June 9

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

South-Carolina Gazette (June 6, 1771).

“A Number of ADVERTISEMENTS … will be inserted in a CONTINUATION.”

The South-Carolina Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertising, often devoting more space to paid notices than to news.  The printer, Peter Timothy, must have generated significant revenues, assuming advertisers paid their bills.  Like other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but other distributed advertisements throughout an issue, including on the front page.

Consider the contents of the June 6, 1771, edition.  News from London comprised most of the first and third columns, but several advertisements filled the entire column between them.  In addition, a single advertisement appeared at the bottom of the first and third columns, each with a header proclaiming “New Advertisements.”  Local news and a poem filled most of the second page, but an advertisement appeared at the bottom of the last column.  It also bore a header for “New Advertisements,” leading into the facing page.  Advertisements accounted for the first two columns and a portion of the third on that page, though it concluded with “Timothy’s Marine List,” the shipping news from the customs house.  Paid notices filled the entire final page.  In total, advertising comprised seven of the twelve columns in the standard issue.

In addition, Timothy distributed a half sheet supplement, two more pages that contained nothing except paid notices.  Printers who ran out of space for the content they wished to print – or needed to print to satisfy agreements made with advertisers – often resorted to supplements.  In this instance, a header for “Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column on the first page.  Timothy also inserted a notice in the standard issue to explain that “A Number of ADVERTISEMENTS, which we could not get into this Day’s Paper, will be inserted in a CONTINUATION, to be published on Monday next.”  That meant even more advertising, though the printer’s notice may have been misleading. Timothy may or may not have printed and distributed another supplement on Monday.  The supplement dated June 6 may have been that supplement, taken to press earlier than anticipated at the time Timothy composed his notice and printed the standard issue.

Even without a midweek Continuation in addition to a Supplement that accompanied the June 6 edition, advertising constituted the majority of content delivered to subscribers.  Paid notices filled thirteen of the eighteen columns in the standard issue and supplement, amounting to more than two-thirds of the space.  Revenues generated from that advertising supported the production and distribution of the news, even in the colonial era.

May 11

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

Providence Gazette (May 11, 1771).

“N.B. They have just received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”

The arrival of the Providence in Providence on May 1, 1771, was good for business for John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette.  Captain Phineas Gilbert brought a variety of information that quickly found its way into the town’s only newspaper.  He delivered newspapers from London and letters from distant correspondents to Carter.  In turn, the printer selected excerpts for publication in the Providence Gazette.  He also published updates about the progress made by several vessels the Providence encountered during its transatlantic voyage.

In addition to news, the Providence also generated advertising.  Merchants quickly placed advertisements announcing that they stocked consumer goods “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON … In the Ship Providence.”  John Brown made that pronouncement in the May 4 edition.  Joseph Russell and William Russell also advertised that Captain Gilbert delivered a “large Assortment of GOODS” to them.  A week later, several other entrepreneurs placed similar notices in the Providence Gazette.  The advertising section in the May 11 edition commenced with notification from “Nicholas, Joseph& Moses Brown, In Company” that they had “imported in the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a great Variety of English and India GOODS.”  Thurber and Cahoon made the same appeal, adding a nota bene to an advertisement that previously ran in the Providence Gazette.  The new copy asserted that Thurber and Cahoon “have just recently received by the Ship Providence, Capt. Gilbert, a large and compleat Assortment of European and East India GOODS.”  Nathaniel Wheaton did not mention the Providence in his new advertisement, but he did declare that he “just imported from London” an assortment of merchandise that he offered to “the Gentlemen and Ladies both of Town and Country.”  Most likely the Providence transported his goods.  Not all entrepreneurs who placed such advertisements had shops in Providence. Richard Matthewson of East Greenwich promoted goods he received via the Providence, noting that he set prices “as cheap as any in the Colony.”

While Carter certainly welcomed any news that Captain Gilbert carried, he likely appreciated the goods and, especially, the advertisements they inspired even more.  After all, he regularly reprinted news from London that appeared in newspapers published in Boston.  That allowed him to satisfy subscribers, but it did not generate additional revenue.  The number of advertisements for consumer goods in the Providence Gazette significantly increased after the Providencearrived in port and delivered its cargo to merchants and shopkeepers.  That meant both additional content and greater revenue for the newspaper.

April 24

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

Detail of supplemental page from the South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 24, 1771).

“His STOCK of GOODS.”

Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, had more content than would fit in the standard issue on April 24, 1771.  Wells devoted more than a fifth of the issue to “EUROPEAN INTELLIGENCE,” spread over two columns on the front page and continuing on the second page.  The remainder of the second page consisted of “AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE,” news drawn primarily from Boston and Newport, Rhode Island, as well as limited coverage of local events.  The shipping news from the customs house spilled over, occupying a portion of the first column of the third page.  Paid notices constituted the rest of that edition, filling just shy of ten of the sixteen columns.  Even as he gave more space to advertising than to news, Wells did not have room for all of the paid notices submitted to his printing office.

