What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“PAINTS. White. … Reds. … Yellows. … Blues. … Greens. … Blacks. … Varnishes.”
The three columns in John Gore’s advertisement for paints and related supplies draw the eye. Unlike the dense layout of the list advertisement featured yesterday, Gore’s notice uses varying font sizes and, especially, white space to direct potential customers’ attention to some of his wares.
I am resisting the urge to assume that it was only natural to use columns to organize this advertisement simply because doing so makes good sense, from a modern perspective, for several reasons. It provides better organization and highlights individual products. Such line of reasoning did not always seem to hold sway with eighteenth-century advertisers, however, as they often opted for dense paragraphs listing goods and occasionally experimented with fonts, sizes, and layout.
The longer I study early American advertising, the more strongly I become convinced that advertisers sometimes played a role in determining the appearance of their notices, but most often the printer who set the type played the most influential role. What was the case here? Did Gore request that his paints be divided into three columns? Or did the printer make this decision without consulting the advertiser?