May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 23, 1766).

This brief advertisement for linseed oil may have caught readers’ attention because it filled a space that otherwise would have been a conspicuously blank space at the bottom of the last column on the third page of the May 23, 1766, issue of the New-London Gazette. The printer needed some sort of content to fill out the column. This advertisement served that purpose, plus it might have helped to generate additional revenue if readers opted to visit the “Printing-Office” to purchase linseed oil.

May 23 - 5:23:1766 entire page New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 23, 1766).

Did the printer intend to announce linseed oil for sale before setting type for this page? Might there have been plans for a longer and more detailed advertisement had space permitted? There’s no way to know. This brief advertisement might have been planned all along; it may not have merely been a convenient means of completing the page. After all, there were other ways to fill that space, including additional use of the ornamental type that provided a border for Nathan Douglass’s advertisement for “Choice Connecticut Rye and Indian Corn” or inserting slightly more space between the other advertisements on the page.

Just thirty-six characters and four spaces, this advertisement certainly took less time and effort to set than most others, especially the lengthy lists of merchandise that often filled the pages of colonial newspapers. Charming in its brevity, this advertisement demonstrates that eighteenth-century advertisements came in vastly different lengths and featured varying levels of sophistication.

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