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.

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.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 29, 1769).

“I hereby forewarn all Persons against trusting her on my Account.”

Newspapers printed in colonial America notably carried relatively little local news. As most were published once a week, printers realized that much of the local news of consequence spread via word of mouth between issues. Accordingly, they reserved space in their newspapers for printing news from other colonies, the Caribbean, Europe, and other places. This often involved reprinting items from other newspapers, organizing the contents such that news from the farthest away appeared first. Consider the July 29, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. The masthead proclaimed that it carried “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” It included news from London (reprinted from the London Gazette), followed by news from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Newport, and Providence. The final page, usually reserved for advertising, carried more news from Boston and Philadelphia as well as a brief update from South Carolina. The brigantine Grant had just sailed for London from Charleston, carrying “twenty bales of STAMPED PAPER, which was imported here in the memorable year 1765.”

Although printers and editors ran little local news in colonial newspapers, the advertisements submitted by other colonists did include some of the “freshest Advices” about events that occurred in their own communities. Legal notices, estate notices, and other announcements certainly carried news of interest. Other advertisements advised readers of significant interactions and changing relationships between members of the community. In his advertisement dated “Providence, July 29 1769,” Thomas Lindsey announced that Sarah, his wife, “has eloped from my Bed and Board, and otherwise conducted herself in a very unbecoming Manner.” That being the case, Lindsey warned that he would not pay any debts contracted by his wife. This advertisement informed the community of discord in the Lindsey household, which was news as much as gossip. It documented a wife resisting the authority of her husband and the consequences for doing so. The advertisement also delivered important information to shopkeepers, innkeepers, and others who might consider doing business with a woman who was so exasperated with her husband that she saw no alternative except to remove herself from his authority. Readers who knew more of the backstory than the advertisement revealed may have extended aid despite the husband’s indignant warning.

Which piece of news had greater relevance to readers of the Providence Gazette, a note about stamped paper being returned to England several years after the repeal of the Stamp Act or a notice about evolving personal and financial relationships in the Lindsey household contained in an advertisement? Each touched on aspects of colonial life and culture. Each delivered information that helped readers better understand the society in which they lived. For those who interacted with the Lindsey family, news of Sarah leaving Thomas was as momentous in their daily lives as learning about continued resistance to all sorts of new legislation from Parliament. Purchasing advertising space gave colonists other than printers and editors an opportunity to deliver and shape the news that appeared in the public prints.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 22, 1769).

“Private LODGINGS … very convenient for those who use the Stage-Boats.”

Location! Location! Location!!! In the summer of 1769, Mary Westrand took to the pages of the Providence Gazette to announce that she provided “Private LODGINGS” at the Sign of the Green Ball. Westrand did not elaborate on the accommodations or the amenities guests could expect to enjoy while in residence. Instead, she made location the primary selling point for choosing her establishment. She advised prospective guests that the lodgings were “very convenient for those who use the Stage-Boats.” In so doing, she linked her business to services provided by others, the stageboats that regularly sailed between Providence and Newport.

Those stageboats transported both passengers and freight. Stageboat operators advertised that they maintained convenient store[s] for depositing such Goods as may be sent … for Transportation,” but lodgings for passengers were beyond their purview. Westrand sought to take advantage of the fact that the gentlemen and ladies who sailed between Providence and Newport likely needed lodgings at some point in their journey. She attempted to tap into an established clientele that required additional services.

Westrand suggested that her location near the stageboat wharfs made her lodgings ideal for passengers. Merchants and others who traveled with goods could remain in close proximity to the storehouses, allowing relatively easy access after overseeing loading or unloading. No passenger needed to wander too far into the city in search of lodgings when they arrived, nor worry about staying so far away that they might miss their stageboat when it departed. Gentlemen and ladies did not have to transport personal baggage very far between the stageboat wharfs and their “Private LODGINGS” at the Sign of the Green Ball.

Westrand identified passengers who sailed on stageboats between Providence and Newport as a constituency who likely had particular need of her services. To that end, she emphasized her “very convenient” location in her advertisement, but did not offer further description of the accommodations she provided for travelers beyond noting that they were “Private.” She opted for a different marketing strategy than most advertisers who provided lodgings for travelers in the 1760s. Their advertisements often described the amenities in great detail as a means of enticing prospective guests to stay with them. Westrand gambled that emphasizing her location would attract guests and provide sufficient return on the investment she made in placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:15:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 15, 1769).

“All Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms.”

