March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:1:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 1, 1770).

“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”

The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams.  They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares.  They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers.  An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.

In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.”  Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale.  Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.

It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page.  It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County.  The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.”  The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.

That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies.  Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach.  Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space.  That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 18, 1769).

“SUBSCRIPTIONS for the American General Magazine, or General Repository.”

By the late 1760s, American booksellers had long imported magazines published in London to sell to consumers in the colonies. Yet very few printers attempted to publish American magazines. When Lewis Nicola, publisher, and William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers, placed a subscription notice for the American Magazine, or General Repository in the New-York Journal in the spring of 1769, they promoted a product that had few domestic antecedents in the colonies.

According to the chronological list in Frank Luther Mott’s History of American Magazines, 1741-1850, only twelve American titles came before the American Magazine.[1] The first two appeared in Philadelphia in February 1741 (though dated January) as rivals Andrew Bradford and Benjamin Franklin raced to publish magazines they began advertising to the public months earlier. Bradford’s American Magazine, or Monthly View narrowly edged out Franklin’s General Magazine and Historical Chronicle by only three days to earn distinction as America’s first magazine. Despite this victory, the American Magazine survived for only three issues; the General Magazine did not last much longer, folding in June with its sixth issue. The first American magazines all had short runs. Of the twelve published before 1769, eight lasted less than a year, some for only a couple of months. Two maintained publication for an entire year, but only two others extended their runs for longer durations. The New American Magazine, published by Samuel Nevill (former editor of London’s Evening Post) in Woodbridge, New Jersey, ran for just over two years, from January 1758 to March 1760. The American Magazine and Historical Chronicle, published in Boston, met with slightly more success. Several printers, publishers, and editors played a part in operating this magazine for more than three years, commencing in September 1743 and concluding in December 1746.

Nicola and the Bradfords hoped to achieve more with the American Magazine, or General Repository. Produced in Philadelphia, it was a publication intended for consumption throughout the colonies. Nicola and the Bradfords enlisted others in the printing and book trades to assist in the promotion and circulation of their magazine. In addition to running advertisements in various newspapers, they advised that “SUBSCRIPTIONS … are taken in by the Printer of this Paper.” Networks that prioritized exchanging information for republication from newspaper to newspaper also allowed for cooperation on new ventures that did not amount to direct competition. Despite their efforts to attract subscribers in Philadelphia and beyond, they were unable to create a market that would sustain their publication, despite great interest in promoting “domestic manufactures” of other goods as a means of economic and commercial resistance to the Townshend Acts. Founded in January 1769, the American Magazine, or General Repository ceased publication with the September issue that same year.

[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), 787.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“Will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE.”

Resorting to creative typography, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Journal managed to squeeze two additional advertisements into the November 17, 1768, edition by running them in the outer margins of the second and third pages. Running the length of the page, one proclaimed, “To be sold by WILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD—–BOHEA TEA by the Chest; PEPPER in Bales; CONGO TEA in Canisters; FRONTINIACK in Bottles; And a few Firkins of LARD.” The other advised readers that “BY AUTHORITY. By the American Company, at the Theatre in Southwark, TOMORROW, being FRIDAY, will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE. To which will be added, By Desire, a PANTOMIME ENTERTAINMENT.”

The placement of these advertisements likely increased their visibility by prompting curious readers to investigate what sort of content merited being printed in the margins. Rather than being easier to overlook because they did not appear in the regular columns with the rest of the content, these advertisements may have benefited from the novelty of their position on the page. The advertisement for grocery items sold by the Bradfords ran along a column of other advertisements, perhaps immediately suggesting that it was yet another commercial notice, but the advertisement for the performance at the theater in Southwark appeared on a page devoted exclusively to news. Some readers may have engaged with the advertisement to confirm whether it offered a continuation or clarification of any of the stories from Europe and elsewhere in the colonies printed on that page.

The length of these advertisements facilitated their placement in the margins, but another factor likely played a part in selecting the Bradfords’ notice for such treatment. The Bradfords were not merchants or shopkeepers. They were the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Reserving their advertisement for the margins did not indicate that its inclusion was an afterthought. Instead, it may have been a deliberate strategy to differentiate it from others in the issue. As printers, they exercised certain privileges when it came to the format of their newspaper. That enhanced their ability to participate in commercial activities beyond job printing and publishing the Pennsylvania Journal.