December 1

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

Dec 1 - 12:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 1, 1768).

“EUROPEAN GOODS”

Two days after their advertisement for “A LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS” dominated the front page of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Webb and Doughty inserted the same advertisement in the December 1, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. The advertisements featured identical copy but variations in typography. The most significant aspect of the advertisement’s format, however, carried over from one newspaper to the other. Webb and Doughty’s advertisement spanned two columns, distinguishing it from all others on the same page.

For most eighteenth-century newspaper notices the advertiser wrote the copy but the compositor determined the format. Some advertisers placed the same notice, at least as far as the copy was concerned, in multiple newspapers, but those notices varied in appearance as the result of decisions made by compositors. Advertisements that retained particular features across multiple publications, such as the decorative border that enclosed Jolley Allen’s advertisements, testify to explicit instructions given by advertisers. Most advertisers seemed content to entrust the graphic design to the printing office, but it was possible for advertisers to exert more control over the appearance of notices they paid to insert in colonial newspapers.

It appears that Webb and Doughty did offer instructions to the compositors at the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. It seems unlikely that the two would have independently made the same decision to create advertisements that spanned two columns. (Unfortunately, Webb and Doughty did not place the same advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Perhaps they tried but the printer rejected any special instructions.) The compositors still exercised the discretion to make other decisions about the format of Webb and Doughty’s advertisement. The list of goods appeared as a paragraph in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but as three narrow columns in the South-Carolina Gazette. The names of the merchants appeared in the largest font in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but “EUROPEAN GOODS” appeared as the most prominent headline in the South-Carolina Gazette.

Although Webb and Doughty’s advertisement was the only one that spanned two columns on its page, two notices on the front page also spanned two columns. One for “SALES by the Provost-Marshal” was a somewhat regular feature. The headline enclosed in a decorative border occasionally graced advertisements of various lengths. The other, an advertisement for “A COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” placed by Mansell, Corbett, and Roberts,” had the same format as Webb and Doughty’s advertisement. It spanned two columns. The list of goods was organized into three columns. What explains its appearance? Did Mansell, Corbett, and Roberts see Webb and Doughty’s advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and choose to adopt its format themselves? Or did the compositor at the South-Carolina Gazette decide to experiment with that format in other advertisements of sufficient length?

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:29:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 29, 1768).

“WEBB & DOUGHTY, HAVE JUST IMPORTED A LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS.”

As a result of its length and, especially, its graphic design, Webb and Doughty’s advertisement for a “LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS” dominated the front page of the November 29, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. No other item in that issue, neither news nor other paid notices, rivaled Webb and Doughty’s call to prospective customers to purchase the array of goods they had “JUST IMPORTED” from London and Liverpool.

Their advertisement occupied a privileged place, appearing immediately below the masthead. That alone would have drawn the eyes of readers, but the unique format increased the likelihood that subscribers and others would take note. Webb and Doughty’s advertisement extended across two of the three columns, unusual for any sort of content in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other colonial newspapers. This advertisement would have otherwise filled an entire column, but that long-and-narrow format would have been much more familiar to readers. Due to that familiarity, it would not have been as visually striking as the lengthy list of goods that seemed to overflow the boundaries of its column. Overall, this advertisement accounted for one-quarter of the content on the first page.

Spanning two columns also allowed Webb and Doughty to mobilize a headline that would not have been possible in a single column. The additional space allowed them to increase the size of the font for both their names and “EUROPEAN GOODS.” Indeed, “WEBB & DOUGHTY” appeared in a larger font than “SOUTH-CAROLINA JOURNAL,” shifting attention away from the masthead in favor of the advertisement or, at the very least, setting the two in competition. The masthead proclaimed that the newspaper “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” but readers had to turn to the second page to encounter any news. Webb and Doughty’s oversized advertisement made it clear that advertising was the order of business in this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In addition to Webb and Doughty’s advertisement, other paid notices filled three of four pages in the November 29 edition.

Webb and Doughty’s merchandise did not much differ from what competitors offered in their own advertisements, but the graphic design significantly deviated from the appearance of other advertisements for consumer goods and services in colonial newspapers. Webb and Doughty did not rely on copy alone to market their goods. Instead, they incorporated typographical innovation into their marketing strategy.

