August 6

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 6, 1772).

“THE Subscriber takes this Method to inform his Friend and the Public in general …”

When Martin Bicker “prepared a compleat Room at his Dwelling House … for the Reception of Goods, to be Sold at public Sale,” he placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  He advised prospective clients that “Such who are pleased to favor him with their Commands may, rest assured, that the greatest Punctuality and Honor will be strictly observed.”  He also asserted that since “the Situation is very suitable for said Business” that “the Result of his Undertaking will be attended with mutual Advantage to his Employers and self.”

To draw attention to his overtures “To the Public,” Bicker arranged to have his newspaper enclosed in a border composed of decorative type.  That distinguished the enclosure from the simple horizontal lines that separated other advertisements from one another.  No other advertisements in the August 6, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter had a border, making Bicker’s notice all the more distinctive.  That was not the first time that Bicker sought to enliven a newspaper notice with some sort of unique visual element.  Earlier in the summer, he placed an advertisement for hats in the Massachusetts Spy, adorning it with a woodcut depicting a tricorne hat.  Advertisers sometimes availed themselves of stock images of ships, houses, horses, and enslaved people provided by printers, but fewer of them commissioned woodcuts that correlated to the goods they produced or the signs that marked their shops.

Bicker strove to make his advertisements visually interesting on newspaper pages that often consisted primarily of dense text.  Indeed, the first time he inserted the advertisement with the border, it appeared at the top of the final column on the first page.  The two columns to the left contained news from London, Bristol, and Philadelphia.  The border around Bicker’s advertisement clearly signaled that it was not part of those dense dispatches, inviting readers to have a closer look at what merited such special typographical treatment.  Bicker sought to use graphic design to his advantage when he launched his new enterprise.

July 21

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

Connecticut Courant (July 21, 1772).

“☞ once more! ☜”

Many former customers of the “late Company of Gardiner & Jepson” did not respond to William Jepson’s notices in the Connecticut Courant calling on those “indebted by Judgment, Execution, Note, Book Debt, or otherwise” to settle accounts.  That exasperated him.  It also influenced the format of an advertisement that first ran in the July 21, 1772, edition of the newspaper.  He wished to call attention to his efforts to notify debtors of their obligations, proclaiming that he “☞ once more! ☜” addressed them, setting apart that phrase not only in italics but also with a manicule (a typographic mark depicting a hand with its index finger extended in a pointing gesture) on either side to draw even more attention.  He deployed that format a second time when threatening legal action against those who continued to ignore his advertisements, warning that “they must expect Trouble ☞ without Exception or further notice! ☜”  A set of manicules once again enclosed the words in italics, making Jepson’s frustration palpable.

Other colonizers who placed advertisements in the Connecticut Courant included manicules, bit not nearly as extensively or creatively.  Manicules most often appeared at the conclusion of advertisements, where “N.B.” might otherwise appear for a nota bene advising readers to take notice.  For instance, Caleb Bull concluded an advertisement for “Choice Linseed Oyl” with a brief note stating that “☞ Cash will be given by said Bull for Post-ash.”  A manicule that preceded that note directed attention to it.  In another advertisement, enslavers John Northrop and John Sanfard offered a reward for the capture and return of “two Negro Men” who liberated themselves by running away at the end of May.  Northrop and Sanfard provided descriptions of the unnamed fugitives seeking freedom in the body of the advertisement.  In a note at the end, marked by a manicule, they warned that “☞ ‘Tis supposed they have each of them a forged pass.”

Manicules sometimes appeared in advertisements in the Connecticut Courant in the early 1770s.  Most advertisers included them according to a standard fashion, but occasionally some advertisers, like Jepson, deployed manicules in innovative ways when they sought to underscore the message in their notices.  They experimented with the graphic design possibilities available to them.

June 16

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

Connecticut Courant (June 16, 1772).

“He Desires all Persons indebted to him, to make Immediate Payment.”

In a short advertisement in the June 16, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant, John Cable, a “BAKER from GERMANY,” informed the public “that he is (in a short Time) going to New York where he intends to Purchase a considerable Quantity of Flower for the Purpose of supplying his Customers as usual.”  He did not merely intend to incite demand for the bread he would bake upon his return; instead, he also aimed to raise the funds necessary to acquire the supplies he needed to continue operating his business.  Cable declared that since “his undertaking requires CASH, he Desires all Persons indebted to him, to make Immediate Payment.”  Unlike many others who published similar messages, he did not threaten legal action against those who did not heed his request.

