September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:10:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 10, 1767).

“Hughes’s Night School, Commences on the 14th Instant.”

In early September 1767, Hughes turned to the New-York Journal to advertise the opening of his night school in the middle of the month. His entire notice consisted of only eight words: “Hughes’s Night School, Commences on the 14th Instant.” Given the brevity of this advertisement, especially in comparison to those placed by other schoolmasters throughout the colonies, Hughes must have assumed that the general public was already aware of all the important details, everything from the curriculum to the hours of instruction to the location.

What Hughes’s advertisement lacked in relaying information it made up for in experimenting with layout designed to attract the attention of potential students. John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, and the compositor had developed a fairly standard visual appearance for advertisements inserted in that newspaper. They used a single font size for news items and most of the text included in advertisements, but headlines for advertisements (most often an advertiser’s name) appeared in a significantly larger font, regardless of the length of the advertisement. The first line of the body of the advertisement often featured a font only slightly larger than that used for the remainder. Advertisements by Philip Livingston and Peter Remsen that appeared in the same column as Hughes’s advertisement fit the general pattern when it came to the graphic design of paid notices in the New-York Journal.

Sep 13 - Extra Adverts from New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 10, 1767).

Every word and every line of Hughes’s advertisement appeared in larger font sizes. The size of “Commences on the 14th instant,” the smallest in this advertisement, paralleled that of headlines in other advertisements throughout the standard issue and the supplement. The size of “Night School” rivaled the size of the newspaper’s title in the masthead. The size of the schoolmaster’s name far exceeded anything else printed in the issue or the supplement. Hughes’s message to potential students was short and straightforward, but the visual aspects had been designed to distinguish it from everything else on the page.

Newspapers published in colonial America’s largest cities in the 1760s often had a surplus of advertising, so much that they often had to print supplements to accommodate all of them. Space was limited, causing printers and compositors to standardize some of the visual aspects, including limiting the size of most text in advertisements. On occasion, however, they experimented with other formats that would have had a much different effect on readers accustomed to a particular style. Hughes’s relatively short advertisement for his “Night School” certainly stood out on the page.

November 23

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766).

“A fresh Assortment of European GOODS, (of the last Importation).”

I chose this advertisement because Benoni Pearce talked about having just received imported goods from Europe that he was ready to sell in the shop he “just opened.” All sorts of “European GOODS” were very popular and valuable among the colonists. Pearce understood that the colonists loved European goods and that they bought them because they wanted to copy the styles popular in London and other parts of England. As David Jaffee explains, “These goods –textiles, furniture, and even table forks – made possible the pursuit of an ideal of refinement.” This was a way for colonists to expand their own culture and share a common consumer identity with people back in England. Pearce did not really list what he was selling; he just said “European GOODS,” expecting he would be able to sell them. He also promised that customers would not be disappointed.



Patrick raises an interesting point about some of the assumptions made by eighteenth-century advertisers. Benoni Pearce did not list any specific merchandise that he stocked. Instead, he offered a general description – “a fresh Assortment of European GOODS, (of the last Importation)” – and trusted that this would entice potential customers.

That’s not to say that this advertisement amounted to nothing more than a mere announcement. Pearce did fold several marketing appeals into his brief commercial notice. He sold his wares “on as reasonable Terms as his Neighbours” to customers who wished to “lay out their Money to the best Advantage.” By noting that his goods were “of the last Importation” he assured potential customers that he was not peddling outdated merchandise that had been pawned off on him by English merchants seeking to clear their warehouses of undesirable goods. Instead, he stock consisted of the latest fashions popular in England and elsewhere in Europe.

Pearce’s advertisement appeared in the same column as the one place by Gideon Young that Patrick examined yesterday. Each was the standard “square” common in many eighteenth-century newspapers, but Young made slightly different decisions about how to fill the space he purchased. He included a short list that named some of his wares before indicated that they were part of a “general assortment of GOODS needless to mention.” Here, again, an advertiser trusted that an appeal to choice and variety, rather than an extensive list of merchandise, was sufficient to attract customers.

This strategy – no list or a short list contained in a standard advertising square – differed significantly from another advertisement that appeared in the same issue of the Providence Gazette, the first full-page advertisement printed in an American newspaper. Resorting to three columns, Joseph and William Russell listed hundreds of items that comprised their “large Assortment of English Goods and Braziery Ware.”

