What was advertised in a colonial America newspaper 250 years ago today?
“N.B. Said Griffith / continues to carry one / the Goldsmith’s Business as usual.”
Like many other advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, William Knight’s notice in the October 4, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured a dense paragraph of text that listed the many items available at his shop. George Taylor, a tailor, published an advertisement similar in appearance, though shorter. Each included the advertiser’s name in larger font for a headline and capitalized a few key words to guide readers through the content, but neither relied on graphic design to capture the attention of prospective customers.
The format of David Griffith’s advertisement, on the other hand, distinguished it from most others in the New-Hampshire Gazette. It included formulaic language, such as “Just Imported from LONDON” and “A large Assortment of English Goods,” but either Griffith or the compositor decided to break many of the phrases and sentences into shorter lines and center them. “Just Imported from LONDON,” for instance, occupied three lines as “Just / Imported / from LONDON.” A nota bene at the end of the advertisement informed readers that “Said Griffith continues to carry on the Goldsmith’s Business as usual, at the same House, Likewise, as low as is done or can be had in this Town, or Boston, &c.” Text that could have fit in three lines extended over nine, some of them featuring only one or two words, to create an irregular shape with copious white space. The design gave Griffith’s advertisement a very different appearance compared to Knight’s notice immediately to the right.
Yet Griffith was not committed to innovative graphic design as a matter of principle or consistent marketing strategy. His advertisement advised that “The Particulars” about the imported goods “will be in our next” newspaper. The format of that advertisement replicated Knight’s advertisement and so many others, a dense paragraph of text that listed dozens of items. That advertisement extended an entire column and overflowed into a second column. Purchasing the space that would have allowed for a more innovative format may have been prohibitively expensive. Between the two advertisements, Griffith demonstrated what was possible and what was probable when it came to graphic design for eighteenth-century newspaper notices.