December 24

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 24, 1771).

The other NEW ADVERTISEMENTS are in the additional Sheet.”

Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, did a brisk business in advertising in the early 1770s.  He often had to distribute supplemental pages devoted exclusively to advertising when he did not have sufficient space to publish all the paid notices in the standard edition.  Such was the case on December 24, 1771.  Wells inserted a note at the bottom of the final column on the third page, complete with a manicule to draw attention to it, to inform readers (and advertisers looking for their notices) that “The other NEW ADVERTISEMENTS are in the additional Sheet.”

Wells was savvy in the production of that supplement, refusing to commit more resources than necessary.  The “additional Sheet” differed in size from the standard issue.  Unfortunately, digitized copies of eighteenth-century newspapers usually do not include dimensions; without examining the original, I cannot say with certainty that Wells adopted a particular strategy, but I can describe what seems likely based on both the visual evidence and common practices among eighteenth-century printers.

Let’s start with a description of the standard issue.  Like other newspapers of the era, it consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Most newspapers published in the early 1770s had three columns per page, for a total of twelve columns in an issue, but the South-Carolina and American General Gazettehad four columns per page, bringing the total to sixteen per issue.  In this instance, the “additional Sheet” also consisted of four pages, two on each side of a folded broadsheet, but the format differed from the standard issue.  Three shorter columns filled most of the page, but a fourth column featured advertisements rotated perpendicular to the rest of the text in order to for on the page.  Printers often deployed this technique to maximize the amount of space they filled while still using the same column width to prevent breaking down and resetting type multiple times for advertisements that ran for several weeks.  The “additional Sheet” had four columns in each of the perpendicular columns.  It appears that the “additional Sheet” was actually a half sheet that Wells turned on its side.

Why did he do that?  On the same day, Charles Crouch distributed an advertising supplement with the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  He also used a half sheet, though he did not adjust the format.  As a result, that supplement consisted of only two pages rather than the four that Wells created by folding a half sheet in half once again.  Compared to Crouch’s approach, the most common one throughout the colonies, Well’s method did not reduce the amount of paper required to print the supplement.  It did, however, yield a greater number of pages and gave the impression that advertisements overflowed into the margins.  This may have been Wells’s intention, a visual suggestion to both subscribers and prospective advertisers concerning the popularity of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 24, 1771).

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