What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”
In an advertisement in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Jolley Allen announced that he adopted “an entire New Plan” for selling the “very LARGE and NEAT Assortment of English and India GOODS” at his shop on Marlborough Street. He declared that he would sell “HIS WHOLE Stock in Trade…, either by Wholesale or Retail, at a very little more than the Sterling Cost and Charges.” In other words, he did not mark up the prices significantly over what he paid to his suppliers. Allen expressed his confidence that “the Advantages that may arise to his Customers, will be equal if not superior to their purchasing at any Wholesale or Retail Shop or Store in Town or Country.” He was determined to beat his competitors.
The graphic design for Allen’s advertisement may have helped attract attention to his “new Plan” for selling imported goods. A border comprised of ornamental type enclosed the notice, setting it apart from the news and other advertisements on the page. That brought this advertisement in line with some that he previously published. He did not always incorporate a distinctive design element, but he more regularly did so than most advertisers. Sometimes ornamental type flanked his name in the headline of his advertisement. On other occasions he opted for borders. Both strategies appeared in more than one newspaper, suggesting that Allen gave specific instructions to the compositors rather than leaving the format to their discretion.
Curiously, Allen’s advertisement was not the only one in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to feature a border. Andrew Dexter’s advertisement had the same format, though a different printing ornament formed the border. This was not a standard format in that newspaper or any other newspaper published in Boston at the time. So how did two advertisements in the same issue happen to include borders? Did one advertiser overhear the other giving directions to the compositor when dropping off copy to the printing office? Or was it a coincidence? Whatever the explanation, the borders made their advertisements distinctive enough compared to the rest that readers likely took note of both of them.