Benoni Pearce, Gideon Young, and Joseph and William Russell all sought to harness the power of advertising to encourage consumer demand and direct potential customers to their respective shops. In the process, however, they adopted different strategies in writing copy and making graphic design decisions. At a glance, many advertisements from the late colonial era look standard and interchangeable, but even the squares published by Pearce and Young contained noticeable differences when consumers consulted them carefully.

November 9

GUEST CURATOR: Carolyn Crawford

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

Massachusetts Gazette (November 6, 1766).

“A great Variety of GOODS … cotton gowns … womens mitts and pompadore gloves.”

When I first glanced at this advertisement, I was overwhelmed by the number of products and clothing accessories that Caleb Blanchard listed and sold to the public in Boston. After I examined this advertisement, I concluded that there was some differentiation between the social classes, especially for the women.

For instance, affluent women could afford to purchase the necessary materials for seamstresses to make clothes. In particular, gowns, designed in cotton or rich satin and silk, were a favorite for elite women. A gown “consisted of the bodice and skirt joined together, with the skirt opened in the front to reveal the separate petticoat, which was an essential part of the dress and not an undergarment.” Elite women presented themselves in clothes that were displayed in various colors and fabrics. Additionally, affluent women presented themselves in the latest fashionable necklaces, earrings, gloves, and satin bonnets and hats.

On the other hand, some colonial women purchased materials that they needed from shopkeepers like Caleb Blanchard in order to make their own clothing themselves. Many of them had to consciously ration out their money. Since the goods were sold “at the very lowest Rates,” colonial women strategically made purchases.

Throughout the colonial era, fashion was represented status. With that being said, individuals were given the opportunity to purchase any products of their choosing. However, finances played an essential role. Some could afford to purchase anything they wanted, while others had to be more selective.



This advertisement attracted Carolyn’s attention thanks to the number of imported goods it listed, divided into two columns within the advertisement. It would have been hard to miss because it comprised the entire third and final column of the second page of the Massachusetts Gazette. Its impressive length, however, lent itself to the graphic design element that drew my eye: the printing ornaments deployed to divide the advertisement into two columns of goods. They were all the more visible because they extended down the entire page.

Dividing a lost of goods within in advertisement into two columns was fairly common in the 1760s. Two other advertisements that appeared in the same issue used this method, one full-column advertisement by Frederick William Geyer on the third page and one shorter advertisement by John Head on the fourth page. Both of the other two advertisements, however, featured a narrow line dividing the two columns of merchandise. Caleb Blanchard’s advertisement was unique in its use of printing ornaments to separate the columns.

I have argued on other occasions that advertisers assumed responsibility for writing copy while printers oversaw layout and other design elements of most newspaper advertisements. On occasion, it appears that advertisers made requests or gave specific directives concerning the appearance of their advertisements. This seems to have been just such a case. While it’s possible that Richard Draper may have played with the design elements within the Massachusetts Gazette, it seems highly unlikely that Edes and Gill would have independently made the same decision when they printed Blanchard’s advertisement in the November 10, 1766, issue of the Boston-Gazette – or that T. and J. Fleet would also use the same printing ornaments to create columns in Blanchard’s advertisement in the November 10, 1766, Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post. (The November 6, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette also included Jolley Allen’s advertisement with its distinctive border created with printing ornaments.)

Blanchard was a savvy marketer who aimed for maximum exposure by advertising in multiple newspapers, but that was not where his entrepreneurial spirit ended. He adroitly used distinctive graphic design to make sure that readers of those newspapers noticed his advertisements, increasing the chances the chances that they would become customers.

October 7

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 7, 1766).


This advertisement has different kinds of letters throughout, and that is originally what made me pay attention to it. I am sure that the middle of the page placement and the large “M” of Mahogany would have caught consumers’ eyes as well. Reeves and Cochran start their advertisement by politely addressing consumers and noting the exact location of their shop. This seems to have been a common practice in the colonial American marketplace. Another common practice in advertisements from the 1760s was to let customers know where goods came from. In this case Reeves and Cochran’s goods came from London on board the Queen Charlotte.

