June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:1:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (June 1, 1769).

“BREW-HOUSE.”

John Calvert and Company placed a brief advertisement in the June 1, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette to advise readers that they sold “ALE, TABLE and SHIP BEER.” The partners also offered a convenient service for their customers: delivery to “any part of the town,” provided that the buyer purchased at least five gallons.

Decorative typography, however, rather than the copy accounted for the most notable part of Calvert and Company’s advertisement. Like some other advertisers, they included a headline to draw attention: “BREW-HOUSE.” Unlike other advertisers, they arranged for a decorative border to enclose the headline, distinguishing the advertisement from almost every other in the South-Carolina Gazette. One other notice did feature a similar layout, an advertisement for the “Sloop MONTAGU” to be sold at public auction. Its headline announced “SALE by the Provost-Marshal,” also enclosed in decorative type.

The South-Carolina Gazette frequently featured such advertisements for goods, property, or enslaved men, women, and children seized by the provost marshal and to be sold to settle debts or resolve other legal disputes. Such notices benefited from the unique format, the headline in the decorative border, but other advertisements for goods and services placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others did not incorporate such distinctive typography. Although the compositor could have made the decision independently, this suggests that Calvert and Company negotiated for that particular element of their advertisement, realizing that the headline and border would make it more visible among the advertisements that filled the final pages of the South-Carolina Gazette. Alternately, the partners could have commissioned a woodcut to spruce up their advertisement, but that likely would have incurred greater expense compared to utilizing decorative type the printer already had in hand.

In general, advertisers generated copy for newspaper notices in eighteenth-century America, but printers and compositors made decisions about graphic design. Calvert and Company’s notice suggests that advertisers sometimes observed distinctive design elements that they wished to incorporate into their own advertisements. Some likely suspected that distinctive visual elements made advertisements more effective and yielded a greater return on their investment, prompting them to borrow styles that they regularly encountered when they perused the newspapers.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.”

To adorn many of the advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” Gerardus Duyckinck commissioned perhaps the most impressive woodcut that accompanied any advertisements in newspapers published throughout the American colonies in the 1760s. In an advertisement that extended approximately two-thirds of a column, Duyckink promoted the “Medley of Goods” he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, yet it was not the amount of space the notice occupied on the page that distinguished it from others. The intricately carved woodcut likely replicated his shop sign, depicting a looking glass in an ornate frame suspended below an urn. A larger rococo frame, equally ornate, enclosed most of the copy, including a nota bene that instructed potential customers how to read the list of merchandise contained in the notice: “The above advertisement, being only the Heads, which consists of a Variety of Articles, almost every particular in each Branch can be commanded at the above Store.” In other words, Duyckinck did not publish an exhaustive list of his wares. Instead, he used a series of headers to categorize the items among his inventory, truly a “Medley of Goods.”

Prospective customers first encountered Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. It ran for several weeks before Duyckinck discontinued it. In the spring of 1768 it reappeared, with evidence of wear and significantly revised copy in the cartouche, but this time in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury. While the printers of both newspapers had some standard woodcuts – images of horses, houses, ships, and slaves – among their type, specialized images belonged to the advertisers. Some advertisers, like clockmaker Burrows Dowdney, invested in multiple woodcuts in order to insert them in more than one newspaper simultaneously. Duyckinck may not have considered this an option; given the amount of detail evident in his woodcut, the cost for commissioning others may have been prohibitive. Instead, he rotated the image from newspaper to newspaper, placing it before the eyes of as many readers and prospective customers as possible. Doing so likely yielded the best possible return on his investment in an innovative means of making his newspaper advertisements distinctive from anything else that appeared in the public prints.

October 29

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

Oct 29 - 10:29:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 29, 1767).

“The Medley of Goods.”

Gerardus Duyckinck, a prolific advertiser in New York’s newspapers in the 1760s, introduced consumers to an innovative advertisement for his “UNIVERSAL STORE” in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. His new advertisement enclosed most of the copy within an ornate rococo cartouche, a design suggestive of the frames for the “Pictures [and] Looking-Glasses” he sold. Visually, his advertisement was unique. Nothing else of the sort appeared in that issue of the New-York Journal, nor in any newspaper published in the colonies.

