What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE Printer of this Paper … GIVES THIS EARLY NOTICE.”
Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, made it impossible for readers to ignore the notices that he ran in his newspaper for several weeks beginning in the summer of 1771. He exercised his prerogative as printer in designing a format that made his notice the most visible item in the newspaper, running it immediately below the masthead and across all three columns on the first page. Dated July 1, Timothy’s notice first appeared on July 4 and then in the next four issues before he inserted a revised version in subsequent editions. The printer informed readers that he intended “to have all his Affairs settled by the First of January next, so that he may depart the Province by the Beginning of Aprilfollowing.” To that end, he “GIVES THIS EARLY NOTICE thereof, to all Persons indebted to him, that they may prepare to make Payment to their Accompts … without giving him the unnecessary Trouble of calling again and again.” In addition, for those “many Subscribers in the Country whom he does not know, he begs such will give their Factors or Agents proper Orders to settle with him.”
Advertising on the front page was not unusual in and off itself. The South-Carolina Gazette regularly featured advertisements on the first page. In the July 11 edition, Thomas Powell’s advertisement for “Dr. KEYSER’s famous PILLS” filled the entire first column, under a heading that labeled it a “New Advertisement,” making it the first item readers encountered below the masthead and Timothy’s notice. News from London comprised most of the second column, before a heading for “New Advertisements” introduced two shorter notices, one seeking passengers and freight for a ship departing for Philadelphia and the other calling on colonists to settle accounts with Robert Dillon. The third column contained a brief account of news from Charleston, a list of prices current of “South-Carolina Produce and Manufactures,” and “Timothy’s Marine List” (as the printer branded the shipping news from the customs house when he printed it in his newspaper). Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette were accustomed to seeing a variety of items, including advertisements, on the front page. Timothy could have made his notice the first item in the first column without altering the format of the page, complete with a “New Advertisement” heading, but that would have risked readers passing over it. Instead, he created a distinctive format that demanded readers give their attention to his important notice. Just as the incomplete “Marine List” on the front page included instructions to “[Turn to the last Page.]” for the remainder, the printer also deployed graphic design to guide readers in navigating the newspaper.