What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Whoever will bring said Saddle to the Printers hereof … shall be fully rewarded.”
Most likely the type for the rest of the newspaper had already been set when the copy for a notice about a missing saddle arrived at the printing office of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. That would explain the unusual placement of an advertisement that ran in the right margin of the November 22, 1771, edition. The advertiser, eager to recover lost property, apparently felt some urgency to publish the notice and did not want to wait an entire week until the next issue. To accommodate the advertiser, the compositor placed the notice in the only empty space still available, the margin. As a result, the text ran perpendicular to the masthead and the three columns containing news. To make it fit, the compositor also divided the advertisement into four short columns, the first two featuring three lines and the last two with two lines. Each of those short columns was the same width as the standard columns, allowing the compositor to gather all of them together to republish the advertisement in the next issue without having to start over with setting the type.
It was a common strategy deployed by printers and compositors throughout the colonies when they wanted to work additional items into newspapers, though most such notices usually appeared on the second or third pages rather than on the first. The advertiser may have negotiated for a spot most likely to attract attention in hopes of recovering a “SADDLE, not entirely new, yet whole and sound” that had been “LOST out of the Shop of Captain John Mix.” The notice offered a reward to whoever brought the saddle to the printing office (rather than the shop where it had been lost or perhaps stolen) or provided information about where it could be found. Beyond publishing the advertisement, the printers of the Connecticut Journal would play a role in recovering the saddle if anyone wished to collect the reward. They facilitated the transaction, just as they did for the sale of a “Likely, strong NEGRO LAD” described in an advertisement placed by an unnamed enslaver who instructed interested parties to “Enquire at the Printing Office.” Squeezing the advertisement about the missing saddle into the newspaper as soon as they received it was one of multiple services offered by the printers. They not only agreed to broker information in print but also to act as agents on behalf of the advertiser if anyone brought any leads or the saddle itself to the printing office.