What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“For CHARLESTOWN … the Sloop SALLY.”
In many ways, these brief advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770 looked very much like others that appeared in that newspaper.
“CANARY SEED, Sold by DAVID DESHLER, in Market-Street.” (July 26)
“For CHARLESTOWN, (South-Carolina) the Sloop SALLY, JOSPEH BLEWERS, Master. For Freight or Passage apply to said Master; who has for Sale, Carolina PINE-ROOT, SAIL-CLOTH, &c.” (August 2)
“WANTED, A CORK CUTTER. For further Particulars enquire of the Printers.” (August 9)
“WANTED, A Pair of well match’d HORSES. Enquire of the Printers.” (August 16)
The format of these advertisements set them apart from others in the Pennsylvania Journal. Each appeared on the third page in the margin on the right. The compositor rotated the text perpendicular to the other contents of the page and set each of these advertisements in a single line. Apparently, their length rather than their purpose qualified these particular notices for such treatment.
In laying out the page in this manner, the compositor relied on a common means of squeezing a little more content onto a crowded page. While this was not an aspect of early American newspapers that appeared in all or even most issues, it was a common enough strategy that it would have been familiar to readers throughout the colonies. Sometimes compositors used this trick to insert time-sensitive advertisements received too late to integrate into columns of type already set. For the advertisements that ran in the margins of the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770, however, that does not appear to have been the case. Instead, their length made them candidates for this format.
Placing advertisements in the margin benefited printers who generated revenue regardless of where in their newspapers paid notices appeared. This likely also accrued benefits to the advertisers as well. Their notices became more visible as a result of their placement on the page, perhaps drawing the eyes of curious readers. Such notices seemed to take up more space; had they been printed in one of the standard columns they would have occupied two or three lines, easily skipped by readers who skimmed the page. Running down the side of a column, however, made them much more difficult to ignore.
Drawing additional attention to these advertisements by placing them in the margin does not seem to have been the primary goal of this format but rather an unintended consequence. Still, this decision by the compositor likely yielded benefits for the advertisers.