November 25

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (November 25, 1773).

“WATCHES justly valued for those who are about to buy, or swop elsewhere.”

John Simnet, who billed himself as the “only regular London watch-maker here,” regularly advertised in the newspapers published in New York.  As November 1773 came to a close, he inserted notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Journal, and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  Over the years, he gained a reputation for his cantankerous advertisements in which he feuded with his competitors.  Such aggressive strategies did not account for the only appeals that the watchmaker made to the public.  In many of his advertisements, he listed his prices, demonstrating the deals available at his workshop to prospective clients who did some comparison shopping.  Simnet asserted, for instance, that he performed “every particular in repairing [watches] at HALF the price charg’d by others.”  Furthermore, he “will keep them in proper order in future, gratis,” a valuable service for his customers.  He also did appraisals: “WATCHES justly valued for those who are about to buy, or swop elsewhere.”

Those appeals, along with his colorful personality, helped to distinguish Simnet’s advertisements from those placed by other watchmakers.  In the November 25 edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, another aspect of his advertisement attracted attention.  The watchmaker joined the ranks of advertisers who decided to have a decorative border enclose his notice.  In recent months, that became a style associated with New York’s newest newspaper.  Simnet ran the same copy that appeared in the New-York Journal on the same day and a few days earlier in the November 22 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but only his notice in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer featured a border.  Simnet joined six other advertisers who opted for that visual element to enhance their notices and attract the attention of readers.  Like most other advertisers, he devised the copy on his own, but entrusted the format to the compositors in each printing office.  In this case, however, he apparently made a request to incorporate a border after observing so many other advertisements in that newspaper receive that treatment.  Considering how much Simnet craved attention, arguably even more than most advertisers, readers familiar with his reputation and his previous notices may have been surprised that it took him so long to run an advertisement with a visual element gaining in popularity.

November 12

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

New-London Gazette (November 12, 1773).


Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, made an important announcement about his business in the November 12, 1773, edition of his newspaper.  He proclaimed that he “Has just IMPORTED from LONDON, A COMPLEAT and ENTIRELY NEW Assortment Of the best PRINTING MATERIALS.”  New type and other equipment would enhance not only the newspaper, making it more attractive for both subscribers and advertisers, but also books, pamphlets, almanacs, and blanks produced in his printing office.  In addition, he sought orders for broadsides, handbills, and other job printing.  With the arrival of these “best PRINTING MATERIALS,” Green “hopes that the kind of Encouragement of the PUBLIC will not be wanting.”  He was ready to serve clients, giving “his constant Attention to please them.”

The savvy printer just happened to place the most ornate of all the advertisements in that issue of the New-London Gazetteimmediately below his own notice.  A border made of decorative type enclosed an advertisement in which David Gardiner, Jr., offered cash for “Small Furrs, Bees-Wax, old Brass, Copper, and Pewter” and hawked a “good ASSORTMENT of Ship-Chandlery Ware, Groceries of all Kinds, an Assortment of Glass and Stone Ware,” and other merchandise.  The distinctive advertisement demonstrated to prospective clients that they could place their own notices that featured visual elements designed to attract attention.  It also presented possibilities for broadsides, handbills, catalogs, billheads, blanks, and other job printing orders.

New-London Gazette (November 19, 1773).

Gardiner’s advertisement ran in the next issue of the New-London Gazette, but it was no longer the only one with a decorative border.  In a new advertisement, Peabody Clement promoted imported goods “JUST COME TO HAND.” Green or one of the compositors in his shop selected different printing ornaments for Clement’s advertisement than those in Gardiner’s notice.  That distinguished the notices from each other, while also displaying some of the range of new types in Green’s printing office.  Perhaps Clement saw the printer’s announcement and Gardiner’s advertisement in the November 12 edition and that helped convince him to place his own notice and influenced his decision about the format.

November 4

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (November 4, 1773).

“A large assortment of goods.”

