February 20

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

Feb 20 - 2:20:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (February 20, 1768).

“SAMUEL BROOME, And COMPANY, Have just imported … a beautiful assortment of European and India Goods.”

In general, printers published three types of newspaper supplements in eighteenth-century America: advertising supplements delivered the same day as the regular issue, news supplements distributed sometime during the week between issues, and mixed supplements published on the day of the regular issue.

The first were the most common, especially in the largest port cities. A standard issue consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Given the size of the population in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, printers often found that they had too much content, especially advertisements, to squeeze everything into just four pages. In such cases they simultaneously distributed a two-page supplement comprised exclusively of advertising. Such was the case with the February 18, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Space in the standard issue was almost evenly divided between news and advertisements, but paid notices alone filled the pages of the supplement. Hugh Gaine charted a similar course for the February 22, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, though the standard issue contained nearly three full pages of advertising. No news items appeared in the supplement.

On February 20, 1768, John Holt distributed a Supplement to the New-York Journal, two days after the regular issue made its usual weekly appearance. This supplement consisted of four pages rather than two, but otherwise followed the pattern for midweek supplements. It contained mostly news items with very few advertisements. What little advertising did appear, including Samuel Broome and Company’s notice, served as filler that completed the supplement. Two days earlier, James Parker issued a two-page New-York Gazette Extraordinary as a midweek supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy. Like the Supplement to the New-York Journal, it contained mostly news items with very few advertisements.

During the same week, Richard Draper included a supplement with the Massachusetts Gazette on the day of its usual publication. The supplement balanced news items and advertisements. On the same day, John Holt issued a Supplement to the New-York Journal that accompanied the regular issue, not to be confused with the midweek supplement released two days later. (All three publications bore the same issue number, 1311, but the regular issue and the first supplement were dated February 18 while the second supplement was dated February 20.) This supplement also devoted significant space to both news items and advertisements; neither eclipsed the other.

Supplements from the latter two categories became more common during periods that the imperial crisis intensified. The number of commercial notices and other types of advertisements had been sufficient justification for publishing supplements to accompany the regular issues during times of relative harmony between colonists and Parliament. During periods of unrest, however, the volume of advertising no longer served as the determinative factor in whether or when printers published supplements. The proliferation of supplements certainly disseminated more advertisements to colonists, but the understanding of the purpose of supplements likely shifted as both publishers and readers conceived of them as more than just mechanisms for circulating advertising. The revenues collected from advertisements made possible the publication of supplements in times of political turmoil. In turn, these extraordinary issues may have stoked demand for newspapers – featuring news items – published more frequently. Printers soon experimented with semiweekly and triweekly publication. Not long after the American Revolution, newspapers in the largest cities commenced daily publication.

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