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 20

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1770).

“DOUBLE BEER, fine ALE, TABLE and SMALL BEER.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, had too much news and advertising to include all of it in a standard four-page issue on November 20, 1770.  Like other printers who found themselves in that position, he distributed a supplement with the surplus content.  Both news and advertising appeared in the standard issue, but the supplement consisted entirely of advertisements.

Taking into account the number of advertisements that did not make it into the standard issue, Wells used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  That decision led to an unusual format for the supplement.  Each page of the standard issue featured four columns, but each page of the supplement had only three columns.  Two of those ran from top to bottom of the page, as usual, but Wells printed the final column perpendicular to the others.

Why such an awkward format?  It saved time while also maximizing the amount of content Wells could squeeze onto the page.  Most of the advertisements ran in previous issues.  The type had already been set.  Wells wished to use it again rather than investing time in resetting type to fit a page of a different size.  The smaller sheet allowed him to insert two columns of the usual width.  With the remaining space, he rotated the advertisements and formed columns that ran perpendicular to the others.  Wells managed to fit three of these perpendicular columns, but that left a small space at the bottom of the page.

Rather than waste that remaining space by leaving it blank, Wells finally opted to set type for a narrower column.  On one side of the page this permitted him to include two more short advertisements, one for beer and ale and the other for candles.  On the other side he inserted a notice from the Charleston Library Society calling on members to return books.  Engaging with these advertisements required active reading and further manipulation of the page by subscribers.

Wells was simultaneously ingenious and frugal in designing the format for the advertising supplement that accompanied the November 20 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  His competitor, Charles Crouch, found himself in a similar position when it came to supplements for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, choosing to eliminate white space between columns in order to make the content fit the page without having to reset the type.  Publishing advertisements generated important revenues for newspaper printers, but they were not so lucrative to prevent printers from carefully managing the additional expenses of producing advertising supplements.

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.

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).

“NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”

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).

“RUN AWAY … TWO NEGROE MEN.”

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).

“A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EAST-INDIA and EUROPEAN GOODS.”

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.