What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
The partnership of Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers had confidence in the advertising copy they published in Boston’s newspapers in 1772, so much confidence that they ran the same advertisement in the November 26 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter that previously appeared in the February 19 edition of the Boston Evening-Post. After nine months, they continued to use a headline that proclaimed “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP” and a nota bene that declared that they “constantly keep by them a large Assortment of almost every Kind of Goods usually imported from Great-Britain.” They explained that hey received their merchandise “immediately from the Manufacturors,” skipping the English merchants that often acted as middlemen, and passed along the savings to their customers.
Although the copy remained the same, the format changed from newspaper to newspaper. In general, advertisers usually composed copy for their notices and then entrusted graphic design decisions to compositors. That seems to have been the case with these advertisements. The first headline, “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP,” appeared in all capitals in both newspapers, but the second headline, “Amorys, Taylor and Rogers,” incorporated italics in the Boston Evening-Post but not in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Similar variations occurred throughout the two versions of the same advertisement in those newspapers.
In addition, the compositor for Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter reduced the amount of space required for the advertisement. The version in the Boston Evening-Post featured two columns with one item listed in each column. That created significant white space to aid readers in navigating the advertisement. The new iteration, however, appeared more cluttered as a result of the compositor placing two items on a line when space allowed. The new design had space between items that now shared lines, creating a winding trail of white space in the center of the column on the left. Since advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied rather than the number of words, Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers may have requested this modification in order to save space and reduce their costs. More likely, the compositor made the decision to suit the needs of the newspaper, reserving space for news and other advertisements.