Considering that the Providence Gazette was published on Saturdays throughout the rest of the year (and that no newspapers were printed on Sundays anywhere in the colonies), I consider it more likely that June 6 was the correct date. In addition, the printers did not offer any sort of apology for the late appearance of the issue. Goddard and Company regularly inserted notes explaining that the late arrival of the post affected which news appeared, making it likely that they would have also acknowledged publishing an issue a day later than usual. That being said, moving the printing office could have caused a one-day delay in publication, but most of the circumstances suggest that this edition appeared on Saturday, June 6, 1767.

February 8

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

feb-8-261767-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 8, 1767).

“Said Carrier will begin to Ride as soon as sufficient Number of Subscribers can be had.”

Like other colonial printers, Daniel and Robert Fowle inserted advertisements for their own business endeavors in the newspaper they published (though they did not use the colophon as a standing advertisement for the various services provided at their printing office in Portsmouth). The Fowles were responsible for four of the advertisements that appeared in the February 6, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Three of those advertisements were fairly short: four lines each. Two of them peddled leftover almanacs for 1767 and the third informed readers that the Fowles supplemented the revenues from newspaper subscriptions and advertisements by selling “BLANKS of all sorts – and a variety of Books, Pamphlets, &c.”

The fourth advertisement took up considerably more space on the page. It advertised the newspaper itself, the title appearing in a larger font and on a line by itself in the middle of the notice. The Fowles outlined a plan to have a rider continue to deliver newspapers to subscribers in towns and villages beyond Portsmouth. The proposed route included “the Towns of Kittery, Berwick, Somersworth, Dover, Durham, Newmarket, [and] Stratham.” The Fowles offered this as a service to subscribers, though they also indicated that demand already existed among “some Persons who live at the Heads of the Rivers” who were “desirous of having a Carrier continue to Ride.”

The printers placed this notice to gauge interest in this plan, stating that “Said Carrier will begin to Ride as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscribers can be had.” Yet interest was not sufficient to bring the plan to fruition: subscribers needed to demonstrate their commitment by paying half of the delivery in advance. The printers also requested that current subscribers “in Arrears” pay up “before the Carrier begins to Ride, in order to prevent any future Disputes.”

This advertisement made clear that the rider would provide a continuation of an existing service, delivery to the local town (if not directly to each subscriber’s home). In so doing, it demonstrated the geographic reach of colonial newspapers beyond the cities where they were printed and into the towns and villages in the hinterland. Certainly some copies were disseminated even further afield, but the success (or even the continuation) of newspapers depended on cultivating local and regional customers and readers.

February 1

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

“TO BE SOLD, at the POST-OFFICE … A Collection of valuable and useful BOOKS.”

feb-1-1311767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (January 31, 1767).

The methodology that guides the Adverts 250 Project sometimes makes it difficult to choose which advertisement to feature on certain days. Each advertisement must have been published 250 years ago that day. If no newspapers were printed in colonial America on any particular date, then the advertisement should come from the most recently published newspaper available anywhere in the colonies. This means that there are days – Thursdays in 2017 (Mondays in 1767) and Sundays in 2017 (Thursdays in 1767) – for choosing among multiple newspapers from colonial America’s largest urban ports, many overflowing with advertisements to the point that they sometimes issued supplements to contain then all.

On other days, however, only one newspaper was published anywhere in the colonies. For Fridays (Mondays in 1767) the project draws from South-Carolina and American General Gazette, on Saturdays (Tuesdays in 1767) from the Georgia Gazette, and on Tuesdays (Saturdays in 1767) from the Providence Gazette.

Note that the Providence Gazette was the only colonial American newspaper published on Saturdays in 1767. Recall that no newspapers were printed on Sundays. That means that on Wednesdays in 2017 (Sundays in 1767), featured advertisements must come from the Providence Gazette. As a result, this methodology privileges the Providence Gazette, a newspaper from a smaller port, over its counterparts in larger and busier cities. The Providence Gazette did not include nearly as many advertisements as the four newspapers printed in Boston, four others in New York, three in Philadelphia, and three in Charleston. This greatly constrains the choices when selecting which advertisements to feature on the Adverts 250 Project.

It does not help that the methodology also asserts that advertisements should not be featured twice, though exceptions can be made to demonstrate significant aspects of marketing practices in eighteenth-century America. Such is the case today. The featured advertisement previously appeared in the Providence Gazette on multiple occasions, sometimes as a single advertisement and other times divided into two parts. The few advertisements in the January 31 issue all appeared in earlier editions.

Examining those advertisements to make that determination yields an interesting revelation: the printers of the Providence Gazette occupied most of the advertising space on the final page. This includes William Goddard. After all, the colophon indicates that the newspaper was “Printed (in the Absence of WILLIAM GODDARD) by SARAH GODDARD, and COMPANY.”

jan-31-providence-gazette
Advertisements inserted by the printers on the final page of the Providence Gazette (January 31, 1767).

This gives that impression that the Providence Gazette may have been struggling to attract advertisers in 1767, unlike its counterparts in other larger port cities. Even the new Pennsylvania Chronicle, promoted in one of the advertisements inserted by the printers of the Providence Gazette in their own publication, ran copious advertisements within its first month. Sarah Goddard and Company made an editorial decision to fill the final page of their newspaper with advertisements, even if they were their own notices. In comparison, other printers in smaller towns opted to print news items almost exclusively and forego similar amounts of advertising. Such decisions merit additional investigation as the Adverts 250 Project continues.

December 6

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

dec-6-1261766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“This Almanack is embellished with the above Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.”

In colonial America, December was the time for marketing and selling almanacs. Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project featured an advertisement for the New-Hampshire Almanack from the New-Hampshire Gazette. Today’s advertisement for the “true and originalNew-England Almanack, printed by Mary Goddard and Company, appeared in the Providence Gazette.

To spruce up their advertisement, Goddard and Company included a “Cut of the Four Seasons of the Year.” As the only image that appeared in that issue of the Providence Gazette (except for the lion and union that always appeared in the masthead), the woodcut certainly distinguished this advertisement from the others. It did more, however, than entice potential customers by merely previewing the almanac’s contents. It also served as a means of distinguishing the almanac printed by Goddard and Company “from an Almanack under the same Title, published at Boston” that did not incorporate the woodcut.

The PRINTERS” devoted nearly half of their advertisement to a dispute with printers in Boston, claiming that a copy of Benjamin West’s calculations and other contents of the New-England Almanack had been “insidiously obtained, and unhappily sold, after the SOLE PROPERTY justly became ours, by a fair and honorable Purchase.” Goddard and Company stated that they possessed exclusive rights to print and distribute this particular almanac. When they read the newspapers from Boston they were dismayed to discover that competitors also printed it and distributed it to booksellers to sell. To their chagrin, they had supported West’s almanac “at our own Risque, ever since it had a Name, and ay a considerable Expence before it had Credit,” yet other printers now undermined their investment.

Potential customers might purchase the edition printed by Goddard and Company because the woodcut of the seasons was an attractive bonus or because the calculations were accurate and the contents “correctly printed.” If this was not enough to convince prospective readers to choose Goddard and Company’s edition over the other, then purchasers were encouraged to think of their choice in terms of justice. Unlike their competitors, Goddard and Company printed their edition “without the Prostitution of Virtue and Honor.” They encouraged potential customers to simultaneously reward them and deprive the Boston printers of their patronage.