October 13

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

New-York Journal (October 10, 1771).

“Painters and Limners Colours, / Dyers and Fullers Articles, / Window Glass of all Sizes.”

Gerardus Duyckinck regularly advertised the “UNIVERSAL STORE” in the New-York Journal in the early 1770s, his notices readily recognizable by the ornate cartouche that surrounded most of the copy.  Advertisers who adorned their notices with visual images usually selected woodcuts that appeared either in the upper left corner or above the text.  Most visual images were fairly simple, but Duyckinck invested in perhaps the most elaborate woodcut that enhanced an advertisement in an American newspaper prior to the American Revolution.  The rococo flourishes that composed the border extended more than half a column.  The upper portion featured a depiction of Duyckink’s shop sign, the Looking Glass and Druggist Pot.  Unlike any other advertisement in the New-York Journal or other colonial newspapers, this one resembled the trade cards that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, the largest ports in the colonies.

Even when he did not incorporate that woodcut into his advertisements, Duyckinck often sought to create visually distinctive notices.  Such was the case for an advertisement in the October 10, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal.  An advertisement featuring his elaborate woodcut ran on the additional half sheet, as it had for many weeks, but the shopkeeper supplemented it with another advertisement, the first among the new notices following the news on the third page.  His new advertisement started with a dense block of text, similar to the format in so many other advertisements for consumer goods and services, but approximately half of that copy directed prospective customers to his new location.  A large portion of his advertisement, however, listed many of the items available at the Universal Store.  Duyckinck apparently arranged for the compositor to include only a couple of items on each line and center them in order to introduce a significant amount of white space.  Doing so gave the copy in that portion of the advertisement a unique shape that distinguished it from others in the same issue.  Duyckinck did not need an elaborate woodcut to make a memorable impression.  He devised other means of being a showman in his supplemental advertisement.

October 6

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 3, 1771).

“Fifes, Violins, Powder, / Lead, Shott, / Steel, &c.”

Gilbert Deblois used graphic design to increase the likelihood that his newspapers advertisements would attract the attention of prospective customers interested in the “very large Assortment of Winter Goods” available at his shop on School Street in Boston in the fall of 1771.  Rather than publish a dense block of text like most of his competitors who advertised, he instead opted for arranging the copy in the shape of a diamond.  The shopkeeper did so consistently in three newspapers printed in Boston, starting with the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on September 30 and then continuing in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on October 3.  The unique design likely made his advertisement notable for readers who saw it once and even more memorable for anyone who encountered variations of it in two or three newspapers.

In most instances, advertisers were responsible for generating the copy for their notices and then compositors determined the format.  On occasion, however, advertisers like Deblois made special requests, submitted instructions, or possibly even consulted with printers and compositors about how they wanted their advertisements to appear.  The compositors at the first two newspapers who ran Deblois’s advertisement took different approaches.  In the Boston Evening-Post, the text ran upward at a forty-five degree angle and formed an irregular diamond that filled the entire space purchased by the shopkeeper.  In contrast, the compositor for the Boston-Gazette used the same copy but arranged it in lines of increasing and then decreasing length to form a diamond surrounded by a significant amount of white space.  Though different, both sorts of diamonds made Deblois’s advertisements much more visible in the pages of the newspapers.  The advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury followed the latter design, but the compositor did not merely copy it from the Boston-Gazette.  The advertisement published on October 3 had a longer list of goods that the compositor had to accommodate in the design.

The copy itself did not distinguish Deblois’s advertisements from others that appeared in any of the newspapers published in Boston, but intentional choices about the format made his notices distinctive.  Deblois stocked the same merchandise “Just Imported from LONDON” as his competitors, but he used innovative design to generate interest among consumers who had many choices.

October 4

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 4, 1771).

“N.B. Said Griffith / continues to carry one / the Goldsmith’s Business as usual.”

Like many other advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, William Knight’s notice in the October 4, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured a dense paragraph of text that listed the many items available at his shop.  George Taylor, a tailor, published an advertisement similar in appearance, though shorter.  Each included the advertiser’s name in larger font for a headline and capitalized a few key words to guide readers through the content, but neither relied on graphic design to capture the attention of prospective customers.

The format of David Griffith’s advertisement, on the other hand, distinguished it from most others in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It included formulaic language, such as “Just Imported from LONDON” and “A large Assortment of English Goods,” but either Griffith or the compositor decided to break many of the phrases and sentences into shorter lines and center them.  “Just Imported from LONDON,” for instance, occupied three lines as “Just / Imported / from LONDON.”  A nota bene at the end of the advertisement informed readers that “Said Griffith continues to carry on the Goldsmith’s Business as usual, at the same House, Likewise, as low as is done or can be had in this Town, or Boston, &c.”  Text that could have fit in three lines extended over nine, some of them featuring only one or two words, to create an irregular shape with copious white space.  The design gave Griffith’s advertisement a very different appearance compared to Knight’s notice immediately to the right.

