What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“THE Subscriber takes this Method to inform his Friend and the Public in general …”
When Martin Bicker “prepared a compleat Room at his Dwelling House … for the Reception of Goods, to be Sold at public Sale,” he placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. He advised prospective clients that “Such who are pleased to favor him with their Commands may, rest assured, that the greatest Punctuality and Honor will be strictly observed.” He also asserted that since “the Situation is very suitable for said Business” that “the Result of his Undertaking will be attended with mutual Advantage to his Employers and self.”
To draw attention to his overtures “To the Public,” Bicker arranged to have his newspaper enclosed in a border composed of decorative type. That distinguished the enclosure from the simple horizontal lines that separated other advertisements from one another. No other advertisements in the August 6, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter had a border, making Bicker’s notice all the more distinctive. That was not the first time that Bicker sought to enliven a newspaper notice with some sort of unique visual element. Earlier in the summer, he placed an advertisement for hats in the Massachusetts Spy, adorning it with a woodcut depicting a tricorne hat. Advertisers sometimes availed themselves of stock images of ships, houses, horses, and enslaved people provided by printers, but fewer of them commissioned woodcuts that correlated to the goods they produced or the signs that marked their shops.
Bicker strove to make his advertisements visually interesting on newspaper pages that often consisted primarily of dense text. Indeed, the first time he inserted the advertisement with the border, it appeared at the top of the final column on the first page. The two columns to the left contained news from London, Bristol, and Philadelphia. The border around Bicker’s advertisement clearly signaled that it was not part of those dense dispatches, inviting readers to have a closer look at what merited such special typographical treatment. Bicker sought to use graphic design to his advantage when he launched his new enterprise.