March 12

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).

“Samuel Elbert HAS JUST IMPORTED … NEW-ENGLAND RUM.”

This advertisement features a series of items that recently had been imported into Georgia by a trader named Samuel Elbert. Some of the items included soap, “CALIMANCO SHOES,” and New England rum.

Who was Samuel Elbert? Originally I was not expecting to uncover much about this advertiser, but I learned that he was an American merchant, politician, and officer during the Revolution. According to the Georgia Historical Society, Elbert started as a merchant and served in the colonial legislature as well as being a captain of a grenadier company. However, once fighting started, he decided that he wanted to serve in the war. He received a commission as an officer because of his wealth and social status. He rose up the ranks and was promoted to brigadier general in 1783 after years of service. He was later elected governor of Georgia. It is important to know about the many different people who participated in the American Revolution. Elbert may not be as famous as other officers, but he played a major role in the southern campaigns. Like other officers and soldiers from diverse backgrounds and occupations, he helped with defeating the British.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke has chosen an advertisement that may look familiar to regular readers of the Adverts 250 Project. Samuel Elbert’s notice was the featured advertisement on February 22. While the methodology for this project usually requires selecting an advertisement only once, I sometimes make exceptions when I wish to explore a particular aspect of an advertisement in more detail.

Elbert’s advertisement first appeared in the February 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, notable because it was one of only two that incorporated a large gothic font for its headline. Such typography distinguished both advertisements from the others on the same page and throughout the issue. The other advertisement, an announcement that the former members of the “Ugly Club” would meet on the 25th was discontinued the following week, but Elbert’s advertisement ran once again on March 1. In that issue, Lewis Johnson, an apothecary, and William Sime, a goldsmith and jeweler, both inserted advertisements that displayed their names in the same large gothic font. Elbert, Johnson, and Sime all ran their advertisements once again in the March 8 edition, the one examined by Luke, though yet another notice deployed the same visual style, this time featuring the name of Michael Hamer, a shopkeeper.

Who was responsible for the sudden infusion of such bold typography? Was it all at the discretion of a compositor who wished to experiment with some of the types not often used in the pages of the Georgia Gazette? Or did Johnson, Sime, and Hamer notice how the unique type drew attention to Elbert’s advertisement and then request that their own notices receive the same treatment? The answers cannot be found in the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Instructions may have been submitted with the copy for those advertisements, though advertisers may have simply made verbal requests when visiting James Johnston’s printing office on Broughton Street in Savannah. In his examination of the typography of the Georgia Gazette, Ray Dilley remarks that the “large size (Great Primer, or 36 point), appears at least once as a fascinating announcement for a meeting of ‘The Ugly Club,’” but does not mention its use in Elbert’s advertisement or any that appeared in subsequent issues.[1] Nor does Lawrence speculate on why Johnston or a compositor happened to resort to that type. The advertisements themselves testify to a willingness to experiment with graphic design, but the identity of the innovator remains unknown.

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[1] Lawrence A. Alexander, James Johnston, Georgia’s First Printer: With Decorations and Remarks on Johnston’s Work by Ray Dilley (Savannah: Pigeonhole Press, 1956), 42.

February 22

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

Georgia Gazette (February 22, 1769).

“Samuel Elbert HAS JUST IMPORTED … NEW-ENGLAND RUM in hogsheads and quarter casks.”

James Johnston rarely experimented with typography in the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Both news items and advertisements generally adhered to a uniform format that did little to distinguish one news item from another or one advertisement from another. Like other colonial printers, Johnston printed some words in italics or all capitals, presumably for emphasis, but those examples usually represented the extent of his playfulness with the type that appeared in his newspaper in the late 1760s. One exception regularly distinguished an advertisement that listed captured runaway slaves who were being held until slaveholders claimed them. The headline “Brought to the Work-house” appeared in a gothic font of the same size as the rest of the advertisement. Although Johnston possessed that font, he rarely deployed it elsewhere in the pages of the Georgia Gazette.

The February 22, 1769, edition, however, included several advertisements that incorporated the gothic font for the headline. One presented an enslaved woman “To be hired out.” While rare, that advertisement was not unique. The phrase “To be hired out” did not appear nearly as often as ever constant “Brought to the Work-house,” but Johnston was just as likely to set it with gothic type when inserting such an advertisement. This advertisement introduced some variation onto the page, but not anything that caught the eye nearly so well as two other advertisements with headlines in gothic font. One informed prospective customers that Samuel Elbert had just imported a variety of goods from Boston. Like many other advertisements for consumer goods, the merchant’s name served as the headline. Unlike others in the Georgia Gazette, his name was in gothic font much larger than the remainder of the advertising copy. The same was true of “Ugly Club” in a notice that advised members of an upcoming gathering.

While either Elbert or the officers of the club may have negotiated with the printer for a distinctive headline, it seems unlikely that both did so simultaneously. More likely Johnston decided to experiment with the tools available to him. After all in the previous issue he upended the usual layout of the Georgia Gazette by distributing the advertisements throughout rather than grouping them all on the final pages after the news items. He did so again in the February 22 issue, with advertisements appearing on every page. In setting type for Elbert’s advertisement, Johnston demonstrated what was possible when it came to the paid notices in his newspaper, even if not what was probable. The spark of innovation apparent in that advertisement eventually became a much more common element of advertisements published in the nineteenth century.