August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:30:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 30, 1766).

“JUST IMPORTED … BY THOMPSON AND ARNOLD …”

“Still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS …”

“The Partnership … being now expired …”

“TO BE SOLD … A FARM containing seventy acres of good land …”

“READY MONEY given for Linen Rags of any Sort …”

Aug 31 - 8:23:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 23, 1766).

Rather than examine a single advertisement, today’s entry explores the day-to-day operations of the printing trade by examining the advertisements and news items that appeared in the final pages of two consecutive issues of the Providence Gazette: August 23 and 30, 1766. At a glance, these two pages look nearly indistinguishable from each other, thanks in part to the way that Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement draws the eye. But it is not merely the repetition of that particular advertisement that creates the perception of two nearly identical pages. In addition, all five advertisements in the August 30 issue were repeated from in the same configuration that they appeared in the August 23 issue. Finally, the Providence Gazette’s colophon runs across the bottom of each page. New content appeared only in the first column: an extract from the Gentleman’s Magazine and a report about a trial and execution in New Jersey had been replaced with reports of bandits in western Massachusetts and slaves attaching their masters in New Hampshire.

Here we see that printing advertisement offered several advantages to the men and women who printed newspapers. Not only did these notices generate revenue, once set in type they also streamlined the production of newspapers from week to week. In an age when all type was set by hand, printers benefited from inserting advertisements for multiple weeks. In most instances individual advertisements moved around the page, though it is clear from their format that the type had not been reset. Today we see a more extreme example: none of the advertisements moved at all. For the ease of the printer, they likely stayed in the form, reducing the amount of time and labor necessary to produce the new issue.

The following week the first column of the final page of the Providence Gazette once again included new content, as did the second and third columns on the upper third of the page, but Thompson and Arnold’s oversized advertisement had been shifted to the bottom. The printer once again benefited from reprinting content that subscribers expected to see more than once in their newspapers. At the same time, the printer realized that she could not be too repetitive or risk alienating readers who also demanded new content and desired the “freshest advices, foreign and domestic.”

August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:9:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 9, 1766).

“READY MONEY given for Line Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk.”

Printers regularly inserted calls for rags (intended to be used in making paper) in their newspapers, but this appeal was much more extensive than most that appeared during the eighteenth-century.

The proprietors of the Providence Paper Manufactory accepted “Linen Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk.” Furthermore, they listed the prices they would give for each item, even dividing the rags between those “fine than Oznabrigs” and others “coarser than Oznabrigs.” In the process, they also used terminology that would have been familiar to eighteenth-century readers. Colonists would have readily recognized “Oznabrigs” as a type of coarse and plain fabric and “Junk” as old rope that was beyond its usefulness.

The advertisement listed several locations where readers could exchange “Linen Rags of any Sort, old Sail Cloth and Junk” for “READY MONEY.” They could visit the printers or the proprietors of the “Paper Manufactory” in Providence as well as Jonathan Wilson in Newport or another printer, Benjamin Mecom, in New Haven.

Finally, the advertisement concluded with an interesting proposition for subscribers to the Providence Gazette. The rags, sail cloth, and junk could be exchanged for the newspaper itself, as payment “in lieu of Cash.” This established an interesting relationship between the printer of the Providence Gazette and subscribers who traded in their rags. Eventually those subscribers could expect those rags to be returned to them, transformed into linen paper with news and advertisements printed on it.

When it came to paper, the cycle of advertising and consumption in colonial America had a far reach. A colonist could see an advertisement for textiles and make a purchase. After using and wearing out those textiles, he or she could hand them over to the Providence Paper Manufactory or the printers of the Providence Gazette in exchange for more newspapers with additional advertisements for textiles that could be purchased to replace those that had been reduced to rags. At some point in the cycle, colonists could read advertisements for textiles they would purchase printed on linen paper made from textiles that had previously worn or possessed.