October 14

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

Oct 14 - 10:14:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 14, 1769).

“Subscribers are desired to send for their Books.”

The day after a notice concerning the publication of “A COLLECTION of Original PAPERS, which are intended to support and elucidate the principal Facts related to the first Part of the HISTORY of MASSACHUSETTS BAY” ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, a nearly identical advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette. Some spelling and punctuation varied, as did the typography throughout the notice, but for all intents and purposes the two newspapers published the same advertisement. The notice in the Providence Gazette, like the one in the New-Hampshire Gazette, provided instructions for customers who had pre-ordered a copy of the “Collection of original Papers” to “send for their Books.” Those customers were known as subscribers because they had responded to subscription notices distributed to incite demand and gauge interest in the book before T. and J. Fleet committed to publishing it. The Fleets obtained enough subscribers to make the venture viable and now called on those customers to collect their books.

The advertisement occupied a privileged place in the October 14, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Of the several advertisements in that issue, it appeared first, immediately below local news. John Carter, the printer and proprietor of the Providence Gazette, may have instructed the compositor to place it there when setting the type for the issue. This courtesy extended to fellow printers could have enhanced the visibility of the advertisement, increasing the likelihood that subscribers would take note. The compositor also included a manicule to draw attention, deploying a device that did not often appear in the Providence Gazette. Carter may not have charged the Fleets for inserting the advertisement, running it as an in-kind service for fellow printers in another city who did not directly compete the work he did at the printing office in Providence. Although this advertisement did not explicitly state that was the case, others published in connection to subscription notices sometimes called on fellow printers to give notices space gratis.

October 7

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

Oct 7 - 10:7:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 7, 1769).

“STolen … a black Broadcloth Coat and Waistcoat.”

Advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers reveal many avenues for colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others placed advertisements for all sorts of goods, most of them imported but some produced in the colonies. They made an array of appeals to stimulate demand, most commonly to price, quality, and gentility though in the era of the American Revolution many also launched the first wave of “Buy Amerian” advertisements. Vendue masters ran advertisements for auctions, presenting opportunities for lucky bidders to get bargains compared to the prices charged by wholesalers and retailers. They auctioned both new and secondhand goods, sometimes individually and sometimes in lots. Executors published estate notices that announced auctions for the possessions that belonged to the deceased, presenting yet another means for consumers to acquire secondhand goods.

Yet not all colonists obtained goods by legitimate means, as other advertisements frequently noted. Some engaged in burglary or theft, breaking into homes or shops to steal multiple items at a time or stealing individual items when they spotted an opportunity. Thomas Whipple of North Providence did not describe the circumstances, but he did advertise that a thief had stolen “a black Broadcloth Coat and Waistcoat” sometime at night near the end of September 1769. He described the garments so others could identify them: “the Coat has a black Lining, and Mohair Buttons; the Waistcoat lined with blue Shalloon, and has round Silver Buttons.” What happened to the coat and waistcoat? The thief may have desired these items and brazenly worn them as though they had been acquired legitimately. Alternately, the coat and waistcoat may have found their way to the black market, what Serena Zabin has termed the “informal economy,” for consumption by those who did not have the means to purchase them from a tailor or shopkeeper. The thief may even have removed the buttons for separate sales, thus making the coat and waistcoat less recognizable.

Affluent colonists and the middling sort were not the only participants in the consumer revolution. Others sought to acquire goods as well. Sometimes they purchased from shops and warehouses or at auctions, but others resorted to other means of obtaining the items they desired. Thomas Whipple may have taken great pride in his waistcoat lined with blue shalloon and adorned with round silver buttons. Someone else, less scrupulous than Whipple, apparently desired the waistcoat along with the coat with mohair buttons or knew of an opportunity to make some money by fencing the garments. When they could not afford to make purchases, some colonists devised alternate means of acquiring consumer goods.

September 30

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

Sep 30 - 9:30:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 30, 1769).

“Advertise the said William Hambleton Scholar as a notorious Cheat.”

