October 8

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

South-Carolina Gazette (October 8, 1772).

“Dancing & Fencing.”

“THE Sign of the Golden Cup.”

Mr. Pike, a dancing master, and Thomas You, a silversmith, both used graphic design to draw attention to their advertisements in the October 8, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, yet they adopted different strategies.  Their notices further enlivened the vibrant graphic design that distinguished notices in that newspaper from those that ran in other newspapers.  The compositor for the South-Carolina Gazette made liberal use of varying font sizes, gothic letters for headlines, italics, capitals, and centering compared to advertisements.

That being the case, the compositor may have played a role in how the dancing master used decorative type and gothic letters to enhance his advertisement.  The headline “Dancing & Fencing” in gothic letters appeared inside a border composed of printing ornaments above a secondary headline spread over three lines: “PIKE’s ACADEMY / for / DANCING and FENCING.”  Compare that to a similar advertisement that Pike ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  It featured only one headline, “DANCING and FENCING,” that did not appear in a different font than the rest of the advertisement.  Rather than constituting a second headline, “PIKE’s ACADEMY, for FENCING and DANCING” was part of the first paragraph of the advertisement.  An enterprising compositor at the South-Carolina Gazette likely played a significant role in designing Pike’s advertisement, perhaps assuming full responsibility without consulting the advertiser.

On the other hand, You almost certainly submitted instructions to include a woodcut depicting a golden cup in his advertisement for the merchandise he sold at the “Sign of the Golden Cup.”  You commissioned that image for his exclusive use, previously inserting it in advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette in December 1770 and March 1771.  Prior to that, he used a different woodcut in his advertisements in December 1766 and July 1767.  He seemed to appreciate that images helped draw attention to his notices.  How to incorporate an image, however, he may have left to the discretion of the compositor.  In 1772, his woodcut of a golden cup appeared in the center, flanked by his name and location.  In earlier advertisements, it was positioned to the left, replicating the placement of woodcuts depicting ships that adorned other notices.

The advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette testify to both the role of the compositor in designing newspaper notices and occasional collaboration or consultation involving both the compositor and the advertiser.  Rather than dense text, variations abounded in the advertisements in that newspaper, making the South-Carolina Gazette one of the most visually interesting publications in the early 1770s.

September 28

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (September 28, 1772).

“FALL and WINTER / GOODS / OF ALL KINDS, / AND EXCELLENT / BROAD CLOTHS.”

In their efforts to capture as much of the market as they could, merchants and shopkeepers in cities with multiple newspapers often advertised in more than one publication.  They submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors usually exercised discretion over the appearance of the advertisements in their newspapers.  This resulted in all sorts of variations in capitalization, italics, font sizes, line breaks, and white space.

Consider, for instance, an advertisement that Jonathan Williams, Jr., placed in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on September 28, 1772.  The two notices had identical copy, but what appeared as “Fall and Winter GOODS / of all Kinds,—and excellent / BROAD CLOTHS” on three lines in the Gazette ran as “FALL and WINTER / GOODS / OF ALL KINDS, / AND EXCELLENT / BROAD CLOTHS” over five lines in the Post-Boy.  Similar variations occurred throughout the remainder of the advertisements.  The version in the Post-Boy also occupied more space relative to other advertisements than the one in the Gazette.  Longer than it was wide, Williams’s advertisement in the Post-Boy filled nearly two “squares” of space.  In contrast, his advertisement in the Gazette was wider than it was long, filling a little less than one square.

Boston-Gazette (September 28, 1772).

Despite the differences in size and format, both advertisements featured borders made of decorative type that distinguished them from other notices.  It hardly seems likely that this happened by chance, that compositors working independently in two printing offices just happened to create borders for Williams’s notice.  This suggests that the advertiser played some role in designing those advertisements.  That may have involved brief conversations with the printers or compositors, but more likely resulted from submitting written instructions.

Williams certainly did not invent this strategy of making his advertisements distinctive compared to others that did not incorporate borders or other decorative type.  In July 1766, Jolley Allen placed the same advertisement in four newspapers published in Boston.  They had identical copy but different formats.  Borders enclosed all of them, though the compositors made different decisions about what kind of decorative type formed those borders.  Other advertisers occasionally adopted a similar strategy, hoping the borders would help draw attention to their advertisements across multiple newspapers.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 7, 1768).

“To be SOLD by JOSEPH AND Wm. RUSSELL.”

How much influence did eighteenth-century advertisers exert when it came to designing their advertisements? This notice placed by prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell complicates the usual answer to that question.

In most instances advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to determine format. The publication of the same advertisement in multiple newspapers with consistent copy but significant deviations in layout, font size, and other visual aspects testifies to the division between advertisers as copywriters and compositors as designers. Yet on relatively rare occasions some advertisements retained specific visual elements, such as a decorative border, across multiple publications, indicating that an advertiser did indeed have a hand in determining the format. In general, most colonial newspapers exhibited an internal logic when it came to the appearance of advertisements. Compositors tended to standardize the appearance of paid notices within their publication depending on genre (consumer goods and services, legal notices, runaway slaves, for example), even as the copy differed from advertisement to advertisement. Advertisers often resorted to formulaic language and accepted patterns for including information, contributing to that standardization of visual elements.

The advertisements in the Providence Gazette, however, displayed far less consistency when it came to graphic design. Compared to counterparts at other newspapers, the compositor seems to have been much more interested in experimenting with how to use type to create distinctive advertisements even when those advertisements were comprised entirely of text. Does the compositor deserve exclusive credit for such innovations? Or did the variations emerge as the result of consultations with advertisers?

Although the advertisement the Russells placed in the May 7, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette does not provide any definitive answers, its various elements suggest some level of collaboration. It featured a headline that listed a product rather than the names of the advertisers. Their names appeared at the end of the notice, quite unusual for advertisements that promoted consumer goods and services. The dual columns listing their wares differed from the structure of most, but not all, other advertisements recently published in that newspaper. The Russells may have worked closely with the compositor. Alternately, they may have noticed how the compositor experimented with type in previous issues of the Providence Gazette and decided to alter the copy they submitted in order to facilitate further innovations. Even if they did not directly consult the compositor, they may have been inspired to pursue their own experiment in composing copy to see how those advertisements would then appear in print. Whether initiated by compositors or advertisers, one innovation in the appearance of paid notices in the Providence Gazette may have sparked a series of other innovations that resulted in advertisements for consumer goods and services in that newspaper exhibiting greater distinctiveness among themselves compared to the static appearance of most advertisements published in other newspapers.