November 20

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1770).

“DOUBLE BEER, fine ALE, TABLE and SMALL BEER.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, had too much news and advertising to include all of it in a standard four-page issue on November 20, 1770.  Like other printers who found themselves in that position, he distributed a supplement with the surplus content.  Both news and advertising appeared in the standard issue, but the supplement consisted entirely of advertisements.

Taking into account the number of advertisements that did not make it into the standard issue, Wells used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  That decision led to an unusual format for the supplement.  Each page of the standard issue featured four columns, but each page of the supplement had only three columns.  Two of those ran from top to bottom of the page, as usual, but Wells printed the final column perpendicular to the others.

Why such an awkward format?  It saved time while also maximizing the amount of content Wells could squeeze onto the page.  Most of the advertisements ran in previous issues.  The type had already been set.  Wells wished to use it again rather than investing time in resetting type to fit a page of a different size.  The smaller sheet allowed him to insert two columns of the usual width.  With the remaining space, he rotated the advertisements and formed columns that ran perpendicular to the others.  Wells managed to fit three of these perpendicular columns, but that left a small space at the bottom of the page.

Rather than waste that remaining space by leaving it blank, Wells finally opted to set type for a narrower column.  On one side of the page this permitted him to include two more short advertisements, one for beer and ale and the other for candles.  On the other side he inserted a notice from the Charleston Library Society calling on members to return books.  Engaging with these advertisements required active reading and further manipulation of the page by subscribers.

Wells was simultaneously ingenious and frugal in designing the format for the advertising supplement that accompanied the November 20 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  His competitor, Charles Crouch, found himself in a similar position when it came to supplements for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, choosing to eliminate white space between columns in order to make the content fit the page without having to reset the type.  Publishing advertisements generated important revenues for newspaper printers, but they were not so lucrative to prevent printers from carefully managing the additional expenses of producing advertising supplements.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:13:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 13, 1770).

“Coopers Bung borers, adzes, howells, compasses, crozes, bitts and rivets.”

In the 1770s, when merchants and shopkeepers enumerated the “general assortment” of goods they offered for sale, their advertisements usually followed one of two formats.  Most listed their merchandise in a dense paragraph of text that extended anywhere from a few lines to half a column or more.  As an alternative, others created more white space and made their advertisements easier to read by including only one item per line or organizing their wares into columns.  Adopting such methods meant that advertisers could name fewer items in the same amount of space as their competitors who chose paragraphs of text with no white space.

Both sorts of advertisements regularly appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but occasionally advertisers (perhaps in consultation with printers and compositors) added variations and innovations.  Such was the case with Thomas Hazard’s advertisement for ironmongery and cutlery in the August 13, 1770, edition.  Hazard began with a dense paragraph that included “H and H-L plain and rais’d joint hinges,” “brass and iron candlesticks,” and “sword blades.”  In addition, he divided a portion of his advertisement into two columns.  Within those columns, he resorted to short paragraphs of text rather than listing only one or two items per line, but those paragraphs were brief and likely easier for eighteenth-century consumers to navigate than the dense paragraph of text that constituted the bulk of the advertisement.  Furthermore, Hazard inserted headers for each of those shorter paragraphs:  “Carpenters,” “Shoemakers,” “Coopers,” “Barbers,” “Watchmakers,” and “Silversmiths and Jewellers.”  Each paragraph listed tools used in a particular trade.  In this manner, Hazard targeted specific consumers and aided artisans in finding the items of greatest interest to them.

Prior to the American Revolution, merchants and shopkeepers published undifferentiated lists of goods in their advertisements, but occasionally some attempted to impose more order and make their notices easier for prospective customers to navigate.  Thomas Hazard did so by grouping together tools used by various sorts of artisans, setting them apart in columns, and using headers to draw attention to them.  Carpenters or watchmakers who might have overlooked items when skimming dense paragraphs of text instead had a beacon that called their attention to the tolls of their trades.

