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