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.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:9:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 9, 1767).

“Ready for Sale, BY Jolley Allen.”

Regular readers of the Massachusetts Gazette may have been surprised when they glimpsed this notice for Jolley Allen’s “Shop about Midway between the Governor’s and the Town-House, and almost Opposite the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, BOSTON.” Allen regularly advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette. He also regularly advertised in the city’s other three newspapers, so the advertisements itself would not have caused surprise. No, that would have resulted from the design of the advertisement. It did not feature a border comprised of printing ornaments, a distinctive aspect of Allen’s advertising that had practically become his trademark in all of his notices, regardless of which newspaper published them. Allen had developed a consistent visual appearance for his advertisements, making them instantly recognizable. This advertisement, however, looked like so many others on the page. It lacked the most significant element that previously set Allen’s notices apart from others.

Perhaps the printer made an error. Perhaps a new compositor now worked in the shop and set the type without realizing that Jolley’s advertisement was supposed to have a decorative border. After all, the shopkeeper seems to have consistently negotiated with the printers of all four of Boston’s newspapers to include that adornment. Perhaps he forgot to underscore this request when he submitted the copy for this advertisement.

Yet later in the week, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy all carried Allen’s newest advertisement. None of them enclosed his list of “English and India Goods” within any sort of border. While it was possible that one printing office overlooked this particular request, it seems unlikely that all four made the same mistake. Apparently Allen had not renewed his instructions concerning the graphic design of his advertisement. Why did he abandon a practice that made his advertisements so easily identifiable to readers and potential customers? Why did he eliminate the most innovative aspect of his advertising?   Even as eighteenth-century advertisers experimented with early forms of branding, they did not consistently adopt new methods, not realizing the value of cementing unique images of their business endeavors in the minds of consumers.

June 1

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

Jun 1 - 6:1:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 1, 1767).

“JOHN MORTON, Has just received … a very neat Assortment of goods.”

The layout of John Morton’s advertisement on the front page of the June 1, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette would have attracted attention because it so significantly deviated from most other eighteenth-century advertisements. In his list-style advertisement, the text extended across two columns. In most cases, if a newspaper advertisement occupied space in two columns at all it was because of length, overflowing from one column into the next. That was not, however, necessary when it came to Morton’s advertisement. William Weyman, the printer of the New-York Gazette, or a compositor working in his printing shop made design decisions that not only yielded a unique advertisement for Morton but also produced a distinctive first page for the newspaper compared to the other three printed in New York and nearly two dozen more throughout the colonies.

Why assert that the printer and compositor were responsible for the typographical elements of Morton’s advertisement rather than merely responding to requests made by a paying customer who generated the copy? The New-York Gazette was not the only newspaper that carried Morton’s notice during the first week of June. It also appeared in the New-York Mercury on the same day and again in the New-York Journal three days later. Although the content of the advertisement was consistent across the three publications, the layout differed significantly. In the Mercury, Morton’s notice took the standard form of most list-style advertisements, a dense paragraph. In the Journal, the compositor introduced more white space that made it easier to distinguish among the assortment of merchandise by creating two columns and listing a small number of items on each line. These differences were the most substantial, but the three advertisements also had variations in font size and the inclusion of printing ornaments. The Gazette, for example, included a decorative border on three sides, but was the only one that did not use a manicule to draw attention to Morton’s final plea for former customers “to make speedy payment.”

Although advertisers wrote their commercial notices themselves, printers and compositors exercised primary responsibility for layout and other typographical elements of most eighteenth-century advertisements. There were occasional exceptions. Jolley Allen and William Palfrey, for instance, both negotiated for specific design aspects of their advertisements, but generally innovative visual effects originated in the imaginations of members of the printing trade who then experimented with their execution.

Jun 1 - 6:1:1767 First Page of New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 1, 1767).


Jun 1 - 6:1:1767 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 1, 1767)


Jun 1 - 6:4:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 1, 1767).

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 27, 1767).


David Gionovoly’s advertisement may have been short, but it was visually stimulating, especially compared to the other commercial notices that appeared on the same page of the Georgia Gazette. Amid a series of advertisements that consisted of dense blocks of text, the format of Gionovoly’s advertisement likely drew the attention of prospective clients. The visual aspects of the advertisement eclipsed the contents.

