February 14

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

Feb 14 - 2:14:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 14, 1770).

“Messrs. JOHN SKETCHLEY, & Co.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, apparently experienced a disruption in his paper supply in February 1770, perhaps as a result of the duties imposed on imported paper by the Townshend Acts. His newspaper usually featured four columns per page. The February 14 edition did have four columns per page, but the fourth column was narrower, with the contents rotated so that the text ran perpendicular to the other three. Printers and compositors often deployed this strategy when forced to print newspapers on paper of a different size than usual. It allowed them to insert as much content as possible while efficiently using type already set. Notably, advertisements that ran in the previous issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette comprised the entirety of the material rotated to fit on the page for the February 13 edition.

This evidence allows me to confidently state that Wells used broadsheets of two different sizes in February 1770. I cannot make this claim, however, as the result of comparing the actual dimensions of those sheets. The Adverts 250 Project relies primarily on databases of eighteenth-century newspapers that have been digitized to allow for greater access. Indeed, this project would not be possible without the resources made available by Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, Accessible Archives’s South Carolina Newspapers, Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library, and the Maryland State Archives’s Maryland Gazette Collection. Each of these databases allows for significantly enhanced access to the content of eighteenth-century newspapers. In the process, however, they negate some of the material aspects of those newspapers, including any indication of size. Each issue becomes the size of the computer screen or whatever size users make them as they zoom in and out to observe various details.

That means that readers must relay on visual cues to make determinations about the relative size of newspaper pages. This makes it impossible to compare, say, the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to the Connecticut Courant, but it is possible to make comparisons among various issues of a particular newspaper. The mastheads for the February 7 and February 14 editions of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette do not match. Wells or a compositor who worked in his printing office reset the type, adjusting the masthead to fit a smaller broadsheet. In combination with the advertisements rotated to fit a narrower fourth column, this confirms that Wells used a smaller sheet. Careful attention to the format reveals the reason for the unusual appearance of the February 14 issue, something that would have been readily apparent when examining the original copies. Scholars who rely on digital surrogates, however, have to develop strategies for making assessments about the relative sizes of pages and explain why printers and compositors made certain decisions about how to format advertisements and other content.

January 12

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

New-York Journal (January 12, 1769)

“[No Room for News. Advertisements left out will be in our next.]”

John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, faced a dilemma when he prepared the January 12, 1769, edition to go to press. He had too much content for the standard four-page issue. A short notice at the bottom of the final column on the third page advised readers that there was “[No Room for News. Advertisements left out will be in our next.]”

Why place this notice on the third page instead of the last? Consider the mechanics of printing a four-page newspaper on a hand-operated press in eighteenth-century America. Minimizing the number of impressions reduced the amount of time required working at the press. To maximize efficiency, printers produced the standard four-page edition by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. This required setting type for the fourth and first pages to print simultaneously and then the second and third pages to print together. Compositors usually set the exterior pages first, in part because they included material that repeated from week to week, such as the masthead on the first page and the colophon and advertisements on the fourth page. The type for the third page often would have been the last set for the issue, explaining why Holt’s notice about not having enough space for all the news and advertisements appeared at the bottom of the final column of that page.

Still, Holt made additional efforts to serve his customers. A legal notice concerning James Cunningham, “an insolvent debtor,” that otherwise would have appeared among the advertisements instead ran along the right margin of the third page. It concerned a hearing that would take place on January 17, before publication of the next edition of the New-York Journal. If Holt wished to generate the advertising revenue, it was imperative to find a way to insert that advertisement in the January 12 issue. Printers sometimes ran short advertisements in the margins, rotating the text so it appeared perpendicular to the rest of the column. In most cases such advertisements ran in several columns, only a few lines each and the same width as the columns that ran the length of the entire page. Compositors used advertisements that already appeared in previous issues, transferring lines of type already set. The legal notice concerning Cunningham, however, had not previously appeared in the New-York Journal. It appeared as a short but wide paragraph that ran the length of the page.

