June 16

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

Connecticut Courant (June 16, 1772).

“He Desires all Persons indebted to him, to make Immediate Payment.”

In a short advertisement in the June 16, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant, John Cable, a “BAKER from GERMANY,” informed the public “that he is (in a short Time) going to New York where he intends to Purchase a considerable Quantity of Flower for the Purpose of supplying his Customers as usual.”  He did not merely intend to incite demand for the bread he would bake upon his return; instead, he also aimed to raise the funds necessary to acquire the supplies he needed to continue operating his business.  Cable declared that since “his undertaking requires CASH, he Desires all Persons indebted to him, to make Immediate Payment.”  Unlike many others who published similar messages, he did not threaten legal action against those who did not heed his request.

Graphic design likely played a significant role in drawing attention to Cable’s advertisement.  A border comprised of decorative type, leafy flourishes, surrounded his notice.  No other advertisement in that issue or any recent issue of the Connecticut Courant had a border.  Only two images appeared in that edition, a crown and seal flanked by a lion and unicorn in the masthead and a much less elaborate woodcut depicting a horse in an advertisement about a strayed or stolen mare.  Compared to newspapers published in larger cities, the Connecticut Courant generally featured fewer images and fewer experiments with graphic design, though Caleb Bull’s advertisement for “New, New, New GOODS!” that ran once again demonstrated an interest in innovative marketing strategies.  Given Hartford’s proximity to Boston, Cable may have spotted Jolley Allen’s or Andrew Dexter’s advertisements with borders in one of the newspapers published there, prompting him to request similar treatment for his advertisement when he submitted the copy to the printing office. Alternately, he may have envisioned the format on his own, searching for a means of distinguishing his notice from others in hopes of increasing the chances that “Persons indebted to him” would see it and settle accounts before he ventured to New York.

June 11

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 11, 1772).

“The Particulars too numerous for an Advertisement.”

Thanks to a signature design element, a border comprised of decorative type, readers easily spotted Jolley Allen’s advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston in late spring in 1772.  The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, carried his advertisement with its distinctive border on June 11.  Three days earlier, the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy featured Allen’s advertisement, complete with the border.  On June 1, the Boston Evening-Post did so as well.

On the same day that the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter carried Allen’s advertisement, it also ran in the Massachusetts Spy.  That completed Allen’s efforts to disseminate his notice as widely as possible by inserting it in all five newspapers printed in Boston at the time.  Yet the version in the Massachusetts Spy differed in format, though not in copy, from Allen’s advertisements in the other four newspapers.  No border enclosed the shopkeeper’s pronouncement that he “determined on an entire New Plan” for selling “His WHOLE Stock in Trade … at very little more than the Sterling cost and charges.”

Other design elements replicated Allen’s advertisements in the other newspapers.  For instance, the compositor centered the copy of the first portion, creating distinctive white space that helped draw attention to the notice, before resorting to a dense block of text that went to the left and right margins for the final portion.  Allen most likely requested a border when he submitted the copy to the printing office.  After all, he made an effort to make a consistent visual presentation throughout the other newspapers that carried his advertisement.  The compositor for the Massachusetts Spy allowed for some distinctiveness in the format of the notice, but apparently considered incorporating a border too much of a deviation.

The Massachusetts Spy already included borders comprised of thin lines around all advertisements, the only newspaper printed in Boston at the time to do so.  Perhaps the compositor exercised judgment in determining that a border within a border would appear too crowded, overruling instructions or preferences expressed by the advertiser.  This example hints at the conversations about graphic design that may have taken place between advertisers and those who worked in printing offices in early America.  How extensively did printers, compositors, and advertisers consult each other about the format of newspaper notices that customers paid to insert?

June 7

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

New-Hampshires Gazette (June 5, 1772).

“This EVENING … will be Exhibited several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory.”

Newspaper advertisements testify to the entertainment and popular culture enjoyed in the colonies in the eighteenth century.  A notice in the June 5, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed the public that they could attend “several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory, intersper’d with Music and Singing” at the “new Assembly-Room” in Portsmouth that evening.  The sponsors created a network for distributing tickets.  Those interested in the performance could purchase tickets in advance “at the Printing-Office, at Mr. Appleton’s Book-Store, and at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.” The sponsors also included a nota bene to address potential concerns about the content of the performance: “the Public may be assured, that nothing will be delivered in the above Exhibition, but what is conducive to, and consistent with Politeness and Morality.”  Neither the “comic Pieces” nor the songs would be ribald or bawdy.

