What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Writing Paper, Wafers, &c.
Loaf Sugar, and Bohea Tea,
Cinnamon, Nutmegs, &c.”
When an advertisement announcing the “SALE of the late Mr. CORKER’S Store Goods” appeared in the March 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, its format likely caught the attention of readers. It listed more than one hundred items, from textiles to patent medicines to housewares to hardware. In addition, the advertisement promised that “many small Articles too tedious to mention” would also be available for sale “at the Vendue-House” in the coming days.
The compositor designed a catalog of goods that was relatively easy for readers to navigate compared to many notices merchants and shopkeepers placed in early American newspapers. The advertisement spanned two columns on the third page, occupying enough space to create three columns within the notice. In turn, only one or two items appeared on each line. A significant amount of white space, especially compared to the dense text in news accounts and other advertisements, facilitated scanning the advertisement for items of interest. In contrast, Parker and Hutchings’s advertisement for “An ASSORTMENT of FRESH GOODS” immediately below the notice for Corker’s goods listed dozens of items in three paragraphs. It had no white space to aid in distinguishing among the merchandise. Parker and Hutchings selected the more common means of listing their wares in the public prints. Incorporating orderly columns into the advertisement for Corker’s goods also increased the amount of space necessary to run it. The size of the notice, in addition to the design elements, made it more visible on the page.
In addition to promoting the sale sponsored by Corker’s estate, this advertisement also testified to the skills of those who labored in Charles Crouch’s printing office. In the colophon, Crouch invited prospective clients to visit him on Elliott Street, “where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care and Expedition.” The format of the notice about Corker’s store goods simultaneously served as an advertisement for the different styles of printing that Crouch could deliver to customers who ordered broadsides, handbills, circular letters, blanks, and other job printing.