In its first six months of publication, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer developed a signature style for many of its advertisements.  They featured the same copy that appeared in other newspapers published in the city, yet surrounded by borders made of decorative type.  James Rivington and the compositors who worked in his printing office certainly were not the first to devise borders for newspaper notices.  After all, borders enclosed Jolley Allen’s advertisements in several Boston newspapers going back years and the shopkeeper continued to incorporate that design element into his advertisements in the early 1770s (in every newspaper except the Massachusetts Spy, which seemed hesitant to accommodate that request).  Borders occasionally surrounded advertisements in other newspapers as well, but in no newspaper did they appear as frequently as in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.

In the fall of 1773, Richard Sause, a cutler “At the CROSS SWORDS,” joined the ranks of advertisers with borders around their advertisements.  Several notices in the November 4 edition had borders, including those places buy John Arthur, a shopkeeper, John Laboyteaux, a tailor, John J. Roosevelt, a merchant, and John Siemon, a furrier.  Borders also enclosed advertisements for “SHIP BREAD” sold by Crommelin and Horsfield and Rivington’s own notice for “Dr. KEYSER’s PILLS.”  The compositor selected different printing ornaments for each advertisement, making them distinctive even though they shared a common feature.

The copy for Sause’s advertisement matched his notice on the front page of the November 1 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  An extensive list of merchandise, divided into two columns with one or two items per line, appeared below a headline and brief introduction that promised a “large assortment of goods, which he will sell cheap for cash or short credit.”  Sause’s advertisement filled three-quarters of a column in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, making it the longest advertisement with a border in that issue.  Yet Sause did not need to experiment with a border as a means of drawing attention to his advertisement.  Like Siemon, he previously ran advertisements with a woodcut depicting some aspect of his business.  For the furrier, it was a muff.  For Sause, it was a sign that showed many of the items that he made and sold, including a table knife with “SAUSE” at the base of the blade and a sword with “SAUSE” in the same position.”  The sign depicted on the woodcut even included his name and occupation, “RD. SAUSE CUTLER,” making it one of the few woodcuts personalized in such a manner.  That image appeared in Sause’s advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer on April 29, only the second issue of that newspaper.  Six months later, however, Rivington opted for the decorative border rather than the woodcut.  The increasingly popular style apparently made an impact on the advertiser, convincing him to give it a try in his own marketing in hopes that it would have a similar effect on prospective customers.

October 28

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

New-York Journal (October 28, 1773).

“Gentlemen’s caps, and gloves, lined with fur, very useful for travelling, and sleighing.”

During the final week of October 1773, John Siemon, a furrier, inserted advertisements in three newspapers published in New York, placing his notices before the eyes of as many readers in and near the city as possible.  He hawked a “General and complete assortment, of new fashion’d muffs & tippets, ermine, cloak linings, … gentlemen’s caps, and gloves, lined with fur,” and other items.  In addition, he “trims Ladies robes and riding dresses” and “faces and lapels Gentlemen’s waistcoats.”  As an ancillary service, Siemon provided directions “to rub the furs in summer” to keep them in good condition when not being worn.

Although Siemon submitted nearly identical copy to the three printing offices, his advertisements had very different formats when they appeared in the newspapers.  Arguably the one that best represented Siemon’s brand, the notice in the New-York Journal featured a woodcut depicting a muff, an image that regularly accompanied the furrier’s advertisements.  Siemon apparently considered it worth the investment to commission a single woodcut for the exclusive use of his business, but did not realize the potential of purchasing multiple woodcuts with the same image in order to achieve visual consistency and product recognition across several publications.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (October 28, 1773).

Siemon’s advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer had a different kind of visual appeal.  The furrier joined the ranks of advertisers who enclosed their notices within borders comprised of decorative type, including Crommelin and Horsfield, bakers, John J. Roosevelt, a merchant, Richard Sause, a cutler.  James Rivington and the compositors in his printing office made such borders a regular part of advertisements for consumer goods and services.  Those borders helped to draw attention to certain advertisements while also giving the pages of Rivington’s newspaper a distinctive look.  In contrast, no images or decorative type adorned Siemon’s advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  It consisted solely of text with the typography determined by the compositor to match other advertisements in that publication.

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 25, 1773).

In most instances, advertisers submitted copy to printing offices and then compositors determined the format of the advertisements.  Siemon’s advertisements suggest that was indeed the case when advertising in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, yet he offered specific directions, in the form of the familiar woodcut, for his advertisement in the New-York Journal.  His advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer demonstrates the greatest level of collaboration between advertiser and compositor.  Siemon either requested or agreed to include a distinctive visual element associated with notices in that newspaper.  The furrier took graphic design into account to varying degrees in his efforts to disseminate his advertisements in multiple newspapers.