August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:2:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 2, 1770).

“For CHARLESTOWN … the Sloop SALLY.”

In many ways, these brief advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770 looked very much like others that appeared in that newspaper.

“CANARY SEED, Sold by DAVID DESHLER, in Market-Street.” (July 26)

“For CHARLESTOWN, (South-Carolina) the Sloop SALLY, JOSPEH BLEWERS, Master.  For Freight or Passage apply to said Master; who has for Sale, Carolina PINE-ROOT, SAIL-CLOTH, &c.” (August 2)

“WANTED, A CORK CUTTER.  For further Particulars enquire of the Printers.” (August 9)

“WANTED, A Pair of well match’d HORSES.  Enquire of the Printers.” (August 16)

The format of these advertisements set them apart from others in the Pennsylvania Journal.  Each appeared on the third page in the margin on the right.  The compositor rotated the text perpendicular to the other contents of the page and set each of these advertisements in a single line.  Apparently, their length rather than their purpose qualified these particular notices for such treatment.

In laying out the page in this manner, the compositor relied on a common means of squeezing a little more content onto a crowded page.  While this was not an aspect of early American newspapers that appeared in all or even most issues, it was a common enough strategy that it would have been familiar to readers throughout the colonies.  Sometimes compositors used this trick to insert time-sensitive advertisements received too late to integrate into columns of type already set.  For the advertisements that ran in the margins of the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770, however, that does not appear to have been the case.  Instead, their length made them candidates for this format.

Placing advertisements in the margin benefited printers who generated revenue regardless of where in their newspapers paid notices appeared.  This likely also accrued benefits to the advertisers as well.  Their notices became more visible as a result of their placement on the page, perhaps drawing the eyes of curious readers.  Such notices seemed to take up more space; had they been printed in one of the standard columns they would have occupied two or three lines, easily skipped by readers who skimmed the page.  Running down the side of a column, however, made them much more difficult to ignore.

Drawing additional attention to these advertisements by placing them in the margin does not seem to have been the primary goal of this format but rather an unintended consequence.  Still, this decision by the compositor likely yielded benefits for the advertisers.

May 22

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

May 22 - 5:22:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette, and Country Journal (May 22, 1770).

“A Few Bales of well bought WHITE PLAINS.”

When he prepared to go to press with the May 22, 1770, edition, Charles Crouch, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, found that he had too much content to fit into a standard four-page issue.  To remedy the situation, he also produced a two-page supplement comprised entirely of advertisements.  That was not unusual, but one of the decisions Crouch made about the format of that supplement differed from the approach usually taken by printers and compositors throughout the colonies.  In an effort to fill every square inch of space on the page, Crouch included three advertisements that deviated from the standard width for columns in his newspaper.

Understanding this strategy first requires a closer look at the entire supplement.  Crouch did not have enough material to fill two sides of a half sheet, the most common format for supplements.  Instead, he used a smaller sheet, one that was wide enough for only two columns with generous margins.  Regular issues had three columns.  To take advantage of the empty space, Crouch selected shorter advertisements to rotate perpendicular to the rest of the text.  Those he inserted in several columns.  This was a common trick for printers and compositors.  It saved the time and effort of resetting type by arranging in a different configuration several advertisements that previously appeared in the newspaper.

Crouch could have left space on either side of these advertisement.  Instead, he positioned them with margins as narrow as if they appeared in the regular columns.  This left empty space at the bottom of the page, but it was not wide enough for an advertisement of the same width.  Here Crouch’s method departed from the usual practice.  Rather than adjust the margins, he instead inserted advertisements that were narrower than any of the other columns throughout the standard issue or the supplement.  Doing so required resetting type for advertisements that previously ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Crouch chose to expend the time and effort rather than surrender the otherwise empty space.  He made use of every last inch of the smaller half sheet when he published this particular advertising supplement.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:10:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 10, 1770).

Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China.”