“Furniture of the best workmanship” could be hard to come by in colonial America. Artisans did build fine furniture in the major cities, but mahogany furniture was commonly built in Ireland and imported.[1] Many of the other goods that had just finished unloading from the Queen Charlotte came from different English colonies throughout the world as well as other faraway places. Reeves and Cochran sold “India and Barcelona silk handkerchiefs,” “French trimmings,” and “Manchester velvet.” By naming the origins of the goods that they sold, they made everyday items seem exotic and exciting.

This is not much different than what companies do today to market to twenty-first-century consumers. From the placement of the advertisement to the different kinds of letters to the wording, it is fair to say that colonial merchants and shopkeepers planned their marketing strategies.

Earlier in the week I talked about John Taylor and how he had multi-newspaper marketing technique.   This strategy is not much different than what multiple companies do today, such as placing radio, newspaper, and online advertisements.   As for Reeves and Cochran, their advertisement was designed to catch and keep the eye of consumers. Colonial merchants may have lived and worked 250 years ago, but they used and possibly developed marketing strategies that are still used today.



Elizabeth expresses interest in the layout and graphic design of Reeves and Cochran’s advertisement. While it may seem strange to suggest that this dense advertisement consisting exclusively of text with no woodcuts or ornamental type does indeed have graphic design elements, recall that it must be compared to the hundreds of other advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in colonial newspapers during the same week in 1766.

Many of those advertisements were disambiguated lists of goods, often grouped in a single paragraph. Sometimes similar types of goods were listed together, such as mentioning all the textiles before moving on to all the hardware, but in other instances the lists seemed to have no organization at all.

This advertisement listed a great variety of goods, but Reeves and Cochran constructed an advertisement easy for potential customers to navigate, not a hodgepodge favored by some of their competitors. Note that the advertisement was divided into several short paragraphs, each devoted to a different sort of merchandise stocked at Reeves and Cochran’s “STORE on the BAY.” (The final paragraph did revert to the dense list form. Why didn’t Reeves and Cochran divide it into two shorter paragraphs based on the different sorts of goods listed in the first and second halves?) Each paragraph included a key word or phrase in all capitals: “GLASS WARE” or “PEWTER and TIN WARE” or “HOSIERY and HABERDASHERY.” This would have made it easy for potential customers to find the sorts of goods that interested them, but it may have also attracted attention to items readers previously had not realized they might like to purchase.

I have suggested before that most of the evidence indicates advertisers generated the copy but printers had primary responsibility for layout as they set the type. In the manner it deviates from most others of the period, this advertisement seems to be an exception. Quite likely Reeves and Cochran included instructions when they submitted both copy and design specifications to the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.


[1] James Peill and John Rogers, Irish Furniture: Woodwork and Carving in Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2007).

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1766 Connecticut Gazette
Connecticut Gazette (July 26, 1766).

“LUKE BABCOCK, At his Shop in New Haven, has to sell … Nails, … Irish Linnens, … Raisins.”

Shopkeeper Luke Babcock’s list-style advertisement would have looked very familiar to colonial consumers. It did not elaborate much on the merchandise he stocked, except to not that Babcock sold his wares “at the most reasonable Rate.” The variety of goods – everything from “Brass Knobs” to “genuine black Barcelona Handkerchiefs” to “Lisbon Wine by the Quarter Cask” – comprised the advertisement’s primary marketing appeal, promising potential customers an assortment of choices. So many advertisers used this method of promoting their goods in eighteenth-century America that at a glance this advertisement appears indistinguishable from so many others.

On closer examination, however, it appears that Babcock introduced an innovation not readily apparent in advertisements published by many of his counterparts and competitors. His advertisement was carefully organized. Similar types of products were grouped together rather than appearing in an undifferentiated and disorienting list. Babcock first named hardware items, then textiles, and, finally, groceries. To make it even easier to navigate the advertisement, each major category had its own paragraph.

