October 11

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

Oct 11 - 10:11:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 11, 1769).

“WANTED, AN APPRENTICE … Enquire of the printer.”

Printing offices served as information hubs in eighteenth-century America. Publishing newspapers depended on gathering all sorts of information to print and circulate. To aid in that endeavor, printers often called on colonists to keep them apprised of news to insert in their publications. James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, made such overtures in every issue; the colophon on the final page noted that “Letters of Intelligence … are taken in” at the printing office. Johnston selected from among the “Letters of Intelligence” submitted for his consideration, but also liberally reprinted material from newspapers published in other colonies, a common practice in the eighteenth century. Most editions of the Georgia Gazette also included shipping news compiled by the customs house in Savannah, a listing of vessels “ENTERED INWARDS,” “ENTERED OUTWARDS,” and “CLEARED.” Advertisements comprised a significant portion of the content of the Georgia Gazette, delivering all sorts of information via legal notices, announcements, notices warning about enslaved men and women who escaped, and lists of consumers goods and commodities for sale.

Yet not all the information received in the printing office circulated in print. Johnston, like other printers, intentionally held some information in reserve at the request of those who supplied it. That made “Enquire of the printer” a common phrase that concluded many advertisements. One that ran in the October 11, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette briefly stated, “WANTED, AN APPRENTICE to the BARBER and P[ER]UKE MAKING BUSINESS. Enquire of the Printer.” Two other advertisements in that issue, both of them seeking overseers on plantations, also instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the printer” to learn more, including the identity of the prospective employers. Advertisers did not pay only for printers to set type and provide space in their newspapers; the fees printers charged for advertising sometimes included other services, including fielding inquiries from readers who desired more information. Printers oversaw multiple means of disseminating information to colonists, often making information readily available in print but sometimes serving as gatekeepers who dispersed certain information much more sparingly. “Enquire of the printer” advertisements demonstrate that information that flowed out of printing offices did not always take the form of print.

October 4

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

Oct 4 - 10:4:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 4, 1769).

“A Compleat Assortment of MEDICINES.”

Lewis Johnson’s advertisements for medicines became a familiar sight in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. Several qualities made them particularly notable, including their length, their unique format, and Johnson’s name in large gothic font as a headline. His advertisement in the October 4, 1769, edition included all of these attributes.

The compositor distributed gothic font throughout the issue, but sparingly. On the final page, four legal notices commenced by naming the colony. “Georgia” appeared in gothic font the same size as the rest of the copy in those advertisements. Another paid notice seeking overseers to manage a rice planation used “Wanted Immediately” in gothic font as a headline. The final advertisement on that page as well as another on the third page described enslaved people “Brought to the Workhouse.” That phrase in gothic type served as a standard headline for such advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, making them recognizable at a glance. One more notice, also on the third page with Johnson’s advertisement, described a house “To be Let” with that phrase in gothic font as the headline. In each instance of gothic font in the issue, it appeared in the same size as the copy for the rest of the advertisement, except for Johnson’s name. It ran in a much larger font, one larger than anything else in the newspaper except its title in the masthead. This created a striking headline that would have been difficult for readers to miss.

The length of Johnson’s advertisement also made it impossible to overlook. Listing dozens of medicines available at the apothecary’s shop, it extended two-thirds of a column. The entire issue consisted of only four pages of two columns each. Johnson’s advertisement was significantly longer than any other paid notice. It rivaled in length even the longest of news items, occupying a substantial amount of space in the issue. Considering that colonial printers charged by the amount of space rather than the number of words, Johnson’s advertisement represented a considerable investment.

Finally, the apothecary deployed unique typography that made it easier for prospective customers to read his advertisement than many others that listed their wares in dense blocks of text. Divided into three columns, his advertisement named only one item per line. Johnson did not always divide his advertisements into columns, but he
did so fairly regularly. Usually, however, he resorted to only two columns. This advertisement featured three, a graphic design decision that reduced the amount of space it occupied on the page while simultaneously introducing an innovative format that rarely appeared in advertisements in any colonial newspaper.

Johnson incorporated three visual elements that made his advertisement noteworthy and more likely to attract the attention of prospective customers. His name in large gothic font as a headline, the extraordinary length, and dividing it into three columns each on their own would have distinguished his advertisement from others in the Georgia Gazette. Combining them into a single advertisement made it even more unique. The various graphic design elements demanded that readers take notice.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:27:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 27, 1769).

“Pigtail tobacco,
Playing cards,
Box coffee mills.”

