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.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (July 7, 1766).

JUST Imported from London, by Jolley Allen.”

Shopkeeper Jolley Allen almost certainly played a role in designing this advertisement. As I have noted previously, the available evidence suggests that advertisers tended to write their own copy and printers tended to make decisions about layout and fonts when they set the type. Printers often adopted formats that were consistent from advertisement to advertisement, giving all commercial notices that appeared in a given newspaper similar visual qualities and making them easy to recognize at a glance.

Allen’s advertisement had a distinctive border that set it apart from other advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy. It seemed unlikely that the printer went through the additional effort of setting ornamental type of his own volition. What was more probable, I hypothesized, was that Allen made special arrangements with the printer (and perhaps paid more) to arrange for this special feature.

Jul 7 - 7:7:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 7, 1766).

Allen’s advertisement in other newspapers published in Boston on the same day suggested that was indeed the case. His advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post also had a decorative border, though it was composed of different ornaments. Otherwise, the advertisement had the same copy and nearly identical layout. Another version of the advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette. While the copy was the same, the border consisted of yet another style of printing ornaments and the format had two columns within the advertisement. Finally, Allen’s advertisement had previously appeared in Boston’s other newspaper (the only one not distributed on Mondays), the Massachusetts Gazette. Except for yet another method of creating the decorative border, it was nearly identical to the advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy and the Boston Evening-Post. The copy was the same and the format nearly identical.

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

Jolley Allen placed his advertisement in four newspapers. In each instance, it had a decorative border that would have drawn attention to it, especially since such borders were not a standard part of other advertisements in any of those publications. Allen almost certainly designed that portion of his advertisement, even if he left it to the individual printers to make decisions about setting the rest of the type. Realizing that advertisements often tended to look the same, Allen devised a graphic design innovation intended to set his own apart from the crowd.

Jul 7 - 7:3:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 3, 1766).

July 1

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

Jul 1 - 6:30:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 30, 1766).

“RIBBONS, … best English RIGGING, … neat silver WATCHES, … genuine red PORT WINE.”

Shopkeeper Nathaniel Bird published a dense advertisement that listed dozens of items for sale, everything from textiles to dancing shoes to ink powder to hourglasses. He loosely organized the merchandise, but that did little to make it easier to navigate the extensive list of goods he stocked “At his New Store in Thames-Street.”

Four items do stand out from the rest: ribbons, rigging, watches, and port wine. Each of them, like Nathaniel Bird’s name, was set in capitals intended to draw attention. I have previously argued that in most cases advertisers wrote their own copy but printers took the responsibility for its appearance and format, though the advertisers likely gave special instructions on occasion. This would appear to be one of those instances. It seems unlikely that a printer (or an apprentice or anybody else working in the shop) would encounter a list of merchandise and on a whim decide to set a small number of items in capitals. More likely, the advertiser specified that certain items be capitalized.

Why those particular items? It is impossible to determine for certain. Perhaps Bird intended to highlight the diversity of goods he sold, the various departments in his shop a century before the concept of the department store was invoked. Many similar list advertisements include textiles exclusively. By listing other items in capitals, Bird drew attention to the portions of the advertisement that promoted other sorts of goods: a variety of adornments to accompany the textiles (RIBBONS), supplies for outfitting vessels (RIGGING), devices for keeping or measuring time (WATCHES), and imported groceries and spirits (PORT WINE). Bird may have been experimenting with a rudimentary method of cataloging his merchandise as a means of demonstrating the various needs and desires that could be fulfilled in his shop without having to visit other establishments.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:18:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 18, 1766).

“Have just imported, In the Georgia Packet, Capt. Anderson, from London, and the Friendship, Perkins, from Bristol.”

Inglis and Hall regularly advertised in the Georgia Gazette. In May 1766 they placed an advertisement announcing that they “have just imported, In the GEORGIA PACKET, Capt. ANDERSON, from LONDON, A NEAT ASSORTMENT” of dry goods and housewares. In addition, they promised “a FURTHER ASSORTMENT daily expected from LONDON and BRISTOL.”

When additional cargoes arrived in port, Inglis and Hall updated their advertisement to add the name of another vessel that carried the textiles and hardware they stocked: “the Friendship, Perkins, from Bristol.” The new advertisement included many of the items listed in the previous one, but also integrated new merchandise to entice potential customers with the variety of choices available.

