February 16

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

New-York Journal (February 13, 1772).

“Subscribers in the distant Provinces will be supplied as soon as possible.”

Robert Bell invested a lot of effort in promoting an “American Edition of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND” in the early 1770s.  He inserted subscription notices in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, encouraging colonizers to support the development of a distinctly American market for literature.  He inserted an update in the February 13, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, alerting the public that the second volume “will be ready for Delivery to the Subscribers of Philadelphia and New-York, on the 28th of February.”  In addition, “Subscribers in the distant Provinces shall be supplied as soon as possible.”

Bell’s notice in the February 13 edition of the New-York Journal ran on a Thursday, the only day that John Holt, the printer, distributed that newspaper.  Most American newspapers published prior to the American Revolution were weeklies, though a few printers did experiment with producing and disseminating two or three issues per week.  Daily newspapers did not emerge until after the Revolution.  That meant that printers strategically chose which days to publish their newspapers.  Most selected Mondays and Thursdays.  Holt’s competitor, Hugh Gaine, published the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on Mondays, thus allowing readers in New York two opportunities to peruse “the freshest ADVICES, both FOREIGN and DOMESTIC” throughout the week.  Some newspapers published in smaller towns in New England appeared on Tuesdays or Fridays or Wednesdays or Saturdays, one or two days after newspapers in Boston and New York.  That allowed printers to acquire the newest editions and reprint items of interest.

Sundays were the only day that printers did not distribute their latest issues anywhere in the colonies.  In the twentieth century, the Sunday newspaper became the most coveted edition, the one that contained the most sections of specialized content as well as advertising supplements.  Today, the Sunday edition remains a distinct entity, the only issue that many readers acquire and read.  That represents an evolution in publication and reading habits.  Once a week, the Adverts 250 Project examines a newspaper advertisement published 250 years ago that week instead of 250 years ago that day because printers did not produce Sunday editions in the eighteenth century.  That remained the case even for the dailies published in the largest cities after the Revolution.

September 29

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

Massachusetts Spy (September 29, 1770).

“LISBON LEMONS … to be sold at the Sign of the Basket of Lemons.”

The selection of advertisements for the Adverts 250 Project is contingent on which newspapers were published on a particular day 250 years ago.  On some days that means far more advertisements to choose among than others.  Consider the publication schedule of most newspapers in the fall of 1770.  Most newspapers were weeklies; printers distributed a new issue once a week.  For instance, John Carter published the Providence Gazette on Saturdays in 1770.  (The corresponding dates fall on Tuesdays in 2020.)  Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy, published three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, was the one exception.

Some days were more popular than others.  Most printers chose Mondays or Thursdays to distribute new issues, though at least one newspaper was published somewhere in the colonies on every day of the week except Sundays.  Mondays saw the publication and distribution of the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, the Newport Mercury, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy.  A similar number of newspapers were published in Annapolis, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg on Thursdays.  An array of advertising appeared in those newspapers, sometimes overflowing the standard issues into supplements distributed simultaneously.

In contrast, the Massachusetts Spy and the Providence Gazette were the only newspapers printed on Tuesdays.  The Providence Gazette featured a moderate amount of advertising in 1770, but the Massachusetts Spy was a new publication, founded a few months earlier, and Thomas had not yet cultivated a clientele of advertisers for his new enterprise.  An advertisement for “LISBON LEMONS … to be sold at the Sign of the Basket of Lemons” in the September 29 edition was the first paid notice to appear in the Massachusetts Spy over the course of many issues.

In combination with the uneven distribution of newspaper publication throughout the week in 1770, that scarcity of advertisements in some newspapers and abundance in others shapes the Adverts 250 Project.  Some newspapers and towns perhaps receive too much attention and others not enough.  Recall, however, that printers did not published newspapers on Sundays.  This allows for a correction.  On days in 2020 that with no “new” newspapers from the corresponding days in 1770, the Adverts 250 Project features advertisements from any time during the previous week.  Strictly adhering to an “On This Day” format has consequences for which advertisements become part of the project, but a slight revision to the methodology in recognition of printing practices in the 1770s allows for a more representative sampling of advertisements, newspapers, and places of publication.

April 29

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

Apr 29 - 4:26:1770 Virginia Gazette Rind Supplement
Supplement to the Virginia Gazette [Rind] (April 26, 1770).
“MAKES and SELLS the best mould CANDLES.”

“WILL repair all sorts of CLOCKS and WATCHES.”

