What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Scarlet, / Crimson, / Brown, / Blue, / Mix’d } Broadcloths.”
In the early 1770s, the New-London Gazette carried less advertising than its counterparts published in the major urban ports. Newspapers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia often overflowed with advertising; the printers sometimes resorted to disseminating supplements in order to disseminate all the advertisements. Those newspapers tended to feature greater variation and innovation in the format of their advertisements. The New-London Gazette rarely ran more than two pages of advertising, yet occasionally it featured notices that rivaled the advertisements in newspapers from port cities.
Such was the case for John-McClarren Breed’s advertisement in the October 25, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette. It listed scores of items available at his store in Norwich, but rather than dense paragraphs of text, the most common format in any newspaper (and especially those printed in smaller towns), it divided the space into two columns with only one item on each line. Items of similar sorts appeared together. For example, Breed carried several different kinds of locks. Each of them – “Chest, Cupboard, Desk, Till, Pad” – had its own line, with a bracket that extended five lines to the right and the word “Locks” printed only once. The advertisement utilized the same style for various sorts of broadcloths, handkerchiefs, and hinges. Visually, this communicated choices for consumers while also adding an unusual element to attract attention. In the final portion of the advertisement, Breed listed more than two dozen books that he stocked, once again dividing them into two columns with one title or genre per line.
Breed carried an assortment of goods similar to the inventory prospective customers expected in any shop in the largest ports. His advertising also looked as though it could have appeared in a newspaper published in Boston or New York. The design guided readers through the contents, helping them locate items of interest much more easily than paragraphs of crowded text that required closer attention. When it came to graphic design, Breed’s advertisement was an outlier in the New-London Gazette in the early 1770s, but it also testified to what was possible for advertisers to achieve in the public prints, even in smaller towns.