Holt also issued a two-page Supplement to the New-York Journal. Except for the masthead, the first page consisted entirely of “The ANATOMIST, No. XIV,” the next installment in a series of essays that ran in the weekly supplement. The essay concluded on the following page, leaving space for some news (“JOURNAL of OCCURRENCES, continued,” with the dateline “BOSTON, December 10”) and two advertisements. One of those advertisements included a notation on the final line, “56 59,” to remind the compositor that the advertisement was to appear in issues 1356 through 1359. The January 12 edition and its supplement comprised issue 1358. Though he did not have sufficient space in the standard issue, Holt made room in the supplement to insert that advertisement.

As the January 12, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal demonstrates, colonial printers and compositors made creative choices in their efforts to circulate news and advertising to colonial readers and consumers. Even as he offered assurances to advertisers that their notices would indeed appear in the next issue, Holt finagled additional space that allowed some to circulate immediately rather than being delayed a week.

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 18, 1768).

“A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed, to be sold by Richard Woodhull, in New-Haven.”

Richard Woodhull’s advertisement for “A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed” benefited from its fairly unique yet conspicuous placement in the March 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Unlike some printers who reserved certain pages for news items and other pages for advertisements, brothers Thomas Green and Samuel Green distributed news and advertising throughout the entire issue, though only news and the masthead appeared on the first page. The second, third, and fourth pages all featured both news and paid notices, with news first and advertising filling in the remainder of the page. In other words, readers encountered news and then advertising when they perused the page from left to right. On the second and fourth pages, advertisements comprised nearly the entire final column. On the third page, however, a single paid notice appeared at the bottom of the last column …

… except for Woodhull’s advertisement, a short announcement printed on the far right of the page. The type had been rotated to run perpendicular to the rest of the text, replicating a strategy sometimes deployed by printers and compositors in other colonial newspapers. In this instance, however, the execution was rather clumsy in comparison. The text of Woodhull’s advertisement was positioned flush against the contents of the third column rather than set slightly to the right with at least a narrow strip of white space separating them. Unfortunately, examining a digital surrogate does not allow for any assessment of whether this was done out of necessity to fit the size of the sheet or if the Greens had sufficient margins that they could have moved Woodhull’s advertisement to the right and away from the third column. The March 18 edition was only issue “No. 22” of the Connecticut Journal. Given that the Greens had been publishing the newspaper for less than six months, they still may have been experimenting to determine their preferred format when it came to graphic design and visual aspects.

Alternately, the Greens may have resorted to squeezing Woodhull’s advertisement on the third page because they neglected to insert it when they set the type for the columns. The same advertisement appeared in the March 11 edition (in what appears to be the same size font, though working with a digital surrogate makes it impossible to definitively state that was the case), but in four lines in a column with other advertisements. The spacing between words seems to be replicated in the perpendicular insertion the following week, suggesting that the Greens at some point took four lines of type that had already been set and positioned them side by side to make a single line. A new version of the advertisement, completely reset and extending only three lines, appeared in a regular column in the March 25 issue. Yet another version, again completely reset but this time in only two lines, was inserted as the final item the last column in the April 1 issue before the advertisement was discontinued in subsequent issues.

Woodhull may have requested these variations as a means of drawing attention to his advertisements, but it seems more likely that they resulted from the Greens working through their practices for the publication process for what was a relatively new endeavor. Although Thomas had more than a decade of experience as a printer, setting up shop with his brother Samuel was a new enterprise. The two may have been working out a system for operating their business and organizing tasks. Whatever the reason for the awkward insertion of Woodhull’s advertisement, it had the effect of making his notice difficult to overlook. Casual observers could not help but notice the strange line of text, in larger font, set perpendicular to the rest when they glanced at the page. Those who actively read the news from Boston or the shipping news from New Haven’s Custom House could not have missed Woodhull’s advertisement. Whether done intentionally or not, the unusual typography made Woodhull’s advertisement more visible to potential customers.