March 17

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

South-Carolina Gazette (March 14, 1771).

“New Advertisements.”

Colonial American newspapers were vehicles for disseminating advertising.  Some newspapers published in the largest port cities frequently included supplements devoted entirely to advertising, even when advertising filled more space than news accounts in the standard issues.  Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, did not bother with an advertising supplement to accompany the March 14, 1771, edition, but neither did he print much news.  Paid notices filled more than three quarters of the twelve columns spread over four pages.

When readers perused that issue, they first encountered “New Advertisements” immediately below the masthead. Advertisements filled the first two columns of the first page, but Timothy have over the third column to news accounts and a letter to the editor.  That column concluded with a note to “Turn to the last Page” to continue reading the news.  Indeed, advertising consumed all three columns on the second page and all three columns on the third page.  A bit more news appeared in the first column of the fourth page as well as two regular features, the “Charles-Town Price Current, Of South Carolina Produce and Manufactures” and “Timothy’s Marine List.”  The printer branded the shipping news from the customs house.  In this instance, the extensive list of vessels filled the better part of a column, overflowing into the second column.  More “New Advertisements” immediately followed “Timothy’s Marine List.”  While Timothy did not organize the advertisements according to purpose or genre, he did distinguish among those that previously appeared in the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and those that readers had not previously seen.

Timothy had two competitors, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette printed by Robert Wells and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal printed by Charles Crouch.  That same week, those newspapers published similar proportions of news and advertising.  Apparently, Timothy did not need to worry about his subscribers expressing discontent that they received less news in their newspapers compared to others.  They may have considered the news accounts that the printer did insert along with the information contained in the advertisements sufficient for staying informed until another edition devoted more space to news accounts rather than paid notices.

January 16

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 14, 1771).

“Said Morton has to dispose of, a large and very neat assortment of gilt and plain frame looking-glasses and sconces.”

Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown, in Hanover-Square,” printed the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, one of several newspapers published in the city in the early 1770s.  On many occasions, Gaine devoted more space to disseminating advertising than news articles, letters and editorials, prices current, and shipping news from the customs house.  Such was the case for the January 14, 1771, edition.

Like other eighteenth-century newspapers, that issue consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  Some printers reserved advertising for the final pages, but Gaine distributed paid notices throughout his newspaper.  The first two columns on the first page of the January 14 edition contained advertising.  News accounted for most of the third and fourth columns, but five short advertisements concluded the fourth column.  News filled the first three columns of the second page before giving way to advertising in the final column.  On the third page, readers encountered news in the first two columns and advertising in the last two.  The final page consisted entirely of paid notices.  Overall, nine of the sixteen columns, more than half of the issue, delivered advertising to readers.

Yet that was not all.  Gaine had so many advertisements that did not fit in the standard issue that he also published a two-page supplement to accompany it.  With the exception of the masthead, that supplement contained nothing but paid notices, another eight columns of advertising.  Considered together, this amounted to seventeen of the twenty-four columns in the standard issue and supplement.  More than two-thirds of the content that Gaine delivered to subscribers and other readers that week consisted of advertising.

For many newspaper printers in eighteenth-century America, advertising generated revenues that rivaled or surpassed subscription fees.  For Gaine, that was almost certainly the case, thought the volume of advertising also suggests impressive circulation numbers.  Advertisers would not have chosen to insert their notices in his newspaper if they were not confident that they would reach the general public.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 25, 1770).

“JOHN HATFIELD, TALLOW-CHANDLER and SOAP-BOILER … CARRIES on the said Business as usual.”

Among the three newspapers published in Charleston in 1770, readers encountered far more advertising than news in the final week of July.  On Wednesday, July 25, Robert Wells distributed the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Like most newspapers published in eighteenth-century America, it consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Wells divided each page of his newspaper into four columns, yielding sixteen columns of content for subscribers and other readers.  Advertising comprised eleven of those sixteen columns, slightly more than two-thirds of the issue.  Three of the four columns on the first page contained news.

Yet it was the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that delivered the most news that week.  The following day, Peter Timothy published the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  It also consisted of four pages, but featured only three columns per page.  Of the twelve columns in the July 26 issue, advertising comprised ten.  Timothy devoted just two columns to news, including “Timothy’s Marine List,” the shipping news from the customs house.  The first item on the first page was a proclamation from the acting governor calling the colonial assembly into session on August 14.  Otherwise, news items appeared on pages two and three, though that was not an uncommon format for newspapers of the period.

Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal discovered the same proportion of advertising and news in the issue that circulated on Tuesday, July 31.  Charles Crouch published two and half columns of news and editorials, confined entirely to the second page.  Paid notices filled the first page.  The contents of the newspapers published in South Carolina in the early 1770s were not always so lopsided in favor of advertising over news, but the issues from the final week of July 1770 underscore that newspapers were vehicles for disseminating advertising just as much as (and sometimes more than) delivering the news.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:31:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 31, 1769).

“HENRY YONGE … intends to depart this province for some time.”

Even more so than usual, the May 31, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertisements of all sorts. From week to week the balance of news, advertising, and other content varied, yet advertisements accounted for significant space in any issue regardless of the relative proportions. After all, advertising provided an important revenue stream that made publication of the rest of the content possible.

In addition to the standard four-page issue, the May 31 edition also featured a one-page supplement. Unlike most other colonial newspapers, James Johnston did not run a masthead across the top of the occasional supplement to the Georgia Gazette. Instead, only the issue number that it accompanied – [No. 296.] – appeared at the bottom of the final column. Otherwise, advertising filled the entire page, just as advertisements filled the entire third and fourth pages as well as the second column of the second page. News ran on the first page and in the first column of the second page. Overall, between the regular issue and the supplement, advertising accounted for seven of ten columns distributed to readers on May 31, 1769.

Much of that advertising consisted of notices for consumer goods and services, including lengthy lists of merchandise for sale by Inglis and Hall, Samuel Douglass, and Lewis Johnson. Other advertisements announced the sale of enslaved men, women, and children or offered rewards for the capture of those who had escaped from slaveholders who held them in bondage. Others described real estate for sale. Half a dozen legal notices appeared in the supplement, one after the other in the closest the organization of the advertisements came to any sort of classification system.

Readers of the Georgia Gazette were accustomed to encountering more advertising than any other content within that newspaper’s pages. That had been the case for all of the issues published in May 1769, but the inclusion of a supplement devoted entirely to advertising at the end of the month underscored that disseminating advertising, rather than news, was an important purpose of the publication.