April 16

GUEST CURATOR: Matt Ringstaff

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

Providence Gazette (April 15, 1769).

“Wanted, a Quantity of good Pot-Ash.”

Before seeing the word “Pot-Ash” in Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement from 1769 in the Providence Gazette I had no idea what is was or what it was used for. I understood from the advertisement was that there was a large market for it. Potash, “a crude form of potassium carbonate,” came from the ashes of burned trees. Colonists originally used it for making soap and, later, gunpowder. According to William E. Burns, colonists used small amounts of potash for baking to help cakes rise. Colonists made potash “by burning logs and other wood to ashes, then placing the ashes in a barrel lined with twigs and straw.” After that step, “[p]otash makers poured water on top of the ashes, dissolving out the salts.” Then they boiled what was left to create potassium carbonate that “made up less than a quarter of the mass.” Potash had many uses in colonial times, “from household soapmaking to glass manufacture.”[1]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Sometimes when guest curators examine the featured advertisements I instead choose to comment more extensively on methodology, pedagogy, or the benefits and challenges of working with digitized primary sources. For this entry, I offer a few comments on Assumption College’s twenty-fifth annual Undergraduate Symposium.

Today all of the guest curators that have worked on the project this spring will make presentations about their contributions at the Symposium, sharing their work beyond the classroom in yet another forum. Designed to replicate a conference, the Symposium draws together talented undergraduate students from across the many departments on campus. Students may make oral presentations or participate in poster sessions, whichever best fits their projects and matches the practices in their disciplines.

The guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project, all of them History majors enrolled in my upper-level Revolutionary America class, will make presentations that they have previously delivered in class in preparation for the Symposium. I oversaw a workshop for each presentation. The entire class discussed what worked well and offered constructive suggestions for improvement so each guest curator could make the necessary revisions and deliver a polished presentation at the Symposium.

The ten presentations related to the Adverts 250 Project have been divided into two sessions of five presentations each. A faculty moderator from the Symposium Committee will oversee each session. I will make a formal introduction for each young scholar. Then each will make a ten-minute presentation, followed by five minutes for questions and discussion. Later in the day everyone involved in the Symposium will gather at a reception hosted by the Provost and the Symposium Committee to celebrate their accomplishments.

Preparing for and participating in the Symposium requires a lot of time. In my Revolutionary America class, we have given over three of twenty-seven class meetings to this endeavor. This means that we cover less content in the course of the semester, but I know from experience that students ultimately learn the content we do cover much better because it has been linked to other skills they have developed and honed as part of the Adverts 250 Project. From History Labs in class to the Symposium near the end of the semester, the guest curators have enhanced their information literacy, expanded their research skills, refined their writing abilities, and gained valuable experience with public speaking. All of these will serve them well in their future studies and, more significantly, beyond the classroom.

Good luck at the Symposium today, guest curators!

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[1] William E. Burns, Science and Technology in Colonial America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 25.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff

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

Providence Gazette (April 15, 1769).

“A Quantity of Red and White Oak Hogshead STAVES.”

On April 15, 1769, Samuel Young put an advertisement put in the Providence Gazette to tell readers that he wanted “to purchase a Quantity of Red and White Oak Hogshead STAVES, for which he will make good Pay.” Staves are narrow pieces of wood used to make barrels. A hogshead is a barrel that holds 64 gallons. According to Jeremy M. Bell, “Barrels were the shipping containers of their time” in the eighteenth century. They held an abundance of items, including alcohol, corn, and tobacco. Today it is not very common to see barrels in stores, except maybe a Cracker Barrel, but in colonial times they were extremely common in shops, very noticeable objects for customers. Bell states that barrels were so frequently used that the British Parliament passed the first act to standardize hogsheads and their measurements in 1423. Starting with a tun barrel at 252 gallons, they made it so that each designation of volume would then be cut in half. A pipe barrel held 126 gallons. Therefore, a hogshead measured 64 gallons and a standard barrel at 32 gallons. Practically everyone involved in commerce in early America used hogsheads and barrels of other sizes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

No advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children appeared in the April 15, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. None of the paid notices offered men and women for sale. None of them encouraged white colonists to engage in acts of surveillance in the service of capturing escaped slaves and returning them to those who held them in bondage, nor did any describe suspected runaways that had been imprisoned. Yet black bodies were not absent from the pages of the Providence Gazette or the commercial landscape in the city.

