September 20

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

New-York Journal (September 20, 1772).

“Hoping they will leave the odd Pence at the Place, / Where the Papers are left for them by CASE.”

Three newspapers printed in New York served the city and the rest of the colony in the early 1770s.  Samuel Inslee and Anthony Car printed the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, leasing it from Samuel Parker.  Hugh Gaine printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, while John Holt printed the New-York Journal.  In addition, Alexander Robertson and James Robertson published the Albany Gazette for a brief period in the early 1770s, establishing the newspaper on November 21, 1771, and distributing the last known issue on August 3, 1772.  Post riders distributed those newspapers to subscribers throughout the colony.

Newspaper subscribers notoriously asked for credit and fell behind in making payments, causing printers to publish frequent requests for them to settle accounts or face legal action.  Many of the subscribers to the newspapers published in New York apparently failed to pay the post riders either.  In the fall of 1772, a man who identified himself only as Case sent a request to Holt’s printing office: “Please to insert the following Lines in your next, and oblige the Albany Post Rider.”  Those lines consisted of a short poem, entitled “The Albany Post Rider’s Representation,” that pleaded with subscribers to pay for delivery of their newspapers.

Case’s poem was not great literature, but it made his case in a manner that readers likely found entertaining … or at least noticed.  “AS true as my Name is CASE, / I find Cash very scarce,” the poem began with a couplet that did not quite rhyme.  That did not deter the post rider from continuing: “Therefore take it not unkind, / If I put my Customers in mind, / I have rode Post one Year, / Which has cost me very dear.”  Case asserted that he made sacrifices to carry the news “Which make me stand in need of pay, / Without the least Delay: / From such Gentlemen indebted to me, / For bringing them their News to read and see.”  He concluded with instructions in the form of a suggestion, “Hoping they will leave the odd Pence at the Place, / Where the Papers are left for them by CASE.”

This verse did not rival the weekly entry in “POET’S CORNER” that appeared in the upper left corner of the final page of Holt’s New-York Journal, but it did distinguish Case’s advertisements from others.  Colonizers sometimes resorted to poems to enhance advertisements placed for a variety of purposes, including goods for sale and runaway indentured servants.  They experimented with advertising copy beyond writing straightforward notices that merely made announcements.

March 7

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

Mar 7 - 3:7:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (March 7, 1767).

“A fresh Assortment of English and West-India Goods.”

The March 7, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette included several advertisements already familiar to subscribers and other readers, including commercial notices from Joseph and William Russellat the Sign of the Golden Eagle” and Benjamin and Edward Thurber at “the Signs of the Bunch of Grapes and Brazen Lion” as well as notices inserted by the printers. One of those peddled printed blanks and another encouraged readers to provide the Providence Paper Manufactory with “Linen Rags of any Sort.”

Among these familiar notices, newer advertisements from Knight Dexter, Samuel Chace, Nathan Angel, Nathaniel Jacobs, and the Proprietors of the Providence Library appeared. Not all of these were published for the first time in that issue, but each advertiser had only recently joined the Russells and the Thurbers in turning to the Providence Gazette to inform customers and patrons of the goods and services they provided. The dearth of advertising Sarah Goddard and Company experienced during the winter of 1766 and 1767 had been disrupted, at least temporarily. Guest curators from my Revolutionary America course will examine most of these newer advertisements, but Nathaniel Jacobs’ notice receives consideration today.

In just twelve lines, Jacobs pursued two goals. The first half of his advertisement did not market goods or services at all. Instead, it called on former customers who bought on credit and had not yet paid their bills “to make speedy Payment, that he may avoid the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them.” Shopkeepers, merchants, printers, and others regularly placed such notices in eighteenth-century newspapers. Extensive and generous credit practically made them a necessity. However gently or politely stated, readers knew that “the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them” amounted to more than posting letters or knocking on doors. Jacobs, like so many of his counterparts, was prepared to sue.

It was only in the second half of the notice that the shopkeeper turned to attracting customers for the merchandise he currently stocked. Other than naming “best French Indigo” and three popular beverages (coffee, tea, and chocolate), he offered few details beyond promising “a fresh Assortment of English and West-India Goods.” Still, in making allusions to consumer choice among that “Assortment” as well as pledging to “sell as cheap for Cash as any person in Providence” Jacobs utilized some of the most common strategies for marketing his wares even though his advertisement was relatively short compared to many others.