What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“IMPORTED in the Mermaid … WHITE PLAINS, LONDON DUFFILS, and HEADED SHAGS.”
A short editorial note appeared at the bottom of the second column on the third page of the September 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. It informed readers (and advertisers) that “Advertisements left out this week” would appear in the next issue. James Johnston, the printer, did not have sufficient leftover content to merit distributing a supplement that week … or he did not consider it worth the time and resources to do so. In the past, supplements to the Georgia Gazette, unlike those that accompanied most other colonial newspapers, usually consisted of a single page printed on only side of a half sheet rather than two pages printed on both sides. In 1769 the Townshend Act leveled duties on imported paper; the revenue generated from any advertisements that did not appear on September 6 may not have justified the expense of an additional half sheet, especially if Johnston could not entirely fill it.
Yet Johnston or a clever compositor who labored in his printing office managed to squeeze in one additional advertisement in an unconventional manner. The first page featured a short advertisement: “IMPORTED in the Mermaid, Samuel Ball, from London, and for Sale, by COWPER and TELFAIRS, WHITE PLAINS, LONDON DUFFILS, and HEADED SHAGS.” Rather than setting type to appear in columns, this advertisement ran as one line in the right margin on the first page. It shared the first page with the masthead and an editorial, but no other advertisements appeared on that page. Johnston and others who produced the Georgia Gazette had not inaugurated this strategy for stretching the amount of content that would fit in an issue, but it was one used rather irregularly in newspapers printed throughout the colonies and almost never in the Georgia Gazette. Cowper and Telfairs frequently inserted paid notices in that publication, which may have contributed to Johnston’s decision to adopt innovative methods for running their advertisement as soon as possible rather than delaying it by a week. Timeliness may not have been the only benefit that accrued to Cowper and Telfairs as a result. Rather than have their advertisement appear among the nearly two dozen others in that issue, it occupied a privileged place that likely attracted greater attention as curious readers took note of the unusual format and investigated what the single line in the margin said.