Advertisement or news article? An item that appeared in the September 30, 2019, edition of the Providence Gazette raises interesting questions about its purpose. Extending half a column, it detailed the activities of William Hambleton Scholar, a confidence man who had defrauded Philip Freeman, Jr., of “Fifty-one Pounds Ten Shillings Sterling” through the sale of “a Bank Bill of England, and two private Bankers Promissory Notes.” All three financial devices were forgeries. It took Freeman some time to learn that was the case. He had purchased the bank bill and promissory notes in May and remitted them to associates in London, only to learn several months later that Giles Loare, “principal Notary of the City of London” declared them “absolute Forgeries.”

In response, officials from the Bank of England “authorized and requested” that Freeman “advertise the said William Hambleton Scholar as a notorious cheat.” They instructed Freeman to act on their behalf to encourage the apprehension of the confidence man. To that end, “[t]he Company of Bankers also request the Publishers of the several News-Papers, through the several Provinces, to publish this Advertisement.” Freeman asserted that the public was “greatly interested in this Affair,” but also warned that Scholar had another fifty bank bills “all struck off of a Copper-Plate, in the neatest Manner, and so near the true ones as to be hardly perceivable.” The narrative of misdeeds concluded with a description of the confidence man, intended to help the public more easily recognize him since “it is uncertain which Way he may travel.”

Was this item a paid notice or a news article? Freeman referred to it as an “Advertisement,” but “advertisement” sometimes meant announcement in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world. It did not necessarily connote that someone paid to have an item inserted in the public prints. The story of Scholar and the forged bank bills appeared almost immediately after news items from New England, though the printer’s advertisement for a journeyman printer appeared between news from Providence and the chronicle of the confidence man’s deception. No paid notices separated the account from the news, yet a paid notice did appear immediately after it. This made it unclear at what point the content of the issue shifted from news to paid notices. The following page featured more news and then about half a dozen paid notices. Perhaps the printer had no expectation of collecting fees for inserting the item in his newspaper, running it as a service to the public. It informed, but also potentially entertained readers who had not been victims of Scholar’s duplicity. That the “Advertisement” interested readers may have been sufficient remuneration for printing it in the Providence Gazette.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 23, 1769).

“A DILIGENT Journeyman PRINTER.”

After he became sole proprietor of the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s, John Carter concluded every issue with a colophon that he ran the “PRINTING-OFFICE, [at] the Sign of Shakespear’s Head… where all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed.”  Carter did not operate the printing office alone, as a notice in the September 23, 1769, edition makes clear.  “A DILIGENT Journeyman PRINTER,” Carter announced, “to work both at Case and Press, will meet with constant Employ, and good Wages.”  The colophon indicated other qualities that Carter sought in a new employee; the journeyman had to do his work “in a neat and correct Manner, with Fidelity and Expedition” in order to maintain the reputations of both the printing office and Carter himself.

In asserting that he sought a journeyman printer “to work both at Case and Press,” Carter offered a job description of sorts.  Candidates needed to possess several skills, including knowledge of how to operate a manual press as well as how to set type from individual pieces stored in the case. (Capital letters were typically stored in a case above the one that housed smaller letters; hence the terms uppercase and lowercase to describe them.)  The advertisement itself suggested some at the skills the journeyman printer would need as a compositor.  It interspersed uppercase and lowercase type, some in italics, of various sizes.  It had a “neat and correct” appearance, even though set in mirror image on the compositing stick. That meant that compositors had to be especially careful when setting type since some letters looked like the mirror image of another letter, as was the case for the letter “p” and the letter “q.” (This gave rise to the maxim that instructs, “Mind your Ps and Qs.”  The lowercase versions of these letters could be easily confused, especially when setting type quickly.)  Beyond the employment notice and the colophon, the rest of the issue also testified to the skills a journeyman printer should possess before contacting Carter about the position.  Only those who could set type “in a neat and correct Manner” and operate a manual press “with Fidelity and Expedition” need apply!

September 16

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

Sep 16 - 9:16:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 16, 1769).

“Will be read, The BEGGAR’s OPERA.”

Many advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers encouraged colonists to participate in consumer culture, promoting an array of goods to acquire and services to obtain. Other advertisements invited colonists to participate in popular culture, promoting various kinds of spectacles and performances ranging from fireworks displays to viewing exotic animals when their proprietors arrived in town for limited time only. An advertisement in the September 16, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette announced a performance of The Beggar’s Opera “at Mr. Hacker’s Assembly-Room” two days later.

