What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“JOSEPH ATKINSON … HAS imported a new and general ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN MANUFACTORIES.”
Joseph Atkinson’s advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal almost certainly caught the attention of readers. After all, it comprised nearly two-thirds of the front page of the October 15, 1771, edition. Immediately below the masthead, it filled the first two columns before news from London in the remaining column. In addition, Atkinson’s name served as a headline, printed in larger font than even the name of the newspaper in the masthead.
Other graphic design elements also demanded notice. Atkinson’s name and an introduction to the imported goods available at his store near the New Exchange in Charleston ran across two columns, making that portion of the advertisement even more distinctive. Most of the notice, however, was divided into two columns that matched the width of others throughout the rest of the issue. In those columns, Atkinson listed his merchandise. Instead of dense paragraphs of text common in many advertisements of the period, he placed only one or two items on each line. That left a significant amount of white space, having the simultaneous effects of making the list easier to read and separating it visually from other content. A line of ornamental type ran between the two columns, an additional flourish.
Atkinson’s advertisement served as a catalog for prospective customers. Indeed, the size and format suggest the possibility that it did not appear solely in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Instead, the merchant may have hired Charles Crouch, the printer, to produce handbills or broadsides to distribute or post around town. In that case, Crouch would have streamlined his efforts in creating marketing materials for Atkinson, choosing to set type just once in a format that fit the newspaper but also lent itself well to printing handbills and broadsides. Unfortunately, such items were more ephemeral than newspapers, making them much less likely to have survived to today.