February 17

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

Feb 17 - 2:17:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 17, 1768).

“The Town Subscribers to this Gazette are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, inserted an advertisement concerning the distribution of the newspaper in the February 17, 1768, edition. “The Town Subscribers to this Gazette,” he announced, “are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.” Why did Johnston believe that this merited inclusion in the newspaper? Did it revise existing practices for getting his newspaper into the hands of subscribers? What does it reveal about the business practices of eighteenth-century printers, especially their methods for distributing newspapers?

Johnston’s short notice raises as many questions as it answers. It suggests that subscribers in Savannah previously enjoyed delivery service, but it does not indicate who made the deliveries. Johnston placed a help wanted advertisement in the same issue, promising “good encouragement” to an “honest, sober and industrious LAD” interested in becoming “an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS.” Perhaps another apprentice had formerly been responsible for delivering newspapers to subscribers in the relatively small port, just one of many duties assigned by the master. Maybe delivery service was only temporarily suspended until Johnston obtained a new apprentice.

That the notice addressed only the “Town Subscribers” suggests that subscribers who lived outside Savannah continued to receive their newspapers without change in the method of delivery. They may have been distributed via the post, but Johnston or his subscribers could have hired riders to carry the Georgia Gazette to readers in the hinterlands. Post riders for other newspapers sometimes published notices aimed at their customers, usually providing updates to their schedules or requesting payment for services rendered. Did the cost of a subscription usually include delivery? The newspaper’s colophon was silent on this; it solicited “Subscriptions for this Paper,” but did not list prices for either newspapers or delivery. Had Johnston previously provided delivery gratis to “Town Subscribers,” incurring only the small expense of sending an apprentice around town to drop off the newspapers? Did subscribers in the country expect to pay more for their newspapers because of their distance from the printing office?

Johnston frequently advertised various goods and services available at his printing office, indicating how he earned a living beyond publishing the Georgia Gazette. Other advertisements, however, address other aspects of his business operations. Notices concerning apprentices and delivery services reveal some of the concerns of colonial printers, even if they do not always provide all the details about the division of labor or the means of distributing newspapers to readers.

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