April 7

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

“A Large and neat assortment of GOODS.”

I chose this advertisement because it demonstrates something common in advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers, a general store offering a wide array of products. Reeves, Wise and Poole stated that they possessed “A Large and neat assortment of GOODS” at their shop. Throughout my research I have encountered many advertisements placed by shopkeepers. They varied in length and detail, but almost always communicated that they offered a wide array of goods. An advertisement placed by Ancrum and Company is another example of such an advertisement below. These merchants either chose to keep their advertisements short or made them short out of necessity (perhaps because space was expensive). Some advertisements, on the other hand, went on for a quarter of a column. Regardless of the length, the content was the same: an effort to get consumers. Newspaper advertisements were an important way to keep a constant flow of customers and revenue in colonial stores.

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 Ancrum South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

However, newspapers also relied on advertisements for their profits and longevity. Virtually all newspapers in colonial America included advertisements as a way to make money. This practice was widespread. In fact, the first weekly newspaper, the Boston News-Letter (1704) had an advertisement for advertisements, stating that for the price of “Twelve Pence to Five Shilling and Not to exceed” interested parties could buy space to market goods and services or place other sorts of notices. Not only did advertisements provide printers with consistent sources of income for every advertisement, but a newspaper that contained a good variety of news and advertisements could attract new paying subscribers. Advertising was a key part of newspaper printing. As Jack Lynch states, “The newspaper business and the advertising business got under way together.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

The same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that carried advertisements by Reeves, Wise, and Poole and George Ancrum and Company also carried twelve advertisements concerning slaves. Six offered slaves for sale. Three cautioned against runaways. One described nine captured runaways “BROUGHT TO THE WORK-HOUSE.” Another listed a variety of consumer goods and a horse confiscated from two runaway slaves, seeking the rightful owner to claim their possessions. The final advertisement described a horse “TAKEN up by a Negro fellow belonging to Mr. Arthur Peronneau.” As far as the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal was concerned, this was a relatively small number of advertisements and total column space given over to slavery. That newspaper regularly issued a two-page advertising supplement in order to publish even greater numbers of notices concerning slaves, as well as other sort of advertisements, including those for “A Large and neat assortment of GOODS” that Megan examined today.

Megan makes an important point about the role advertisements played in underwriting the publication of newspapers and, by extension, the dissemination of information in eighteenth-century America. Advertisements place by merchants, like those featured today, as well as similar notices from shopkeepers, artisans, and others who provided consumer goods and services comprised a significant portion of newspaper advertising, yet “subscribers” (in the eighteenth-century sense of “contributors”) submitted a variety of other kinds of announcements. David Waldstreicher has long argued that those other kinds of advertisements included a significant number of advertisements for runaways, both slaves and indentured servants, as well as other notices that facilitated the slave trade and maintained slavery as an institution in early America.

Megan asserts two industries, advertising and newspaper publishing, were inextricably linked almost as soon as the colonists began publishing their first weekly newspaper. In doing so, she acknowledges an important aspect of eighteenth-century print culture. As the Adverts 250 Project has evolved and the companion Slavery Adverts 250 Project developed, one of my aims has been to demonstrate to students the simultaneous significance of advertisements for consumer goods and services and advertisements for slaves. In an era before classifications organized their layout on the page, these two types of advertisements mixed together indiscriminately as they sustained and expanded newspaper publication in the eighteenth century.

Apr 7 - 4:7:1767 Ancrum and Slave South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
George Ancrum and Company’s advertisement for consumer goods appeared immediately below an advertisement about a runaway slave in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 7, 1767).

January 30

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

jan-30-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette-slavery-6
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.

jan-30-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette-page-6
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.