What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WEBB & DOUGHTY, HAVE JUST IMPORTED A LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS.”
As a result of its length and, especially, its graphic design, Webb and Doughty’s advertisement for a “LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS” dominated the front page of the November 29, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. No other item in that issue, neither news nor other paid notices, rivaled Webb and Doughty’s call to prospective customers to purchase the array of goods they had “JUST IMPORTED” from London and Liverpool.
Their advertisement occupied a privileged place, appearing immediately below the masthead. That alone would have drawn the eyes of readers, but the unique format increased the likelihood that subscribers and others would take note. Webb and Doughty’s advertisement extended across two of the three columns, unusual for any sort of content in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other colonial newspapers. This advertisement would have otherwise filled an entire column, but that long-and-narrow format would have been much more familiar to readers. Due to that familiarity, it would not have been as visually striking as the lengthy list of goods that seemed to overflow the boundaries of its column. Overall, this advertisement accounted for one-quarter of the content on the first page.
Spanning two columns also allowed Webb and Doughty to mobilize a headline that would not have been possible in a single column. The additional space allowed them to increase the size of the font for both their names and “EUROPEAN GOODS.” Indeed, “WEBB & DOUGHTY” appeared in a larger font than “SOUTH-CAROLINA JOURNAL,” shifting attention away from the masthead in favor of the advertisement or, at the very least, setting the two in competition. The masthead proclaimed that the newspaper “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” but readers had to turn to the second page to encounter any news. Webb and Doughty’s oversized advertisement made it clear that advertising was the order of business in this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In addition to Webb and Doughty’s advertisement, other paid notices filled three of four pages in the November 29 edition.
Webb and Doughty’s merchandise did not much differ from what competitors offered in their own advertisements, but the graphic design significantly deviated from the appearance of other advertisements for consumer goods and services in colonial newspapers. Webb and Doughty did not rely on copy alone to market their goods. Instead, they incorporated typographical innovation into their marketing strategy.