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.

February 23

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

Providence Gazette (February 23, 1771).

“Brass candlesticks.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell regularly placed advertisements in the Providence Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Like many other purveyors of goods, they listed some of the many items in stock at their store, including “Mens silk hose,” “Womens newest fashioned furr’d hats,” “Brass candlesticks,” and “Looking glasses.”  In so doing, they demonstrated to consumers the wide array of choices available to them.  The descriptions of some items further underscored that prospective customers could choose according to their own tastes and desires, such as “SCarlet, claret, tyrean, mixed, drab, cinnamon, green & blue broadcloths” and “Sewing silks of all colours.”  The Russells’ notice in the Providence Gazette constituted a catalog of their merchandise in the format of a newspaper advertisement.

In addition to making an appeal to consumer choice, the Russells also deployed graphic design to draw attention to their advertisement and aid readers in navigating it.  Their notice featured two columns of goods with a line down the center.  Only one or two items appeared on each line, creating white space that made the entire advertisement easier to read.  In contrast, most other items in the Providence Gazette (and other colonial newspapers) ran in dense blocks of text.  News items almost invariably took that form.  Most advertisements did as well, including the majority that enumerated the many items offered for sale.  As a result, the design of the Russells’ advertisement likely caused readers to notice it before they actively set about reading it, encouraging them to look more closely.  When they did read it, they could scan the contents more efficiently than working through a lengthy and dense paragraph.  Primitive by modern standards, the two-column design distinguished the Russells’ advertisement from most other items in the newspaper.

That design cost more money since newspaper printers charged by the amount of space advertisements occupied rather than the number of words.  The Russells apparently considered the additional expense worth the investment if it increased the number of readers who engaged with their advertisement.

January 23

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 21, 1771).

“SADLERY WARE.”

Ornamental printing helped to make the final page of the supplement that accompanied the January 21, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury more visually interesting than any other portion of that issue.  Rather than use a single line to separate advertisements, the compositor instead selected a variety of decorative type.  Compare, for instance, the line between the advertisement for “SADLERY WARE” and George Ball’s advertisement about his new location to the ornaments that appeared above and below most of the other advertisements.

Eighteenth-century newspapers tended to feature few visual images other than a crest or signet in the masthead and a small number of woodcuts depicting ships, houses, horses, enslaved people, and runaway indentured servants.  Sometimes those woodcuts appeared in great numbers, but most often advertisers deployed them sparingly.  The edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury under consideration here ran only three advertisements with woodcuts, one on the third page and two on the fourth page.  No images appeared on the second page; only the crest in the masthead adorned the first page.  The two-page supplement included six woodcuts, two on the first page and four on the second.  (Three of them can be seen in the detail of that page above.)  With four woodcuts, the last page of the supplement already incorporated greater visual diversity than any other page of the standard issue and the supplement.

Beyond that, the compositor spruced up the page with more than twenty lines of decorative type that separated advertisements.  The third and fourth pages of the standard issue and the first page of the supplement all consisted entirely of advertising, yet none of them received such treatment.  Instead, single lines sequestered advertisements.  What explains the burst of creativity on the final page?  Was it a ploy to attract attention from readers once they discovered no news or editorials, especially those prone to skip over advertisements?  Did more than one compositor set type for that issue and its supplement?  What other factors might have influenced the design decisions that produced a final page so different from the rest of the issue?  The format of these advertisements raises interesting questions without clear answers.

November 15

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

South-Carolina Gazette (November 15, 1770).

“ELIXIRS … PILLS … WATERS.”

The partnership of Carne and Poinsett sold a variety of medicines and medical supplies at their shop on Elliott Street in Charleston.  In a newspaper advertisement that ran for six weeks in the late fall of 1770, they advised prospective clients of a “LARGE Parcel of DRUGS and MEDICINES” and “INSTRUMENTS” they had just imported.  Like apothecaries and others who sold popular patent medicines, they provided a list for consumers to examine in advance of visiting their shop.  Carne and Poinsett, however, adopted an innovative approach to organizing their “COMPOLETE ASSORTMENT” of “FAMILY MEDICINES” within their advertisement.

Most advertisers simply listed the various patent medicines in paragraphs of dense text, expecting readers to sort through all of them.  A smaller number of advertisers enumerated one remedy per line, often dividing their notices into two columns, thus allowing readers to peruse their inventory more easily.  Still, they did not impose any particular organizing principle on the merchandise in their advertisements.

Carne and Poinsett categorized their medicines and grouped them together for the convenience of prospective clients who encountered their advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette.  Rather than have Fraunces’s Female Elixir, Hooper’s Pills, and Stewart’s Tincture appear one after another, they instead listed all of the elixirs together, all of the pills together, and all of the tinctures together.  They did the same for waters and essences.  Rather than clutter the advertisement by repeating the words “elixir,” “pills,” “tincture,” and “water,” they instead inserted those words just once, along with printing ornaments that made clear they identified categories of medicines.  Doing so created more white space within the advertisement, which further enhanced its readability.

