What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be SOLD … Best PORTER.”
Colonial printers often devoted as much space to advertising as news, editorials, and other content in their newspapers. Advertisements often overflowed from standard issues into supplements devoted entirely to paid notices. Consider, for instance, Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Gaine published a standard issue once a week in 1770. It consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Those standard issues usually included a significant proportion of advertisements in relation to news. In addition, a two-page supplement often accompanied the standard issue. Such was the case on September 10. This did not, however, increase the contents by half since Gaine used a smaller sheet for the supplement. Still, the supplement accounted for a considerable amount of additional material disseminated to readers.
Notably, the supplement contained advertisements and nothing else, with the exception of the masthead. Gaine inserted more than three dozen advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue. This was not a case of separating news from advertising, saving the latter for the supplement. Instead, paid notices appeared throughout the standard issue as well. One advertisement ran at the bottom of the first page. Every other page featured a greater number of advertisements: nearly two of the four columns on the second page, a column and a half on the third page, and the entire fourth page. Before turning to the supplement, advertising filled nearly half of the standard issue.
Advertising generated revenues for Gaine, making publishing the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury a viable enterprise. Then, as now, advertising revenues contributed to the dissemination of the news, though sometimes their volume may have seemed to overwhelm the other content of the newspaper. Joseph Lawrence’s advertisement for “Best PORTER” in the supplement, one example among many, helped to underwrite news from London and Constantinople on the first page and news from other colonies on the second and third pages.