What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China.”
Like many other colonial shopkeepers, George Ball published an extensive list of his merchandise in an advertisement he placed in the May 10, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. Most advertisers who resorted to similar lists grouped all of their wares together into dense paragraphs of text. A smaller number, like Ball, used graphic design to aid prospective customers in differentiating among their goods as they perused their advertisements. Ball formatted his advertisement in columns with only one, two, or three items per line, just as Abeel and Byvanck, John Keating, and Jarvis Roebuck did elsewhere in the same issue. Ball, however, instituted a further refinement that distinguished his notice from the others. He cataloged his merchandise and inserted headers for the benefit of consumers.
Ball offered several categories of merchandise: “Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China,” “Brown China,” “White China,” “White Stone Ware,” “Delph Ware,” “Plain Glass Ware,” “Flower’d Glass,” “Iron Ware from England,” and “Queen Pattern Lamps.” These headers appeared in italics and centered within their respective columns to set them apart from the rest of the list. The goods that followed them elaborated on what Ball had in stock, allowing prospective customers to more easily locate items of interest or simply assess the range of goods Ball offered for sale. His method could have benefited from further refinement. The items that followed “Queen Pattern Lamps” were actually a miscellany that did not belong in any of the other categories. Ball might have opted for “Other Goods” as a header instead. Still, his attempt to catalog his merchandise at all constituted an innovation over the methods of other advertisers.
In most instances, eighteenth-century advertisers submitted copy and compositors determined the layout. However, advertisements broken into columns suggest some level of consultation between advertisers and compositors, at the very least a request or simple instructions from one to the other. Ball’s advertisement likely required an even greater degree of collaboration between advertiser and compositor.