The colophons that appeared on the final pages of colonial newspapers ranged from simple to elaborate. Consider the colophons for newspapers published in July 1769. The colophon for the New-London Gazette, for instance, briefly stated, “Printed by TIMOTHY GREEN.” Similarly, the colophon for the Boston Evening-Post succinctly informed readers of the printers and place of publication: “BOSTON: Printed by T. and J. FLEET.” Yet the colophons for other newspapers filled several lines and provided much more information about the business of printing in early America, as seen in these examples:

Boston Chronicle:BOSTON: PRINTED every MONDAY and THURSDAY, (Price only SIX SHILLINGS and EIGHT PENCE Lawful, per Annum) by MEIN and FLEEMING, at their PRINTING-OFFICE in Newbury-Street, where, and at the LONDON BOOK-STORE North-side of King-Street, Subscriptions[,] ADVERTISEMENTS, ARTICLES and LETTERS OF INTELLIGENCE, are gratefully received.—All Manner PRINTING Work performed at the most reasonable Rates.”

Essex Gazette:SALEM: Printed by Samuel Hall, at his Printing-Office a few Doors above the Town-House; where Subscriptions for this GAZETTE, at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, are taken in;–3s. 4d. to be paid at Entrance.”

Georgia Gazette: “SAVANNAH: Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”

Newport Mercury: “NEWPORT, RHODE-ISLAND: Printed by SOLOMON SOUTHWICK, in Marlborough-Street, at the Third House below the Gaol: Where may be had all Kinds of BLANKS commonly used in this Colony.”

New-York Chronicle: “NEW-YORK: Printed by ALEXANDER and JAMES ROBERTSON, at the Corner of Beaver-Street, nearly opposite General GAGE’S, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of no more Length and breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”

New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy:NEW-YORK: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street, where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are Taken in.”

New-York Journal: “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad-Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”

Pennsylvania Chronicle:PHILADELPHIA: Printed by WILLIAM GODDARD, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Market-Street, near the Post-Office, and opposite Mr. John Wister’s, where Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum)[,] Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this Paper, and where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care, Fidelity and Expedition.—Blanks and Hand-Bills in particular are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat, correct and conspicuous Manner.”

Providence Gazette:PROVIDENCE, in New-England: Printed by JOHN CARTER, at his PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head; where Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper, and where all Manner of PRINTING-WORK is performed on reasonable Terms, in a neat and correct Manner with Fidelity and Expedition.”

Virginia Gazette: “WILLIAMSBURG: Printed by WILLIAM RIND, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE on the Main-Street. All Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE at 12s 6 per Year. ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3s. the First Week, and 2s. each Time after: And long ones in Proportion.”

These ten colophons did more than record the printer and place of publication for their respective newspapers. Some of them specified subscription rates while others set advertising rates. Some called on readers to become subscribers or submit items for publication. Some promoted goods and services available at the printing office, including printing advertisements in other formats (like handbills and broadsides). In each case, the colophon appeared on the final page of their newspaper, running across all the columns, just as a masthead appeared on the first page and ran across all the columns. Each of these colophons served as an advertisement for the printer and the newspaper at the end of an edition. No matter how many advertisements an issue of any of these newspapers carried, it concluded with the printer promoting his own business to subscribers and other readers.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:8:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 8, 1769).

Subscriptions for the American Magazine, published in Philadelphia.”

On behalf of Lewis Nicola, the editor of the American Magazine, John Carter inserted a brief advertisement in the July 8, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. In just four lines, it advised readers in Rhode Island that “Subscriptions for the American Magazine, published in Philadelphia by the Editor Lewis Nicola, are received by the Printer hereof, at 13 s. Pennsylvania Currency per Annum, to be paid on subscribing.” This notice was much less extensive than some that appeared in other newspapers. An advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal almost two months earlier informed prospective subscribers of the length of each issue and promised a title page and index with the final edition for the year. Another much more extensive advertisement appeared in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette at the end of May. It described magazines as “the Taste of the Age” and provided an overview of the publication’s purpose and contents. The editor aimed “To instruct, and innocently amuse” readers. The magazine served as “a Repository for the many small, tho’ valuable Pieces that would otherwise be lost to the World.”

Though vastly different in length and content, these advertisements provide an example of the networks that members of the book trades established in eighteenth-century America. Realizing that local markets alone would not sustain some of their enterprises, printers and publishers banded together, sometimes formally but often informally, to assist each other. This included exchanging newspapers and then liberally reprinting content from one to another, but disseminating information was not the extent of the work accomplished by these networks. Note that Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, served as a local agent for Nicola in Providence, as did Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette, in Boston, and John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, in New York. These printers did not merely publish Nicola’s advertisement; they also informed him of the subscribers in their cities, collected subscription fees, and likely aided in the distribution of the American Magazine.

