What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST Imported from London, by Jolley Allen.”
Shopkeeper Jolley Allen almost certainly played a role in designing this advertisement. As I have noted previously, the available evidence suggests that advertisers tended to write their own copy and printers tended to make decisions about layout and fonts when they set the type. Printers often adopted formats that were consistent from advertisement to advertisement, giving all commercial notices that appeared in a given newspaper similar visual qualities and making them easy to recognize at a glance.
Allen’s advertisement had a distinctive border that set it apart from other advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy. It seemed unlikely that the printer went through the additional effort of setting ornamental type of his own volition. What was more probable, I hypothesized, was that Allen made special arrangements with the printer (and perhaps paid more) to arrange for this special feature.
Allen’s advertisement in other newspapers published in Boston on the same day suggested that was indeed the case. His advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post also had a decorative border, though it was composed of different ornaments. Otherwise, the advertisement had the same copy and nearly identical layout. Another version of the advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette. While the copy was the same, the border consisted of yet another style of printing ornaments and the format had two columns within the advertisement. Finally, Allen’s advertisement had previously appeared in Boston’s other newspaper (the only one not distributed on Mondays), the Massachusetts Gazette. Except for yet another method of creating the decorative border, it was nearly identical to the advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy and the Boston Evening-Post. The copy was the same and the format nearly identical.
Jolley Allen placed his advertisement in four newspapers. In each instance, it had a decorative border that would have drawn attention to it, especially since such borders were not a standard part of other advertisements in any of those publications. Allen almost certainly designed that portion of his advertisement, even if he left it to the individual printers to make decisions about setting the rest of the type. Realizing that advertisements often tended to look the same, Allen devised a graphic design innovation intended to set his own apart from the crowd.