What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A HORSE stolen!”
Among the new advertisements that ran in the January 7, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, one proclaimed “A HORSE stolen!” Following that headline, the advertisement included further details, such as a description of the horse (“14 Hands and a half high, well set, 9 Years old, a dark Sorrel, intermixed with some white Hairs, and has some Spots under the Saddle”) and the date and time it had been stolen (“Tuesday Evening, the 27thof December”). The thief had made off with the saddle, bridle, and saddlebags as well. Finally, the advertisement offered two rewards: five dollars for finding and returning the horse or ten dollars for capturing the thief along with locating the horse.
While most of contents of the advertisement were standard for the genre, the lively headline, including the exclamation point, was not. The headline did, however, echo the headline in another advertisement in the same issue, the “Once more!” that introduced an estate notice placed by executors Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold. That advertisement also ran in the previous issue. Perhaps Samuel Danielson, Jr., had seen Olney and Arnold’s estate notice. Perhaps it had influenced him to devise a bold headline for his own advertisement. The signature at the end of Danielson’s advertisement indicated that he composed it on January 5 (even though the theft took place on December 27). He certainly could have seen the contents of the December 31 edition, including Olney and Arnold’s “Once more!” notice, before composing the copy for his own advertisement.
Danielson’s “A HORSE stolen!” headline suggests that eighteenth-century readers noted innovations in advertising and that some advertisers adopted those innovations when placing their own notices in the public prints. Yet they did so unevenly. Many other advertisers continued to place notices that deployed their names as the headlines or did not feature headlines at all. Notable for their innovation in the eighteenth century, headlines like “Once more!” and “A HORSE stolen!” were precursors of a common strategy later incorporated into newspaper advertisements in the nineteenth century.
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE Publisher of the GAZETTE, will esteem it as a Favour.”
Special circumstances prompt me to deviate from the usual “featured advertisement” format today. On this day 250 years ago William Rind published the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, as promised in an advertisement featured last week. This presents an opportunity to look at advertising as it appeared from the very start of a publication. Considering that colonial newspapers tended to make any profit from advertising, not from subscriptions, I was curious to examine to what extent advertising appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette.
Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” reprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766) and noted when it also appeared in the Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766). It quite likely appeared in many other newspapers in April and May 1766. The original and the reprints in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Newport Mercury all included this final line: “P.S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Although this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” did not generate any revenue for Rind, it was valuable content that demonstrated to readers that they could depend on the printer’s connections to deliver news of interest from throughout the colonies.
The next two advertisements that appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette took a distinctly partisan tone, making them appropriate complements to the “Advertisement Extraordinary.” In one, Francis Lightfoot Lee, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned friends and acquaintances against picking up letters addressed to him at the post office because “he is determined never willingly to pay a Farthing of any TAX laid upon this COUNTRY, in an UNCONSTITUTIONAL MANNER.”
The other advertisement with a partisan valence marketed a pamphlet that examined ‘THE PROPRIETY OF IMPOSING TAXES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, For the Purpose of raising a REVENUE, by ACT of PARLIAMENT.” Although “LATELY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD by WILLIAM RIND,” these two descriptions need to be separated from each other. Rind likely sold a pamphlet that had recently been published by another printer. This same advertisement, except for the information about where it was sold, previously appeared in a variety of newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic. Either the pamphlet’s printer provided printers and booksellers with copy to place their own advertisements or Rind borrowed the copy from other newspapers (just as he had done with the “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.” Either way, the newspaper did not generate any revenue from this advertisement; Rind inserted it to advance his other branches of his printing and bookselling business. (This calls into question whether Lee paid to insert his advertisement, dated a month earlier, into Rind’s Virginia Gazette or if Rind reprinted it from another publication.)
Daniel Baxter’s notice (dated May 12) about a stray or stolen horse was certainly a new advertisement. Similar advertisements appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies. The misfortune of the advertisers financially benefited the printers who published their advertisements.
Rind inserted one more advertisement of his own, an abbreviated version of his request for “Gentlemen who have obliged him by taking in Subscriptions” to return the lists to him as soon as possible. A more extensive version appeared a week earlier in the competing Virginia Gazette.
Finally, the colophon encouraged readers to become subscribers and presented the terms for advertising in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3 s. the First Week, and 2 s. each Time after: And long Ones in Proportion.” Rind adopted a price structure that exactly replicated that of the Virginia Gazette. He didn’t seek to undercut the competition (doing so might not have allowed for any profit), but he also attempted to make advertising in his newspaper as attractive as possible.
Even though Rind had previously advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he intended to begin publishing his own newspaper, very little advertising appeared in the first issue. That makes sense since not even Rind seemed certain of how many people had signed up as subscribers. Potential advertisers likely waited to see how successful Rind’s Virginia Gazette would be, delaying decisions to purchase advertising space until they had a better sense that doing so would likely produce a satisfactory return on their investment. For his part, Rind inserted enough advertising to assure others that their marketing efforts would not stand alone in his newspaper.