August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:2:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 2, 1770).

“For CHARLESTOWN … the Sloop SALLY.”

In many ways, these brief advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770 looked very much like others that appeared in that newspaper.

“CANARY SEED, Sold by DAVID DESHLER, in Market-Street.” (July 26)

“For CHARLESTOWN, (South-Carolina) the Sloop SALLY, JOSPEH BLEWERS, Master.  For Freight or Passage apply to said Master; who has for Sale, Carolina PINE-ROOT, SAIL-CLOTH, &c.” (August 2)

“WANTED, A CORK CUTTER.  For further Particulars enquire of the Printers.” (August 9)

“WANTED, A Pair of well match’d HORSES.  Enquire of the Printers.” (August 16)

The format of these advertisements set them apart from others in the Pennsylvania Journal.  Each appeared on the third page in the margin on the right.  The compositor rotated the text perpendicular to the other contents of the page and set each of these advertisements in a single line.  Apparently, their length rather than their purpose qualified these particular notices for such treatment.

In laying out the page in this manner, the compositor relied on a common means of squeezing a little more content onto a crowded page.  While this was not an aspect of early American newspapers that appeared in all or even most issues, it was a common enough strategy that it would have been familiar to readers throughout the colonies.  Sometimes compositors used this trick to insert time-sensitive advertisements received too late to integrate into columns of type already set.  For the advertisements that ran in the margins of the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770, however, that does not appear to have been the case.  Instead, their length made them candidates for this format.

Placing advertisements in the margin benefited printers who generated revenue regardless of where in their newspapers paid notices appeared.  This likely also accrued benefits to the advertisers as well.  Their notices became more visible as a result of their placement on the page, perhaps drawing the eyes of curious readers.  Such notices seemed to take up more space; had they been printed in one of the standard columns they would have occupied two or three lines, easily skipped by readers who skimmed the page.  Running down the side of a column, however, made them much more difficult to ignore.

Drawing additional attention to these advertisements by placing them in the margin does not seem to have been the primary goal of this format but rather an unintended consequence.  Still, this decision by the compositor likely yielded benefits for the advertisers.

January 5

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

Jan 5 1770 - 1:5:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 5, 1770).

“Ran away last Wednesday … an Apprentice Boy.”

The format and placement of Benjamin Mackay’s advertisement suggests that it was a late addition to the new edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Mackay reported that his apprentice, John Bowler, “Ran away last Wednesday” on January 3, 1770. The aggrieved master scrambled to insert an advertisement in the next issue of the colony’s only newspaper, published just two days later on Friday, January 5. Failing to do so would have forced Mackay to wait another week to alert the community by disseminating information about the runaway apprentice in print since the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other American newspapers published in the early 1770s, appeared only once a week.

Mackay apparently delivered his advertisement to the printing office too late for inclusion in any of the next issue’s twelve columns, three on each of four pages. The compositor had already set the type … but that did not mean that there was not any space for Mackay’s new and urgent advertisement. Compositors sometimes placed short advertisements and news items in the margins, an innovative strategy used only occasionally to include additional content. Mackay’s advertisement ran on the third page of the January 5 edition, running in the bottom margin across all three columns. The unique format possibly attracted the attention of some readers, but it also limited the number of details that Mackay could publish in that particular advertisement. Brevity allowed for speedy publication, but forced Mackay to carefully select which information to circulate to other colonists.

With more time to plan, he remedied that situation in the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He published another advertisement, nearly three times the length, that provided a much more extensive description of Bowler, including his approximate age, notable physical characteristics, and description of his clothing. In addition to offering a reward for apprehending and returning the apprentice, that second advertisement warned others against “entertaining or carrying off” Bowler.

That Mackay published a second advertisement at all suggests that the first was not successful, at least not in the short time between its publication and the compositor preparing the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Still, it had no chance of success if it had not appeared in the January 5 issue at all. By resorting to an innovative format for the advertisement, the compositor helped Mackay distribute time-sensitive information in the public prints as quickly as possible.

September 6, 1769

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

Sep 6 - 9:6:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 6, 1769).


A short editorial note appeared at the bottom of the second column on the third page of the September 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. It informed readers (and advertisers) that “Advertisements left out this week” would appear in the next issue. James Johnston, the printer, did not have sufficient leftover content to merit distributing a supplement that week … or he did not consider it worth the time and resources to do so. In the past, supplements to the Georgia Gazette, unlike those that accompanied most other colonial newspapers, usually consisted of a single page printed on only side of a half sheet rather than two pages printed on both sides. In 1769 the Townshend Act leveled duties on imported paper; the revenue generated from any advertisements that did not appear on September 6 may not have justified the expense of an additional half sheet, especially if Johnston could not entirely fill it.

