February 10

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

Connecticut Journal (February 10, 1769).

To be sold … By ADAM BABCOCK.”

When 1768 came to an end and 1769 began, Adam Babcock launched an advertising campaign in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. For seven weeks his list-style advertisement informed prospective customers that he carried a variety of goods, from “black taffaty & black satten” to “callamancos of all colours” to “shoe & knee buckles.” Without interruption, his notice ran in every issue of the Connecticut Journal from January 6 through February 17.

Compared to similar advertisements in other newspapers published in other places, especially the largest urban ports, Babcock’s advertisement does not seem particularly extensive. It listed several dozens items, but others listed scores or even hundreds of goods that colonial merchants and shopkeepers included among their inventories. The number of items, however, may not be the best measure of the impact of Babcock’s advertisement. Instead, its appearance on the page merits consideration. The Connecticut Journal was a smaller newspaper than its counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. It carried less news and less advertising. Babcock’s advertisement would have been considered moderate in length had it been placed in a newspaper in one of those cities, but it occupied an exceptional proportion of the page in the Connecticut Journal.

Indeed, Babcock’s advertisement would have difficult for readers to overlook. It extended half a column on a page comprised of only two columns. In other words, Babcock purchased one-quarter of a page for his advertisement. Considering that the Connecticut Journal, like most other newspapers printed in the 1760s, consisted of only four pages, Babcock’s advertisement accounted for a substantial portion of the content presented to readers over the course of seven weeks (and generated significant revenue for the printers). Counting the number of items listed in his advertisement tells only a partial story about making appeals to consumer choice in eighteenth-century advertising. A more complete appreciation of Babcock’s advertisement requires consideration of its presence on the printed page alongside news items and other content. For readers of the Connecticut Journal it was more extensive than any other paid notice they encountered in that publication in January and February 1769.

January 20

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

Connecticut Journal (January 20, 1769).

“He has an Assortment of GOODS on Hand.”

Although advertisements often appeared on the final pages of eighteenth-century newspapers, that was not always the case. Printers and compositors experimented with the placement of news, paid notices, and other content. Consider, for example, the January 20, 1769, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. The front page featured both advertising and news. Immediately below the masthead, Michael Todd’s notice calling on former customers to settle accounts and advising prospective customers that he had “an Assortment of GOODS on Hand, as usual,” was the first item readers encountered. Two more advertisements ran in the same column above news from Boston. News from London comprised the remainder of the page. An editorial concerning the local “Manufacturing of Linen” to “put a Stop to the Importation of British Cloth,” submitted by pseudonymous “JONATHAN HOMESPUN,” comprised most of the second page. Other editorial items filled the third page. News from Philadelphia and New York, as well as the shipping news from New Haven, appeared on the final page, along with two more advertisements. Readers who perused that issue of the Connecticut Journal from first page to last began and ended with advertisements, but that was not always the case.

Usually printers Thomas Green and Samuel Green or a compositor who worked for them positioned the paid notices after the other content. Whoever set the type for the January 20 edition experimented with something different. For the standard four-page issue, type for the first and fourth pages, printed on one side of a broadsheet, could be set independently of the second and third pages, printed on the other side. Skilled compositors, for instance, could start a new item in the first column of the second page and end another item in the last column of the third page, allowing them to begin printing one side of the broadsheet before even setting type for the other. The compositor may have made an effort to do so in the January 20 edition of the Connecticut Journal, but was not completely successful. The letter from Jonathan Homespun filled most of the second page. A few lines of another editorial ran at the bottom, overflowing to the third page. A recipe for a home remedy began at the bottom of the third page and concluded on the fourth. The compositor then had sufficient space to insert all of the advertisements on that last page, but opted to place some on the first instead, departing from the usual format for that newspaper. As a result, that issue of the Connecticut Journal replicated the appearance of other newspapers that sometimes ran advertisements on the first page. Colonial printers did not uniformly give precedence to news on the front page and relegate advertising to other places in the newspaper.

December 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 23, 1768).

Ames’s Almanack, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST, 1769.”

Among the many options available to colonists in New England, An Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769 by Nathaniel Ames was quite popular. Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, advertised several almanacs in the December 23, 1768, edition. One advertisement briefly announced “WEST’s ALMANACK, for 1769, containing many useful Things, sold by the Printers hereof. ALSO, BICKERSTAFF’s famous Boston Almanac, for 1769.” A much longer advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack,” however, listed many of the contents, including “Courts in Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island” and “Public Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at.”

The position of the advertisements on the page also differentiated them. The advertisement for Ames’s Almanack was the first item in the first column of the final page, but the shorter notice for West’s Almanack and Bickerstaff’s Almanack was the last item inserted in the final column. If a reader held aloft that issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette while perusing the contents of the center pages, the advertisement for Ames’s Almanack would have been the first item observers noticed on the other side of the page. The advertisement for the other two almanacs, in contrast, did not have the same privileged place. Appearing last, it may have been filler that rounded out the last column on the final page.

