March 6

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

Mar 6 - 3:4:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 4, 1768).

To be sold on Tuesday the 8th of March … A Very valuable PLANTATION.”

Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project have likely noticed that six days of the week the project features an advertisement originally published 250 years ago that day but once a week it instead features an advertisement from 250 years ago that week. This reflects the publication schedule for newspapers in the colonial era. With the exception of the occasional supplements and extraordinary issues, printers distributed their newspapers once a week. Printers, however, chose which day of the week to publish their newspapers. Nearly half chose Monday, with a fair number also opting for Thursday or Friday. The rest selected Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday, but none published their newspaper on Sunday.

That explains why the Adverts 250 Project sometimes examines an advertisement published 250 years ago that week, but only once a week. For the past two years such entries have fallen on Wednesdays because those were the days that corresponded to the dates (rather than days of the week) of publication. In other words, consider this chart:

  • A date that falls on a Wednesday in 2018 fell on a Sunday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Thursday in 2018 fell on a Monday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Friday in 2018 fell on a Tuesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Saturday in 2018 fell on a Wednesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Sunday in 2018 fell on a Thursday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Monday in 2018 fell on a Friday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Tuesday in 2018 fell on a Saturday in 1768.

This held true for the first two months of 2018, but not after March 1. Why not? The year 1768 was a leap year. It included an extra day, February 29, that does not occur in 2018. Since February 28, 1768, fell on a Sunday, the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project conveniently treated February 28 and February 29 as a single day last week. Today is the first day that the shift caused by the leap day becomes readily apparent, especially for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project since it will no longer republish advertisements on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays. Starting today, the revised publication chart looks like this:

  • A date that falls on a Tuesday in 2018 fell on a Sunday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Wednesday in 2018 fell on a Monday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Thursday in 2018 fell on a Tuesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Friday in 2018 fell on a Wednesday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Saturday in 2018 fell on a Thursday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Sunday in 2018 fell on a Friday in 1768.
  • A date that falls on a Monday in 2018 fell on a Saturday in 1768.

This version will be accurate for the next two years. At the end of February 2020, however, it will need to be updated again. Actually, it will revert to the previous chart since 2020 will be a leap year. February 2020 will have a leap day that February 1770 did not, causing the shift to move one day in the other direction.

Both charts make it clear that the Adverts 250 Project is an On This Date project rather than an On This Day project. The analysis of the advertisements only occasionally acknowledges the day of the week that they were originally published, usually to provide context concerning eighteenth-century printing practices. This consideration of the distinction between the date and the day demonstrates yet another way that modern readers do not experience eighteenth-century newspapers in the same way as the original readers since any association with a particular day of the week has been largely removed in most instances. A unit of time that seems quite natural in 2018 – such as Sunday, March 4 through Saturday, March 10 – would have been deemed completely artificial in 1768 – Friday, March 4 through Thursday, March 10. That being said, such a week would have made perfect sense to the printers of the Connecticut Journal, the New-Hampshire Gazette, the New-London Gazette, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette since they published their newspapers on Fridays. For almost everyone else, a week that ran Friday through Thursday would have seemed arbitrary. Most colonial newspapers included both the day and date of publication in their mastheads, but the former disappears from most citation practices. The day of publication is not imperative in creating a unique temporal identifier for specific issues of newspapers, but overlooking it completely does erase part of the experience of producing and reading newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:4:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 4, 1768).

“LIVE WILD TURKIES.”

An advertisement seeking “LIVE WILD TURKIES” occupied a strange place on the sixth and final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The text was rotated and printed near the bottom of the page, nestled between another advertisement and the colophon that advised readers that the newspaper had been “Printed by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY.” Indeed, this advertisement was one of several that gave the page a strange appearance, though one not completely uncommon in eighteenth-century newspapers. In an attempt to squeeze as much content as possible onto the fifth and sixth pages, two sides of a single sheet, the compositor had rotated several advertisements already set in type. This created a fourth column of text perpendicular to the other three columns on the page.

