May 30

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

South-Carolina Gazette (May 30, 1771).

“A Complete Assortment of GOODS (TEA excepted).”

John Edwards and Company moved quickly to place an advertisement for new merchandise in the South-Carolina Gazette.  According to the shipping news in the May 30, 1771, edition, the Heart-of-Oak arrived in port on May 27.  That gave Edwards and Company sufficient time to submit a brief advertisement to the printing office.  Their notice specified that they had “just imported” a variety of items “in the ship HEART-OF-OAK, Captain HENRY GUNN, from LONDON.”  The partners did not provide a list of their “Complete Assortment of GOODS” as a means of demonstrating the many choices available to consumers.  Perhaps they did not have enough time to unpack the merchandise before the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette went to press so instead opted to entice prospective customers with promises of new inventory that just arrived in port.  Webb and Doughty took a similar approach in their advertisement on the same page as both the shipping news and Edwards and Company’s notice.

Rather than elaborating on their “Complete Assortment of GOODS,” Edwards and Company instead specified a particular item not part of their new inventory.  “TEA excepted,” they proclaimed.  They did not need to provide more detail for colonial consumers to understand their point.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, but the tax on tea remained.  Colonists protested the duties through a variety of means, including nonimportation agreements, but most relented and resumed trade with Britain when they achieved most of their goals.  Some continued to advocate for keeping the boycotts in place until Parliament repealed all of the offensive duties, but most merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers did not share that view.  Edwards and Company sought to have it both ways, importing and selling a variety of merchandise but underscoring that they did not carry the one item still taxed by Parliament.  This allowed them to compete with other merchants and shopkeepers to satisfy most of the needs and desires of prospective customers while still signaling that they refused to go back to business as usual without acknowledging the political significance of tea and the duty that remained in place.  Edwards and Company offered an alternative to consumers who wanted to support the American cause, at least to some extent, but also wanted to participate in the marketplace once so many options were available once again.  This strategy likely enhanced Edwards and Company’s reputation among supporters of the American cause (with the exception of the most adamant) while easing the consciences of their customers, even if it did not achieve complete ideological consistency.

It may not have mattered much to Edwards and Company that they did not publish a lengthy litany of goods that just arrived via the Heart-of-Oak in their advertisement.  Singling out tea as an item they intentionally excluded from their inventory, in an advertisement brief enough to make such a notation very visible, likely garnered far more attention and interest in their business.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:23:1769 South-Carolina Gazette Additional Supplement
Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (November 23, 1769).

“New Advertisements.”

In the fall of 1769 Peter Timothy did good business when it came to publishing advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette. Consider the November 23 edition. Advertising appeared on every page. Indeed, the space devoted to advertising eclipsed the space for news items. A headline directing readers to “New Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column of the first page. The other two columns consisted of news items. The second page also delivered news, but two “New Advertisements” ran at the bottom of the last column. Timothy divided the third page evenly between news items (including a list of prices current in Charleston and the shipping news from the customs house, branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”) and more “New Advertisements.” The final page consisted entirely of advertisements. Overall, paid notices compromised half of the standard issue, which likely suited Timothy just fine since advertising usually generated greater revenue than selling subscriptions.

Yet even giving over that much space to advertising in the standard issue did not allow Timothy to disseminate all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office. A two-page Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette accompanied the November 23 edition. Except for the masthead, it consisted entirely of advertisements, though the “New Advertisements” headline that ran three times in the standard issue did not appear in the supplement. Timothy may have made a concerted effort to give new content, whether news or advertising, a privileged place in the standard issue. Still, even by publishing the supplement Timothy did not gain sufficient space to include all of the advertisements for the week. He went to the extraordinary step of printing and distributing an Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette. Printed on a smaller sheet, this two-page supplement featured only two columns per page. It still allowed Timothy to circulate an additional sixteen advertisements. The “New Advertisements” headline ran at the top of the first column on the first page, though the notices were repeats from previous editions. Did Timothy deploy that headline indiscriminately? Or did he use it strategically in an attempt to draw readers weary of advertisements into the Additional Supplement rather than dismiss it as content they had already perused in recent weeks?

Timothy very nearly had more advertisements than he could publish in the South-Carolina Gazette. Assuming that advertisers actually settled accounts in a timely manner, Timothy operated a booming business at his printing office. The volume of paid notices testified to both the extensive circulation of the newspaper and colonists’ confidence in the effectiveness of advertising. Some colonial newspapers, such as the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, the New-York Journal or General Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, and the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, positioned their purpose as twofold right in the masthead. Timothy very well could have billed the South-Carolina Gazette as an Advertiser.