September 20

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

Sep 20 - 9:20:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 20, 1769).


The September 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette included a note from the printer indicating that “Advertisements left out” of that issue would appear in the next one. James Johnston opted not to issue a supplement along with the regular issue, eschewing a strategy often adopted by other printers when they had more content than space. The time required to prepare a supplement may have been a factor in Johnston’s decision, but more likely he weighed the resources required to produce a supplement against the number of remaining advertisements and determined that he did not have sufficient unpublished material to merit the investment in additional paper, an often scarce commodity made even more valuable due to the taxes imposed on imported paper by the Townshend Acts in the late 1760s.

Johnston reached a different conclusion two weeks later. The September 20 edition included a supplement, but it did not match the supplements so frequently distributed with other newspapers. Those usually appeared on a half sheet printed on both sides, increasing by half the amount of content distributed that week. Supplements also usually included a masthead that bore the title of the newspaper and the number of the associated issue. None of this applied to the supplement that accompanied the September 20 edition of the Georgia Gazette. Instead, it appeared on smaller sheet with no identifying features. A half sheet supplement that matched the size of a standard issue would have measured approximately 9.25 inches by 14.25 inches, but this measured approximately 6.75 inches by 8.5 inches. In addition, the compositor rotated some of the type, already set in columns the same width as those in the regular issues of the Georgia Gazette, ninety degrees in order to fit as much content as possible on the additional sheet.

Why did Johnston produce this unusual supplement? Perhaps some advertisers had complained about the delayed publication of their notices two weeks earlier. The printer, however, may not have needed complaints to influence him to take this action. After all, newspapers throughout the colonies frequently included similar notices that advertisements that did not appear that week would appear the next. When Johnston once again found himself in the position of not having enough space for advertising and other content in the regular issue, he may have determined that he could not delay the advertisements again so soon. After all, advertisers provided an important revenue stream for colonial newspapers. For the Georgia Gazette to remain a viable venture, Johnston had to balance the demands of subscribers and advertisers, which meant the timely distribution of both news and paid notices. Such calculations may have made the expense of producing a rather odd supplement a necessity. Johnston made a similar decision a week later, printing another supplement on a smaller sheet once again, but that time only on one side. Distributing advertising to colonial readers sometimes required extraordinary measures.

Sep 20 - Georgia Gazette AAS
To determine the measurements of a standard issue and the supplement, I consulted original copies of the Georgia Gazette at the American Antiquarian Society. Notice the relative sizes. (left: Georgia Gazette, supplement, September 20, 1769; right: Georgia Gazette, September 27, 1769)

Leave a Reply