Yet Johnston or a clever compositor who labored in his printing office managed to squeeze in one additional advertisement in an unconventional manner. The first page featured a short advertisement: “IMPORTED in the Mermaid, Samuel Ball, from London, and for Sale, by COWPER and TELFAIRS, WHITE PLAINS, LONDON DUFFILS, and HEADED SHAGS.” Rather than setting type to appear in columns, this advertisement ran as one line in the right margin on the first page. It shared the first page with the masthead and an editorial, but no other advertisements appeared on that page. Johnston and others who produced the Georgia Gazette had not inaugurated this strategy for stretching the amount of content that would fit in an issue, but it was one used rather irregularly in newspapers printed throughout the colonies and almost never in the Georgia Gazette. Cowper and Telfairs frequently inserted paid notices in that publication, which may have contributed to Johnston’s decision to adopt innovative methods for running their advertisement as soon as possible rather than delaying it by a week. Timeliness may not have been the only benefit that accrued to Cowper and Telfairs as a result. Rather than have their advertisement appear among the nearly two dozen others in that issue, it occupied a privileged place that likely attracted greater attention as curious readers took note of the unusual format and investigated what the single line in the margin said.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).

“FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS … propose to celebrate the FEAST of St. JOHN the Baptist.”

Any of the “BRETHREN of the Antient and Honourable Society of FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS in New-Hampshire” who read the colony’s only newspaper could hardly have missed the calls to attend gatherings on Saturday, June 24, 1769. Not one but two advertisements about their events ran in the June 23 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, both of them placed in prominent places on the page. In addition, an announcement dated June 14 also appeared in the previous issue published on June 16.

Of the two notices that circulated on June 23, one was the first item in the first column on the second page, making it difficult for readers to overlook. Even those who skimmed the contents of the page were more likely to give that first item more attention. In it, John Marsh invited his “BRETHREN” to celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist at the King George Tavern the following day. A nota bene further clarified that dinner would be “on Table precisely at Two o’Clock.” Readers encountered a similar advertisement the previous week, though it had since been updated to reflect that the feast would occur “TO-MORROW” rather than later in the month. This required the compositor to reset some, but not all, of the type for the advertisement. Marsh had to make special arrangements (and may have incurred additional expenses) for this when he submitted the copy to the printing office.

Jun 23 - 6:16:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 16, 1769).

The other notice in the June 23 edition ran across all four columns in the margin at the bottom of the first page. Wider than the masthead (due to the continued disruption on the paper supply), its unique placement on the page also would have attracted the attention of the curious. This advertisement notified masons of another event taking place the following day. Marsh instructed them “to attend at the Lodge-Room” at nine o’clock in the evening “to proceed thence in procession to Queen’s-Chapel, where a Sermon suitable to the Occasion, will be preached by the Rev. Mr. BROWN.” Its position in the margin suggested that this notice had been a late submission to the printing office, inserted after the type had been set. Given that Marsh could not wait a week to insert the notice in the next edition, the printers made special provisions to include his notice (and collect the fees).

Limited to only two pages, that edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured an advertisement from the masons on both pages. Many readers likely read them in quick succession, first the notice at the bottom of the front page and then, flipping over the broadsheet, immediately the first item in the first column on the other side. Informing “BRETHREN” of the gatherings taking place on June 24 was not merely a matter of inserting notices in the newspaper. Where those notices appeared on the page also facilitated getting the word out, especially for the sermon that had not previously been promoted in the public prints.

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 Page 1 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:10:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 10, 1769).

“STRAYED off the Common at Savannah, A SORREL HORSE.”

In the late 1760s the Georgia Gazette did not have a standard format for the placement of advertisements in relation to other content. The publication followed a general rule that filling the final page with paid notices, but any additional advertisements could appear just about anywhere else in a standard four-page issue.

Consider the May 10, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Each page had a different configuration of news and advertising. No paid notices ran on the front page, just the masthead, news, and editorials. As usual, advertisements filled the last page, except for the colophon running across the bottom. It also served as an advertisement of sorts, advising readers of the services available at the printing office: “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.” Advertising also filled most of the third page. The Georgia Gazette had two columns per page. An editorial extended for half of the first column on the third page; advertisements accounted for the remainder of the column as well as the entire second column. The second page featured a more even division, with news in the column on the left and advertisements in the column on the right, along with the shipping news positioned at the bottom of that column.