The Fowles also commented on the volume of Ames’s Almanack that they anticipated selling to readers and retailers. They offered that title “by the Groce, Dozen or Single,” but did not indicate that they sold West’s Almanack or Bickerstaff’s Almanack in large quantities. If advertisements in other newspapers published the same day are any indication, there was indeed a vast market for the 1769 edition of Ames’s Almanack in New England. An advertisement in the New-London Gazette simply announced, “Ames’s Almanack, TO BE SOLD, At the Printing-Office.” An equally sparse advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy stated, “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1769, To be sold at the Printing-Office in N. Haven.” William Carter and Company’s advertisement immediately above concluded with a nota bene that informed prospective customers that “A few of AMES’s Almanacks, for 1769, to be sold at said Store.” Carter and Company apparently purchased by the gross or dozen from a printer or bookseller in order to integrate this popular almanac into their inventory of imported goods, rum, sugar, and beaver hats. The Fowles sold legitimate copies printed by William McAlpine in Boston, but the others may have peddled pirated copies produced by a cabal of rival printers who wished to claim a share of the market.

As the new year approached, printers, booksellers, and retailers promoted various almanacs to prospective customers in late December 1768. Among the many choices, Ames’s Almanack was especially popular among readers throughout New England, so much so that it appeared in advertisements printed in multiple newspapers published in several colonies. The details provided in some of those advertisements sometimes eclipsed the amount of information in notices for other almanacs. Its popularity may have resulted in more extensive advertising. In turn, that more extensive advertising likely further augmented demand for the popular almanac.

December 16

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

Just come to Hand, and to be sold by Glen and Gregory.”

Connecticut Journal (December 16, 1768).

As fall turned to winter in 1768, the partnership of Glen and Gregory ran an advertisement for “A Neat Assortment of Goods suitable for the Season” in several consecutive issues of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. In the process of creating this advertisement, Glen and Gregory most likely wrote the copy and submitted it to the printing office. Then the compositor set the type, making all of the decisions about fonts, format, and other graphic design elements. Occasionally advertisers made specific requests concerning the visual appearance of paid notices, but in most instances they left that part of producing advertisements to the compositors.

In the case of Glen and Gregory’s advertisement, the compositor most likely made decisions about which words appeared in italics and which in larger font. The compositor also elected to center the first two lines of the advertisement, which served as a headline to draw attention. The compositor also made other decisions about the appearance of advertisements in the Connecticut Journal, moving beyond the copy submitted by Glen and Gregory and other advertisers. Lines of ornamental type separated many (but not all) of the advertisements in the December 16, 1768, edition and most other issues. Compositors at other newspapers also placed decorative borders above and below advertisements. In the same week that Glen and Gregory’s advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Journal, the compositors for the Boston-Gazette and Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette also deployed this strategy for dressing up advertisements.

Doing so operated as an implicit advertisement for the services provided at the printing offices where these newspapers were published. In addition to publishing newspapers, printers solicited job printing orders for blanks, broadsides, handbills, and other items. The ornamental type that separated advertisements in newspapers alerted prospective clients to the possibilities of decorative printing for their own orders. Although they did not do so exhaustively, these borders served as specimens of type otherwise not widely incorporated into the news items, advertisements, and other content of colonial newspapers. They offered compositors an opportunity to play with the visual appearance of advertisements and challenged prospective clients to think about the possibilities for their own job printing orders.

November 25

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

Nov 25 - 11:25:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 25, 1768).

“Broad cloths in|Best belladine sew-|Bellows’s Gimblets”

The format of Samuel Broome and Company’s advertisement in the Connecticut Journal suggested the work of an unskilled compositor, someone who had not sufficiently mastered the typographical arts to create an advertisement that was either visually appealing or easy to read. Yet Bernard Lintot’s advertisement that appeared immediately to the left in the November 25, 1768, edition hinted that the compositor of Broome and Company’s notice might not have been entirely at fault for its dense and cluttered appearance.

Both advertisements featured two vertical lines trisecting three columns of goods. Lintot’s advertisement listed only one item per line in each column, taking advantage of white space to make each legible for readers. Broome and Company’s advertisement, on the other hand, included multiple items per line and crushed the columns together without any space to separate them. Why adopt that approach when it was clear that those employed at the printing office were capable of doing better?

It may have been an issue of finances rather than a lack of aesthetics. The cramped advertisement already filled an entire column. If Broome and Company had insisted on a style that replicated Lintot’s advertisement, their notice would have extended into a second column. That may not have been a viable alternative considering that the partners ran their advertisement in the Connecticut Journal in alternating issues for five months, incurring significant advertising costs. Broome and Company may have intentionally avoided the additional expense associated with overflowing into a second column; given their frequent publication schedule, the printers also may have confined Broome and Company to a single column. Each time their notice appeared it accounted for one-eighth of the total content in a four-page newspaper with only two columns per page.

