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.