May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 12, 1769).

“BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKS sold at the Printing-Office.”

Three advertisements placed by the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette rounded out the final page of the May 12, 1769, edition. Each appeared at the bottom of a column, immediately above the colophon that listed Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle in Portsmouth as the printers. Each notice testified to a different aspect of the printing business.

The notice in the first column warned that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printers, for News-Papers, &c. are NOW desired to make payment, if ever they design it, and would avoid unnecessary Trouble and Expence.” Colonial printers frequently inserted such appeals into their newspapers, but the Fowles did so more regularly than most others in the 1760s. Some printers incorporated their calls to settle accounts into annual messages that commemorated the completion of one year of publication and the beginning of another. Such messages to subscribers and other readers often outlined improvements to be made in the coming year, but also earnestly requested that customers pay their debts. The Fowles used some of the most creative and colorful language, once even threatening to publish the names of any who did not settle accounts within a short time, though they never followed through on that strategy for public shaming.

The advertisement in the second column informed readers that “BLANKS of most sorts, and a variety of BOOKs [are] sold at the Printing-Office.” Operating the newspaper was not the extent of how the Fowles earned their livelihood. They also sold books, some that they had printed but most imported from Britain. In addition, they did job printing and produced “BLANKS of all Kinds,” better known to day as printed forms. Colonists used these blanks for a variety of commercial and legal transactions, relying on the standardized language. A similar advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette provided a list of the various sorts of blanks available at the local printing office: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessels and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, indico certificates.” Some, such as the indigo certificates, were specific to local usage, but most were used throughout the colonies.   Like advertisements, blanks supplied an important revenue stream for printers.

Finally, the third column concluded with an advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack, for 1769, to be Sold at the Printing Office, in Portsmouth.” This was incredibly late for an advertisement for an almanac to appear; some of the contents certainly remained useful for the remainder of the year, but more than one-third of 1769 had already elapsed. By and large, printers, booksellers, and others had ceased advertising almanacs for quite some time. The appearance of this notice indicates that the Fowles still had surplus almanacs in stock. They hoped for some sort of return on their investment if they could sell any of them at that point. Its position as the last item in the May 12 issue, with the exception of the colophon, tells another story. The Fowles needed to fill the space to complete the column and the issue. This advertisement may have been just as valuable for that purpose as for any sales that resulted from it.

Indeed, the placement of all three advertisements from the printers suggests that they served dual purposes. Each tended to some aspect of operations at the printing office in Portsmouth while simultaneously completing a column and contributing to the tidy appearance of the final page of the May 12 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

October 21

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

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 3 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

“BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”

Like almost every other colonial printer who published a newspaper, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, regularly inserted advertisements for their own goods and services. Although they sometimes promoted books they sold at the printing office, including John Dickinson’s popular “LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES,” they most often ran short notices that informed readers they sold printed blanks (better known as forms today). Blanks included a variety of common legal and commercial devices, such as bills of sale, indentures, and powers of attorney. They were stock-in-trade for printers throughout the colonies.

I have previously argued that advertisements for blanks in particular (and goods sold by printers more generally) had a dual purpose in colonial newspapers. Selling blanks certainly generated revenues for printers. In that regard, advertisements for blanks appeared for the same reason as advertisements for any other consumer goods and services. Advertisements for blanks, however, also served as filler when the rest of the issue fell short of content to fill the pages.

Oct 21 - 10:21:1768 Page 4 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 21, 1768).

The October 21, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette makes this especially clear. It was a standard four-page issue created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first two pages consisted entirely of the masthead and news items, but the final two pages featured a mixture of news and advertising. A short advertisement, just five lines, appeared in the lower right corner of the third page: “BLANKS of most sorts, and a great variety of BOOKS, Pamphlets, &c. sold at the Printing Office, which is kept near the State House, in the Street leading to the Market. And Ferry.—Where Isle Shoals and Newmarket Lottery Tickets are sold.” Another short advertisement, this one only two lines, appeared as the final item on the fourth page, immediately above the colophon. “BLANKS of all sorts sold at the Printing Office in Portsmouth,” it starkly announced. In both cases, the placement at the bottom of the last column on the page indicates that the compositor inserted these advertisements only after including other content, both news and advertising. Advertising their own wares benefitted newspaper printers, but those short notices also played a role in meeting other goals in the publication process.

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 30, 1768).

