April 9

GUEST CURATOR:  Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 9, 1768).

“Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment for a considerable Quantity of said Wine.”

Thomas Durham placed this advertisement for “Teneriffe Wine” in the New-York Journal on April 9, 1768. Durham sold a special type of wine from the Canary Islands. However, a more interesting part of the advertisement appeared in a note dedicated to forms of payment:  “Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pipe staves were “hooped together to make a cask.” In simple terms, they were the pieces of wood put together to construct a cask.

Apr 9 - Parts of Barrel
Parts of a Barrel (Courtesy Colonial Sense).

In the colonial period in America there was a system that was put in place of credits and alternatives to paying. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, “A shortage of money was a problem for the American colonies.  …  Without enough money, the colonists had to barter for goods.” This advertisement provides evidence of the barter system. Thomas Durham offered a deal in which a customer could provide staves to count as payment for the wine. This tells of the larger cycle of consumption and production in which customers were allowed to trade or barter items related to what they were trying to obtain. Economic arrangements of this sort show the diversity of ways that colonists conducted business.



Today’s advertisement appeared in a four-page supplement to John Holt’s New-York Journal, a supplement published on Saturday, April 9, 1768.  Holt, however, distributed the standard issues of the New-York Journal on Thursdays, yet he had sufficient content – news, letters to the printer, and advertisements – to justify printing and distributing what amounted to a second issue for that week.

Why this merits notice requires an overview of newspaper publication practices in the colonial period. Printers typically published one issue each week.  Each issue consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  The balance of news items and advertising varied, but among newspapers printed in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia – news comprised about half of each issue and advertising the other half. Printers sometimes found that they had sufficient content to require a supplement, usually two pages bearing the same date as the regular issue and distributed with it.  By the late 1760s the Pennsylvania Gazette so often included a two-page supplement that even though it clearly bore the title “Supplement” many subscribers likely expected to receive a six-page newspaper each Thursday. On occasion, however, printers distributed supplements later in the week, especially if particularly important news arrived that could not wait for the next issue.  When ships entered port with news that Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act, for instance, many printers published supplements to spread the word as quickly as possible.  In general, supplements usually amounted to two pages.

Yet the supplement that carried today’s advertisement consisted of four pages distributed later in the week than the newspaper’s usual publication day.  This happened quite frequently in 1768.  Throughout the year Holt distributed no fewer than eighteen supplements to the New-York Journal on days other than Thursday, in addition to fifty-two regular issues and sometimes additional supplements on Thursdays.  Between politics and the economy, Holt determined that his readers needed access to more information that traditional publication practices allowed. Historians of print culture and journalism often refer to an explosion of print that took place after the American Revolution as citizens of the new nation consumed greater amounts of information, believing that they could safeguard the young republic by becoming as informed as possible.  The number of newspapers expanded.  Many moved to semi-weekly, tri-weekly, and, by the end of the eighteenth century, daily publication.  John Holt’s publication schedule for 1768 serves as a precursor to that expansion of the press, a harbinger during the imperial crisis of the extensive publication and distribution of newspapers after the American Revolution.