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.

May 22

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

May 22 - 5:22:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette, and Country Journal (May 22, 1770).

“A Few Bales of well bought WHITE PLAINS.”

When he prepared to go to press with the May 22, 1770, edition, Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, found that he had too much content to fit into a standard four-page issue.  To remedy the situation, he also produced a two-page supplement comprised entirely of advertisements.  That was not unusual, but one of the decisions Crouch made about the format of that supplement differed from the approach usually taken by printers and compositors throughout the colonies.  In an effort to fill every square inch of space on the page, Crouch included three advertisements that deviated from the standard width for columns in his newspaper.

Understanding this strategy first requires a closer look at the entire supplement.  Crouch did not have enough material to fill two sides of a half sheet, the most common format for supplements.  Instead, he used a smaller sheet, one that was wide enough for only two columns with generous margins.  Regular issues had three columns.  To take advantage of the empty space, Crouch selected shorter advertisements to rotate perpendicular to the rest of the text.  Those he inserted in several columns.  This was a common trick for printers and compositors.  It saved the time and effort of resetting type by arranging in a different configuration several advertisements that previously appeared in the newspaper.

Crouch could have left space on either side of these advertisement.  Instead, he positioned them with margins as narrow as if they appeared in the regular columns.  This left empty space at the bottom of the page, but it was not wide enough for an advertisement of the same width.  Here Crouch’s method departed from the usual practice.  Rather than adjust the margins, he instead inserted advertisements that were narrower than any of the other columns throughout the standard issue or the supplement.  Doing so required resetting type for advertisements that previously ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Crouch chose to expend the time and effort rather than surrender the otherwise empty space.  He made use of every last inch of the smaller half sheet when he published this particular advertising supplement.

May 1

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

May 1 - 5:1:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 1, 1770).


As usual, the masthead for the May 1, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal proclaimed that it contained “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.”  The front page featured news from Boston, including reports that a committee had been formed to gather testimonies from colonists who witnessed the Boston Massacre.  That issue also included news reprinted from newspapers published in Providence, Newport, Hartford, New York, and Philadelphia, though those items were often themselves republished from English newspapers or letters received from correspondents in faraway places like Gibraltar and Jamaica.  A couple of items of local news as well as the shipping news from the customs house rounded out the “freshest Advices.”

Yet news of the Boston Massacre was not the first item that readers encountered, even though it was on the first page.  Instead, a legal notice filled the upper half of the first two columns.  Assorted advertisements appeared below the legal notice.  News from Boston ran in the third column.  Elsewhere in that issue, news items comprised the entire second page and most of the first column on the fourth, but advertisements filled the third page and two of the three columns on the final page.  The standard issue consisted of five columns of news and seven columns of paid notices … and that was not even the end of the advertising disseminated in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal on May 1.  Charles Crouch, the printer, issued a two-page supplement, another six columns, that consisted entirely of paid notices. Advertising accounted for more than two-thirds of the content delivered to subscribers in the May 1 edition and its supplement.  Like many other printers, Crouch touted the “freshest Advices” that appeared in his newspaper, but the publication was also (and on many occasions primarily) a vehicle for distributing advertising.

April 11

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

Apr 11 - 4:11:1770 Georgia Gazette
Advertising Supplement for the Georgia Gazette (April 11, 1770).


Given the distance, it is not surprising that it took longer for word of the Boston Massacre to reach James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, than his counterparts in other cities.  On April 11, 1770, he published coverage of the Massacre, reprinting the article that originally appeared in Edes and Gill’s Boston-Gazette on March 12.  Johnston did not indicate whether he reprinted the news directly from the Boston-Gazette or from one of the many newspapers that had earlier reprinted and further disseminated Edes and Gill’s coverage of the shocking event.

The news from Boston comprised almost an entire page, prompting Johnston to issue a relatively rare advertising supplement because he lacked space for all the content for that week.  The supplement featured sixteen advertisements, including three that described enslaved men and women who escaped from the colonists who held them in bondage.

