What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A compleat ASSORTMENT of fashionable GOODS.”
Below the masthead, the entire front page of the November 3, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal consisted entirely of advertisements. The one placed by William Stukes dominated the page, due in large part to its size and unusual format. That newspaper ran three columns per page. Stukes’s advertisement extended across two columns. This was not a case of a lengthy advertisement that overflowed from one column into another. Instead, it had been designed to take up space in more than one column. The notice ran at the top of the first two columns, making it the first item in that issue. That enhanced its visibility, though readers could hardly have missed an advertisement that occupied about half the space on the page.
The notice opened with a standard headline and introduction, similar to those in other advertisements for consumer goods. The advertiser’s name in capital letters, “WILLIAM STUKES,” served as the headline. The introduction stated that he “ACQUAINTS hid Customers and Friends, that he has removed into Broad-Street … and is now opening a complete ASSORTMENT of fashionable GOODS, imported in the last Ships from LONDON.” In addition, Stukes declared that he would sell his wares “on the most reasonable Terms, at the usual CREDIT, and extraordinary cheap for CASH.” He used formulaic language even as the format differentiated his advertisement from others on the same page and throughout the rest of the issue.
While the headline and introduction ran across two columns, Stukes’s extensive list of merchandise ran in three narrow columns. Other advertisers grouped goods together in dense paragraphs. Stukes made it easier for prospective customers to skim his advertisement and spot items of interest by giving each item its own line. That resulted in significantly more white space within his advertisement than in the news and other paid notices. For instance, “Silk gauze handkerchiefs” appeared on their own line without other items crowding them. That even allowed space for readers to make notations, if they wished.
Stukes deployed popular marketing strategies and incorporated formulaic language into his advertisement, depending on its size and unique format to draw attention to the low prices and range of choices he offered to consumers. Even though this newspaper notice consisted entirely of text, Stukes effectively used graphic design to distinguish it from advertisements placed by his competitors.