Early 19th Century Newspapers

Early 19th
Century Newspapers

Ads from an 1807 Baltimore Newspaper,
American Commercial and Daily Advertiser

Even today when we are surrounded by – you might even say saturated by – various forms of commercial media, there is still a place in most people’s lives for a newspaper. Even people who don’t read a daily newspaper probably take a look at a weekly free paper that is delivered to their door or is available in their neighborhood, and this is the sort of contemporary newspaper that bears the most fruitful comparison to the pages you see reproduced here, from the pages of the American Commercial and Daily Advertiser. These newspapers always carried pages full of small ads like the ones you see here. The ads are not so different from the ones that ordinary people place in such papers today: to buy or sell a personal item, advertise a job vacancy, sell or let real estate, publish notice of a lost item, officially declare a bankruptcy, or call attention to a commercial opportunity.

The ads are of tremendous
historical, sociological, and economic interest.

They also provide interesting insights into the way that ordinary Americans used language. Unfamiliar words that have passed out of usage appear everywhere. What appears as the formality in the writing of many ads is probably not that at all – just a reflection of the fact that even the spoken and informal English of the early United States sounds formal to our 21st century ears. Spellings of some words in the ads reflect both British and American styles – the spellings that we think of as American today had only recently been introduced and were not universally accepted. Some differences in usage from British English were also already apparent. See for example, the ad in the rightmost column on page six of the newspaper, near the bottom. Mr. Benjamin Francis announces that he has opened a store (not a shop) at the Corner of Bridge and Union Streets.

Explore two pages of ads from the newspaper:

Page One

Page Six