Johnston’s supplement to the Georgia Gazette did not take the same form as most supplements to other newspapers printed throughout the colonies.  Those usually ran on half sheets with a masthead to identify the publication.  The only indication that this supplement belongs with the April 11 edition of the Georgia Gazette is a notation at the bottom of the page.  “[No. 340.]” corresponded to the issue number in the masthead of the standard issue.

It is impossible to tell the size of the sheet for Johnston’s April 11 supplement from digitized copies of the Georgia Gazette except to say that it certainly was not a half sheet.  It may very well have been a quarter sheet.  Under other circumstances, I would visit the American Antiquarian Society to examine an original edition and take measurements, but that library, like others across the nation, is temporarily closed as part of the physical distancing measures to slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

No matter the size of the supplement, carrying news of the momentous events in Boston forced Johnston to decide between enlarging the size of the Georgia Gazette on April 11 or choosing among advertisements and other news to delay for a week.  Having a duty to subscribers to provide news and a financial obligation to advertisers to distribute their notices, Johnston opted for creating a supplement.  Doing so drew on a precious resource, considering that imported paper was still taxed under the Townshend Acts and supplies of paper produced in the colonies were limited.

Apr 11 - 4:11:1770 Georgia Gazette
Advertising Supplement for the Georgia Gazette (April 11, 1770).

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:23:1769 South-Carolina Gazette Additional Supplement
Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (November 23, 1769).

“New Advertisements.”

In the fall of 1769 Peter Timothy did good business when it came to publishing advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette. Consider the November 23 edition. Advertising appeared on every page. Indeed, the space devoted to advertising eclipsed the space for news items. A headline directing readers to “New Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column of the first page. The other two columns consisted of news items. The second page also delivered news, but two “New Advertisements” ran at the bottom of the last column. Timothy divided the third page evenly between news items (including a list of prices current in Charleston and the shipping news from the customs house, branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”) and more “New Advertisements.” The final page consisted entirely of advertisements. Overall, paid notices compromised half of the standard issue, which likely suited Timothy just fine since advertising usually generated greater revenue than selling subscriptions.

Yet even giving over that much space to advertising in the standard issue did not allow Timothy to disseminate all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office. A two-page Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette accompanied the November 23 edition. Except for the masthead, it consisted entirely of advertisements, though the “New Advertisements” headline that ran three times in the standard issue did not appear in the supplement. Timothy may have made a concerted effort to give new content, whether news or advertising, a privileged place in the standard issue. Still, even by publishing the supplement Timothy did not gain sufficient space to include all of the advertisements for the week. He went to the extraordinary step of printing and distributing an Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette. Printed on a smaller sheet, this two-page supplement featured only two columns per page. It still allowed Timothy to circulate an additional sixteen advertisements. The “New Advertisements” headline ran at the top of the first column on the first page, though the notices were repeats from previous editions. Did Timothy deploy that headline indiscriminately? Or did he use it strategically in an attempt to draw readers weary of advertisements into the Additional Supplement rather than dismiss it as content they had already perused in recent weeks?

Timothy very nearly had more advertisements than he could publish in the South-Carolina Gazette. Assuming that advertisers actually settled accounts in a timely manner, Timothy operated a booming business at his printing office. The volume of paid notices testified to both the extensive circulation of the newspaper and colonists’ confidence in the effectiveness of advertising. Some colonial newspapers, such as the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, the New-York Journal or General Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, and the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, positioned their purpose as twofold right in the masthead. Timothy very well could have billed the South-Carolina Gazette as an Advertiser.

November 8

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

Nov 8 - 11:8:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 8, 1769).


James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, had too much content to include all of the news and advertisements in his newspaper on November 8, 1769.   As a result, he issued a small supplement to accompany the standard issue, though it took a different form than most supplements distributed by printers in eighteenth-century America.

For context, first consider the format of a standard issue of the Georgia Gazette and most other newspapers of the period. They usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The Georgia Gazette featured two columns per page; most newspapers published in the 1760s had three columns, but a select few had four columns. When printers had excess content, they either inserted a note that certain items would appear in the following issue or they distributed some sort of supplement. Supplements usually consisted of two pages of the same size as the standard issue; in terms of production and appearance, they amounted to half of a standard issue. Given the expense and scarcity of paper, very rarely did printers distribute supplements that had content on only one side but left the other side blank. Those additional pages usually had some sort of title, most often Supplement, but on occasion Postscript or Extraordinary. The last two applied most often to additional pages that featured news (rather than advertising) that arrived in the printing office too late for inclusion in the standard issue.

