February 17

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

Feb 17 - 2:17:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 17, 1768).

“The Town Subscribers to this Gazette are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, inserted an advertisement concerning the distribution of the newspaper in the February 17, 1768, edition. “The Town Subscribers to this Gazette,” he announced, “are requested to send to the Office for their Papers.” Why did Johnston believe that this merited inclusion in the newspaper? Did it revise existing practices for getting his newspaper into the hands of subscribers? What does it reveal about the business practices of eighteenth-century printers, especially their methods for distributing newspapers?

Johnston’s short notice raises as many questions as it answers. It suggests that subscribers in Savannah previously enjoyed delivery service, but it does not indicate who made the deliveries. Johnston placed a help wanted advertisement in the same issue, promising “good encouragement” to an “honest, sober and industrious LAD” interested in becoming “an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS.” Perhaps another apprentice had formerly been responsible for delivering newspapers to subscribers in the relatively small port, just one of many duties assigned by the master. Maybe delivery service was only temporarily suspended until Johnston obtained a new apprentice.

That the notice addressed only the “Town Subscribers” suggests that subscribers who lived outside Savannah continued to receive their newspapers without change in the method of delivery. They may have been distributed via the post, but Johnston or his subscribers could have hired riders to carry the Georgia Gazette to readers in the hinterlands. Post riders for other newspapers sometimes published notices aimed at their customers, usually providing updates to their schedules or requesting payment for services rendered. Did the cost of a subscription usually include delivery? The newspaper’s colophon was silent on this; it solicited “Subscriptions for this Paper,” but did not list prices for either newspapers or delivery. Had Johnston previously provided delivery gratis to “Town Subscribers,” incurring only the small expense of sending an apprentice around town to drop off the newspapers? Did subscribers in the country expect to pay more for their newspapers because of their distance from the printing office?

Johnston frequently advertised various goods and services available at his printing office, indicating how he earned a living beyond publishing the Georgia Gazette. Other advertisements, however, address other aspects of his business operations. Notices concerning apprentices and delivery services reveal some of the concerns of colonial printers, even if they do not always provide all the details about the division of labor or the means of distributing newspapers to readers.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 16, 1768).

“BLANKS of all Kinds sold by the Printers hereof.”

The shortest advertisement – consisting of only nine words – in the January 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette appeared at the bottom of the first column on the final page. In it, Sarah Goddard and John Carter, the printers, advised readers that that they sold “BLANKS of all Kinds,” deploying contemporary terminology for items known today as forms. Goddard and Carter suggested that they could supply any sort of printed blanks customers desired, making it unnecessary to provide a list. Other printers, however, sometimes specified the various types of blanks they produced on their presses.

For instance, James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, regularly inserted an advertisement in his newspaper that enumerated more than a dozen blanks, each with a distinct purpose. He kept on hand “bills of sale, mortgages, powers of attorney, bonds of arbitration, indentures, bills of lading, articles of agreement between masters of vessel and seamen, summonses, warrants,” and other legal or commercial documents. He also concluded his list with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that the list was not exhaustive. Goddard and Carter likely stocked all or most of these forms. They could also print any others for clients who submitted orders for job printing.

The advertisement about “BLANKS of all Kinds” supplemented the announcement in the colophon published in every issue of the Providence Gazette. In addition to specifying the printers and place of publication, Goddard and Carter treated the colophon as advertising space for the various endeavors undertaken in their shop. They invited others to submit “Subscriptions, Advertisements, and Letters of Intelligence” for the newspaper to their printing office at “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” but they also stated that they did “all Manner of PRINTING WORK” at the same location. Despite its brevity, their advertisement for “BLANKS of all Kinds” testified to a wide range of printed forms that circulated widely and would have been familiar to colonists in Providence and beyond.

January 13

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

Jan 13 - 1:13:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 13, 1768).

“PROPOSED to be published, a PAMPHLET.”

James Johnston inserted a subscription notice for “a PAMPHLET … entitled ‘Religious and Moral Observations selected from the Writings of approved Authors’” in the January 13, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. He did not promote a product already available for customers to purchase; instead, like many other eighteenth-century publishers, he presented a proposal in order to gauge public interest in the pamphlet. It would go to press only once a sufficient number of “subscribers” pledged to purchase it.