To address that problem, Wells did what many other early American printers did in similar circumstances.  He distributed an additional sheet that consisted entirely of advertisements, more than two dozen of them.  One in four of those advertisements described enslaved men and women for sale or offered rewards for the capture ad return of those who liberated themselves.  While digital images of the standard issue and the supplementary pages do not indicate precise dimensions, they do reveal that Wells used a smaller sheet (and fewer columns per page) for the additional notices.  Wells depended on revenue generated from advertising to continue publication of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, but he also carefully budgeted how much paper he used in printing advertisements.  Rather than distribute an additional half sheet that would have allowed him to print more news reprinted from other newspapers Wells instead selected a smaller sheet with room for the paid notices and nothing else.  He carefully balanced the proportion of news and advertising as well as the revenues garnered from adverting and the costs of publishing those notices.

January 16

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 14, 1771).

“Said Morton has to dispose of, a large and very neat assortment of gilt and plain frame looking-glasses and sconces.”

Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square,” printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, one of several newspapers published in the city in the early 1770s.  On many occasions, Gaine devoted more space to disseminating advertising than news articles, letters and editorials, prices current, and shipping news from the customs house.  Such was the case for the January 14, 1771, edition.

Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, that issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but Gaine distributed paid notices throughout his newspaper.  The first two columns on the first page of the January 14 edition contained advertising.  News accounted for most of the third and fourth columns, but five short advertisements concluded the fourth column.  News filled the first three columns of the second page before giving way to advertising in the final column.  On the third page, readers encountered news in the first two columns and advertising in the last two.  The final page consisted entirely of paid notices.  Overall, nine of the sixteen columns, more than half of the issue, delivered advertising to readers.

Yet that was not all.  Gaine had so many advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue that he also published a two-page supplement to accompany it.  With the exception of the masthead, that supplement contained nothing but paid notices, another eight columns of advertising.  Considered together, this amounted to seventeen of the twenty-four columns in the standard issue and supplement.  More than two-thirds of the content that Gaine delivered to subscribers and other readers that week consisted of advertising.

For many newspaper printers in eighteenth-century America, advertising generated revenues that rivaled or surpassed subscription fees.  For Gaine, that was almost certainly the case, thought the volume of advertising also suggests impressive circulation numbers.  Advertisers would not have chosen to insert their notices in his newspaper if they were not confident that they would reach the general public.

November 13

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

Continuation to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 13, 1770).

“CONTINUATION to the South-Carolina Gazette, and Country Journal.”

Like other newspapers published in colonial America, a standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Charles Crouch occasionally had more news, editorials, and advertisements than would fit in a standard issue, prompting him to distribute a supplement with the additional material.  Some newspapers so often had surplus items, especially advertisements, that supplements themselves became practically standard.

November 13, 1770, was one of those days that all of the news and all of the advertising for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal would not fit on four pages.  Six pages did not provide enough room either.  Crouch filled a two-page supplement and still had advertisements remaining.  Advertisements generated important revenue for any printer.  In this case, Crouch determined that they generated enough revenue to merit the additional expense of producing and distributing a four-page Continuation to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in addition to the supplement.  The Continuation consisted entirely of advertisements.

The Continuation, however, was not printed on the same size sheet as the standard issue or the supplement.  Digital remediations of eighteenth-century newspapers usually do not include metadata that includes dimensions, but differences in the sizes of sheets are often apparent even without knowing the precise measurements.  The standard issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal featured three columns per page.  When printed on an 8.5×11 sheet of office paper, the type is relatively small.  In contrast, the Continuation had only two columns per page.  When printed on an 8.5×11 sheet, the type is relatively large.  The sizes of the original broadsheets were obviously different.  Furthermore, white space divides the columns in standard issues, but the columns nearly run together in the Continuation, separated by a line running down the middle.  Rather than reset the type of advertisements that ran in previous issues, a time-consuming task, Crouch instead made them fit on the smaller sheet.  The Continuation had four pages, but they did not double the size of that standard issue.

Still, subscribers and other readers encountered far more content than usual when they perused the November 13 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal along with its Supplement and Continuation.  Close examination of the digital surrogate also suggests that Crouch printed the supplement on a smaller sheet than the standard issue, though one large enough to retain three columns with white space separating them.  For most newspaper printers, advertisements represented significant revenues.  Paid notices often accounted for a significant portion of the content in any given issue. In this instance, devoting a page to advertising was not sufficient.  Crouch devised additional sheets to accompany the standard issue, incurring expenses yet generating revenues while simultaneously exposing readers to greater advertising content.

November 7

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 5, 1770).

“The Co-partnership of Stanton and Ten Brook, is by mutual Consent dissolved.”

Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, had too much news and advertising to fit in a standard issue of his newspaper on November 5, 1770, so he resorted to a solution common among printers throughout the colonies.  He published a two-page supplement to accompany the standard issue.  In this case, he used a smaller sheet with only three columns per page (instead of four), filling both sides with advertisements.

Some of the advertisements in the supplement also appeared in the standard issue, including a notice about the partnership of Stanton and Ten Brook dissolving “by mutual Consent” and calling on associates to settle accounts, a notice seeking Elizabeth Hancock and informing her that “she will be inform’d of something greatly to her advantage” is she contacted Jacob Le Roy, and a list of books that Gaine himself offered for sale.  Like many other printers, Gaine was also a bookseller.

Why did these advertisements run twice on the same day, first in the standard issue and again in the supplement?  This suggests that the two placed by Le Roy and the partnership of Stanton and Ten Brook may not have generated additional revenue for the printer.  Instead, he may very well have used them as filler to complete the page.  All three appeared at the bottom of the third column, suggesting they were the last notices incorporated into the supplement.  Gaine probably hoped that running his own advertisement a second time would yield greater sales for the bookselling segment of his enterprise, but it does not seem likely that he would have charged the others for an additional insertion of their advertisements.

Were any of the other advertisements in the supplement included to complete the page rather than because the advertisers instructed Gaine to run them again and agreed to pay for the service?  Advertisements crowding the pages of colonial newspapers and overflowing into supplements usually represented significant revenues for printers, but this example suggests that was not always the case for every advertisement.  Although including an advertisement twice on a single day was relatively rare, Gaine and other printers did run some notices sporadically and for far longer than advertisers may have requested.  In some cases, it seems that printers valued advertisements as filler just as much as they valued them for the fees they earned.

September 10

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 10, 1770).

“To be SOLD … Best PORTER.”

Colonial printers often devoted as much space to advertising as news, editorials, and other content in their newspapers.  Advertisements often overflowed from standard issues into supplements devoted entirely to paid notices.  Consider, for instance, Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Gaine published a standard issue once a week in 1770.  It consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Those standard issues usually included a significant proportion of advertisements in relation to news.  In addition, a two-page supplement often accompanied the standard issue.  Such was the case on September 10.  This did not, however, increase the contents by half since Gaine used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  Still, the supplement accounted for a considerable amount of additional material disseminated to readers.

Notably, the supplement contained advertisements and nothing else, with the exception of the masthead.  Gaine inserted more than three dozen advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue.  This was not a case of separating news from advertising, saving the latter for the supplement.  Instead, paid notices appeared throughout the standard issue as well.  One advertisement ran at the bottom of the first page.  Every other page featured a greater number of advertisements:  nearly two of the four columns on the second page, a column and a half on the third page, and the entire fourth page.  Before turning to the supplement, advertising filled nearly half of the standard issue.

Advertising generated revenues for Gaine, making publishing the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury a viable enterprise.  Then, as now, advertising revenues contributed to the dissemination of the news, though sometimes their volume may have seemed to overwhelm the other content of the newspaper.  Joseph Lawrence’s advertisement for “Best PORTER” in the supplement, one example among many, helped to underwrite news from London and Constantinople on the first page and news from other colonies on the second and third pages.

September 8

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

Providence Gazette (September 8, 1770).

An Advertisement to be inserted three Weeks successively in the Providence Gazette, in the Newport Mercury, in one of the Boston, and in one of the New-York News-Papers.”

The misfortune of others generated advertising revenue for John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, and other newspaper printers in the 1770s.  Consider the September 8, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette.  It featured six advertisements concerning insolvent debtors placed by Henry Ward, secretary of Rhode Island’s General Assembly.

Those notices reiterated formulaic language.  Each named a colonist and his place of residence, stating that he “preferred a Petition unto the General Assembly … representing that he is an insolvent Debtor, and praying that he may the receive the Benefit of an Act passed in June, 1756, intituled, ‘An Act for the Relief of insolvent Debtors.’”  According to the notice, the General Assembly deferred consideration of the petition until the next session, but also specified that “his creditors should be notified” via newspaper advertisements.  On behalf of the General Assembly, Ward invited those creditors to attend the next session and “there to shew Cause, if any they  have, why the said Petition should not be granted.”

Four of these notices called for such advertisements to appear in the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury, the two newspapers published in Rhode Island in 1770.  The two other notices each cast a wider net.  One added “one of the New-York News-Papers” and the other added “one of the Boston, and … one of the New-York News-Papers.”  All six called for the advertisements to run “three Weeks successively” in each newspaper.

