March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:8:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 8, 1770).

“[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”

The first page of the March 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted almost entirely of the masthead and news items, though the last column did carry three advertisements followed by the brief notice that instructed readers “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”  Colonial printers and compositors made little effort to organize or classify the notices that ran in the page of their newspapers.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services ran alongside notices about wives, indentured servants, and horses that ran away and enslaved people who escaped from bondage.  Legal notices and announcements about ships preparing to sail for faraway ports were interspersed with those various kinds of advertisements.  Headlines had not yet been developed as a means of informing readers of the contents of articles.  As Joseph M. Adelman explains, “News was published by paragraphs with no headlines; the only way to determine what news was important was to read all of it.”

Advertisements did have headlines of sorts.  The Pennsylvania Gazette often featured generic headlines for advertisements, such as “TO BE SOLD” or “WANTED,” though many were more specific, “such as “AUCTION OF BOOKS.”  Advertisers sometimes used their names as their headlines, including “GARRETT & GEORGE MEADE” and “THOMAS STAPLETON, Brush-Maker.”  Some advertisements had introductory headers that provided overviews of the dense text that comprised the remainder of the advertisements, though most were too extensive to be considered headlines.  One of the more succinct versions extended five lines:  “Neat DRUGS and MEDICINES, / SOLD BY / ROBERT BASS, / APOTHECARY in MARKET-STREET, / Wholesale and Retail, at the usual moderate Rates.”  With few visual images, advertisements looked similar to news items.  All of the content of early American newspapers required close examination to determine purpose and significance.

Occasionally printers and compositors provided some aid intended to help readers navigate the contents of their newspapers.  Such was the case with the notice about “new Advertisements” on the “Fourth Page” of the March 8 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  That notice let readers interested in perusing new content know that they pass over the advertisements that filled half of the third page.  Those new advertisements were not organized by purpose.  Some had the headlines listed above, while most had no headline or introductory header at all.  Colonial printers and compositors still had work to do to make the contents of newspapers more accessible for their readers.  That brief notice, “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page,]” suggested that some were contemplating what could be done on that count.