Publishing books, magazines, and other printed materials in eighteenth-century America often depended on these networks of cooperation among members of the book trades, especially printers and publishers. Sometimes such networks played a significant role in the success of an endeavor; other times, they were not enough to overcome other factors that ultimately led to the failure of publications. Nicola’s American Magazine ceased publication within three months of the advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Yet his efforts provided an important marketing model that other magazine publishers successfully deployed after the American Revolution.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 1, 1769).

“JUST PUBLISHED … TWO SERMONS.”

John Carter exercised his privilege as printer to have his own advertisement appear first among the advertisements in the July 1, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Carter announced that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” two sermons delivered by Thomas Story to “Public Assemblies of the People called QUAKERS.” Story (1662-1742) became a Quaker convert in 1689. He became friends with William Penn, the founder of the sect. Story spent sixteen years in colonial America, lecturing to Quakers and held several offices in Pennsylvania, before returning to England.

Although Carter called the pamphlet “TWO SERMONS” in the advertisement, he referred to Two Discourses, Delivered in the Public Assemblies of the People Called Quakers. Much of the advertisement seems to have been a transcription directly from the title page (“Taken in Short-Hand; and, after being transcribed at Length, examined by the said T. STORY, and published by his Permission”), but Carter did add a short description of Story (“that eminent and faithful Servant of CHRIST”) as a means of better promoting the book. According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, the discourses included “The Nature and Necessity of Knowing One’s-Self” and “The Insufficiency of Natural Knowledge and the Benefits Arising from that which Is Spiritual.”

The transcription of the title page available via the Evans Early American Imprint Collection’s Text Creation Partnership lists this imprint: “LONDON, Printed. PROVIDENCE, Re-printed and Sold by JOHN CARTER, at Shakespear’s Head. M,DCC,LXIX.” Only one London edition, published in 1738, had appeared during Story’s lifetime, but two others were published in 1744 and 1764. Carter most likely consulted the 1764 edition when reprinting the book in Providence, inspired that a relatively new London edition signaled that there might also be demand for the pamphlet on his side of the Atlantic.

In addition to offering copies for sale, the advertisement also called on subscribers who had pre-ordered the pamphlet to collect their copies. Carter had not simply assumed the risk for printing a collection of lectures originally delivered more then three decades earlier. He first determined that a market existed to make it a worthwhile venture. Like other colonial printers, he did not print the proposed title until after he secured a sufficient number of subscribers who pledged to purchase the pamphlet (and perhaps even made deposits to reserve their copies). Any subsequent sales amounted to an even better return on his investment.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:24:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 24, 1769)

“All cheap for Cash, or West-India Produce.”

When John Fitton advertised several commodities in the Providence Gazette in the late spring and early summer of 1769 he did not specify any prices. In that regard, his advertisement did not differ from most others placed by merchants and shopkeepers in Providence and throughout the colonies. Purveyors of goods rarely listed prices in the eighteenth century, though they commonly made appeals to low prices to stimulate demand among potential customers. Fitton pledged to sell his wares “cheap for Cash” or barter for “West-India Produce.” He did not, however, reveal how much he charged for flour, pork, or peas. In a similar advertisement, Thomas Stelle advertised flour, ship bread, and bar iron without mentioning prices.

Readers gained a sense of how much they could expect to pay for most of those commodities from another portion of the newspaper. In the June 24 edition of the Providence Gazette, the compositor happened to position Fitton’s advertisement immediately above the “PRICE CURRENT in PROVIDENCE,” a list of prevailing prices for popular commodities in the local market. Although the price current did not include peas, it did indicate that pork sold at 66 shilling per barrel and flour at 16 shillings and 6 pence “By the Hundred Weight.” Before they finalized any transactions with Fitton, customers could consult the price current to determine if his prices actually qualified as “cheap” compared to what competitors charged. In turn, Fitton could also take advantage of the price current list, using it to set his own prices to offer bargains or to calculate the value of commodities that prospective clients offered in exchange for his flour, pork, and peas.

The price current list provided an overview of the marketplace in Providence. It aided merchants in making decisions about when and where to buy, sell, and trade commodities, but it was also an important resource for consumers as they determined whether merchants, shopkeepers, and other purveyors of goods set fair prices. Just as readers could sometimes work back and forth between advertisements for consumer goods and the shipping news from the customs house to assess how recently merchandise had arrived in shops and stores, they could also consult another feature in the newspaper – the price current list – for additional information before making purchases.