December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:6:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 6, 1769).

“HAS JUST IMPORTED, in the ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers often informed prospective customers of the origins of their goods, including how they arrived in the colonies. In an advertisement in the December 6, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, Samuel Douglass noted that he “HAS JUST IMPORTED” new merchandise “in the ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.” Douglass was not alone in noting that he replenished his inventory with goods transported via the Georgia Packet. Lewis Johnson hawked “A FRESH SUPPLY OF MEDICINES” that was “IMPORTED in the Georgia Packet, Capt. Anderson, from London.” Similarly, Reid, Storr, and Reid listed dozens of items “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, Capt. George Anderson, from London.” Since advertisements ran for weeks or sometimes even months, this information helped consumers determine how recently merchants and shopkeepers had acquired their goods. They consulted the shipping news from the customs house to make those determinations.

The shipping news in the December 6 issue identified several vessels that “ENTERED INWARDS at the CUSTOM-HOUSE” in the past week, including “Ship Georgia Packet, George Anderson, London.” Readers saw for themselves that Douglass, Johnson, and Reid, Storr, and Reid did indeed carry a “FRESH SUPPLY” of goods “JUST IMPORTED.” All three advertisements ran on the same page as the shipping news, facilitating consultation. Douglass’s advertisement even appeared directly below news from the customs house. The shipping news also supplement advertisements placed by other merchants and shopkeepers. Rowland Chambers, for example, sold flour, produce, and other commodities “On board the sloop Charlotte,” which the shipping news indicated “ENTERED INWARDS” from New York just two days earlier.

A proliferation of advertisements for consumer goods appeared in the December 6 edition of the Georgia Gazette. Details about the origins of those goods incorporated into the advertisements in combination with the shipping news confirm why the newspaper suddenly had more such advertisements than in recent weeks. While providing information about the vessel that transported the goods might seem quaint to twenty-first-century readers, it served an important purpose for consumers in eighteenth-century America. After consulting the shipping news, they could make their own assessments about some of the claims made in advertisements and then choose which shops to visit accordingly.

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:29:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 29, 1769).

“A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS.

Cowper & Telfairs and Rae & Somerville both sold imported goods, but adopted very different marketing strategies when they placed advertisements in the November 29, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Rae & Somerville inserted a notice that read, in its entirety, “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, from London, and to be sold by RAE and SOMERVILLE, A NEAT ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS, suitable for the present and approaching season.” In so doing, they made an appeal to consumer choice, informing customers of the “NEAT ASSORTMENT” now in stock.

Yet the copy for Rae & Somerville’s advertisement merely served as an introduction when adapted for an advertisement published their competitors. Consider how another partnership opened their notice: “COWPER & TELFAIRS HAVE IMPORTED, in the Wolfe, Capt. Henry Kemp, from London, and the Britannia, Capt. John Dennison, from Glasgow, via Charleston, A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS, Which they will dispose of on reasonable Terms.” Incorporating appeals to price and consumer choice, that could have stood alone as a complete advertisement. Cowper & Telfairs continued, however, with an extensive list of their merchandise, divided in two columns to allow prospective customers to peruse their wares easily. Cowper & Telfairs carried everything from textiles and garments to a “large quantity of tin ware” and an “assortment of earthen ware” to “Neat Italian chairs” and an “assortment of Glasgow saddlery.” They strategically deployed capitals to draw attention to certain goods, including “GLASS WARE,” “CHINA WARE,” “PEWTER,” and “STATIONARY.”

Cowper & Telfairs’s advertisement extended two-thirds of a column, occupying significantly more space than Rae & Somerville’s advertisement printed immediately below it. Rae & Somerville ran a second advertisement on the following page, that one a bit longer but still only a fraction of the length of Cowper & Telfairs’s notice. In that second advertisement, Rae & Somerville listed approximately two dozen items, but did so in a dense paragraph that did not lend itself to skimming as well as Cowper & Telfairs’s neatly organized columns. They concluded their list with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had many more items in their inventory.

