October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Champlin Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).

“To be SOLD, by CHRISTOPHER CHAMPLIN.”

Regular readers of the Newport Gazette would not have been surprised to see an advertisement from Christopher Champlin on the first page of the October 26, 1767, edition. Champlin regularly turned to his local newspaper to promote the “neat Assortment of European and India GOODS” he imported and sold. Readers may have been surprised, however, to encounter a second advertisement from Champlin on the third page. That deviated from standard marketing practices prior to the American Revolution. Given that newspapers usually consisted of only four pages, advertisers rarely inserted more than one commercial notice in an issue. Was Champlin attempting to gain even more attention for his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Ball” by saturating the Newport Gazette with his advertisements? Did he even intend to publish more than one advertisement that day?

While it is possible that Champlin experimented with running multiple advertisements simultaneously, this situation may have instead resulted from decisions made by the printer in the production of that week’s issue. Note the date on the advertisement on the third page: October 26, 1767. It corresponded exactly to the date of that issue. Compare it to the date on the advertisement on the first page: September 14, 1767. Champlin previously placed this notice, intending that it run for several weeks.

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).

Now consider the production process for a weekly newspaper. Printers created the standard four-page newspapers of the colonial period by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half, transforming a single sheet into four pages. This required printing the first and fourth pages on one side at one time and the second and third pages on the other side at another time. This meant that the material on one side of the sheet could have been older, the type could have been set earlier, than the content on the other side.

The first and fourth pages included two standard parts of any issue, the masthead on the first page and the colophon on the last. Except for updating the date and issue number in the masthead, these items did not change from week to week. In the October 26 issue, advertisements that previously appeared in earlier issues filled the fourth page. The type had been set well in advance and simply reused. The first page had other advertisements that continued from previous issues, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. The first page also had two excerpts reprinted from other colonial newspapers, one from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the other from the New-Hampshire Gazette, dated October 16. All the material on the first and fourth pages could have been prepared and printed early in the week.

The printer likely selected the contents of the second and third pages later in the week, setting the type and printing those pages after the first and fourth pages had been determined. The second page featured news “By several Vessels from London, arrived at Philadelphia and Boston” and then disseminated to other colonies. Given the amount of time it took for ships to cross the Atlantic, the printer likely waited as long as possible to choose the contents of the second page in order to publish the most recent news. The third page had news items from other colonies in the Middle Atlantic and New England, many of them dated after the previous issue of the Newport Gazette. This news had only arrived in the past week. Several advertisements also appeared on the third page, including Champlin’s advertisement dated October 26 and two others dated October 24.

Careful consideration of the contents of the October 26 edition of the Newport Mercury suggests that Champlin may not have intended to run multiple advertisements in that issue. By the time he submitted his new advertisement the printer might have already printed the first and fourth pages, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. Champlin may not even have paid for that advertisement; the printer may have included it as filler in order to complete the page. The shopkeeper certainly wanted to promote his new merchandise he had “Just imported.” Right before the newspaper went to press, he submitted a new advertisement to appear alongside the most recent news.

Christopher Champlin may have attempted an innovative advertising campaign by placing more than one advertisement in a single issue of the Newport Mercury. Taking into consideration the production process for colonial newspapers, however, suggests that this was an accidental rather than intentional aspect of Champlin’s marketing efforts. His advertisements must be considered in the larger context of where they appeared on the page and within the newspaper.

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