April 22

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 20, 1772).

“Infants Morocco Shoes, and / Pumps, Womens / Lynn made / Ditto.”

Duncan Ingraham, Jr., hoped that the format of his advertisement would help to draw attention to the goods that he imported from London and sold at his shop on Union Street in Boston in the spring of 1772.  Most merchants and shopkeepers who advertised in the newspapers published in the bustling port city adopted one of two methods of listing their merchandise.  They either included everything in a single dense paragraph or they divided their advertisement into columns with one item per line.  Ingraham rejected both in favor of arranging his list of goods in the shape of a diamond. Such an unusual format almost certainly caught the eyes of readers as they perused the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

A variation of Ingraham’s advertisement appeared in both newspapers.  The notices contained nearly identical copy, but the compositors made different decisions about line breaks for both the introduction that gave directions to Ingraham’s shop and the diamond that listed the goods.  When he wrote out the advertisement by hand, Ingraham may have experimented with creating a diamond.  Alternately, he may have submitted instructions about his preferences and left it to the compositors to figure out the particulars.  Either way, Ingraham likely provided some sort of guidance for the compositors.  They did not independently decide to introduce the same innovation into his advertisement in two newspapers.

In most cases, eighteenth-century advertisers played little role in designing their advertisements beyond writing the copy, but Ingraham more actively assumed responsibility for some of the visual aspects of his notice.  He apparently did not consider his advertisement a mere announcement that he carried certain goods.  Instead, he sought to shape his advertisement in a manner likely to increase the chances that prospective customers would take note of it and the various appeals to low prices and good customer service he included in the introduction.