September 19

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

Massachusetts Spy (September 16, 1773).

“˙ɥsɐƆ ɹoɟ dɐǝɥƆ ǝɯǝɹʇxƎ”

Although likely resulting from an error in the printing office, Duncan Ingraham’s advertisement in the September 16, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Spy almost certainly caught the attention of readers.  Except for a heading, “ADVERTISEMENT,” the entire notice appeared upside down at the top of the third column on the second page.  The placement of the advertisement, not just its orientation, was unusual.  In that issue, Isaiah Thomas, the printer, or a compositor who worked for the Massachusetts Spy reserved advertising for the final two pages, making Ingraham’s advertisement the only paid notice on the second page.  It appeared after news dated, “TUESDAY, September 13. BOSTON,” and above “EUROPEAN INTELLIGENCE” dated, “WEDNESDAY, September 14. BOSTON,” the date and location based on when ship captains delivered the news to the printing office, not when and where the events occurred.  Even without flipping the text, Ingraham’s advertisement was a juxtaposition from the rest of the contents on the page, meriting its own header.  No separate headers for “ADVERTISEMENTS” appeared on the third or fourth pages.  Had Thomas or the compositor originally intended for something else to appear in the space ultimately occupied by the upside-down advertisement?

When Ingraham’s advertisement next ran in the Massachusetts Spy, two weeks later on September 30, the compositor corrected the error.  It appeared right-side up, interspersed among other paid notices on the final page.  Working quickly to print the newspaper on a manually-operated press, those working in the printing office may not have caught the error after a compositor set the type for Ingraham’s advertisement and the entire block of text got rotated when added to the other contents of the second page.  How did readers react?  Did this work to Ingraham’s benefit?  When readers encountered the upside-down advertisement, did they turn their newspaper over so they could peruse it?  Upon realizing it was an advertisement rather than news, how many opted to look more closely?  How many decided to ignore it in favor of continuing with updates from England, Russia, Egypt, and other faraway places?  Did the unusual format at least make the advertisement’s headline, “Extreme Cheap for Cash,” more memorable for readers, even those not attentive to the remainder of the advertisement?  Ingraham advertised frequently enough that regular readers would have already been familiar with the merchant.  For marketing purposes, it may have been sufficient for some to see his name, “Extreme Cheap for Cash,” and a list of goods without reading through the entire inventory.

Printers, compositors, and advertisers sometimes experimented with typography in order to call more attention to certain newspaper notices.  While that does not appear to have been the intention in this instance, Ingraham’s upside-down advertisement still raises questions about how readers experienced advertisements with unusual formats or placed in unusual spots within newspapers.  Ingraham’s advertisement, flipped over and surrounded by news, may have garnered more notice than had it run alongside advertisements from his competitors that ran elsewhere in the Massachusetts Spy.

October 11

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 8, 1772).

“He has almost every Article usually enquired for in that way.”

In the fall of 1772, Duncan Ingraham, Jr., took to the pages of the Massachusetts Spy to promote “a very Large and Elegant Assortment of ENGLISH, India and Scotch GOODS, which are now ready for Sale, at his Shop” on Union Street in Boston.  In an advertisement that ran in the October 8 edition, he made appeals to both price and choice in his efforts to entice consumers to shop at his establishment.  Ingraham made bold claims in both regards.  He trumpeted that he would “sell Wholesale and Retail as cheap for Cash [as] at any Store in America,” comparing his prices to those in other shops in Boston as well as Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other ports throughout the colonies.  Ingraham confidently stated that “His Prices will show the Goods well charged.”  In turn, he “doubts not of giving satisfaction to all who please to favour him with their custom.”

He had many competitors in Boston, including several who advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on the same day.  Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer, Caleb Blanchard, Joshua Gardner, and William Jackson all placed advertisements that listed dozens of imported items available at their shops, demonstrating an array of choices for prospective customers.  The partnership of Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers also published what amounted to a catalog of their merchandise under a headline that promised “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP.”  Ingraham adopted a different strategy, choosing instead to market his “very Large and Elegant Assortment” of goods with a nota bene in which he declared that he “has almost every Article usually enquired for in that way.”  He left it to readers to imagine his merchandise on their own.  Even if he did not happen to carry an item a shopper desired, if such a bold claim managed to get them into his store, then he still had an opportunity to make a sale by recommending alternatives.

Ingraham may not have wished to pay to insert a lengthy list of his inventory in the public prints, but that did not mean that he did not attend to consumer choice in an effort to make himself competitive with other merchants and shopkeepers.  In some ways, he invocation of “almost every Article usually enquired for” made even bigger claims than the extensive lists in other advertisements.

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.