Like many other colonial shopkeepers, George Ball published an extensive list of his merchandise in an advertisement he placed in the May 10, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Most advertisers who resorted to similar lists grouped all of their wares together into dense paragraphs of text.  A smaller number, like Ball, used graphic design to aid prospective customers in differentiating among their goods as they perused their advertisements.  Ball formatted his advertisement in columns with only one, two, or three items per line, just as Abeel and Byvanck, John Keating, and Jarvis Roebuck did elsewhere in the same issue.  Ball, however, instituted a further refinement that distinguished his notice from the others.  He cataloged his merchandise and inserted headers for the benefit of consumers.

Ball offered several categories of merchandise:  “Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China,” “Brown China,” “White China,” “White Stone Ware,” “Delph Ware,” “Plain Glass Ware,” “Flower’d Glass,” “Iron Ware from England,” and “Queen Pattern Lamps.”  These headers appeared in italics and centered within their respective columns to set them apart from the rest of the list.  The goods that followed them elaborated on what Ball had in stock, allowing prospective customers to more easily locate items of interest or simply assess the range of goods Ball offered for sale.  His method could have benefited from further refinement.  The items that followed “Queen Pattern Lamps” were actually a miscellany that did not belong in any of the other categories.  Ball might have opted for “Other Goods” as a header instead.  Still, his attempt to catalog his merchandise at all constituted an innovation over the methods of other advertisers.

In most instances, eighteenth-century advertisers submitted copy and compositors determined the layout.  However, advertisements broken into columns suggest some level of consultation between advertisers and compositors, at the very least a request or simple instructions from one to the other.  Ball’s advertisement likely required an even greater degree of collaboration between advertiser and compositor.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1770 Boston Evening-Post Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post (April 30, 1770).

“New Philadelphia FLOUR.”

“New Philadelphia FLOUR.”

John Head’s advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette demonstrate the relationship between advertisers and compositors in the eighteenth century.  Advertisers composed the copy for their notices.  Compositors generally designed the format, though advertisers occasionally collaborated on specific elements they wanted incorporated into their advertisements.  For his advertisements, Head submitted the copy and almost certainly specified that he wished for the list of goods to appear in columns, but the compositors for the Evening-Post and the Gazette made their own decisions about the font size, capitalization, italics, and the layout of the columns.

Apr 30 - 4:30:1770 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 30, 1770).

At a glance, the two advertisements appear remarkably similar, but on closer examination it becomes clear that even though they featured nearly identical copy they also had significant variations in design.  Only two discrepancies in copy distinguish the advertisements from each other, one of them the result of a design decision made by a compositor.  In the first discrepancy, the Gazette version lists “Jamaica Spirit” among Head’s inventory; the Evening-Post version has “Jamaica Fish” instead.  Either Head miscopied from one to the other or a compositor made an error.  For the second discrepancy, the compositor for the Gazette made a decision to list “Best green Coffee” on the line after “Cocoa,” reversing the order of the items in order to accommodate an oversized “N” in “NEW Rice” that adorned the first item listed.  That “N” made it impossible to fit “Best green Coffee” on the second line, but the much shorter “Cocoa” fit just fine.

Those lists of merchandise provide perhaps the most visible evidence of the different decisions made by the compositors.  The Evening-Post version featured only two columns, but the Gazette version had three.  Other differences in capitalization and italics appeared throughout the advertisements.  Consider just the first three lines: “New Philadelphia FLOUR, / To be Sold by / John Head” in the Evening-Post and “New Philadelphia FLOUR, / TO BE SOLD BY / John Head” in the Gazette.  The first used few capitals and no italics, but the second incorporated italics and many more capitals.  The short paragraph at the end of the advertisement also received different treatment from the compositors.  The version in the Evening-Post appeared mostly in italics, introduced with a manicule.  The version in the Gazette did not appear in italics.  An assortment of lesser-used type called attention to it.

