August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 13, 1768).

“A handsome second-hand CHAISE.”

Colonists devised multiple ways to participate in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Many purchased new good directly from merchants and shopkeepers, but others stole the items they desired or bought stolen goods at lower prices through an informal economy that made goods more accessible. Some also acquired secondhand goods at discounted prices that made them affordable. Advertisements for auctions, especially estate sales, frequently appeared in newspapers published throughout the colonies, presenting an array of goods to consumers looking for bargains. Other advertisements, however, announced the sale of particular used items, such as notice in the August 12, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette that informed readers of a “handsome second-hand CHAISE” for sale. Interested parties were instructed to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information.

The chaise was one of the many sorts of wheeled carriages familiar to colonists. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the “exact application … varied from time to time,” but offers this general definition: “A light open carriage for one or two persons, often having a top or calash; those with four wheels resembling the phaeton, those with two the curricle; also loosely used for pleasure carts and light carriages generally.” In the absence of a more complete description in the advertisement, the flexibility of the term “chaise” encouraged prospective buyers to contact the printers for additional information.

Carriages of all sorts were markers of status, expensive to acquire and maintain. Opportunities to purchase secondhand carriages made them more affordable, but those with the means to purchase used carriages did not have to wait for private individuals to sell them. Some coachmakers, including Adino Paddock in Boston, incorporated sales of secondhand carriages into their marketing, selling those they received as trade-ins from customers who purchased new carriages. Regardless of who sold secondhand chaises and other sorts of carriages, their availability in the colonial marketplace indicates that they retained resale value after the initial sale. Colonists bought and sold used carriages long before the practice became a common aspect of the modern automobile industry.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 6, 1768).

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

All of the advertisements on the final page of the August 6, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette would have looked familiar to readers who perused that newspaper regularly. They included advertisements that Joseph Russell and William Russell had inserted in every issue for the past two months as well as a notice by Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark announcing that they had “set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.” In addition to earning their livelihood, Bucklin and Clark argued that they served the public by reducing dependence on imported knives and other cutlery. Another advertisement detailed the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” intended to raise funds “for amending the Great North Road heading from Providence to Plainfield.” It also called on readers to consider the benefits to the general public when making decisions about how to spend their money.

The final advertisement in the August 6 edition would have looked the most familiar since it appeared often but not necessarily in every issue. Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, regularly published a short notice that reminded readers “BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.” Printed blanks (better known as forms today) included a variety of common legal and commercial devices, such as bills of sale, indentures, and powers of attorney. Goddard and Carter’s notice served a dual purpose. It promoted items sold at their printing office at the Sign of Shakespeare’s Head, yet it also played a role in the production of that issue of the newspaper itself. The brief advertisement completed the final column on the final page, a column filled almost entirely with the lengthy advertisements placed by Bucklin and Clark and the directors of the Great North Road Lottery. It was not imperative for it to appear in that issue of the Providence Gazette. After all, the colophon advertised “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” done at the printing office. The compositor inserted the brief advertisement for printed blanks as necessary to fill the page. Its purpose was as much to streamline production of the newspaper as to facilitate sales of widely used legal and commercial forms.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 30, 1768).

“SCHEME of a LOTTERY … for amending the Great North Road.”

As the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” advertised in the Providence Gazette during the summer of 1768 indicates, colonists sometimes resorted to lotteries to fund public works. In this case the lottery supported plans for “amending the Great North Road leading from Providence to Plainfield.” At a meeting in June, Rhode Island’s legislature approved the lottery and appointed directors to oversee it. In turn, the directors published an advertisement outlining the purpose and the “scheme” of the lottery.

That scheme called for the sale of two thousand tickets at two dollars each. With 630 “fortunate tickets” and 1370 “Blank,” the “cheerful Adventurers” who purchased tickets had nearly a one-in-three chance of winning a prize.   Fifteen prizes were substantial: five each at one hundred, fifty, and twenty-five dollars. The 615 remaining prizes doubled the investment of the original price, paying out four dollars. This meant that the directors sought to collect $4000 and disburse $3335 in prizes, leaving $665 for “amending said Road, and defraying the extraordinary Charge of said Lottery.”

