March 27

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

Mar 27 - 3:26:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 26, 1768).

“To be Sold at the Printing-Office, in Providence, A VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books.”

Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, included an advertisement for their services in every issue of their newspaper. The colophon at the bottom of the final page did not list merely the particulars of publication, that the newspaper was “Printed by SARAH GODDARD, and JOHN CARTER, at the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head.” Instead, the colophon also advised readers that “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence, are received for this Paper” and “all Manner of PRINTING WORK is performed, with Care and Expedition.” In adopting this method to market their services as job printers, Goddard and Carter became the most consistent advertisers in their own newspaper.

The partners did not, however, limit their advertising to the space reserved for them in the colophon. Like other colonial printers, they sometimes asserted their privileges as publishers to insert their own advertisements among the paid notices submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other colonists. In some cases, printers likely devised short advertisements out of necessity to fill pages that fell short of content. Whatever their reasons, Goddard and Carter inserted their own notice in the lower right corner on the third page of the March 26, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. In it, they promoted a “VARIETY of entertaining and useful Books, among which are, the West-India Pilot, Mariner’s Compass, Calendar, and Daily Assistant.”

Often colonial printers cultivated multiple revenue streams by simultaneously working as booksellers and stationers. Yet Goddard and Carter stocked goods beyond paper, ink, and other accouterments for writing. Their advertisement listed navigation equipment, such as “Hadley’s and Davis’s best Quadrants, and a Variety of the best Gunter Scales and Dividers.” They carefully paired the specific titles they named in the first portion of their advertisement with some of the useful or necessary tools in the second, alerting prospective customers that they could conveniently acquire both reference works and equipment without visiting multiple shops.

Today’s advertisement and the colophon for each edition of the Providence Gazette reveal that “the PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in Providence was a bustling place. Goddard and Carter did far more than edit and publish the local newspaper. They also earned their living and served the local community via job printing and selling books and navigation equipment. Like printers in other cities and towns, their printing office was a nexus for a variety of activities folded into a single enterprise.

February 17

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

Feb 17 - 2:17:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 17, 1768).

“The Town Subscribers to this Gazette are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, inserted an advertisement concerning the distribution of the newspaper in the February 17, 1768, edition. “The Town Subscribers to this Gazette,” he announced, “are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.” Why did Johnston believe that this merited inclusion in the newspaper? Did it revise existing practices for getting his newspaper into the hands of subscribers? What does it reveal about the business practices of eighteenth-century printers, especially their methods for distributing newspapers?

Johnston’s short notice raises as many questions as it answers. It suggests that subscribers in Savannah previously enjoyed delivery service, but it does not indicate who made the deliveries. Johnston placed a help wanted advertisement in the same issue, promising “good encouragement” to an “honest, sober and industrious LAD” interested in becoming “an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS.” Perhaps another apprentice had formerly been responsible for delivering newspapers to subscribers in the relatively small port, just one of many duties assigned by the master. Maybe delivery service was only temporarily suspended until Johnston obtained a new apprentice.

That the notice addressed only the “Town Subscribers” suggests that subscribers who lived outside Savannah continued to receive their newspapers without change in the method of delivery. They may have been distributed via the post, but Johnston or his subscribers could have hired riders to carry the Georgia Gazette to readers in the hinterlands. Post riders for other newspapers sometimes published notices aimed at their customers, usually providing updates to their schedules or requesting payment for services rendered. Did the cost of a subscription usually include delivery? The newspaper’s colophon was silent on this; it solicited “Subscriptions for this Paper,” but did not list prices for either newspapers or delivery. Had Johnston previously provided delivery gratis to “Town Subscribers,” incurring only the small expense of sending an apprentice around town to drop off the newspapers? Did subscribers in the country expect to pay more for their newspapers because of their distance from the printing office?

Johnston frequently advertised various goods and services available at his printing office, indicating how he earned a living beyond publishing the Georgia Gazette. Other advertisements, however, address other aspects of his business operations. Notices concerning apprentices and delivery services reveal some of the concerns of colonial printers, even if they do not always provide all the details about the division of labor or the means of distributing newspapers to readers.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 18, 1768).

“THE Publisher of this Paper … shall ever esteem it his Duty to serve and oblige them.”

As was his privilege as the printer and publisher, William Goddard placed his advertisement first among those inserted in the January 18, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, which happened to be issue “NUMB. 53” of its publication. The newspaper had just completed its first full year! Goddard used the occasion for reflecting on publication and distribution during the previous year and promoting the newspaper, especially certain improvements, as he continued to supply the public with new issues.

Goddard opened his advertisement with an expression of gratitude to subscribers and other readers for their “generous Encouragement,” especially recommendations for “the Improvement of his Paper.” He pledged to continue serving them “to the utmost of his Ability” and offered “Proof” that he listened to their suggestions. He pledged to continue publication “upon the same extensive Plan” in terms of content and schedule, but planned to alter the dimensions of each issue to “Quarto Size … which will render it much more convenient … to his kind Readers and Friends.” Goddard suggested that the smaller size would make the issues much more manageable for reading than the broadsheet issues distributed by competitors. He requested that potential subscribers enthusiastic about this modification “transmit their Names and Places of Abode, as soon as possible” so he could print sufficient copies to meet demand for future issues.

