December 15

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

“Stript Camblets     |     Knee Garters     |     Brass Ink Pots.”

Dec 15 - 12:15:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 15, 1769).

According to the advertisement he placed in the December 15, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Jacob Treadwell sold an assortment of goods at his shop in Portsmouth. He carried everything from textiles to tea kettles to “Locks & Latches.” His advertisement listed more than 120 items and promised even more, concluding with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera). Enumerating his inventory served to demonstrate to prospective customers the extent of the choices Treadwell offered them. He did not have just a couple kinds of fabric in stock. Instead, he listed dozens of options available at his shop. He did not make general assertions about carrying housewares or hardware. Instead, he named an array of goods he sold, prompting consumers to imagine acquiring specific items.

Treadwell’s advertisement served as a catalog of his wares. The advertisement’s format, three neatly organized columns, helped prospective customers navigate that catalog. Publishing an extensive list of merchandise was a common marketing strategy in early America. Most advertisers who adopted that approach lumped their goods together in dense paragraphs of text that made it difficult for readers to distinguish among the multitude of items the advertisement included. Some advertisers, however, experimented with other formats, incorporating graphic design into their marketing efforts. Treadwell advertised the same items as other eighteenth-century retailers, but he made his inventory more accessible with the use of columns and white space.

Doing so liked incurred additional expense since most newspaper printers sold advertising by the amount of space it occupied rather than the number of words. Treadwell’s advertisement extended half a column as a result of its design. Had he opted for the paragraph format instead, the advertisement would have taken up a fraction of the space. Treadwell apparently believed that the potential return on his investment merited the additional expense. In making his advertisement easier for readers to peruse, he augmented the chances that they would become customers.

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:29:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 29, 1769).

“A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS.

Cowper & Telfairs and Rae & Somerville both sold imported goods, but adopted very different marketing strategies when they placed advertisements in the November 29, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Rae & Somerville inserted a notice that read, in its entirety, “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, from London, and to be sold by RAE and SOMERVILLE, A NEAT ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS, suitable for the present and approaching season.” In so doing, they made an appeal to consumer choice, informing customers of the “NEAT ASSORTMENT” now in stock.

Yet the copy for Rae & Somerville’s advertisement merely served as an introduction when adapted for an advertisement published their competitors. Consider how another partnership opened their notice: “COWPER & TELFAIRS HAVE IMPORTED, in the Wolfe, Capt. Henry Kemp, from London, and the Britannia, Capt. John Dennison, from Glasgow, via Charleston, A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS, Which they will dispose of on reasonable Terms.” Incorporating appeals to price and consumer choice, that could have stood alone as a complete advertisement. Cowper & Telfairs continued, however, with an extensive list of their merchandise, divided in two columns to allow prospective customers to peruse their wares easily. Cowper & Telfairs carried everything from textiles and garments to a “large quantity of tin ware” and an “assortment of earthen ware” to “Neat Italian chairs” and an “assortment of Glasgow saddlery.” They strategically deployed capitals to draw attention to certain goods, including “GLASS WARE,” “CHINA WARE,” “PEWTER,” and “STATIONARY.”

Cowper & Telfairs’s advertisement extended two-thirds of a column, occupying significantly more space than Rae & Somerville’s advertisement printed immediately below it. Rae & Somerville ran a second advertisement on the following page, that one a bit longer but still only a fraction of the length of Cowper & Telfairs’s notice. In that second advertisement, Rae & Somerville listed approximately two dozen items, but did so in a dense paragraph that did not lend itself to skimming as well as Cowper & Telfairs’s neatly organized columns. They concluded their list with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had many more items in their inventory.

Cowper & Telfairs made a more significant investment in their advertisement, both in terms of the expense incurred for publishing such a lengthy notice and in terms of the strategies they deployed in hopes of gaining a better return on that investment. They did more to entice readers to become customers after encountering their advertisements.

August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:10:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 10, 1769).

The following assortment of GOODS.”

With the exception of the “POETS CORNER” in the upper left and the colophon running across the bottom, advertisements of various lengths comprised the final page of the August 10, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. Most consisted of dense blocks of text with headlines in a larger font, but two likely attracted attention because their format differed from the others. Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement included a familiar woodcut that depicted a Windsor chair. By that time, Hampton had included the image in his advertising so often that the woodcut had been damaged through such frequent use. The Windsor chair was missing an arm. Still, Hampton continued to garner a return on the investment he made in commissioning the woodcut, apparently believing that a visual image, even a slightly damaged one, enhanced the visibility of his advertisement.

Henry Remsen, Junior, and Company’s advertisement, on the other hand, consisted entirely of text, but its layout distinguished it from other advertisements, including those by competitors who also listed scores of goods available at their shops. Remsen and Company enumerated a variety of textiles and accessories, from “Blue and red strouds” and “Striped flannels and coverlids” to “Ribbons and gimps” and “Ivory and horn combs.” They divided their advertisement into two columns with a line down the center separating them. Only one or two items appeared on each line. Remsen and Company’s advertisement included far more white space than others that presented litanies of goods, making it easier to read and locate or notice merchandise of interest. The advertisement that ran immediately below it, for instance, also provided an extensive list of inventory at a shop in New York, but it followed the most common layout for advertisements of that sort. The goods appeared one after another in a dense paragraph. This format saved space (and thus reduced the cost of advertising) and may have been easier for the compositor to set the type, but it did not make the same impression on the page as the dual columns in Remsen and Company’s advertisement. Although compositors usually made decisions about typography and layout, Remsen and Company likely submitted specific instructions, possibly even a manuscript example, for the format they desired. While not every advertiser considered the power of graphic design in the eighteenth century, some, like Jonathan Hampton and Remsen and Company, did take how and advertisement looked in addition to what it said into account.