October 8

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

Oct 8 - 10:8:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 8, 1768).


Thurber and Cahoon placed a new advertisement in the October 8, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.   The partners promoted a “new and general Assortment of English and India GOODS, Imported in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” They listed some of that merchandise in a two short paragraphs, one for textiles and trimmings and the other for hardware. They also informed prospective customers about the location of their store at “the Sign of the BUNCH of GRAPES,” across the street from their houses in “the North End of Providence.”

Yet not all of the contents of their advertisement provided information intended for readers and consumers. The final line included a notation in brackets – “[48—6W.]” – intended to aid the compositor when laying out the pages of subsequent issues. The printers also likely referred to that notation in the course of their own bookkeeping. The “48” revealed that the advertisement first appeared in issue number 248. The “6W” presumably indicated that it was supposed to run for six weeks before being discontinued.

Several other advertisements concluded with issue numbers that corresponded with when they first appeared in the Providence Gazette. John White’s advertisement for candles and soap, for instance, listed “(46)” on the final line. Similarly, prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell inserted a notice about their “neat and fresh Assortment of GOODS” that also stated its initial issue number, “(47).” None of those advertisements, however, included any indication of their intended duration, but “6W” did apparently mean six weeks. Thurber and Cahoon’s advertisement ran in the next five issues, appearing for the last time in the November 12 edition. It moved from column to column and page to page, but the notation apparently served its purpose in reminding the compositor when to remove the advertisement.

The Providence Gazette was not the only newspaper that inserted such notations into advertisements in the colonial era. Throughout the colonies compositors and printers used this device to facilitate operating their publications. Readers may have taken note and decoded the notations on their own, but they were not the primary audience for those portions of the advertisements.

September 24

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

Sep 24 - 9:24:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 24, 1768).

Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.”

The compositor who set type for the Providence Gazette inserted a series of instructions to aid readers in navigating the September 24, 1768, edition. Like all other newspapers published in the American colonies in the 1760s, a standard issue of the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages distributed once a week. This required a single broadsheet, folded in half. Some newspapers in largest port cities did regularly circulate an additional two-page supplement printed on a half or quarter sheet tucked inside the standard issue but often numbered sequentially as the fifth and sixth pages. The majority of newspapers, however, issued supplements, postscripts, and extraordinaries only rarely.

Printers and compositors produced four-page issues by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet. The second and third pages were printed side-by-side on one side. In the final issue, they appeared next to each other across the center fold. The first and fourth pages were printed on the other side of the sheet, with the fourth page on the left and the first page on the right. This put each page in the proper position once both sides had been printed and the broadsheet folded in half.

The instructions the compositor inserted in the September 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette make the order for setting the type clear, though not necessarily the order for printing the two sides of the broadsheet. Except for the masthead, the “Commission of the Board of Commissioners for this Continent, now held at Castle-William” in Boston harbor occupied the entire first page. The final line of the third column instructed readers to “[See the last Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, filling the entire page except for the colophon at the bottom. Again, the final line of the third column gave instructions: “[For the Remainder, turn to the second Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, in the middle of a word, and concluded after approximately one-quarter of a column. Other news from Boston rounded out the second page and a portion of the third page. The editors selected one column of local news. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, confined to the bottom of the second and the entire third column on the third page. A short note from the printers followed the paid notices: “Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.” The printers opted not to issue a supplement but instead held off on publishing additional content for a week.

These various instructions make it clear that the compositor set the type for the first and fourth pages first and only after that for the second and third pages. They also indicate that reading the issue start to finish required subscribers to jump around the pages, starting with the first, then the fourth, and finally the second and third. The technologies of printing led to readers experiencing the material text in ways that seem unfamiliar and counterintuitive to modern readers.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 2, 1768).

“At their Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House. (23).”

Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement for “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” available “at their Shop, the Sign of the Golden Eagle, near the Court-House” in Providence incorporated graphic design elements intended to attract the attention of newspaper readers and prospective customers. The copious use of all capitals and large fonts distinguished their advertisement from many others that appeared in the Providence Gazette in the spring and summer of 1768. As a result of their decisions concerning the visual aspects of their advertisement, the Russells’ notice included far less text than many others of a similar length. They traded the extra copy for distinctive graphic design.

Yet not every element of their advertisement was intended for the readers of the Providence Gazette. Like many other paid notices that appeared in that publication, it concluded with a number in parentheses: in this case, “(23).” Several other advertisements in the July 2, 1768, edition also featured two-digit numbers. Shopkeepers J. Mathewson and E. Thompson and Company both had “(32)” on the final line of their advertisement. The same number appeared at the end of Joseph Whitcomb’s notice concerning a stolen horse. Isaac Field, executor to the estate of Joseph Field, inserted a notice with “(33)” on the same line as his name. Nicholas Clark’s advertisement seeking “an Apprentice to the Block-making Business” included “(34),” as did Moses Brown’s notice concerning a house for sale.

Each of these numbers corresponded to the issue in which the advertisement first appeared. The July 2 edition was issue “NUMB. 234.” The “(34)” in Clark’s and Brown’s advertisements indicated that they ran for the first time. Those with “(33)” were originally published a week earlier in the previous issue, whereas those with “(32)” were making their third appearance. The Russells’ advertisement, with its “(23),” had been running for quite some time.