Before he announced that he sold an “Assortment of European, East and West-India GOODS” and sought “Hogshead STAVES,” Samuel Young proclaimed that he operated a store at “the Sign of the Black Boy.” Enslaved men and women had labored to produce many of the goods Young sold. Enslaved men and women would eventually handle the barrels made from the staves Young acquired. They were integrated into the networks of production, exchange, and consumption in the early modern Atlantic world. That was a fact that would have been difficult for residents of Providence to overlook, but Young’s choice of shop sign provided a stark visual reminder that black bodies had been appropriated and exploited for a variety of purposes. Enslaved men and women contributed their labor, their skills, and their expertise in the production of commodities. The image of a “Black Boy” then served as a marketing logo and a landmark that aided colonists in finding many of those commodities as they navigated the streets of Providence.

Elsewhere in the April 15 issue, the Providence Gazette disseminated news about the imperial crisis brewing as a result of the Townshend Acts and other abuses by Parliament. Some correspondents wrote about “AMERICAN Liberty,” while others defended the prerogatives of George III and Parliament. Calls for “AMERICAN Liberty,” however, extended only so far, only to white colonists. Most colonists who reduced enslaved men, women, and children to a stylized image on “the Sign of the Black Boy” did not contemplate how to evenly apply their rhetoric to all of the residents of Rhode Island and the other colonies.

April 8

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Providence Gazette (April 8, 1769).

“A MEAL-MARKET.”

When I first looked at this advertisement, the phrase “MEAL-MARKET” was foreign to me. According to Oxford English Dictionary “meal” means processed grains, as in “the edible part of a grain … ground to powder” or “the finer part of ground grain.” Bucklin and Peck obtained the processed grain, such as “Wheat Flour, Rye and Indian Meal,” from millers. They also sold “Virginia Corn, and Ship Bread.”

George Washington also worked with millers. According to the historians at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, he moved away from the tobacco and began to plant more grains, mostly wheat and corn in the 1760s. Washington then expanded his gristmill and with that it became more efficient and effective and the revenue started to increase. In order to have an efficient and effective gristmill he had to set up the mill next to a reliable flowing water source. This was key because in order to power the mill water must flow past the waterwheel to generate power. When Washington did have success with his mill he then brought in extra revenue by charging neighboring farmers a fee to grind their grain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Bucklin and Peck made several promises to prospective customers in their advertisement in the April 8, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. They pledged that they would “sell as cheap as they can possible afford, do Justice in Weight and Measure, and, for the Accommodation of the Public, will retail the smallest Quantities that shall be desired.” The second of those appeals – “do Justice in Weight and Measure” – was especially important. It addressed a complaint leveled against millers that went back centuries.

In “Mills and Millers in Old and New World Folksong,” Jessica Bank explains that both the technology of mills and milling and folk songs about millers crossed the Atlantic from Britain to the colonies. Notorious for short-weighting the grains they processed, millers were depicted in depicted in folk songs as “selfish grasping thie[ves] who take advantage of anyone [they] can.” Millers had a reputation for refusing to operate their mills in the presence of their customers, a strategy that allowed them to cheat on the weights and measures. Bank notes that the popular expression “Keep your nose to the grindstone” originally had a second imperative, “and keep your eye to the road,” derived from the practice of ceasing operations of a mill as long as customers were in view.

“The image of the shifty, untrustworthy miller who enriches himself by stealing from those who use his mill to grind their grain,” Bank explains, “appears to have been incredibly long-lived and widely-known, appearing in a number of the folksongs that made their way to Colonial America.” Given that this image of the miller was so prevalent in eighteenth-century popular culture, Bucklin and Peck made a wise decision to address it in their advertisement offering “Wheat Flour, Rye and Indian” for sale. Their other appeals – low prices and the convenience of quantities that suited the needs of their customers – were standard marketing strategies adopted by many advertisers, but proclaiming that they “do Justice in Weight and Measure” was specific to their occupation. Bucklin and Peck understood the suspicion leveled against millers and those who sold the products of their mills; they crafted their advertisement accordingly.

April 1

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Providence Gazette (April 1, 1769).

“Joseph Belcher … will take in Pay … old Pewter.”