Goddard also acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had faltered at various times during its first year of publication. He noted that he had experienced difficulty “obtaining faithful and capable Journeymen” to work in his printing office. As a result he had hired “the most inartifical of the Profession … which made it impossible for him to execute or dispatch the Paper in the Manner he could have wished.” Goddard resolved to improve on that. He had just hired, “at a great Expence, a regular and valuable Set of Hands” with the necessary skill and experience that would allow him to publish and deliver the newspaper “with much greater Regularity and Expedition.”

The publisher concluded by offering premiums to his customers. Realizing that some had “preserved the Paper for binding” rather than discarding issues after reading them, he promised to issue a title page and print a notice “when it is ready to be delivered.” He also proposed, but did not promise, a table of contents, “if Time permits.” He also offered back issues for free, allowing anyone who had misplaced one to complete the set before sending it off to the binder. In making it possible for readers to compile complete runs of the first year of publication Goddard also encouraged them to continue to purchase subsequent issues in order to maintain their collections.

All in all, Goddard proclaimed that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had experienced a good first year. Yet he also proposed improvements that would allow his newspaper to compete with the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both of which had been published in Philadelphia for decades. He acknowledged some of the difficulties that had an impact on serving customers to the best of his ability, but bookended that portion of his advertisement with plans to publish a more convenient size at the start and premiums, both title pages and back issues, at the conclusion. Goddard knew that colonists passed newspapers from hand to hand, sharing issues beyond just the subscribers. As he commenced a new year of publication, he worked to retain his initial subscribers as well as attract new subscribers who previously read copies acquired from others.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 16, 1768).

“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”

The shortest advertisement – consisting of only nine words – in the January 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette appeared at the bottom of the first column on the final page. In it, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers, advised readers that that they sold “BLANKS of all Kinds,” deploying contemporary terminology for items known today as forms. Goddard and Carter suggested that they could supply any sort of printed blanks customers desired, making it unnecessary to provide a list. Other printers, however, sometimes specified the various types of blanks they produced on their presses.

For instance, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement in his newspaper that enumerated more than a dozen blanks, each with a distinct purpose. He kept on hand “bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants,” and other legal or commercial documents. He also concluded his list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that the list was not exhaustive. Goddard and Carter likely stocked all or most of these forms. They could also print any others for clients who submitted orders for job printing.

The advertisement about “BLANKS of all Kinds” supplemented the announcement in the colophon published in every issue of the Providence Gazette. In addition to specifying the printers and place of publication, Goddard and Carter treated the colophon as advertising space for the various endeavors undertaken in their shop. They invited others to submit “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper to their printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” but they also stated that they did “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” at the same location. Despite its brevity, their advertisement for “BLANKS of all Kinds” testified to a wide range of printed forms that circulated widely and would have been familiar to colonists in Providence and beyond.

February 1

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 1 - 1:31:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 31, 1766)

CASH is given for clean Linen RAGS, Old Sail-Cloth and Junk, at the Printing-Office in New-London.”

What struck me about this advertisement is the need expressed by the New-London Printing-Office for “Linen RAGS, Old Sail-Cloth and Junk.” At first glance, it might seem perplexing that the New-London Printing-Office would be interested in acquiring such objects. However, during the colonial time period these objects were directly associated with the printing universe. In opposition to paper today that is made from wood, all of these types of items would be used in the composition of the paper used for the newspaper. Junk most likely refers to scrap rope that would be used along with the rags and old sail-cloth.

Also, the New-London Printing-Office could attract a surplus of “Old Sail-Cloth.” New London, Connecticut, was a sea town, making it easy for sailors to give their unneeded materials to the New-London Gazette.

I was intrigued by this clever and efficient way to use old cloth instead of simply disposing of it.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I have previously passed over similar advertisements dozens of times when I made my selections about which to feature. I didn’t think that there was much especially interesting or noteworthy about printers’ ubiquitous call for rags. Maia helped me to realize why this advertisement merits a second glance and further examination.

I work with eighteenth-century newspapers on a regular basis. I am accustomed to both their appearance and the way they feel in my hands. I also know a little bit more about the histories of printing and papermaking in early America than the average person off the street.

But for Maia and the other students in my Public History class, this is all new! This advertisement presented an opportunity to talk about the origins of the materials that printers used, including paper made from rags rather than wood (a transition that did not take place until well into the nineteenth century). Just as eighteenth-century newspapers look a bit different than their twenty-first-century counterparts, they were created from different materials.

This advertisement also prompted us to talk about eighteenth-century lexicon versus modern meanings of words. I suggested to Maia, based on context in the advertisement, that “Junk” likely referred to other textile scraps. I was close, but further research revealed that “Junk” meant “an old rope” in the eighteenth century, at least according to the Royal Standard English Dictionary published in 1788.[1]

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[1] William Perry, Royal Standard English Dictionary (Worcester, MA: Isaiah Thomas, 1788), 313.