Cowper & Telfairs made a more significant investment in their advertisement, both in terms of the expense incurred for publishing such a lengthy notice and in terms of the strategies they deployed in hopes of gaining a better return on that investment. They did more to entice readers to become customers after encountering their advertisements.

November 22

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

Nov 22 - 11:22:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 22, 1769).

“These pills are an infallible cure.”

An unnamed advertiser placed a notice for “Dr. HAMMOND’s SPECIFICK PILL” in the November 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, informing prospective customers that “Any person may be informed where these pills are to be sold by applying to the printer of this paper.” The advertisement listed a variety of maladies that the pills cured, including leprosy, scurvy, yaws, venereal disease, and even “pimpled faces.” The remedy was gentle, safe for “women with child, or persons of the most delicate constitutions.” The advertiser described this “new Medicine” as “one of the greatest ever offered to the Publick” and promised that they provided a “CERTAIN cure.”

All of this probably sounded too good to be true to many colonists. After all, readers regularly encountered advertisements for patent medicines in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Those who marketed pills and potions often claimed that they cured all kinds of diseases, deploying the most hyperbolic language in making their promises. To address some of the concerns of skeptics, this advertisement reported that the pills came with “printed directions, and signed by the author, Thomas Hammond, M.M. Bristol.” Furthermore, the advertisement directed “the dubious” to take into account “the great success this medicine has met with in Barbados, Jamaica, St. Kitts, and Granada,” apparently expecting that word of mouth recommendations from the Caribbean had reached colonists in Georgia. If that were not convincing enough, readers could also take into consideration “many great cures” attributed to Dr. Hammond’s pills in England “which have been continually inserted in the newspapers. Even if skeptical customers could not check those newspapers, the advertisement suggested that merely stating that such evidence existed should satisfy any concerns. Savvy customers likely remained suspicious of the claims made in the advertisement, despite the purported proof of the efficacy of Dr. Hammond’s pills, but some may have been eager enough to find some sort of relief for their symptoms that they allowed themselves to be convinced, or at least experience some hope, that the pills would indeed work for them. The many layers of claims made in the advertisement served to wear down any distrust by “the dubious,” just as similar repetitions of claims about miracle drugs sold via infomercials in the twenty-first century attempt to do for modern consumers.

November 15

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

Nov 15 - 11:15:1769 JPG Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 15, 1769).

“STROUDS, duffils, flannels, coarse broad cloths.”

Remediation matters. A few days ago I had an opportunity to visit an introductory digital humanities class offered by WISE, the Worcester Institute for Senior Education. During my presentation, I introduced students to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project as well as some of the databases of digitized newspapers that make those projects possible, including Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library and Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers. We discussed some of the advantages and challenges of working with digitized sources.

Nov 15 - 11:15:1769 PDF Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 15, 1769).

We began by acknowledging that any digital surrogate is, by definition, a remediation of an original document … and different processes of remediation have different effects. Consider Rae and Somerville’s advertisement in the November 15, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Both of these images come from Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, yet they are not identical. One aspect of that database that I really appreciate is the ability to download an entire issue of a newspaper and then print a copy that I can mark in any way I like. When I view the Georgia Gazette via the database, Rae and Somerville’s advertisement looks like the first image. The variations achieved via greyscale make it relatively easy to recognize smudged ink, printing that bled through from the other side of the page, and foxing (or discoloration) of the paper. Downloading a copy to make it even more portable, however, yields a black-and-white image that does not include the same variations. As a result, the second image is more difficult to read. It is possible to download greyscale images from the database, but it requires more steps. In addition, pages must be downloaded individually rather than acquiring an entire issue at once.

This means that even though digital surrogates make eighteenth-century newspapers much more accessible beyond research libraries and historical societies, readers have very different experiences working with the various versions of digitized documents. Remediation does not necessarily mean producing exact replications of original sources. Instead, technologies alter images, some more than others. Scholars and others who consult digitized sources must take into account the challenges involved in reading those documents and alter their methodologies accordingly, especially when given access to multiple remediations of the same sources.