Compositors deployed this trick when using paper that deviated from the usual size for their newspapers. Although the digitized images of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette are not supplemented with metadata that indicates the measurements of each page, it is possible to reach some reasonable conclusions through close examination of the contents. First, this newspaper usually ran four columns per page. That was the case for the first four pages of the March 4 issue, all of which would have been printed on a single sheet and folded in half to yield four distinct pages. The fifth and sixth pages, however, featured only three columns plus the narrow column of rotated text. Viewed on a screen as part of a database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, the fourth page and the sixth page appear the same size. When printing those images, both take on the standard size of a sheet of office paper. Further examination of the contents, however, suggests that the originals were different sizes. Upon comparing several advertisements on the fifth and sixth pages of the March 4 issue to their appearance in previous issues, it seems that the compositor used type that had already been set when preparing the new pages. The sheet must have been smaller, wide enough for only three columns with just enough space to rotate some of the short advertisements and squeeze them into an extra narrow column at the edge of the page. Not wanting to waste any space, the compositor did have to set two advertisements, each approximately half as wide as the standard column. The advertisement concerning “LIVE WILD TURKIES” thus found a spot near the bottom of the sixth page. Another advertisement of a similar size mirrored its location on the other side of the sheet, that one announcing “To be Let, A Genteel LODGING ROOM and a very good Cellar, by WILLIAM GOWDEY.”

The last two pages of the March 4 issue may appear unusual to twenty-first century eyes, but eighteenth-century readers would have been familiar with this strategy. The printer and compositor of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette selected a sheet just large enough to contain the news and advertisements for publication that week. At a time when imported paper was taxed under the Townshend Act, this may have been an especially important method of lowering the costs of publication.

Mar 4 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Page 6
Final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

January 8

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

Jan 8 - 1:8:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 8, 1768).

“JONATHAN SARRAZIN, JEWELLER.”

Jonathan Sarrazin once again placed his advertisement for “a LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” in the January 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, continuing a series that originated in that newspaper in early December 1767. The same advertisement, including a woodcut depicting a fashionable teapot, also appeared in another newspaper published in Charleston, the South Carolina Gazette.

Last week I examined some of the difficulties in tracing Sarrazin’s marketing efforts in the face of an incomplete archive. Missing or inaccessible issues make it impossible to definitively document when and how often advertisers placed newspaper notices. Today I offer some comments on another challenge inherent in working with surrogates, whether photographs, microfilm, or digital databases, rather than original sources.

A woodcut of a teapot did indeed accompany Sarrazin’s advertisement in both newspapers that carried his notice. Was it the same woodcut? Or was it two separate woodcuts that closely resembled each other? Seemingly trivial at first glance, the answer offers important insights into the effort and expense Sarrazin invested in advertising as well as the business practices of the printers of the newspapers.

Careful examination of the images in the South Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette suggests that Sarrazin did commission two separate woodcuts. However due to imperfect remediation, via photography and digitization, it is impossible to definitively state that Sarrazin had two nearly identical woodcuts of an ornate teapot, even thought the visual evidence indicates that was most likely the case.

Accepting that assumption leads to certain conclusions. Along with the copy for his advertisement, Sarrazin submitted a woodcut to the printing office for each newspaper. Acquiring two woodcuts meant that the jeweler incurred greater costs. It also eliminated any need for Sarrazin to shuttle a single woodcut back and forth between printing offices, carefully coordinating with the printers and their production schedules. It also eliminated the possible need for printers to engage in any sort of cooperation required for incorporating a single woodcut into multiple publications. Had Sarrazin commissioned only one woodcut, publishing it in two newspapers would have necessitated greater coordination between advertiser and printer and perhaps even cooperation between competing printers.

The available evidence suggests the most likely circumstances, but examination of the original sources would allow for a much more forceful assertion. Digitized sources tell much of the story, but they are not exhaustive in the clues about the past they reveal. Accurately telling the most complete story of the past requires using digitized and original sources in combination.

January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:1:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 1, 1768).

A large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.”

As part of their efforts to entice potential customers to visit “their store in Broad street” in Charleston, Michie and Robertston emphasized consumer choice in their advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Extending approximately one-third of a column, their advertisement in the January 1, 1768, issue listed dozens of items in their inventory, from “German serges” to “rich black, white, blue and crimson sattin” to “mens, womens and boys cotton, thread and worsted hose.” In addition to textiles and garments, they also stocked housewares and grocery items.

