August 3

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

Aug 3 - 8:3:1769 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (August 3, 1769).

“79–.”

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, inserted numbers at the end of advertisements. These numbers were not intended for readers but instead for those who worked in the printing office. They indicated how long an advertisement should run. For instance, an advertisement announcing that the brigantine Rebekah would sail for Jamaica appeared in the supplement that accompanied the August 3, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. The compositor inserted the numbers 85 and 88 on the final line, 85 indicating that the advertisement first ran in issue 1385 on July 20 and 88 indicating that it would make its final appearance in issue 1388 on August 10. After that, the compositor would remove it. Similarly, Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement featuring a woodcut that depicted a Windsor chair also included 85 and 88 on the final line, though an earlier iteration included the numbers 63 and 72 instead. Hampton had inserted the advertisement for ten weeks earlier in the year, apparently determined it had been worth the investment, and then inserted it again for a shorter run.

Other advertisements, however, included a single number and a dash. Samuel Francis (better known today as Samuel Fraunces) ran an advertisement that concluded with “79–“ instead of two numbers. Similarly, Jarvis Roebuck had “62–“ on the final line of his advertisement. In each case, the number indicated the issue that the advertisement first appeared: issue 1362 on February 2 for Jarvis and issue 1379 on June 8 (the same date at that opened the advertisement) for Francis. What did the dash mean? How did the compositor interpret it when deciding which items belonged in an issue and which should be removed?

The publication history of these two advertisements reveals that the dash did not indicate that an advertisement should run continuously. Francis’s advertisement ran for five consecutive issues (June 8, 15, 22, and 22 and July 6) before appearing sporadically in six more issues (July 20, August 3 and 24, September 7, and October 12 and 26). Roebuck’s advertisement ran sporadically from the start, appearing on February 2 and 9, March 2 and 30, April 13 and 27, May 25, June 1, 8, and 29, July 27, August 3, 24, and 31, September 14, and October 12. Seemingly no particular plan corresponds to the publication schedule for the sixteen insertions of Roebuck’s notice over the course of nine months.

Perhaps the dash indicated that the compositor had carte blanche to insert the advertisement when necessary to complete a page. These two advertisements were the final items in the August 3 supplement, though they did not always appear at the end of an issue or supplement. Moderate in length, they may have been convenient filler when the compositor estimated that an issue or supplement ran short of other content. Paired numbers, like “85 88,” streamlined bookkeeping and production of the New-York Journal, but this arrangement for continued yet sporadic insertions required careful attention to bookkeeping. The printer or another employee in the printing office would have had to peruse each issue to see which advertisements with dashes appeared and then update the ledger accordingly.

What role did advertisers play in this process? Could they instruct the printing office to insert an advertisement on a week-by-week basis? If compositors made decisions about including advertisements, did advertisers pay for every insertion? Did advertisers receive any sort of discount for this arrangement? Did advertisements every run after advertisers no longer wished for them to appear? It seems unlikely that Francis would have been enthused about an advertisement promoting the summer entertainments at Vauxhall Gardens to appear in the New-York Journal in late October.

Some of the numbers compositors inserted at the end of advertisements clearly indicated their purpose in the operation of a printing office and the production of colonial newspapers. Other notations, however, only hinted at their purpose and now raise tantalizing questions about how printers, compositors, advertisers, and others used them. The dash at the end of some advertisements certainly served some purpose; otherwise compositors would not have taken the time to include such notation. A more systematic survey of advertisements combined with careful examination of printers’ ledgers may reveal some of the practices that printers found efficient and effective in running their shops in the eighteenth century.

December 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 30, 1768).

“JUST PUBLISH’D, (And TO BE SOLD by D. & R. FOWLE.)”

Colonial printers rarely listed their advertising fees in their newspapers. Those that did usually set rates that took into account a variety of factors, including the length of an advertisement, its duration, and the time and labor involved in setting type. Most printers specified that an advertisement would run for three or four weeks for an initial fee and then accrue additional fees with each subsequent insertion. The cost of those insertions made clear that the initial fee took into account that a compositor had to set the type for an advertisement’s first appearance but not afterward. Printers also stated that the basic fees were adjustable in that they were proportional to the length of each advertisement. Shorter advertisements cost less, but longer advertisements more. The basic fees provided a starting point for the calculations.