Once a week the Adverts 250 Project examines an advertisement originally published 250 years ago that week rather than 250 years ago that day.  This is the result of the publication schedule of newspapers in colonial America.  Printers published newspapers every day of the week except for Sunday, quite a difference from practices that developed in the twentieth century and still continue.  Nowadays the Sunday edition is in many ways the most significant and usually the largest.  It contains items and sections not issued throughout the rest of the week.  It is a commodity associated with leisure, an edition that consumers take the time to savor.  Readers luxuriate in its very size and variety of contents.

That differs so greatly from colonial newspapers.  In 1770, the year currently under examination by the Adverts 250 Project, most were published only once a week.  The Boston Chronicle was one of only a few that experimented with twice weekly publication by that time.  Each issue usually consisted of only four pages, inclusive of all new items, editorials, advertisements, and other contents.  A single broadsheet comprised the standard four-page edition, two pages printed on each side and then folded in half.  Printers sometimes issued supplements, additions, and extraordinaries when the contents overflowed the standard issue, bringing the total length to six or eight pages, but rarely more than that.  Often the supplements consisted entirely of advertising.

Most printers published their newspapers on Mondays or Thursdays.  Smaller cohorts published on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Only the Providence Gazette distributed new issues on Saturdays, such timing likely chosen to allow the printer to receive newspapers printed in Boston earlier in the week in time to extract items for republication.

These practices allowed for advertisements to come off colonial presses and appear in the public prints every day of the week except Sundays.  Although this prevents the Adverts 250 Project from examining advertisements published 250 years ago to the day once a week, it presents an opportunity to feature advertisements that otherwise would not have been included in the project by revisiting newspapers published on Mondays and Thursdays.  Those newspapers included publications from the largest port cities, publications that tended to distribute the greatest number of advertisements.  Due to the volume of advertising disseminated in those newspapers, they merit a second look.  The absence of newspapers published on Sundays in the colonial era differs greatly from modern practices and disrupts the methodology of the Adverts 250 Project, but it also allows a second chance for examining advertisements that the methodology otherwise would have excluded.

February 23

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

Feb 23 - 2:23:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 23, 1770).

“(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)”

The February 23, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette concluded with two brief notices from the printer: “(Advertisements omitted will be in our next.)” and “The Eastern Post not returned.”  Both of these concerned the production of the newspaper, especially the contents that appeared and those delayed.

In compiling the news and editorials that appeared in their newspapers, eighteenth-century printers liberally appropriated material from other newspapers that they received through networks of exchange with their counterparts in other cities and towns.  Quite simply, they literally reprinted items from one newspaper to another, often, but not always, with an attribution to either the original source or the source in which they encountered it.  The February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, included a lengthy essay by “Junius” drawn “From the LONDON Evening-Post, Dec. 19.”  That issue also contained a letter “To the FREEHOLDERS, FREEMEN, and INHABITANTS of the Colony of New-York; and to all the Friends of LIBERTY in North-America” from Alexander McDougall who was confined in “the New Gaol [Jail] in New-York.”  The printer did not indicate how he came into possession of the letter, whether he reprinted it from another newspaper.  That edition of the New-London Gazette did not feature news from Boston, one of the centers of patriot activism, that the printer might have chosen if the “Eastern Post” had returned with newspapers and letters.  As in any other colonial newspaper, the news items presented to readers were contingent on which sources the printer recently received.

In contrast, printers sometimes made decisions to exclude advertisements, even advertisements with type already set.  To accommodate the two lengthy items in the February 23 edition of the New-London Gazette (together they accounted for eleven of the twelve columns), the printer opted to delay publication of some of the advertisements that might otherwise have appeared.  The notice about “Advertisements omitted” invited readers to consult the next issue for the information contained in legal notices, advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, and notices about servants and slaves who escaped, but it also served as a communication to the advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked or forgotten.  Such notices appeared fairly regularly in eighteenth-century newspapers, suggesting that advertisers generally did not make contracts for their advertisements to appear in specific issues.  Most expected that their notices would run for a set number of weeks (as the issue numbers at the end of advertisements in some newspapers indicate), but also anticipated some fluidity in the printer delivering on this service.  Although some advertisements were time sensitive, in most instances advertisers appear not to have specified particular dates but instead the number of weeks that their advertisements should run.  Printers exercised their own discretion in terms of when newspaper advertisements appeared in print.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 20, 1769).

“CANDLES … Very cheap.”

On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, selecting which advertisement to feature on the Adverts 250 Project is often particularly difficult due to three factors: the original publication schedule in 1769, incomplete digitization of extant eighteenth-century newspapers, and the limits of my own ability to read German.