“Pewter is an alloy of two metals, tin and lead,” explains Robert P. Rich. Pewter goods like plates, cups, and pitchers were common in colonial America, but there was a problem with pewtersmith’s supplies. The colonies lacked tin, one of the elements needed for making pewter, so it needed to be imported from Britain. However, not much tin was imported, which was designed to give British pewtersmiths an advantage over American pewtersmiths. This takes us back to the advertisement where Joseph Belcher said he would take old pewter as payment. Lacking one of the metals needed to make pewter, American pewtersmiths wanted old pieces of pewterware that they could use to make new pewterware. Rich notes that “due to the low metaling point of pewter metal, it could easily be melted down and re-cast into new forms with little loss of material.” To learn more visit “Recycling in Colonial America.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The “(69)” on the final line of Joseph Belcher’s advertisement was not part of the copy submitted to the printing office by the pewtersmith. Instead, it was a notation inserted by the compositor. It indicated that Belcher’s advertisement first ran in issue “NUMB. 269” published on March 4, 1769. Other paid notices in the Providence Gazette included similar numbers on the final line, including “(71)” at the conclusion of an advertisement for an iron forge for lease and “(72)” alongside “STEPHEN ARNOLD, Proprietors Clerk” in a legal notice. These numbers helped the compositor and others keep track of how many times advertisements appeared so they could be discontinued at the end of the period specified by the advertiser. Other advertisements included “(T.b.c.)” rather than an issue number, perhaps indicating “to be continued” until such time that the advertiser sent instructions to discontinue those notices. Like many other printers throughout the colonies, John Carter had a portion of his bookkeeping practices on display within the pages of his newspaper.

In most cases the compositor could have simply compared the current issue number to the issue number listed in the advertisement to count how many times it had appeared. That system, however, had been disrupted in the Providence Gazette in the March 25 edition. Carter published more news than usual, squeezing out advertising. He acknowledged as much in a brief notice that assured readers and, especially, advertisers that “Advertisements omitted, for Want of Room, shall be in out next.” Belcher’s advertisement was one of those omitted. After its initial insertion on March 4, it ran in the next two issues before its brief hiatus and then returned for one last time in the April 1 edition.

This example raises questions about common practices related to advertisements in printing offices throughout the colonies. The issue numbers that appeared at the conclusion of so many advertisements were certainly a helpful tool for bookkeeping and other purposes or else compositors would not have expended the time and energy to include them. Yet they had to be used in combination with other records, such as ledgers and previous issues, in order to tell the whole story. Did printers and compositors generate other sorts of documents, such as weekly checklists, to aid in keeping track of which advertisements needed to be inserted in new issues or discontinued because advertisers agreed to pay for only a certain number of insertions? How closely did printers or others who kept the account books coordinate with the compositors that set the type and transferred (or not) advertisements from one issue to the next? Answering these questions would reveal more about the hierarchies and distribution of responsibilities in early American printing offices.

March 25

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Providence Gazette (March 25, 1769).

“Pepper by the Bag.”

Joseph and William Russell advertised a few different commodities, such as pork, pepper, cordage, duck, indigo, and nails. Pepper was one of the biggest imports that came from Asia into Europe; it was one of the most valuable resources that the British imported from British India to Europe and the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Pepper had been one of the bigger sources of conflict between the British and the Dutch in earlier years, according to K.N. Chaudhuri in The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660-1760. Though the wrestling for dominance over India by European powers took place earlier than the Russells published their advertisement in the Providence Gazette, it bore great weight when observing the later outcomes and rewards that the British and the colonists reaped from those earlier efforts in securing a steady flow of resources from India, including textiles and pepper.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When it came time to select which advertisement to feature today, Sean had very few options. The Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published in colonial America on Saturday, March 25, 1769. While it often carried dozens of advertisements that filled the entire final page and often spilled over to other pages, only five paid notices ran in the March 25 edition. They did not amount to an entire column. Two were legal notices and one offered a forge for lease. Only two offered goods for sale: the advertisement placed by the Russells and an even shorter notice for “best English Hay and Hay-Seed” to be sold by Hezekiah Carpenter. Guest curator Zach Dubreuil already examined the Russells’ advertisement last week. While the methodology for the Adverts 250 Project usually specifies that an advertisement should be featured only once, I instructed Sean that he could work with this advertisement as long as he consulted with Zach to choose a different aspect to analyze.