Other content in colonial newspapers – news, editorials, prices current, shipping news, and poetry and other entertainment pieces – changed from issue to issue. Type for each item had to be set with each new edition. Advertisements, however, continued from week to week without change. Their placement on the page often shifted as compositors eliminated notices that had expired, added others, and arranged the contents in an order that yielded columns of the same length, but that did not require (setting type for each advertisement. In that regard, reprinting advertisements for second and subsequent weeks reduced the time and labor required for producing a portion of the newspaper.

When preparing the final edition for 1768, reprinting advertisements that previously appeared in previous weeks saved the compositor for the New-Hampshire Gazette considerable time and labor. The last page consisted entirely of advertisements and a colophon. That page exactly replicated the last page of the previous issue: all of the same advertisements in the same order, an extraordinary repetition even taking into account that individual advertisements ran for multiple weeks.

Like most other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of only four pages, created by printing on both sides of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The page of advertising that did not change from one issue to the next represented one-quarter of the contents of the December 30 edition. Producing copies one-by-one on a hand-operated press still required the same amount of time and energy. When it came to content, however, reprinting advertisements streamlined the production process. The printing office at the New-Hampshire Gazette would have still been a bustling place, but the compositor experienced a brief respite when it came to preparing the last page for the final edition of 1768.

September 24

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

Sep 24 - 9:24:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 24, 1768).

Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.”

The compositor who set type for the Providence Gazette inserted a series of instructions to aid readers in navigating the September 24, 1768, edition. Like all other newspapers published in the American colonies in the 1760s, a standard issue of the Providence Gazette consisted of four pages distributed once a week. This required a single broadsheet, folded in half. Some newspapers in largest port cities did regularly circulate an additional two-page supplement printed on a half or quarter sheet tucked inside the standard issue but often numbered sequentially as the fifth and sixth pages. The majority of newspapers, however, issued supplements, postscripts, and extraordinaries only rarely.

Printers and compositors produced four-page issues by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet. The second and third pages were printed side-by-side on one side. In the final issue, they appeared next to each other across the center fold. The first and fourth pages were printed on the other side of the sheet, with the fourth page on the left and the first page on the right. This put each page in the proper position once both sides had been printed and the broadsheet folded in half.

The instructions the compositor inserted in the September 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette make the order for setting the type clear, though not necessarily the order for printing the two sides of the broadsheet. Except for the masthead, the “Commission of the Board of Commissioners for this Continent, now held at Castle-William” in Boston harbor occupied the entire first page. The final line of the third column instructed readers to “[See the last Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, filling the entire page except for the colophon at the bottom. Again, the final line of the third column gave instructions: “[For the Remainder, turn to the second Page.]” The “Commission” continued there, in the middle of a word, and concluded after approximately one-quarter of a column. Other news from Boston rounded out the second page and a portion of the third page. The editors selected one column of local news. Only five advertisements appeared in the issue, confined to the bottom of the second and the entire third column on the third page. A short note from the printers followed the paid notices: “Want of Room has obliged us to omit some Advertisements, and sundry Articles of European Intelligence, to which a due Regard will be paid in our next.” The printers opted not to issue a supplement but instead held off on publishing additional content for a week.

These various instructions make it clear that the compositor set the type for the first and fourth pages first and only after that for the second and third pages. They also indicate that reading the issue start to finish required subscribers to jump around the pages, starting with the first, then the fourth, and finally the second and third. The technologies of printing led to readers experiencing the material text in ways that seem unfamiliar and counterintuitive to modern readers.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 29, 1768).

