January 17

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

Jan 17 - 1:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Detail from Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (January 14, 1767).

“SUPPLEMENT to the PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE.”

No advertisements were published in colonial America on January 17, 1768. That was because January 17, 1768, was a Sunday, the one day of the week that no newspapers were published in any of the colonies. The methodology for the Adverts 250 Project allows for selecting an advertisement printed earlier in the week if none were published on a particular date; I’ll comment more on today’s featured advertisement after establishing the context for its publication. Due to the time, labor, and technology involved in printing in the 1760s, printers issued their newspapers just once a week, though they sometimes circulated a supplement or an extraordinary later in the week if circumstances merited a special publication of momentous news that demanded immediate coverage. That situation occurred with increased regularity as the imperial crisis intensified in the late 1760s and 1770s.

Even though newspapers published only one issue each week, printers staggered their distribution dates. In January 1768, Monday was the most popular date with at least ten newspapers, including four in Boston, made available at the beginning of the week. Only two newspapers, however, appeared on Tuesdays, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in Charleston and the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The Georgia Gazette was the sole newspaper published on Wednesdays, followed by five newspapers, including the Pennsylvania Gazette, on Thursdays. Four newspapers, three from New England and the other from South Carolina, appeared on Fridays. The week ended with the publication of the Providence Gazette, conveniently timed to reprint news from the Boston papers as soon as they arrived at the printing office. This accounting includes only those currently available in databases of digitized newspapers. It overlooks only a couple of publications. Their inclusion would not alter the pattern of publishing most newspapers at the beginning of the week, especially in the largest port cities.

For most newspapers, the weekly issue consisted of four pages, a single broadsheet printed on both sides and folded in half. Between news items and advertising, however, some newspapers consistently had sufficient content to publish a two-page half sheet supplement for distribution with the regular issue. Often advertisements filled the entire supplement. Rather than select a particular advertisement to feature today, I have instead chosen one of those supplements filled with advertisements, the Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette. Advertisements filled two of the four pages of the standard issue for January 14, 1767, as well as the entire supplement. Overall, advertising comprised two-thirds of the content that week.

David Hall and William Sellers frequently issued an advertising supplement with the standard issue, doing so with such regularity that it practically became a standard feature of the weekly publication. Subscribers were likely more surprised not to receive a supplement overflowing with advertisements than to discover one accompanying the newest edition. Although newspapers in Boston, Charleston, and New York sometimes issued such supplements, the Pennsylvania Gazette did so with the greatest consistency in the late 1760s. This resulted in part from the size of Philadelphia, but also from the attention that the Pennsylvania Gazette’s former proprietor, Benjamin Franklin, devoted to developing newspaper advertising. Among his other accomplishments, Franklin is considered the “Father of American Advertising.” It seems appropriate on his birthday to feature an advertising supplement from the newspaper that he cultivated into the most prominent American publication of the eighteenth century. Advertising, especially the revenue from advertising that allowed for prolonged and widespread distribution, aided in making the Pennsylvania Gazette so influential.

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