July 6

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (July 6, 1773).

“Should it be observed that Mr. Watkins’s Advertisement, in the next Page, is not inserted in due Order, it may be imputed to our mistaking his Design in the Copy.”

Benjamin Watkins’s advertisement in the July 6, 1773, editions of the Essex Gazette filled two-thirds of a column.  In it, he listed many of the items included among the “fine Assortment of English and India GOODS” that he sold at his shop in Marblehead, Massachusetts.  Listing one or two items per line, Watkins divided his advertisement into two columns.  Compared to other advertisements that consisted of dense paragraphs that clustered the merchandise together, this format incorporated more white space that made it easier for prospective customers to peruse and spot items of interest.

Essex Gazette (July 6, 1773).

Still, the advertisement may not have appeared exactly as Watkins intended.  The editors considered it necessary to publish a brief notice about it: “Should it be observed that Mr. Watkins’s Advertisement, in the next Page, is not inserted in due Order, it may be imputed to our mistaking his Design in the Copy.”  In general, advertisers usually submitted copy to printing offices and then entrusted the format of their advertisements to compositors.  On occasion, some advertisers made special requests or gave instructions, as seems to have been the case with Jolley Allen and the decorative borders that regularly enclosed his advertisements that ran simultaneously in multiple newspapers in Boston.

On occasion, advertisers submitted copy in the format they desired.  That seems to have been the case with Watkins when he sent his advertisement to the printing office in Salem.  Apparently, Watkins’s message to the printers and notes on the format caused some confusion, prompting the compositors to do their best to follow his directions.  Those efforts fell short.  An updated version of the advertisement appeared in the next issue of the Essex Gazette.  It retained the format of two columns with one item per line, but removed some items and moved others so they appeared in a different order.

What kind of communication occurred between Watkins and the printing office?  Watkins ran a shorter advertisement in the June 22 edition.  It consisted of the introduction to the longer versions as well as a nota bene that explained, “The Particulars to be in next Week’s Paper.”  The printers may have inserted that note because they did not have sufficient space to run Watkins’s entire advertisement in that issue, but that may have also been a strategy to gain more time to decipher whatever the merchants sent to the printing office.  On June 29, the longer advertisement appeared for the first time, in the format that merited the note in the July 6 edition.  Perhaps the printers received a message from a dissatisfied Watkins after they had already printed the page that included the second insertion of his advertisement.  In acknowledgment, they published the note on the last page that went to press and then set about making corrections to achieve a final version that ran in four consecutive issues.

Though speculative, this seems like a reasonable sequence of events based on the various iterations of the advertisements and common practices in printing offices in eighteenth-century America.  It suggests that some advertisers actively provided extensive directions concerning format and design even though most simply submitted copy and left the rest to the compositors.

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