The project incorporates approximately two dozen newspapers printed in the American colonies in 1769. Each newspaper was published once a week, with the exception of the semi-weekly Boston Chronicle. For a few months near the end of the year, the New-York Chronicle also experimented with circulating two issues each week. (This innovation did not save the New-Chronicle from ending its run with its January 4, 1770, edition.) The publication days were not spread evenly throughout the week. The majority of newspapers were published on Mondays and Thursdays (the corresponding dates in 2019 falling on Wednesdays and Saturdays). For the purposes of the Adverts 250 Project, this means many newspapers and many advertisements to choose among on those days. On other days, however, the featured advertisement comes from the single newspaper published on that day. Such is the case for the Georgia Gazette, published on Wednesdays (corresponding to dates that fall on Fridays in 2019) and the Providence Gazette (corresponding to dates that fall on Mondays in 2019). The number of advertisements, especially advertisements promoting consumer goods and services, varied from week to week in those newspapers, often limiting the choices available for this project.

Although more than one newspaper was published in colonial America on Tuesdays in 1769 (corresponding to dates that fall on Thursdays in 2019), incomplete digitization also limits the available choices. Issues of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal published in 1769 have been transcribed, but not digitized. Issues published in both 1768 and 1770 have been digitized; advertisements drawn from that newspaper regularly appeared in the Adverts 250 Project in 2018 and will return in 2020. Published in the bustling port of Charleston, this newspaper usually ran two entire pages of advertising and often four. In contrast, the Essex Gazette, founded in 1768, has been digitized, but it did not feature nearly as many advertisements in 1769 as its counterparts in the largest port cities. The number of advertisements more closely matched newspapers from smaller towns on the same days as those published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. As a result of the abundance of advertisements in those newspapers, the publications from smaller cities and towns are often eclipsed because they ran far fewer paid notices. As the only newspaper available to consult on Thursdays, however, the Essex Gazette (like the Providence Gazette on Mondays and the Georgia Gazette on Fridays) is disproportionately represented in the Adverts 250 Project due to the methodology that calls for selecting advertisements published 250 years ago that day.

The Essex Gazette, however, is not the only newspaper published on Tuesdays in 1769 that has been digitized. All fifty-two issues of the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote, published to serve the growing population of German settlers in Philadelphia and its environs, have been digitized. Despite their availability, I rarely include advertisements from that newspaper in this project because I do not read German well enough to work with the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote regularly. This means that the range of newspapers that appear in the Adverts 250 Project on Thursdays has been circumscribed compared to those published in 1769 on the corresponding days. The choice has been narrowed from three – the Essex Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote – to only one – the Essex Gazette alone. As a result, the Essex Gazette has been overrepresented in the Adverts 250 Project throughout 2019.

In addition to examining what advertisements from 1769 tell us about commerce, politics, and everyday life in the era of the imperial crisis, it is important to realize how the methodology of the project shapes which advertisements receive attention. Despite the relatively small number of advertisements in the Essex Gazette and the Georgia Gazette, perhaps it is beneficial that the methodology forces their inclusion in the project. Otherwise, it might be tempting to turn almost exclusively to newspapers published in the largest and busiest port cities, newspapers that overflowed with advertising. Some particular newspapers may be overrepresented in the project, but overall their inclusion insures a balance between newspapers published in major ports and their counterparts in smaller towns.

December 19

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

Connecticut Courant (December 19, 1768).

“SAMUEL BROOME, and Co. have the following GOODS … at their Store in NEW-YORK.”

By the time it made its final appearance in the December 19, 1768, edition, regular readers of Hartford’s Connecticut Courant would have been quite familiar with Samuel Broome and Company’s lengthy advertisement for an assortment of goods available at their store in New York. Over the past five months the advertisement had appeared frequently, replicating its publication schedule in New Haven’s Connecticut Journal.

Broome and Company’s first inserted their advertisement in the August 1 edition of the Connecticut Courant. It then ran in alternating issues, appearing again on August 15 and 29, September 12 and 26, October 10 and 24, November 7 and 21, and December 5 and 19. It did not run on August 8 and 22, September 5 and 19, October 3, 17, and 31, November 14 and 28, and December 12. I have assumed that this advertisement did run on August 15, but not on October 31. Extant copies of those issues were not available to consult, but this would match the schedule throughout the five months the advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Courant. Furthermore, a similar schedule in the Connecticut Journal strongly suggests that Broome and Company’s advertisement did indeed consistently run in alternating issues for the final five months of 1768.