November 25

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

Nov 25 - 11:25:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 25, 1768).

“Broad cloths in|Best belladine sew-|Bellows’s Gimblets”

The format of Samuel Broome and Company’s advertisement in the Connecticut Journal suggested the work of an unskilled compositor, someone who had not sufficiently mastered the typographical arts to create an advertisement that was either visually appealing or easy to read. Yet Bernard Lintot’s advertisement that appeared immediately to the left in the November 25, 1768, edition hinted that the compositor of Broome and Company’s notice might not have been entirely at fault for its dense and cluttered appearance.

Both advertisements featured two vertical lines trisecting three columns of goods. Lintot’s advertisement listed only one item per line in each column, taking advantage of white space to make each legible for readers. Broome and Company’s advertisement, on the other hand, included multiple items per line and crushed the columns together without any space to separate them. Why adopt that approach when it was clear that those employed at the printing office were capable of doing better?

It may have been an issue of finances rather than a lack of aesthetics. The cramped advertisement already filled an entire column. If Broome and Company had insisted on a style that replicated Lintot’s advertisement, their notice would have extended into a second column. That may not have been a viable alternative considering that the partners ran their advertisement in the Connecticut Journal in alternating issues for five months, incurring significant advertising costs. Broome and Company may have intentionally avoided the additional expense associated with overflowing into a second column; given their frequent publication schedule, the printers also may have confined Broome and Company to a single column. Each time their notice appeared it accounted for one-eighth of the total content in a four-page newspaper with only two columns per page.

What kind of consultation took place among advertisers, printers, and compositors in the eighteenth century? On its own, Broome and Company’s advertisement suggests that the compositor did not execute his charge particularly well, but that might not have been the case. The variation in visual appeal among the advertisements in the Connecticut Journal indicates that other factors may have also been at play in determining the format of Broome and Company’s lengthy notice.

August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:5:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (August 5, 1768).

“colours, Six quarter|London quality’s|common, Spike do”

Although many eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods took the form of long lists delivered in dense paragraphs, some advertisers and compositors experimented with other formats that made advertisements easier to read. Listing only one or two items per line better highlighted each item; the white space aided in directing readers to those goods that most interested them. This strategy, however, reduced the number of items that could be included in the same amount of space. Advertisers had to choose between listing fewer goods or paying for advertisements that occupied greater amounts of space in newspapers.

Getting creative with typography allowed for another choice: dividing an advertisement into columns and listing one item per line per column. When undertaken by a skilled compositor, this strategy still introduced sufficient white space to significantly improve readability while doubling or tripling, depending on the number of columns, the number of goods that appeared in a neatly organized list. List-style advertisements that featured columns usually had only two, but occasionally compositors demonstrated that it was possible to effectively incorporate three columns.

The success of this strategy depended on the skills of the compositor. An advertisement placed by Samuel Broome and Company in the August 5, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal demonstrates that experimenting with the graphic design elements of newspaper advertisements did not necessarily produce positive results. In an advertisement that filled an entire column, Broome and Company made an appeal to consumer choice by listing scores of items they sold at their store in New York. The compositor divided the advertisement into three columns, but apparently nobody affiliated with the production of the advertisement – neither Broome and Company when writing the copy nor the compositor when setting the type – insisted that it should list only one item per line per column. Instead, the advertisement featured the dense paragraph format common to so many newspaper advertisements, but divided into three narrow columns. Not only did this not make the contents any easier for prospective customers to read, the lack of space devoted to separating columns made the advertisement even more confusing and difficult to decipher.

While it is possible that the strange format may have attracted some attention, the challenges inherent in reading Broome and Company’s advertisement likely did not prompt potential customers to examine it closely, especially not casual readers who did not already have an interest in some of the goods that Broome and Company carried (if they could only find them in that disorienting list). Good typography helped to develop interest and perhaps incite demand for consumer goods listed in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but clumsy typography that made it more difficult for readers to peruse some advertisements likely made those advertisements even less effective than if they had simply resorted to the traditional dense paragraph format.

July 3

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

Jul 3 - 6:30:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 30, 1768).

“Jolley Allen, At his Shop almost opposite the Heart and Crown, in Cornhill, Boston.”

