March 21

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 21 - 3:20:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 20, 1766).

This found this advertisement on the second page. It intrigued me because of the goods described and the layout. From a marketing point of view, I wonder if William Taylor intentionally had the printer put the “Choice St. Georges WINE” at the top in the largest print because that was his best selling item. Wine was a very common drink for the every day as was the ale mention at the bottom of the advertisement. The ale came from Liverpool, England, as did many of the goods on the ships that supplied Taylor and other shopkeepers.

As I was scanning the advertisements the phrase “Ship Chandlers Ware” caught my attention and made me keep reading the other items Taylor sold. A ship chandler is “a person who deals in cordage, canvas, and other supplies for ships.” With Boston being a major seaport, much of the population relied on the shipping, importing, exporting, and shipbuilding industries. Other materials such as the nails, hooks, hemp, and cod and mackerel lines would also been in high demand for day-to-day usage in colonial America, but also in the fishing industry. It makes sense that William Taylor ran his shop on “the Long- Wharff,” where many similar businesses operated.



Elizabeth notes that today’s advertisement appeared on the second page of the Massachusetts Gazette. This detail gains in significance when examining the customary layout of this publication.

In the eighteenth century American printers tended to take different approaches when it came to the placement of advertisements within broadsheet newspapers folded in half to create four-page issues. Some printers tended to place advertisements on the first and final pages, which would have been printed with one impression (and, after the ink dried, flipped over to print the second and third pages in a single impression). In such instances, the first and last pages were printed earlier in the week; the “freshest advices foreign and domestick” were set in type and printed on the second and third pages later in the week. These seems counterintuitive to modern readers accustomed to headlines for major news stories appearing just below a newspaper’s masthead on the front page.

Other printers relegated advertisements to the final page. If their publication carried enough advertisements, they placed advertisements on the third and fourth pages, which, as explained above, would have been printed at different times during the week. Given that advertisements often repeated for multiple weeks, many would have been set in type already. Although the advertisements appeared together, they were not otherwise organized or “classified” by type. Printers who utilized this system sometimes placed short advertisements earlier in the newspaper as a means of filling space at the end of the final column on a page.

Whatever method they used, colonial printers tended to be fairly consistent from issue to issue. Richard Draper and Samuel Draper took a bit of a different approach. Like the latter method, the fourth page of the Massachusetts Gazette was often covered with advertisements exclusively, but the other three pages were peppered with advertisements. Those notices did not always appear in the final column of a page or at the bottom of a column. They sometimes appeared first or before news items or interspersed with news items. In that regard, the Drapers printed a newspaper that more closely resembled modern publications than many others: it featured both a separate section (page) for advertisements as well as additional advertisements alongside other content.

Such was the case for the Massachusetts Gazette on March 20, 176. The Drapers devoted the fourth page to advertising as usual, but a small number of short advertisements appeared at the end of the first and third columns on the first page. The second page featured news items, but only in the third column. The advertisement Elizabeth selected appeared in the first column of the second page. It would have been one of the first things a reader noticed when opening the newspaper to find more news.

What explains the Drapers’ decisions about layout? Was this mere expediency and efficiency? Or were they experimenting with different formats as a means of delivering advertisements to readers and potential consumers?

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