What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS for this Paper … are gratefully received.”
Advertising accounted for half of the content in the November 7, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Readers encountered advertisements before any news or editorials; paid notices ran from top to bottom of the entire first column on the first page, with “EUROPEAN INTELLIGENCE” filling the other three columns. News from Europe continued on the second page and spilled over onto the third, but three of the columns on that page consisted of advertising. Except for the colophon, advertising comprised all of the content on the final page.
Yet even the colophon served as an advertisement. It included far more than just the name of the printer and the place of publication. The South-Carolina and American General Gazette sported one of the most elaborate colophons in any newspaper published in the colonies in the 1760s: “CHARLESTON; Printed by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the Bay where Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS for this Paper, which is circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES, are gratefully received; Also, ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES, of which a large Stock is constantly kept up, and, For all Kinds of PRINTING and BOOK-BINDING Work, which continue to be executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.” This colophon filled more space and contained more words than some of the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.
Its placement at the bottom of the final page guaranteed that no matter the order of the other contents of the newspaper those who perused it start to finish, even if they did not read every item, concluded with an advertisement that promoted goods and services offered by the printer. Those services included printing more advertising in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, a good investment considering the reach of the newspaper. Wells informed prospective advertisers that his newspaper circulated far beyond Charleston and even beyond South Carolina. He did not, however, merely solicit advertisements and subscriptions for the newspaper. He also emphasized other goods and services. He accepted job printing orders. He sold stationery and books. As an ancillary service, he either bound books or employed a bookbinder.
The colophon could have been merely informational – “CHARLESTON: Printed by ROBERT WELLS” – yet the printer dramatically expanded it to engage both consumers and prospective advertisers who read the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He exercised his privileges as the printer and his access to the press to promote his own business interests.