August 7

What weas advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (August 5, 1771).

“Diapers for clouting, napkins and table cloths.”

Throughout the summer of 1771, Bethune and Prince ran an advertisement for “IRISH LINNENS” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Like most other advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, it consisted entirely of text, but it differed in appearance from most other notices concerning commodities for sale.  Rather than goods listed in dense paragraphs of text, Bethune and Prince’s advertisement featured innovative graphic design that both organized the merchandise for readers and made the notice distinctive.

The “IRISH LINNENS” available at Bethune and Prince’s store on King Street included shirting, diapers, and sheeting.  Each of those categories appeared in font that rivaled the size of the headline.  Descriptions, in font the size that matched the text in the body of other advertisements on the same page, appeared to the right of each category of linen.  For instance, “Shirting” ran in larger font justified to the left margin with “3-4ths, 7-8th and yard wide” in smaller font on two lines to the right.  Similarly, “Diapers” appeared in larger font on the left and “for clouting, napkins and table cloths” in smaller font on the right.

Bethune and Prince deployed other means of enticing customers.  They promoted their “large Assortment” and promised that “Wholesale Customers may be supplied nearly as low as they are bought in England.”  Their marketing efforts, however, did not rely solely on those appeals.  Instead, their advertisement deployed graphic design to attract attention, increasing the chances that prospective customers would notice the variety of choices and low prices.  The unusual format required additional effort on the part of the compositor who set the type, but likely not so much as to increase the price of an advertisement usually determined by the amount of space that it occupied rather the number of words it included.  Bethune and Prince likely requested the unique format, but it also may have been the product of a compositor looking to experiment with the design elements of the advertisement.