August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:5:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (August 5, 1768).

“colours, Six quarter|London quality’s|common, Spike do”

Although many eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods took the form of long lists delivered in dense paragraphs, some advertisers and compositors experimented with other formats that made advertisements easier to read. Listing only one or two items per line better highlighted each item; the white space aided in directing readers to those goods that most interested them. This strategy, however, reduced the number of items that could be included in the same amount of space. Advertisers had to choose between listing fewer goods or paying for advertisements that occupied greater amounts of space in newspapers.

Getting creative with typography allowed for another choice: dividing an advertisement into columns and listing one item per line per column. When undertaken by a skilled compositor, this strategy still introduced sufficient white space to significantly improve readability while doubling or tripling, depending on the number of columns, the number of goods that appeared in a neatly organized list. List-style advertisements that featured columns usually had only two, but occasionally compositors demonstrated that it was possible to effectively incorporate three columns.

The success of this strategy depended on the skills of the compositor. An advertisement placed by Samuel Broome and Company in the August 5, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal demonstrates that experimenting with the graphic design elements of newspaper advertisements did not necessarily produce positive results. In an advertisement that filled an entire column, Broome and Company made an appeal to consumer choice by listing scores of items they sold at their store in New York. The compositor divided the advertisement into three columns, but apparently nobody affiliated with the production of the advertisement – neither Broome and Company when writing the copy nor the compositor when setting the type – insisted that it should list only one item per line per column. Instead, the advertisement featured the dense paragraph format common to so many newspaper advertisements, but divided into three narrow columns. Not only did this not make the contents any easier for prospective customers to read, the lack of space devoted to separating columns made the advertisement even more confusing and difficult to decipher.

While it is possible that the strange format may have attracted some attention, the challenges inherent in reading Broome and Company’s advertisement likely did not prompt potential customers to examine it closely, especially not casual readers who did not already have an interest in some of the goods that Broome and Company carried (if they could only find them in that disorienting list). Good typography helped to develop interest and perhaps incite demand for consumer goods listed in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but clumsy typography that made it more difficult for readers to peruse some advertisements likely made those advertisements even less effective than if they had simply resorted to the traditional dense paragraph format.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (July 22, 1768).

“John Astle, Stay-Maker, & Taylor, directly from London.”

When John Astle, a tailor and staymaker, set up shop in New Haven in the summer of 1768, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal to inform prospective clients that he made and repaired all sorts of garments, including “Cloaks, and Huzzas,” “Riding-Habits for Ladies,” and corsets (stays). He also pledged to deliver exemplary customer service: “Whoever will be kind enough to favour him with their Custom, may depend upon the best Usage in his Power.”

In the process of introducing himself to readers he hoped would become customers, Astle also noted his origins. He stated that he had arrived in New Haven “directly from London.” (The tailor may have requested that “London” appear in italics to garner more attention, but more likely the compositor made this decision without consulting the advertiser.) In so doing, he adopted a common marketing strategy, one that was especially popular among members of the garment trades. The frequency of styles changing dramatically accelerated in the eighteenth century as part of the consumer revolution. Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions. Some advertisers explicitly stated that they made or sold garments, housewares, and other goods according to the most current tastes. Others asserted connections to London or other places in England or continental Europe as a means of suggesting that they had acquired both skill in crafting apparel and knowledge of the newest fashions.

Stating that they were “from London,” however, left room for interpretation. That description did not specify how recently advertisers had worked in London or migrated to the colonies. Astle apparently realized that some prospective clients would be skeptical. To answer any objections, he modified the standard phrase “from London” to “directly from London,” communicating to readers that he had not been working in the English provinces or other colonies immediately prior to arriving in New Haven. Months or years had not passed since he had actively made garments in the city at the center of the empire. Instead, potential customers could depend on him having knowledge of current styles and outfitting them accordingly. Many eighteenth-century advertisements deployed formulaic phrases, but advertisers like Astle sometimes modified them to suit their needs and deliver better marketing appeals.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 27, 1768).

“A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.”

Isaac Beers and Elias Beers sold a variety of goods at their shop in New Haven. In the spring of 1768 they enumerated many of their wares in an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal, listing textiles and adornments that ranged from “blue, bluegrey, and blossom colour’d German Serges” to “A very large Assortment of Buttons, Bindings, and all kind of Trimmings for Mens Cloathes” to “A genteel Assortment of the newest fashion’d Ribbons.” They stocked grocery items, including tea, cofeem and sugar, as well as “Pigtail Tobacco” and snuff.

Although they were not booksellers or stationers, the Beers included writing supplies and books among their inventory. Like other shopkeepers, they carried “Writing Paper” and wax wafers for making seals. They also sold bibles and spelling books as well as “A few of the so much esteem’d FARMER’s Letters.” (Although that portion of the advertisement has been damaged in the copy of the May 27, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal seen above, the same advertisement appeared the next week in an issue that has not been damaged.)

