What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“FOR SALE, THE FOLLOWING VALUABLE TRACTS OF LAND.”
This advertisement for “VALUABLE TRACTS OF LAND” offered for sale in South Carolina raises questions about its production and distribution. Accessible Archives includes it as the fifth page of the October 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. Like most colonial newspapers, the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Peter Timothy, the printer, distributed one new issue each week, occasionally printing a supplement to accompany the standard four-page issue when he had sufficient content to justify doing so.
This advertisement deviates from several common elements of newspaper publication familiar to historians of eighteenth-century print culture. Even though printers sometimes circulated supplements, they rarely distributed one-page supplements. Instead, they created two-page or four-page supplements by printing on both sides of a sheet. On rare instances did they print one-page supplements, an expensive venture given that paper was such a valuable commodity. Blank space that could have been filled with news or, even better, advertising that generated revenues was wasteful. Timothy included a short note on the final page of the October 18 edition that “ADVERTISEMENTS omitted this Week, will be in our next.” It seems that he had additional content that could have been printed on the other side of the sheet promoting tracts of land for sale.
This suggests that Timothy did not consider the advertisement on the additional sheet part of the issue he published and distributed that week. Like most newspaper printers, he did job printing as an additional revenue stream. Orders included broadside advertisements, today known as posters, that could be handed out or hung up around town. This advertisement was most likely a broadside printed separately. How did it get associated with the October 18 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette? It is possible that the advertisers made a deal with Timothy to distribute the broadside with the standard issue, though that was not a common practice. More likely, at some point someone who acquired the newspaper and the broadside put them together. Whether that person was a reader, collector, or librarian, their association of the two items took hold. Accessible Archives replicated it when producing the digitized database of extant issues of the South-Carolina Gazette.
That is the most likely scenario, but certainly not a definitive answer. The broadside’s inclusion with the October 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette in the digital archive suggests that it could have been part of that issue from the very start. If so, that raises questions about innovation on the part of both the printer and the advertisers who deviated from standard practices. It also raises questions about negotiations between the printer and the advertisers, especially in terms of cost and format. That the broadside is now treated as the fifth page of the newspapers may be the result of an error introduced sometime after the two were printed. Alternately, this may be evidence of creativity and innovation in the production and distribution of advertising in eighteenth-century America.