What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE.”
Resorting to creative typography, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Journal managed to squeeze two additional advertisements into the November 17, 1768, edition by running them in the outer margins of the second and third pages. Running the length of the page, one proclaimed, “To be sold by WILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD—–BOHEA TEA by the Chest; PEPPER in Bales; CONGO TEA in Canisters; FRONTINIACK in Bottles; And a few Firkins of LARD.” The other advised readers that “BY AUTHORITY. By the American Company, at the Theatre in Southwark, TOMORROW, being FRIDAY, will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE. To which will be added, By Desire, a PANTOMIME ENTERTAINMENT.”
The placement of these advertisements likely increased their visibility by prompting curious readers to investigate what sort of content merited being printed in the margins. Rather than being easier to overlook because they did not appear in the regular columns with the rest of the content, these advertisements may have benefited from the novelty of their position on the page. The advertisement for grocery items sold by the Bradfords ran along a column of other advertisements, perhaps immediately suggesting that it was yet another commercial notice, but the advertisement for the performance at the theater in Southwark appeared on a page devoted exclusively to news. Some readers may have engaged with the advertisement to confirm whether it offered a continuation or clarification of any of the stories from Europe and elsewhere in the colonies printed on that page.
The length of these advertisements facilitated their placement in the margins, but another factor likely played a part in selecting the Bradfords’ notice for such treatment. The Bradfords were not merchants or shopkeepers. They were the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Reserving their advertisement for the margins did not indicate that its inclusion was an afterthought. Instead, it may have been a deliberate strategy to differentiate it from others in the issue. As printers, they exercised certain privileges when it came to the format of their newspaper. That enhanced their ability to participate in commercial activities beyond job printing and publishing the Pennsylvania Journal.