December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 2, 1769).

“The Shop of the Subscribers was broke open, and sundry Things stolen.”

Several advertisements relayed stories of theft in the December 2, 1769, edition of the Providence GazetteEach had previously appeared, but the thieves had not been captured nor had the stolen goods been recovered.  In a notice dated October 17, Stephen Hopkins reported the theft of a cloak and wig.  Hall and Metcalf placed their own notice, dated November 4, to report that their shop “was broke open, and sundry Things stolen from thence.”  Jabez Bowen, Sr., even deployed a headline for his advertisement: “A THEFT.”  Dated November 11, Bowen’s notice listed several items of clothing stolen when his house was “broke open.”  By December 2, the stories in these advertisements became familiar to readers of the Providence Gazette.

The thefts in these advertisements may have helped to shape the contents of other parts of the newspaper. The December 2 edition began with an item addressed to the printer of the Providence Gazette.  “At a Time when Houses, Shops and Warehouses, are so frequently broke open,” an unnamed correspondent proclaimed, “and so many Thefts and Robberies are committed, both in Town and Country, by wicked vagrant Persons, unlawfully strolling about from Place to Place, perhaps it may tend to the public Good … in your next Paper to insert the following LAW concerning VAGRANTS, that it may be more generally known.”  A statute then filled the remainder of the column, excepting two lines announcing that the printer sold blanks.

Not only did advertisements seem to influence coverage of the news, the inclusion of this law helped establish a theme that ran through the entire issue.  Readers who perused it from start to finish first encountered the statute on the first page, Bowen’s notice and Hopkins’s notice on the third page, and Hall and Metcalf’s notice on the final page.  Even if they passed over the statute quickly, encountering the advertisements about thefts may have prompted some readers to return to the first page to read the statute more carefully.  The featured advertisements often demonstrate that news items and advertisements informed each other when it came to the imperial crisis and nonimportation agreements; however, those were not the only instances of advertisements relaying news or working in tandem with news.  Other sorts of current events inspired coverage that moved back and forth between news and advertising in colonial newspapers.

November 18

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

Nov 18 - 11:18:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 18, 1769).

“Containing, an accurate Ephemeris … Containing likewise, a beautiful Poem …”

In the fall of 1769, John Carter launched his marketing campaign for “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” with a full-page advertisement in the Providence Gazette. He likely posted a broadside around town as well. In subsequent weeks, Carter followed up the full-page advertisement with additional notices in the Providence Gazette; these included all of the same copy, but compressed to fit in a single column. Almanacs generated sufficient revenue for colonial printers to merit allocating considerable space in their newspapers to advertising them.

The contents of almanacs included reference items for information and other items for entertainment. Carter adopted a similar approach in his advertisements, publishing a poem for the enjoyment of prospective customers while also listing the contents of the almanac. Those contents included the usual astronomical data, such as the “Sun, Moon, and Seven Stars Rising and Setting; for every Day on the Year” and “Eclipses of the Luminaries,” as well as the tides. Other useful reference material included dates for the “Courts in the New-England Government,” “Times of the Stage-Coaches and Passage-Boats going and returning,” “a Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected.” Items intended for entertainment included “a beautiful Poem on Creation,” “a List of portentous Eclipses, with the remarkable Events that followed them,” and “a curious Essay on Comets, with some Remarks on the extraordinary one that appeared in August and September last.” Carter attempted to leverage potential ongoing interest in a recent event to spur sales of the almanac.

When it comes to retailing books, one modern marketing strategy harkens back to a method already in use by Carter and other printers in the eighteenth century. New technologies allow consumers to examine the table of contents online when considering whether to purchase a book, but publishing a table of contents as a means of bolstering interest in a book does not itself qualify as innovative. Modern marketers merely use new technologies to replicate a technique already in use for centuries. Certainly the strategy has been adopted more widely, given that the internet allows retailers more space than their counterparts could purchase in eighteenth-century newspapers, but the basic idea remains the same. Show consumers what a book contains and let the contents aid in selling the book. Carter and printers throughout the colonies regularly used that strategy for almanacs, books, and pamphlets in the eighteenth century.

