June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 29, 1769).

“Any Branch of the Painting and Gilding Business.”

George Kilcup’s advertisement in the June 29, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter likely garnered attention due to it unique format and placement on the first page. The short advertisement ran across the bottom of the page, separated from the news items that appeared above it by a line that helped readers distinguish between the two types of content. Rather than run continuously across all three columns, the advertisement was also divided into three columns with three lines of text each. While it was not uncommon for advertisements to run on the front page of eighteenth-century newspapers, this format and placement was quite exceptional.

The needs of the printer rather than any sort of intentional design by the advertiser or compositor likely explain the unusual manner of presenting this advertisement. Notably, the advertisement did not appear in the same form in subsequent insertions. The following week it ran as a block of text confined to a single column, like all of the other advertisements on the page. It took the form readers were accustomed to seeing in the pages of newspapers. Apparently the compositor set the advertisement in three columns, rather than in lines that crossed the entire page like the masthead, for the sake of efficiency. Knowing that the advertisement would run again the following week, the compositor set it in columns that could be rearranged easily into a standard block of text rather than having to reset the type completely.

Inserting Kilcup’s advertisement on the front page at all seems to have been a decision made at the last moment as a partial solution to the lack of space for all the content the printer could have included in the June 29 edition. The issue ended with a brief note informing readers, correspondents, and advertisers that “The Articles of Intelligence and Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.” Yet advertisers paid to have their notices inserted, and newspaper printers depended on this important revenue stream. The text that bled through the second page to the first suggests that the compositor originally planned for shorter columns on the first page but later modified it to include Kilcup’s advertisement when running short of space elsewhere in the issue. The compositor managed to squeeze in one more advertisement to mollify a client who might not have been happy for his notice to be delayed by a week.

Printers and compositors and, sometimes, advertisers experimented with graphic design elements of advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, yet not all innovations derived from intentionally attempting to devise a combination of format and placement to draw the attention of readers to advertisements. In the case of Kilcup’s advertisement, transformed into the standard block of text at the first opportunity, it seems that necessity prompted the compositor to play with the usual format and placement after the printer compiled too much content to fit all of it in the newspaper that week. That does not negate the fact that Kilcup’s advertisement benefited from enhanced visibility for its first insertion, but that does not seem to have been the first priority of anyone involved in producing the advertisement.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).

“FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS … propose to celebrate the FEAST of St. JOHN the Baptist.”

Any of the “BRETHREN of the Antient and Honourable Society of FREE and ACCEPTED MASONS in New-Hampshire” who read the colony’s only newspaper could hardly have missed the calls to attend gatherings on Saturday, June 24, 1769. Not one but two advertisements about their events ran in the June 23 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, both of them placed in prominent places on the page. In addition, an announcement dated June 14 also appeared in the previous issue published on June 16.

Of the two notices that circulated on June 23, one was the first item in the first column on the second page, making it difficult for readers to overlook. Even those who skimmed the contents of the page were more likely to give that first item more attention. In it, John Marsh invited his “BRETHREN” to celebrate the Feast of St. John the Baptist at the King George Tavern the following day. A nota bene further clarified that dinner would be “on Table precisely at Two o’Clock.” Readers encountered a similar advertisement the previous week, though it had since been updated to reflect that the feast would occur “TO-MORROW” rather than later in the month. This required the compositor to reset some, but not all, of the type for the advertisement. Marsh had to make special arrangements (and may have incurred additional expenses) for this when he submitted the copy to the printing office.

Jun 23 - 6:16:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 16, 1769).

The other notice in the June 23 edition ran across all four columns in the margin at the bottom of the first page. Wider than the masthead (due to the continued disruption on the paper supply), its unique placement on the page also would have attracted the attention of the curious. This advertisement notified masons of another event taking place the following day. Marsh instructed them “to attend at the Lodge-Room” at nine o’clock in the evening “to proceed thence in procession to Queen’s-Chapel, where a Sermon suitable to the Occasion, will be preached by the Rev. Mr. BROWN.” Its position in the margin suggested that this notice had been a late submission to the printing office, inserted after the type had been set. Given that Marsh could not wait a week to insert the notice in the next edition, the printers made special provisions to include his notice (and collect the fees).

Limited to only two pages, that edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured an advertisement from the masons on both pages. Many readers likely read them in quick succession, first the notice at the bottom of the front page and then, flipping over the broadsheet, immediately the first item in the first column on the other side. Informing “BRETHREN” of the gatherings taking place on June 24 was not merely a matter of inserting notices in the newspaper. Where those notices appeared on the page also facilitated getting the word out, especially for the sermon that had not previously been promoted in the public prints.

Jun 23 - 6:23:1769 Page 1 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 23, 1769).

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“Will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE.”

Resorting to creative typography, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Journal managed to squeeze two additional advertisements into the November 17, 1768, edition by running them in the outer margins of the second and third pages. Running the length of the page, one proclaimed, “To be sold by WILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD—–BOHEA TEA by the Chest; PEPPER in Bales; CONGO TEA in Canisters; FRONTINIACK in Bottles; And a few Firkins of LARD.” The other advised readers that “BY AUTHORITY. By the American Company, at the Theatre in Southwark, TOMORROW, being FRIDAY, will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE. To which will be added, By Desire, a PANTOMIME ENTERTAINMENT.”

