May 10

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

Supplement to the Newport Mercury (May 10, 1773).

“A general and good Assortment Of English and India GOODS.”

Commissioners, to receive the claims against the estate of Mary Malling, deceased.”

“TO BE SOLD … a young NEGRO fellow.”

Advertising accounted for over a third of the content in the May 10, 1773, edition of the Newport Mercury.  Paid notices filled four and a half columns of the twelve columns in the standard issue.  Yet that was not enough space for all of the advertisements submitted to Solomon Southwick’s printing office that week.  Advertising meant revenue, so Southwick opted to print and distribute a supplement that consisted solely of advertisements.

That supplement did not have the same format as the standard issue, something that distinguished it from most other newspaper supplements of the era.  Like other newspapers, the standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Most supplements provided two more pages of content, one page on each side of a half sheet.  When printers had enough additional content, they produced four-page supplements on broadsheets of the same size as the standard issue.

Neither happened to be the case for the Supplement to the Newport Mercury, of May 10, 1773.  Southwick resorted to a smaller sheet, one that accommodated only two columns rather than the three columns in the standard issue.  In addition, those columns were not as long as those that ran in the standard issue.  Still, they offered enough space for Southwick to publish nineteen more advertisements, ten on one side and nine on the other.  Most promoted imported goods for sale by merchants and shopkeepers, four concerned settling the estates of deceased colonizers, and two offered enslaved people for sale.  By distributing the supplement, Southwick maintained good relationships with advertisers who expected their notices to appear in the public prints in a timely manner.  Doing so paved the way for generating more revenue through repeat business rather than alienating his current advertisers.

A supplement printed on a smaller sheet raises questions about how many similar supplements Southwick and other printers may have issued that got separated from the standard issues they accompanied and, as a result, have not been preserved by historical societies and research libraries.  How often did Southwick resort to such supplements?  The Supplement to the Newport Mercury, of May 10, 1773 suggests that even more advertising may have circulated in Newport and nearby towns, on sheets the size of handbills rather than newspapers, than extant collections of early American newspapers reveal.

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