November 11

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

Nov 11 - 11:11:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 11, 1769).

“A THEFT.”

Multiple reports of theft appeared among the advertisements inserted in the November 11, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Stephen Hopkins reported the theft of “one Cloak, the Cloth of a fine blue Drab” and “an old light grey cut Wig.” He offered a reward to “Whoever will discover the said Cloaths, and apprehend the Thief.” Hall and Metcalf proclaimed, “ON Monday Night last the Shop of the Subscribers was broke open, and sundry Things stolen from thence.” The stolen items included “a Quantity of drest Deers Leather, … a Pinchbeck Watch, with s Steel Chain, China Face, … [and] five Pair of Leather Breeches.” Like Hopkins, Hall and Metcalf offered a reward to “Whoever secures the Thief or Thieves, with the Articles stolen.”

Reporting on another incident, Jabez Bowen, Sr., incorporated a headline – “A THEFT” – into his advertisement, distinguishing it from the other two. Someone “broke open” his house and made off with “a Man’s blue Broadcloth Great-Coat, with Basket Buttons of the same Colour; and a Woman’s light-coloured Camblet Coat, very long.” Bowen provided a description of two suspects “who were seen lurking about the same Evening” and offered two rewards, a larger one for apprehending the thieves and recovering his stolen property and a smaller one for recovering the stolen goods but not capturing the thieves.

Relatively few advertisements for consumer goods ran in that issue of the Providence Gazette, making the advertisements about the several thefts even more conspicuous. This minor crime wave signaled that some colonists sought alternate means of participating in the consumer revolution rather than buying new merchandise from merchants and shopkeepers, bidding on new and used items at auctions and vendues, or acquiring secondhand goods at estate sales. Not all colonists had the cash or credit to make such purchases. The thieves may not have desired Hopkins’s cloak or Hall and Metcalf’s watch or Bowen’s coats for themselves. Instead, they may have fenced them, thus funneling the goods into what Serena Zabin has termed an “informal economy.” Some colonists who did not have the means to acquire the goods they desired through legitimate means turned instead to the informal economy. Some eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements testify to attempts to stimulate demand and encourage participation in consumer culture, but others, such as these advertisements about thefts, suggest that some colonists devised their own means of acquiring consumer goods that otherwise would have been beyond their means.

November 4

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

Nov 4 - 11:4:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 4, 1769).

“To be Sold … by the several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.”

John Carter continued to advertise the New-England Almanack for 1770 in the November 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. A week earlier he launched his advertising campaign with a full-page advertisement, but he did not continue to give over as much space in subsequent issues of his newspaper. Instead, he condensed the advertisement, filling approximately three-quarters of a column. This made room for other content, especially paid notices that accounted for an important source of revenue for any newspaper printer.

Although the new version of the advertisement filled less space in the Providence Gazette, Carter still managed to insert almost everything than ran in the original. The new version left out only a note to retailers that had appeared at the end: “A considerable Allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” It also featured a slight revision to the list of sellers, which originally stated that the almanac was sold “At SHAKESPEAR’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE, and by the AUTHOR.” The new advertisement made a nod to the popularity of the almanac and the distribution network that Carter devised. Prospective customers could purchase it at the printing office, from the author, of from any of “several Merchants and Shopkeepers of Providence and Newport.” Otherwise, the text of the advertisement did not change from one version to the next.

The addition of merchants and shopkeepers in Newport reveals two important aspects of early American print culture. First, it speaks to the distribution of the Providence Gazette beyond the city where it was printed. Carter expected that colonists who resided in Newport as well as those who lived closer to Newport than Providence would see the advertisement in the Providence Gazette and then obtain copies of the almanac from retailers in Newport.

