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.

December 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 26, 1768).

“Ravens Duck | Bohea Tea | Mason Glasses.”

Samuel Fletcher aimed to use typography to his advantage in an advertisement that ran in the December 26, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In it, he listed a variety of imported goods among the inventory at his store “Near the Draw-Bridge,” including textiles, tea, and housewares. The contents of Fletcher’s advertisement did not much differ from what appeared in other notices for consumer goods placed in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers published in the busy port. The format, however, distinguished Fletcher’s advertisement from many others.

Fletcher enumerated approximately sixty items, organizing them into three columns that trisected the advertisement. Other advertisers that listed their wares tended to do so in dense paragraphs that did not feature any white space. Such was the case in Gilbert Deblois’s advertisement immediately below Fletcher’s notice and Joseph Barrell’s advertisement immediately to the right. Yet Fletcher was not alone among merchants and shopkeepers in electing to divide his goods into columns. Elsewhere on the same page, Samuel Allyne Otis divided his advertisement into two columns. Joshua Blanchard incorporated visual variety into his advertisement, publishing a short list of wines followed by a paragraph that promoted the quality of customer service his clients could anticipate. Although many advertisers opted for the standard dense paragraph, some experimented with other formats.

Fletcher’s decision to use columns came with one disadvantage. He could not list as many items in the same amount of space. Still, he managed to provide a general preview, enough to suggest an array of choices for consumers, before concluding with the phrase “With many Articles not mentioned” running across all three columns. This signaled to prospective customers that he did not necessarily stock fewer choices than his competitors, only that he organized them differently in his advertisement. In the spirit of “less is more,” listing fewer items but in a format with sufficient white space that allowed readers to navigate the contents of the advertisement more easily could have drawn attention to specific entries much more readily than had they appeared amidst a dense list of merchandise. For Fletcher’s advertisement, the typography very well could have been as effective as the copy.

November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 7, 1768).

“A large Assortment of the following Goods.”

William Scott operated a store on the “North Side of Faneuil Hall, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe” in Boston. There he sold “a large Assortment” of goods, including “Manchester Cotton Checks and Handkerchiefs,” “Forest Cloths, Plains and Kerseys,” and “Irish Linens” of various widths.

To attract customers to his store, Scott inserted advertisements in every newspaper published in Boston. On Monday, November 7, 1768, his advertisement appeared in the Boston Chronicle. On the same day it simultaneously ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy, a joint publication with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette. On Thursday of that week, it ran in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, a publication printed on the same broadsheet and distributed with the Boston Weekly News-Letter. No matter which newspapers they read, residents of Boston and the surrounding area encountered Scott’s advertisement. He made a significant investment in advertising in his efforts to saturate the local print media with his notices.

Scott likely exercised little influence over where his advertisement appeared in each newspaper. The compositors made those choices. Still, his advertisements occupied a privileged position in the Boston Chronicle, appearing as one of only three advertisements on the final page, and in the Boston-Gazette, appearing on the first page above a news item. This increased the chances that readers of those newspapers would notice Scott’s advertisement.

The format of the advertisements provides further evidence of the role played by compositors in presenting them to the reading public. Scott apparently submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors made unique decisions when it came to typography. For instance, the list of merchandise had one item per line in the Boston Evening-Post iteration while the Boston Post-Boy version grouped all the items together into a single paragraph. Although Scott carefully planned for widespread distribution of his advertisement, he entrusted the compositors with its final format in each publication. He oversaw certain aspects of his marketing campaign – copy and distribution – while yielding others – format and placement on the page – to the printing offices. He considered some, but not all, of the opportunities made possible by print.

October 28

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

Oct 28 - 10:28:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 28, 1768).

“A very likely, healthy Negro BOY, about 17 Years of Age, to be Sold.”

A brief advertisement in the October 28, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette advised readers of “A very likely, healthy Negro BOY, about 17 Years of Age, to be Sold.” The notice did not provide any additional information about the enslaved youth or the seller; instead, it instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers.”

Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would not have considered such an advertisement particularly remarkable. Although they did not appear in the same numbers as in newspapers published in Boston, advertisements concerning enslaved people were inserted in New Hampshire’s only newspaper regularly. This particular advertisement was more likely to attract attention for its format rather than its content. With the exception of the masthead on the first page and the colophon on the final page, the rest of the content was organized into three columns on each page. The masthead, colophon, and this advertisement for a “Negro BOY,” however spanned all three columns. The advertisement ran across the bottom of the third page, a position that distinguished it from news and other paid notices.

Did this format make the advertisement more effective? It is impossible to say for certain, but it is also worth noting that it ran for only one week. Newspaper printers who listed their rates for advertising typically indicated a flat fee for setting the type and inserting an advertisement for three or four weeks as well as additional fees for each additional week the notice ran. Unless they struck a special deal, the printers and advertiser would have expected this advertisement for an enslaved youth to appear in at least three consecutive issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette. That it was discontinued after its initial appearance suggests that someone did indeed purchase the “healthy Negro BOY,” prompting the anonymous advertiser to cancel further insertions.

This does not conclusively demonstrate the success of the advertisement, but it does strongly suggest an active marketplace for buying and selling enslaved people in New Hampshire. At the very least, the advertisement testifies to the presence of slaves in the colony, a familiar sight both in public and in the public prints.

June 27

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

Jun 27 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (June 27, 1768).

“RUN-away from the subscriber at Hosack, near Albany, an indented Irish servant Man.”

The second and third pages (or the two center pages of a broadsheet folded in half to create the standard four-page issue) of the June 27, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury included more than just the usual three columns. The compositor created a very thin fourth column by rotating the type ninety degrees; this allowed for the insertion of three additional advertisements in the outside margins that otherwise would not have fit on the page. Two of those advertisements appeared on the second page. John Duncan and Thomas Peeles placed a notice calling on those indebted “to the estate of John Knox, of the town of Schenectady, and county of Albany” to settle accounts. Collin McDonald “of the manor of Livingston, and county of Albany” inserted a notice warning others against trusting his wife, Catherine. She had “eloped from his bed,” causing him to “forewarn all persons not to trust or harbour her on my account, as I will pay no debts contracted by her.” A single advertisement occupied the additional column on the third page. In it, John Macomb, “at Hosack, near Albany,” described James McKinzie, a runaway indentured servant. Given that all three of these advertisements came from Albany and none of them previously appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, they likely all arrived at the same time via the same post carrier or messenger, after the type for the rest of the issue had been set but not before it went to press. The printer and compositor may have had a brief window of opportunity to work these advertisements into the June 27 issue rather than wait a week to publish them.

The placement of these advertisements was certainly out of the ordinary for the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but it was not altogether uncommon in newspapers published in the American colonies during the eighteenth century. Printers and compositors sometimes made space for short advertisements in the side margins or across the bottom of the page, but usually only when special circumstances required. This aspect of American newspaper production and format differs significantly from standard practices in Dutch newspapers in the 1760s, as I learned from during a panel on “Newspapers and Information Management in the Atlantic World” at the 24th annual conference sponsored by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture held earlier this month. In her paper on “Dutch Newspaper Coverage of the Berbice Slave Revolit, 1763,” Esther Baakman (Leiden University) presented images of the newspapers she consulted. In terms of graphic design, they featured two columns for news and a third column for advertising. The column for advertising was slightly narrower than the other two and rotated ninety degrees. What amounted to an occasional strategy for inserting additional advertisements in American newspapers was a design feature intended to aid readers in distinguishing among content in Dutch newspapers in the middle of the eighteenth century.