“BLANKS of several sorts to be sold at [t]he Printing-Office.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement indicating that he sold “blanks” at his printing office in Savannah. These printed forms, a mainstay of eighteenth-century job printing, came in many varieties for commercial and legal use. Although Johnston’s notice in the March 30, 1768, edition simply announced “BLANKS of several sorts to be sold at [t]he Printing-Office,” he usually ran a longer advertisement that listed the many forms readers could purchase: “bonds, bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants, and attachments, for the court of conscience, summonses before justices of the peace, executions for the use of magistrates, [and] indico certificates.” Johnston concluded the list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in eighteenth-century America), suggesting that he stocked or could print other blanks. The revenue generated from these forms supplemented the fees for subscriptions and advertisements for the newspaper as well as income from job printing the “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c.” promoted in the colophon of every issue of the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s.

While Johnston certainly hoped that readers would respond to his notice by purchasing “BLANKS of several sorts,” that may not have been the only reason he published this abbreviated notice in the March 30 edition. It ran on the final page as the last item in the first column, wedged between an estate notice for “Nicholas Cassiel, late of Augusta, merchant, deceased,” and the colophon. Johnston (or the compositor) may have ended up just shy of having enough content to fill the page and complete the issue. Given the printing technologies of the period, the most efficient solution would have been to set type for a one-line advertisement. This had the additional benefit of potentially enticing readers to become consumers of other printed goods beyond the newspaper in which Johnston printed the advertisement.

December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1767 Georgia Gazette“A FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA”

This advertisement for a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA” would have been quite familiar to regular readers of the Georgia Gazette. It had been appearing in the pages of that newspaper for more than a year. While James Johnston, the printer of the newspaper and purveyor of the map certainly wanted to sell copies he still had on hand after all that time, the advertisement also served another important purpose. In a publication that sometimes lacked sufficient content to fill its pages, Johnston frequently inserted the advertisement as filler.

That seems to have been the case in the December 2, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The issue consisted of three pages of news and a final page devoted to advertising. A variety of articles densely filled the first three pages, yet the final page featured significant amounts of white space as part of each advertisement. Notice the amount of space between the body of the advertisement and the lines that separated it from the advertisements printed before and after. That had not been part of the design two weeks earlier when Samuel Douglass and Company’s advertisement that extended more than an entire column forced the compositor to squeeze all of the other paid notices together, eliminating any hint of negative space. The text on the two pages given over to advertising in that issue appeared just as dense as the text of the news items.

In addition to Johnston’s perennial advertisement for a map of South Carolina and Georgia, many other advertisements in the December 2 issue previously ran in other issues (though none of them nearly as many times). Each had been modified to include white space before and after the body of the advertisement, stretching them out in order to fill the entire page. This did not require completely resetting the type, but it did transform portions of each advertisement into filler that helped the printer deliver a complete issue to subscribers. Beyond the revenues they generated, newspaper advertisements served other purposes for colonial printers.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 29, 1767).

“To be leased for Twelve Months, THE PLANTATION and HOUSE.”

John Graham and John Oates offered a lease on Smithfield, the plantation and house of the deceased William Smith. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, gave their notice space in his newspaper, but he also used it to serve his own needs (beyond collecting the advertising fees). Johnston needed to fill out the first page of the July 29, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette; this advertisement was just the right length to do so (though several others in the same issue would have fit the bill and could have been inserted interchangeably in the same spot).

Unlike many colonial newspapers that clustered advertising on one or two pages, paid advertisements appeared on every page of this issue of the Georgia Gazette. The notice concerning Smithfield was the sole advertisement on the first page, filling the small space left by a satirical political essay on what was “RIGHT, WRONG, and REASONABLE, with regard to America” from the British perspective, a sarcastic list of lamentations that anticipated many of the grievances against George III eventually included in the Declaration of Independence. The second page included a letter reprinted from the London Chronicle as well as extensive news from New York and shorter updates from Newport, Rhode Island; Charleston, South Carolina; and several Caribbean colonies. Two advertisements – one concerning stray horses and the other seeking “a QUANTITY of GOOD BEES-WAX” – completed the page. Local news occupied the third page. Given that advertisements appeared at the top of the first column, the printer likely left space in anticipation of including additional news from across the Atlantic and from other colonies, continuing from the previous page, but ran out of content. An extended legal notice took up one of the two columns on the final page; advertisements, including two final advertisements placed by the printer, accounted for the remainder.

Printers and compositors valued advertising not only because of the additional revenue generated. Advertising yielded content of varying lengths that could be manipulated to complete the pages of a newspaper when news items were not available. To that end, the Georgia Gazette incorporated advertising throughout the July 29 issue, even inserting two notices from the printer in order to fill the space.