July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 14, 1767).

“JUST IMPORTED, By JAMES DRUMMOND … a large and compleat Assortment of Goods.”

James Drummond obtained a privileged place for his advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Or did he? The answer depends on how readers engaged with the newspaper when it came into their possession. Drummond’s advertisement appeared in the third and final column on the first page, immediately under a headline that proclaimed “New Advertisement.” An ornamental device separated it from the news item that occupied most of the page, a lengthy “Extract of a Representation from the Board of Trade to his Majesty.” Drummond’s advertisement seemed to have a prime position on the page.

However, that may not necessarily have been the case. The vast majority of the advertising in the July 14 edition appeared on the third and fourth pages of the four-page issue. Although not arranged by any sort of classification on those two pages, dozens of advertisements were grouped together. Readers who perused any particular advertisement would have also noticed the others that surrounded it. From that perspective, Drummond’s notice was isolated from the others and may have received less attention as a result. Having his advertisement inserted in closer proximity to those placed by competitors may have worked to his benefit.

Where within the issue Drummond’s advertisement appeared probably depended on decisions made in the printing office. Given its length relative to the columns of news on the first page, the compositor likely saw an opportunity to fill most of the remaining space once the “Extract” had been set, adding one short real estate announcement to complete the page. For readers who approached this issue intensively – reading straight through from start to finish – Drummond’s advertisement would have been the first commercial notice (and one of the first items of any sort) encountered, making its placement a boon to the shopkeeper. On the other hand, some readers, especially those who did not examine every column of every page, may have overlooked Drummond’s advertisement because it was not included among its counterparts. The front page may not have always been the best place as far as colonial advertisers were concerned.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 12 - 4:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 11, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD … the following BOOKS.”

This advertisement sold different types of books, from Bibles (“royal Families Bibles”) to history books and geography (“Histories of the late War” and “History of Austria”), a science book (“Winkler’s natural Philosophy”), and sets of books about warfare (“Sieges and Battles”) to novels. (Skome also sold Stoughton’s Elixir, a patent medicine.)

The advertisement also mentions “Stackhouse’s Life of Christ, Folio.” In today’s world, “folio” refers to the page numbers that appear in books. However, in the eighteenth century, a folio was a type of book that was larger than average and also more expensive, made of a piece of paper that had been folded just once, resulting in two pages. Other book sizes included quartos, octavos, and duodecimals. Quartos are slightly smaller than folios due to the fact that the paper that was used to form them was folded four times instead of two. Octavos are even smaller, as the paper used to form them has been folded eight times. Duodecimals are even smaller than octavos since they have twelve pages per sheet. One famous example of a work that was distributed as a folio was a 1623 edition of Shakespeare’s works.

For more information on the history of books, check out this syllabus for an online course on “The Book: 1450 to the Present.”

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The eighteenth century was an age of revolutions. This blog explores the consumer revolution every day, one advertisement at a time. In many instances, the guest curators and I have linked the appeals made in those advertisements to the political revolution brewing in England’s American colonies. Today’s advertisement, however, called attention to another revolution that occurred throughout the eighteenth century.

Note that Skome’s lists several kinds of reading material, starting with bibles and other devotional works and concluding with “A Number of curious and entertaining NOVELS.” A number of histories, geographies, and other reference works appeared in the middle of the list. In choosing to list his titles in this order, Skome created a hierarchy that reflected many colonists’ attitudes toward the reading materials available to them, including a suspicion and hostility toward novels.

So, what does this have to do with some kind of revolution? A revolution in reading took place during the eighteenth century. Colonists’ reading habits shifted from intensive reading of a small number of printed works – primarily bibles and other texts about religion – to extensive reading of a great number of genres, including histories, travelogues, economics, poetry and other literature, and novels. The consumer revolution and the reading revolution converged as colonists purchased and read a greater variety of books than bibles and almanacs.

This greater variety included “curious and entertaining NOVELS.” Some colonists were not happy with that development, even as they cultivated an appreciation for other printed works. Most books possessed at least some redeeming content, but critics believed that the fictional tales of romance and scandal in novels promoted salacious behavior in real life. Such critiques had a gendered component as well: in a patriarchal society, many men worried about what kinds of ideas women and girls might develop when left to their own devices to read possibly unsavory novels without appropriate supervision.

January 8

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

Jan 8 - 1:6:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (January 6, 1766)

“Spades … black plain sattin … chintzes and callicoes … brown Manchester velvit … the best French pearl earings and necklaces … tapes and bobbins … pen-knives … darning and sewing needles … and table beer by the barrel.”

Abraham Remsen stocked a variety of merchandise to be sold “Wholesale or Retale, at his Shop in Clark-Street” in Newport.  Reading through his list advertisement, which certainly testifies to the assortment of goods so many shopkeepers promoted in eighteenth-century America, can be a bit disorienting.  In response to an advertisement featured a short while ago, one correspondent on Twitter remarked that colonial Americans must have had longer attention spans than their modern counterparts, considering the length, density, and lack of visual images common in many newspaper advertisements of the period.

This prompted me to think about reading habits in the eighteenth century.  Historians have long argued that early Americans read newspapers intensively, that they were read aloud in public spaces (like taverns and coffeehouses) and passed around until they became dog-eared.  Consider that American newspapers in the 1760s were published once a week.  Consider also that each issue was typically a single broadsheet, folded in half to create a four-page newspaper.  It makes sense that subscribers and others would read the news items carefully and perhaps multiple times.

But what about the advertisements?  Would they have been read as intensively as other items?  How would an early American reader have approached this advertisement?