“Many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

In a brief notice in the August 29, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, William Moor advertised “a great Number of School Books” as well as “A large Assortment of Bibles, Testaments, Psalm Books, Psalters and Primers, with a great Variety of other Books on Law, Physick, and Divinity.” In addition, he stocked “a large Assortment of Saddles, Carpets, and many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

That Moor designated some of his merchandise “too tedious to mention” rather than publishing an extensive list of goods (an alternate strategy adopted by several other retailers whose advertisements appeared on the same page) had the unintended effect of influencing the placement of his advertisement in that issue. Moor’s entire notice extended only eight lines, making it short enough that the compositor could divide it into columns of four lines each, both printed perpendicular to the rest of the content on the page.

Compositors sometimes deployed this strategy as a means of squeezing more items, especially paid advertisements, into current issues rather then delay publication until the following week. Even though a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising accompanied this particular issue, it did not offer space to insert all of the advertising. Not so much remained to justify adding an additional page to the supplement. Instead, the compositor looked to the margins.

The standard issue consisted of four pages, each with three columns. The compositor converted the outer margin, away from the fold, of the first, third, and fourth pages into advertising space by dividing short notices into multiple columns of no more than four lines each and then positioning them perpendicular to the columns that ran the length of the page. In addition to Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page, a sixteen-line advertisement for a runaway servant appeared on the first page, divided into four columns of four lines each and positioned along the outer margin to the right of the masthead and essay that comprised the rest of the page. A bankruptcy notice, eight lines divided into four columns, ran in the outer margin of the third page. A short estate notice divided into two columns ran alongside Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page.

Moor likely had no choice concerning the unusual placement of his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. All the same, the compositor’s efforts to find more space for paid notices may have served Moor’s interests by producing the unconventional format since readers may have been especially curious to see what sorts of items had been consigned to the margins. Rather than becoming marginal, the advertisements in the margins may have evoked additional notice.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:4:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 4, 1768).

“LIVE WILD TURKIES.”

An advertisement seeking “LIVE WILD TURKIES” occupied a strange place on the sixth and final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The text was rotated and printed near the bottom of the page, nestled between another advertisement and the colophon that advised readers that the newspaper had been “Printed by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY.” Indeed, this advertisement was one of several that gave the page a strange appearance, though one not completely uncommon in eighteenth-century newspapers. In an attempt to squeeze as much content as possible onto the fifth and sixth pages, two sides of a single sheet, the compositor had rotated several advertisements already set in type. This created a fourth column of text perpendicular to the other three columns on the page.

Compositors deployed this trick when using paper that deviated from the usual size for their newspapers. Although the digitized images of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette are not supplemented with metadata that indicates the measurements of each page, it is possible to reach some reasonable conclusions through close examination of the contents. First, this newspaper usually ran four columns per page. That was the case for the first four pages of the March 4 issue, all of which would have been printed on a single sheet and folded in half to yield four distinct pages. The fifth and sixth pages, however, featured only three columns plus the narrow column of rotated text. Viewed on a screen as part of a database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, the fourth page and the sixth page appear the same size. When printing those images, both take on the standard size of a sheet of office paper. Further examination of the contents, however, suggests that the originals were different sizes. Upon comparing several advertisements on the fifth and sixth pages of the March 4 issue to their appearance in previous issues, it seems that the compositor used type that had already been set when preparing the new pages. The sheet must have been smaller, wide enough for only three columns with just enough space to rotate some of the short advertisements and squeeze them into an extra narrow column at the edge of the page. Not wanting to waste any space, the compositor did have to set two advertisements, each approximately half as wide as the standard column. The advertisement concerning “LIVE WILD TURKIES” thus found a spot near the bottom of the sixth page. Another advertisement of a similar size mirrored its location on the other side of the sheet, that one announcing “To be Let, A Genteel LODGING ROOM and a very good Cellar, by WILLIAM GOWDEY.”

The last two pages of the March 4 issue may appear unusual to twenty-first century eyes, but eighteenth-century readers would have been familiar with this strategy. The printer and compositor of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette selected a sheet just large enough to contain the news and advertisements for publication that week. At a time when imported paper was taxed under the Townshend Act, this may have been an especially important method of lowering the costs of publication.

Mar 4 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Page 6
Final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.