What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“For the Remainder of new Advertisements … turn to the last Page.”
Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, included instructions to aid subscribers and other readers in navigating the October 18, 1769, edition of the newspaper. The front page consisted primarily of news items, but it also featured three paid notices of various sorts under the headline, “New Advertisements.” These advertisements ran at the bottom of the final column on the page, which concluded with further instructions. “For the Remainder of new Advertisements, Charles-Town News, &c.” Timothy explained, “turn to the last page.” There readers found local news, the shipping news from the customs house (which the printer branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”), and a dozen more paid notices under the same headline that ran on the front page, “New Advertisements.”
These were not the only advertisements that ran in the October 18 issue. Paid notices, nearly fifty of them, comprised the entire second and third pages. Like most other American newspapers published in the late 1760s, the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Except for the news items on the front page and Timothy’s Marine List and a brief account of local news on the final page, advertising accounted for a significant proportion of the issue.
That was not uncommon, especially in newspapers published in the largest and busiest port cities, such as Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. New articles, editorials, and other news content were easy for readers to spot, in part because printers rarely reprinted such items. Advertisements, on the other hand, usually ran for multiple weeks. Some even appeared week after week for months. Compositors moved them around on the page or from one page to another in their efforts to make all the content for any particular issue fit. This usually required readers to skim all of the advertisements to discover anything appearing for the first time. Timothy’s occasional headlines and instructions, however, sometimes helped readers to scan the South-Carolina Gazette more efficiently. Readers interested in legal notices, inventory at local shops, or descriptions of enslaved people who escaped from bondage did not have to sort through the entire newspaper to find new content. Instead, Timothy sorted it, labeled it, and provided instructions for finding it. Clustering paid notices together under a headline for “New Advertisements” was the closest that eighteenth-century newspapers came to classifying advertisements. In a newspaper that featured as much advertising as the South-Carolina Gazette, this was an important service to readers.