Publishing by subscription significantly reduced the financial risk. No printer wanted to invest time and materials only to produce a book or pamphlet that never sold enough copies to turn at least a small profit. With that in mind, Johnston instructed that readers “willing to encourage” the proposed pamphlet “may send in their names to the printer of this paper.” As names arrived, he would compile a subscription list (which printers sometimes inserted in proposed publications as a means of acknowledging patrons who supported the project). Johnston did not specify a publication date. Instead, he stated, “The publication will commence as soon as a sufficient number have sent in their names to defray the first expence of publishing.” Although that would not cover all of his costs, the printer considered it enough to indicate that other buyers would eventually step forward to acquire the pamphlet. For initial subscribers “the price of the pamphlet will be two shillings sterling.” Subsequent buyers could expect to pay a higher price. Offering a bargain to those who invested in the project early often helped to stimulate interest.

As part of his effort to promote the pamphlet, Johnston offered a brief description and outline. He estimated that it would be approximately sixty-four pages or “four sheets in 8vo. [octavo].” (This meant that a single sheet was folded in half three times in order to form eight leaves that were one-eight the size of the original sheet. With text printed on both sides of each leaf, this produced sixteen pages per sheet. Four sheets yielded sixty-four pages.) As the title suggested, these sixty-four pages would contain “Religious and Moral Observations” intended to bring together “the opinions and most enforcing arguments of different eminent authors.” The passages would be carefully organized “under proper Heads” and the names of the authors or books included for further reference. The pamphlet would also include “original Notes” intended to “illustrate and enforce the several passages.”

Johnston published the subscription notice to determine interest in the pamphlet, but he also planned to use the pamphlet to assess interest in “a larger publication of the same nature.” He considered the pamphlet a “specimen.” If consumers reacted positively, he would publish a more extensive version. The combination of the initial subscription notice and, eventually, sales of the pamphlet (if the subscription notice proved successful) constituted market research to guide his decisions about printing a substantial volume.

December 16

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

Dec 16 - 12:16:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 16, 1767).


During the final months of the year colonial newspapers published advertisements for almanacs with increasing frequency. Throughout the fall and into the winter they became a standard feature in newspapers as printers and booksellers first encouraged colonists to acquire their almanacs before the new year commenced and later attempted to sell surplus copies before too much of the new year passed.

In Savannah, James Johnston, Messrs. Clay and Habersham, and Mr. Zubly advertised the “SOUTH-CAROLINA & GEORGIA ALMANACK, FOR THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1768” in the Georgia Gazette. Like their counterparts who sold almanacs in other colonies, they provided readers with a volume specifically intended for the local market. The calculations were “Fitted for the Latitude of 33 Degrees North,” but that was not the only reference material unique to local conditions. The contents also included “a Tide Table for the Bar and Harbour of Charlestown” as well as “Tables of Roads” to facilitate travel and commerce in the region.

Just as John Holt had done in promoting Freeman’s New-York Almanack in the New-York Journal earlier in the same week, the booksellers in Savannah enticed customers with a preview of the contents, concluding with a poem that introduced readers to the verses they would find in the South-Carolina and Georgia Almanack. Also like Holt, they informed prospective customers that the almanac contained a mixture of useful (“an Interest Table at Eight per cent”) and entertaining (“Remarkable Sayings”) entries, though they did not provide such elaborate detail as their counterpart in New York. A relative lack of competition may have explained the difference: readers in New York could choose among many almanacs printed and advertised there, but colonists in Georgia had far fewer options. Still, the local booksellers apprised customers that the South-Carolina and Georgia Almanack was well worth nine pence because it included so much valuable content “besides what is common in Almanacks,” including “a curious Preface, containing Nostradamus’s Prophecy.” For colonists who had not yet obtained almanacs for the coming year, such hints were intended to pique their interest and convince them to make their purchases. This was an early modern version of the current practice of giving consumers access to the table of contents when advertising books online.

December 2

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

Dec 2 - 12:2:1767 Georgia Gazette“A FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA”

This advertisement for a “FOUR SHEET MAP of SOUTH-CAROLINA and PART of GEORGIA” would have been quite familiar to regular readers of the Georgia Gazette. It had been appearing in the pages of that newspaper for more than a year. While James Johnston, the printer of the newspaper and purveyor of the map certainly wanted to sell copies he still had on hand after all that time, the advertisement also served another important purpose. In a publication that sometimes lacked sufficient content to fill its pages, Johnston frequently inserted the advertisement as filler.

That seems to have been the case in the December 2, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The issue consisted of three pages of news and a final page devoted to advertising. A variety of articles densely filled the first three pages, yet the final page featured significant amounts of white space as part of each advertisement. Notice the amount of space between the body of the advertisement and the lines that separated it from the advertisements printed before and after. That had not been part of the design two weeks earlier when Samuel Douglass and Company’s advertisement that extended more than an entire column forced the compositor to squeeze all of the other paid notices together, eliminating any hint of negative space. The text on the two pages given over to advertising in that issue appeared just as dense as the text of the news items.