These numbers aided printers and compositors in determining when to remove advertisements, especially if the advertisers had contracted for a certain number of insertions. While intended primarily for the use of those in the printing office, astute readers may have also consulted them to determine which advertisements were new and which were not. Those who perused the Providence Gazette every week would certainly have recognized advertisements they had seen multiple times, but others who did not peruse the newspaper as frequently did not have that advantage. Those numbers – likely the only portion of the copy not composed by the advertisers – were tools intended to aid those who operated the press, but they also helped readers to distinguish among notices that were new, relatively new, and not new at all.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 16, 1767).

“Just imported and to be Sold by John Mein At the LONDON BOOK-STORE.”

John Mein regularly advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette in 1767. He also advertised in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy. With so many local publications carrying news and advertising to local consumers, he increased the likelihood that potential customers would be exposed to his advertisements.

The length of Mein’s advertisements may have also drawn attention. Shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements that extended half a column or more, but rarely did they exceed a single column. Mein, however, inserted advertisements that overflowed into second and sometimes even third columns. The variable length of his advertisements suggests that he may have submitted extensive sample advertisements to newspaper offices with an understanding that they would include as much as possible but truncate them to fit the space available. In such cases, printers and compositors would have played a role in editing advertising copy even though they were not responsible for generating it.

This particular advertisement may have also drawn attention because it covered almost the entire front page of the July 16 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, almost squeezing out a notice for a “Variety of Millenary Goods” at the lower right. Its placement may seem strange considering the importance associated with front-page news in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but it also demonstrates the evolution in journalism practices and consumption practices. Neither publishers nor readers engaged with newspapers and their content in quite the same way in the eighteenth century that they have in time since then.

Early Americans expected (or at least would not have been surprised) to encounter major news stories nestled within the inner pages of any given issue. Taking into consideration the production of the July 16 edition helps to demonstrate what that was the case. A four-page issue, it resulted from printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first and fourth pages, comprised entirely of the masthead and advertisements the printer received well in advance (and most of them already set in type for previous issues), were printed first. Only after they dried were the second and third pages printed on the other side. In this case, those pages included the news content for the issue, including items dated the date before and the day of publication.

To modern eyes, John Mein’s (nearly) full-page advertisement on the front page of a newspaper may seem extraordinary. Its lengthy certainly merited notice in the eighteenth-century, but contemporary readers may not have been especially surprised by its placement. That it appeared on the front page just would not have resonated as being all that significant for readers accustomed to seeing advertising, rather than news, immediately under the masthead.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 17, 1767).

To be sold by the Printer of this paper …”

James Johnston’s advertisement for a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA” would have looked very familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. It had been inserted frequently in that newspaper for quite some time, often on the final page alongside most other advertisements but other times on the second or third pages with news items. Although Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, certainly wished to sell copies of this map to interested customers, he also used this advertisement as filler to complete the page when he did not have sufficient news items and other commercial notices to do so. Subscribers and regular readers would have recognized it at a glance. The same was true of the notice immediately below it, an announcement that colonists could purchase all sorts of printed blanks at Johnston’s printing office. Again, the advertisement served dual purposes: attracting customers and filling the page. The latter was particularly efficient since type had already been set long ago for both advertisements. The printer resorted to the eighteenth-century version of cut-and-paste when laying out the pages of the Georgia Gazette each week.

For more information about the map (and to examine the map itself), see the previous entry that featured an earlier insertion of this advertisement in the August 27, 1766, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The methodology of the Adverts 250 Project usually precludes examining any advertisement more than once but allows for exceptions when doing so illuminates some aspect of eighteenth-century practices or consumer culture. In this case, an advertisement that practically became a permanent feature of the Georgia Gazette merited attention. Its frequency should not be misconstrued to suggest that Johnston was desperate to sell surplus copies of the map (though that might have also been the case). Instead, when read alongside the notice hawking printed blanks, this advertisement might better be interpreted as a device for completing the page or the issue when lacking other content.

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.


[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.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:30:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 30, 1766).


“Still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS …”

“The Partnership … being now expired …”

“TO BE SOLD … A FARM containing seventy acres of good land …”

“READY MONEY given for Linen Rags of any Sort …”

Aug 31 - 8:23:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 23, 1766).

Rather than examine a single advertisement, today’s entry explores the day-to-day operations of the printing trade by examining the advertisements and news items that appeared in the final pages of two consecutive issues of the Providence Gazette: August 23 and 30, 1766. At a glance, these two pages look nearly indistinguishable from each other, thanks in part to the way that Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement draws the eye. But it is not merely the repetition of that particular advertisement that creates the perception of two nearly identical pages. In addition, all five advertisements in the August 30 issue were repeated from in the same configuration that they appeared in the August 23 issue. Finally, the Providence Gazette’s colophon runs across the bottom of each page. New content appeared only in the first column: an extract from the Gentleman’s Magazine and a report about a trial and execution in New Jersey had been replaced with reports of bandits in western Massachusetts and slaves attaching their masters in New Hampshire.

Here we see that printing advertisement offered several advantages to the men and women who printed newspapers. Not only did these notices generate revenue, once set in type they also streamlined the production of newspapers from week to week. In an age when all type was set by hand, printers benefited from inserting advertisements for multiple weeks. In most instances individual advertisements moved around the page, though it is clear from their format that the type had not been reset. Today we see a more extreme example: none of the advertisements moved at all. For the ease of the printer, they likely stayed in the form, reducing the amount of time and labor necessary to produce the new issue.

The following week the first column of the final page of the Providence Gazette once again included new content, as did the second and third columns on the upper third of the page, but Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement had been shifted to the bottom. The printer once again benefited from reprinting content that subscribers expected to see more than once in their newspapers. At the same time, the printer realized that she could not be too repetitive or risk alienating readers who also demanded new content and desired the “freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”