On its own, this list of goods presented prospective customers with a multitude of choices available at Michie and Robertson’s shop, yet the shopkeepers supplemented an implicit appeal concerning their vast selection with explicit descriptions to shape readers’ assessment of their wares and the experience of shopping at their store. Before commencing the list of merchandise, Michie and Robertson first proclaimed that they had imported “a large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.” Then they inserted further descriptions attesting to consumer choice as they cataloged their wares. For instance, they did not merely enumerate an array of fabrics, but instead promoted “a large sortment of shalloons, callimancoes, durants, camblets, queen’s stuff, harragon, black and blue everlasting, black russet, bombazeens and poplins.” Similarly, they sold “A Variety of very neat London dressed broad cloths with suitable trimmings,” “handkerchiefs of all sorts,” and “a compleat sortment of iron wares.” Their selection was not haphazard or random; customers were bound to find exactly what they needed or wanted among Michie and Robertson’s merchandise.

In taking this approach, Michie and Robertson adopted an advertising strategy that became increasingly popular as greater numbers of colonists participated in the consumer revolution. The length of such list-style advertisements dramatically increased in the second half of the eighteenth century, in part because of their capacity to incite sales. Listing an assortment of goods – informing potential customers of the vast array of possibilities – likely stimulated demand by prompting readers to imagine possessing items they may not have previously considered acquiring (especially when combined with appeals to price and fashion). It also encouraged them to examine the merchandise in person to select items that best suited their own tastes, allowing consumers to exercise their judgment in distinguishing among the many options available.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 11, 1767).

“A LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Approximately two-thirds of the December 11, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette consisted of advertising. Among the dozens of advertisement in the issue, Jonathan Sarrazin’s notice had a feature that distinguished it from all others: an image of one of the products he sold at his shop on the corner of Broad Street and Church Street in Charleston.

Sarrazin’s advertisement was not the only one that included a woodcut, but it was the only one with an image, a teapot, created exclusively for the advertiser. Nine advertisements for freight and passage had images of ships. Despite some variation, several had woodcuts that replicated an image used elsewhere in the same issue, including three nearly identical ships on the same page as Sarrazin’s coffeepot. Three advertisements incorporated woodcuts of enslaved men, women, and children, while another three included images of houses and land for sale. One for a “FINE bay MARE” had an image of a horse that in another issue could have been used to advertise a steed “to cover.” For advertisements of the same genre – freight and passage, slaves, real estate, horses – these common images were inserted interchangeably in the eighteenth century. These woodcuts belonged to the printer, a necessary supplement to the type since they were used so often.

Some artisans and shopkeepers, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to accompany their advertisements exclusively. Sarrazin, a jeweler, did so, choosing an image that represented the “LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” listed in his notice, an ornate teapot with a decorative bird’s-head spout. (For a similar teapot crafted in New York earlier in the century, see this example from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Unlike others who advertised consumer goods and services in the same issue, Sarrazin mobilized text and visual image simultaneously to market his wares to potential customers. On the pages of dense text in South-Carolina and American General Gazette, this set apart his advertisement from others. This strategy likely attracted increased attention from readers.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:20:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1767).

“He keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

Donald Harper, a tailor, made a rather unique appeal to prospective customers in an advertisement in the November 20, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Unlike most of his competitors, he mentioned the assistants who worked for him, acknowledging that he was not solely responsible for all the garments produced in his shop. In the process, he underscored that “he keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

What was Harper attempting to communicate to potential clients? From the distance of a quarter millennium, the racial aspect of this appeal may seem most prominent. It might be tempting to assume that since being fitted for clothing could be a rather intimate experience that required close personal contact that Harper suspected some customers would prefer not to interact with enslaved assistants. Yet other newspaper advertisements, as well as all kinds of other sources from the period, indicate that colonists had little objection to sharing spaces, even close quarters, with enslaved men, women, and children, provided that contact was temporary and that everyone behaved according to the expectations of prevailing social and racial hierarchies. The same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, included advertisements for enslaved domestic servants, including seamstresses, cooks, and other “house wenches.” In serving white colonists, slaves became invisible and unremarkable, which would have made Harper’s marketing strategy out of place had his intention been exclusively to promote a workshop free of enslaved workers.

