November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:12:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 12, 1768).

“To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE.”

When John Carter assumed control of the Providence Gazette as the sole publisher on November 12, 1768, the colophon dropped Sarah Goddard’s name and slightly revised the description of services available at the printing office. “Subscriptions, Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence, &c. are received for this Paper.” Carter added articles, indicated his willingness to accept news items from readers and others beyond the network of printers and correspondents that previously supplied content for the newspaper. In addition, he expanded on the previous description of the printing work done at the office. Where Goddard and Carter had proclaimed that they did job printing “with Care and Expedition,” Carter now stated that he did that work “in a neat and correct manner, with Fidelity and Expedition.” This may not have been commentary on work previously produced at the printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” but rather assurances that Carter took his new responsibilities seriously now that the partnership with Goddard had been dissolved and he alone ran the printing office.

In addition to updating the colophon, Carter placed a notice “To the PUBLIC” on the first page of his inaugural issue. He offered a brief history of the Providence Gazette following its revival after the repeal of the Stamp Act, an expensive undertaking given that the newspaper had difficulty attracting sufficient subscribers. He thanked those friends, subscribers, and employers who had supported the Providence Gazette and the printing office over the years, but also pledged “that nothing shall ever be wanting, on his Part, to merit a Continuance of their Approbation.”

Carter also took the opportunity to assert the primary purpose of the newspaper, the principle that justified its continuation even when expenses overwhelmed revenues. “To plead and defend the glorious Cause of Liberty,” Carter trumpeted, “and the inestimable Blessings derived from thence to Mankind … the Publisher trusts has been one grand Design of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE: This, with whatever else may contribute to the Welfare of America, in general, or the Colony of Rhode-Island in particular, will continue to be the principal Ends which it is intended to promote.” Carter further indicated that the newspaper daily increased its number of subscribers, suggesting that readers in Providence and beyond endorsed its purpose and recognized the necessity of a newspaper that kept them apprised of current events and attempts to inhibit the liberty of the colonists. Although it took the form of an editorial, Carter’s address to the public was also an advertisement intended to boost his business. He leveraged politics and patriotism in his effort to increase readership of the Providence Gazette, arguing that the press played a vital role in maintaining liberty.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:9:1768 South Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (May 9, 1768).

“PROPOSALS For Publishing by SUBSCRIPTION, ALL THE ACTS and ORDINANCES.”

John Rutledge placed a particular sort of advertisement in the May 9, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette: a subscription notice for a proposed book that had not yet been printed. This was a common practice among printers and publishers in eighteenth-century America. It allowed them to promote a book in advance, yet also gauge interest to determine if publication would yield profits. Buyers made commitments in advance to purchase proposed books, becoming “subscribers” to the enterprise. Not all subscription notices yielded publications.

Rutledge proposed publishing the acts and ordinances passed by the “GENERAL ASSEMBLY of this Province.” In a separate subscription notice in the same issue, he also proposed publishing a related work consisting of statutes passed in Great Britain “Which are expressly made of Force in this Province, by ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY.” Publication of one, however, was not contingent on publication of the other.

To encourage as many subscribers as possible, Rutledge described several attractive aspects of the proposed book. In addition to the acts and ordinances, it would also include an index, marginal notes, and references to aid readers in navigating and understanding the contents. Rutledge also commented on the material aspects of the text, noting that it would be “printed on good Paper, with a fair new Type.”

The publisher also warned that interested readers needed to reserve their copy in advance rather than assume that they could purchase a surplus copy after the book went to press. “No more Copies will be printed,” he declared, “than shall be subscribed for by the first Day of November next, when the Subscriptions will be closed.” Furthermore, “if a sufficient Number be not then obtained, the Work will not be put to the Press.” Rutledge allowed six months for subscribers to commit to paying “Thirty Pounds Currency” for the proposed work, but it was an all-or-nothing proposition. He would not move forward unless he had enough subscribers and he would not print additional copies. Rutledge cultivated a sense of urgency by suggesting that prospective customers would miss out if they lacked the necessary resolution to subscribe promptly.

Rutledge advertised a product that did not yet exist. Doing so allowed him to assess the market as well as incite demand. The minimal cost for inserting subscription notices in the South-Carolina Gazette presented an alternative to publishing a book that ended up being a poor investment.