The supplement that accompanied the November 8, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette deviated greatly from most other supplements. It consisted of seven advertisements printed on only one side of a smaller sheet than the standard issue. (The size of the sheets cannot be determined from consulting digital surrogates in databases of eighteenth-century newspapers, but experienced researchers easily recognize when the relative sizes of newspaper pages differ based on several features.) The compositor arranged those seven advertisements in an unusual manner. Three ran in a vertical column; rotated ninety degrees to the left, the other four ran in two horizontal columns. All seven appeared in the previous issue of the Georgia Gazette. The compositor adopted this unusual format for the supplement in order to use type that had already been set while maximizing the amount of content that would appear on a smaller sheet. In another variation from the norm, the supplement did not include a masthead or title that associated it with the Georgia Gazette. Only a notation in the lower right corner, “[No. 318.],” identified it as a companion to the November 8 edition, labeled “No. 318” in the masthead on the first page of the standard issue.

In recent months, Johnston had sometimes resorted to postponing publication of paid notices and other times issued miniature supplements. Advertising represented an important source of revenue for colonial printers, which likely prompted Johnston to invest the time and resources required to produce those supplements and disseminate notices submitted to his printing office. He needed to do this while still covering the news for his subscribers, striking a balance between the two kinds of content.

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).


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)

April 11

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 10, 1769).

“Sperma-Caeti CANDLES.”

In this advertisement from the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette for April 10, 1769, Richard Smith sold “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” at his store on King Street. What are spermaceti candles? According to Emily Irwin, the materials to make spermaceti candles came from sperm whales. Those materials were supplied by the whaling industry. Spermaceti candles burned longer, cleaner, and brighter than other candles made from tallow (animal fat) or beeswax, making them a popular choice. Spermaceti candles were the height of the candle-making technology for Americans in the eightheenth and nineteenth centuries. Irwin states, “The spermaceti candle represents a changing society and an evolving culture; a culture that was constantly striving for a clean burning and more efficient means by which to light the darkness.”[1]

Despite the high cost of these candles, Americans were willing to pay for them, but only the richest of Americans could afford to fully enjoy the benefits of spermaceti candles. These candles were made from the “head matter” which was an oily substance that came from sperm whales. This material was hard to acquire, especially compared to tallow and beeswax. Spermaceti candles were often made in port towns such as Providence or Boston.



Edes and Gill had too much content to fit all of it into the standard four-page edition of the Boston-Gazette on Monday, April 10, 1769. As the masthead proclaimed, they published “the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.” Some of those “Advices” were news items and editorials. Others were paid notices that also delivered news, such as an advertisement offering a reward for capturing the perpetrator of a theft that recently occurred at John Carnes’s shop in Boston and another that advised landholders to pay taxes on their property in Berkshire County or risk having their land sold at public auction. Even advertisements for goods and services counted among “the freshest Advices” as they informed readers of upcoming concerts, ships seeking passengers and freight in advance of departing for London, and all sorts of fashionable textiles and housewares in stock in local shops.

The printers had so much content that many of the paid notices overflowed into a separate supplement devoted entirely to advertising. Richard Smith’s advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” and “an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” was one of two dozen that ran in the supplement. On the same day, the Boston Evening-Post also issued a two-page supplement, though advertising comprised only one of those pages. To the south, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury distributed its own two-page supplement filled with paid notices. Half a dozen other newspapers were also published throughout the colonies, from Massachusetts to South Carolina, on April 10, 1769. Each of them carried a significant amount of advertising, even if the printers did not have so many as to justify distributing a supplement. Green and Russell even squeezed a short advertisement into the bottom margin of the first page of the Massachusetts Gazette. Peter Crammer’s advertisement for “Choice Liver Oyl” ran as a single line across all three columns.

