October 5

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 5, 1772).

“THEIR WHITE and COLOURED PLAINS, which coming, as usual, from the first Hands, the quality will recommend itself.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, may have experienced a disruption in his paper supply in October 1772.  That would explain the unusual format of the October 5 edition.  The newspaper usually featured four columns per page.  The October 5 edition did indeed have four columns on each page, but one of those columns was narrower than the other three.  In order to reuse advertisements with type already set, Wells rotated the text ninety degrees to fill the fourth column with six short columns that ran perpendicular to the rest of the text.  In the past, he had sometimes adopted this strategy when forced to use paper of a different size than usual.  Wells usually selected short advertisements and left them intact.  In contrast, this time he used advertisements that overflowed from one column to another in the October 5 edition.

Whether Wells was forced to do so remains a mystery, due in part to working with digitized images of the newspaper rather than original documents.  Digitized images do not have any particular dimensions.  They fit the size of the screen of the viewer.  They can be magnified to see details betters.  They do not have a fixed size the reader can measure.  As a result, I cannot measure pages of the September 28 and October 5 editions to compare them.  An inspection of one visual aspect further suggests that Wells used a slightly smaller sheet on October 5.  There does not appear to be as much space between the title of the newspaper and the page number running across the top on pages from October 5 compared to pages from September 28.

Those page numbers introduce another uncertainty into figuring out why Wells might have decided to distribute an edition with an unusual format.  The September 28 edition concluded with page 244.  The available pages for the October 5 edition commence with page 249.  It does not have the standard masthead.  This was not a numbering error. Page 249 includes “EUROPEAN INTELLIGENCE. (Continued from Page 246.)”  The four pages with a narrow column of perpendicular text were likely an insert that accompanied the standard issue for the week.  Did Wells use the usual size sheet for the standard issue and then a slightly smaller size for the insert?  Printers sometimes did so with significantly smaller sheets when they did not have sufficient content to fill pages of the usual size, but these pages were not significantly smaller.  Rotating the type and breaking advertisements that previously appeared in a single column into shorter segments that ran in multiple columns seems like unnecessary labor when Wells could have instead inserted more “EUROPEAN INTELLEIGENCE” or “AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE” or even inserted an advertisement from a previous edition gratis to fill the space.

The combination of the missing pages and working with digital surrogates make it difficult to know for certain why Wells adopted an unusual format for the October 5 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Did that format work to the advantage of advertisers?  Did it draw attention to the items in the column set perpendicular to the rest of the page?  Readers may indeed have been curious to discover what kind of content ran along the edges.

Page 250: South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 5, 1772).

May 26

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

May 26 - 5:26:1769 Detail New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 27, 1769).

“Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.”

The May 26, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette concluded with a notice quite familiar to readers: “Books given at the Printing Office for clean white Linen RAGS.” The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, frequenlty inserted some sort of call for linen rags for use in making paper. The format of the May 26 issues suggests that the Fowles’ regular supply of paper had been disrupted, making it even more important that colonists turn over their rags. This was not the first time something of the sort had happened that year. The Fowles opened the first issue of 1769 with a notice explaining why they printed it “on so small a Paper.” They had not been able to acquire the usual size, but they were determined to print their newspaper “on Paper made in New-England … some of it out of the very Rags collected in Portsmouth.” The printers explicitly stated that they refused to purchase imported paper due to the duties leveled by the Townshend Acts and “spared no Pains to get such as is manufactured here.”

In late May, they did not print on smaller sheets but instead on larger. A standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other newspapers published in the colonies in 1769, consisted of four pages of three columns each (created by folding in half a broadsheet with two pages printed on each side). The May 26 edition, as well as the next seven, had only two pages of four columns. Although the metadata for digital surrogates does not include the dimensions of the sheets, examining the masthead and colophon clearly reveals that the substituted paper was wider. The masthead ran across only three of the four columns on the front page. Other content ran the entire length of the page in the fourth column. Similarly, the colophon ran across three of the four columns on the other side of the broadsheet, with other content again extending the entire length of the fourth column. This format suggests that the Fowles made the masthead and colophon, used from week to week and from issue to issue, fit the available paper rather than setting new type to conform to a different size.

This significantly changed the appearance of the New-Hampshire Gazette for two months in 1769 as the Fowles and others collected rags to transform into paper of the usual size for the publication. This time around the Fowles did not offer an explanation about the change, perhaps assuming that since they had so recently undertaken another substitution that subscribers would readily recognize the cause this time. Even without additional comment in late May, their offer to exchange books “for clean white Linen RAGS” reverberated with political meaning.

[Note:  After working exclusively with the digital surrogates, I had an opportunity to examine the originals at the American Antiquarian Society.  As the visual evidence suggested, the Fowles did temporarily print the New-Hampshire Gazette on a paper of a different size.  Usually a page measured 15 inches by 9.75 inches, with each column 2.75 inches across.  The substitute paper measured 15 inches by 15.5 inches, allowing enough space for a fourth column also 2.75 inches across.]

May 26 - 5:26:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
Note that the colophon runs across only three of four columns. (New-Hampshire Gazette, May 26, 1769).