Yet Griffith was not committed to innovative graphic design as a matter of principle or consistent marketing strategy.  His advertisement advised that “The Particulars” about the imported goods “will be in our next” newspaper.  The format of that advertisement replicated Knight’s advertisement and so many others, a dense paragraph of text that listed dozens of items.  That advertisement extended an entire column and overflowed into a second column.  Purchasing the space that would have allowed for a more innovative format may have been prohibitively expensive.  Between the two advertisements, Griffith demonstrated what was possible and what was probable when it came to graphic design for eighteenth-century newspaper notices.

October 2

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (September 30, 1771).

“Choice Bohea, Souchon, and Hyson Tea.”

In the fall of 1771, Gilbert Deblois deployed graphic design to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from those placed by his competitors.  On September 30, he ran an advertisement with a unique format in the Boston Evening-Post.  The text ran upward at forty-five degree angles, creating an irregular diamond that filled the entire block of space he purchased in that issue.  That same day, he ran an advertisement featuring the same copy arranged in another distinctive format in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette.  The text once again formed a diamond, that one created by centering lines of text of progressively longer and then shorter lengths.  In contrast to the advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post, this one incorporated a significant amount of white space into Deblois’s notice.

That these advertisements appeared simultaneously in two newspapers published in Boston demonstrated that Deblois carefully coordinated an advertising campaign intended to attract attention with its unusual typography.  The compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and Boston-Gazette would not have independently decided to experiment with the format of Deblois’s advertisements.  Instead, the shopkeeper must have worked with the compositors or at least sent instructions to the printing offices to express his wishes for innovative graphic design.

In most instances, advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to produce an appropriate format.  Advertisements that ran in multiple newspapers often had variations in font size, capitalization, and italics according to the preference of the compositors, even as the copy remained consistent.  On occasion, however, advertisers assumed greater control over the design of their notices, creating spectacles on the page.  Both of Deblois’s notices demanded attention from readers because they deviated visually so significantly from anything else in the newspaper.  Deblois did not have to commission a woodcut or include a variety of ornamental type in his notices in order for them to stand out from others.  He achieved that by working with the compositors to determine what they could accomplish solely by arranging the text in unexpected ways.

September 30

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

Boston Evening-Post (September 30, 1771).

“A very large Assortment of Winter Goods.”

Most advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers consisted text unadorned with images, though some did feature woodcuts depicting ships, houses, enslaved people, horses, or, even less frequently, shop signs.  Despite the lack of images, advertisers and compositors sometimes experimented with graphic design in order to draw attention to newspaper notices.  Some of those efforts were rather rudimentary.  In the September 30, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, Hopestill Capen’s name served as the headline for his advertisement.  That was not unusual, but the size of the font was.  Larger than the names of any other merchants and shopkeepers who placed advertisements in that issue, the size of Capen’s name demanded attention for his advertisement.  Thomas Lee pursued a similar strategy with a headline proclaiming “SILKS” in a large font.

Capen and Lee may or may not have consulted with the printer or compositor about those elements of their advertisements.  They may have submitted the copy and left the design to the compositor.  Gilbert Deblois, on the other hand, almost certainly gave instructions or even spoke with the compositor concerning the unique format of his advertisement.  The text ran upward at a forty-five degree angle, distinguishing it from anything else that appeared in the pages of the Boston Evening-Post.  Deblois hawked a “very large Assortment of Winter Goods, with every other Kind imported from Great-Britain.”  In so doing, he used formulaic language that appeared in countless other advertisements in the 1760s and early 1770s.  Yet he devised a way to make his message more interesting and noticeable.  That likely required a greater investment on his part.  Advertisers usually paid for the amount of space their notices occupied, not by the word, but in this case setting type at an angle required extraordinary work on the part of the compositor.  Reorienting Deblois’s advertisement was not merely a matter of selecting a larger font, incorporating more white space, or including ornamental type for visual interest.

Deblois carried many of the same goods as Capen, Caleb Blanchard, and Nathan Frazier, all of them competitors who placed much longer advertisements listing the many items among their merchandise.  Rather than confront consumers with the many choices available to them at his shop, Deblois instead opted to incite interest for his “large Assortment of Winter Good” using graphic design to draw attention to his advertising copy.  The unique format of his advertisement made it stand out among the dozens that appeared in that issue of the Boston Evening-Post.

August 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (August 5, 1771).

“Diapers for clouting, napkins and table cloths.”

