What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Said EVITT prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”
At first glance, many readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that William Evitt’s notice in the January 3, 1771, edition was yet another advertisement for an almanac. Such advertisements were common at the turn of the new year as printers attempted to sell surplus copies not purchased before the new year began. David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of both the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, inserted their own advertisement on the previous page. The prologue to Evitt’s advertisement suggested that he would devote the entire notice to describing the contents of “THE UNIVERSAL and POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACKS, for the year 1771.” Although he did promote those two publications, as well as “The GENTLEMAN and CITIZEN’S POCKET ALMANACK” with its “greater variety of useful lists, tables, &c. &c. &c. than any other almanack printed in America,” Evitt addressed a variety of other endeavors in the second half of his advertisement. He informed customers that he sold books, stationery, and patent medicines, like many other printers, but he also carried other merchandise, including stockings, handkerchiefs, sieves, brushes, soap, and common grocery items.
Near the conclusion of his advertisement, Evitt returned to goods and services more closely associated with printers. He advised prospective clients that he “prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.” In other words, he did job printing. Jobs included advertisements, broadsides (today known as posters), circular letters, and a vast array of printed blanks (or forms). Clients submitted copy or, in the case of blanks, chose from among popular options, then Evitt set the type and produced the specified number of copies. Evitt did not elaborate on the forms of advertising he printed, but they likely included handbills, catalogs, trade cards, bill heads, broadsides, and circular letters. He produced them quickly, though the process of manually operating the press meant that he could produce only a limited quantity in that time. Still, most orders were likely relatively small, in the range of a couple hundred copies. Evitt considered job printing, especially advertisements, lucrative enough and potentially steady enough to merit mentioning alongside his other enterprises. In emphasizing the speed of production, he suggested that he competed to provide a service already in demand. It is quite likely that handbills, broadsides, and other advertisements that came off his press have been lost over time. Evitt’s newspaper advertisement testifies to a more extensive circulation of other forms of advertising, each of them more ephemeral than newspapers systematically collected and preserved since the eighteenth century. While newspaper advertising was by far the most common form of marketing in early America, colonists likely encountered other formats more regularly than the numbers of those that survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest on their own.