What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A great Number of NEW ADVERTISEMENTS … shall be inserted in a Paper that will be published early on MONDAY next.”
The South-Carolina Gazette might better have been named the South-Carolina Gazette and Advertiser. That was especially true for the January 7, 1773, edition of the newspaper since advertising constituted the vast majority of the content. The printers, Thomas Powell and Company, distributed a standard four-page edition and a two-page supplement. Advertising comprised fifteen of the eighteen columns.
Except for the masthead, the front page consisted entirely of advertising. A banner that announced “New Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column. Similarly, the second page consisted entirely of advertising with a banner for “New Advertisements” once again running at the top of the first column. Readers encountered the first news items on the third page. The first column carried local news from Charleston. Near the bottom, “Timothy’s Marine List,” a feature that retained the name of the former printer, provided news from the customs house about the arrival and departure of ships in the busy port. It overflowed into the second column, filling most of it. Another banner for “New Advertisements” described the rest of the page. The final page did not feature any news items, only advertisements.
In the supplement, the first page column of the first page contained “NEWS from the Continent of Germany” and a short essay denigrating the “CHARACTERS of some of the crowned Heads od EUROPE.” The second and third columns as well as all three columns on the second page featured advertisements exclusively. That does not mean, however, that those portions of the newspaper did not deliver important information to readers. Some of those advertisements included a proclamation from the governor concerning the “Boundary Line” with North Carolina and legal notices about court proceedings.
In addition to all that advertising, a note that ran at the end of news from Charleston and just above “Timothy’s Marine List” indicated that Powell and Company did not have sufficient space to publish all of the advertisements received in the printing office. “A great Number of NEW ADVERTISEMENTS,” the note stated, “now left out for Want of Room, shall be inserted in a Paper that will be published early on MONDAY next.” In addition, “Advertisements sent before that Time, shall (if desired) make their Appearance in it.” Four days later, Powell and Company published a two-page Postscript to the South-Carolina Gazette on January 11. It devoted more space to news than the previous issue and its supplement combined! Advertising filled only two and a half of the six columns, though “New Advertisements” accounted for the first column on the first page. The banner for “New Advertisements” once again appeared halfway down the second column on the second page.
The South-Carolina Gazette was certainly a delivery mechanism for advertising, sometimes more than a delivery mechanism for news. That meant that readers gleaned information via a variety of formats, not just articles that reported on recent events. It also meant significant revenues for the printers, underwriting the dissemination of news articles when Powell and Company made space for them.