This was not, however, a full-scale production of the ballad opera. Instead, it featured a single performer, “a Person who has read and sung in most of the great Towns in America.” Even though the advertisement indicated that the opera “will be read” by an individual rather than performed by a larger cast, it also assured prospective viewers that “All the Songs will be sung.” The ballad opera lent itself well to such treatment. Originating in England in the early eighteenth-century, ballad opera intermixed spoken dialogue with music in the popular style. The Beggar’s Opera, written by John Gay in 1728, included music drawn from broadsheet ballads, church hymns, and folk tunes familiar to general audiences. Viewers in Providence and “the great Towns in America” may have hummed or even sang along with the itinerant performer who read the dialogue for their entertainment.

To draw an audience to Hacker’s Assembly Room, the advertisement promised a spectacle. The lone performer “personates all the Characters, “including Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit, “and enters into the different Humours or Passions, as they change from one to another, throughout the Opera.” The advertisement invited prospective viewers to witness this extravaganza. Those who saw it would join the ranks of audiences in other “great Towns in America,” enjoying an experience that they could discuss with others for days after the performance concluded. If this rendition of The Beggar’s Opera became the talk of the town, readers of the Providence Gazette could not afford to miss it. To guarantee themselves a spot in Hacker’s Assembly Hall, they had to purchase a ticket in advance. After all, the advertisement made clear “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.”

September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 9, 1769).

Recommended by the most noted and skilful Professors of Physic and Chirurgery in America.”

A curious advertisement, a testimonial of sorts, appeared in the Providence Gazette in the middle of August 1769 and then continued running for several weeks. In it, Nathaniel Ware of Wrentham, Massachusetts, informed the public had come into possession of “the celebrated Doctor Hugh Bolton’s Method of curing he most inveterate Cancers.” Yet Ware did not promote medical services that he provided. Instead, he reported that his “intimate Acquaintance with Doctor Daniel Hewes, of Mendon, Justice to the Public” had prompted him to pass along Bolton’s “efficacious” cure for cancers as well as “Doctor Bolton’s Specific for curing the Falling Sickness, and other Fits.” Ware also sang Hewes’s praises, proclaiming that he had established a remarkable reputation among his peers. “He is a Gentleman that may be safely confided in,” Ware gushed, “being recommended by the most noted and skilful Professors of Physic and Chirurgery in America, as an ingenious, skilful and successful Physician and Chirurgeon.” In addition to his abilities as physician and surgeon, Hewes was a competent midwife called to attend a “great Number of difficult Cases.” According to Ware, Hewes “has never failed of saving the Womens Lives” and, when summoned in a timely fashion, “the Childrens.” Ware expounded on Hewes’s expertise and experience at great length. Such a notable career spurred Ware to pass along Bolton’s cures “In order that [Hewes] might become universally serviceable to Mankind.”

Ware did not note that he had ever been the beneficiary of Hewes’s care, but he did testify to the reputation that the “skilful and successful Physician and Chirurgeon” had earned among patients and other doctors alike. Although Ware’s endorsement appeared to have been unsolicited by Hewes, the two men most likely coordinated its appearance in the Providence Gazette as a means of directing prospective patients to the physician in Mendon. The printer certainly did not treat Ware’s missive as a public service announcement or general interest story to insert among news items. Instead, it ran with the paid notices, funded by either Ware or Hewes or the two in combination. Hewes could have inserted an advertisement under his own name but may have opted for a testament from a third party as a better means of encouraging trust.

September 2

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

Sep 2 - 9:2:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 2, 1769).

“The PROPRIETORS of the Providence LIBRARY are hereby notified to meet.”

David S. Rowland was elected and served as librarian for the Providence Library Company (founded 1753) in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Late in the summer of 1769, he placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette to notify “PROPRIETORS of the Providence LIBRARY” of a meeting scheduled for September 4. He also published an outline of the agenda. The proprietors would gather “to concert Measures for the necessary Repairs of said Library, and to conclude whether or not Provision shall be made for the annual Enlargement of the Library, and transact other Affairs relative to its Wellbeing.”