The Beers did not need to provide any further explanation for prospective customers to identify the pamphlet that contained all twelve of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” previously printed and reprinted in newspapers throughout the colonies, starting in December 1767 and continuing into the spring of 1768. In these “Letters,” Dickinson, under the pseudonym of “A Farmer,” presented a dozen essays that explained how Parliament overstepped its authority in passing the Townshend Act and other measures that usurped the authority of colonial legislatures. He encouraged colonists to resist Parliament’s designs or risk even greater abuses.

Upon completion of the series, industrious printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia collected all twelve “Letters” in pamphlets. Printers and booksellers in several colonies advertised that they sold the “Letters,” but supplying the public with that pamphlet was not the province of the book trade alone. Shopkeepers like the Beers purchased “A few” copies to retail alongside general merchandise in their own shops, considering the “Letters” significant enough to merit particular mention in their advertisements. In so doing, they assisted in disseminating some of the arguments that eventually transformed resistance into a revolution. The choices they made as retailers and advertisers helped to shape the rhetoric of the Revolution.

May 20

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

May 20 - 5:20:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 20, 1768).

“JOHN DURAND, Portrait Painter, INTENDS to Stay in this Town part of the warm Season.”

Advertising in local newspapers was imperative for John Durand, an itinerant portrait painter. Since he regularly moved from town to town he did not build up a clientele in a community that considered him one of its own.  Instead, Durand earned his living by traveling from place to place, setting up temporary studios where he served “any Gentlemen or Ladies” who “choose to have their Pictures Drawn.”  When he arrived in New Haven late in the spring of 1768, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal to inform the community that he “INTENDS to Stay in this Town part of the warm Season.”  He would engage as many clients as possible but then move along to another town once he determined that the local market had been satisfied.

To convince potential clients to commission his services, Durand invited them to visit “Captain Camp’s House, where several of his Performances may be seen.”  Before sitting for their own portrait or drawing, “any Gentlemen or Ladies” could examine Durand’s portfolio and determine for themselves whether they appreciated his style or considered his abilities sufficient to merit the time and expense of sitting for a portrait. In addition, the artist made an appeal to price, noting that he would create their likenesses “a good deal cheaper than has yet been seen.”  As he moved from town to town, he may have inquired about prices charged by his rivals. Even if he did not offer the best bargain possible, he likely did not set rates so high that prospective clients would choose to wait for the next itinerant portrait painter to pass through town.  He also invited clients to dictate some of the terms of service.  They could visit his temporary studio in his lodgings “at Captain Camp’s House” or summon him to their own residences, asserting their own social standing in the process.

Unlike artisans who worked in one location for years or decades, this artist could not rely on the familiarity of friends and associates for word-of-mouth recommendations that enhanced his reputation over time and, as a result, attracted new customers to an established studio.  As much as he may have wished to stay in one place and accrue such advantages, the market for portraits and drawings in colonial America did not afford him that opportunity.

April 3

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

Apr 3 - 4:1:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (April 1, 1768).

“Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland.”

First in response to the Stamp Act and later in the wake of the Townshend Act, some American merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans cast their advertising appeals in terms of the politics of production and consumption. They sought to convince prospective customers that their decisions about which goods to purchase and which establishments to patronize had a political valence. In so doing, they echoed the calls to boycott imported goods and instead to encourage domestic manufactures published in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers.

John Morris’s advertisement in the April 1, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal suggests that some artisans who resided on the other side of the Atlantic became aware of this discourse and opted to mobilize it for their own benefit. Morris, a “Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland,” announced that he was “willing to come and establish that Branch in any of his Majesty’s Colonies or Plantations in America, if properly encouraged.” In an attempt to frame his advertisement to achieve an enthusiastic response, he addressed it to “the Society of Gentlemen, for the Encouragement of Arts in the different Provinces of America.” Many colonists might have been hesitant to import a variety of goods as a means of resistance when Parliament overstepped its authority, but Morris reasoned that they would welcome an artisan whose labor would make valuable contributions in the domestic marketplace. To underscore this benefit, Morris signed himself as “A Friend to Liberty and Freedom,” indicating his sympathy for the colonists’ cause.

He did not, however, make his case in stronger terms than popular opinion permitted. Morris carefully positioned his work, stating that “the Safety and Protection of his Majesty’s Royal Person, His Dominions and Subjects in general” depended on the efforts of gunflint cutters. He provided a service to king and country. While migrating to the colonies might yield some particular advantages for certain of the monarch’s subjects who wished “for the Encouragement of the Arts in the different Provinces of America,” Morris was not advocating anything more radical than strengthening the economic position of the colonies within the empire. Colonists had called for resistance to abuses by Parliament, but they did not yet seriously entertain notions of revolution or independence. The “Honourable House of Representatives” of Massachusetts, one the colonies that led resistance efforts, underscored that point in a letter to “the Right Honourable the Earl of SHELBURNE, one of his Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,” a letter that circulated in colonial newspapers (including the April 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette). Legislators from Massachusetts argued in favor of strengthening local government, but also that they were “not insensible of their security and happiness in their connexion with, and dependence on, the mother state.” Furthermore, “they have reason to believe [these] are the sentiments of all the colonies.”