While this may seem like such common sense today that it should merit no comment, the format of this advertisement must be considered in the context of other eighteenth-century advertisements and the printing practices that shaped them. Babcock’s marketing may not have been flashy, but he attempted to make it more effective by helping readers better grasp the extent of his offerings and find merchandise that most interested them. It’s even possible that such careful organization on the printed page helped potential customers to imagine the layout of his shop, envisioning themselves examining the merchandise available in the section where hardware was stocked or in another area of the shop where textiles were displayed. Where other list-style advertisements often presented chaos, Babcock brought order to his goods, guiding consumers to the items they wanted or needed.

July 20

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

Jul 20 - 7:18:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (July 18, 1766).

“ALL the PERSONAL ESTATE of the said Dr. Alexander Jameson.”

Today’s advertisement, a notice for an estate sale, features two focal points, the “A” in “ALL” set inside a decorative border near the beginning of the notice and the word “NEGROES” in capital letters and larger type dividing the notice in half. Arguably, “NEGROES” is the primary focal point.

I’ve previously argued that, generally, advertisers wrote their own copy but printers assumed responsibility for design and format. In examining some advertisements, especially when comparing them to the “standard” format established in others printed throughout an issue or multiple issues of the same newspaper, it’s possible to discern examples in which advertisers likely made special requests or gave specific instructions concerning design and visual aspects. It seems likely that this was such an advertisement. While it may have been standard for the printer to capitalize general categories of commodities to be sold at estate sales (“HOUSEHOLD and KITCHEN FURNITURE, HORSES, CATTLE, MEDICINES, … INSTRUMENTS, … BOOKS”), it appears to have been a calculated decision to make the word “NEGROES” into a single line of text with type significantly larger than any found elsewhere in the advertisement. Thomas Yuille, the executor of the Dr. Alexander Jameson’s estate, likely provided some direction on this count.

Why? Why emphasize “NEGROES” over any of the other commodities that comprised the estate? Possibly their collective value amounted to the most significant assets within the estate. Given the real estate, property, and personal items listed in the notice, Jameson appears to have been fairly affluent, with perhaps the bulk of his personal finances tied up in the bodies of the slaves he owned.

On several occasions I have commented on the stories only partially revealed in eighteenth-century advertisements. Here, again, we see only part of a story, but we can imagine others. This was certainly a time of mourning for the family and friends of Dr.. Alexander Jameson, but it was also a time of mourning for the slaves he possessed. Their futures were uncertain. They stood to be separated and sold away from spouses, children, and parents. The death of Jameson marked a time of transition for his family, neighbors, and others in the community, but his slaves were likely to be among the most significantly affected.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:14:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 14, 1766).

“A large Assortment of English and India GOODS, consisting of the the following Articles.”

The July 14, 1766, issues of the Boston-Gazette overflowed with advertising, in part because several merchants and shopkeepers inserted extensive list advertisements. Several of them were of a moderate length, extending two or three times the number of column inches occupied by those that were the standard “squares” that served as the basic unit for selling advertising in many colonial newspapers. William Palfrey’s advertisement on the first page took up most the third and final column, running from just below the masthead almost to the bottom of the page. It left just enough room to squeeze in a four-line advertisement for loaf sugar available at “John and William Powell’s Warehouse.”

Samuel Eliot’s advertisement was by far the longest. It took up the entire first column on the third page. What could have been a dense and impenetrable block of text, however, had some visual variation thanks to the decision to divide the list of merchandise into two columns and list only one or two items per line. This created sufficient white space to make the advertisement a bit more navigable.

Only three of the list advertisements in this issue of the Boston-Gazette were divided into columns. They happened to be the three longest advertisements, which may not have been a coincidence. The printer may have decided that some means of dividing the page was necessary. In addition to the advertisements placed by Eliot and Palfrey, Jolley Allen’s advertisement (with its distinctive decorative border) was divided into columns. Recall that Allen placed the same advertisement, complete with a distinctive border, in all four of Boston’s newspapers, but the Boston-Gazette was the only one in which it was divided into two columns.

It seems quite possible that the printer experimented with the design of the longer advertisements in order to create a more visually appealing publication and to make the advertisements easier to navigate. This strategy replicated the “LIST of LETTERS remaining in the Post-Office” that covered the entire first column and half of the second on the first page of this issue of the Boston-Gazette. In general, this provides further evidence, though certainly not definitive, that printers took the lead in determining the format of newspaper advertisements while their clients supplied the copy.