All of this business was to be undertaken by the proprietors for the benefit of members of the Providence Library Company. The “Providence LIBRARY” was not open to the general public; instead members paid annual subscriptions for the privilege of using the library. Those subscriptions paid for the “Repairs,” “Enlargement” of the collection of books, and “other Affairs” that Rowland mentioned in his advertisement. The Providence Library Company was not alone in adopting this model for its operations. Indeed, this was standard practice for early American libraries, including the Library Company of Philadelphia (1731), the Company of the Redwood Library (Newport, 1747), the Charleston Library Society (1748), and the New York Society Library (1754).

The annual fees distinguished these subscription libraries, as they are known, from modern public libraries that open their doors to all users free of charge. Subscription libraries were not supported by the local municipalities for the benefit of all colonists, but rather by associations of readers and members who saw to their affairs and gained access only after pledging financial support. Many subscription libraries founded in the colonial era continue to operate today as research libraries patronized by scholars and others interested in early American history and culture. The Providence Library Company continues as the Providence Athenæum, incorporated in 1836. The new Providence Athenæum acquired the collections of both the Providence Library Company and an earlier Providence Athenæum (1831).

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 26, 1769).

Once more!

In the August 26, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Knight Dexter and Samuel Nightingale, Jr., both placed advertisements calling on those who owed them money to settle accounts or risk being sued. When it came to attracting the attention of readers, however, Dexter deployed much more effective typography that included a striking headline.

Compare the two advertisements, staring with the standard format adopted by Nightingale. “ALL Persons indebted to SAMUEL NIGHTINGALE, jun. by Book, Note, &c. are once more earnestly intreated to make immediate Payment.” The advertisement continued from there with the threat of legal action and a shorter paragraph that promoted the “large Assortment of European and West-India GOODS” in stock at Nightingale’s shop. The shopkeeper’s name and “GOODS” were the only words that appeared in all capitals. None of the text in the advertisement ran in a larger font. Visually, little distinguished it from other advertisements or other content in the issue.

On the other hand, Dexter’s advertisement opened with a headline that demanded attention: “Once more!” The font for the headline was even larger than that used for “PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” in the masthead on the front page. Elsewhere in the issue, only prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell used a font notable for being larger than anything else on the page; their names ran in font the same size as “PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” in the masthead. “Once more!” appeared in the largest font by far on the third page and the second page that faced it, making it difficult to miss. Such unique typography likely incited curiosity and prompted readers to investigate further and find out more about the advertisement.

Although unusual, the typography was not completely unique. In December 1768, Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold, executors of the estate of Joseph Smith, ran an advertisement calling on creditors to settle their debts and advising the community of an estate auction. The advertisement featured the “Once more!” headline in oversized font. It ran in the Providence Gazette. Perhaps Dexter, who advertised frequently in that newspaper, remembered that advertisement and incorporated its distinctive feature into his own advertising several months later. Alternately, perhaps the printer or compositor recommended the striking device to Dexter when he expressed concern about attracting as much attention to the advertisement as possible. Either way, this innovation that originated in the Providence Gazette did not disappear after its first use. It reappeared within a year, heralding a practice that became common in newspaper advertising in the nineteenth century.

August 19

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

Aug 19 - 8:19:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 19, 1769).

“He constantly keeps a Stock of ready-made Shoes.”

Half a dozen new advertisements appeared in the August 19, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, including a notice from Benjamin Coates. The shoemaker took to the public prints “to inform the Public, that he carried on his Business in all its Branches, just above the Great Bridge, and will engage to suit Gentlemen and Ladies with Shoes made in the best Manner and the most elegant and genteel taste.” Coates incorporated two of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century into his brief notice. He promised quality, which also reflected his own skill as an artisan, and he invoked fashion, especially the notion that purchasing his wares provided a path to gentility.