In an era without professional advertising agencies, Head assumed responsibility for generating the copy for his advertisement.  He also gave directions concerning an element of its layout, organizing the list of merchandise into columns, but the printing office, the compositor in particular, was primarily responsible for graphic design.  Like Head, other advertisers ran notices in multiple newspapers in colonial America.  Comparing copy and format in those other advertisements further confirms the relationship between advertisers and compositors.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:26:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 26, 1770).

“Horn combs, and ivory fine teeth’d ditto.”

Nicholas Bogart sold an assortment of goods at his shop “In the Broad-Way” in New York.  He listed many of them in an advertisement that ran in the April 26, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His inventory included “Worsted and leather womens mits,” “Broad-cloths of various colours and prices,” “A variety of Dutch books for teaching children,” and “Knee garters, various colours.”  He stocked and sold such an array of merchandise that it demanded cataloging in detail in order for prospective customers to realize the full extent.

Yet Bogart did not merely list his wares.  He deployed rudimentary graphic design principles to make them easier for readers to peruse, dividing his advertisement into two columns and mentioning only one, two, or three items on each line.  When more than one item appeared on a line, they were all related to each other.  When a category of items overflowed onto the next line, the second line was usually indented.  In comparison, most merchants and shopkeepers who enumerated dozens of items did so in dense paragraphs.  Such was the case in James Beekman’s advertisement on the same page as Bogart’s notice.  Beekman included a similar number of items, but clustered them together in a manner that required more effort to read.  As a result, Beekman’s advertisement took up only about half the space of Bogart’s.  According to the colophon at the bottom of the page, advertisers paid by the amount of space that their notices occupied, not by the number of words.  That meant that Bogart paid twice as much as Beekman even though they listed a similar number of items.

Bogart was not alone in incorporating columns into his advertisement.  Immediately above Bogart’s notice, John Keating also used columns.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Abeel and Byvanck used columns to organize their “considerable Assortment of Ironmongery and Cutlery.”  Advertisers knew that this option was available to them on request, though the dense paragraph was the default format.  The more attractive option required a greater investment, but some advertisers apparently believed they would benefit from a greater return on that investment if they made it easier for prospective customers to engage with the extensive lists of merchandise they published in newspaper notices.

January 5

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

Jan 5 1770 - 1:5:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 5, 1770).

“Ran away last Wednesday … an Apprentice Boy.”

The format and placement of Benjamin Mackay’s advertisement suggests that it was a late addition to the new edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Mackay reported that his apprentice, John Bowler, “Ran away last Wednesday” on January 3, 1770. The aggrieved master scrambled to insert an advertisement in the next issue of the colony’s only newspaper, published just two days later on Friday, January 5. Failing to do so would have forced Mackay to wait another week to alert the community by disseminating information about the runaway apprentice in print since the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other American newspapers published in the early 1770s, appeared only once a week.

Mackay apparently delivered his advertisement to the printing office too late for inclusion in any of the next issue’s twelve columns, three on each of four pages. The compositor had already set the type … but that did not mean that there was not any space for Mackay’s new and urgent advertisement. Compositors sometimes placed short advertisements and news items in the margins, an innovative strategy used only occasionally to include additional content. Mackay’s advertisement ran on the third page of the January 5 edition, running in the bottom margin across all three columns. The unique format possibly attracted the attention of some readers, but it also limited the number of details that Mackay could publish in that particular advertisement. Brevity allowed for speedy publication, but forced Mackay to carefully select which information to circulate to other colonists.

With more time to plan, he remedied that situation in the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He published another advertisement, nearly three times the length, that provided a much more extensive description of Bowler, including his approximate age, notable physical characteristics, and description of his clothing. In addition to offering a reward for apprehending and returning the apprentice, that second advertisement warned others against “entertaining or carrying off” Bowler.

That Mackay published a second advertisement at all suggests that the first was not successful, at least not in the short time between its publication and the compositor preparing the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Still, it had no chance of success if it had not appeared in the January 5 issue at all. By resorting to an innovative format for the advertisement, the compositor helped Mackay distribute time-sensitive information in the public prints as quickly as possible.

