What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Choice Bohea TEA.”
When Stephen Hardy, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the March 13, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, his name served as the headline. Such was the case in many advertisements for consumer goods and services in newspapers published throughout the colonies. The names of the purveyors appeared first or appeared in larger font than the goods and services offered for sale or both. As a result, colonizers skimming advertisements encountered a litany of names of merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans rather than products.
On occasion, however, headlines for advertisements did identify products. In that same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, one advertisement promoted “Choice Bohea TEA TO BE SOLD BY DANIEL PEIRCE, junr.” The body of the advertisement listed other items for sale as well, but the headline, “Choice Bohea TEA,” appeared in the same size font as “Stephen Hardy” elsewhere on the page, making those two headlines the most noticeable content on the page. Although Peirce’s name ran in all capital letters, the font size did not distinguish it from the rest of the content of his advertisement. Indeed, the decision to also print “ENGLISH, & WEST INDIA GOODS,” “GROCERIES, NAILS, GLASS,” “PEPPER,” “GINGER,” and “SHOES” in all capital letters of the same size as “DANIEL PEIRCE” made it harder to spot the name of the advertiser. “Choice Bohea TEA” was the focal point of Peirce’s advertisement, just as “Stephen Hardy” was the focal point of the tailor’s advertisement.
Other advertisements deployed a similar strategy. Gilliam Butler’s advertisement for “ENGLISH and WEST INDIA GOODS” also used “Choice Bohea TEA” in a larger font as its headline. Peter Pearse’s advertisement promoted “Shushong, Hyson, Congo, and Bohea TEA,” with “Sushong, Hyson” in a larger font, occupying the first line, and operating as an abbreviated headline. Neal McIntire’s advertisement had a similar structure: “Tar, Pitch” led a list of commodities for sale, appeared in a larger font on the first line, and displaced the seller’s name as a headline. In an advertisement for textiles, “Russia Duck” instead of “THOMAS MARTIN” served as the headline.
Why did so many advertisements in that issue deviate from using the name of the advertiser as the headline? Did purveyors of goods and services who placed notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette adopt different standards for writing copy than advertisers in other towns? That may have been the case, especially if they consulted advertisements that previously ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette when writing their own notices. The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, may have also played a role. On occasion, printers noted that they aided in composing advertisements. Perhaps Peirce, Butler, Pearse, McIntire, and Martin received advice from the Fowles, encouragement to place their products first and their names later in their advertisements. Whatever the explanation, the advertising pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette often had a distinctive look in the early 1770s because the headlines name products instead of purveyors.