Several other advertisements included images, but all of them were comparatively crude woodcuts of ships, houses, slaves, and horses. These widely used yet generic images belonged to the printer, a standard part of the type acquired by anyone who printed a newspaper. They could be used to spruce up any relevant advertisement. Occasionally some merchants and shopkeepers commissioned woodcuts for their exclusive use, images often tied to the shop sign that marked their location. In such instances, the image appeared at the top of the advertisement before any copy, not enclosing the text, as was the case for Duyckinck’s notice.

That visual element also distinguished this advertisement from others. In general, eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements did not have borders that set them apart from other items on the same page. Printers usually inserted a line between advertisements to help readers identify where one ended and another began. Sometimes they used decorative ornaments to add some visual appeal, but borders surrounding entire advertisements were exceptionally rare. Jolley Allen experimented with rudimentary borders for his advertisements in Boston’s newspapers the previous year, but they looked primitive compared to the genteel frame that enclosed Duyckinck’s advertisement.

It would have been impossible for readers not to notice Duyckinck’s advertisement. Noticing likely led to reading and examining the advertisement in greater detail, taking in the novelty of a form both new and sophisticated. In addition, the use of an elaborate cartouche introduced a common feature of eighteenth-century trade cards, each printed on its own sheet, into colonial newspapers. The form of one influenced the other, perhaps to the delight of readers. Such an extraordinary advertisement might have also enflamed potential customers’ curiosity about the “Medley of Goods” that Duyckinck sold at his “UNIVERSAL STORE.”

September 29

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-29-9291766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (September 29, 1766).

“Warranted of the best Kind; and if they prove otherwise, will be taken back, and the Money returned.”

Jolley Allen’s lengthy advertisement from the Boston Evening-Post features countless common products seen in numerous other advertisements, including tea, silks, textiles, and jewelry. In addition to a long list of merchandise, this one had something else included at the end. Many of the advertisements I have looked at claimed to be selling their assortment of goods the cheapest, and they promised the highest quality products around. However, Allen is the first one I have seen who actually backed it up. This advertisement concluded with a guarantee that if the “Teas and Indigo” were not of the “best Kind,” they “will be taken back, and the Money returned by the said Jolley Allen.

Allen put his name and reputation on the line. He displayed his character in a way favorable to consumers. With the expansion of consumer culture in the colonies, it would have been easy for shopkeepers to make all sales final, yet with more shops opening, consumers could take their business elsewhere. Allen was committed to his name, his shop, and his goods, and made it a point for his shop to stand out from the rest. After further research, however, I also learned that Allen was a Loyalist entrepreneur; it’s interesting that he became a successful businessman regardless of his controversial political views.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jolley Allen operated his business in an increasingly politicized colonial marketplace. His own politics, however, were not apparent in this particular advertisement. That he was a Loyalist, we learn from other sources from the period.

That’s not to say, however, that all newspaper advertisement published during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s lacked a political valence. As soon as the colonists learned of the Stamp Act, many advertisers made explicitly partisan appeals as part of their marketing messages, often promoting domestic manufactures or condemning the effects that Parliament’s actions would have on commerce. After the Stamp Act was repealed, some entrepreneurs inserted their own brief celebratory proclamations into their advertisements; even when they did not directly connect the Stamp Act to the merchandise they advertised, they assumed that their political views would influence potential customers to visit their shops.

As a Loyalist, Jolley Allen certainly did not condemn Parliament nor celebrate the demise of the Stamp Act in his advertisements. The advertisements he published in 1766 were devoid of politics, yet Boston was not so large that his political views would have been unfamiliar to friends, neighbors, and potential customers. Perhaps that played a role in inspiring some of the innovative aspects of his advertisements: he needed to overcome suspicions of his allegiances and used distinctive marketing to do so. Nick identified Allen’s reputation and stature as an honest trader as one means of promoting his shop “Opposite the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, BOSTON.” Although not the first colonial advertiser to offer some form of money-back guarantee, he did make an offer that was not a standard part of eighteenth-century advertising. In addition, his advertisements consistently featured distinctive graphic design elements, namely a decorative border, intended to draw more eyes than competitors’ advertisements that appeared elsewhere on the page. Allen also advertised extensively, placing the same advertisement in all four newspapers published in Boston in 1766, thus reaching the largest possible audience of potential customers despite the political leanings of any particular newspaper or its printer.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 13, 1766).