In addition to the prospects of winning one of the prizes, the directors also emphasized the “Good of the Public” derived from the project. They explained that “putting said Road in good Repair, will not only benefit the Inhabitants living on the Borders, but perhaps the greatest Number of Travellers that may have the Occasion to travel from any of the Northern to the Southern Colonies.” The repairs apparently included adjusting the route of the road, shortening the trip between Providence and New London by fourteen miles and between Boston and Hartford by ten miles. The directors believed that they did not need to provide further explanation of the benefits of making travel within and among the colonies easier. They anticipated that “the Advantages resulting from good Roads, will contribute towards a speedy Sale of the Tickets.”

Repairs would begin before the lottery took place, but only when “such a Number [of tickets] are sold as will give the Directors Assurance that the Lottery will be likely to fill.” The Providence Gazette would continue to play a role in informing both “Adventurers” and the general public about the lottery. The directors pledged to publish a notice once they scheduled the drawing so those with tickets “may have an Opportunity of being present.” In addition, the numbers of the winning tickets would be published in the Providence Gazette following the drawing.

The Great North Road served the public good. To keep it in good repair, the colonial legislature devised a lottery and appointed directors. Those directors then placed advertisements promoting both the lottery and the benefits of maintenance to the road. The public prints served the common good not only through the news and editorial items they disseminated but also through the information delivered through advertisements. This advertisement for a lottery, for instance, informed the public and presented them with an opportunity to participate in improving an important road that ran through the colony.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 23, 1768).

“A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.”

It would have been practically impossible for regular readers of the Providence Gazette not to know something about the commercial activities of Joseph Russell and William Russell in the late 1760s. The Russells were prolific advertisers. They saturated the pages of their local newspaper with a series of notices that made their names and merchandise familiar to prospective customers.

For instance, the Russells placed three advertisements in the July 23, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. One promoted their “most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.” Another offered a house for rent, but concluded with an announcement concerning textiles, tea, and spices they sold. The third called on fellow colonists to deliver potash to the Russells.

The three appeared in a single column on the final page of the July 23 issue. It was the fifth issue that featured all three advertisements and the third consecutive issue in which they appeared one after another, though their position on the page changed from week to week depending on the needs of the compositor. By placing so many advertisements and so frequently, the Russells made it difficult to overlook their activities in the colonial marketplace.

The first of their advertisements was especially notable for its longevity. The “(23)” inserted on the final line indicated that it first ran in issue number 223, published April 16. Since then, it had maintained a constant presence in the Providence Gazette, appearing every week for fifteen consecutive weeks before being discontinued. Throughout most of that time the Russells simultaneously published at least one other advertisement in the Providence Gazette. The notice concerning a house for rent and assorted goods for sale first appeared on July 25, replacing another advertisement that exclusively promoted consumer goods that ran for seven weeks beginning in May.

Most advertisers usually ran notices for only three or four weeks in newspapers published in other cities. Those who advertised in the Providence Gazette tended to run their advertisements for even longer (which may suggest the publishers offered discounted rates in order to generate content and revenue). Still, the Russells’ “SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” notice enjoyed an exceptionally long run, signaling that they wanted to be certain that readers saw and remembered their advertisement. Combining it with other notices further increased the name recognition they achieved.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 16, 1768).

“They have set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.”

When Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark opened a new workshop they placed an advertisement to inform prospective customers that they had “set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.” They called on the residents of the city and its environs to support their new endeavor, explaining the benefits to both consumers and the local economy. The workshop produced “all Sorts of Cutlers Ware used in this Country,” making it unnecessary to rely on imported goods. Indeed, Bucklin and Clark condemned the shoddy cutlery exported to the colonies, a state of affairs that they suggested readers already knew all too well: “When they consider how much this Country hath been abused by bad Wares sent hither for Sale, they are but the more encouraged in their Undertaking.”