William Belcher and the partnership of Rae & Somerville both inserted advertisements in the September 27, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Each relied on consumer choice as the primary means of marketing their wares, though Belcher did make a nod toward low prices as well. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers that advertised in newspapers published throughout the colonies, Belcher and Rae & Somerville listed dozens of items available at their shops, cataloging their inventory to demonstrate an array of choices for consumers. Both concluded their advertisements with a promise of even more choices that prospective customers would encounter when visiting their shops. Belcher promoted “a variety if delph and tinware,” while Rae & Somerville resorted to “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc., etc., etc.”).

Despite this similarity, the advertisers adopted different formats for presenting their wares in the pages of the public prints. Rae & Somerville went with the most common method: a dense paragraph of text that lumped together all of their merchandise. Belcher, on the other hand, organized his goods into two columns with only one item per line. This created significantly more white space that likely made it easier for prospective customers to read and locate items of interest. Belcher and Rae & Somerville listed a similar number of items, yet Belcher’s advertisement occupied nearly twice as much space on the page as a result of the typography. Considering that most printers charged by the amount of space an advertisement required rather than the number of words in the advertisement, Belcher made a greater investment in his advertisement. Presumably he believed that this would attract more attention from prospective customers and garner better returns. In making this determination, Belcher relied on the skills of the compositor in the printing office to execute his wishes.

In general, advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers appear crowded by twenty-first-century standards, especially since they relied almost entirely of text and featured few images compared to modern print advertising. Advertisers, printers, and compositors, however, devised ways of distinguishing the visual appearance of advertisements that consisted solely of text. They experimented with different formats in effort to vary the presentation of vast assortments of goods offered to the general public for their consumption.

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)

September 6, 1769

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

Sep 6 - 9:6:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 6, 1769).

“IMPORTED in the Mermaid … WHITE PLAINS, LONDON DUFFILS, and HEADED SHAGS.”

A short editorial note appeared at the bottom of the second column on the third page of the September 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. It informed readers (and advertisers) that “Advertisements left out this week” would appear in the next issue. James Johnston, the printer, did not have sufficient leftover content to merit distributing a supplement that week … or he did not consider it worth the time and resources to do so. In the past, supplements to the Georgia Gazette, unlike those that accompanied most other colonial newspapers, usually consisted of a single page printed on only side of a half sheet rather than two pages printed on both sides. In 1769 the Townshend Act leveled duties on imported paper; the revenue generated from any advertisements that did not appear on September 6 may not have justified the expense of an additional half sheet, especially if Johnston could not entirely fill it.

Yet Johnston or a clever compositor who labored in his printing office managed to squeeze in one additional advertisement in an unconventional manner. The first page featured a short advertisement: “IMPORTED in the Mermaid, Samuel Ball, from London, and for Sale, by COWPER and TELFAIRS, WHITE PLAINS, LONDON DUFFILS, and HEADED SHAGS.” Rather than setting type to appear in columns, this advertisement ran as one line in the right margin on the first page. It shared the first page with the masthead and an editorial, but no other advertisements appeared on that page. Johnston and others who produced the Georgia Gazette had not inaugurated this strategy for stretching the amount of content that would fit in an issue, but it was one used rather irregularly in newspapers printed throughout the colonies and almost never in the Georgia Gazette. Cowper and Telfairs frequently inserted paid notices in that publication, which may have contributed to Johnston’s decision to adopt innovative methods for running their advertisement as soon as possible rather than delaying it by a week. Timeliness may not have been the only benefit that accrued to Cowper and Telfairs as a result. Rather than have their advertisement appear among the nearly two dozen others in that issue, it occupied a privileged place that likely attracted greater attention as curious readers took note of the unusual format and investigated what the single line in the margin said.

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:16:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 16, 1769).

“Would be glad to be employed in keeping of books.”

Elizabeth Bedon’s advertisement proposing to open a boarding school in Savannah “for the education of young ladies” ran for the third and final time in the August 16, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Immediately below it appeared an employment advertisement inserted by George Bedon: “The subscriber being regularly bred to the mercantile business, would be glad to be employed in keeping of books, drawing out accounts, &c. Those who are pleased to employ him may depend upon the greatest correctness and dispatch.” That advertisement also made its third and final appearance on August 16, each time running in combination with Elizabeth’s advertisement.

George’s notice did not indicate where prospective employers could contact him. Given that Savannah was a small port, he may have considered listing such information unnecessary. After all, other advertisers did not always list their locations. In the same issue, Thomas Hamilton offered a “SMALL NEAT TENEMENT” for rent and Inglis and Hall hawked “superfine Philadelphia Flour.” Neither notice included a location, the advertisers expecting that they were familiar enough figures that interested parties would know where to find them.

