August 20

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

Essex Gazette (August 20, 1771).

“Strips of Paper are printed off, containing a List of every Rateable Article.”

Throughout the colonies, printers produced, advertised, and sold “BLANKS” or printed forms that facilitated legal and commercial transactions.  Samuel Hall listed a “general Assortment of Blanks … particularly fitted for the County of Essex” in the August 20, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Among that assortment, he reported that he had “neatly and accurately” printed “Apprentices Indentures,” “Bills of Lading,” “Powers of Attorney,” “Sheriffs Bail Bonds,” and “Justices Writs, Summonses, Executions and Recognizances.”  The template on each blank aided colonists attending to their affairs in the marketplace and the legal system.

In a separate advertisement, Hall promoted another product intended to assist colonists in meeting their obligations, in this case their obligation to enumerate their property for the purposes of paying taxes.  Hall described this helpful device as “Strips of Paper … containing a List of every Rateable Article” that contributed toward the overall tax assessment.  Like the blanks more familiar to many colonists, these “Strips of Paper” included empty space to fill in with the appropriate details; in this case, “to set down the Number and Value of Articles in the Columns left Blank for the Purpose.”  Such organization then made it that much easier to achieve a final tally.  Hall promoted these “Strips of Paper” in terms of the convenience they bestowed on prospective customers who might otherwise experience greater difficulty with this task.  He intended them “FOR the Easement of People, in preparing Lists of their Polls & Rateable Estates.”  Customers who used them did not need to worry about inadvertently overlooking anything that should be included, Hall suggested, since they could simply proceed down the list.

The printer conveniently placed this advertisement immediately below a notice to the “Inhabitants of the Town of SALEM” that they were “to give in to the Assessors Accounts of their Polls and Rateable Estates, according to the Tenor of an Act passed the last Session of the Great and General Court.”  That notice also threatened penalties for “every Person … refusing or neglecting to give into the Assessors in writing, and on Oath if required, a true Account of his or her Rateable Estate” by September 20.  Hall seized an opportunity to make current events work to his advantage in creating and marketing a product that made the assessment process easier and more convenient for prospective customers.