One additional advertisement stood out from the rest of the content on the second page. It ran in the margin across the bottom, spanning both columns. In it, James Read described a horse that had strayed “off the Common at Savannah” and pledged that anyone who found the horse and returned it to him “shall be handsomely rewarded.” The format and placement indicates that Read likely submitted his advertisement to the printing office too late to have it integrated among the other content. Anxious for the return of his horse, Read may have negotiated for it to appear in the issue in any way possible; alternately, the printer may have devised this means of inserting it as a service. Either way, Read’s advertisement further demonstrates the Georgia Gazette’s flexible approach to positioning advertisements within its pages. At a glance, eighteenth-century newspapers may appear to be dense amalgamations of text, but the variations in the placement of news, advertising, and other content suggests that printers and compositors exercised creativity as they significantly altered the layout from issue to issue.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“Will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE.”

Resorting to creative typography, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Journal managed to squeeze two additional advertisements into the November 17, 1768, edition by running them in the outer margins of the second and third pages. Running the length of the page, one proclaimed, “To be sold by WILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD—–BOHEA TEA by the Chest; PEPPER in Bales; CONGO TEA in Canisters; FRONTINIACK in Bottles; And a few Firkins of LARD.” The other advised readers that “BY AUTHORITY. By the American Company, at the Theatre in Southwark, TOMORROW, being FRIDAY, will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE. To which will be added, By Desire, a PANTOMIME ENTERTAINMENT.”

The placement of these advertisements likely increased their visibility by prompting curious readers to investigate what sort of content merited being printed in the margins. Rather than being easier to overlook because they did not appear in the regular columns with the rest of the content, these advertisements may have benefited from the novelty of their position on the page. The advertisement for grocery items sold by the Bradfords ran along a column of other advertisements, perhaps immediately suggesting that it was yet another commercial notice, but the advertisement for the performance at the theater in Southwark appeared on a page devoted exclusively to news. Some readers may have engaged with the advertisement to confirm whether it offered a continuation or clarification of any of the stories from Europe and elsewhere in the colonies printed on that page.

The length of these advertisements facilitated their placement in the margins, but another factor likely played a part in selecting the Bradfords’ notice for such treatment. The Bradfords were not merchants or shopkeepers. They were the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Reserving their advertisement for the margins did not indicate that its inclusion was an afterthought. Instead, it may have been a deliberate strategy to differentiate it from others in the issue. As printers, they exercised certain privileges when it came to the format of their newspaper. That enhanced their ability to participate in commercial activities beyond job printing and publishing the Pennsylvania Journal.

December 7

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

Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“For New-York, the Brig General Conway; will sail in ten days, and for the sake of getting ballast, will carry freight for half price.”

More than any other printers who published newspapers in 1766, Mary Goddard and Company experimented with layout and graphic design for advertising. In collaboration with several shopkeepers, Goddard and Company mixed genres, placing advertisements that otherwise could have been separately printed and distributed as trade cards within several issues of the Providence Gazette during the summer and fall of 1766. Next, the printers continued producing hybrid publications with issues that featured full-page advertisements, effectively giving over the final page to what otherwise could have been an advertising broadside had it been produced separately.

For those efforts, Goddard and Company emphasized the size of the advertisements that appeared in the pages of the Providence Gazette. Today’s advertisement, however, was relatively short and took up little space on the page. What distinguished it from others was its position within the December 6, 1766, issue. It appeared on the third of four pages, running alongside, but perpendicular to, the column on the far right. It ran in the blank space usually reserved for the margin, making it the last text item readers would have seen when scanning the open pages of the newspaper from left to right.

Third Page of Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

This advertisement occupied space where text usually did not intrude, which would have encouraged curiosity among readers. Three columns appeared on each page of the Providence Gazette, all of them separated by sufficient white space to make them easily distinguishable from those on either side. This advertisement printed perpendicularly in the margin, however, did not have white space on its left. Instead, it was closely nestled next to the conclusion of a news article and an advertisement for the New-England Almanack. This format served both to hide and highlight the advertisement since it would have become distinguishable to readers as a distinct text only after doing a double take and realizing that the layout deviated from expectations of how the page should appear.

Mary Goddard and Company were not the first printers to deploy the single-line advertisement that ran in the margin, but they added a new twist to the relatively few examples from other printers and other newspapers. Such single-line advertisements, when they did appear, spanned multiple columns across the top or bottom of the page. Just as they had previously played with other graphic design elements for the layout and format of advertising in the second half of 1766, Goddard and Company added their own innovation to the single-line advertisement printed in the margin.