What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST IMPORTED, By JAMES DRUMMOND … a large and compleat Assortment of Goods.”
James Drummond obtained a privileged place for his advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Or did he? The answer depends on how readers engaged with the newspaper when it came into their possession. Drummond’s advertisement appeared in the third and final column on the first page, immediately under a headline that proclaimed “New Advertisement.” An ornamental device separated it from the news item that occupied most of the page, a lengthy “Extract of a Representation from the Board of Trade to his Majesty.” Drummond’s advertisement seemed to have a prime position on the page.
However, that may not necessarily have been the case. The vast majority of the advertising in the July 14 edition appeared on the third and fourth pages of the four-page issue. Although not arranged by any sort of classification on those two pages, dozens of advertisements were grouped together. Readers who perused any particular advertisement would have also noticed the others that surrounded it. From that perspective, Drummond’s notice was isolated from the others and may have received less attention as a result. Having his advertisement inserted in closer proximity to those placed by competitors may have worked to his benefit.
Where within the issue Drummond’s advertisement appeared probably depended on decisions made in the printing office. Given its length relative to the columns of news on the first page, the compositor likely saw an opportunity to fill most of the remaining space once the “Extract” had been set, adding one short real estate announcement to complete the page. For readers who approached this issue intensively – reading straight through from start to finish – Drummond’s advertisement would have been the first commercial notice (and one of the first items of any sort) encountered, making its placement a boon to the shopkeeper. On the other hand, some readers, especially those who did not examine every column of every page, may have overlooked Drummond’s advertisement because it was not included among its counterparts. The front page may not have always been the best place as far as colonial advertisers were concerned.