December 16

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

New-York Journal (December 13, 1770).

“54 57.”

“55 58.”

The numbers at the end of bookseller Garret Noel’s advertisement in the December 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal would have been a familiar sight to readers, even if they did not take the time to grasp their significance.  After all, they were not intended for readers, but instead for the compositor.  A brief notation, in this case “55 58,” alerted the compositor to the first and last issues in which an advertisement was supposed to appear.  The December 13 edition was “NUMB. 1458,” according to the masthead, thus the final issue for this particular advertisement.  It first ran three weeks earlier in “NUMB. 1455.”

This advertisement, however, had another notation with two other numbers, “54 57,” associated with it.  They appeared midway through the advertisement, a rather unusual situation.  This resulted from Noel placing two separate advertisements.  The first listed books “imported in the Britannia, Capt. Miller.”  It first ran in “NUMB. 1454” on November 15.  The following week, Noel placed another advertisement for books “IMPORTED, In the Albany, Capt. Richards.”  Rather than run it as a separate advertisement, the compositor appended it to Noel’s other notice.  In so doing, the compositor for the New-York Journal made a different decision than the compositor for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  In the latter publication, Noel’s advertisements ran as separate items on different pages.

Noel derived advantages from both methods.  In the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, readers encountered his advertisements multiple times.  This increased visibility may have made Noel and his books more memorable for prospective customers.  On the other hand, combining the advertisements into a single notice in the New-York Journalcreated a lengthy notice that testified to the range of choices available at Noel’s shop.  The amount of spaced it occupied on the page may have helped draw attention as well.  Furthermore, it seems likely that Noel may have enjoyed a free insertion of his first advertisement for an additional week.  It should have been discontinued with “NUMB. 1457” on December 6, but it appears the compositor overlooked the notation in the middle of the advertisement.  No portion of the advertisement appeared in “NUMB. 1459” on December 20.  The compositor heeded the notation at the end, the usual position, and removed the entire advertisement.

The notations at the end of many advertisements help to tell stories about business practices and the production of newspapers in the eighteenth century.  In this case, the unusual configuration of multiple notations in a single advertisement in the New-York Journal demonstrates that even though the advertiser wrote the copy the compositor exercised discretion concerning format.  The single notice in the New-York Journal had quite a different format compared to the notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.

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