March 20

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

Boston-Gazette (March 18, 1771).

“To be Sold by John Hunt, By Wholesale and Retail, at the very lowest Rates.”

Some colonial printers relegated advertising to the final pages of their newspapers, but others did not adopt that practice.  Instead, many distributed advertisements throughout their publications, even placing some alongside news accounts and editorials on the front page.  Benjamin Edes and John Gill took that approach in the March 18, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Like other newspapers of the era, the Boston-Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Advertising appeared on every page.

Edes and Gill commenced that issue with a lengthy letter submitted by a reader and an editorial reprinted from the November 30, 1770, edition of London’s Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser.  They completed the page with three advertisements at the bottom of the last column, two for consumer goods and another from a wet nurse offering her services.  The other pages included even more advertising.  The second included nearly an entire column and the third and fourth were divided almost evenly between advertising and other content selected by the printers.  Overall, about a third of the issue consisted of paid notices.

In spreading the advertisements throughout the issue, Edes and Gill may have increased the likelihood that readers took note of them.  If the advertisements had been concentrated on the final page, readers could have chosen to skip over them entirely.  When advertisements appeared alongside other items, however, readers might have taken note of them even as they focused on news, letters, and editorials.  The printers did not, however, further enhance that strategy for drawing attention to advertisements by interspersing them with other content.  On each page, only after items selected by the printers appeared did advertisements follow, except for a short advertisement for “Choice Fresh Lemons” that completed the first column on the third page.

The printers also distributed a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising that accompanied the March 18 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Even though those two pages had a specific purpose, Edes and Gill did not divide up the pages of the standard issue, designating some for news and others for advertising.  When John Hunt submitted the copy for his advertisement about housewares, cutlery, and hardware available at his shop, he had little say over where it would appear in the newspaper.  It turned out that it ran on the front page, next to and immediately below the news.  Although the other advertisements in the March 18 edition did not occupy the same choice location, most did benefit from appearing alongside the news.  That made it difficult for readers to consume only the news but not the advertising.

October 28

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

South-Carolina Gazette (October 25, 1770).

“New Advertisements.”

What qualified as front page news in eighteenth-century American newspapers?  Even asking that question reveals a difference between how newspapers organized their content then compared to what became standard practice in the nineteenth century and later.  Today, most readers associate massive headlines and the most significant stories with the front page, but that was not the approach to delivering the news in the eighteenth century.

In general, news items did not include headlines that summarized their contents.  They did have datelines, such as “BOSTON, AUGUST 27,” that indicated the source of the news, yet those datelines did not necessarily mean that they covered events from a particular place, only that the printer received or reprinted news previously reported there.  For instance, a dateline might say “New York” and deliver news from London elsewhere in England that was first reported in newspapers published in New York.  Similarly, a dateline for “Boston” could lead news items that included events from other towns in New England.  Printers sometimes listed their sources, such as another newspaper or a letter, but not always.  Along with the dateline for “BOSTON, AUGUST 27” in the October 25, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, printer Peter Timothy stated that the following news came from “An extract of a letter from a gentleman of distinction in Connecticut, dated August 14, 1770.”  The news under that dateline consisted of a single story, but printers often grouped together many different stories without distinguishing them with their own datelines.  Without headlines and other visual markers to aid them in understanding how the contents were organized, subscribers and others had to read closely as they navigated newspapers.

The placement of advertisements testifies to another stark difference between eighteenth-century newspapers and those published today.  Modern readers are accustomed to news appearing on the front page, especially above the fold.  Eighteenth-century printers and readers, however, did not associate the front page with the most significant news.  Instead, advertising often appeared on the front page.  On October 25, 1770, the front page of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter consisted of three columns, the first two devoted to news and the final one containing several advertisements.  The edition of the South-Carolina Gazette published the same day commenced with a column of “New Advertisements” as the first item on the first page.  The other two columns delivered news.  Most newspapers consisted of only four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The first and fourth pages, printed simultaneously, often contained advertisements received well in advance, while the second and third pages, also printed simultaneously featured the latest news that had just arrived via newspapers from other towns, letters, and other means.  Colonists looking for what modern readers would consider front page news understood that they often would not encounter those stories until they opened their newspapers to the second page.

Then and now, newspapers delivered news and advertising, the latter providing much of the revenue necessary for the former.  The appearance and organization of newspapers, however, has changed over time.  Modern readers are accustomed to newspapers overflowing with advertising, but not advertising on the front page, a space now reserved for the lead stories.  Eighteenth-century readers, on the other hand, often saw commercial messages and other sorts of paid notices as soon as they began perusing the front page.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 25, 1770).

