What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SUPPLEMENT to the PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE.”
The masthead of the Pennsylvania Gazette declared that it “Contain[ed] the Freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.” Readers expected a variety of news updates from Europe, especially England, the Caribbean and other locales in the Atlantic world, and neighboring colonies. The Pennsylvania Gazette also carried some local news, but when it came to local affairs word of mouth often scooped newspapers published only once a week.
Readers also expected to encounter a variety of advertising. The Pennsylvania Gazette, like its counterparts in the largest colonial port cities, attracted so much advertising that the printers frequently issued a half sheet supplement devoted exclusively to paid notices of various sorts. Doing so shifted the relative balance of news items and advertising, though sometimes the supplement resulted from the regular issue including more news than usual.
Such was not the case with the May 7, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the accompanying Supplement. News items appeared on only two of the four pages of the standard issue. Instead of two pages, a half sheet, Hall and Sellers created a four-page supplement, an entire broadsheet filled entirely with advertising. This doubled the number of pages in the May 7 issue. It also underscored the newspaper’s roles as a delivery mechanism for advertising. Paid notices covered three-quarters – six out of eight – pages.
Even with the supplement, space was at a premium. The paid notices were composed primarily of text with little variation in font size. Hall and Sellers incorporated few woodcuts into the advertisement: none of the houses or fleeing figures that accompanied real estate and runaway slave advertisements, respectively, and only one ship in a brief notice about “Accommodations for Passengers” aboard a ship departing “For KINGSTON, in JAMAICA,” in three weeks. Four advertisers drew attention to their notices by including woodcuts specific to their businesses that they commissioned. William Dawson, cutler, presumably replicated his shop sign, “the Scythe and Sickle,” as did dyers Joseph Allardyce and Company “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” John Young, Sr., a saddler, and Richard Truman, who made “Dutch FANS and SCREENS,” each included images of the products they constructed.
Rather than examine a single advertisement published 250 years ago today, consider the entire issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Doing so underscores the importance of advertising in the dissemination of some of the most successful and widely circulated early American newspapers. It also demonstrates the extensive culture of consumption in port cities, practices of purchasing and display that filtered out to the provinces as merchants and shopkeepers distributed goods from their point of entry to customers throughout the colonies.