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