What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Considerable variety of GOODS.”
Thomas Martin made an investment in informing the public of the “considerable variety of GOODS” he imported “in the last Ships from England” and added to his “former Assortment” of merchandise at his shop in Portsmouth in the summer of 1772. To demonstrate the choices he offered consumers, he listed scores of items in an advertisement in the September 4 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He stocked everything from “silk, kid, and lamb gloves & mitts” and “mantua silks” to “ivory handle and common knives & forks” and “brass furniture for desks and chests of drawers” to “brass and iron chimney hooks” and “mouse & rat traps.” Two strings of “&c. &c. &c.” suggested an even greater array of goods than Martin could catalog in his newspaper advertisement.
That advertisement accounted for a considerable portion of the content of that issue of the New-Hampshire Gazettedelivered to subscribers and other readers. Like most American newspapers published prior to the Revolution, a standard issue of the weekly New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The New-Hampshire Gazette featured three columns per page, for a total of twelve columns of news, editorial, advertisements, and other content in each issue. Martin’s advertisement extended an entire column, occupying one-twelfth of the space in the September 4 edition. The printers did use smaller type for news from Rome, London, Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Newport, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth than for advertisements, delivering as much news as possible to subscribers while still generating revenues from advertisers.
The size of the font, however, did not matter to Martin when it came to the cost of advertising in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Colonial printers did not charge by the word but instead by the amount of space required to publish advertisements. That meant a substantial investment for Martin when he ran a notice that filled an entire column, not the first time he ran an extensive advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Even with the larger font compared to news items, the amount of space likely helped to communicate the shopkeeper’s message about consumer choice to prospective customers.