What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
William Ellery stocked a variety of wares, but emphasized “WINES” in his advertisement in the August 25, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant. Many purveyors of goods and services used their names as the sole or primary headline in their newspaper advertisements, but Ellery opted to open his advertisement with a segment of his merchandise that he thought would attract attention. The headline, “WINES,” appeared in a large font, followed by a list of “CHOICE Old Madeira, Claret, Teneriff and Mountain, Malaga WINES.” Only after that preview did Ellery give his name and location as a secondary headline before providing a more extensive account of beer, spirits, and groceries. In contrast, an advertisement in the next column featured a more familiar headline, “Imported from LONDON, and to be sold by Stephen Mears, Opposite the North Meeting House in Hartford,” with “Stephen Mears” centered and in a larger font.
Ellery used graphic design to his advantage elsewhere in his advertisement as well. The “N.B.” that marked the nota bene that followed his list of merchandise appeared in an even larger font than “WINES,” as did the “M” in “MR. ELLERY.” Even if readers skimmed over “Bristol Beer, and Dorchester Ale, by the Cask, or Dozen Bottles” and “Coffee by the Bag or single Pound,” the large letters guided them to a message from the merchant. He expressed “his Thanks to those People who have heretofore favour’d him with their Custom” and invited them to continue to “favour him with their Custom.” Ellery deployed two of the most popular marketing appeals of the period, choice and price, proclaiming that he “his Shop is fuller sorted than ever, as he has just received a large Supply of the above Articles, and flatters himself he cans sell so low as to give intire satisfaction” to his customers. In contrast, other advertisers tended to position such notes below the headline and above the list of goods. Once again, Ellery adopted a format that distinguished his advertisement from others.
Ellery’s notice consisted entirely of text, as did all of the advertisements in most issues of the Connecticut Courant. That did not mean, however, that every advertisement looked the same. Some advertisers did rely on standard formats, but others sought to engage readers by presenting familiar messages in less familiar formats. The design of Ellery’s advertisement challenged prospective customers to look more closely at his merchandise and the assertions he made about low prices and extensive choices.