The placement of these advertisements likely increased their visibility by prompting curious readers to investigate what sort of content merited being printed in the margins. Rather than being easier to overlook because they did not appear in the regular columns with the rest of the content, these advertisements may have benefited from the novelty of their position on the page. The advertisement for grocery items sold by the Bradfords ran along a column of other advertisements, perhaps immediately suggesting that it was yet another commercial notice, but the advertisement for the performance at the theater in Southwark appeared on a page devoted exclusively to news. Some readers may have engaged with the advertisement to confirm whether it offered a continuation or clarification of any of the stories from Europe and elsewhere in the colonies printed on that page.

The length of these advertisements facilitated their placement in the margins, but another factor likely played a part in selecting the Bradfords’ notice for such treatment. The Bradfords were not merchants or shopkeepers. They were the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Reserving their advertisement for the margins did not indicate that its inclusion was an afterthought. Instead, it may have been a deliberate strategy to differentiate it from others in the issue. As printers, they exercised certain privileges when it came to the format of their newspaper. That enhanced their ability to participate in commercial activities beyond job printing and publishing the Pennsylvania Journal.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 29, 1768).

“Many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

In a brief notice in the August 29, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, William Moor advertised “a great Number of School Books” as well as “A large Assortment of Bibles, Testaments, Psalm Books, Psalters and Primers, with a great Variety of other Books on Law, Physick, and Divinity.” In addition, he stocked “a large Assortment of Saddles, Carpets, and many other Articles too tedious to mention.”

That Moor designated some of his merchandise “too tedious to mention” rather than publishing an extensive list of goods (an alternate strategy adopted by several other retailers whose advertisements appeared on the same page) had the unintended effect of influencing the placement of his advertisement in that issue. Moor’s entire notice extended only eight lines, making it short enough that the compositor could divide it into columns of four lines each, both printed perpendicular to the rest of the content on the page.

Compositors sometimes deployed this strategy as a means of squeezing more items, especially paid advertisements, into current issues rather then delay publication until the following week. Even though a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising accompanied this particular issue, it did not offer space to insert all of the advertising. Not so much remained to justify adding an additional page to the supplement. Instead, the compositor looked to the margins.

The standard issue consisted of four pages, each with three columns. The compositor converted the outer margin, away from the fold, of the first, third, and fourth pages into advertising space by dividing short notices into multiple columns of no more than four lines each and then positioning them perpendicular to the columns that ran the length of the page. In addition to Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page, a sixteen-line advertisement for a runaway servant appeared on the first page, divided into four columns of four lines each and positioned along the outer margin to the right of the masthead and essay that comprised the rest of the page. A bankruptcy notice, eight lines divided into four columns, ran in the outer margin of the third page. A short estate notice divided into two columns ran alongside Moor’s advertisement on the fourth page.

Moor likely had no choice concerning the unusual placement of his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. All the same, the compositor’s efforts to find more space for paid notices may have served Moor’s interests by producing the unconventional format since readers may have been especially curious to see what sorts of items had been consigned to the margins. Rather than becoming marginal, the advertisements in the margins may have evoked additional notice.

June 21

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

Jun 21 - 6:21:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 21, 1768).

Just published in Pamphlets, and to be sold by CHARLES CROUCH.”

In an advertisement that appeared in the June 14, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Charles Crouch announced an auction of “A COLLECTION of LAW BOOKS” scheduled to occur in just over a week. He offered a brief description of the books, arguing that they were “valuable” and “rarely to be found.” He also pledged to insert a catalog in the next issue of the newspaper, a promise that he fulfilled in the June 21 edition. The catalog provided an additional description of the books up for bid: “the best Editions, well bound, and in good Condition.”

As the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Crouch exercised considerable discretion when it came to the placement of his advertisements in that publication. The original announcement about the auction appeared first among the paid notices, immediately under a header that marked “New Advertisements.” The catalog occupied an even more privileged place in the next edition. Except for the masthead, it was the first item on the first page. The catalog comprised more than half the page, filling the entire first column as well as more than two-thirds of the second. Other advertisements for Crouch’s interests also appeared on the front page, including one seeking a tenant for “THE front STORE and CELLAR, in the House I now live in.” In another short notice, he announced that he sold “THE FARMER’s LETTERS to the Inhabitants of the BRITISH COLONIES,” a pamphlet that collected and reprinted John Dickinson’s series of essays that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies. In yet another advertisement, Crouch alerted readers that he had just received a shipment of “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous Great American BALSAM,” a patent medicine made in New York. A lengthy description of the remedy and its uses extended nearly half a column. Finally, Crouch inserted a short advertisement for printed blanks and stationery, the last item on the first page.

Advertising accounted for three of the four pages of the June 21, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Paid notices generated significant revenue for Crouch, making it possible to distribute the newspaper as well as give over space to his own advertisements. It hardly seems a coincidence that so many of his advertisements were clustered on the first page of the June 21 issue. As the proprietor of the newspaper, he likely instructed the compositor to give his advertisements prominence of place, thereby increasing the number of readers likely to examine them.

Jun 21 - 6:21:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 1
Charles Crouch placed five of his own advertisements on the front page of the newspaper he published. (South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, June 21, 1768).