October 3

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 30, 1773).


Richard Sause joined other entrepreneurs who experimented with decorative borders enclosing their advertisements when he promoted a “GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF CUTLERY” in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  The cutler had previous experience incorporating visual images into his advertisements in both the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  By the fall of 1773, many advertisements in New York’s newest newspaper featured borders, a popular means of enhancing notices.  Similar borders sometimes adorned advertisements in other newspapers, but not in the numbers and frequency that they appeared in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.

The September 30, 1773, edition of that newspaper, for instance, included eight advertisements with ornate borders.  Most of those notices were relatively short, a single square of text.  Among them, Dennis McReady, a tobacconist, hawked his wares and Aspinwall and Smith announced that they sold “CHOICE OLD JAMAICA SPIRIT.”  Another of these shorter announcements advised that “the Delaware Lottery for the Sale of Lands, belonging to the Earl of Stirling, will commence on Monday the first Day of November next.”  James Rivington, the printer, also enclosed his advertisement for Keyser’s Pills within a decorative border.  George Webster, “At the THREE SUGAR LOAVES,” listed a couple of items “just received from LONDON” and promised “many other Articles which will be inserted next week.”  That advertisement, however, never materialized.  Given that advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied rather than the number of words, borders made advertisements more expensive.  Rivington may have also charged additional fees for the borders, making them especially attractive to entrepreneurs running shorter advertisements.

Still, some advertisers enclosed longer notices within borders.  Thomas Hazard, one of Sause’s competitors, did so with an advertisement for “Ironmongery and Cutlery,” as did Francis Lewis and Sons in their advertisement that listed dozens of items for sale at their store on Queen Street.  Among these three longer advertisements, Sause’s notice was the shortest.  He apparently appreciated the visual appeal of the border and considered it worth the investment.  Four weeks later he placed a much more extensive advertisement that extended approximately three-quarters of a column.  A decorative border enclosed the lengthy list of merchandise that Sause “JUST IMPORTED.”  Along with several other advertisers, the cutler sought to generate interest in his newspaper notices by making them more visually appealing than text alone.  The printing office seems to have encouraged this innovation.

September 2

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

“An assortment of goods suitable to the season.”

A little more than four months after James Rivington commenced publication of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, many of the advertisements in that newspaper had a notable feature intended to attract readers’ attention.  Borders composed of decorative type enclosed five of the advertisements in the September 2, 1773, edition.  That gave the section devoted to advertising a distinctive look compared to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal.  During that week, the latter did not carry any advertisements with borders.  The former carried one with a border, a short notice about “KEYSER’s PILLS” placed by Hugh Gaine.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

Gaine happened to be the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Although he adorned one of his own advertisements with a border, he also appeared to reserve that format for his exclusive use.  S. Sp. Skinner, a distiller, ran advertisements for “the best of RUM” with identical copy in both publications, with a border in Rivington’s newspaper and without a border in Gaine’s newspaper.  The distiller also advertised, without a border, in the New-York Journal.  Rivington or a compositor in his printing office experimented with a format that enhanced the visual appeal of advertisements.  They either offered borders to advertisers or some advertisers learned that Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer would accommodate such requests.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

Other advertisements with identical copy in multiple newspapers demonstrate that Rivington incorporated a visual element not available in other printing offices in New York.  Robert Murray and John Murray ran an announcement that they dissolved their partnership and requested that “Persons Indebted to them” settle their accounts or face legal action.  Their advertisement had a border in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, but not in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Mercury or the New-York Journal.  Similarly, T.B. Atwood placed an advertisement for his “Medicinal Store” in all three newspapers.  It featured side-by-side columns listing patent medicines and other merchandise in each of them, apparently a format specified by the advertiser, but only Rivington’s newspaper enclosed Atwood’s notice within a decorative border.  Not only did the advertisement have a border, that border consisted of decorative type different from any that surrounded other advertisements or separated news accounts in that issue.  Taking the service to a higher level, the compositor chose printing ornaments that made the borders for each advertisement unique.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

