What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WANTED immediately, a Wet-Nurse.”
Richard Draper had too much content to publish all of it in the October 15, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. He remedied the situation, in part, by printing and distributing a supplement on a smaller sheet. That supplement included additional news, but no advertising. Even with the supplement, Draper did not have enough space for all the news and advertising received in the printing office. A note at the bottom of the final column on the third page instructed readers to “See SUPPLEMENT” and advised that “Other Articles and Advertisements must be defer’d.”
Why insert such a note on the third page instead of placing it at the end of the final column on the last page? The process of printing newspapers on a manually-operated press provides an explanation. Like most other newspapers from the era of the American Revolution, a standard issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Printers usually set the type and printed the first and fourth pages on one side of the sheet. After it dried, they printed the second and third pages on the other side. That resulted in the latest news often appearing inside the newspaper rather than on the front page. That also meant that the last portion of the newspaper arranged by the compositor was the third page, not the final page. That being the case, announcements about supplements and omitted materials usually appeared on the third page.
Draper did manage to include one additional advertisement in the standard issue for October 15 rather than deferring it for a week. The urgency of the notice may have convinced him to make a special effort to include it. “WANTED immediately,” the advertisement proclaimed, “a Wet-Nurse, with a young Breast of Milk, that can be well Recommended, to suckle a Child in a Family: Enquire of the Printer.” That notice ran in the right margin of the third page, almost the entire length of an extensive advertisement that listed merchandise stocked by John Barrett and Sons at their store “near the MILL-BRIDGE” in Boston. With some creative graphic design, Draper squeezed an advertisement seeking a wet nurse, a notice that likely arrived late to the printing office, into that issue. In so doing, he adapted to the technology of the printing press while providing a special service to that advertiser.