October 31

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 31, 1770).

“MRS. SWALLOW begs Leave to inform the Publick.”

Newman Swallow and Mrs. Swallow, presumably husband and wife, both ran newspaper advertisements in late October and early November 1770.  Newman advised prospective clients that he “proposes carrying on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS,” serving as a broker in Charleston.  Mrs. Swallow planned to open a boarding school for “young Ladies” at a new house “next Door to his Honour the Lieutenant-Governour’s” in Broad Street.  Their advertisements first appeared, one above the other, in the October 30, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The following day both advertisements also ran, again one above the other, in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The November 1 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included both notices, once again one above the other.  In the course of three consecutive days, the Newmans disseminated their advertisements in all three newspapers published in Charleston, maximizing exposure for their enterprises among readers throughout the busy port and the rest of the colony.

Careful examination of their advertisements reveals differences in format but not content.  The Newmans submitted the same copy to the three printing offices in Charleston, but the compositors who set type for the newspapers exercised discretion over typography and other aspects of graphic design.  Variations in font sizes, font styles, words appearing in all capital letters or italics, and the use of ornaments all testified to the role of the compositor in making decisions about how each advertisement would look on the page.  In two of the newspapers, “NEWMAN SWALLOW” and “MRS. SWALLOW” served as headlines, but not in the third.  Similar examples appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg during the era of the American Revolution.  In towns large enough to support more than one newspaper, advertisers frequently placed notices in two, three, or more publications.  The copy remained consistent across newspapers, but the graphic design varied.  This demonstrated an important division of labor in the production of newspaper advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisers dictated the contents, but usually asserted little control over the format.  Compositors exercised creativity in designing how the copy appeared on the page, influencing how readers might engage with advertisements when they encountered them in the public prints.

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