March 15

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 15, 1769).

“STRAYED … AN OLD SORREL HORSE.”

In this advertisement “the subscriber,” John McLean, mentions that he had lost a few of his horses. He proceeded to describe what the horses looked like in an attempt to give people an idea how to identify them. I knew that horses played an important part in colonial society because they were often the fastest form of transportation or were the best way to transport goods from place to place. According to the International Museum of the Horse, “Both people and goods moved by horseback, as carriages and wagons could not negotiate primitive paths” in colonial America. Horses played an important role in transporting heavy goods in times of peace and war. Colonists relied on teams of horses to carry supplies for them. With horses so important, the owner put a reward out for the return of the horses, hoping to encourage honesty if someone found his horses. The advertisement also mentions how the horses were branded so this would increase the chances of the horses being returned.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Whether marketing consumers goods and services for sale, alerting readers about enslaved men and women who had escaped from those who held them in bondage, calling on creditors and debtors to settle accounts, or asking for assistance capturing stray horses, all of the advertisements in colonial newspapers generated revenues for the newspapers that printed them. James Johnston, the publisher of the Georgia Gazette, depended on these revenues to supplement those he received from selling subscriptions. Indeed, colonial printers often earned more from fees from advertisers than they did from subscribers.

The amount of advertising in the Georgia Gazette fluctuated from week to week. Johnston sometimes only had enough advertising to fill the final page, but he had far more than that for the March 15, 1769, edition. Although the first page consisted entirely of news items, advertisements appeared on all of the remaining pages. Paid notices accounted for nearly half of the content on the second page and more than half on the third page as well the entire final page. Each and every advertisement subsidized the delivery of the news that comprised the rest of the newspaper.

Johnston was so eager to bring in addition revenues from advertising (as well as subscriptions) that he inserted a note in the colophon of every issue of the Georgia Gazette. Rather than merely inform readers that the newspaper was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah, he stated that he received “Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper.” Notably, he listed advertisements first, suggesting their importance in the continued operation of the newspaper. John McLean’s advertisement concerning stray horses on the final page helped to make possible the dissemination of news from London on the first page and news from South Carolina on the third page. Many forms of media, especially those that deliver the news, rely on selling advertisements today. Although the mechanisms have changed over the course of a quarter millennium, the business model has not.

May 16

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

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

“THE Publisher of the GAZETTE, will esteem it as a Favour.”

Special circumstances prompt me to deviate from the usual “featured advertisement” format today. On this day 250 years ago William Rind published the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette, as promised in an advertisement featured last week. This presents an opportunity to look at advertising as it appeared from the very start of a publication. Considering that colonial newspapers tended to make any profit from advertising, not from subscriptions, I was curious to examine to what extent advertising appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Advert Extra 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted an “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” originally published in the Boston Gazette (April 21, 1766); the Adverts 250 Project previously featured this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinaryreprinted in the New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766) and noted when it also appeared in the Newport Mercury (April 28, 1766). It quite likely appeared in many other newspapers in April and May 1766. The original and the reprints in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the Newport Mercury all included this final line: “P.S. All Printers throughout this Continent are desired to publish this Advertisement.” Although this “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary” did not generate any revenue for Rind, it was valuable content that demonstrated to readers that they could depend on the printer’s connections to deliver news of interest from throughout the colonies.

May 16 - Lee 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The next two advertisements that appeared in the first issue of Rind’s Virginia Gazette took a distinctly partisan tone, making them appropriate complements to the “Advertisement Extraordinary.” In one, Francis Lightfoot Lee, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and future signer of the Declaration of Independence, warned friends and acquaintances against picking up letters addressed to him at the post office because “he is determined never willingly to pay a Farthing of any TAX laid upon this COUNTRY, in an UNCONSTITUTIONAL MANNER.”

May 16 - 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

The other advertisement with a partisan valence marketed a pamphlet that examined ‘THE PROPRIETY OF IMPOSING TAXES IN THE BRITISH COLONIES, For the Purpose of raising a REVENUE, by ACT of PARLIAMENT.” Although “LATELY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD by WILLIAM RIND,” these two descriptions need to be separated from each other. Rind likely sold a pamphlet that had recently been published by another printer. This same advertisement, except for the information about where it was sold, previously appeared in a variety of newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic. Either the pamphlet’s printer provided printers and booksellers with copy to place their own advertisements or Rind borrowed the copy from other newspapers (just as he had done with the “ADVERTISEMENT Extraordinary.” Either way, the newspaper did not generate any revenue from this advertisement; Rind inserted it to advance his other branches of his printing and bookselling business. (This calls into question whether Lee paid to insert his advertisement, dated a month earlier, into Rind’s Virginia Gazette or if Rind reprinted it from another publication.)

May 16 - Stray Horse 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Daniel Baxter’s notice (dated May 12) about a stray or stolen horse was certainly a new advertisement. Similar advertisements appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies. The misfortune of the advertisers financially benefited the printers who published their advertisements.

May 16 - Subscription 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Rind inserted one more advertisement of his own, an abbreviated version of his request for “Gentlemen who have obliged him by taking in Subscriptions” to return the lists to him as soon as possible. A more extensive version appeared a week earlier in the competing Virginia Gazette.

May 16 - Colophon 5:16:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (May 16, 1766).

Finally, the colophon encouraged readers to become subscribers and presented the terms for advertising in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3 s. the First Week, and 2 s. each Time after: And long Ones in Proportion.” Rind adopted a price structure that exactly replicated that of the Virginia Gazette. He didn’t seek to undercut the competition (doing so might not have allowed for any profit), but he also attempted to make advertising in his newspaper as attractive as possible.

Even though Rind had previously advertised in the Virginia Gazette that he intended to begin publishing his own newspaper, very little advertising appeared in the first issue. That makes sense since not even Rind seemed certain of how many people had signed up as subscribers. Potential advertisers likely waited to see how successful Rind’s Virginia Gazette would be, delaying decisions to purchase advertising space until they had a better sense that doing so would likely produce a satisfactory return on their investment. For his part, Rind inserted enough advertising to assure others that their marketing efforts would not stand alone in his newspaper.