This advertising campaign was ambitious and probably expensive, not just for its frequency but also due to the length of the advertisement. It filled the better part of two out of three columns in the Connecticut Courant, dominating any page on which appeared. Similarly, it filled an entire column in the Connecticut Journal, a newspaper that featured only two columns per page. Despite its length, Broome and Company indicated that they also sold “many other articles too tedious to mention.”

Broome and Company also placed the same advertisement in the New-York Journal. Most merchants and shopkeepers in New York opted to advertise in one or more of the newspapers printed in that city, trusting the extensive circulation of those newspapers to distribute their commercial notices to towns and villages far beyond the city. Broome and Company took a more calculated approach to cultivating new customers and enlarging their share of the market. Their persistent advertising in newspaper published in Hartford and New Haven likely helped to establish greater name recognition on a regional level.

November 11

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

Nov 11 - 11:11:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 11, 1768).

“SAMUEL BROOME, and Co. Have the following Goods to Sell.”

Samuel Broome and Company’s advertisement for an assortment of goods they sold “on the most reasonable Terms, at their Store in NEW-YORK” probably became quite familiar to readers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy in 1768. The advertisement appeared regularly during the last five months of the year, though on a rather unique publication schedule.

After first appearing in the August 5 edition, Broome and Company’s advertisement ran again on August 19, September 2, 16, and 30, October 14, November 11 and 25, and December 9 and 23. It did not appear on August 12 and 26, September 9 and 23, October 7 and 21, November 18, and December 2, 16, and 30. (Any extant copies of the October 28 and November 4 editions have not been digitized so they have not been consulted in compiling this calendar. Presumably the advertisement ran on October 28 but not on November 4.) In other words, Broome and Company’s advertisement alternated issues from August through December before being discontinued.

Most eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements ran in consecutive issues for a set period. Why did Broome and Company adopt a schedule that deviated from standard practices? Several factors may have played a role. The partners may have considered the expense of advertising weekly prohibitive. They may have also wished to prolong their advertising campaign while maintaining a particular budget. Staggering their advertisements allowed them to do so. The publishers of the Connecticut Journal may have also played a role in Broome and Company’s decision. Compared to other advertisements in that newspaper, their notice was extensive. It usually filled and entire column (though sometimes the compositor managed to squeeze a short advertisement above or below). Unlike most other newspapers published in 1768, the Connecticut Journal featured only two columns per page. That meant that Broome and Company’s advertisement that filled an entire column actually comprised one-eighth of any standard four-page issue. Without sufficient news and additional advertising to regularly justify a supplement, he publishers may have determined that Broome and Company’s advertisement so dominated the pages of the Connecticut Journal that it could not appear every week.

Whatever factors contributed to the unique publication schedule, Broome and Company inserted their advertisement in the Connecticut Journal a total of eleven times. By the end of December, readers almost certainly recognized it at a glance. They published the same advertisement in the New-York Journal, but it did not achieve the same visibility in a publication that featured far more advertisements, many of them of a length that rivaled Broome and Company’s notice.

March 6

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

Mar 6 - 3:4:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 4, 1768).

To be sold on Tuesday the 8th of March … A Very valuable PLANTATION.”

Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project have likely noticed that six days of the week the project features an advertisement originally published 250 years ago that day but once a week it instead features an advertisement from 250 years ago that week. This reflects the publication schedule for newspapers in the colonial era. With the exception of the occasional supplements and extraordinary issues, printers distributed their newspapers once a week. Printers, however, chose which day of the week to publish their newspapers. Nearly half chose Monday, with a fair number also opting for Thursday or Friday. The rest selected Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, but none published their newspaper on Sunday.

That explains why the Adverts 250 Project sometimes examines an advertisement published 250 years ago that week, but only once a week. For the past two years such entries have fallen on Wednesdays because those were the days that corresponded to the dates (rather than days of the week) of publication. In other words, consider this chart:

  • A date that falls on a Wednesday in 2018 fell on a Sunday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Thursday in 2018 fell on a Monday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Friday in 2018 fell on a Tuesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Saturday in 2018 fell on a Wednesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Sunday in 2018 fell on a Thursday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Monday in 2018 fell on a Friday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Tuesday in 2018 fell on a Saturday in 1768.

This held true for the first two months of 2018, but not after March 1. Why not? The year 1768 was a leap year. It included an extra day, February 29, that does not occur in 2018. Since February 28, 1768, fell on a Sunday, the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project conveniently treated February 28 and February 29 as a single day last week. Today is the first day that the shift caused by the leap day becomes readily apparent, especially for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project since it will no longer republish advertisements on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays. Starting today, the revised publication chart looks like this:

  • A date that falls on a Tuesday in 2018 fell on a Sunday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Wednesday in 2018 fell on a Monday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Thursday in 2018 fell on a Tuesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Friday in 2018 fell on a Wednesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Saturday in 2018 fell on a Thursday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Sunday in 2018 fell on a Friday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Monday in 2018 fell on a Saturday in 1768.

