GUEST CURATOR: Carolyn Crawford
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A great Variety of GOODS … cotton gowns … womens mitts and pompadore gloves.”
When I first glanced at this advertisement, I was overwhelmed by the number of products and clothing accessories that Caleb Blanchard listed and sold to the public in Boston. After I examined this advertisement, I concluded that there was some differentiation between the social classes, especially for the women.
For instance, affluent women could afford to purchase the necessary materials for seamstresses to make clothes. In particular, gowns, designed in cotton or rich satin and silk, were a favorite for elite women. A gown “consisted of the bodice and skirt joined together, with the skirt opened in the front to reveal the separate petticoat, which was an essential part of the dress and not an undergarment.” Elite women presented themselves in clothes that were displayed in various colors and fabrics. Additionally, affluent women presented themselves in the latest fashionable necklaces, earrings, gloves, and satin bonnets and hats.
On the other hand, some colonial women purchased materials that they needed from shopkeepers like Caleb Blanchard in order to make their own clothing themselves. Many of them had to consciously ration out their money. Since the goods were sold “at the very lowest Rates,” colonial women strategically made purchases.
Throughout the colonial era, fashion was represented status. With that being said, individuals were given the opportunity to purchase any products of their choosing. However, finances played an essential role. Some could afford to purchase anything they wanted, while others had to be more selective.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
This advertisement attracted Carolyn’s attention thanks to the number of imported goods it listed, divided into two columns within the advertisement. It would have been hard to miss because it comprised the entire third and final column of the second page of the Massachusetts Gazette. Its impressive length, however, lent itself to the graphic design element that drew my eye: the printing ornaments deployed to divide the advertisement into two columns of goods. They were all the more visible because they extended down the entire page.
Dividing a lost of goods within in advertisement into two columns was fairly common in the 1760s. Two other advertisements that appeared in the same issue used this method, one full-column advertisement by Frederick William Geyer on the third page and one shorter advertisement by John Head on the fourth page. Both of the other two advertisements, however, featured a narrow line dividing the two columns of merchandise. Caleb Blanchard’s advertisement was unique in its use of printing ornaments to separate the columns.
I have argued on other occasions that advertisers assumed responsibility for writing copy while printers oversaw layout and other design elements of most newspaper advertisements. On occasion, it appears that advertisers made requests or gave specific directives concerning the appearance of their advertisements. This seems to have been just such a case. While it’s possible that Richard Draper may have played with the design elements within the Massachusetts Gazette, it seems highly unlikely that Edes and Gill would have independently made the same decision when they printed Blanchard’s advertisement in the November 10, 1766, issue of the Boston-Gazette – or that T. and J. Fleet would also use the same printing ornaments to create columns in Blanchard’s advertisement in the November 10, 1766, Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post. (The November 6, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette also included Jolley Allen’s advertisement with its distinctive border created with printing ornaments.)
Blanchard was a savvy marketer who aimed for maximum exposure by advertising in multiple newspapers, but that was not where his entrepreneurial spirit ended. He adroitly used distinctive graphic design to make sure that readers of those newspapers noticed his advertisements, increasing the chances the chances that they would become customers.