What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.”
James Johnston squeezed as much content as possible onto the pages of the June 22, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. In addition to news items and paid advertisements, he inserted his own short notices – none more than four lines – at the bottom of columns on the second, third, and fourth pages. In the lengthiest, he sought an apprentice: “WANTED, AN honest, sober and industrious LAD, as an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS. Such a one will meet with good encouragement by applying to the printer of this paper.” In another, he announced, “A FEW COPIES of the ACTS of the GENERAL ASSEMBLY passed last session to be sold by the printer of this paper.” The shortest, an advertisement Johnston inserted frequently, simply stated, “BLANKS of most sorts to be sold at the Printing-Office.” In addition to those notices, the printer incorporated an advertisement into the colophon that appeared on the final page of each issue of the Georgia Gazette: “SAVANNAH: Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.”
Johnston did not need to insert these advertisements to fill the already densely formatted columns of the June 22 issue. He could have instead inserted more space between advertisements or news items that appeared on the page, a strategy that he sometimes deployed when he fell far short of sufficient content to complete an issue. His need for an apprentice may have been pressing, convincing him to run the longest of his notices in hopes of acquiring more assistance in the day-to-day operations of the printing office as quickly as possible. He may have also considered the shorter notices concerning items for sale urgent for generating revenue. After all, he had not published the Georgia Gazette the previous week, perhaps a symptom of financial difficulties or a potential cause of future disruptions that some additional sales in the printing office might remedy. Whatever the reasons for inserting these short advertisements, Johnston’s decision to do so demonstrates that eighteenth-century printers considered the pages of their newspapers malleable to their own needs. They earned a living and served their communities by publishing news and advertising, but they also tailored the format and contents to accommodate their own interests.