August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:5:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 5, 1769).

“Enquire of the Printer.”

Like other printing offices throughout the colonies, John Carter’s printing office at the “Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in Providence was a hub for circulating information. Carter printed the Providence Gazette, distributing information to residents of the city, the colony, and beyond. To that end, he participated in exchange networks with other printers, sending and receiving newspapers and reprinting liberally from one publication to another. The August 5, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, included items “From the BOSTON EVENING-POST” and “From the Massachusetts Gazette” as well as other items almost certainly reprinted from other newspapers.

Yet Carter did not rely solely on other newspapers to provide the content he needed to fill the pages of the Providence Gazette. The colophon at the bottom of the final page of every issue advised readers that “Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper” at the printing office. One item in the August 5 edition was an “Extract of a letter from Kennet, in Chester county,” Pennsylvania. Several such extracts came from London: “Extract of a letter from London,” “Extract of another letter from London,” and “Extract of another letter, by the last vessel, from a merchant in London to a merchant in Boston.” Carter depended on merchants, captains, and others to provide news to print in the Providence Gazette.

Yet not all of the information that found its way to the printing office circulated in print. Consider an employment advertisement placed by “A PERSON that understands the DISTILLING Business, in all its Branches.” Like so many other eighteenth-century advertisements, it withheld information in favor of instructing interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer.” The advertiser who paid to have this notice inserted in the Providence Gazette purchased more than the time and labor required to set the type and the space that it occupied on the page. This transaction also included an ongoing obligation on behalf of the printer to respond to inquiries, both written messages and visitors to the printing office. Carter acted as a gatekeeper for information, choosing which items to publish in the newspaper and doling out additional information to supplement what appeared in print. His printing office must have been a busy place considering the number of people, letters, and newspapers that passed through it.

April 10

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

Apr 10 - 4:9:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 9, 1768).

“Enquire of the Printers.”

This short advertisement from the April 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazetteoffered several books for sale.  Interested readers were advised to “Enquire of the Printers” to learn more about the conditions of the sale. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, publishers of the Providence Gazette, may have placed the advertisement.  After all, many colonial printers simultaneously sold books and stationery at their shops.  However, this advertisement more likely promoted books from a private library. For various reasons, colonists interested in selling used goods often placed anonymous notices in newspapers, instructing potential buyers to “Enquire of the Printers.”  As a result, printing offices became clearinghouses for disseminating information, not only in print but also via letters and conversations. Newspaper printers also served as brokers who made introductions between buyers and sellers when the latter did not wish to disclose their identity to the general public.

That Goddard and Carter placed this advertisement seems especially unlikely considering that they more explicitly marketed their wares and services elsewhere in the same issue. The colophon consistently invited readers to purchase subscriptions and advertisements as well as commission “all Manner of PRINTING WORK.”  In another short advertisement, Goddard and Carter forthrightly stated, “BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”  In contrast, “Enquire of the Printers” did not assume the same level of responsibility for an anticipated sale.  Furthermore, the majority of the books listed in the advertisement were medical texts, suggesting that they came from the library or estate of a reader who had specific interests.

That being the case, the fees that some advertisers paid to place their notices in newspapers apparently covered more than setting the type and the amount of space occupied in the publication for a series of weeks.  Advertisers who asked readers to “Enquire of the Printers” expected to receive additional services; they relied on printers to expend additional time and energy in facilitating transactions with potential buyers.  For their part, printers absorbed this as the cost of doing business.  The revenues generated from advertisements justified any additional labor required when they published “Enquire of the Printer” notices in their newspapers.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:26:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 26, 1767).

“Enquire of the Printer.”

In the late fall of 1767, an anonymous colonist placed a notice in the Massachusetts Gazette announcing that he “WANTED 6 very good Saddle Horses.” Anyone who could provide pacers who met the specifications in the advertisement was requested to “Enquire of the Printer.”

In the November 26 edition, a “Servant Man that will do any Sort of laborious Business in a Family” informed readers that he “WANTS Employ.” He did not provide any additional information about his background or previous experience, but instead stated that “He may be heard of by enquiring at Draper’s Printing Office.”

In the same issue, a slaveholder offered a short description of “A Likely healthy Negro Fellow” who was “TO BE SOLD.” The enslaved man had previously labored as a domestic servant and had cared for a horse, but he was “very capable of learning any other Business.” Anyone interested in acquiring the slave needed to “Enquire ay Draper’s Printing-Office.”

Another colonist sought tenants for “a handsome Dwelling-House … near LIBERTY TREE” in the south end of Boston. The advertisement did not include any other particulars, except for instructions to “Enquire of the Printer” if interested.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements frequently advised readers to “Enquire of the Printer.” As a result, printing offices became places where colonists converged to exchange information, not just locations where printers compiled “the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestick” (as some mastheads asserted) in newspapers before distributing them to readers near and far. Even as coffeehouses became increasingly popular places to conduct business, printing offices provided an alternate venue. In some instances printers may have done little more than make introductions between advertisers and readers (a service likely provided free of charge to those who purchased advertising space), but that still placed them at the center of networks for exchanging information. Printers served as gatekeepers of information, exercising their own prerogatives in choosing which news, letters, and other items to publish in newspapers as well as withholding certain details relevant to paid notices at the request of advertisers. Their fellow colonists, just like the news, flowed into as well as out of their printing offices.

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.

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.