October 6

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 3, 1771).

“Fifes, Violins, Powder, / Lead, Shott, / Steel, &c.”

Gilbert Deblois used graphic design to increase the likelihood that his newspapers advertisements would attract the attention of prospective customers interested in the “very large Assortment of Winter Goods” available at his shop on School Street in Boston in the fall of 1771.  Rather than publish a dense block of text like most of his competitors who advertised, he instead opted for arranging the copy in the shape of a diamond.  The shopkeeper did so consistently in three newspapers printed in Boston, starting with the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on September 30 and then continuing in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 3.  The unique design likely made his advertisement notable for readers who saw it once and even more memorable for anyone who encountered variations of it in two or three newspapers.

In most instances, advertisers were responsible for generating the copy for their notices and then compositors determined the format.  On occasion, however, advertisers like Deblois made special requests, submitted instructions, or possibly even consulted with printers and compositors about how they wanted their advertisements to appear.  The compositors at the first two newspapers who ran Deblois’s advertisement took different approaches.  In the Boston Evening-Post, the text ran upward at a forty-five degree angle and formed an irregular diamond that filled the entire space purchased by the shopkeeper.  In contrast, the compositor for the Boston-Gazette used the same copy but arranged it in lines of increasing and then decreasing length to form a diamond surrounded by a significant amount of white space.  Though different, both sorts of diamonds made Deblois’s advertisements much more visible in the pages of the newspapers.  The advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury followed the latter design, but the compositor did not merely copy it from the Boston-Gazette.  The advertisement published on October 3 had a longer list of goods that the compositor had to accommodate in the design.

The copy itself did not distinguish Deblois’s advertisements from others that appeared in any of the newspapers published in Boston, but intentional choices about the format made his notices distinctive.  Deblois stocked the same merchandise “Just Imported from LONDON” as his competitors, but he used innovative design to generate interest among consumers who had many choices.

October 4

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 4, 1771).

“N.B. Said Griffith / continues to carry one / the Goldsmith’s Business as usual.”

Like many other advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, William Knight’s notice in the October 4, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured a dense paragraph of text that listed the many items available at his shop.  George Taylor, a tailor, published an advertisement similar in appearance, though shorter.  Each included the advertiser’s name in larger font for a headline and capitalized a few key words to guide readers through the content, but neither relied on graphic design to capture the attention of prospective customers.

The format of David Griffith’s advertisement, on the other hand, distinguished it from most others in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It included formulaic language, such as “Just Imported from LONDON” and “A large Assortment of English Goods,” but either Griffith or the compositor decided to break many of the phrases and sentences into shorter lines and center them.  “Just Imported from LONDON,” for instance, occupied three lines as “Just / Imported / from LONDON.”  A nota bene at the end of the advertisement informed readers that “Said Griffith continues to carry on the Goldsmith’s Business as usual, at the same House, Likewise, as low as is done or can be had in this Town, or Boston, &c.”  Text that could have fit in three lines extended over nine, some of them featuring only one or two words, to create an irregular shape with copious white space.  The design gave Griffith’s advertisement a very different appearance compared to Knight’s notice immediately to the right.

Yet Griffith was not committed to innovative graphic design as a matter of principle or consistent marketing strategy.  His advertisement advised that “The Particulars” about the imported goods “will be in our next” newspaper.  The format of that advertisement replicated Knight’s advertisement and so many others, a dense paragraph of text that listed dozens of items.  That advertisement extended an entire column and overflowed into a second column.  Purchasing the space that would have allowed for a more innovative format may have been prohibitively expensive.  Between the two advertisements, Griffith demonstrated what was possible and what was probable when it came to graphic design for eighteenth-century newspaper notices.

October 2

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (September 30, 1771).

“Choice Bohea, Souchon, and Hyson Tea.”

In the fall of 1771, Gilbert Deblois deployed graphic design to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from those placed by his competitors.  On September 30, he ran an advertisement with a unique format in the Boston Evening-Post.  The text ran upward at forty-five degree angles, creating an irregular diamond that filled the entire block of space he purchased in that issue.  That same day, he ran an advertisement featuring the same copy arranged in another distinctive format in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette.  The text once again formed a diamond, that one created by centering lines of text of progressively longer and then shorter lengths.  In contrast to the advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post, this one incorporated a significant amount of white space into Deblois’s notice.

That these advertisements appeared simultaneously in two newspapers published in Boston demonstrated that Deblois carefully coordinated an advertising campaign intended to attract attention with its unusual typography.  The compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and Boston-Gazette would not have independently decided to experiment with the format of Deblois’s advertisements.  Instead, the shopkeeper must have worked with the compositors or at least sent instructions to the printing offices to express his wishes for innovative graphic design.