What kind of consultation took place among advertisers, printers, and compositors in the eighteenth century? On its own, Broome and Company’s advertisement suggests that the compositor did not execute his charge particularly well, but that might not have been the case. The variation in visual appeal among the advertisements in the Connecticut Journal indicates that other factors may have also been at play in determining the format of Broome and Company’s lengthy notice.

November 11

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

Nov 11 - 11:11:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 11, 1768).

“SAMUEL BROOME, and Co. Have the following Goods to Sell.”

Samuel Broome and Company’s advertisement for an assortment of goods they sold “on the most reasonable Terms, at their Store in NEW-YORK” probably became quite familiar to readers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy in 1768. The advertisement appeared regularly during the last five months of the year, though on a rather unique publication schedule.

After first appearing in the August 5 edition, Broome and Company’s advertisement ran again on August 19, September 2, 16, and 30, October 14, November 11 and 25, and December 9 and 23. It did not appear on August 12 and 26, September 9 and 23, October 7 and 21, November 18, and December 2, 16, and 30. (Any extant copies of the October 28 and November 4 editions have not been digitized so they have not been consulted in compiling this calendar. Presumably the advertisement ran on October 28 but not on November 4.) In other words, Broome and Company’s advertisement alternated issues from August through December before being discontinued.

Most eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements ran in consecutive issues for a set period. Why did Broome and Company adopt a schedule that deviated from standard practices? Several factors may have played a role. The partners may have considered the expense of advertising weekly prohibitive. They may have also wished to prolong their advertising campaign while maintaining a particular budget. Staggering their advertisements allowed them to do so. The publishers of the Connecticut Journal may have also played a role in Broome and Company’s decision. Compared to other advertisements in that newspaper, their notice was extensive. It usually filled and entire column (though sometimes the compositor managed to squeeze a short advertisement above or below). Unlike most other newspapers published in 1768, the Connecticut Journal featured only two columns per page. That meant that Broome and Company’s advertisement that filled an entire column actually comprised one-eighth of any standard four-page issue. Without sufficient news and additional advertising to regularly justify a supplement, he publishers may have determined that Broome and Company’s advertisement so dominated the pages of the Connecticut Journal that it could not appear every week.

Whatever factors contributed to the unique publication schedule, Broome and Company inserted their advertisement in the Connecticut Journal a total of eleven times. By the end of December, readers almost certainly recognized it at a glance. They published the same advertisement in the New-York Journal, but it did not achieve the same visibility in a publication that featured far more advertisements, many of them of a length that rivaled Broome and Company’s notice.

September 9

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

Sep 9 - 9:9:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (September 9, 1768).

“Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier.”

True Crime! In early September of 1768, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, sold a pamphlet about an execution of a burglar that had just taken place. “Just published, and to be sold by the Printers hereof,” the Greens announced, “Brief Account of the LIFE, and abominable THEFTS, of the notorious Isaac Frasier, (Who was executed at Fairfield, on the 7th of September, 1768) penned from his own Mouth, and signed by him, a few Days before his Execution.” This advertisement first ran in the September 9 issue, just two days after the execution and presumably less than a week after the infamous thief had dictated his life’s story.

The Greens marketed memorabilia about an event currently in the news. To help sustain the attention Frasier and his trial and execution had generated, they ran a short article about the burglar, offering prospective customers a preview of the pamphlet. “Last Wednesday,” the Connecticut Journal reported, “Isaac Frasier, was executed at Fairfield, pursuant to the Sentence of the Superior Court, for the Third Offence of Burglary; the lenitive Laws of this Colony, only Punishing the first and second Offences with whipping, cropping, and branding. He was born at North-Kingston, in the Colony of Rhode-Island. It is said, he seem’d a good deal unconcerned, till a few Hours before he was turn’d off—and it is conjectured, by his Conduct, that he had some secret Hope of being cleared, some Way or other.” The Greens likely intended that this teaser provoke even more interest in Frasier, stimulating sales of the pamphlet.

To that end, all of the news from within the colony focused on thieves and burglars who had been captured and punished. Two days before Frasier’s execution, David Powers had been “cropt, branded and whipt” in New Haven after being discovered “breaking open a House.” He had previously experienced the same punishment in Hartford, where James Hardig was “whipt ten stripes at the public whipping post … for stealing.” The Greens described Hardig as “an old offender, as it appears he has already been cropt, branded and whipt.” If they did not change their ways, Powers and Hardig would find themselves “Candidate[s] for a greater Promotion” at their own executions. Frasier’s case offered a cautionary tale for anyone who chose to purchase and read his pamphlet.

Although Frasier was executed upon his third conviction for burglary, he recorded more than fifty burglaries and thefts in the Brief Account. According to Anthony Vaver, Frasier had “toured all over New England and into New York, covering hundreds of miles at a time and committing burglaries all along the way.” Vaver provides and overview of Frasier’s case at Early American Crime, including the circumstances of all three burglaries that led to his execution and a map of the route he followed on his crime spree.

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.