Graphic design likely played a significant role in drawing attention to Cable’s advertisement.  A border comprised of decorative type, leafy flourishes, surrounded his notice.  No other advertisement in that issue or any recent issue of the Connecticut Courant had a border.  Only two images appeared in that edition, a crown and seal flanked by a lion and unicorn in the masthead and a much less elaborate woodcut depicting a horse in an advertisement about a strayed or stolen mare.  Compared to newspapers published in larger cities, the Connecticut Courant generally featured fewer images and fewer experiments with graphic design, though Caleb Bull’s advertisement for “New, New, New GOODS!” that ran once again demonstrated an interest in innovative marketing strategies.  Given Hartford’s proximity to Boston, Cable may have spotted Jolley Allen’s or Andrew Dexter’s advertisements with borders in one of the newspapers published there, prompting him to request similar treatment for his advertisement when he submitted the copy to the printing office. Alternately, he may have envisioned the format on his own, searching for a means of distinguishing his notice from others in hopes of increasing the chances that “Persons indebted to him” would see it and settle accounts before he ventured to New York.

June 11

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 11, 1772).

“The Particulars too numerous for an Advertisement.”

Thanks to a signature design element, a border comprised of decorative type, readers easily spotted Jolley Allen’s advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston in late spring in 1772.  The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, carried his advertisement with its distinctive border on June 11.  Three days earlier, the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy featured Allen’s advertisement, complete with the border.  On June 1, the Boston Evening-Post did so as well.

On the same day that the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter carried Allen’s advertisement, it also ran in the Massachusetts Spy.  That completed Allen’s efforts to disseminate his notice as widely as possible by inserting it in all five newspapers printed in Boston at the time.  Yet the version in the Massachusetts Spy differed in format, though not in copy, from Allen’s advertisements in the other four newspapers.  No border enclosed the shopkeeper’s pronouncement that he “determined on an entire New Plan” for selling “His WHOLE Stock in Trade … at very little more than the Sterling cost and charges.”

Other design elements replicated Allen’s advertisements in the other newspapers.  For instance, the compositor centered the copy of the first portion, creating distinctive white space that helped draw attention to the notice, before resorting to a dense block of text that went to the left and right margins for the final portion.  Allen most likely requested a border when he submitted the copy to the printing office.  After all, he made an effort to make a consistent visual presentation throughout the other newspapers that carried his advertisement.  The compositor for the Massachusetts Spy allowed for some distinctiveness in the format of the notice, but apparently considered incorporating a border too much of a deviation.

The Massachusetts Spy already included borders comprised of thin lines around all advertisements, the only newspaper printed in Boston at the time to do so.  Perhaps the compositor exercised judgment in determining that a border within a border would appear too crowded, overruling instructions or preferences expressed by the advertiser.  This example hints at the conversations about graphic design that may have taken place between advertisers and those who worked in printing offices in early America.  How extensively did printers, compositors, and advertisers consult each other about the format of newspaper notices that customers paid to insert?

June 2

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 2, 1772).

“A Great Variety of {IRISH Linens, printed Linen …} of all Widths and Prices.”

When Wakefield, a merchant who went solely by his last name in the public prints, placed an advertisement in the June 2, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal he relied on design elements to draw attention.  Like many other advertisers, he demonstrated the choices available to consumers by providing a list, but he did not resort to a dense paragraph of text (the format selected by Edwards, Fisher, and Company) or side-by-side columns with only one item on each line (the option favored by Daniel Hall and Stephen Smith).  Instead, he clustered his goods together in the center of the advertisement with decorative brackets pointing to descriptions on either side.

For instance, Wakefield listed “IRISH Linens, printed Linen, Chintz, Calicoes, Cotton, Diaper, Huckaback, Lawns, Cambricks, &c. &c.”  That list extended five lines, occupying the center third of the column.  Brackets enclosed the list on both sides.  An introductory phrase ran on the left, “A great Variety of,” to let readers know that Wakefield stocked an even more extensive inventory of those textiles.  To underscore the point, the phrase to the right promised “all Widths and Prices.”  Similarly, a shorter list of other fabrics extended three lines with brackets enclosing both sides.  Commentary to the left indicated that Wakefield had “An Assortment of” those items.  The rest of the advertisement reverted to standard paragraphs, but the unique format for the lists of textiles created enough visual interest that readers likely took note.

Creating this advertisement required some level of collaboration with the compositor.  When he submitted the copy, Wakefield may have arranged the lists as he intended for them to appear, but the compositor was ultimately responsible for setting type in a manner that honored any instructions or requests.  For instance, Wakefield probably did not devise a line break that divided “Calicoes” between two lines.  Instead, a compositor would have relied on experience and experimentation in determining the final appearance of the advertisement.  No matter how closely he worked with the compositor, Wakefield likely took greater interest in designing a distinctive advertisement than Edwards, Fisher, and Company or Hall and Smith or any other advertisers whose notices featured standard formats.

May 21

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772).

