October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 9, 1767).

“ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES.”

Each issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a colophon that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the final page. Most colonial newspapers included a colophon on the final page, though they differed in length and content. The colophon for the October 8, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette simply stated “Printed by Richard Draper.” On the same day, the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy included a longer colophon: “New-York: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Parker used the colophon as an advertisement for his own newspaper. One of his local competitors did the same in a more elaborate colophon for the New-York Journal, but also promoted job printing and offered relatively rare information concerning prices for newspaper advertisements. “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.”

Among this variation, Robert Wells devised one of the most elaborate colophons that graced the pages of colonial newspapers in the 1760s. Had the type been set in a single column and inserted among the advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, the contents of the colophon would have been indistinguishable from the paid notices inserted by colonial entrepreneurs. It first indicated Wells’s location, “at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY,” and then mentioned specific services related to the newspaper, “Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS.” To entice potential advertisers to choose his newspaper rather than either of the other two printed in Charleston at the time, Wells underscored that the South-Carolina and American General Gazette “circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES.” Advertisers could reach broad markets of prospective consumers.

Yet Wells did not conclude the colophon there. He inserted two more lines about his work as a bookseller and stationer, invoking common appeals to prices, quality, and choice found in advertisements placed by retailers of all sorts. He also hawked bookbinding services, making the “Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY” a location for convenient one-stop shopping. Wells accepted “ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES,” but also promised that “a large Stock is constantly kept up.” He did “all Kinds PRINTING and BO[O]K-BINDING Work … executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.”

Robert Wells took advantage of the space allotted in his newspaper for a colophon by inserting what amounted to an advertisement for the goods and services he provided. Such was the privilege of operating the press that every issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a message to colonial consumers.

March 8

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

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 6, 1767).

“A DISSERTATION ON THE RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES OF A PERPETUAL UNION BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN and her AMERICAN COLONIES.”

Robert Wells stocked a variety of items at “the great Stationary and Book Shop on the Bay” in Charleston. Among the wares he imported from England, he first listed “LARGE and elegant prints of Mr. PITT and LORD CAMDEN,” members of Parliament considered friendly to the American cause during the Stamp Act crisis. Wells concluded this advertisement by devoting significant space to a book printed in Philadelphia, a volume which included four “DISSERTATIONS” on the “RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES OF A PERPETUAL UNION BETWEEN GREAT-BRITAIN and her AMERICAN COLONIES.” The first, authored by John Morgan, won “Mr. Sargent’s Prize Medal,” awarded at commencement exercises for the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania).

This advertisement provides valuable insight concerning how most colonists interpreted their relationship with Great Britain in the first months of 1767, still fairly early in the imperial crisis that eventually – over the course of more than a decade – led to the colonies declaring independence. One of the challenges of teaching about the American Revolution lies in helping students understand that it was not an instantaneous event but rather a long process that involved a transition from resistance to Parliamentary overreach while seeking redress of grievances to, eventually, revolutionary rhetoric and actions when Americans determined that they had exhausted all other options.

In early 1767 continued to underscore the “RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGES” of being part of the British Empire. In his “DISSERTATION,” Morgan ranked commerce and trade among some of the most significant advantages. By this time the Stamp Act had been passed and repealed, in large part due to the protests and petitions of the colonists but also thanks to advocacy by merchants and politicians, like Pitt and Camden, in England. The Americans had discovered means for having their grievances addressed, though they did not particularly care for the Declaratory Act that accompanied repeal of the Stamp Act. Still, the rupture in relations did not seem insurmountable. Indeed, most Americans believed it foolish not to attempt to make amends.

The “DISSERTATIONS” written and published in Philadelphia served to cement colonists’ understanding of their place and privileges within the British Empire, but they also reminded English observers of the benefits of amicable relations between parent country and colonies. This publication simultaneously shored up British identity among colonists while alerting those in England that it was not in anyone’s best interest to attempt to take advantage of the colonies, a warning that Parliament did not heed when it promulgated the Townshend Acts later in 1767.

Return once again to the prints of Pitt and Camden that led the list of goods Wells stocked. They set the tone for the rest of the advertisement, especially the “DISSERTATIONS” that appeared at the end. Colonists considered themselves Britons, so much so that Wells expected consumers would display images of English politicians – especially those who understood and advocated for the proper sort of relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies – in public and private spaces. Most Americans had not yet been radicalized in favor of independence in early 1767, at least not according to the merchandise Robert Wells expected to sell at his shop in Charleston.