Second, this strengthens the case that the original full-page advertisement also doubled as a broadside (or poster) that Carter displayed in his shop and posted around town. Business ledgers from eighteenth-century printing offices include records of apprentices hanging posters. (See, for instance, Robert Aitken’s ledger at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.) Carter could have had boys from his shop post broadsides around Providence without incurring additional expenses or having to give complicated instructions. Making arrangements to have posters hung in Newport, on the other hand, would have been much more complicated and expensive. Thus the Newport merchants and shopkeepers were absent from the full-page advertisement that probably doubled as a broadside but did appear in a subsequent iteration that occupied less space in the newspaper and did not circulate separately. Carter altered the advertisement slightly, likely out of consideration that the two formats had different methods of distribution to prospective customers.

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 28, 1769).

“THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK.”

John Carter wanted prospective customers to know that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, LADY’S and GENTLEMAN’S DIARY, FOR THE Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770” and that it was ready for sale “At SHAKESPEARS’S HEAD, in PROVIDENCE.” To make certain that readers of the Providence Gazette were aware of this publication, Carter exercised his privilege as printer of the newspaper to devote the entire final page of the October 28, 1769, edition to promoting the New-England Almanack. Full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century American newspapers, but they were quite rare. In the late 1760s, the printers of the Providence Gazette played with this format more than any of their counterparts in other cities and towns. Still, they did not resort to it often.

Appreciating the magnitude of such an advertisement requires considering it in the context of the entire issue. Like most other newspapers of the era, the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages printed and distributed once a week. Each issue usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a single broadsheet and then folding it in half. That being the case, Carter gave over a significant portion of the October 28 edition to marketing the New-England Almanack, devoting one-quarter of the contents to the endeavor. By placing it on the final page, the printer also made the advertisement visible to anyone who happened to observe someone reading that issue of the Providence Gazette. Readers who kept the issue closed while perusing the front page put the back page on display. Those who kept the issue open while reading the second and third pages also exhibited the full-page advertisement to anyone who saw them reading the newspaper. Given the size of the advertisement and its placement, prospective customers did not have to read the Providence Gazette to be exposed to Carter’s marketing for the New-England Almanack.

Carter also eliminated the colophon that usually ran at the bottom of the final page. In addition to providing the usual publication information (the name of the printer and the city), the colophon doubled as an advertisement for services provided at Carter’s printing office. Why eliminate it rather than adjust the size of the advertisement for the New-England Almanack? Carter very well likely could have printed the full-page advertisement separately on half sheets that he then distributed and displayed as posters, augmenting his newspaper advertisements with another popular medium for advertising. Broadsides (or posters) were even more ephemeral than newspapers; far fewer have survived. Yet the format of Carter’s full-page advertisement suggests that he had an additional purpose in mind.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (October 21, 1769).

“He will sell as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.”

In the fall of 1769, Amos Throop sold medicines at a shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.” His inventory included “a fresh Assortment of Medicines, Chymical and Galenical” as well as sago and “all Sorts of Spices.” He also stocked a variety of familiar patent medicines, such as “Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Hooper’s Female Pills, Anderson’s Pills, Stoughton’s Elixir, and Hill’s Balsam of Honey.” Throughout the colonies, consumers recognized these brands. Apothecaries and shopkeepers from New England to Georgia advertised these popular patent medicines.

When they did so, they competed with each other. Their advertisements often made clear that they served not only local customers who visited their shops but also those who lived at a distance and submitted orders via letters or messengers. Throop addressed “Families in Town or Country” in his advertisement, acknowledging that he sought the patronage of customers beyond Providence. For all of his prospective customers, Throop pledged that he parted with his medicines “as cheap as are sold in Boston, or any Part of New-England.” Appeals to price were also familiar in eighteenth-century advertisements for medicines, but such comparisons were much less common. Throop did not even bother with assuring readers that he offered the best prices in town. He was so wary of competition from Boston that he framed his prices in relation to prices charged by druggists and shopkeepers there. Lest that raise questions about bargains that might be found elsewhere within the regional marketplace, he provided blanket assurances that he offered the best prices in all of New England. Perhaps claiming that he had the best prices in all of the colonies would have strained credulity!

Incorporating any sort of price comparison into an advertisement was relatively innovative in the late 1760s. It suggested that both the advertiser and consumers possessed a level of familiarity with the local and regional marketplace that allowed them to make or to assess such claims.

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.