What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Ready for Sale, BY Jolley Allen.”
Regular readers of the Massachusetts Gazette may have been surprised when they glimpsed this notice for Jolley Allen’s “Shop about Midway between the Governor’s and the Town-House, and almost Opposite the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, BOSTON.” Allen regularly advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette. He also regularly advertised in the city’s other three newspapers, so the advertisements itself would not have caused surprise. No, that would have resulted from the design of the advertisement. It did not feature a border comprised of printing ornaments, a distinctive aspect of Allen’s advertising that had practically become his trademark in all of his notices, regardless of which newspaper published them. Allen had developed a consistent visual appearance for his advertisements, making them instantly recognizable. This advertisement, however, looked like so many others on the page. It lacked the most significant element that previously set Allen’s notices apart from others.
Perhaps the printer made an error. Perhaps a new compositor now worked in the shop and set the type without realizing that Jolley’s advertisement was supposed to have a decorative border. After all, the shopkeeper seems to have consistently negotiated with the printers of all four of Boston’s newspapers to include that adornment. Perhaps he forgot to underscore this request when he submitted the copy for this advertisement.
Yet later in the week, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy all carried Allen’s newest advertisement. None of them enclosed his list of “English and India Goods” within any sort of border. While it was possible that one printing office overlooked this particular request, it seems unlikely that all four made the same mistake. Apparently Allen had not renewed his instructions concerning the graphic design of his advertisement. Why did he abandon a practice that made his advertisements so easily identifiable to readers and potential customers? Why did he eliminate the most innovative aspect of his advertising? Even as eighteenth-century advertisers experimented with early forms of branding, they did not consistently adopt new methods, not realizing the value of cementing unique images of their business endeavors in the minds of consumers.