February 15

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

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“Forty or fifty valuable SLAVES … Also, Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.”

The vast majority of colonial newspaper advertisements did not include visual images. When illustrations did appear with advertisements, they usually came from one of four categories. Images of ships at sea accompanied notices for vessels seeking passengers and freight, though they occasionally appeared in advertisements for imported goods. Depictions of horses ran alongside announcements by breeders offering stallions “to cover” mares. Images of slaves served two purposes: they were included with both advertisements seeking to sell slaves and notices that warned about runaways. (Curiously, similar advertisements for indentured servants were much less likely to include depictions of runaways making their escape.) Finally, real estate advertisements sometimes included images of houses or pastoral scenes. In each case, the woodcut belonged to the printer and could be used interchangeably with advertisements placed for similar purposes. On occasion, some advertisers commissioned their own woodcuts to attract attention to their advertisements, usually opting for an image that replicated their shop signs.

From the standard categories of woodcuts, all four appeared in the February 13, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. No advertisers, however, spiced up their notices with original illustrations. That did not mean that the advertising in that issue lacked creativity when it came to the deployment of visual images. When advertisements included woodcuts they tended to have only one. Vendue master Robert Wells, however, oversaw the sale of both “forty or fifty valuable SLAVES” and “Sundry Plantations and Tracts of Land.” He opted to include both types of relevant woodcuts in his notice, a choice that likely resulted in readers noticing the rich visual texture of his advertisement. Given that Wells was charged with selling both slaves and real estate, he may have believed that if he was going to include any sort of woodcut at all then using both images was necessary. After all, readers might have passed over an advertisement showing just a slave or just a plantation, assuming that the woodcut summarized the contents of the entire notice. In a newspaper with few illustrations, Wells’ advertisement with two woodcuts stood out from the rest of the content.

January 30

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

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South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD … ALL the estate of said deceased.”

Today’s advertisement had an exceptionally unusual layout: four columns of about twelve lines each, rotated counterclockwise relative to other items, positioned on the left side of the final page of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Another advertisement on the other side of the sheet had a similar layout, rotated clockwise and positioned on the right side of the page.

When I first encountered similar layouts in the New-Hampshire Gazette I hoped to make an argument that advertisers played a role in the graphic design decisions, that they attempted to draw attention to their notices through creative and jarring layouts that departed from readers’ expectations. Upon consulting original copies of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, I discovered that the printers’ paper supply had apparently been disrupted temporarily and they compensated by finding means to squeeze as much type as had already been set to completely fill smaller broadsheets.

Something similar seems to have happened here. Unfortunately, my local archive does not have copies of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette in its collections and Accessible Archives, like other databases of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, does not provide metadata concerning the dimensions of each page. Still, based on experience working with other newspapers printed in the 1760s as well as their digital surrogates in multiple databases, I can advance a reasonable explanation for the unusual layout of today’s advertisement.

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Final page of South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

Most issues of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, like newspapers printed throughout the colonies, were four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Each page had four columns of news, advertisements, and other content. For the January 30, 1767, issue, these pages were numbered [19] through 22. Pages 23 and 24, featuring the unique layout, appeared to be printed on smaller sheets with just enough room for two regular columns and a third made from dividing an advertisement into four shorter columns and rotating each. Both of the advertisements given this treatment had appeared in a single column in the previous issue. The type had been set, making it relatively easy to reposition it for the smaller sheet. The previous issue also had two extra pages, but apparently on a slightly larger sheet that allowed for three full columns on each side. In neither case were these additional sheets entitled a supplement.

Most likely pages 23 and 24 did not appear sequentially when delivered to, or read by, subscribers. Instead, the smaller sheet would have been tucked inside the larger newspapers. These extra pages featured advertising exclusively, as did the extra pages in the previous issue. Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, may have taken in so many advertisements that he considered it necessary to provide the extra sheet as a means of not falling behind in their publication. After all, the colophon encouraged readers to submit advertisements, an important revenue stream for any newspaper publisher in eighteenth-century America. If Wells, who competed with printers of two other newspapers in Charleston, wanted to continue to receive advertisements then he needed to publish and distribute them quickly rather than resorting to an apology sometimes issued by printers: “advertisement omitted will appear in our next.”

In the end, Samuel Wise most likely had little control over the unique layout of today’s advertisement. Still, he and all the other advertisers whose notices appeared on the supplemental sheet perhaps benefitted from the extra attention it may have garnered among readers.