What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Advertisements taking up so much Room, the several Articles intended for this Page are thrown into a SUPPLEMENT.”
This notice appeared at the bottom of the first column on the second page of the October 8, 1767, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. Richard Draper followed a standard procedure among eighteenth-century printers: when faced with too much content to fit into the allotted space he opted to distribute a two-page supplement along with the regular issue. This happened fairly frequently, especially in major port cities. Higher concentrations of residents meant greater numbers of advertisements to squeeze into each week’s four-page issue, sometimes yielding supplements devoted almost exclusively to advertising. The October 8 supplement, however, consisted primarily of news items as a result of “The Advertisements taking up so much Room” in the regular issue.
Draper and the Massachusetts Gazette did not have a higher number of advertisers than usual. Instead, advertisements placed by two local shopkeepers occupied significant amounts of space. Shopkeeper Jolley Allen continued publication of his lengthy list-style advertisement that filled two entire columns on the final page. Not to be outdone, bookseller John Mein commenced a new full-page advertisement for his “grand Assortment of the most MODERN BOOKS In every Branch of Polite Literature Arts and Sciences,” the one that he intended to launch in the Boston-Gazette three days earlier. That advertisement combined a previous advertisement for “A NEW EDITION of Dilworth’s Spelling Book” (set apart almost as a distinct advertisement in the lower right corner) and descriptions of two other books followed by a list of other books and stationery supplies in stock. The compositor created four narrow columns instead of the usual three slightly wider ones, resulting in a new look for that particular page compared to the rest of the newspaper.
Overall, just two advertisements accounted for nearly half of the October 8 issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, making the supplement practically a necessity. This happened as a result of both the printer and the advertisers experimenting with the format for newspaper notices. Although colonial newspapers published full-page advertisements sporadically in the 1760s, having an issue dominated by only two advertisements would have been an extraordinary event for readers, one that would have garnered even more notice among potential customers for John Mein and Jolley Allen.