What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Sundry NEW ADVERTISEMENTS omitted this Week, in order to Place to the LONDON NEWS, &c. shall have particular Notice taken of them in our next.”
Advertising could appear anywhere in colonial American newspapers, even on the front page. In fact, some newspapers often devoted the entire front page to the masthead and advertising. Others placed both news and advertising on the front page. The distribution of items selected by the printer and paid notices submitted by advertisers varied from week to week in many newspapers.
Such was the case for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, printed by Charles Crouch. Consider the September 29, 1772, edition. Like other issues, it consisted of four pages crested by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The first two pages contained news from London that arrived earlier in the week. The shipping news from the customs house indicated that the Mermaid from London entered port on September 24. The New Market, also from London, arrived a day later. That gave Crouch plenty of time to receive newspapers and letters from both ships, read through them, and choose which items to print before publishing a new weekly edition on September 29. He reserved advertising for the third and fourth pages, marking some notices with a header for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”
Crouch also inserted a note to alert readers (and advertisers searching for their notices) that “Sundry NEW ADVERTISEMENTS omitted this Week, in order to Place to the LONDON NEWS, &c. shall have particular Notice taken of them in our next.” What constituted “particular notice” beyond making sure to publish them at all? No news appeared on the front page of the October 6 edition. Instead, “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” filled all three columns on both the front page and the final page, two pages printed on the same side of a broadsheet. Printers often printed those pages first, reserving the second and third pages for news that arrived just before publication. In addition to the prominent placement of advertising on the front page, almost the entire issue consisted of paid notices. Only the second page carried anything other than advertising. News extended throughout the first and second columns. It overflowed into the third, but more “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” accounted for half of that column.
The proportion and placement of news and advertising often varied from week to week in colonial newspapers as printers made decisions about providing news for subscribers who (sometimes) paid for their newspapers and disseminating paid notices for advertisers who accounted for an important revenue stream. As a result, some newspapers sometimes looked like vehicles for delivering advertising without much news content at all.