Throughout the summer of 1771, Bethune and Prince ran an advertisement for “IRISH LINNENS” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Like most other advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, it consisted entirely of text, but it differed in appearance from most other notices concerning commodities for sale.  Rather than goods listed in dense paragraphs of text, Bethune and Prince’s advertisement featured innovative graphic design that both organized the merchandise for readers and made the notice distinctive.

The “IRISH LINNENS” available at Bethune and Prince’s store on King Street included shirting, diapers, and sheeting.  Each of those categories appeared in font that rivaled the size of the headline.  Descriptions, in font the size that matched the text in the body of other advertisements on the same page, appeared to the right of each category of linen.  For instance, “Shirting” ran in larger font justified to the left margin with “3-4ths, 7-8th and yard wide” in smaller font on two lines to the right.  Similarly, “Diapers” appeared in larger font on the left and “for clouting, napkins and table cloths” in smaller font on the right.

Bethune and Prince deployed other means of enticing customers.  They promoted their “large Assortment” and promised that “Wholesale Customers may be supplied nearly as low as they are bought in England.”  Their marketing efforts, however, did not rely solely on those appeals.  Instead, their advertisement deployed graphic design to attract attention, increasing the chances that prospective customers would notice the variety of choices and low prices.  The unusual format required additional effort on the part of the compositor who set the type, but likely not so much as to increase the price of an advertisement usually determined by the amount of space that it occupied rather the number of words it included.  Bethune and Prince likely requested the unique format, but it also may have been the product of a compositor looking to experiment with the design elements of the advertisement.

July 24

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 24, 1771).

“Brown Sugars of various Qualities.”

Like most advertisements that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, Joseph Barrell’s notice in the July 22, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post consisted entirely of text unadorned with images.  That did not mean, however, that Barrell did not deploy graphic design to his advantage.  In listing dozens of commodities available at his store, he adopted a unique format that distinguished his advertisement from others in the newspaper.  Barrell centered his text, producing a distinctive amount of white space compared to other notices.

Consider the most common configurations for enumerating goods in advertisements.  Both styles appeared on the same page as Barrell’s notice.  In the first, the most common, advertisers listed items in dense paragraphs of text with both the left and right side justified with the margins.  This gave such advertisements some visual heft, communicating to prospective customers that the advertisers carried vast assortments of goods, but it also made those advertisements more difficult to read compared to the second option.  Some advertisers decided to divide their notices into columns, listing only one or two items per line.  That method also yielded blank space that made it easier for readers to navigate those advertisement, but it meant that purveyors of goods could not list as many items in the same amount of space.  Charles Dabney utilized the first method for his “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” in an advertisement about as long as it was wide, one that featured very little blank space.  William Scott’s advertisement for a “Variety of English and Scotch Goods” was just as dense and perhaps even more difficult to read since it extended more than twice the length of Dabney’s notice and listed many more items available at his shop.  John Head, on the other hand, resorted to columns for his commodities.  In an advertisement that occupied about as much space as Dabney’s, he listed far fewer items.

Readers readily recognized both formats, but that was not the case for Barrell’s advertisement.  Compositors often centered the first couple of lines of advertisements, the introductory materials that gave the advertiser’s name and location, but rarely did they center the contents in the body of the advertisement.  That made Barrell’s advertisement unique, likely drawing the eyes of readers.  Barrell did not offer goods that differed much from those available in other shops, nor did he make appeals to price or quality that differed from those advanced by other advertisers.  His advantage in communicating with prospective customers derived from the graphic design elements of his advertisement.

July 11

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

South-Carolina Gazette (July 11, 1771).

“THE Printer of this Paper … GIVES THIS EARLY NOTICE.”

Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, made it impossible for readers to ignore the notices that he ran in his newspaper for several weeks beginning in the summer of 1771.  He exercised his prerogative as printer in designing a format that made his notice the most visible item in the newspaper, running it immediately below the masthead and across all three columns on the first page.  Dated July 1, Timothy’s notice first appeared on July 4 and then in the next four issues before he inserted a revised version in subsequent editions.  The printer informed readers that he intended “to have all his Affairs settled by the First of January next, so that he may depart the Province by the Beginning of Aprilfollowing.”  To that end, he “GIVES THIS EARLY NOTICE thereof, to all Persons indebted to him, that they may prepare to make Payment to their Accompts … without giving him the unnecessary Trouble of calling again and again.”  In addition, for those “many Subscribers in the Country whom he does not know, he begs such will give their Factors or Agents proper Orders to settle with him.”