In addition to Johnston’s perennial advertisement for a map of South Carolina and Georgia, many other advertisements in the December 2 issue previously ran in other issues (though none of them nearly as many times). Each had been modified to include white space before and after the body of the advertisement, stretching them out in order to fill the entire page. This did not require completely resetting the type, but it did transform portions of each advertisement into filler that helped the printer deliver a complete issue to subscribers. Beyond the revenues they generated, newspaper advertisements served other purposes for colonial printers.

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1767 Georgia Gazette
Advertisements for slaves dominated the final page of the October 28, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette.  Twelve advertisements that explicitly mentioned slaves are identified with red.  An additional advertisement, identified with blue, sought an overseer who would have presumably managed enslaved laborers.


Advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children dominated the notices published in the Georgia Gazette in the 1760s. Of the thirty-six advertisements in the October 28, 1767, edition, twelve concerned slaves. Nine offered slaves for sale or to be “hired out by the Month or Year.” One described a runaway slave and offered a reward to anyone who captured him and delivered him “to the Warden of the Work-house in Savannah.” Another described a fugitive “with an iron on his right leg” who had been detained at the workhouse. One slaveholder announced that “AN OVERSEER is wanted to take charge of about 20 negroes to be employed in the planting of rice.” In addition, four other advertisements offered employment to overseers but did not explicitly mention slaves, yet any overseer “well acquainted with plantation business” most certainly would have expected to manage slaves as part of the job.

In addition to indicating how extensively Georgians incorporated slavery into the commerce and culture of their colony, these advertisements reveal an important aspect of operating a printing business, including publishing the only newspaper in the province, during the decade before the American Revolution. Few colonial newspapers attracted sufficient subscribers to generate profits or even continue publication. Instead, the printers relied on advertising for revenues. Given that one out of three paid notices in the October 28 issue explicitly mentioned slaves and another four sought overseers, James Johnston depended on advertisements concerning the bondage of men, women, and children to fund the publication of the Georgia Gazette. This was neither unique nor extraordinary to this particular issue. The Adverts 250 Project previously examined the high proportion of advertisements about slaves in another issue published four months earlier. Advertisements for slaves regularly dominated the paid notices in the Georgia Gazette.

Yet it was not just Johnston, the printer, who relied on the revenue from these advertisements to continue publishing and distributing the Georgia Gazette. The residents of the colony also depended on advertisements about slaves to bring them other news, foreign and domestic, including the list of taxes to be assessed on various commodities when the Townshend Act went into effect on November 20. That excerpt from “An Act for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America” was printed on the other side of the page that featured the twelve advertisements for slaves in the October 28 edition. Those advertisements not only contributed to the livelihood of the printer and the continuation of the newspapers, they also made possible the dissemination of news throughout the colony. Advertisements about slaves funded an important civic institution in colonial Georgia.

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 7:1:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 1, 1767).

“The printer of this paper entreats his customers to pay their subscription monies.”

In the period before the American Revolution, printers regularly inserted notices asking newspaper subscribers to “pay their subscription monies,” as James Johnston did in the July 1, 1767, issue of the Georgia Gazette. His notice was particularly short; others went into greater detail in their attempts to get customers to settle their account, some suggesting that many subscribers were in arrears not for weeks or months or rather for years. If colonial readers did not make timely payments for their newspapers, that helps to explain why advertising was considered such an important means of generating revenues for newspapers.

This raises a question about printers and their business practices. Did advertisers pay for their notices before they were inserted in the newspaper? Or, did printers extend credit to advertisers as well as subscribers?

Printers certainly encouraged newspaper advertising. The colophon of the Georgia Gazette indicated that it was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street, where Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.” This was fairly standard for publications that included colophons that ran across all the columns at the bottom of the final page. That same week, several printers included similar language in their colophon, including Sarah Goddard and Company (Providence Gazette), William Goddard (Pennsylvania Chronicle), John Holt (New-York Journal), James Parker (New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy), Alexander Purdie and John Dixon (Virginia Gazette), and Robert Wells (South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal). Two of them, Holt and Purdie and Dixon, even indicated the costs of advertising, but neither indicated that they needed to be paid in advance.

Although printers frequently advertised that subscribers needed to settle accounts, they did not make similar requests of advertisers. There are at least two possibilities to explain this. Possibly advertisements had to be paid in advance. Alternately, printers may have considered advertising valuable content that helped to attract readers who would (eventually, hopefully) pay for their subscriptions. They may have been more lenient with advertisers who fell behind with their accounts as a result. This is a question that I would like to pursue in greater detail the next time I have a chance to consult printers’ records.