What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“ALL Persons indebted to the Printer of this Paper …”
The masthead for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal proclaimed that its pages “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” The newspaper also disseminated a lot of advertisements, on some occasions more advertising than other content. The October 22, 1771, edition, for instance, consisted primarily of advertisements. They filled the entire front and back pages. News appeared on the second page and overflowed into the first column on the third, but “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” comprised the remainder of that page. Charles Crouch received so many advertisements at his printing office that he published a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising.
Those advertisements represented significant revenue for Crouch, but only if advertisers actually paid for the time and labor required to set the type and for the space that their notices occupied when they ran week after week. Many advertisers, as well as subscribers, were slow to pay, prompting Crouch to insert his own notice that “ALL Persons indebted to the Printer of this Paper, whose Accounts are not discharged by the first Day of January next … may rely on having them put into the Hands of an Attorney at Law, or Magistrate, as the Case may require.” He made an exception for “those of his good Customers who have been punctual in their Payments,” but otherwise extended “no Indulgence” to others.
Colonists who pursued all sorts of occupations frequently placed similar advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers throughout the colonies, but Crouch had an advantage when it came to placing his notice in front of the eyes of the customers that he wanted to see it. As printer, he determined the order of the contents in his newspaper. He strategically placed his notice as the first item in the first column on the first page, immediately below the masthead, making it more likely that readers would notice it even if they merely skimmed other advertisements or looked for the news. Other advertisers usually did not choose where their notices appeared in relation to other content. As part of the business of operating printing offices and publishing newspapers, Crouch and other printers often made the placement of their own notices a priority. After all, the financial health of their newspapers served not only themselves but also subscribers who kept informed about current events, advertisers who wished to share their messages with the public, and entire communities that benefited from the circulation of information.