Almost without exception, shopkeeper Jolley Allen used bold visual elements to distinguish his advertisements from others that appeared in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. Sometimes he arranged to have borders composed of printing ornaments surround his advertisements. Other times he dominated the page with lengthy list-style advertisements that included his name in a font that far exceeded the size of anything else printed in the newspaper. To add further interest, designs derived from printing ornaments flanked his name, making the graphic design elements of his advertisements even more distinctive.

Such was the case in the summer of 1768 when Allen once again published advertisements that filled two out of three columns on a page, this time in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. He had launched this strategy late in the previous summer. For the new iteration he maintained the format but updated the copy. In addition to the decorative elements that headlined his notice, he also inserted manicules to direct attention to specific merchandise or promotions. For instance, one manicule pointed to “Cotton Wool, very good and very cheap.” Another directed readers to “Choice Jamaica and other brown Sugars, by the barrel, hundred or smaller Quantity, some as low as 3s. O.T. per single pound, and cheaper by the Quantity.”

Allen even deployed double manicules – one at the beginning of the sentence and another at the end – to draw attention to the most significant appeals aimed at convincing readers to make their purchases from him. In one case, he proclaimed, “The above TEA is warranted of the best Kind, and if it proves otherwise, after trying it, will be taken back and the Money returned, by the said JOLLEY ALLEN.” The manicules made it less likely that prospective customers would miss this generous money-back guarantee. The advertisement concluded with an appeal reprinted from the previous iteration, this time with double manicules to draw greater attention. In it, Allen advised that his “Town and Country Customers, and others, may depend upon being supply’d with all the above Articles the Year round … as cheap in P[r]oportion as those which have the Prices fixed to them.” Unlike most merchants and shopkeepers, Allen did indicate prices for several items in his advertisement.

It might be tempting to dismiss the placement of the manicules and other visual aspects as haphazard or accidental, especially since compositors rather than advertisers generally determined the layout and other graphic design elements of advertisements. However, the consistency demonstrated in Allen’s advertisements from newspaper to newspaper suggests that he carefully consulted with compositors in order to achieve the visual elements important to him. Not all eighteenth-century advertisers left it to the printing office to determine how their notices would appear on the page.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:16:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 16, 1768).

“A great Variety of Callicoes.”

Even though he advertised many of the same goods as other merchants and shopkeepers who placed notices in Boston’s newspapers in June 1768, Samuel Fletcher attempted to attract attention to his wares via the visual design of his advertisement in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. Eighteenth-century advertisers often listed an assortment of goods that comprised their inventory, informing potential customers of a vast array of choices to suit their tastes and budgets. Most merchants and shopkeepers who published such advertisements simply listed their merchandise in dense paragraphs. Others experimented, perhaps with the encouragement of printers and compositors who better understood the possibilities, with arranging their goods in columns, listing only one or two items per line, in order to make the entire advertisement easier for readers to peruse.

Usually list-style advertisements broken into columns featured only two columns, but Fletcher’s advertisement in the June 16, 1768, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter had three, distinguishing it from others that appeared in the same publication that week. (Fletcher’s advertisement was the only one divided into columns in the Boston Weekly News-Letter, but two others in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette used columns to organize “A great Variety of English and India Goods.” For the purposes of this examination of these advertisements, I have classified Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Weekly News-Letter as only one publication because they were printed on a single broadsheet folded in half to create four pages, two of which comprised Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette and the other two the Boston Weekly News-Letter. Whether the boundaries between the two were permeable when it came to inserting advertisements requires further investigation, but Draper printed both and the same compositors presumably set type for both.) Caleb Blanchard and Samuel Eliot inserted lengthy advertisements that extensively listed scores of items, each advertisement divided down the middle to create two columns. Other newspapers published in Boston in the late 1760s often included advertisements that used this format, making it familiar to readers in the city and its hinterlands. Very rarely, however, did advertisements feature three columns.

As a result, the visual aspects of Fletcher’s advertisement made it stand out from others, even if nothing else about the list of goods distinguished it from the notices placed by his competitors. Fletcher made a brief appeal to price, noting that he “Sells cheap for Cash,” but primarily relied on the graphic design of his advertisement to direct readers to his advertisement as part of his effort to convince potential customers to visit his shop “Near the Draw-Bridge, BOSTON.”

