November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:23:1769 South-Carolina Gazette Additional Supplement
Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (November 23, 1769).

“New Advertisements.”

In the fall of 1769 Peter Timothy did good business when it came to publishing advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette. Consider the November 23 edition. Advertising appeared on every page. Indeed, the space devoted to advertising eclipsed the space for news items. A headline directing readers to “New Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column of the first page. The other two columns consisted of news items. The second page also delivered news, but two “New Advertisements” ran at the bottom of the last column. Timothy divided the third page evenly between news items (including a list of prices current in Charleston and the shipping news from the customs house, branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”) and more “New Advertisements.” The final page consisted entirely of advertisements. Overall, paid notices compromised half of the standard issue, which likely suited Timothy just fine since advertising usually generated greater revenue than selling subscriptions.

Yet even giving over that much space to advertising in the standard issue did not allow Timothy to disseminate all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office. A two-page Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette accompanied the November 23 edition. Except for the masthead, it consisted entirely of advertisements, though the “New Advertisements” headline that ran three times in the standard issue did not appear in the supplement. Timothy may have made a concerted effort to give new content, whether news or advertising, a privileged place in the standard issue. Still, even by publishing the supplement Timothy did not gain sufficient space to include all of the advertisements for the week. He went to the extraordinary step of printing and distributing an Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette. Printed on a smaller sheet, this two-page supplement featured only two columns per page. It still allowed Timothy to circulate an additional sixteen advertisements. The “New Advertisements” headline ran at the top of the first column on the first page, though the notices were repeats from previous editions. Did Timothy deploy that headline indiscriminately? Or did he use it strategically in an attempt to draw readers weary of advertisements into the Additional Supplement rather than dismiss it as content they had already perused in recent weeks?

Timothy very nearly had more advertisements than he could publish in the South-Carolina Gazette. Assuming that advertisers actually settled accounts in a timely manner, Timothy operated a booming business at his printing office. The volume of paid notices testified to both the extensive circulation of the newspaper and colonists’ confidence in the effectiveness of advertising. Some colonial newspapers, such as the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, the New-York Journal or General Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, and the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, positioned their purpose as twofold right in the masthead. Timothy very well could have billed the South-Carolina Gazette as an Advertiser.

November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:9:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 9, 1769).

Advertisements, &c. not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement.”

Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, inserted a brief note in the November 9, 1769, edition to inform readers that “The European Intelligence, received by Captain Carter from Bristol, Charles-Town News, Advertisements, &c. not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement, on Tuesday next.” In so doing, he simultaneously provided a preview for subscribers and assurances to advertisers that their paid notices would indeed appear in print shortly. The South-Carolina Gazette, like most other colonial newspapers, was a weekly, but Timothy pledged to distribute a supplement five days later rather than asking subscribers and advertisers to wait an entire week for the content he did not have space to squeeze into the November 9 issue.

Whether Timothy did print a supplement on November 14 remains unclear. Accessible Archives includes issues for November 9 and 16, consecutively numbered 1782 and 1783, but not a supplement issued any time during the week between them. The November 16 issue does not, however, include news from Europe received from Captain Carter that had been delayed by a week, suggesting that it could have appeared in a supplement no longer extant. Advertising filled nearly three of the four pages of the November 16 edition. The headline “New Advertisements” appeared on two pages. While this might suggest that Timothy did not print “European Intelligence, received by Captain Carter, from Bristol” and simply delayed publishing the advertisements, the several newspapers printed in Charleston in 1769 regularly overflowed with advertising. Timothy very well could have printed overdue advertisements in a supplement and still had plenty more advertisements for the standard weekly edition.

While it is quite possible that the promised supplement never materialized, Timothy’s reputation was on the line. He promised certain content to his subscribers who had other options for receiving their news from papers printed in Charleston, including the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Whether or not Timothy issued a supplement on November 14, Robert Wells did publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that day, complete with two extra pages devoted exclusively to advertising. The most important European news received from Captain Carter would have spread by word of mouth by the time it appeared in any supplement distributed by Timothy, but the printer needed to be wary of disappointing advertisers, not just subscribers. After all, those advertisers also had other options. Advertisements accounted for significant revenue for colonial printers. Timothy’s notice that “Advertisements … not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement” very well could have resonated with advertisers more than subscribers. After all, they paid for that service and each expected a return on their investment, a return that could not manifest as long as the printer delayed publication of their advertisements. Although listed third in his notice, advertisements may have been the most important content that Timothy sought to assure readers would soon appear.

