What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, wanted to increase the chances that readers took notice of their call to settle accounts in the fall of 1772. In the October 12 edition, they inserted an announcement that “ALL Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above 12 Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.” The copy was standard for such notices, placed by printers throughout the colonies, but Edes and Gill deployed a format intended to increase the attention the notice received. Decorative type enclosed the printers’ notice to delinquent subscribers within a border. Edes and Gill did not however, devise that format for their own purposes. Instead, they adopted a strategy already in use by some of their advertisers. Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer, for instance, enclosed “Variety of Goods,” the headline to their lengthy advertisement listing scores of items, within an ornate border. Jonathan Williams, Jr., had a border around his entire advertisement.
Edes and Gill also selected an advantageous place on the page for their notice, inserting it at the top of the first column on the final page. It appeared immediately below a headline for “New Advertisement,” another design element intended to direct attention to the printers’ call for subscribers to pay their bills. That headline helped to distinguish advertisements on that page from others that ran on the second and third pages. A brief note on the third page also aided Edes and Gill’s efforts to highlight their notice. The advertisements on the third page commenced with instructions: “For New Advertisements, See last Page.” The printers incorporated a variety of means of increasing the visibility of their notice. They exercised their prerogative in placing it first among the notices labeled “New Advertisements” and used notes elsewhere in the issue to direct readers to one of the only advertisements that featured a border composed of decorative type. Edes and Gill used graphic design to demand attention for an otherwise mundane notice.