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.

June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 29, 1769).

“Any Branch of the Painting and Gilding Business.”

George Kilcup’s advertisement in the June 29, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter likely garnered attention due to it unique format and placement on the first page. The short advertisement ran across the bottom of the page, separated from the news items that appeared above it by a line that helped readers distinguish between the two types of content. Rather than run continuously across all three columns, the advertisement was also divided into three columns with three lines of text each. While it was not uncommon for advertisements to run on the front page of eighteenth-century newspapers, this format and placement was quite exceptional.

The needs of the printer rather than any sort of intentional design by the advertiser or compositor likely explain the unusual manner of presenting this advertisement. Notably, the advertisement did not appear in the same form in subsequent insertions. The following week it ran as a block of text confined to a single column, like all of the other advertisements on the page. It took the form readers were accustomed to seeing in the pages of newspapers. Apparently the compositor set the advertisement in three columns, rather than in lines that crossed the entire page like the masthead, for the sake of efficiency. Knowing that the advertisement would run again the following week, the compositor set it in columns that could be rearranged easily into a standard block of text rather than having to reset the type completely.

Inserting Kilcup’s advertisement on the front page at all seems to have been a decision made at the last moment as a partial solution to the lack of space for all the content the printer could have included in the June 29 edition. The issue ended with a brief note informing readers, correspondents, and advertisers that “The Articles of Intelligence and Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.” Yet advertisers paid to have their notices inserted, and newspaper printers depended on this important revenue stream. The text that bled through the second page to the first suggests that the compositor originally planned for shorter columns on the first page but later modified it to include Kilcup’s advertisement when running short of space elsewhere in the issue. The compositor managed to squeeze in one more advertisement to mollify a client who might not have been happy for his notice to be delayed by a week.

Printers and compositors and, sometimes, advertisers experimented with graphic design elements of advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, yet not all innovations derived from intentionally attempting to devise a combination of format and placement to draw the attention of readers to advertisements. In the case of Kilcup’s advertisement, transformed into the standard block of text at the first opportunity, it seems that necessity prompted the compositor to play with the usual format and placement after the printer compiled too much content to fit all of it in the newspaper that week. That does not negate the fact that Kilcup’s advertisement benefited from enhanced visibility for its first insertion, but that does not seem to have been the first priority of anyone involved in producing the advertisement.

February 10

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

Connecticut Journal (February 10, 1769).

To be sold … By ADAM BABCOCK.”

When 1768 came to an end and 1769 began, Adam Babcock launched an advertising campaign in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. For seven weeks his list-style advertisement informed prospective customers that he carried a variety of goods, from “black taffaty & black satten” to “callamancos of all colours” to “shoe & knee buckles.” Without interruption, his notice ran in every issue of the Connecticut Journal from January 6 through February 17.

Compared to similar advertisements in other newspapers published in other places, especially the largest urban ports, Babcock’s advertisement does not seem particularly extensive. It listed several dozens items, but others listed scores or even hundreds of goods that colonial merchants and shopkeepers included among their inventories. The number of items, however, may not be the best measure of the impact of Babcock’s advertisement. Instead, its appearance on the page merits consideration. The Connecticut Journal was a smaller newspaper than its counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. It carried less news and less advertising. Babcock’s advertisement would have been considered moderate in length had it been placed in a newspaper in one of those cities, but it occupied an exceptional proportion of the page in the Connecticut Journal.

Indeed, Babcock’s advertisement would have difficult for readers to overlook. It extended half a column on a page comprised of only two columns. In other words, Babcock purchased one-quarter of a page for his advertisement. Considering that the Connecticut Journal, like most other newspapers printed in the 1760s, consisted of only four pages, Babcock’s advertisement accounted for a substantial portion of the content presented to readers over the course of seven weeks (and generated significant revenue for the printers). Counting the number of items listed in his advertisement tells only a partial story about making appeals to consumer choice in eighteenth-century advertising. A more complete appreciation of Babcock’s advertisement requires consideration of its presence on the printed page alongside news items and other content. For readers of the Connecticut Journal it was more extensive than any other paid notice they encountered in that publication in January and February 1769.

February 9

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

The following large assortment of GOODS.”

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 9, 1768).

Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow placed an advertisement for a “large assortment of GOODS” that filled an entire column in the February 2, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. Their advertisement did not appear in that publication the following week, but it did run in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 6 and in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 9. The iteration in the Gazette featured the same copy as the original in the Journal, but the version in the Chronicle sported revisions to both content and format (which will be examined in a separate entry on February 12).

In addition to identical copy, the format of the advertisement in the Gazette replicated the notice that previously ran in the Journal in many ways. The two advertisements had the same headlines that introduced the merchants and instructed prospective customers where to find their store. Both advertisements concluded with the same nota bene that announced they expected to receive “a very large and compleat assortment of spring and summer GOODS” via vessels from England. The same words were capitalized in both advertisements. Beyond that both advertisements deployed italics for everything except the names of the merchants, even though most other advertisements on the page used italics sparingly, if at all. In the Journal, Philip Wilson’s list-style advertisement also used italics, suggesting that this may have been the format for that type of advertisement selected by the compositor. Alternately, either Wilson or the Benezets and Bartow may have specified that they wanted their advertisement in italics and the compositor chose to give the other the same treatment. Either way, the compositor for the Gazette copied the format from the Journal exactly, almost as if the Benezets and Bartow had cut their advertisement out of the Journal and submitted it to the Gazette. The line breaks were the only noticeable difference, with the Gazette squeezing more items onto each line. As a result, the version in the Gazette did not fill an entire column, but it very nearly did so.

This comparison suggests some likely printing practices when it came to advertisements, but does not present definitive evidence. What it does demonstrate for certain, especially when taken into consideration with the third advertisement in the Chronicle, is that some advertisers contemplated the significance of circulating their advertisements to as many readers and potential customers as possible. The Benezets and Bartow sought to maximize the number of colonists who would encounter their advertisement, so they moved it from newspaper to newspaper. Such a lengthy advertisement would have been a considerable investment. That being the case, the Benezets and Bartow chose not to run it for as many weeks as most other advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers appeared in the public prints. It ran once in both the Chronicle and Journal and twice in the Gazette. The Benezets and Bartow sacrificed the duration of their advertising campaign in favor of dissemination to the widest possible audience.