January 10

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

South-Carolina Gazette (January 7, 1773).

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.

May 1

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

May 1 - 4:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 28, 1768).

THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.”

Richard Draper inserted a short notice at the bottom of the middle column on the third page of the April 28, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, the printer informed the public that “THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.” Like the abbreviated colophon (“Printed by R. DRAPER”) that appeared at the same place on the final page, it looked like the printer barely had enough space to squeeze this announcement into an issue that quite literally overflowed with news, editorials, and, especially, advertising. Unlike other printers in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies, Draper did not issue a supplement. Perhaps he did not have sufficient time or resources to do so. Perhaps he did not have sufficient content to fill an additional two pages, even though he had not been able to run all of the advertisements he had received.

Proportionally, Draper did publish a significant quantity of advertisements compared to other content in the April 28 edition. More than thirty advertisements of various lengths accounted for nearly two-thirds of the space, filling seven of the twelve columns and extending well into an eighth. Although the Massachusetts Gazette was alternately known as the Boston News-Letter, it also functioned as a delivery mechanism for advertising of all sorts in addition to news. In this particular issue, for instance, merchants and shopkeepers promoted vast assortments of consumer goods and services. Vendue masters highlighted which goods would be presented for bids at upcoming auctions. Local officials inserted legal notices. Executors called on debtors and creditors to settle accounts. Two schoolmistresses declared their intentions to open a boarding school for young ladies. Timothy Force warned others not to allow his wife to contract any debts in his name because she “has eloped and keeps away, and refuses to live with me.” All the way from Antigua, Edward Gamble announced an estate sale that included a plantation and 151 enslaved men, women, and children.

Although more than half of the paid notices in that issue featured consumer goods and services, “subscribers” placed advertisements with various purposes and goals in mind. Each expected some sort of results or return on their investment. In his own notice concerning “Advertisements which are omitted,” Draper primarily addressed advertisers rather than readers, though his announcement may have also incited anticipation about what else might appear in the pages of the next issue among some readers. The printer offered a consolation to advertisers, promising “a very good Place in our next.” That promise suggested that the printer put more consideration into the order of advertisements than their haphazard arrangement on the page otherwise indicated. That he could not include all of them in the issue also testified to the popularity of his publication, implying that prospective advertisers should follow the lead established by their peers and place their notices in the Massachusetts Gazette. After all, demand for space in that newspaper was so high, presumably because advertisers believed the publication placed their advertisements before as many eyes as possible, that Draper could not include all of them. Though he did not state it so bluntly, the printer transformed his inability to disseminate all the advertisements submitted for the April 28 edition into a rationale for others to advertise in his newspaper when choosing among the several published in Boston at the time.