Those five notices were not, however, the sole mention of advertising in the Providence Gazette that week. At the bottom of the column John Carter, the printer, inserted a short announcement: “Advertisements omitted, for Want of Room, shall be in our next.” The relative scarcity of advertising in that issue apparently was not for lack of notices submitted to the printing office, as often seemed to be the case with the Boston Chronicle, but rather too much other content that Carter considered more important at the moment. Printers needed to carefully manage such situations. Especially at times of political turmoil, they had an obligation to disseminate news to their readers as quickly as they acquired it or risk losing readers, yet revenues from advertising were essential to the continued operation of colonial newspapers. The notice that “Advertisements omitted … shall be in our next” informed clients who expected to see their advertisements in the March 25 edition that they would indeed appear the following week after only a brief hiatus. That strategy was not Carter’s only option. Printers throughout the colonies sometimes issued half sheet supplements comprised of advertising when news (and other advertisements) filled the standard issue. Carter may not have had sufficient additional paid notices to merit doing so, or he may not have had sufficient time to produce a supplement. Even though few advertisements ran in the March 25 issue, the printer still addressed the business of advertising in the pages of the newspaper.

March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Providence Gazette (March 18, 1769).

“Choice Indico.”

This advertisement shows that Joseph and William Russell had multiple items for sale, including pork, pepper, and nails. I selected “choice Indico” to examine in more detail. Indigo was used as a blue dye for clothing and other textiles. This highly priced dye was produced in the southern colonies. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “By 1755 the Carolina colony alone was exporting around 200,000 pounds of indigo annually; Georgia was just beginning to export indigo, with 4,500 pounds exported that year. Georgia’s indigo exportation reached its peak in 1770, with more than 22,00 pounds.” Production of indigo collapsed in the colonies at the onset of the Revolutionary War because plantations in Central America and Florida were able to produce more crops per year based on their climate. Indigo dye was important to the colonies. Just like the potash from yesterday’s advertisement, producing indigo and exporting it helped colonists earn money to buy imported goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As we revised earlier drafts of his entry for today’s advertisement, Zach and I discussed the intended audience. He hypothesized that the Russells did not target end-use consumers but instead sought to attract the attention of masters of vessels who needed to supplies when they visited Providence. Zach suspected that much of the “CHOICE Barrel Pork,” cordage, “Nails of all Sorts” hawked by the Russells ended up aboard ships that sailed on commercial ventures from Providence to other places throughout the Atlantic world.

I agree with Zach for a couple of reasons. First, he offers a sound interpretation of the specific commodities offered by the Russells in this particular advertisement. I also agree with him because of the style of the advertisement and the many sorts of goods that it did not include. The Russells were prominent merchants in Providence. They regularly advertised in the Providence Gazette, ranking among the most prolific advertisers in that publication. Their advertisements often invited consumers to visit their shop and examine the variety of items they offered for sale. For instance, one previous advertisement announced “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS,” although it did not describe any of the merchandise. In another advertisement they described their “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” as “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Others went into elaborate detail about the Russells’s inventory. They were the first advertisers to experiment with full-page advertisements in the Providence Gazette. On such occasions they listed hundreds of items in stock at their shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” a landmark that became nearly exceptionally familiar in the public prints. In their advertisements placed as retailers, they often addressed prospective customers as “Gentlemen and Ladies both in Town and Country.”

These elements were missing from the Russells’s advertisement in the March 18, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Based on the types of goods offered for the sale, the quantities, and the style of the advertisement, it appears that they sought different buyers than they addressed in many of their other advertisements. This time they operated as merchants providing supplies in bulk rather than as shopkeepers cultivating relationships with consumers.

March 11

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Newport Mercury (March 11, 1769).

“JOSEPH BELCHER … makes and sells Pewter Ware.”

In this advertisement Joseph Belcher attempted to sell “Pewter Ware” as cheap as he possibly could. Belcher mentions his business and how he is trying to keep it operating at a high capacity alongside managing his “Brazier and Founders Business.” He was a very busy artisan. I think that Belcher may have been selling his goods at such a good price in an attempt to convince colonists to buy American goods and not British goods while the Townshend Acts were in effect. The colonists wanted to boycott British goods and attempt to hurt the British economy and force them to weaken their grip on the colonies. They thought that the British would recall their taxes if colonists did not buy their goods and purchasing local items was the best way to do it. Consider the amount of pewter imported into the colonies: three hundred tons of pewter in the 1760s. Between 1720 and 1767 the value of pewter imported to the colonies “was greater than that of all silver, tinware, and furniture imported in the same years.” Many colonists may have considered the pewter that Belcher “makes and sells” preferable to imported goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In his advertisement in the March 11, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Joseph Belcher of Newport positioned himself as a regional purveyor of “Pewter Ware.” Belcher inserted the same advertisement in the March 6 edition of the Newport Mercury, calling on local customers to patronize his shop. When they had the option of advertising in one or more newspapers printed in their own towns, most merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans chose to confine their marketing efforts to those publications. Belcher’s decision to place his advertisement in both the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette deviated from the common practice of the period.