This version will be accurate for the next two years. At the end of February 2020, however, it will need to be updated again. Actually, it will revert to the previous chart since 2020 will be a leap year. February 2020 will have a leap day that February 1770 did not, causing the shift to move one day in the other direction.

Both charts make it clear that the Adverts 250 Project is an On This Date project rather than an On This Day project. The analysis of the advertisements only occasionally acknowledges the day of the week that they were originally published, usually to provide context concerning eighteenth-century printing practices. This consideration of the distinction between the date and the day demonstrates yet another way that modern readers do not experience eighteenth-century newspapers in the same way as the original readers since any association with a particular day of the week has been largely removed in most instances. A unit of time that seems quite natural in 2018 – such as Sunday, March 4 through Saturday, March 10 – would have been deemed completely artificial in 1768 – Friday, March 4 through Thursday, March 10. That being said, such a week would have made perfect sense to the printers of the Connecticut Journal, the New-Hampshire Gazette, the New-London Gazette, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette since they published their newspapers on Fridays. For almost everyone else, a week that ran Friday through Thursday would have seemed arbitrary. Most colonial newspapers included both the day and date of publication in their mastheads, but the former disappears from most citation practices. The day of publication is not imperative in creating a unique temporal identifier for specific issues of newspapers, but overlooking it completely does erase part of the experience of producing and reading newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

January 17

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

Jan 17 - 1:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Detail from Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 14, 1767).


No advertisements were published in colonial America on January 17, 1768. That was because January 17, 1768, was a Sunday, the one day of the week that no newspapers were published in any of the colonies. The methodology for the Adverts 250 Project allows for selecting an advertisement printed earlier in the week if none were published on a particular date; I’ll comment more on today’s featured advertisement after establishing the context for its publication. Due to the time, labor, and technology involved in printing in the 1760s, printers issued their newspapers just once a week, though they sometimes circulated a supplement or an extraordinary later in the week if circumstances merited a special publication of momentous news that demanded immediate coverage. That situation occurred with increased regularity as the imperial crisis intensified in the late 1760s and 1770s.

Even though newspapers published only one issue each week, printers staggered their distribution dates. In January 1768, Monday was the most popular date with at least ten newspapers, including four in Boston, made available at the beginning of the week. Only two newspapers, however, appeared on Tuesdays, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in Charleston and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The Georgia Gazette was the sole newspaper published on Wednesdays, followed by five newspapers, including the Pennsylvania Gazette, on Thursdays. Four newspapers, three from New England and the other from South Carolina, appeared on Fridays. The week ended with the publication of the Providence Gazette, conveniently timed to reprint news from the Boston papers as soon as they arrived at the printing office. This accounting includes only those currently available in databases of digitized newspapers. It overlooks only a couple of publications. Their inclusion would not alter the pattern of publishing most newspapers at the beginning of the week, especially in the largest port cities.

For most newspapers, the weekly issue consisted of four pages, a single broadsheet printed on both sides and folded in half. Between news items and advertising, however, some newspapers consistently had sufficient content to publish a two-page half sheet supplement for distribution with the regular issue. Often advertisements filled the entire supplement. Rather than select a particular advertisement to feature today, I have instead chosen one of those supplements filled with advertisements, the Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette. Advertisements filled two of the four pages of the standard issue for January 14, 1767, as well as the entire supplement. Overall, advertising comprised two-thirds of the content that week.

David Hall and William Sellers frequently issued an advertising supplement with the standard issue, doing so with such regularity that it practically became a standard feature of the weekly publication. Subscribers were likely more surprised not to receive a supplement overflowing with advertisements than to discover one accompanying the newest edition. Although newspapers in Boston, Charleston, and New York sometimes issued such supplements, the Pennsylvania Gazette did so with the greatest consistency in the late 1760s. This resulted in part from the size of Philadelphia, but also from the attention that the Pennsylvania Gazette’s former proprietor, Benjamin Franklin, devoted to developing newspaper advertising. Among his other accomplishments, Franklin is considered the “Father of American Advertising.” It seems appropriate on his birthday to feature an advertising supplement from the newspaper that he cultivated into the most prominent American publication of the eighteenth century. Advertising, especially the revenue from advertising that allowed for prolonged and widespread distribution, aided in making the Pennsylvania Gazette so influential.