That Elizabeth and George simultaneously placed advertisements seeking employment, however, suggests that they may have been new to Savannah and intended for the advertisements to serve as a form of introduction to their new neighbors. In that case, George likely meant for his advertisement to piggyback on Elizabeth’s, which concluded by advising “those who intend to intrust their children under her care to favour her with a line, directed to be left at Capt. Langford’s.” She apparently considered the captain a prominent enough figure in the community not to require additional information about his place of residence. George likely anticipated that subscribers and others engaged in sufficiently close reading of the advertisements that prospective employers would be able to deduce his location.

Even when they ran for multiple weeks, the order of advertisements in colonial newspapers shifted from issue to issue. Compositors moved them according to length in order to make all of the contents fit on the page. At only four lines, George’s advertisement would have been relatively easy to insert anywhere that a column fell just shy of being complete. That it consistently remained with Elizabeth’s advertisement suggests both that they purchased the two as a package and that the compositor exercised special care in making sure that they were not separated during the duration of their run in the Georgia Gazette.

August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:9:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 9, 1769).

“A BOARDING SCHOOL in Savannah, for the education of young ladies.”

In the summer of 1769 Elizabeth Bedon proposed opening a boarding school “for the education of young ladies” in Savannah, but only if she “meets with the proper encouragement” from other colonists. She inserted an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette that provided an overview of the curriculum (“Reading, Writing, Arithmetick, and all kinds of Needle Work”) and the tuition for day scholars, day boarders, night boarders, and students who wished to attend only the lessons on needlework.

Bedon used her advertisement to undertake rudimentary market research, much like printers used subscription notices to determine whether publishing a particular book would be a sound investment of their time and resources. She identified the enterprise she wished to pursue, but made opening the school contingent on receiving encouragement from the parents and guardians of prospective pupils. Bedon stated that “it does not suit her to open school until she can engage such a number of scholars as will render it worth her while.” To that end, she invited “those who intend to intrust their children under her care” to send a message. Once she had a sufficient number of students she would open her school, just as printers took books to press once they achieved a sufficient roster of subscribers. On the other hand, if she could not enroll enough students to make her school a viable venture she was not obligated to instruct any who had indicated interest, just as printers did not publish books for an inadequate number of subscribers.

Printers most often used advertising – both newspaper notices and separate subscription papers – to conduct market research and estimate demand for particular products in eighteenth-century America, but members of other occupational groups sometimes adopted similar methods to better determine their prospects for success before launching a new endeavor. Elizabeth Bedon, for instance, used the public prints to present a proposal for a boarding school for young ladies to colonists in Georgia. She anticipated using the results derived from this minor investment to determine her next step.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 2, 1769).

“THE subscribers being desirous to close all their concerns, in the dry good business.”

Inglis and Hall were among the most prolific advertisers in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. They frequently inserted lengthy advertisements listing goods imported from Britain, the Caribbean, and other faraway places. They also participated in the transatlantic slave trade, advertising enslaved men, women, and children.

In the summer of 1769, the partners placed an advertisement announcing that they intended to “close all their concerns, in the dry good business.” Like other merchants and shopkeepers, Inglis and Hall extended credit to their customers. In preparation for going out of business, they asked their “friends” to pay any debts incurred prior to January 1. Those who made purchases since then presumably had more time to settle accounts. Despite their amicable description of their customers as “friends,” Inglis and Hall expressed exasperation that some of them “have given little or no attention to their repeated calls” to submit payment.   This was the last warning, the partners proclaimed, because those who did not “settle to their satisfaction” in one month’s time “may depend on being sued without further notice.” After first dispensing with that important piece of business, Inglis and Hall promoted their remaining merchandise, advising prospective customers that they still had “a variety of the most useful articles” in stock.

For several years Inglis and Hall provided residents of Savannah and the rest of the colony with vast assortments of goods, encouraging them to participate in the consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world and beyond. During that time they were also important customers for James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. For eighteenth-century newspaper printers, selling advertisements was often more lucrative than selling subscriptions. Most advertisements that ran in the Georgia Gazette were fairly short, extending three to fifteen lines. At fourteen lines, Inglis and Hall’s advertisement announcing the end of their dry goods business was short compared to many others that they placed in the Georgia Gazette, advertisements that filled half a column or more. Although Johnston did brisk business when it came to advertisements, he must have been disappointed to lose such an important customer and all of the revenue Inglis and Hall contributed to the operations of the Georgia Gazette.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 26, 1769).

“Who has for sale, all sorts of garden seeds and flower roots.”

