What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“JUST IMPORTED … BY THOMPSON AND ARNOLD, AT THEIR SHOP NEAR THE GREAT BRIDGE.”
The graphic design of Thompson and Arnold’s newspaper advertisement would have certainly caught readers’ attention in the 1760s. Featuring a decorative border and three columns listing “A large and general Assortment of English and India Goods,” it was unlike any other advertisements that appeared in newspapers of the period.
Whenever possible, I highlight innovations in format and graphic design that set particular eighteenth-century advertisements apart from their contemporaries. For the most part, these innovations were fairly conservative as advertisers and printers experimented with new methods yet continued to create advertisements that, to a greater or lesser degree, blended in with other commercial notices.
That was not the case with Thompson and Arnold’s eye-catching advertisement. The border was sufficient to mark this advertisement as different, but a small number of other advertisers (such as Jolley Allen) also used borders to set their advertisements apart from their competitors.
The number of columns in this advertisement also merited attention. Other advertisers frequently divided their lists of goods into two columns, but Thompson and Arnold managed to squeeze three columns into their advertisement. How did they do that? Their advertisement actually extended across two columns of the Providence Gazette, a mode of setting type not commonly used for either advertisements or new items. Typically only the masthead and the colophon extended across more than one column in any eighteenth-century newspaper.
The printer would have had to set Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement separately. Its design and inclusion required special effort and attention. Visually, it dominated the final page of the Providence Gazette. If a reader were holding open the newspaper to read the second and third pages, this advertisement would have also dominated any observer’s view of the first and fourth pages.
Other newspaper advertisements were certainly set in type specifically for inclusion in newspapers and possessed no other purpose. The size and design of this advertisements, however, suggests that it could have also been printed separately as a trade card or handbill, which would have benefited both the advertisers and the printer who generated revenue for the job.