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury (May 30, 1768).

At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.”

To adorn many of the advertisements for his “UNIVERSAL STORE,” Gerardus Duyckinck commissioned perhaps the most impressive woodcut that accompanied any advertisements in newspapers published throughout the American colonies in the 1760s. In an advertisement that extended approximately two-thirds of a column, Duyckink promoted the “Medley of Goods” he sold “At the Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, yet it was not the amount of space the notice occupied on the page that distinguished it from others. The intricately carved woodcut likely replicated his shop sign, depicting a looking glass in an ornate frame suspended below an urn. A larger rococo frame, equally ornate, enclosed most of the copy, including a nota bene that instructed potential customers how to read the list of merchandise contained in the notice: “The above advertisement, being only the Heads, which consists of a Variety of Articles, almost every particular in each Branch can be commanded at the above Store.” In other words, Duyckinck did not publish an exhaustive list of his wares. Instead, he used a series of headers to categorize the items among his inventory, truly a “Medley of Goods.”

Prospective customers first encountered Duyckinck’s elaborate woodcut in the October 29, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal. It ran for several weeks before Duyckinck discontinued it. In the spring of 1768 it reappeared, with evidence of wear and significantly revised copy in the cartouche, but this time in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Mercury. While the printers of both newspapers had some standard woodcuts – images of horses, houses, ships, and slaves – among their type, specialized images belonged to the advertisers. Some advertisers, like clockmaker Burrows Dowdney, invested in multiple woodcuts in order to insert them in more than one newspaper simultaneously. Duyckinck may not have considered this an option; given the amount of detail evident in his woodcut, the cost for commissioning others may have been prohibitive. Instead, he rotated the image from newspaper to newspaper, placing it before the eyes of as many readers and prospective customers as possible. Doing so likely yielded the best possible return on his investment in an innovative means of making his newspaper advertisements distinctive from anything else that appeared in the public prints.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 7, 1768).

“To be SOLD by JOSEPH AND Wm. RUSSELL.”

How much influence did eighteenth-century advertisers exert when it came to designing their advertisements? This notice placed by prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell complicates the usual answer to that question.

In most instances advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to determine format. The publication of the same advertisement in multiple newspapers with consistent copy but significant deviations in layout, font size, and other visual aspects testifies to the division between advertisers as copywriters and compositors as designers. Yet on relatively rare occasions some advertisements retained specific visual elements, such as a decorative border, across multiple publications, indicating that an advertiser did indeed have a hand in determining the format. In general, most colonial newspapers exhibited an internal logic when it came to the appearance of advertisements. Compositors tended to standardize the appearance of paid notices within their publication depending on genre (consumer goods and services, legal notices, runaway slaves, for example), even as the copy differed from advertisement to advertisement. Advertisers often resorted to formulaic language and accepted patterns for including information, contributing to that standardization of visual elements.

The advertisements in the Providence Gazette, however, displayed far less consistency when it came to graphic design. Compared to counterparts at other newspapers, the compositor seems to have been much more interested in experimenting with how to use type to create distinctive advertisements even when those advertisements were comprised entirely of text. Does the compositor deserve exclusive credit for such innovations? Or did the variations emerge as the result of consultations with advertisers?

Although the advertisement the Russells placed in the May 7, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette does not provide any definitive answers, its various elements suggest some level of collaboration. It featured a headline that listed a product rather than the names of the advertisers. Their names appeared at the end of the notice, quite unusual for advertisements that promoted consumer goods and services. The dual columns listing their wares differed from the structure of most, but not all, other advertisements recently published in that newspaper. The Russells may have worked closely with the compositor. Alternately, they may have noticed how the compositor experimented with type in previous issues of the Providence Gazette and decided to alter the copy they submitted in order to facilitate further innovations. Even if they did not directly consult the compositor, they may have been inspired to pursue their own experiment in composing copy to see how those advertisements would then appear in print. Whether initiated by compositors or advertisers, one innovation in the appearance of paid notices in the Providence Gazette may have sparked a series of other innovations that resulted in advertisements for consumer goods and services in that newspaper exhibiting greater distinctiveness among themselves compared to the static appearance of most advertisements published in other newspapers.

March 13

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

Mar 13 - 4:10:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (March 10, 1768).