Vincent Pearse Ashfield’s advertisement for coffee, tea, wine, and spirits also appeared in two newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, but embellished with a border in only one.  All of the advertisers whose notices had borders in Rivington’s newspaper – Ashfield, Atwood, the Murrays, and Skinner – simultaneously placed the same advertisement in at least one other newspaper.  Despite the identical copy, only the notices in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer incorporated borders, suggesting that Rivington’s printing office worked with advertisers to offer an option not available in other newspapers.  In addition to drawing attention to those advertisements, that made the pages of Rivington’s new newspaper easy to recognize and perhaps more interesting for readers.

August 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 19, 1773).

“SILKS and superfine Broad-Cloths.”

Although John Barrett and Sons did not happen to adorn their advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter with a woodcut related to some aspect of their business, that did not mean that their notice lacked visual appeal.  A border comprised of decorative type enclosed their advertisement for a variety of imported textiles and “All Kinds of English, Scotch, India, Hard-Ware and Cutlary GOODS.”  Other typographical elements also helped draw attention to their advertisement.  It featured a headline, “SILKS and superfine Broad-Cloths,” that highlighted some of the goods that readers would encounter in the advertisement.  It alternated lines in larger and smaller fonts.  In addition to the headline, three other lines – “A Prime Assortment of Padusoys,” “By JOHN BARRETT & SONS,” “All Kinds of English, Scotch” – appeared in larger type.  An appeal to price, “to be sold at an exceeding low Rate,” utilized italics for emphasis.  Overall, Barrett and Sons’ advertisement had a lively appearance.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 19, 1773).

The border certainly distinguished it from other notices, but many had their own distinctive visual elements to draw attention.  An advertisement for the sloop Industry seeking freight and passengers for a voyage to New York was the only advertisement in the August 19, 1773, edition with a woodcut.  The printer provided a stock image of a vessel at sea.  Other advertisements had their own headlines in larger fonts, including “WHIPS,” “Fyal WINE,” and “Drugs & Medicines.”  An advertisement for groceries and other goods sold “Next Door Southward of the Sign of the Buck and Gloves” divided the items into three columns, listing one item per line rather than clustering them together in a paragraph of dense text.  Daniel Bell did not resort to columns in his advertisement; he (and the compositor) devised a different means of giving each item more space on the page, naming one or two items per line and centering them.  That resulted in an amorphous and irregular shape about as different from the rectangle defined by the border of Barrett and Sons’ advertisement as possible.  All of the advertisements in that issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter relied primarily on text rather than images, yet they did not lack visual images.  The advertisers and compositors deployed typography that distinguished advertisements from the columns of news and from each other, creating a visual cacophony to engage readers and prospective customers.

May 7

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

Connecticut Journal (May 7, 1773).

ALL Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above 12 Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.”

It was the only decorative type in the May 7, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  It had been the only decorative type in the previous issue of that newspaper.  It would be the only decorative type in the following issue.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers, used decorative type sparingly.  What prompted them to deploy it in three consecutive issues in the spring of 1773?  They wished to call attention to their own notice that called on “ALL Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above 12 Months standing … to make immediate Payment.”  Such notices appeared frequently in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Printers often gave them privileged places to help direct readers to them.  Less often, they used decorative type to distinguish their notices from other advertisements.

Connecticut Journal (April 23, 1773).

The Greens enclosed their notice within an ornate border, enhancing its visibility no matter where it appeared on the page, whether near the bottom of the last column on the third page when it first ran on April 30 or as the last item on the last page in subsequent issues on May 7 and May 14.  No other advertisements in those issues featured decorative type, nor did the remainder of the contents.  In the previous issue published on April 23, a single line of printing ornaments that separated news items comprised the extent of decorative type.  After the Greens discontinued their notice, printing ornaments depicting skulls and bones appeared above a death notice for “Mrs. MARY LOTHROP, the agreable Consort of Mr. John Lothrop, of this Town,” in the May 21 edition.  No other decorative type appeared among the news or advertisements.

Connecticut Journal (May 21, 1773).