The design of the advertisement increased the chances that readers would take note of it, especially important for an “Exhibition” of oratory and music scheduled for the same day the newspaper that carried the advertisement was published.  The first line operated as a headline, announcing “This EVENING” in a font larger than any in the rest of the notice.  In addition, a decorative border, comprised of printing ornaments, encircled the advertisement, setting it apart from other content.  It was the only item in that issue, whether or news or advertising, that featured a border.  Furthermore, the printers rarely used borders in the New-Hampshire Gazette, making this advertisement even more noteworthy to regular readers.  Its placement on the page also encouraged attention.  It ran in the upper left column, the first item on the third page.  With limited time to sell tickets and attract an audience for the performance, the sponsors depended on both copy and innovative graphic design in their marketing efforts.

May 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

“ALLEN … will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

Jolley Allen made his 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 easy to recognize in the spring of 1772.  Each of them featured a border comprised of ornamental type that separated Allen’s notices from other content.  Allen previously deployed this strategy in 1766 and then renewed it in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Four days later, advertisements with identical copy and distinctive borders ran in three other newspapers printed in town.  Allen apparently gave instructions to the compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those advertisements had copy identical to the notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, but the compositors made different decisions about the format (seen most readily in the border of Allen’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy).  Allen’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, however, had exactly the same copy and format as the one in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  For some of their advertisements, newspapers in Boston apparently shared type already set in other printing offices.

That seems to have been the case with Andrew Dexter’s advertisement.  He also included a border around his notice in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The same advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post four days later.  It looks like this was another instance of transferring type already set from one printing office to another.  The compositor for the Boston Evening-Post may have very carefully replicated the format of Dexter’s advertisement that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, but everything looks too similar for that to have been the case.  In particular, an irregularity in closing the bottom right corner of the border suggests that the printing offices shared the type once a compositor set it.  They might have also shared with the Boston-Gazette.  Dexter’s advertisement also ran in that newspaper on May 25.  It had the same line breaks and italics as Dexter’s notices in the other two newspapers.  The border looks very similar, but does not have the telltale irregularity in the lower right corner.  Did the compositor make minor adjustments?

It is important to note that these observations are based on examining digitized copies of the newspapers published in Boston in 1772.  Consulting the originals might yield additional details that help to clarify whether two or more printing offices shared type when publishing these advertisements.  At the very least, the variations in Allen’s advertisements make clear that he intentionally pursued a strategy of using borders to distinguish his advertisements in each newspaper that carried them.  The extent that Dexter meant to do the same or simply benefited from the printing offices sharing type remains to be seen after further investigation.

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 21, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772).

May 21

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772).

“He will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

In an advertisement in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Jolley Allen announced that he adopted “an entire New Plan” for selling the “very LARGE and NEAT Assortment of English and India GOODS” at his shop on Marlborough Street.  He declared that he would sell “HIS WHOLE Stock in Trade…, either by Wholesale or Retail, at a very little more than the Sterling Cost and Charges.”  In other words, he did not mark up the prices significantly over what he paid to his suppliers.  Allen expressed his confidence that “the Advantages that may arise to his Customers, will be equal if not superior to their purchasing at any Wholesale or Retail Shop or Store in Town or Country.”  He was determined to beat his competitors.

The graphic design for Allen’s advertisement may have helped attract attention to his “new Plan” for selling imported goods.  A border comprised of ornamental type enclosed the notice, setting it apart from the news and other advertisements on the page.  That brought this advertisement in line with some that he previously published.  He did not always incorporate a distinctive design element, but he more regularly did so than most advertisers.  Sometimes ornamental type flanked his name in the headline of his advertisement.  On other occasions he opted for borders.  Both strategies appeared in more than one newspaper, suggesting that Allen gave specific instructions to the compositors rather than leaving the format to their discretion.

Curiously, Allen’s advertisement was not the only one in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to feature a border.  Andrew Dexter’s advertisement had the same format, though a different printing ornament formed the border.  This was not a standard format in that newspaper or any other newspaper published in Boston at the time.  So how did two advertisements in the same issue happen to include borders?  Did one advertiser overhear the other giving directions to the compositor when dropping off copy to the printing office?  Or was it a coincidence?  Whatever the explanation, the borders made their advertisements distinctive enough compared to the rest that readers likely took note of both of them.

April 27

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 27, 1772).

“ENGLISH GOODS of all Sorts, At Francis Green’s Store, (Cheap).”