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.

November 1

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

Nov 1 - 11:1:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 1, 1769).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION.”

When it came to generating revenue, eighteenth-century printers often found advertising more lucrative than subscriptions for their newspapers. James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, was fortunate to have so many advertisements for the November 1, 1769, edition that they filled more space than the news and editorials. He distributed the advertisements throughout the issue. Some ran on the first page, others on the second, and still more on the third. Advertisements comprised the entire final page. Readers could not peruse any portion of that issue without encountering paid notices inserted by other colonists.

Johnston gave a privileged place to a subscription proposal for a proposed book of essays about “the Indians on the Continent of North America … interspersed with useful Observations relating to the Advantages arising to Britain from her Trade with those Indians.” It appeared at the top of the second column on the first page, immediately below the masthead. In that position, it quite likely would have been the first advertisement that registered with readers. To further help draw attention, the word “PROPOSALS” appeared as a headline in larger font than almost anything else in the newspaper. Only the font for the masthead and Samuel Douglass’s name in his own advertisement on the fourth page rivaled the size of the font for ‘PROPOSALS.” A trio of legal notices appeared immediately below the subscription notice, making it the only advertisement that vied for consumers to make purchases. All of the other advertisements for various goods ran on other pages.

The “CONDITIONS” stated that the proposed book would “be put to Press in London as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscriptions are obtained.” Johnston was not himself the printer but instead a local agent. The final line of the advertisement advised that “SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in by the Printer of this Gazette.” Even though the proposed book would not come off of Johnston’s press in Savannah, he was involved in its production, at least as far as marketing, acquiring a sufficient number of subscribers, and corresponding with the publisher were concerned. Quite likely he would also participate in the eventual distribution of the book, printing another advertisement to inform subscribers to send for their copies and perhaps collecting payment on behalf of the publisher. Serving as a local agent created opportunities for Johnston to profit, but it also allowed him to boost a fellow member of the book trades who was not a competitor. Placing the subscription notice in such a conspicuous spot very well could have been an in-kind service for an associate on the other side of the Atlantic.

October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:25:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 25, 1769).

“Samuel Douglass, HAS JUST IMPORTED … GOODS, suitable for this and the approaching season.”

Digital technologies, including keyword searches, often streamline the process of doing history. Keyword searches of digitized newspapers, for instance, allow historians to quickly identify items relevant to their research questions. Yet keyword searches are neither infallible nor comprehensive. They often overlook material that historians could readily identify when examining documents, both original and digital surrogates, with their own eyes.

Consider this advertisement for “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EAST-INDIA and EUROPEAN GOODS” that Samuel Douglass placed in the October 25, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Note that the advertiser’s name appears in a distinctive font as a headline. That helped to distinguish Douglass’s advertisement from others. Curious about how many times Douglass deployed this strategy, I did a keyword search via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, the database where I encountered this particular advertisement. I restricted the date to 1769 and the publication to the Georgia Gazette. I selected “Samuel Douglass” as the keyword. The search returned nine results, but did not include this particular advertisement or any other iterations of it. Realizing that optical character recognition often has difficulty with the “long S” used frequently in the eighteenth century, I ran a second keyword search for “Samuel Douglafs.” This yielded zero results.

I knew that this particular advertisement appeared in the Georgia Gazette because I previously downloaded the issue that included it from America’s Historical Newspapers, yet the database’s own keyword search overlooked it. Finding other instances, if there were any, would require systematically viewing every page of the Georgia Gazette. Digital technology certainly made copies of that newspaper originally published in 1769 more accessible, but doing a keyword search was not more efficient. In fact, when it comes to examining a newspaper page by page, accessing each page via a database of digitized images goes much more slowly than consulting the originals. In such instances, accessibility and efficiency are a trade off. Keyword searches have become a powerful tool for historians … sometimes. Depending on the questions they wish to ask, however, sometimes traditional methods yield more results … and more quickly.

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.