December 15

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

“Stript Camblets     |     Knee Garters     |     Brass Ink Pots.”

Dec 15 - 12:15:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 15, 1769).

According to the advertisement he placed in the December 15, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Jacob Treadwell sold an assortment of goods at his shop in Portsmouth. He carried everything from textiles to tea kettles to “Locks & Latches.” His advertisement listed more than 120 items and promised even more, concluding with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera). Enumerating his inventory served to demonstrate to prospective customers the extent of the choices Treadwell offered them. He did not have just a couple kinds of fabric in stock. Instead, he listed dozens of options available at his shop. He did not make general assertions about carrying housewares or hardware. Instead, he named an array of goods he sold, prompting consumers to imagine acquiring specific items.

Treadwell’s advertisement served as a catalog of his wares. The advertisement’s format, three neatly organized columns, helped prospective customers navigate that catalog. Publishing an extensive list of merchandise was a common marketing strategy in early America. Most advertisers who adopted that approach lumped their goods together in dense paragraphs of text that made it difficult for readers to distinguish among the multitude of items the advertisement included. Some advertisers, however, experimented with other formats, incorporating graphic design into their marketing efforts. Treadwell advertised the same items as other eighteenth-century retailers, but he made his inventory more accessible with the use of columns and white space.

Doing so liked incurred additional expense since most newspaper printers sold advertising by the amount of space it occupied rather than the number of words. Treadwell’s advertisement extended half a column as a result of its design. Had he opted for the paragraph format instead, the advertisement would have taken up a fraction of the space. Treadwell apparently believed that the potential return on his investment merited the additional expense. In making his advertisement easier for readers to peruse, he augmented the chances that they would become customers.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 17, 1769).

“Almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.”

Thomas Green inserted a lengthy advertisement for “All Sorts of English, India, West-India, and Homespun Goods” in the July 17, 1769, edition of the Newport Mercury. Although the advertisement listed hundred of items available at his shop at the Sign of the Roe Buck, Green concluded with a note that he also carried “almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.” Prospective customers could hardly have doubted that this shopkeeper offered choices to suit their own tastes.

Green did “enumerate” so many items that his advertisement extended more than a column, which was relatively rare even for the most extensive list-style advertisements of the period. At a glance, however, it may not have looked as dense and difficult to navigate as other advertisements. The compositor, likely with instructions from Green, devised a unique format that gave much of the advertisement the appearance of a series of shorter notices. Each section concluded with a line that ran across the remainder of the column, creating a visual effect similar to the lines that separated notices from each other. In addition each new section commenced with one or two lines in a larger font, similar to the format for the headers for other advertisements. This technique highlighted particular goods for sale while also breaking this advertisement into shorter segments that readers could more easily peruse.

Compare Green’s advertisement to another lengthy advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury. Gideon Sisson sold similar merchandise at his shop on Thames Street. His advertisement fell a few lines shy of filling an entire column. Below the header, it featured only two sections of equal length, approximately half a column each. Many readers likely found the format imposing compared to the inviting layout of Green’s advertisement. Sisson required prospective customers to work harder when examining his inventory of goods.

Without close examination, many readers may have found it difficult to determine where Green’s advertisement ended. Encountering a series of shorter segments forced readers whose attention fixed on any particular section to scan backwards until they determined that it was part of Green’s lengthy advertisement. This exposed them to the rest of the advertisement, sometimes repeatedly if they happened to note more than one section of Green’s advertisement as they made their way through the newspaper. Such reiterative viewing would have introduced prospective customers to even more merchandise Green stocked at the Sign of the Roe Buck while simultaneously underscoring the extent of the choices he presented to consumers.

The format of Green’s advertisement played an important role in introducing prospective customers to his wares and increasing the likelihood that they took notice of his advertisement. Copy and layout played off each other to increase the effectiveness of both.