What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
John Calvert and Company placed a brief advertisement in the June 1, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette to advise readers that they sold “ALE, TABLE and SHIP BEER.” The partners also offered a convenient service for their customers: delivery to “any part of the town,” provided that the buyer purchased at least five gallons.
Decorative typography, however, rather than the copy accounted for the most notable part of Calvert and Company’s advertisement. Like some other advertisers, they included a headline to draw attention: “BREW-HOUSE.” Unlike other advertisers, they arranged for a decorative border to enclose the headline, distinguishing the advertisement from almost every other in the South-Carolina Gazette. One other notice did feature a similar layout, an advertisement for the “Sloop MONTAGU” to be sold at public auction. Its headline announced “SALE by the Provost-Marshal,” also enclosed in decorative type.
The South-Carolina Gazette frequently featured such advertisements for goods, property, or enslaved men, women, and children seized by the provost marshal and to be sold to settle debts or resolve other legal disputes. Such notices benefited from the unique format, the headline in the decorative border, but other advertisements for goods and services placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others did not incorporate such distinctive typography. Although the compositor could have made the decision independently, this suggests that Calvert and Company negotiated for that particular element of their advertisement, realizing that the headline and border would make it more visible among the advertisements that filled the final pages of the South-Carolina Gazette. Alternately, the partners could have commissioned a woodcut to spruce up their advertisement, but that likely would have incurred greater expense compared to utilizing decorative type the printer already had in hand.
In general, advertisers generated copy for newspaper notices in eighteenth-century America, but printers and compositors made decisions about graphic design. Calvert and Company’s notice suggests that advertisers sometimes observed distinctive design elements that they wished to incorporate into their own advertisements. Some likely suspected that distinctive visual elements made advertisements more effective and yielded a greater return on their investment, prompting them to borrow styles that they regularly encountered when they perused the newspapers.