Colonists placed advertisements in newspapers for a variety of reasons. Some marketed consumer goods and services. Many published legal notices. Others made announcements and shared news. In the July 26, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, John Martin and James Martin advertised rum, wine, and sugar available at their store on Habersham’s Wharf in Savannah. Morgan and Roche also addressed consumers, informing them that they pursued “the TAYLOR BUSINESS in all its branches.” Among the legal notices, the executors of John Luptan’s estate announced that they would conclude settling accounts and “pay out what remains … to the heirs” on January 1. Another from the Commissioners of his Majesty’s Customs warned about the consequences of smuggling and doctored ship manifests that did not make “true reports of their cargoes.” James Wilson declared that his wife, Jane, “eloped” from him and since she placed herself beyond the authority of his household he would not pay “any debts of her contracting.” Among advertisements that also delivered news, the Trustees for the Presbyterian Meeeting House advised those who pledged to make contributions that “one fifth of the subscription money is immediately wanted” and requested payment. Another stated that “SIX NEGROES … three men, two women, and one girl” escaped from Thomas Young and might be headed towards some of the Sea Islands.

Each of those advertisers had a specific purpose in mind when placing their notices in the public prints, but other advertisers used the space they purchased to pursue more than one goal. Robert Hunter, for example, asserted that recently “several trespasses” occurred at Good Hope and Spring Gardens. To prevent further disturbances and theft, Hunter advised the public that intruders could expect to encounter “guns, dogs, or other snares.” Only after delivering this warning did Hunter briefly promote “all sorts of garden seeds and flower roots” that he offered for sale, a secondary purpose for his advertisement. A similar advertisement ran in the Georgia Gazette a year earlier, that one also lamenting trespassers and theft at Spring Gardens and signed by Robert Winter. It also concluded with a brief note that “Said Winter has all sorts of garden seeds to dispose of.” (Perhaps either “Robert Hunter” or “Robert Winter” was a misprint in one of the advertisements.) In both instances, the advertiser seized an opportunity to encourage sales of seeds, drawing attention to that enterprise after first rehearsing an interesting story about trespassers and threats of “guns, dogs, or other snares.” Stories of intruders and theft implicitly testified to the value of the plants at Good Hope and Spring Gardens, making the seeds all the more attractive to prospective buyers. Hunter leveraged unfortunate events in his efforts to encourage sales.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:19:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 19, 1769).

“PROPOSALS FOR CONTINUING AND IMPROVING The PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE.”

In the spring of 1769, William Goddard launched an advertising campaign intended to garner subscriptions for the Pennsylvania Chronicle from throughout the colonies. In outlining its contents, Goddard described a weekly publication that prospective subscribers may have considered as much a magazine as a newspaper. He proclaimed, “Several Gentlemen of great learning and ingenuity, in this and the neighbouring provinces, have promised to lend their assistance, so that there may not be wanting dome original productions, which may exhibit agreeable specimens of American humour and genius.” That being the case, Goddard did not produce a local or regional newspaper that merely delivered news reprinted from one newspaper to another, but instead a “Repository of ingenious and valuable literature, in prose and verse.” Goddard intended for subscribers to preserve their copies of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, pledging to distribute a title page, index, and two copperplate engravings (one for use as a frontispiece) to be bound together with the several issues each year. Such plans paralleled those distributed by magazine publishers in eighteenth-century America.

Goddard’s “PROPOSALS FOR CONTINUING AND IMPROVING The PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE” radiated out from Philadelphia. They first found their way into newspapers published in New York and then others published in New England. Eventually they appeared in newspapers published in southern colonies. Dated “May 1, 1769,” Goddard’s “PROPOSALS” did not run in the Georgia Gazette, the newspaper most distant from Philadelphia, until July 19, eleven weeks later. Goddard envisioned what Benedict Anderson termed an imagined community of readers. Although dispersed geographically, readers formed a sense of community and common interests through exposure to the same information via print culture. Colonial newspapers served this purpose as printers established networks for exchanging their publications and liberally reprinting news and other content from one to another. Goddard presented an even more cohesive variation: subscribers throughout the colonies reading the same information in a single publication and feeling a sense of community because they knew that other subscribers in faraway places read the same news and literature contained in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, rather than whichever snippets from other publications an editor happened to choose to reprint for local and regional consumption.

Creating an imagined community depended in part on establishing a sense of simultaneity, that readers were encountering the same content at the same time. Communication and transportation technologies in the eighteenth century made true simultaneity impossible, as seen in the lag between Goddard composing his “PROPOSALS” on May 1 and their eventual publication in the Georgia Gazette on July 19. Yet readers could experience a perceived simultaneity from knowing that they read the same publication as subscribers in other colonies. Reprinting items from one newspaper to another already contributed to this, but the widespread distribution of a single publication made that perceived simultaneity much more palpable and certain. Readers encountered Goddard’s “PROPOSALS” in several newspapers published in cities and towns throughout the colonies, but they could experience the same contents, pitched as political and cultural and distinctively American, in the pages of the publication that Goddard made such great effort to distribute as widely as possible.