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.