Morris marketed his occupation and willingness to migrate to the American colonies in terms that matched the current political situation. He was an astute enough observer of the rhetoric currently in use in the colonies that even from across the Atlantic he was able to replicate both the sentiments and the appeals advanced by artisans and other advertisers who already resided “in the different Provinces of America.”

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 18, 1768).

“A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed, to be sold by Richard Woodhull, in New-Haven.”

Richard Woodhull’s advertisement for “A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed” benefited from its fairly unique yet conspicuous placement in the March 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Unlike some printers who reserved certain pages for news items and other pages for advertisements, brothers Thomas Green and Samuel Green distributed news and advertising throughout the entire issue, though only news and the masthead appeared on the first page. The second, third, and fourth pages all featured both news and paid notices, with news first and advertising filling in the remainder of the page. In other words, readers encountered news and then advertising when they perused the page from left to right. On the second and fourth pages, advertisements comprised nearly the entire final column. On the third page, however, a single paid notice appeared at the bottom of the last column …

… except for Woodhull’s advertisement, a short announcement printed on the far right of the page. The type had been rotated to run perpendicular to the rest of the text, replicating a strategy sometimes deployed by printers and compositors in other colonial newspapers. In this instance, however, the execution was rather clumsy in comparison. The text of Woodhull’s advertisement was positioned flush against the contents of the third column rather than set slightly to the right with at least a narrow strip of white space separating them. Unfortunately, examining a digital surrogate does not allow for any assessment of whether this was done out of necessity to fit the size of the sheet or if the Greens had sufficient margins that they could have moved Woodhull’s advertisement to the right and away from the third column. The March 18 edition was only issue “No. 22” of the Connecticut Journal. Given that the Greens had been publishing the newspaper for less than six months, they still may have been experimenting to determine their preferred format when it came to graphic design and visual aspects.

Alternately, the Greens may have resorted to squeezing Woodhull’s advertisement on the third page because they neglected to insert it when they set the type for the columns. The same advertisement appeared in the March 11 edition (in what appears to be the same size font, though working with a digital surrogate makes it impossible to definitively state that was the case), but in four lines in a column with other advertisements. The spacing between words seems to be replicated in the perpendicular insertion the following week, suggesting that the Greens at some point took four lines of type that had already been set and positioned them side by side to make a single line. A new version of the advertisement, completely reset and extending only three lines, appeared in a regular column in the March 25 issue. Yet another version, again completely reset but this time in only two lines, was inserted as the final item the last column in the April 1 issue before the advertisement was discontinued in subsequent issues.

Woodhull may have requested these variations as a means of drawing attention to his advertisements, but it seems more likely that they resulted from the Greens working through their practices for the publication process for what was a relatively new endeavor. Although Thomas had more than a decade of experience as a printer, setting up shop with his brother Samuel was a new enterprise. The two may have been working out a system for operating their business and organizing tasks. Whatever the reason for the awkward insertion of Woodhull’s advertisement, it had the effect of making his notice difficult to overlook. Casual observers could not help but notice the strange line of text, in larger font, set perpendicular to the rest when they glanced at the page. Those who actively read the news from Boston or the shipping news from New Haven’s Custom House could not have missed Woodhull’s advertisement. Whether done intentionally or not, the unusual typography made Woodhull’s advertisement more visible to potential customers.

December 25

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

Dec 25 - 12:25:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (December 25, 1767).

“Dunstable Hats, being a new Fashion.”

In December 1767, shopkeeper William McCrackan began placing advertisements for “very neat Assortment of Winter Goods” in the Connecticut Journal, a newspaper founded just two months earlier. Almost as soon as it was established, colonial retailers used the advertising pages of the new publication to teach potential customers about consumer goods in order to incite demand and generate sales.

McCrackan operated his shop in New Haven in the midst of a consumer revolution. Prospective customers spoke the language of consumption. In particular, they could identify and distinguish among a variety of imported textiles – like “Callimancoes,” “Camblets,” and “Ratteens” – without descriptions from those who sold them. Some products, however, especially those recently introduced to the market, required at least some explanation. Such was the case for “Dunstable Hats” and consumers in New Haven and its hinterland. Realizing that some colonists might not be familiar with that particular item, McCrackan advertised them as “Dunstable Hats, being a new Fashion.” Almost simultaneously, shopkeeper Henry Wilmot advertised “Leghorne, Dunstable and Skelliton hats, trimmed in the newest fashion” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Unlike McCrackan’s perspective on colonists in rural Connecticut, Wilmot assumed that residents of the busy urban port were already acquainted with Dunstable hats, yet he did make a point of asserting that the ones he stocked had been “trimmed in the newest fashion.” Even familiar accessories could be updated to reflect evolving tastes.

McCrackan provided no description of Dunstable hats beyond the short interjection that they represented “a new Fashion.” Still, that likely would have been sufficient to provoke curiosity among some prospective customers, drawing them into his shop to view and converse about the hats and other merchandise. For those who desired to imagine that they participated in the same culture of consumption as residents of cosmopolitan London, despite their distance from the metropole, McCrackan offered a helpful update about prevailing tastes, alerting them to the latest trends. His advertisement did more than merely announce the availability of goods. It encouraged an interest in the novel and the new in order to stimulate consumer demand.