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:1:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 1, 1770).

“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”

The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams.  They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares.  They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers.  An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.

In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.”  Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale.  Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.

It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page.  It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County.  The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.”  The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.

That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies.  Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach.  Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space.  That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.

January 28

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

Jan 28 1770 - 1:25:1770 New-York JournalFREEMAN’s NEW-YORK ALMANACK, For the Year 1770.”

In the final week of January 1770, John Holt continued in his efforts to rid himself of surplus copies of Freeman’s New-York Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1770. He did so much more vigorously than other printers who reduced the length and size of their advertisements significantly as January came to an end, perhaps an indication that Holt seriously miscalculated demand for Freeman’s New-York Almanack, printed far too many, and now had an excessive quantity on hand.

Three advertisements for the almanac appeared on the final page of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal, Holt’s newspaper. He exercised his privilege as the printer to insert and arrange advertisements as he saw fit. The first of those notices was not at first glance an advertisement for the almanac. Instead, it appeared to be a public interest piece about “raising and preparing FINE FLAX” and the advantages of “farmers in North America” doing so. A separate paragraph at the end, just two lines preceded by a manicule, informed readers that “The whole process of raising and managing this flax is inserted in Freeman’s New-York Almanack for the year 1770.” That note appeared immediately above the most extensive of Holt’s advertisements for the almanac. He had previously run the notices about “FINE FLAX” and the almanac separately, sometimes even on different pages, and left it to readers to discover the synergy for themselves. A month into the new year, however, he no longer left it to prospective customers to make the connection on their own.

To further increase the likelihood that prospective customers would take note of the almanac, Holt placed a third advertisement next to the second one. Even if readers perused a page comprised almost entirely of advertisements so quickly that they did not notice how the “FINE FLAX” advertisement introduced an advertisement listing the contents of the almanac, it would have been difficult to skim all three columns without taking note of Freeman’s New-York Almanack.

Holt’s advertisements for the almanac accounted for a significant portion of the January 25 edition of the New-York Journal. Even taking into account the two-page supplement distributed with it, the entire issue consisted of only eighteen columns. The three advertisements for the almanac filled more than an entire column, displacing news items and editorials that Holt could have published instead. He apparently calculated that he included sufficient news between the standard issue and the supplement to satisfy subscribers, thus allowing him to aggressively advertise the almanac.

November 1

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

Nov 1 - 11:1:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 1, 1769).

“PROPOSALS FOR PRINTING BY SUBSCRIPTION.”

When it came to generating revenue, eighteenth-century printers often found advertising more lucrative than subscriptions for their newspapers. James Johnston, printer of the Georgia Gazette, was fortunate to have so many advertisements for the November 1, 1769, edition that they filled more space than the news and editorials. He distributed the advertisements throughout the issue. Some ran on the first page, others on the second, and still more on the third. Advertisements comprised the entire final page. Readers could not peruse any portion of that issue without encountering paid notices inserted by other colonists.

Johnston gave a privileged place to a subscription proposal for a proposed book of essays about “the Indians on the Continent of North America … interspersed with useful Observations relating to the Advantages arising to Britain from her Trade with those Indians.” It appeared at the top of the second column on the first page, immediately below the masthead. In that position, it quite likely would have been the first advertisement that registered with readers. To further help draw attention, the word “PROPOSALS” appeared as a headline in larger font than almost anything else in the newspaper. Only the font for the masthead and Samuel Douglass’s name in his own advertisement on the fourth page rivaled the size of the font for “PROPOSALS.” A trio of legal notices appeared immediately below the subscription notice, making it the only advertisement that vied for consumers to make purchases. All of the other advertisements for various goods ran on other pages.

The “CONDITIONS” stated that the proposed book would “be put to Press in London as soon as a sufficient Number of Subscriptions are obtained.” Johnston was not himself the printer but instead a local agent. The final line of the advertisement advised that “SUBSCRIPTIONS are taken in by the Printer of this Gazette.” Even though the proposed book would not come off of Johnston’s press in Savannah, he was involved in its production, at least as far as marketing, acquiring a sufficient number of subscribers, and corresponding with the publisher were concerned. Quite likely he would also participate in the eventual distribution of the book, printing another advertisement to inform subscribers to send for their copies and perhaps collecting payment on behalf of the publisher. Serving as a local agent created opportunities for Johnston to profit, but it also allowed him to boost a fellow member of the book trades who was not a competitor. Placing the subscription notice in such a conspicuous spot very well could have been an in-kind service for an associate on the other side of the Atlantic.

