October 4

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 4, 1771).

“N.B. Said Griffith / continues to carry one / the Goldsmith’s Business as usual.”

Like many other advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, William Knight’s notice in the October 4, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured a dense paragraph of text that listed the many items available at his shop.  George Taylor, a tailor, published an advertisement similar in appearance, though shorter.  Each included the advertiser’s name in larger font for a headline and capitalized a few key words to guide readers through the content, but neither relied on graphic design to capture the attention of prospective customers.

The format of David Griffith’s advertisement, on the other hand, distinguished it from most others in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It included formulaic language, such as “Just Imported from LONDON” and “A large Assortment of English Goods,” but either Griffith or the compositor decided to break many of the phrases and sentences into shorter lines and center them.  “Just Imported from LONDON,” for instance, occupied three lines as “Just / Imported / from LONDON.”  A nota bene at the end of the advertisement informed readers that “Said Griffith continues to carry on the Goldsmith’s Business as usual, at the same House, Likewise, as low as is done or can be had in this Town, or Boston, &c.”  Text that could have fit in three lines extended over nine, some of them featuring only one or two words, to create an irregular shape with copious white space.  The design gave Griffith’s advertisement a very different appearance compared to Knight’s notice immediately to the right.

Yet Griffith was not committed to innovative graphic design as a matter of principle or consistent marketing strategy.  His advertisement advised that “The Particulars” about the imported goods “will be in our next” newspaper.  The format of that advertisement replicated Knight’s advertisement and so many others, a dense paragraph of text that listed dozens of items.  That advertisement extended an entire column and overflowed into a second column.  Purchasing the space that would have allowed for a more innovative format may have been prohibitively expensive.  Between the two advertisements, Griffith demonstrated what was possible and what was probable when it came to graphic design for eighteenth-century newspaper notices.

July 24

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 24, 1771).

“Brown Sugars of various Qualities.”

Like most advertisements that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, Joseph Barrell’s notice in the July 22, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post consisted entirely of text unadorned with images.  That did not mean, however, that Barrell did not deploy graphic design to his advantage.  In listing dozens of commodities available at his store, he adopted a unique format that distinguished his advertisement from others in the newspaper.  Barrell centered his text, producing a distinctive amount of white space compared to other notices.

Consider the most common configurations for enumerating goods in advertisements.  Both styles appeared on the same page as Barrell’s notice.  In the first, the most common, advertisers listed items in dense paragraphs of text with both the left and right side justified with the margins.  This gave such advertisements some visual heft, communicating to prospective customers that the advertisers carried vast assortments of goods, but it also made those advertisements more difficult to read compared to the second option.  Some advertisers decided to divide their notices into columns, listing only one or two items per line.  That method also yielded blank space that made it easier for readers to navigate those advertisement, but it meant that purveyors of goods could not list as many items in the same amount of space.  Charles Dabney utilized the first method for his “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” in an advertisement about as long as it was wide, one that featured very little blank space.  William Scott’s advertisement for a “Variety of English and Scotch Goods” was just as dense and perhaps even more difficult to read since it extended more than twice the length of Dabney’s notice and listed many more items available at his shop.  John Head, on the other hand, resorted to columns for his commodities.  In an advertisement that occupied about as much space as Dabney’s, he listed far fewer items.

Readers readily recognized both formats, but that was not the case for Barrell’s advertisement.  Compositors often centered the first couple of lines of advertisements, the introductory materials that gave the advertiser’s name and location, but rarely did they center the contents in the body of the advertisement.  That made Barrell’s advertisement unique, likely drawing the eyes of readers.  Barrell did not offer goods that differed much from those available in other shops, nor did he make appeals to price or quality that differed from those advanced by other advertisers.  His advantage in communicating with prospective customers derived from the graphic design elements of his advertisement.

May 25

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

May 25 - 5:25:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

“Very handsome Ivory Paddle Fans,

Bone Stick and Ebony Ditto,

Womens silk Mitts and Gloves.”

The layout of William Palfrey’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of English Piece Goods” distinguished it from most other commercial notices published in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers in the 1760s. The shopkeeper listed much of his merchandise, but he did not resort to a paragraph of dense text or dividing the advertisement into two columns with one or two items on each line. Instead, he chose a couple of items for each line, specifying that every line be centered. This created quite a different visual effect in contrast to other advertisements that were crisply justified on the left and quite often on the right as well. Compare Palfrey’s advertisement to Daniel McCarthy’s advertisement, which appeared immediately to the left. Readers likely found Palfrey’s layout disorienting in comparison, especially since every advertisement on the page followed the style adopted by McCarthy. Palfrey’s disorienting layout thus made his advertisement the most noticeable advertisement on the page, giving him an edge over ten other shopkeepers.

May 25 - 5:25:1767 McCarthy in Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

Although advertisers usually generated copy and printers determined layout, it seems clear that Palfrey had a hand in designing the unique visual aspects of his advertisement. He placed the same notice in the Boston-Gazette on May 25, 1767. It featured almost identical format and layout. All of the same words appeared in capitals or italics. Certain lines appeared in larger font: not just “William Palfrey” and the first line of the list of goods (both of which would have been standard in any advertisement in any newspaper) but also “Tippets and Turbans,” items that the shopkeeper apparently wanted to emphatically bring to the attention of potential customers. A manicule directs readers to Palfrey’s promise to sell “very low for CASH” at the conclusion of the advertisement in both newspapers.

Very few advertisements for consumer goods and services included visual images in the eighteenth century, but that did not prevent some advertisers from attempting to distinguish their notices from those placed by their competitors. Although Palfrey advanced many of the same appeals, he devised another sort of innovation in marketing his wares.