GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A GRAND CONCERT of VOCAL and INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC.”
Music was popular in colonial America, just like it is today. In April 1769 “A GENTLEMAN from LONDON” performed a “GRAND CONCERT” in Boston. What kind of music did colonists hear? David K. Hildebrand lists four categories: theater music, dance music, church music, and military music. In early America, colonists heard “ballads, dance tunes, folk songs and parodies, comic opera arias, drum signals, psalms, minuets, and sonatas.” Which instruments were present in eighteenth-century America? Hilbebrand says that violins (fiddles) and flutes were the most popular, “[d]rums and trumpets, trombones and French horns, cellos, violas da gamba, clarinets, oboes and bassoons, glass armonicas, hammered dulcimers, [and] organs” were all played in the colonies, “in varying numbers. Women did not usually play these instruments. Hildebrand states, “A very tight self-regulation of activity in the name of ‘maintaining reputation’ limited musical options for women.” Wealthy women played harpsichords and English guitars. To learn more, visit “What was Colonial or ‘Early American’ Music?”
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
The promoters of a “GRAND CONCERT of VOCAL and INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC” scheduled for April 14, 1769, did not confine their marketing efforts to the pages of the Boston Chronicle. On the same day, that this advertisement ran in that newspaper it also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, increasing the number of readers and prospective patrons that would encounter it and consider attending.
These advertisements demonstrate an important aspect of the division of labor and creative input in early American advertising: advertisers generated copy and compositors determined the design elements. The copy in each iteration of the “GRAND CONCERT” advertisement remained constant, suggesting that the advertiser wrote the text, copied it several times, and submitted those copies to the various printing offices around Boston. The compositors then exercised their own discretion concerning how the advertisement looked on the page when they set the type. The version in the Boston Chronicle, for instance, announced a “GRAND CONCERT,” putting those words in all capitals and a font larger than almost everything else in the advertisement. “MUSIC” appeared in the largest font, making it the focal point of the advertisement. In contrast, “Grand Concert,” this time not in all capitals, was in the smallest font used in the advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. There, “Mr. HARTLEY” and “Vocal and Instrumental Musick” appeared in the largest font. The compositor for the Boston Evening-Post adopted yet another strategy, making “A grand CONCERT” the most prominent words in the advertisement. Other variations included different uses of italics and capitalization elsewhere in the advertisements as well as a manicule that appeared in the Boston Chronicle but not in the other two newspapers.
This division was not a hard and fast rule. On occasion, similarities in graphic design in multiple newspapers suggested that advertisers provided instructions or negotiated for particular design elements, but generally they did not. Much more often, compositors made copy submitted by advertisers conform to their own graphic design preferences, creating advertisements from multiple advertisers within a single publication that looked more similar to each other than advertisements from a single advertiser in multiple newspapers. In other words, the visual qualities of an advertisement depended greatly on which compositor set the type and which newspaper published that advertisement.