Most of the evidence suggests that advertisers submitted copy to printers who then determined the format, though negotiations took place and special requests were sometimes honored (perhaps for an additional fee). Gionovoly may have worked closely with James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, to create an advertisement with distinctive visual appeal. Alternately, he may have made a general request but offered no specifics. On the other hand, the format of the tailor’s advertisement may have been entirely due to the printer’s own initiative.

Regardless of who was responsible for each visual element of the advertisement, it effectively deployed varied fonts and sizes. It also included just enough white space to accentuate those variations. The headline of the advertisement – “DAVID GIONOVOLY, Taylor” – was set in the largest font used on that page (or anywhere else in the issue, with the exception of the masthead). Both capitals and italics further emphasized the tailor’s name, giving him an appropriate sense of style that anyone in the garment trades would have wanted to communicate to potential customers. The ornate font for the next line – “Gives this Publick Notice” – also appeared in other advertisements, but not so many that it did not seem novel in Gionovoly’s notice. The remainder of the advertisement had a standard format and incorporated the usual sorts of appeals – “work done after the best manner, and with the greatest dispatch” – but the lack of innovation in the copy may not have mattered as much as making sure that readers noticed the advertisement at all.

May 27 - Entire Page 5:27:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 27, 1767).

December 7

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

Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

“For New-York, the Brig General Conway; will sail in ten days, and for the sake of getting ballast, will carry freight for half price.”

More than any other printers who published newspapers in 1766, Mary Goddard and Company experimented with layout and graphic design for advertising. In collaboration with several shopkeepers, Goddard and Company mixed genres, placing advertisements that otherwise could have been separately printed and distributed as trade cards within several issues of the Providence Gazette during the summer and fall of 1766. Next, the printers continued producing hybrid publications with issues that featured full-page advertisements, effectively giving over the final page to what otherwise could have been an advertising broadside had it been produced separately.

For those efforts, Goddard and Company emphasized the size of the advertisements that appeared in the pages of the Providence Gazette. Today’s advertisement, however, was relatively short and took up little space on the page. What distinguished it from others was its position within the December 6, 1766, issue. It appeared on the third of four pages, running alongside, but perpendicular to, the column on the far right. It ran in the blank space usually reserved for the margin, making it the last text item readers would have seen when scanning the open pages of the newspaper from left to right.

Third Page of Providence Gazette (December 6, 1766).

This advertisement occupied space where text usually did not intrude, which would have encouraged curiosity among readers. Three columns appeared on each page of the Providence Gazette, all of them separated by sufficient white space to make them easily distinguishable from those on either side. This advertisement printed perpendicularly in the margin, however, did not have white space on its left. Instead, it was closely nestled next to the conclusion of a news article and an advertisement for the New-England Almanack. This format served both to hide and highlight the advertisement since it would have become distinguishable to readers as a distinct text only after doing a double take and realizing that the layout deviated from expectations of how the page should appear.

Mary Goddard and Company were not the first printers to deploy the single-line advertisement that ran in the margin, but they added a new twist to the relatively few examples from other printers and other newspapers. Such single-line advertisements, when they did appear, spanned multiple columns across the top or bottom of the page. Just as they had previously played with other graphic design elements for the layout and format of advertising in the second half of 1766, Goddard and Company added their own innovation to the single-line advertisement printed in the margin.

The First Full-Page Advertisement in an American Newspaper

I usually refrain from selecting an additional advertisement to examine on days that my students are serving as guest curators, but I am making an exception in this case because Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement on the final page of the November 22, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette was just too significant to allow it to pass without acknowledgment. I believe that this is the first full-page advertisement that appeared in an American newspaper!

Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766, left; November 29, 1766, right). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

For months I have been tracking the innovative layouts designed by Mary Goddard and Company when they began publishing the revived Providence Gazette in the summer of 1766. Between August and November, a trio of advertisers – Thompson and Arnold, Benjamin and Edward Thurber, and Samuel Nightingale, Jr. – placed advertisements that featured decorative borders to set them apart from everything else on the page. Each spanned two columns, dominating the pages on which they appeared. They deviated so significantly from standard eighteenth-century advertisements that they certainly would have attracted the attention of readers. No matter the goods they listed or the appeals the shopkeepers made, these advertisements already caused a visual sensation even before colonists read any of the copy.

Each of these advertisements looked like it could have been printed separately as a trade card that the shopkeepers would have distributed on their own, perhaps recording purchases on the reverse. For the issues of the Providence Gazette in which they appeared, it looked like the oversized advertisements had been positioned in one corner of a page and then the remaining columns built around them.

