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.

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:13:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 13, 1767).

“Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green launched a new newspaper, the Connecticut Journal; and New-Haven Post-Boy, on October 23, 1767. Like many other colonial printers, they used the colophon not only to provide the particulars concerning publication but also as an advertisement for the newspaper itself: “All Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Six-Shillings a Year.”

Yet colonial newspapers rarely had sufficient subscribers to make them sustainable business ventures. In addition to subscriptions, advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream. To that end, the Greens also issued a call for advertisers in the colophon. In the process, they provided a relatively rare indication of the costs of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers.

How much did it cost Michael Todd to place an advertisement for the “GOOD Assortment of Winter Goods” at “his Store in New-Haven” in the November 13 issue? According to the colophon, “Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, and Six-Pence each Week afterwards; and long Ones in Proportion.” Todd’s advertisement was approximately half again as long as it was wide. He would have paid four shillings and six pence to run it for the first three weeks and then another nine pence for each week thereafter. (Todd and other advertisers received a discount for subsequent insertions because the labor of setting the type had already been completed.) If Todd ran his advertisement for only three weeks the cost would have been equivalent to three-quarters of a yearly subscription. Running it for a fourth week would have raised the shopkeeper’s cost (and the printers’ revenue) to the same as a subscription.

Advertisements were indeed good for business, especially the printing business. The amount of space devoted to advertising in the Connecticut Journal gradually expanded during its first month of publication, a development the Greens welcomed and sought to further cultivate in order to improve the prospects for their new publication. They met with some success. The Connecticut Journal continued publication for more than fifty years, issuing its final edition in December 1820. Advertising filled one-third of the space in that issue.