January 20

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

Connecticut Journal (January 20, 1769).

“He has an Assortment of GOODS on Hand.”

Although advertisements often appeared on the final pages of eighteenth-century newspapers, that was not always the case. Printers and compositors experimented with the placement of news, paid notices, and other content. Consider, for example, the January 20, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. The front page featured both advertising and news. Immediately below the masthead, Michael Todd’s notice calling on former customers to settle accounts and advising prospective customers that he had “an Assortment of GOODS on Hand, as usual,” was the first item readers encountered. Two more advertisements ran in the same column above news from Boston. News from London comprised the remainder of the page. An editorial concerning the local “Manufacturing of Linen” to “put a Stop to the Importation of British Cloth,” submitted by pseudonymous “JONATHAN HOMESPUN,” comprised most of the second page. Other editorial items filled the third page. News from Philadelphia and New York, as well as the shipping news from New Haven, appeared on the final page, along with two more advertisements. Readers who perused that issue of the Connecticut Journal from first page to last began and ended with advertisements, but that was not always the case.

Usually printers Thomas Green and Samuel Green or a compositor who worked for them positioned the paid notices after the other content. Whoever set the type for the January 20 edition experimented with something different. For the standard four-page issue, type for the first and fourth pages, printed on one side of a broadsheet, could be set independently of the second and third pages, printed on the other side. Skilled compositors, for instance, could start a new item in the first column of the second page and end another item in the last column of the third page, allowing them to begin printing one side of the broadsheet before even setting type for the other. The compositor may have made an effort to do so in the January 20 edition of the Connecticut Journal, but was not completely successful. The letter from Jonathan Homespun filled most of the second page. A few lines of another editorial ran at the bottom, overflowing to the third page. A recipe for a home remedy began at the bottom of the third page and concluded on the fourth. The compositor then had sufficient space to insert all of the advertisements on that last page, but opted to place some on the first instead, departing from the usual format for that newspaper. As a result, that issue of the Connecticut Journal replicated the appearance of other newspapers that sometimes ran advertisements on the first page. Colonial printers did not uniformly give precedence to news on the front page and relegate advertising to other places in the newspaper.

October 10

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

Oct 10 - 10:10:1767 Providence Gazette.jpg
Providence Gazette (October 10, 1767).

“The said Joseph is not, by me, any Ways authorized or impowered to settle any of my Affairs.”

According to his advertisement, a notice that originally appeared in the September 26, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette must have surprised John Whipple. It stated that “ALL Persons having any Demands on the Estate of Captain JOHN WHIPPLE, of Providence; and likewise all those who are any ways indebted to said Estate” should contact the executor, Joseph Whipple. At a glance, it appeared to be a standard estate notice; it replicated the language deployed in similar notices published in newspapers throughout the colonies.

However, John Whipple, the deceased, saw the advertisement and then disputed his death and stated in no uncertain terms that he had not “authorized or impowered” Joseph Whipple “to settle any of my Affairs.” In the very next issue, published on October 3, he inserted his own advertisement, but it was not until the following week that the compositor positioned the two contradictory advertisements next to each other. Was that the result of those working in the “PRINTING-OFFICE, [at] the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” attempting to impose order within the pages of the Providence Gazette? Did they seek to assist readers in navigating the two advertisements? Did they place them one after another as a service to the aggrieved John Whipple? Or did the supposedly deceased captain examine the October 3 issue, notice that his advertisement was not even on the same page as the second insertion of Joseph Whipple’s original notice, and then make a subsequent visit to the printing office to demand that his advertisement would be most effective if it appeared immediately after the fraudulent one?

Colonists engaged in extensive and active reading of newspapers, yet the decision to place the advertisements by the feuding Whipples one after the other (which continued in subsequent issues) suggests that someone – printer, compositor, or advertiser – saw a need for greater organization than the system of unclassified advertisements usually provided. This also had the effect of telling a better and more complete story, potentially ramping up interest among readers interested in local gossip. On the rare occasions that runaway wives responded to advertisements placed by their abandoned husbands, printers or others sometimes positioned their notices next to each other, giving each their say while also accentuating the drama for readers.

Sarah Goddard and John Carter and their employees in the printing office did not further differentiate or organize other advertisements in the Providence Gazette according to their purposes, but in the case of the Whipples and an early modern case of identity theft they did print the related advertisements next to each other throughout most of their runs.