Purveyors of goods and services used a variety of design strategies in their efforts to get prospective customers to take note of their advertisements in the April 27, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Some emphasized consumer choice by publishing advertisements that took up significant space by listing the merchandise they sold.  Richard Jennys did so in a notice that was about as long as it was wide.  He listed a couple of dozen items in a dense paragraph of text.  Joseph Peirce also opted for a dense paragraph that enumerated his inventory, but his advertisement extended half a column.  John Frazier and Margaret Philips both inserted paragraphs of moderate length, occupying more space on the page than Jennys but less than Peirce.  The amount of text was part of the message.

Other merchants and shopkeepers who resorted to lists attempted to use graphic design to their benefit in a different way.  They divided their advertisements into columns, listing only one or two items per line in order to make them easier for prospective customers to navigate.  Since advertisers paid by the amount of space rather than the number of words, that meant they paid more to advertiser fewer items than their competitors who opted for paragraphs rather than columns, but they apparently considered it worth the investment.  John Cunningham, Ward Nicholas Boylston, and Herman and Andrew Brimmer all ran advertisements that included dozens of items arranged in advertisements divided into two columns.

Other advertisers emphasized the visual aspects of their notices to an even greater degree.  A woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle adorned Oliver Smith’s advertisement for “Drugs & Medicines” at his shop “At the GOLDEN MORTAR.”  Duncan Ingraham, Jr. relied on typography rather than images, arranging a short list of goods to form a diamond.  Joseph Barrell also created white space to draw attention by listing a few items on each line and centering them.  His lines of varying lengths did not look nearly as crowded as the paragraphs in other advertisements.  Francis Green limited his advertisement to ten words (“ENGLISH GOODS of all Sorts, At Francis Green’s Store, (Cheap)”), but deployed decorative type to form a border.  That made his notice particularly distinctive since no other advertiser adopted that strategy.  It also helped that his advertisement appeared in the middle of the page.  The border likely drew readers’ eyes away from the advertisements on the outer edges in favor of the middle, at least when first perusing the page.

Graphic design in early American newspapers may appear unsophisticated by modern standards, but that does not mean that colonizers did not attempt to leverage graphic design in marketing goods and services.  Within a single issue of the Boston Evening-Post, advertisers made a variety of choices about the visual aspects of their notices, some of them rather innovative for the period.

April 4

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

Apr 4 - 4:4:1770 South-Carolina Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1770).

SHIP-CHANDLERY.”

William Price deployed typography to attract attention to his advertisement for “BEST Bridport CANVAS, and sundry other Articles” in the April 4, 1770, supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette.  A decorative border surrounded the headline for his advertisement, “SHIP-CHANDLERY,” making it one of only two advertisements in the supplement with that additional flourish.  The other announced “SALES by the Provost-Marshal,” an advertisement that was also a regular feature in the South-Carolina Gazette.  Its headline often appeared within a decorative border, which may have given Price the idea for enhancing his advertisement.  All of this suggests that Price made arrangements with the printer or compositor to spruce up his notice, though most advertisers merely supplied copy and left format to those who labored in the printing office.  Price may not have specified which printing ornaments should enclose his headline, but he most likely did offer some direction about the visual composition of his advertisement.

The border provided visual variation in a newspaper that consisted almost entirely of text.  Some advertisements included different fonts and font sizes to draw attention, as did Price’s notice, but consistencies among them suggest that compositors made such decisions, not advertisers.  Very few visual images appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.  In the April 4 supplement, woodcuts accompanied only five of the thirty-five advertisements.  Three of those were real estate notices, two with woodcuts depicting a house and one with a woodcut showing a tree and a field.  An advertisement about a stray horse had a woodcut of a horse.  An advertisement describing an enslaved man who escaped featured a crude woodcut of a dark-skinned person that conflated characteristics associated with Africans and indigenous Americans.  All of those woodcuts belonged to the printer, as did woodcuts of ships at sea.  Price could have chosen one of those, but they were usually associated with vessels seeking freight and passengers, not ship chandlers looking to outfit ships before they departed from port.  He could have commissioned a woodcut depicting his merchandise, but he may not have considered that worth the expense, especially if he did not suspect that canvas or cordage would translate well via that medium.

The border that enclosed “SALES by the Provost-Marshal” and decorative type often used to separate “New Advertisements,” “Advertisements,” and, sometimes, news items from the content that appeared immediately above it suggested an alternative to prospective advertisers who wanted some sort of visual component in their notices.  As they perused the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette they encountered various means of creating a distinctive format for their advertisements even when they consisted almost entirely of text.  The pages of eighteenth-century newspapers may look fairly uniform to twenty-first-century eyes, but contemporary readers surely noticed the many variations in type, especially in the advertisements.