“Tea pots and sugar-pots … Slop-bowls.”

Cornelius Bradford, a pewterer, operated a shop “At the sign of the dish in Second Street” in Philadelphia. According to an advertisement that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal, he made and sold “All Sorts of Pewter Ware,” including “Dishes and plates of all sizes,” “Half pint and gill tumblers,” “Porringers,” and “Saltcellars.” Like many other shopkeepers and artisans who placed advertisements in colonial newspapers, he provided a list of his wares. When it appeared in print, however, Bradford’s list had a fairly unique appearance, suggesting that either the advertiser or the compositor aimed to use typography to distinguish that notice from others in the same newspaper.

Advertisements that included a list of merchandise most commonly took the form of dense paragraphs that extended anywhere from five to dozens of lines. The shorter advertisements occupied the traditional square, often the unit that printers used when determining prices for paid notices, but others extended for half a column or more. Such dense advertisements demanded active reading on the part of prospective customers. In other instances, advertisements that listed goods also featured typography that made it easier for readers to peruse those items. Such advertisements sometimes divided the space to create narrower side-by-side columns within the column. Each line then listed only one or two items.

Two advertisements in the Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal distributed on March 10, 1768, were designed with columns instead of dense paragraphs. Joseph Wood’s advertisement for textiles took the standard format: two columns of equal width. Cornelius Bradford’s advertisement, on the other hand, looked quite different from the side-by-side columns that usually appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and other colonial newspaper. Rather than two columns of equal width, it had one wider column on the left and one narrower column on the right with the merchandise sorted accordingly.

This demonstrates that someone seriously contemplated the typography of the advertisement. Who? Ultimately the compositor set the type. Was it set exactly according to the copy submitted by Bradford? Or did the compositor revise the order of Bradford’s wares in order to create a more efficient and visually attractive use of space? What kinds of instructions did Bradford give when he submitted the copy? Did the advertiser and the compositor consult with each other at any point in the production of the advertisement? Bradford’s advertisement raises intriguing questions about the process for publishing newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century. It also testifies to the careful consideration that went into the visual elements of some advertisements. Although composed entirely of text, Bradford’s advertisement had a unique graphic design that set it apart from others of a similar format.

February 22

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

Feb 22 - 2:22:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 22, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen.”

The graphic design elements of Jolley Allen’s advertisement did little to distinguish it from other notices in the February 22, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy. It looked much the same as those placed by shopkeeper Gilbert Deblois and chairmaker Nathaniel Russell and others. That Allen’s advertisement followed the same format as others merits notice only because this deviated from the signature visual element that Allen previously incorporated into his advertisements: a decorative border composed of printing ornaments that enclosed the list of goods he offered for sale. Allen previously went to great lengths – and probably some expense – to have the compositors for multiple newspapers create borders that made his advertisements recognizable at just a glance. In the summer of 1766, for instance, his advertisements in four newspapers – the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazetteall featured a decorative border. Readers familiar with his advertising in one publication would have readily identified his advertisements when they glimpsed them in others. Even when Allen discontinued the borders in his advertisements in 1767, he still incorporated distinctive visual elements in notices that appeared in multiple newspapers. He consistently strove to enhance the visibility of his advertisements via graphic design, a strategy not employed by the vast majority of advertisers who left it to compositors to determine the layout and other visual aspects of their advertisements.

Allen’s advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy was not an aberration. Neither his advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post on the same day or in the Massachusetts Gazette four days earlier had any distinctive visual effects. By that time he had been inserting these relatively plain advertisements in Boston’s newspapers for weeks. What prompted Allen to do this? His previous advertising campaigns had been innovative. They drew the eye and attracted attention. But had they been effective? Did Allen believe that they attracted enough customers to justify the additional effort and expense they required? He apparently still believed in the value of advertising in general or else he would not have continued to place notices in multiple newspapers in early 1768. Perhaps he could not longer justify the cost of advertisements that demanded special attention by the compositor. Note that even though he listed some of his goods he also stated that he stocked “too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.” This particular advertisement was shorter than most others he previously published. Allen very well may have determined that he need to cut back on length and graphic design in order to afford advertising at all. His advertisements and the pages of several of Boston’s newspapers became much less visually interesting as a result.