What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Just come to Hand, and to be sold by Glen and Gregory.”
As fall turned to winter in 1768, the partnership of Glen and Gregory ran an advertisement for “A Neat Assortment of Goods suitable for the Season” in several consecutive issues of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. In the process of creating this advertisement, Glen and Gregory most likely wrote the copy and submitted it to the printing office. Then the compositor set the type, making all of the decisions about fonts, format, and other graphic design elements. Occasionally advertisers made specific requests concerning the visual appearance of paid notices, but in most instances they left that part of producing advertisements to the compositors.
In the case of Glen and Gregory’s advertisement, the compositor most likely made decisions about which words appeared in italics and which in larger font. The compositor also elected to center the first two lines of the advertisement, which served as a headline to draw attention. The compositor also made other decisions about the appearance of advertisements in the Connecticut Journal, moving beyond the copy submitted by Glen and Gregory and other advertisers. Lines of ornamental type separated many (but not all) of the advertisements in the December 16, 1768, edition and most other issues. Compositors at other newspapers also placed decorative borders above and below advertisements. In the same week that Glen and Gregory’s advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Journal, the compositors for the Boston-Gazette and Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette also deployed this strategy for dressing up advertisements.
Doing so operated as an implicit advertisement for the services provided at the printing offices where these newspapers were published. In addition to publishing newspapers, printers solicited job printing orders for blanks, broadsides, handbills, and other items. The ornamental type that separated advertisements in newspapers alerted prospective clients to the possibilities of decorative printing for their own orders. Although they did not do so exhaustively, these borders served as specimens of type otherwise not widely incorporated into the news items, advertisements, and other content of colonial newspapers. They offered compositors an opportunity to play with the visual appearance of advertisements and challenged prospective clients to think about the possibilities for their own job printing orders.