As Luke notes, Belcher made appeals to both price and quantity. He sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail,” indicating that he welcomed customers who planned to stock his pewter in their own shops as well as end-use consumers who selected items for their own homes. He not only offered low prices but also pledged that his customers could acquire his products “as cheap as can be bought in Boston, or elsewhere.” His prices were not low merely in comparison to those charged by local competitors in Newport, nor in comparison to competitors throughout Rhode Island. Instead, Belcher placed himself in competition with suppliers of pewter in Boston and, presumably, New York. Entrepreneurs who placed advertisements in newspapers published in Rhode Island and Connecticut sometimes made comparisons to both cities, assuring their prospective customers that they did not need to send away to the much larger port cities to gain access to the best deals.

Like other colonial newspapers, both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury circulated far beyond the towns where they were printed. From his shop on Thames Street in Newport, Belcher encouraged consumers in Providence and other places to submit orders by letter, stating that they “may depend on being as well used as if present.” Commerce and consumption did not require face-to-face interactions; instead, advertisements and letters facilitated the acquisition of goods in colonial America. Combining low prices, orders by letter, and advertising in newspapers published in more than one town, Belcher created a marketing strategy designed to extend his share of the market for pewter far beyond the town where he operated his shop.

February 25

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

Providence Gazette (February 25, 1769).

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

“A QUANTITY of choice NEW-ENGLAND FLOUR of MUSTARD.”

“FLOUR of MUSTARD” was popular in eighteenth-century Americas. Mustard was an essential ingredient in many common recipes. According to Colonial Williamsburg, “It was used as whole seeds or even ground into a powder they called flour of mustard. … The powder was often rolled into balls and sold to be mixed up with water.” William Chace sold his flour of mustard “by the Dozen or single.” This suggests that Chace’s target audience included consumers as well as shopkeepers and merchants. To sell in bulk indicates others would purchase to then sell to the colonists in their town. Chace wanted to extend business beyond one place, Providence, to other locations.

It is important to look at the influence of advertisements in colonial newspapers. Colonists relied on newspapers to obtain information about consumer goods. Richard L. Merritt notes, “Colonial businessmen were quick to recognize the newspapers’ potential as advertising media.”[1] It served as an effective way to communicate and promote products. Advertising an item such as mustard, to be bought individually or in bulk, appealed to a large range of people. Without advertisements, it would be more difficult to sell. Word of mouth only goes so far, and the newspaper gave sellers an advantage.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Chloe indicates, mustard was popular in both England and the colonies in the eighteenth century. William Chace made clear that he sold flour of mustard that had been produced in the colonies rather than imported on the same ships that transported glass, lead, paints, papers, and tea subject to duties under the Townshend Acts. The use of all capitals proclaimed “NEW-ENGLAND FLOUR of MUSTARD,” but Chace did not consider merely listing the origin of his product sufficient to convince prospective customers to purchase it. Lest anyone have any doubts about its quality or suspect that this locally produced alternative might be inferior to flour of mustard sent from England, he assured skeptical readers that his product was “superior both for Strength and Flavour to any imported.” This was not Chace’s pronouncement alone. He reported that the “best Judges” had reached this conclusion.

In presenting these appeals to consumers, Chace participated in a larger movement, a form of economic resistance based on encouraging production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to purchasing imported goods – and not just for those items indirectly taxed under the Townshend Acts. Other advertisements more explicitly made this argument, such as those that promoted the production of paper in the colonies, but shopkeepers like Chace could depend on prospective customers being aware of the discourse concerning consumption. He did not need to stridently denounce Parliament in his advertisement, especially since the news items elsewhere in that issue of Providence Gazette primed prospective customers to consider the political meaning associated with their consumption habits. A letter from “A LOVER OF MY COUNTRY,” reprinted from Rind’s Virginia Gazette, “LETTERS in Answer to the Farmer’s LETTER III,” and editorials reprinted from the London Gazetteer and the Newport Mercury rehearsed various perspectives concerning the imperial crisis. The arguments that dominated public debate appeared alongside Chace’s advertisement, providing all the political context necessary for readers to consider why the “Strength and Flavour” of his flour of mustard were not the only reasons they might wish to purchase it.