All of these examples demonstrate the popularity of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Printers certainly appreciated the revenues, squeezing as many advertisements as possible into each issue and distributing supplements when they did not have enough space. Many advertisers likely considered such marketing a necessary investment. Smith’s advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” ran between John Langdon’s advertisement for “Best Sperma Ceti Candles” and “Isaac White’s advertisement for “Dipp’d Tallow Candles.” With so many competitors advertising their wares in the public prints, Smith likely considered it imperative to do so as well or risk losing out on his share of the market.


[1] Emily Irwin, “The Spermaceti Candle and the American Whaling Industry,” Historia 21 (2012), 45.

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 2, 1768).

“[No. 266.]”

Earlier this week the Adverts 250 Project featured a supplement that accompanied the October 27, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Although the supplement carried some news, advertising filled the vast majority of space. This was not uncommon in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially those published in the largest urban ports.

Yet newspapers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia were not the only ones that sometimes circulated supplements devoted almost exclusively to advertising. Publications in smaller cities and towns sometimes did the same. Consider, for example, the November 2, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. It included the standard four-page issue created by folding a broadsheet in half as well as a one-page supplement comprised entirely of paid notices. An excess of news did not make the advertising supplement necessary. James Johnston, the printer, devoted two entire pages to news items. A couple of those overflowed onto a third page, filling half a column. If anything, that issue carried slightly less news than usually appeared in the Georgia Gazette.

In contrast, it featured significantly more advertising, enough to fill an entire page, but not enough to merit printing on both sides of a half sheet. Johnston resorted to this strategy several times in the summer and fall of 1768, but apparently not so often that he devised a masthead that read “Supplement to the Georgia Gazette.” Newspapers that frequently distributed supplements had such mastheads. Instead, Johnston simply inserted “[No. 266.]” at the bottom of the second column, a brief notation to indicate that the extra page belonged with the November 2 issue, “No. 266” according to its masthead. Most likely the extra page had been tucked inside the standard issue prior to distribution.

Although it generally carried less advertising, in terms both of numbers and of proportion of space filled, than newspapers in the largest American cities, the Georgia Gazette was also a delivery mechanism for advertisements as much as for news and other content. It carried advertisements placed for a variety of purposes – consumer goods and services for sale, runaway slaves, real estate, legal notices, to name some of the most common – to readers in Savannah and throughout the colony.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:27:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (October 27, 1768).


John Holt’s newspaper lived up to the full name that appeared in the masthead: “THE NEW-YORK JOURNAL; OR, THE GENERAL ADVERTISER.” In many instances, Holt’s newspaper might better have been called an advertiser because it carried significantly more paid notices than news content.

Consider, for example, the October 27, 1768, edition. It consisted of the standard four-page issue created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Each page featured three columns. In addition, Holt distributed a four-page “SUPPLEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL OR GENERAL ADVERTISER.” Printed on a smaller sheet, each page had two columns of text the same width as those in the regular issue as well as a third column of text rotated such that it appeared perpendicular to the rest. The sheet was not wide enough to accommodate three columns, so the compositor devised a creative means of inserting advertisements using type already set for previous issues.

In the regular issue, advertising filled a significant amount of space: five of the twelve columns. News and other content, such as a table of the tides and a poet’s corner, accounted for the remaining columns. Advertising comprised an even greater proportion of the supplement. Only two columns of news appeared in it.

Those advertisements helped to sustain the New-York Journal. Like most eighteenth-century newspapers, its viability depended in large part on the revenues generated from advertising. Unlike most newspapers of the era, it listed the fees for advertisement in the colophon. “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth,” Holt specified, “are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” A great many advertisements happened to be longer than they were wide. In such instances, Holt charged “in the same Proportion” for “larger Advertisements.” Peter T. Curtenius’s advertisement, twice as long as it was wide, would have cost ten shillings to set the type and run for four weeks and an additional two shillings for each additional insertion.

Not all colonial newspapers contained as many advertisements as the New-York Journal, but most did devote at least one-quarter of their space – and often much, much more – to paid notices. In that regard, newspapers were delivery mechanisms for advertising as much as for news, even in an era predating the rise of Madison Avenue and the modern advertising industry.