“AT BENJAMIN and EDWARD THURBER’s Shops, at the Signs of the Bunch of Grapes and Lyon.”

On August 9, 1766, Thompson and Arnold placed an exceptional advertisement in the Providence Gazette, an advertisement guaranteed to attract attention thanks to its innovative graphic design. Unlike the standard advertisement that appeared elsewhere in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement extended across two columns, sequestered from other content on the page by a decorative border comprised of printer’s ornaments. Within the advertisement, the extensive list of merchandise was set in three columns, further disrupting the lines formed by the other columns on that page and the rest of the issue. Furthermore, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement was so large that it dominated the page. At a glance, it seemed more like a trade card or handbill, meant to be distributed separately, yet superimposed on the newspaper page.

Thompson and Arnold’s striking advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette in subsequent issues, moving to different corners of the page depending on the needs of the printer, but always the focal point no matter the quadrant where it appeared. Then something even more interesting happened just five weeks later. The Providence Gazette featured another advertisement, this one the shops operated by Benjamin and Edward Thurber, that imitated the graphic design of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement. It was oversized. It spread across two columns. It included a decorative border made of printing ornaments. It further disrupted the lines on the page by dividing the merchandise into three columns. It could have been distributed separately as a handbill or trade card.

Benjamin and Edward Thurber’s advertisement appeared on the third page of the September 13, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement continued to appear on the fourth page. What might Thompson and Arnold have thought of their competitors aping their unique graphic design? Advertisers seemed to be paying attention to the commercial notices placed by others and updating their own marketing in response to what they saw and what they anticipated would be effective.

August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:9:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 9, 1766).

“JUST IMPORTED … BY THOMPSON AND ARNOLD, AT THEIR SHOP NEAR THE GREAT BRIDGE.”

The graphic design of Thompson and Arnold’s newspaper advertisement would have certainly caught readers’ attention in the 1760s. Featuring a decorative border and three columns listing “A large and general Assortment of English and India Goods,” it was unlike any other advertisements that appeared in newspapers of the period.

Whenever possible, I highlight innovations in format and graphic design that set particular eighteenth-century advertisements apart from their contemporaries. For the most part, these innovations were fairly conservative as advertisers and printers experimented with new methods yet continued to create advertisements that, to a greater or lesser degree, blended in with other commercial notices.

That was not the case with Thompson and Arnold’s eye-catching advertisement. The border was sufficient to mark this advertisement as different, but a small number of other advertisers (such as Jolley Allen) also used borders to set their advertisements apart from their competitors.

The number of columns in this advertisement also merited attention. Other advertisers frequently divided their lists of goods into two columns, but Thompson and Arnold managed to squeeze three columns into their advertisement. How did they do that? Their advertisement actually extended across two columns of the Providence Gazette, a mode of setting type not commonly used for either advertisements or new items. Typically only the masthead and the colophon extended across more than one column in any eighteenth-century newspaper.

Aug 9 - 8:9:1766 Fourth Page Providence Journal
Fourth Page of Providence Gazette (August 9, 1766).

The printer would have had to set Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement separately. Its design and inclusion required special effort and attention. Visually, it dominated the final page of the Providence Gazette. If a reader were holding open the newspaper to read the second and third pages, this advertisement would have also dominated any observer’s view of the first and fourth pages.

Other newspaper advertisements were certainly set in type specifically for inclusion in newspapers and possessed no other purpose. The size and design of this advertisements, however, suggests that it could have also been printed separately as a trade card or handbill, which would have benefited both the advertisers and the printer who generated revenue for the job.