Coates also drew attention to yet another appeal through a separate nota bene, a commonly used device that advised readers to “take note.” The shoemaker stated that in addition to producing custom-made shoes “to suit Gentlemen and Ladies” that he also “constantly keeps a Stock of ready-made Shoes” on hand at his shop. Coates marketed convenience to prospective customers who did not have the time, funds, or inclination to be fitted for a pair of shoes constructed specifically for them. This was a separate branch of his business that perhaps deserved to be listed separately in his advertisement solely for that reason. Yet in creating the nota bene Coates gave his “Stock of ready-made Shoes” even greater significance. Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes listed shoes among the many goods they carried, but they usually did not single them out for particular notice. Their marketing strategies often emphasized price and consumer choice, inviting prospective customers to consider an array of inventory. Coates’s narrower focus allowed him to contrast, though implicitly, the benefits of custom-made shoes with the benefits of ready-made shoes. He presented prospective customers with both options, prompting them to imagine which better suited their means and needs. He provided all the services colonists expected from shoemakers, “carr[ying] on his Business in all its Branches,” yet also offered convenience to those who wished to streamline their visit to his shop.

August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:12:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 12, 1769).

“(Tbc.).”

The August 12, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette included several short advertisements that extended only five lines. In its entirety, one read: “To be SOLD by THOMAS G. STELLE, In Newport, Philadelphia superfine and common FLOUR, SHIP BREAD, BAR IRON, &c. (Tbc.).” Eighteenth-century readers would have recognized “&c.” as the abbreviation for et cetera. They would have ignored “(Tbc.),” understanding that it was a notation intended for the compositor rather than for readers.

Other advertisements in the same issue also included notations for use by the compositor and others in the printing office, though they each used numbers instead of letters. Jonathan Mosher’s advertisement for a lost pocketbook and a notice from the Overseers of the Poor concerning a five-year-old girl “to be bound out until she is 18,” both included “(88)” at the end or near the end. Another advertisement that offered a “pleasant Farm” for sale concluded with “(75).”

What did these notations mean? Like many other colonial printers, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, charged a flat rate for setting the type for an advertisement and inserting it in three consecutive issues. Advertisers could pay additional fees to run their notices for longer periods. The notations in the advertisements helped compositors determine when it was time to remove them, but the examples from the Providence Gazette suggest that compositors did not rely on the notations alone. They must have also worked with a list of advertisements provided by the printer or someone else responsible for keeping records in the printing office.

Some advertisements did not include any notations. Presumably they appeared on a list drawn up by the printer to correspond with whatever arrangements had been made with the advertiser. Thomas Lindsey, for instance, may have made arrangements to check in with the printing office on a weekly basis to indicate if he wished for his advertisement concerning the bad behavior of his wife to run once again. He noted that Sarah had “eloped from my Bed and Board” and cautioned that he would not “pay any Debts of her contracting.” Lindsey hay have determined to continue the advertisement until such time that he and his wife reconciled or, if she did not return, long enough to get out the word that he would not pay her debts.

For those advertisements that included numbers as notations, the numbers corresponded to their first issue. Mosher’s advertisement for the lost pocketbook, for instance, first appeared in issue 288. If Mosher paid the standard fee, his advertisements would have appeared in issues 288, 289, and 290 before the compositor removed it. It continued, however, into issues 291 and 292. The compositor did not automatically remove it, suggesting that instructions on a separate list countermanded the instructions implicit in the notation. If Mosher had not yet recovered his pocketbook, he likely instructed the printer to continue the advertisement for additional weeks. Similarly, the notice from the Overseers of the Poor should have been discontinued after three issues, but continued because the girl had not yet been bound out.

The advertisement for the farm initially ran in three consecutive issues: 275, 276, and 277. It then appeared sporadically in issues 279, 284, 289, and 292. The “(75)” notation should have prompted the compositor to remove the advertisement when setting the type for issue 278. Its multiple reappearances suggest that the printer added the advertisement to a list of notices to appear in the current issue on several occasions.

What of “(Tbc.)” at the end of Stelle’s advertisement for flour, bread, and iron? It most likely stood for “to be continued,” indicating that it should appear indefinitely until Stelle instructed otherwise. By invoking this abbreviation rather than associating the advertisement with an issue number, the printer and compositor streamlined the production process. The compositor could continue to insert the advertisement unless the list of advertisements for a particular issue stated that the advertiser had chosen to discontinue it. By issue 292, Stelle’s advertisement ran in seventeen issues, absent only in 280. An abundance of advertising may have squeezed it out of that issue, the compositor may have overlooked it, or Stelle may have chosen to discontinue it for a week. Whatever the case, it soon returned and ran for another twelve consecutive weeks, the “(Tbc.)” aiding the compositor in determining if the advertisement should continue from one issue to the next.