What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Choice London BOHEA TEA, to be sold by Henry Appleton, at £4 10s. Old Tenor by the Dozen.”
Henry Appleton advertised “Choice London BOHEA TEA” in the August 21, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. His was one of nearly two dozen paid notices that appeared in that issue, its format distinguishing it from the others. Appleton’s advertisement ran in a single line across the bottom of the third page, extending nearly the width of three columns. At a glance, it could have been mistaken for the colophon printed on the other side of the page.
Why did Appleton’s advertisement have such a unique layout? A few other advertisements were nearly as brief, yet they had been set as squares of text within the usual three-column format of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The brevity of Appleton’s notice alone did not justify its unusual layout.
Who made the decision to treat Appleton’s advertisement differently? Perhaps Appleton, wishing to draw special attention to it, made arrangements with Daniel and Robert Fowle, the printers, to deploy an innovative format. Perhaps the Fowles or someone working in their printing office opted to experiment with the appearance of advertising on the page.
Perhaps neither the advertiser nor the printers put that much consideration into Appleton’s notice. If it had been submitted late or somehow overlooked, running it in a single line across the bottom of the page may have been the result of practicality rather than an intentional effort to challenge the conventions of eighteenth-century advertising.
As far as potential customers were concerned, however, the origins likely would have been less important than the effects. Readers scanning the contents of the issue would have encountered Appleton’s advertisement three times instead of passing over it only once. Its unique format demanded at least one close reading to determine what kind of information it contained, whereas advertisements that conformed to the standard layout did not elicit the same curiosity merely from their appearance.
Even in a short advertisement, Henry Appleton incorporated appeals to price and quality, but the format of his advertisement – whether intentionally designed or not – made it much more likely that consumers would spot those appeals and consider purchasing his merchandise.