What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“This EVENING … will be Exhibited several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory.”
Newspaper advertisements testify to the entertainment and popular culture enjoyed in the colonies in the eighteenth century. A notice in the June 5, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed the public that they could attend “several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory, intersper’d with Music and Singing” at the “new Assembly-Room” in Portsmouth that evening. The sponsors created a network for distributing tickets. Those interested in the performance could purchase tickets in advance “at the Printing-Office, at Mr. Appleton’s Book-Store, and at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.” The sponsors also included a nota bene to address potential concerns about the content of the performance: “the Public may be assured, that nothing will be delivered in the above Exhibition, but what is conducive to, and consistent with Politeness and Morality.” Neither the “comic Pieces” nor the songs would be ribald or bawdy.
The design of the advertisement increased the chances that readers would take note of it, especially important for an “Exhibition” of oratory and music scheduled for the same day the newspaper that carried the advertisement was published. The first line operated as a headline, announcing “This EVENING” in a font larger than any in the rest of the notice. In addition, a decorative border, comprised of printing ornaments, encircled the advertisement, setting it apart from other content. It was the only item in that issue, whether or news or advertising, that featured a border. Furthermore, the printers rarely used borders in the New-Hampshire Gazette, making this advertisement even more noteworthy to regular readers. Its placement on the page also encouraged attention. It ran in the upper left column, the first item on the third page. With limited time to sell tickets and attract an audience for the performance, the sponsors depended on both copy and innovative graphic design in their marketing efforts.