“He will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

In an advertisement in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Jolley Allen announced that he adopted “an entire New Plan” for selling the “very LARGE and NEAT Assortment of English and India GOODS” at his shop on Marlborough Street.  He declared that he would sell “HIS WHOLE Stock in Trade…, either by Wholesale or Retail, at a very little more than the Sterling Cost and Charges.”  In other words, he did not mark up the prices significantly over what he paid to his suppliers.  Allen expressed his confidence that “the Advantages that may arise to his Customers, will be equal if not superior to their purchasing at any Wholesale or Retail Shop or Store in Town or Country.”  He was determined to beat his competitors.

The graphic design for Allen’s advertisement may have helped attract attention to his “new Plan” for selling imported goods.  A border comprised of ornamental type enclosed the notice, setting it apart from the news and other advertisements on the page.  That brought this advertisement in line with some that he previously published.  He did not always incorporate a distinctive design element, but he more regularly did so than most advertisers.  Sometimes ornamental type flanked his name in the headline of his advertisement.  On other occasions he opted for borders.  Both strategies appeared in more than one newspaper, suggesting that Allen gave specific instructions to the compositors rather than leaving the format to their discretion.

Curiously, Allen’s advertisement was not the only one in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to feature a border.  Andrew Dexter’s advertisement had the same format, though a different printing ornament formed the border.  This was not a standard format in that newspaper or any other newspaper published in Boston at the time.  So how did two advertisements in the same issue happen to include borders?  Did one advertiser overhear the other giving directions to the compositor when dropping off copy to the printing office?  Or was it a coincidence?  Whatever the explanation, the borders made their advertisements distinctive enough compared to the rest that readers likely took note of both of them.

May 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 8, 1772).

“A good Assortment of GOODS, / suitable for the Season, lately imported, / from Great-Britain and Ireland.”

When John McMasters and Company “removed from Col. Wallingford’s, to Mr. David Moore’s Store, North-End” in Portsmouth in the spring of 1772, they placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform current and prospective customers of their new location.  They incorporated a variety of marketing appeals into their notice.  They promoted their “good Assortment of GOODS,” suggesting plenty of choices for consumers, and then listed several of the items they imported from Great Britain and Ireland, including “Broad Cloths of different Prizes; A great Variety ofRIBBONS, Irish Linnens of all Prizes, Shalloons, Tammies, and Callamancoes.”  McMasters and Company set low prices and offered “short Credit.”  They also emphasized customer service, pledging that “their Customers in Town and Country … may depend on being as well used as they could be at any Warehouse in BOSTON.”  In making that assertion, McMasters and Company acknowledged that they operated in a regional marketplace rather than competing solely with local merchants and shopkeepers.  They realized that consumers looked to the bustling port of Boston for extensive selections of merchandise at bargain prices, but assured them that they did not need to travel or send away for the goods they wanted.

McMasters and Company made familiar appeals in their advertisement.  Purveyors of goods and services consistently mentioned consumer choice and low prices in their newspaper notices.  Many also highlighted customer service.  As a result, the format of McMaster and Company’s advertisement was its most distinctive feature.  Decorative type embellished John McMasters’s name, drawing attention to the advertisement.  Very few visual images appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially compared to newspapers published in larger port cities.  A crude woodcut depicting an enslaved man who “Deserted from his Master” adorned another advertisement in the May 8, 1772, edition, but otherwise no other notices included images or decorative type.  Each advertisement had a standard paragraph format, with the exception of McMasters and Company’s notice.  They opted to divide their copy into shorter lines and center each line to create a unique shape compared to the blocks of text in the news and other advertisements.  The innovative use of white space in combination with the decorative type likely attracted attention, increasing the chances that consumers saw McMasters and Company’s appeals to price, choice, and customer service.  Graphic design enhanced their marketing efforts.

April 27

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 27, 1772).

“ENGLISH GOODS of all Sorts, At Francis Green’s Store, (Cheap).”

Purveyors of goods and services used a variety of design strategies in their efforts to get prospective customers to take note of their advertisements in the April 27, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Some emphasized consumer choice by publishing advertisements that took up significant space by listing the merchandise they sold.  Richard Jennys did so in a notice that was about as long as it was wide.  He listed a couple of dozen items in a dense paragraph of text.  Joseph Peirce also opted for a dense paragraph that enumerated his inventory, but his advertisement extended half a column.  John Frazier and Margaret Philips both inserted paragraphs of moderate length, occupying more space on the page than Jennys but less than Peirce.  The amount of text was part of the message.