Carter solicited advertisements for the Providence Gazette in the colophon at the bottom of the final page of every issue.  He may have been especially grateful for these notices in early September since he had few others to insert and he continued to run his own notice calling on “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer” to settle accounts or face legal action.  Assuming that he could depend on the General Assembly to pay for these advertisements in a timely manner, they might have been a windfall for Carter.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1770 Massachusetts Spy
Massachusetts Spy (August 21, 1770).

“A General Assortment of GROCERIES.”

Isaiah Thomas launched the Massachusetts Spy on July 17, 1770, with an issue that included the “PROPOSALS for printing by Subscription, A New PAPER of INTELLIGENCE” as well as several news items.  The “PROPOSALS” served as an advertisement for the newspaper, the only advertisement that appeared in “NUMB. I,” that first issue.  Thomas stated that he would publish the next issue two weeks later (but three times a week after that) and invited subscribers and advertisers to contact him.  Three weeks elapsed before the printer distributed the next edition, but after that he kept to the schedule he outlined in the “PROPOSALS.”

The first several issues, however, did not include advertisements.  Thomas and the Massachusetts Spy competed with four other newspapers published in Boston, all of them established years earlier and familiar to the readers in the city and its hinterlands.  Prospective advertisers quite likely did not wish to invest in placing notices in the Massachusetts Spy until they saw what kind of reception it received among the public and got a better sense of its circulation.  It was not until “NUMB. 8,” the eighth issue, that advertisements other than the “PROPOSALS” ran in the Massachusetts Spy.  More than a month after Thomas solicited advertisements in the first issue, four of them ran on August 21, 1770.  Alexander Chamberlain, Jr., advertised groceries and housewares, while two citrus sellers at “the sign of the Dish of Lemons, in Marlborough-street” and “the Sign of the Basket of Lemons … in Middle-Street” competed for customers.  An anonymous “WET NURSE” offered her services, instructing prospective clients to “Enquire at the New Printing-Office, in Union-Street.”  Like other printers, Thomas disseminated additional information to readers who followed up on advertisements that ran in his newspaper.

In the colophon on the final page, Thomas reminded readers that he accepted “Subscriptions, Articles of Intelligence, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper.”  Having finally published these advertisements, he likely hoped that they would encourage more colonists to insert their own notices in his newspaper.  After all, advertising represented an important revenue stream for any printer.  Paid notices often made the difference between newspapers successfully turning a profit or not having sufficient resources to continue publication.

September 20

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

Sep 20 - 9:20:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 20, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD …”

The September 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette included a note from the printer indicating that “Advertisements left out” of that issue would appear in the next one. James Johnston opted not to issue a supplement along with the regular issue, eschewing a strategy often adopted by other printers when they had more content than space. The time required to prepare a supplement may have been a factor in Johnston’s decision, but more likely he weighed the resources required to produce a supplement against the number of remaining advertisements and determined that he did not have sufficient unpublished material to merit the investment in additional paper, an often scarce commodity made even more valuable due to the taxes imposed on imported paper by the Townshend Acts in the late 1760s.

Johnston reached a different conclusion two weeks later. The September 20 edition included a supplement, but it did not match the supplements so frequently distributed with other newspapers. Those usually appeared on a half sheet printed on both sides, increasing by half the amount of content distributed that week. Supplements also usually included a masthead that bore the title of the newspaper and the number of the associated issue. None of this applied to the supplement that accompanied the September 20 edition of the Georgia Gazette. Instead, it appeared on smaller sheet with no identifying features. A half sheet supplement that matched the size of a standard issue would have measured approximately 9.25 inches by 14.25 inches, but this measured approximately 6.75 inches by 8.5 inches. In addition, the compositor rotated some of the type, already set in columns the same width as those in the regular issues of the Georgia Gazette, ninety degrees in order to fit as much content as possible on the additional sheet.

Why did Johnston produce this unusual supplement? Perhaps some advertisers had complained about the delayed publication of their notices two weeks earlier. The printer, however, may not have needed complaints to influence him to take this action. After all, newspapers throughout the colonies frequently included similar notices that advertisements that did not appear that week would appear the next. When Johnston once again found himself in the position of not having enough space for advertising and other content in the regular issue, he may have determined that he could not delay the advertisements again so soon. After all, advertisers provided an important revenue stream for colonial newspapers. For the Georgia Gazette to remain a viable venture, Johnston had to balance the demands of subscribers and advertisers, which meant the timely distribution of both news and paid notices. Such calculations may have made the expense of producing a rather odd supplement a necessity. Johnston made a similar decision a week later, printing another supplement on a smaller sheet once again, but that time only on one side. Distributing advertising to colonial readers sometimes required extraordinary measures.

Sep 20 - Georgia Gazette AAS
To determine the measurements of a standard issue and the supplement, I consulted original copies of the Georgia Gazette at the American Antiquarian Society. Notice the relative sizes. (left: Georgia Gazette, supplement, September 20, 1769; right: Georgia Gazette, September 27, 1769)