Advertising on the front page was not unusual in and off itself.  The South-Carolina Gazette regularly featured advertisements on the first page.  In the July 11 edition, Thomas Powell’s advertisement for “Dr. KEYSER’s famous PILLS” filled the entire first column, under a heading that labeled it a “New Advertisement,” making it the first item readers encountered below the masthead and Timothy’s notice.  News from London comprised most of the second column, before a heading for “New Advertisements” introduced two shorter notices, one seeking passengers and freight for a ship departing for Philadelphia and the other calling on colonists to settle accounts with Robert Dillon.  The third column contained a brief account of news from Charleston, a list of prices current of “South-Carolina Produce and Manufactures,” and “Timothy’s Marine List” (as the printer branded the shipping news from the customs house when he printed it in his newspaper).  Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette were accustomed to seeing a variety of items, including advertisements, on the front page.  Timothy could have made his notice the first item in the first column without altering the format of the page, complete with a “New Advertisement” heading, but that would have risked readers passing over it.  Instead, he created a distinctive format that demanded readers give their attention to his important notice.  Just as the incomplete “Marine List” on the front page included instructions to “[Turn to the last Page.]” for the remainder, the printer also deployed graphic design to guide readers in navigating the newspaper.

June 8

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

Providence Gazette (June 8, 1771).

“Choice Cyder Vinegar.”

As summer approached in 1771, the number of advertisements in the Providence Gazette increased, due in part to the arrival of ships from England delivering imported goods to merchants and shopkeepers after winter ended.  Advertising accounted for nearly half of the content in the June 8, 1771, edition, many of the paid notices seeking to entice consumers to purchase textiles, garments, housewares, and hardware.

Many of those advertisements followed a similar format.  Headlines consisted of the names of the advertisers while the body of the notices provided lists of goods, alerting prospective customers to the many choices available, in dense paragraphs of text.  In terms of graphic design, those advertisements resembled other paid notices, including advertisements about runaway indentured servants, legal notices, estate notices, and even advertisements about strayed or stolen horses.  Some advertisements did not much different than news accounts.  Determining the purpose of an advertisement and navigating its contents required careful reading.

Some purveyors of consumer goods adopted a different strategy when enumerating their merchandise.  Instead of a single paragraph, Edward Thurber used two columns with only one item on most lines.  This introduced a greater amount of white space into the advertisement while simultaneously making it easier to skim the notice and determine whether it included specific items of interest.  This format increased the amount of space an advertisement filled, which meant that advertisers paid more for it.  Thurber may have considered it well worth the investment if the graphic design distinguished his notice from the many others placed by his competitors.

Only one other advertisement in the June 8 edition featured merchandise listed in columns.  Amos Throop, an apothecary, used columns for listing the various patent medicines available at his shop.  He then reverted to the standard paragraph format for listing other items, producing a hybrid format for describing his inventory.  Both Thurber and Throop competed with other advertisers who sold the same goods, as well as many others who did not resort to the public prints to hawk their wares.  Thurber and Throop made appeals to consumer choice, customer service, and low prices, but they did not depend on advertising copy alone in reaching out to prospective customers.  Graphic design likely also helped them to capture and keep the attention of consumers perusing the Providence Gazette.

March 13

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 12, 1771).

“Writing Paper, Wafers, &c.
Loaf Sugar, and Bohea Tea,
Cinnamon, Nutmegs, &c.”

When an advertisement announcing the “SALE of the late Mr. CORKER’S Store Goods” appeared in the March 12, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, its format likely caught the attention of readers.  It listed more than one hundred items, from textiles to patent medicines to housewares to hardware.  In addition, the advertisement promised that “many small Articles too tedious to mention” would also be available for sale “at the Vendue-House” in the coming days.

The compositor designed a catalog of goods that was relatively easy for readers to navigate compared to many notices merchants and shopkeepers placed in early American newspapers.  The advertisement spanned two columns on the third page, occupying enough space to create three columns within the notice.  In turn, only one or two items appeared on each line.  A significant amount of white space, especially compared to the dense text in news accounts and other advertisements, facilitated scanning the advertisement for items of interest.  In contrast, Parker and Hutchings’s advertisement for “An ASSORTMENT of FRESH GOODS” immediately below the notice for Corker’s goods listed dozens of items in three paragraphs.  It had no white space to aid in distinguishing among the merchandise.  Parker and Hutchings selected the more common means of listing their wares in the public prints.  Incorporating orderly columns into the advertisement for Corker’s goods also increased the amount of space necessary to run it.  The size of the notice, in addition to the design elements, made it more visible on the page.

In addition to promoting the sale sponsored by Corker’s estate, this advertisement also testified to the skills of those who labored in Charles Crouch’s printing office.  In the colophon, Crouch invited prospective clients to visit him on Elliott Street, “where all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care and Expedition.”  The format of the notice about Corker’s store goods simultaneously served as an advertisement for the different styles of printing that Crouch could deliver to customers who ordered broadsides, handbills, circular letters, blanks, and other job printing.