In contrast, the workmen who labored in their shop made razors, scissors, knives of various sorts, medical instruments, and “many other Articles” that were “far exceeding in Quality any thing of the Kind imported from Great-Britain.” To that end, they had hired “two Workmen from Europe, who are compleat Masters in the Business” who could “grind and put in Order all the aforementioned Articles, in the best and most expeditiopus Manner.” Bucklin and Clark were so confident of the quality of their wares that they offered a guarantee. The partners pledged that “they will warrant them to be good,” but also promised that if in the instance of any of their products “proving defective” they “will receive them again.”

Bucklin and Clark concluded with an argument simultaneously commercial and political. “It is hoped,” they stated, “that when this Country labours under the greatest Embarrassments and Difficulties, in importing the Manufactures of Great-Britain, their Business will be encouraged, and their Work preferred to such as is imported, as the whole Cost will be saved to the Country.” Bucklin and Clark asserted that the superior quality of their cutlery was only one reason that potential customers should purchase it rather than imported wares. They also declared that consumers had an obligation to make responsible choices that had both commercial and political ramifications. The colonies suffered a trade imbalance with Great Britain; purchasing domestic manufactures helped to remedy that. In addition, passing over imported goods in favor of obtaining locally produced wares made a political statement in the wake of the Townshend Act and other abuses by Parliament. Bucklin and Clark underscored that seemingly mundane decisions about which knives to purchase actually had extensive repercussions.

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.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 25, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENT. From the LONDON GAZETTEER, of March 31.”

On June 4, 1768, the supplement to the New-York Journal carried an advertisement reprinted from the March 31 edition of the London Gazetteer. John Holt included an editorial note that it was “inserted as a Curiosity.” The advertisement promoted “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Field Southwark,” starting on Easter Monday and continuing “every evening during the summer season” with the exception of Sundays.

Apparently Sarah Goddard and John Carter, printers of the Providence Gazette, also considered this a “Curiosity” that would entertain their readers. Three weeks later they reprinted the same advertisement in their newspaper. Although printers regularly generated content by reprinting news items and editorials from one newspaper to another throughout the eighteenth century, the attribution practices make it difficult to determine if Goddard and Carter reprinted this curious advertisement after encountering it in the New-York Journal or if they saw the same item in a copy of the London Gazetteer they had obtained and independently chose to reprint the advertisement for the amusement of their readers.

Both the New-York Journal and the Providence Gazette noted that the advertisement originally appeared in the London Gazetteer. In the same supplement, Holt inserted a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” for readers in New York. He did not indicate the source of the poem, though it did appear with news from London as well as short excerpts from the Public Advertiser and the Public Ledger as well as the London Gazetteer. Holt also reprinted a couplet from the Public Advertiser: “THE Reign of HUMOUR, WIT and SENSE is o’er! / When did it end?—When YORICK was no more.”

Goddard and Carter reprinted both of those items along with two other poems under a heading dated “LONDON, March 29” that further indicated “The following was this morning posted up at the Sun Fire Office, in Cornhill.” This general heading does not make clear whether it applied only to “BRITANNIA to JOHN WILKES, Esq.” or all four poems. A brief explanation accompanied the couplet that also appeared in the New-York Journal. It had been composed “On the Death of Reverend Mr. STERNE, Author of Tristram Shandy, &c.” The novelist had only recently died on March 18, 1768.

Considering that Goddard and Carter published both additional material and information that differed from some of the attributions in Holt’s newspaper, they very well could have made the decision to reprint an interesting advertisement from the London Gazetteer without being influenced by a fellow printer elsewhere in the colonies. Even if Holt’s inclusion of the advertisement in the New-York Journal had inspired them, the further dissemination of it in the Providence Gazette demonstrates that colonists sometimes turned to advertisements for entertainment or amusement. In that manner, advertisements enhanced other content in newspapers by serving purposes other than selling tickets or other goods and services. Either Wolton or the proprietors of St. George’s Spa had paid to insert an advertisement in the London Gazetteer with the intention of attracting audiences. In the end, they entertained readers on the other side of the Atlantic who had no chance of attending the performances. Neither colonial printers nor colonial readers paid anything to Wolton or St. George’s Spa for their entertainment.