Given that Mary Goddard and Company were experimenting with size, format, and other graphic design elements on the advertising pages of the Providence Gazette, it probably should not have come as any surprise to find a full-page advertisement occupying the final page of the November 22, 1766, issue. Still, I could not believe my eyes when I saw the digitized image in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. I needed confirmation, so I visited the American Antiquarian Society and examined the original issue.

Providence Gazette (November 22, 1766).

If trade cards had inspired the design of the earlier advertisements, then broadsides must have inspired Joseph and William Russell’s full-page advertisement. Mary Goddard and Company had already played around with mixing genres by placing a trade card within the pages of a newspaper. Making a broadside the entire final page of the newspaper was the logical next step, one that was even more likely to attract notice. Imagine a reader holding up this issue of the Providence Gazette while perusing the pages in the middle. Instead of columns of smaller advertisements typical of other newspapers, observers would have been confronted by a single advertisement larger than any they had preciously encountered in an American newspaper.

I frequently argue that many of the advertising innovations of the twentieth century had precursors in the eighteenth century. Here we see yet another example of eighteenth-century printers and advertisers creating sophisticated marketing materials that have been largely forgotten or overlooked.

November 15

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

Providence Gazette (November 15, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD, FOR CASH, BY Samuel Nightingale … Sealing wax and wafers.”

In this advertisement published in the Providence Gazette, Samuel Nightingale offered a wide assortment of goods in his “new shop.” Out of the many goods to choose to research, I decided to take a look at sealing wax and wafers.

Letters in colonial America were not placed into separate envelopes before being sent. Instead, the letters themselves were folded into hand-made envelopes and sealed closed with either sealing wax or wafers.[1] Using sealing wax involved melting a stick of wax over the folded letter with a candle. Before the wax dried, the writer pressed a stamp into the wax to form a seal. The process was messy and time consuming compared to the alternative method to seal letters: wafers. Wafers were pre-made seals that would stick to paper when they were wet.

Reading about the ways letters were sealed reveals a few issues of security and privacy involving mail in the colonies. In “The Meaning and Value of Privacy,” Daniel J. Solove writes, “In colonial America, mail was often insecure. Letters sealed only with wax, left many people concerned that they were far from secure.”[2] Solove goes on to say that Benjamin Franklin, who was a colonial postmaster general, required his post workers to take an oath that they would not open up other people’s mail. [3] We can infer from sealing wax and wafers that there was a certain lack of privacy that existed in the postal system in colonial America.



More than any other newspaper printers in the 1760s, Sarah Goddard and Company, the printers of the Providence Gazette, seem to have allowed advertisers to experiment with innovative graphic design. Goddard may have even suggested and encouraged innovative approaches to layout that distinguished individual advertisements from each other and her newspaper from others circulating in New England and beyond.

The Providence Gazette, established by William Goddard in 1762, ceased publication in May 1765. When it was resurrected by his mother in August 1766, issues almost immediately included oversized advertisements that spanned two columns and featured decorative borders. The Adverts 250 Project has already examined several of those advertisements, including notices by Thompson and Arnold and Benjamin and Edward Thurber and Samuel Nightingale, Jr. Although copies of Goddard’s Providence Gazette most certainly made their way to Boston and New York and beyond, neither advertisers nor printers in other cities were quick to adopt the unique layout that resembled a trade card superimposed on a page of the newspaper. Given that printers ultimately controlled the content and layout of their newspapers, it is possible that shopkeepers requested similar treatment for their advertisements only to meet resistance from printers who did not wish to disrupt the format of their publications.

Considering that the Providence Gazette was only recently revived and may not yet have had an extensive cohort of advertisers providing financial support for the endeavor, Goddard may have been more eager and willing to experiment with the graphic design elements of advertising as a means of filling space and possibly raising more interest among potential new advertisers. Whatever the reasons, advertisements of the type that Mary has selected for today appeared exclusively in the Providence Gazette during the summer and fall of 1766. Keep an eye open for next week’s entry featuring an advertisement from the Providence Gazette to see how Mary Goddard and Company and their advertisers continued to create attention-grabbing advertisements using innovative graphic design.


[1] E. Jennifer Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 284.

[2] Daniel H. Solove, “The Meaning and Value of Privacy,” in Social Dimensions of Privacy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Beate Roessler and Dorota Mokrosinka (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 75.

[3] Solove, “Meaning and Value of Privacy,” 76.