The Greens certainly had printing ornaments among their type.  They apparently believed that decorative type had practical value, that it could draw attention to an advertisement they considered important.  While they recognized the potential for adorning advertisements and other content, they did not embrace all the possible uses of printing ornaments in their newspaper in the eighteenth century.  That innovation came later.  Like other colonial printers, the Greens produced pages rather conservative in appearance compared to the vibrant use of printing ornaments in advertisements in many nineteenth-century newspapers.

February 28

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 25, 1773).

“The last Chance.”

An advertisement in the February 25, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter advised readers of “The last Chance” to purchase a “very large and valuable Assortment Of English and India GOODS” at the store “lately improved by Mr. Ward Nicholas Boylston” on King Street.  Available either wholesale or retail, that inventory was “Suitable to all Seasons – and to all Tastes.”  Even better, the sellers offered the goods at bargain rates, “the neat Sterling Cost without any Charges.”  In other words, they did not mark up the prices.  A decorative border around “The last Chance” helped to direct readers to the marketing pitches in the advertisement.

The advertisers suspected that some prospective customers held off on making purchases because they expected that anything that did not sell would eventually go up for auction.  That meant opportunities to acquire this “valuable Assortment” of goods for even better prices, certainly an attractive proposition for both merchants and shopkeepers who intended to sell whatever they purchased from among this merchandise.  The advertisers included a note that cautioned against such assumptions and encouraged prospective customers to take advantage of the bargains already available to them.  “Those who have witheld buying hitherto,” they asserted, “on a dependence that the above Goods will be finally exposed to Public Sale,” or auction, “where they hoped for better Pennyworths,” or bargains, “are warned to improve the present and last Opportunity, as the Proprietors are determined, if the Sale of them is not finished this Week, to dispose of them otherwise than at Auction.”  In other words, prospective buyers who planned to scoop up even better deals if slow sales prompted the sellers to resort to an auction would be very disappointed … and they would miss out on the current low prices.

The proprietors of the “valuable Assortment” of goods acknowledged that buyers and sellers participated in a dance, each trying to lead by making moves they intended to guide or nudge their partner’s next steps.  When those proprietors realized that some buyers anticipated an auction as their next move, they attempted to twirl them in another direction with a stark warning about stumbling as a result of anticipating that the proprietors planned move in a different direction.  Such candor may have helped some buyers follow the proprietors’ lead and, as a result, maneuver toward a graceful outcome that included the current low prices rather than faltering and falling when the goods did not go to auction.

February 16

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

Essex Gazette (February 16, 1773).

“Any who favour him with their Custom, may depend upon being well served.”

The decorative border that enclosed Stephen Higginson’s advertisement for a “large & general Assortment of English and India GOODS” in the February 16, 1773, edition of the Essex Gazette distinguished it from all of the other advertisements … except for one.  John Appleton’s advertisement for “as large an Assortment of English Goods as any in this Town” also featured a border made of ornamental type.

Such borders did not appear in the Essex Gazette with the same frequency that they did in several of the newspapers published in Boston.  In the summer and fall of 1772, several advertisers took an interest in enhancing their advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter with borders.  Among the newspapers published in the city, only the Massachusetts Spy seemed to reject that design element.

Given the proximity of Boston to Salem as well as the circulation of newspapers far beyond their places of publication during the era of the American Revolution, Higginson and, especially, Appleton may have noticed advertisements with borders in newspapers they read and then decided to incorporate that feature into their own advertisements.  Appleton did so first, commencing his advertisement in the January 19 edition of the Essex Gazette.  (His advertisement in the October 27, 1772, issue did not have a border.)  It already ran for four consecutive weeks before Higginson placed his own advertisement enclosed in a decorative border.  While Higginson may have also seen similar advertisements in newspapers published in Boston, it seems even more likely that he was familiar with Appleton’s advertisement that ran in the newspaper in his own town for the past month.

Whatever their inspirations, Appleton and Higginson continued experiments with type and format already underway among advertisers, compositors, and printers in the 1760s and 1770s.  The borders added visual aspects to their advertisement, drawing the attention of readers.  They likely also cost less than woodcuts that advertisers commissioned to adorn their notices.  After all, printers had a variety of decorative type in their cases.  Borders may have been a means of upgrading the visual appeal without significantly increasing the costs of advertising.