March 12

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).

“Samuel Elbert HAS JUST IMPORTED … NEW-ENGLAND RUM.”

This advertisement features a series of items that recently had been imported into Georgia by a trader named Samuel Elbert. Some of the items included soap, “CALIMANCO SHOES,” and New England rum.

Who was Samuel Elbert? Originally I was not expecting to uncover much about this advertiser, but I learned that he was an American merchant, politician, and officer during the Revolution. According to the Georgia Historical Society, Elbert started as a merchant and served in the colonial legislature as well as being a captain of a grenadier company. However, once fighting started, he decided that he wanted to serve in the war. He received a commission as an officer because of his wealth and social status. He rose up the ranks and was promoted to brigadier general in 1783 after years of service. He was later elected governor of Georgia. It is important to know about the many different people who participated in the American Revolution. Elbert may not be as famous as other officers, but he played a major role in the southern campaigns. Like other officers and soldiers from diverse backgrounds and occupations, he helped with defeating the British.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke has chosen an advertisement that may look familiar to regular readers of the Adverts 250 Project. Samuel Elbert’s notice was the featured advertisement on February 22. While the methodology for this project usually requires selecting an advertisement only once, I sometimes make exceptions when I wish to explore a particular aspect of an advertisement in more detail.

Elbert’s advertisement first appeared in the February 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, notable because it was one of only two that incorporated a large gothic font for its headline. Such typography distinguished both advertisements from the others on the same page and throughout the issue. The other advertisement, an announcement that the former members of the “Ugly Club” would meet on the 25th was discontinued the following week, but Elbert’s advertisement ran once again on March 1. In that issue, Lewis Johnson, an apothecary, and William Sime, a goldsmith and jeweler, both inserted advertisements that displayed their names in the same large gothic font. Elbert, Johnson, and Sime all ran their advertisements once again in the March 8 edition, the one examined by Luke, though yet another notice deployed the same visual style, this time featuring the name of Michael Hamer, a shopkeeper.

Who was responsible for the sudden infusion of such bold typography? Was it all at the discretion of a compositor who wished to experiment with some of the types not often used in the pages of the Georgia Gazette? Or did Johnson, Sime, and Hamer notice how the unique type drew attention to Elbert’s advertisement and then request that their own notices receive the same treatment? The answers cannot be found in the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Instructions may have been submitted with the copy for those advertisements, though advertisers may have simply made verbal requests when visiting James Johnston’s printing office on Broughton Street in Savannah. In his examination of the typography of the Georgia Gazette, Ray Dilley remarks that the “large size (Great Primer, or 36 point), appears at least once as a fascinating announcement for a meeting of ‘The Ugly Club,’” but does not mention its use in Elbert’s advertisement or any that appeared in subsequent issues.[1] Nor does Lawrence speculate on why Johnston or a compositor happened to resort to that type. The advertisements themselves testify to a willingness to experiment with graphic design, but the identity of the innovator remains unknown.

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[1] Lawrence A. Alexander, James Johnston, Georgia’s First Printer: With Decorations and Remarks on Johnston’s Work by Ray Dilley (Savannah: Pigeonhole Press, 1956), 42.

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