What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A great variety of calicoes, whole and half chintzes, and printed cottons.”
It was not a full-page advertisement, but it came close. Daniel Benezet’s advertisement in the March 15, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle filled the first column on the front page, extended throughout the second column, and overflowed into the final column. Eight much shorter advertisements filled the remainder of the page. As was often the case in eighteenth-century newspapers, news articles, letters, and editorials began on the second page.
Benezet announced that he recently imported a variety of goods from London, Bristol, and Holland. To demonstrate the choices that he made available to consumers, he published an extensive catalog of his merchandise. Benezet’s inventory included “Blue, green, scarlet, claret, brown, cinnamon, drab, copper and mixt coloured, middling and low priced broadcloths,” a “large assortment of men’s women’s and children’s Bath, white metal, steel, block tin, and pinchbeck shoe buckles,” “Best English hammered brass kettles,” and “Newest fashion’d snuff-boxes.” He concluded with “&c. &c. &c.” Repeating an abbreviation for et cetera suggested even more wonders available at his store on Arch Street in Philadelphia, too many to appear in the already lengthy newspaper advertisement. In the first advertisement that followed Benezet’s notice, Peter Wikoff and Isaac Wikoff stated that they “joined both their stocks in trade together … and now have a very large and compleat assortment of dry goods on hand.” The Wikoffs invited prospective customers to imagine their wares; in contrast, Benezet encouraged consumers to browse through his inventory in the pages of the public prints. He likely believed that if readers spotted items they wanted or needed in his catalog of goods that they would be more likely to shop at his store.
To aid prospective customers in navigating the advertisement and discovering items that interested them, the compositor divided each column into two columns, ran a dividing line down the center, and listed only one item or category of items on each line. In most instances, those descriptions required more than one line, with second and subsequent lines indented. That created additional white space that made Benezet’s advertisement easier to read than notices that clustered merchandise together in paragraphs of dense text. Benezet and the compositor leveraged graphic design in their efforts to engage readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and entice them to become customers. The compositor apparently did not consider it sufficient to publish a lengthy advertisement, but instead believed that good design made it more effective.