What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.”
The compositor who set type for the Providence Gazette inserted a series of instructions to aid readers in navigating the September 24, 1768, edition. Like all other newspapers published in the American colonies in the 1760s, a standard issue of the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages distributed once a week. This required a single broadsheet, folded in half. Some newspapers in largest port cities did regularly circulate an additional two-page supplement printed on a half or quarter sheet tucked inside the standard issue but often numbered sequentially as the fifth and sixth pages. The majority of newspapers, however, issued supplements, postscripts, and extraordinaries only rarely.
Printers and compositors produced four-page issues by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet. The second and third pages were printed side-by-side on one side. In the final issue, they appeared next to each other across the center fold. The first and fourth pages were printed on the other side of the sheet, with the fourth page on the left and the first page on the right. This put each page in the proper position once both sides had been printed and the broadsheet folded in half.
The instructions the compositor inserted in the September 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette make the order for setting the type clear, though not necessarily the order for printing the two sides of the broadsheet. Except for the masthead, the “Commission of the Board of Commissioners for this Continent, now held at Castle-William” in Boston harbor occupied the entire first page. The final line of the third column instructed readers to “[See the last Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, filling the entire page except for the colophon at the bottom. Again, the final line of the third column gave instructions: “[For the Remainder, turn to the second Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, in the middle of a word, and concluded after approximately one-quarter of a column. Other news from Boston rounded out the second page and a portion of the third page. The editors selected one column of local news. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, confined to the bottom of the second and the entire third column on the third page. A short note from the printers followed the paid notices: “Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.” The printers opted not to issue a supplement but instead held off on publishing additional content for a week.
These various instructions make it clear that the compositor set the type for the first and fourth pages first and only after that for the second and third pages. They also indicate that reading the issue start to finish required subscribers to jump around the pages, starting with the first, then the fourth, and finally the second and third. The technologies of printing led to readers experiencing the material text in ways that seem unfamiliar and counterintuitive to modern readers.