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[1] Richard L. Merritt, “Public Opinion in Colonial America: Content-Analyzing the Colonial Press,” Public Opinion Quarterly 27, no. 3 (Autumn 1963): 366.

February 18

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

Providence Gazette (February 18, 1769).

“He wants good Hoops, Boards and Staves, some very good Horses, and a new Milch Cow. (51)”

Readers of the Providence Gazette may have noticed that some, but not all, of the advertisements concluded with a number in parentheses. In the February 18, 1769, edition, Samuel Chace’s advertisement for a “NEW and general Assortment of English and India GOODS,” for instance, ended with “(51)” on the final line. Thomas Greene’s advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” immediately above it featured “(64).” Elsewhere in the issue, other advertisements included “(55)” and “(62).” The first three advertisements all had “(67)” on the final line. What purpose did these numbers serve?

They were not part of the copy submitted by advertisers. Instead, the compositor inserted these numbers to record the first issue in which an advertisement appeared. According to the masthead, the February 18 edition was “NUMB. 267.” The “(67)” indicated three of the advertisements made their inaugural appearance in that issue. Similarly, “(51)” was associated with issue number 251 and “(64)” first ran in issue number 264. The printer and compositor made use of these numbers for bookkeeping and other aspects of producing the Providence Gazette. They made it much easier to determine when it was time to remove an advertisement from subsequent issues.

That the advertisements in the February 18 edition did not appear in numerical or chronological order also demonstrates another aspect of newspaper production. Compositors set the type for each advertisement only once. Once the type had been set, however, compositors moved advertisements around to fit them on the page. In general, no advertisements received privileged placement based on how many weeks they ran in the newspaper, nor did the compositor attempt to organize them according to any principles other than the most efficient use of space. Advertisements making their inaugural appearance, however, were an exception to that rule. In the February 18 issue, all of the advertisements marked “(67)” appeared before any other advertisements. Printers and compositors did give new advertisements a place of prominence, knowing that readers sometimes looked for those in particular. Although the Providence Gazette did not do so, some newspapers even ran special headings for “New Advertisements” to distinguish them from others that already ran in previous issues.

Printers and compositors intended for subscribers and other readers to ignore the numbers they inserted on the final line of many advertisements. Those numbers made important information readily accessible to those who worked in printing offices, but it was not information intended to shape public reaction to the contents of the paid notices.

February 11

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

Providence Gazette (February 11, 1769).

“Great Inconveniences having arisen to the Public, by returning Letters for the Postage.”

The February 11, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette carried a notice from the General Post Office in New York dated January 20. It announced that “the Mail for Falmouth will be made up at this Office on Saturday the 4th of February next.” Although that date had already passed, the notice remained relevant to readers in Providence and throughout the colonies as it further explained that mail intended for the other side of the Atlantic “will continue to be made up in the same Manner upon the first Saturday in every Month, and the Packet Boat ordered to sail with it the next day.” At the command of the Deputy Postmaster General, James Parker communicated other instructions and advice to those who sent letters “to any Part of His Majesty’s Dominions, either in Europe or America” and beyond.

Was this piece an advertisement or a news item? Did John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette receive payment for inserting it in his newspaper? Or did he run it as a public service to his subscribers and other readers? The placement of the notice within the newspaper makes it difficult to determine if Carter classified it as news or advertising. It ran in the final column on the third page, after news items from Savannah, Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, New Haven, Boston, and Providence yet before the prices current from New York. Lines that extended across the column separated the notice from the items above and below, whereas a shorter line that extended across only a portion of the column separated the various news items from other cities and towns. Paid notices comprised almost the entire fourth page, except for the first item, an “Extract [about sows that] may be acceptable to many of our Country Readers.” While the notice from the General Post Office might have appeared in the place of the extract, the latter was many lines longer. The compositor may have made choices about where to place the two items within the newspaper based on their relative lengths. Although advertisements generally appeared after other content in the Providence Gazette, the compositor did sometimes take such liberties for practical purposes.

Whether or not Carter received payment for running the notice concerning the General Post Office, the item served as both news and advertising. Its placement made it a bridge between items that were definitely news and other items that were definitely paid notices. Its contents underscore that advertisements often delivered valuable information to colonial readers. For instance, the Providence Engine Company placed the final notice in the February 11 issue. In it, the Company informed residents of the city to prepare their fire buckets for inspection or else they could “depend on being prosecuted as the Law directs.” Like the notice from the General Post Office, that one blurred the distinction between news and advertising.