Other merchants and shopkeepers who resorted to lists attempted to use graphic design to their benefit in a different way.  They divided their advertisements into columns, listing only one or two items per line in order to make them easier for prospective customers to navigate.  Since advertisers paid by the amount of space rather than the number of words, that meant they paid more to advertiser fewer items than their competitors who opted for paragraphs rather than columns, but they apparently considered it worth the investment.  John Cunningham, Ward Nicholas Boylston, and Herman and Andrew Brimmer all ran advertisements that included dozens of items arranged in advertisements divided into two columns.

Other advertisers emphasized the visual aspects of their notices to an even greater degree.  A woodcut depicting a mortar and pestle adorned Oliver Smith’s advertisement for “Drugs & Medicines” at his shop “At the GOLDEN MORTAR.”  Duncan Ingraham, Jr. relied on typography rather than images, arranging a short list of goods to form a diamond.  Joseph Barrell also created white space to draw attention by listing a few items on each line and centering them.  His lines of varying lengths did not look nearly as crowded as the paragraphs in other advertisements.  Francis Green limited his advertisement to ten words (“ENGLISH GOODS of all Sorts, At Francis Green’s Store, (Cheap)”), but deployed decorative type to form a border.  That made his notice particularly distinctive since no other advertiser adopted that strategy.  It also helped that his advertisement appeared in the middle of the page.  The border likely drew readers’ eyes away from the advertisements on the outer edges in favor of the middle, at least when first perusing the page.

Graphic design in early American newspapers may appear unsophisticated by modern standards, but that does not mean that colonizers did not attempt to leverage graphic design in marketing goods and services.  Within a single issue of the Boston Evening-Post, advertisers made a variety of choices about the visual aspects of their notices, some of them rather innovative for the period.

December 17

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

Essex Gazette (December 17, 1771).

“An Elegant Assortment of English and India GOODS.”

John Cabot and Andrew Cabot sought to use typography to their advantage when they advertised in the Essex Gazette in December 1771.  They began with a notice in the December 3 edition, one that likely attracted attention because the copy was arranged to form a diamond.  The text ran upward diagonally with the longest line extending from the lower left corner to the upper right corner.

Two weeks later, they placed another advertisement that once again played with graphic design.  It featured the same copy as the previous advertisement, but this time the compositor created a different shape.  Not quite a diamond, it resembled a bulb.  The names of the advertisers filled most of the upper portion, helping to draw the eyes of the readers, but the white space in each of the corners also distinguished this advertisement from others on the page.

Except for the masthead on the front page, this edition of the Essex Gazette did not feature any images.  None of the advertisers opted to adorn their notices with woodcuts, yet the Cabots were not alone in their efforts to deploy typography to make their advertisement more conspicuous.  Nathaniel Sparhawk’s advertisement included a list of goods available at his store, divided into two columns, but it did not consist entirely of text.  Printing ornaments ran down the center, separating the columns.  Such visual appeal differentiated that advertisement from one with a similar format, but no decorative type, placed by John Gould and Company.

In most cases, advertisers submitted copy and compositors made decisions about format, but for these advertisements it seems almost certain that Sparhawk and, especially, the Cabots issued instructions or otherwise participated in developing the designs for their notices.  As they competed for customers with others who advertised similar goods, they likely hoped that savvy graphic design would prompt prospective customers to look more closely at their advertisements.

December 3

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

Essex Gazette (December 3, 1771).

“The Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”

John Cabot and Andrew Cabot operated a shop in Beverly, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  They took to the pages of Essex Gazette in December 1771 to promote an “Elegant Assortment of English and India GOODs.”  They boldly proclaimed that they offered the best prices in the region, “determined … to give undoubted Satisfaction to every Purchaser, and at as low a Rate, if not lower, than at any Store in BOSTON or SALEM, notwithstanding the Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”  The Cabots critiqued their competitors as they made their own “pompous” claim about their prices.

Such commentary may have captured the attention of prospective customers, but it was like the format of the advertisement that drew their attention in the first place.  The copy ran upward diagonally, forming a diamond that filled the traditional square of space that advertisers purchased.  One or two words appeared on the first lines.  The number of words and length of each line increased with each line until the line that extended from the lower left corner of the advertisement to the upper right corner, then decreased with each line.

The format was novel in the Essex Gazette, but that does not mean that it was unfamiliar to readers or to the Cabots.  Two months earlier, Gilbert Deblois, a shopkeeper in Boston, similarly experimented with the design of his advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The Cabots likely saw Deblois’s advertisement.  After all, they commented on the content of advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers in both Boston and Salem.  Perhaps they even clipped the advertisement or submitted an issue of the Boston Evening-Post with their copy and instructions for the compositor to replicate the format of Deblois’s unique notice.  They likely had to pay more than the three shillings that Samuel Hall usually charged for advertisements “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” but they may have considered it well worth the investment to create an advertisement practically guaranteed to attract notice from prospective customers.