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.

October 25

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

New-London Gazette (October 25, 1771).

“Scarlet, / Crimson, / Brown, / Blue, / Mix’d } Broadcloths.”

In the early 1770s, the New-London Gazette carried less advertising than its counterparts published in the major urban ports.  Newspapers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia often overflowed with advertising; the printers sometimes resorted to disseminating supplements in order to disseminate all the advertisements.  Those newspapers tended to feature greater variation and innovation in the format of their advertisements.  The New-London Gazette rarely ran more than two pages of advertising, yet occasionally it featured notices that rivaled the advertisements in newspapers from port cities.

Such was the case for John-McClarren Breed’s advertisement in the October 25, 1771, edition of the New-London Gazette.  It listed scores of items available at his store in Norwich, but rather than dense paragraphs of text, the most common format in any newspaper (and especially those printed in smaller towns), it divided the space into two columns with only one item on each line.  Items of similar sorts appeared together.  For example, Breed carried several different kinds of locks.  Each of them – “Chest, Cupboard, Desk, Till, Pad” – had its own line, with a bracket that extended five lines to the right and the word “Locks” printed only once.  The advertisement utilized the same style for various sorts of broadcloths, handkerchiefs, and hinges.  Visually, this communicated choices for consumers while also adding an unusual element to attract attention.  In the final portion of the advertisement, Breed listed more than two dozen books that he stocked, once again dividing them into two columns with one title or genre per line.

Breed carried an assortment of goods similar to the inventory prospective customers expected in any shop in the largest ports.  His advertising also looked as though it could have appeared in a newspaper published in Boston or New York.  The design guided readers through the contents, helping them locate items of interest much more easily than paragraphs of crowded text that required closer attention.  When it came to graphic design, Breed’s advertisement was an outlier in the New-London Gazette in the early 1770s, but it also testified to what was possible for advertisers to achieve in the public prints, even in smaller towns.

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.