In most instances, advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to produce an appropriate format.  Advertisements that ran in multiple newspapers often had variations in font size, capitalization, and italics according to the preference of the compositors, even as the copy remained consistent.  On occasion, however, advertisers assumed greater control over the design of their notices, creating spectacles on the page.  Both of Deblois’s notices demanded attention from readers because they deviated visually so significantly from anything else in the newspaper.  Deblois did not have to commission a woodcut or include a variety of ornamental type in his notices in order for them to stand out from others.  He achieved that by working with the compositors to determine what they could accomplish solely by arranging the text in unexpected ways.

September 30

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

Boston Evening-Post (September 30, 1771).

“A very large Assortment of Winter Goods.”

Most advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers consisted text unadorned with images, though some did feature woodcuts depicting ships, houses, enslaved people, horses, or, even less frequently, shop signs.  Despite the lack of images, advertisers and compositors sometimes experimented with graphic design in order to draw attention to newspaper notices.  Some of those efforts were rather rudimentary.  In the September 30, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, Hopestill Capen’s name served as the headline for his advertisement.  That was not unusual, but the size of the font was.  Larger than the names of any other merchants and shopkeepers who placed advertisements in that issue, the size of Capen’s name demanded attention for his advertisement.  Thomas Lee pursued a similar strategy with a headline proclaiming “SILKS” in a large font.

Capen and Lee may or may not have consulted with the printer or compositor about those elements of their advertisements.  They may have submitted the copy and left the design to the compositor.  Gilbert Deblois, on the other hand, almost certainly gave instructions or even spoke with the compositor concerning the unique format of his advertisement.  The text ran upward at a forty-five degree angle, distinguishing it from anything else that appeared in the pages of the Boston Evening-Post.  Deblois hawked a “very large Assortment of Winter Goods, with every other Kind imported from Great-Britain.”  In so doing, he used formulaic language that appeared in countless other advertisements in the 1760s and early 1770s.  Yet he devised a way to make his message more interesting and noticeable.  That likely required a greater investment on his part.  Advertisers usually paid for the amount of space their notices occupied, not by the word, but in this case setting type at an angle required extraordinary work on the part of the compositor.  Reorienting Deblois’s advertisement was not merely a matter of selecting a larger font, incorporating more white space, or including ornamental type for visual interest.

Deblois carried many of the same goods as Capen, Caleb Blanchard, and Nathan Frazier, all of them competitors who placed much longer advertisements listing the many items among their merchandise.  Rather than confront consumers with the many choices available to them at his shop, Deblois instead opted to incite interest for his “large Assortment of Winter Good” using graphic design to draw attention to his advertising copy.  The unique format of his advertisement made it stand out among the dozens that appeared in that issue of the Boston Evening-Post.

March 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 12, 1771).

“Writing Paper, Wafers, &c.
Loaf Sugar, and Bohea Tea,
Cinnamon, Nutmegs, &c.”

When an advertisement announcing the “SALE of the late Mr. CORKER’S Store Goods” appeared in the March 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, its format likely caught the attention of readers.  It listed more than one hundred items, from textiles to patent medicines to housewares to hardware.  In addition, the advertisement promised that “many small Articles too tedious to mention” would also be available for sale “at the Vendue-House” in the coming days.

The compositor designed a catalog of goods that was relatively easy for readers to navigate compared to many notices merchants and shopkeepers placed in early American newspapers.  The advertisement spanned two columns on the third page, occupying enough space to create three columns within the notice.  In turn, only one or two items appeared on each line.  A significant amount of white space, especially compared to the dense text in news accounts and other advertisements, facilitated scanning the advertisement for items of interest.  In contrast, Parker and Hutchings’s advertisement for “An ASSORTMENT of FRESH GOODS” immediately below the notice for Corker’s goods listed dozens of items in three paragraphs.  It had no white space to aid in distinguishing among the merchandise.  Parker and Hutchings selected the more common means of listing their wares in the public prints.  Incorporating orderly columns into the advertisement for Corker’s goods also increased the amount of space necessary to run it.  The size of the notice, in addition to the design elements, made it more visible on the page.

In addition to promoting the sale sponsored by Corker’s estate, this advertisement also testified to the skills of those who labored in Charles Crouch’s printing office.  In the colophon, Crouch invited prospective clients to visit him on Elliott Street, “where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”  The format of the notice about Corker’s store goods simultaneously served as an advertisement for the different styles of printing that Crouch could deliver to customers who ordered broadsides, handbills, circular letters, blanks, and other job printing.

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.