In both instances Inglis and Hall presented a list style advertisement, an extensive catalog of goods they stocked. The format, however, shifted from one advertisement to the next. The first one tallied everything together in a single paragraph, while the second one indicated only one item or group of related items per line. Both drew attention to the “NEAT ASSORTMENT” and “GREAT VARIETY” of merchandise, but many potential customers likely found the second one easier to read and identify specific items of interest.

Was that the purpose for the new format? Was it an innovation intended to make the advertisement more accessible to consumers? If so, who was responsible for it, the advertiser or the printer? It is also possible that the printer needed to fill space and choose a new format to extend the advertisement to the desired length. In the absence of additional records some questions about the reasons eighteenth-century advertisements took their form cannot be answered definitively.

February 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Feb 13 - Massachusetts Gazette 2:13:1766
Massachusetts Gazette (February 13, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By Andrews and Domett At Store No. 1. opposite the Swing Bridge, South Side the Town Dock.”

Andrews and Domett marketed bags of cocao, cotton, brown sugar, redwood, copper, chalk, iron hollow ware, flour, indigo, Bohea tea (an item advertised often during Colonial times, previously featured on Adverts 250), chocolate,  mustard, snuff, pipes, soap, flax, and rice. Each of these items are interesting on their own, so I chose a few of the items to focus on which some might not recognize, as they are not commonplace items during the twenty-first century, though they were in eighteenth-century America.

I did not recognize “Iron hollow Ware.” I hypothesized that this item was a type of Colonial dishware. Of course, this lack of knowledge led to an investigation. Iron hollow ware was a type of cooking pot that was made from cast iron. Today there are many individuals who collect this and other Colonial cookware for their personal home collections as a hobby. To learn more about “Iron hollow Ware” consult this book.

Feb 13 - Indigo in Bucket

Another item on the list of goods in the advertisement that I find intriguing, is the “French Prize Indigo.” Indigo is a powder derived from plants that was utilized during Colonial times as a dye to create blue clothing. Its importance was high, as blue was a highly desirable color for clothing, despite the fact that it could only be derived from indigo plants at this time. In appearance, it was a blue powder which is derived from the leguminous plant of the Indigofera genus, a plant that has over 300 identifiable known species in the world. Only two varieties of this plant are used to make indigo, including the indigofera tinctoria, which is native to both India and Asia, and the indigofera suffructiosa, which is native to South and Central America. Due to the fact that indigo was an import, it would likely be one of the more pricey items on the list in the advertisement. The University of Minnesota has an excellent historical account of “Indigo in the Early Modern World.”

During the late nineteenth century, German chemist Adolf von Baeyer created synthetic indigo and production of the synthetic dye began during the early twentieth century. Research about formulating a chemical composition for synthetic indigo was furthered due to the fact that dyes derived from natural indigo were not a significant enough source due to the rise of its use within the nineteenth-century clothing industry. The color of indigo is always a blue hue, but use of different amounts of indigo can result in a variety of shades that the substance produces when using it for dying.



Kathryn focuses on some of the goods marketed to colonial consumers. Each item stocked by Andrews and Domett merits its own investigation. What, for instance, distinguished “Castile & Crown Soap” from each other? Colonial consumers certainly would have known, but as Kathryn points out many of the goods commonly advertised and purchased in the eighteenth century are no longer as familiar to twenty-first century consumers. Advertisements are often classified or catalogued as ephemera (especially advertising media other than newspapers, such as handbills, trade cards, or billheads), but consumer goods had their own ephemeral qualities as well.

In addition to the items for sale, I am interested in the format of this advertisement. Rather than listing their wares in a single, dense paragraph, Andrews and Domett utilized two columns with only one item per line, making it easier for potential customers to identify items of interest. The advertisement also strategically includes fonts of different sizes as well as capitals and italics. Why did “CHOICE COCAO” and “A few Quintals choice Dumb Fish” receive special treatment in this advertisement? Did Andrews and Domett imagine that these would be especially popular with customers once they knew these items were available? Or perhaps these items had been overstocked and tied up too many of the shopkeepers’ resources. Did they merit special attention in the advertisement because the shopkeepers needed to sell them most quickly?

I also wonder who made some of the decisions about the format of the advertisement. To what extent did Andrews and Domett describe to the printer how they wished their advertisement to appear in the newspaper? Did they give detailed instructions about columns, font size, and type? Vague or general instructions? No instructions at all? Advertisements like this one may testify to the creativity of the printer as much as the marketing savvy of the advertisers.