What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE subscribers … take this method of informing the publick, That they carry on the TAYLOR’S BUSINESS.”
Many colonial printers often had more content, especially advertising, than they could fit in the pages of their newspapers. A standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Although newspapers published in the largest American cities achieved daily publication by the end of the eighteenth century, newspapers published before the Revolution were generally limited to one issue per week. That meant that subscribers and other readers expected one four-page issue every seven days. Excess content, however, sometimes prompted printers to publish additional material in a supplement, a postscript, or an extraordinary. The most successful newspapers, those published in the largest and busiest port cities, regularly distributed two-page supplements along with their standard four-page issues in the 1760s. Often those supplements consisted entirely or almost entirely of advertising. When they acquired news that could not wait on the weekly publication schedule, printers issued separate supplements. Advertisements appeared less prominently in those publications.
James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s, did not often find himself in the enviable position of having to issue an advertising supplement, but even in the relatively small port of Savannah he sometimes received sufficient paid notices that made doing so necessary. Such was the case during the week of July 27, 1768. Johnston’s advertising supplement had a rather different appearance than its counterparts that accompanied other newspapers. It did not feature a masthead that identified it as an additional publication affiliated with the Georgia Gazette. Instead, “No. 252” appeared at the bottom of the page, indicating that it belonged with the rest of the issue published on July 27. Like other supplements, it was only half of a broadsheet. Unlike other supplements, it was printed on only one side, creating one page rather than two. Given the price and scarcity of paper, this was notable for not using the available resources to their capacity. It indicates that even though Johnston had so many paid notices that demanded he publish an untitled supplement that either he did not have sufficient content, neither news nor advertising, to fill a second page or he did not have ample time to print the second side of the supplementary half sheet.
Printers in larger cities were better prepared to issue supplements, in large part because doing so was such a regular occurrence that they incorporated the necessary workers and other resources into their business practices. The revenues from a steady stream of advertising helped make that possible. For Johnston and others, however, the flow of advertising was much more uneven, justifying an occasional advertising supplement but not so many that they were always equipped to distribute full supplements that replicated those issued by their counterparts in the busiest urban ports.