What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EAST-INDIA and EUROPEAN GOODS.”
James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, had too much content to include all of the news and advertisements in his newspaper on November 8, 1769. As a result, he issued a small supplement to accompany the standard issue, though it took a different form than most supplements distributed by printers in eighteenth-century America.
For context, first consider the format of a standard issue of the Georgia Gazette and most other newspapers of the period. They usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The Georgia Gazette featured two columns per page; most newspapers published in the 1760s had three columns, but a select few had four columns. When printers had excess content, they either inserted a note that certain items would appear in the following issue or they distributed some sort of supplement. Supplements usually consisted of two pages of the same size as the standard issue; in terms of production and appearance, they amounted to half of a standard issue. Given the expense and scarcity of paper, very rarely did printers distribute supplements that had content on only one side but left the other side blank. Those additional pages usually had some sort of title, most often Supplement, but on occasion Postscript or Extraordinary. The last two applied most often to additional pages that featured news (rather than advertising) that arrived in the printing office too late for inclusion in the standard issue.
The supplement that accompanied the November 8, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette deviated greatly from most other supplements. It consisted of seven advertisements printed on only one side of a smaller sheet than the standard issue. (The size of the sheets cannot be determined from consulting digital surrogates in databases of eighteenth-century newspapers, but experienced researchers easily recognize when the relative sizes of newspaper pages differ based on several features.) The compositor arranged those seven advertisements in an unusual manner. Three ran in a vertical column; rotated ninety degrees to the left, the other four ran in two horizontal columns. All seven appeared in the previous issue of the Georgia Gazette. The compositor adopted this unusual format for the supplement in order to use type that had already been set while maximizing the amount of content that would appear on a smaller sheet. In another variation from the norm, the supplement did not include a masthead or title that associated it with the Georgia Gazette. Only a notation in the lower right corner, “[No. 318.],” identified it as a companion to the November 8 edition, labeled “No. 318” in the masthead on the first page of the standard issue.
In recent months, Johnston had sometimes resorted to postponing publication of paid notices and other times issued miniature supplements. Advertising represented an important source of revenue for colonial printers, which likely prompted Johnston to invest the time and resources required to produce those supplements and disseminate notices submitted to his printing office. He needed to do this while still covering the news for his subscribers, striking a balance between the two kinds of content.