October 18

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

Oct 18 - 10:18:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (October 18, 1769).

For the Remainder of new Advertisements … turn to the last Page.”

Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, included instructions to aid subscribers and other readers in navigating the October 18, 1769, edition of the newspaper. The front page consisted primarily of news items, but it also featured three paid notices of various sorts under the headline, “New Advertisements.” These advertisements ran at the bottom of the final column on the page, which concluded with further instructions. “For the Remainder of new Advertisements, Charles-Town News, &c.” Timothy explained, “turn to the last page.” There readers found local news, the shipping news from the customs house (which the printer branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”), and a dozen more paid notices under the same headline that ran on the front page, “New Advertisements.”

These were not the only advertisements that ran in the October 18 issue. Paid notices, nearly fifty of them, comprised the entire second and third pages. Like most other American newspapers published in the late 1760s, the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. Except for the news items on the front page and Timothy’s Marine List and a brief account of local news on the final page, advertising accounted for a significant proportion of the issue.

That was not uncommon, especially in newspapers published in the largest and busiest port cities, such as Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. New articles, editorials, and other news content were easy for readers to spot, in part because printers rarely reprinted such items. Advertisements, on the other hand, usually ran for multiple weeks. Some even appeared week after week for months. Compositors moved them around on the page or from one page to another in their efforts to make all the content for any particular issue fit. This usually required readers to skim all of the advertisements to discover anything appearing for the first time. Timothy’s occasional headlines and instructions, however, sometimes helped readers to scan the South-Carolina Gazette more efficiently. Readers interested in legal notices, inventory at local shops, or descriptions of enslaved people who escaped from bondage did not have to sort through the entire newspaper to find new content. Instead, Timothy sorted it, labeled it, and provided instructions for finding it. Clustering paid notices together under a headline for “New Advertisements” was the closest that eighteenth-century newspapers came to classifying advertisements. In a newspaper that featured as much advertising as the South-Carolina Gazette, this was an important service to readers.

October 18

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

Oct 18 - 10:18:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 18, 1768).

“Those who intend to encourage this Work are requested to send their Names to Peter Valton, Mr. Peter Timothy, or Mr. Robert Wells.”

When it came to publishing newspapers, Peter Timothy, Robert Wells, and Charles Crouch were competitors. All three operated printing shops in Charleston, where Timothy published the South-Carolina Gazette, Wells published the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, and Crouch published the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. This did not, however, preclude their cooperation when it came to other ventures.

In the fall of 1768, Peter Valton circulated a subscription notice that announced his intention to publish “SIX SONATAS For the HARPSICHORD or ORGAN, WITH An Accompanyment for a VIOLIN.” Valton intended for the subscription notice to incite demand. For instance, he highlighted the quality of the paper, promised to print the names of subscribers in recognition of their support for this genteel endeavor, and offered to provide a seventh copy free to anyone who pledged to purchase six. Valton also used the subscription notice to gauge interest in the project. He needed to know if he could attract enough subscribers to make it a viable venture and, if so, how many copies to print without ending up with an unprofitable surplus. To that end, he instructed, “Those who intend to encourage this Work are requested to send their Names to Peter Valton, Mr. Peter Timothy, or Mr. Robert Wells.” When Valton inserted the advertisement in the October 18 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, its appearance brought together all three of Charleston’s newspaper publishers.

All three stood to profit from the venture, either directly or indirectly. According to Odai Johnson, Wells was the intended printer.[1] Robust sales of the prospective publication would certainly benefit him. Yet all three printers generated revenues by publishing Valton’s subscription notice in their newspapers. Timothy further lent support for the project by collecting the names of subscribers. Promoting a culture of consumption contributed to their livelihoods, even if they were not the producers or purveyors of the printed materials advertised in their newspapers.

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[1] Odai Johnson, London in a Box: Englishness and Theatre in Revolutionary America (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2017), 167.