The advertisement might better be understood by noting that Harper relied on the labor of “neither negroes nor apprentices.” Instead, he “hires white journeymen,” an aspect of his business that he connected to clients “being served to their satisfaction” because the journeymen did their work “with the greatest dispatch and in the genteelest manner.” Seen through the eyes of eighteenth-century readers, Harper made an appeal to quality. He did not resort to untrained or barely trained workers, whether enslaved or apprenticed, but instead hired artisans who had demonstrated some level of skill and competence in order to achieve journeyman status. As a result, customers could depend on a certain level of quality when they chose to acquire garments from Harper’s workshop.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 30, 1767).

“Ravens Duck, German Stripes, Holland Shirting.”

It may appear that I have made an error in posting the image of today’s advertisement, but that is not the case. Rather than rotate it ninety degrees counterclockwise to make it easier to read, I have instead chosen to retain its original orientation from the October 30, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. A closer look at E. Pierce’s advertisement for “GERMAN Osnaburghs” and other textiles reveals important lessons about both eighteenth-century printing practices and modern remediation projects.

Pierce’s advertisement appeared on the fifth page of the October 30 issue. Although most issues of eighteenth-century newspapers consisted of only four pages (a single broadsheet printed on both sides and folded in half), sometimes printers issued a two-page supplement when they had sufficient news and advertising. Robert Wells took that approach with this issue, though he did not include a masthead that denoted a supplement. Instead, he continued the consecutive page numbering of the issue, indicating that he conceived of the contents of the extra sheet coming after the news and advertising from the standard issue. If the additional sheet had been tucked into the broadsheet to form the third and fourth pages of a six-page issue (which was quite likely, especially considering the lack of a masthead designating a supplemental issue), the page numbers did not match that format. The pages for the broadsheet ran from 213 to 216. The pages on the half sheet were 217 and 218, indicating Wells thought of them as coming after the other content. Otherwise, they would have been pages 215 and 216, the numbers associated with the third and fourth pages of the six-page issue. The numbering suggests that Wells may not have initially intended to issue a six-page issue but instead made that decision only after some of the sheets had been printed.

Oct 30 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Page 5
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 30, 1767).

Yet this does not explain the odd orientation of Pierce’s advertisement. In order to fit as much content as possible on the pages of the additional sheet, Wells rotated several advertisements to print in short columns that ran perpendicular to the three columns that ran from the top to bottom of the page. Given the scarcity of paper, this also resulted in maximum efficiency in using his resources.

That being the case, it would be helpful to know more about the dimensions of the extra sheet. From the digitized images of the newspaper, the extra sheet appears to be a different size than the standard issue. The broadsheet featured four columns of text, while the additional pages had only three and the narrow column of rotated advertisements. When printing the images on each page on office paper (once again remediating them to 8.5 x 11 inches), the type on the extra sheet appears much larger than the type from the broadsheet, though it all would have been the same type of a consistent size throughout the entire issue read by colonists in the eighteenth-century. Both the digitized images and hard copies of those images hide the original dimensions of the pages of the original newspaper. That aspect of the materiality of the text has been lost because the database that includes these images does not provide sufficient metadata about the size of each page. As an historian with significant experience investigating these sorts of discrepancies, I realize that if I want to learn more about the dimensions of the original broadsheet and additional sheet, which in turn will tell me more about newspaper production in colonial South Carolina, that I must consult an original copy of the newspaper.

Digitization of eighteenth-century newspapers is wonderful for delivering content. The process makes historical sources much more widely accessible to scholars and the general public. The Adverts 250 Project is possible because of digitization. Yet digitization, especially digitization without extensive metadata, only produces surrogates for the original sources, sometimes hiding certain aspects (such as the size of the page or type of paper) even while revealing others (the contents). Robert Wells found it necessary to print two extra pages to accompany the October 30, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The digitized images, however, obscure elements of the printing process and the actual appearance of the newspapers that subscribers and other readers encountered in the eighteenth century.