In their efforts to market patent medicines to prospective clients, Carne and Poinsett produced an organized catalog condensed to fit within a newspaper advertisement.  While compositors usually exercised discretion when it came to the format of notices, that does not seem to have been the case with Carne and Poinsett’s advertisement.  They placed the same notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, featuring the same graphic design.  That would have been too much of a coincidence to attribute to the creativity of the compositors of the two newspapers.  Carne and Poinsett certainly submitted copy with instructions for how it should appear in print.

October 31

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 31, 1770).

“MRS. SWALLOW begs Leave to inform the Publick.”

Newman Swallow and Mrs. Swallow, presumably husband and wife, both ran newspaper advertisements in late October and early November 1770.  Newman advised prospective clients that he “proposes carrying on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS,” serving as a broker in Charleston.  Mrs. Swallow planned to open a boarding school for “young Ladies” at a new house “next Door to his Honour the Lieutenant-Governour’s” in Broad Street.  Their advertisements first appeared, one above the other, in the October 30, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The following day both advertisements also ran, again one above the other, in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The November 1 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included both notices, once again one above the other.  In the course of three consecutive days, the Newmans disseminated their advertisements in all three newspapers published in Charleston, maximizing exposure for their enterprises among readers throughout the busy port and the rest of the colony.

Careful examination of their advertisements reveals differences in format but not content.  The Newmans submitted the same copy to the three printing offices in Charleston, but the compositors who set type for the newspapers exercised discretion over typography and other aspects of graphic design.  Variations in font sizes, font styles, words appearing in all capital letters or italics, and the use of ornaments all testified to the role of the compositor in making decisions about how each advertisement would look on the page.  In two of the newspapers, “NEWMAN SWALLOW” and “MRS. SWALLOW” served as headlines, but not in the third.  Similar examples appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg during the era of the American Revolution.  In towns large enough to support more than one newspaper, advertisers frequently placed notices in two, three, or more publications.  The copy remained consistent across newspapers, but the graphic design varied.  This demonstrated an important division of labor in the production of newspaper advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisers dictated the contents, but usually asserted little control over the format.  Compositors exercised creativity in designing how the copy appeared on the page, influencing how readers might engage with advertisements when they encountered them in the public prints.

October 21

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

New-York Journal (October 18, 1770).

“The Medley of Goods Sold by G DUYCKINCK.”

Few visual images adorned advertisements published in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Most of those that did appear depicted ships at sea (for freight and passage or imported goods), houses (for real estate), horses (for breeding), enslaved people (for sale or fleeing from bondage), or indentured servants (running away before their contracts expired).  These stock images, which belonged to the printers, were used interchangeably with any advertisement from the appropriate genre.  Far fewer advertisements featured unique images created expressly to represent a particular business, depicting particular merchandise or the shop sign that marked the location.  In those cases, advertisers commissioned the woodcuts and retained exclusive use of them.  Most were fairly modest, making Gerardus Duyckinck’s large and elaborate woodcut all the more notable and memorable.

Duyckinck operated a shop known as the “UNIVERSAL STORE” for its broad assortment of merchandise available to consumers.  He also referred to his inventory as “The Medley of Goods.”  Located at the “Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot” in New York, Duyckinck sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail.”  His woodcut featured an intricate rococo border that enclosed most of the copy for his advertisements, though he usually inserted a couple of lines of introductory material above it.  The copy within the border changed regularly.  A “Druggist Pot” sat at the top of the border and a “Looking Glass” with an ornate frame took up one-third of the space within the border, those two items replicating the shop sign that alerted prospective customers they had reached their destination.  The graphic design resembled the borders and other images that decorated trade cards distributed frequently by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in London and less often by their counterparts in the American colonies.  The image testified to taste and gentility, suggesting that these qualities were transferable to consumers who purchased goods from Duyckinck.

This ornate border and the lists of goods it enclosed appeared in the New-York Journal regularly in the late 1760s and into the 1770s.  Duyckinck first published it on October 29, 1767.  Three years later, it became a familiar sight to subscribers and other readers of the New-York Journal.  Even as other advertisements cycled through that newspaper, many running for the standard four weeks specified in the colophon before being discontinued, Duyckinck’s rococo border was present for weeks and months, the copy updated but the visual image remaining the same.  Other advertisers, such as staymaker Richard Norris and shopkeeper John Keating, invested in advertising campaigns that extended over months rather than weeks.  Their notices often ran on the same page as Duyckinck’s advertisement, as was the case in the October 18, 1770, edition, but they did not have visual elements that made them instantly recognizable.  No matter which other advertisements appeared alongside Duyckinck’s notice, his attracted attention due its striking image.  Prospective customers did not have to read the advertisement to know that Duyckinck made an assortment of goods available for purchase.  The repetition of such a memorable woodcut over the course of several years was a marketing strategy in and of itself.

June 1

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

Jun 1 - 6:1:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 1, 1770).

“Ratteen, / Wiltons, / Sagathees, / Ducapes, / Lutestrings.”

James King and Jacob Treadwell each advertised a variety of consumer goods in the June 1m 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  King’s advertisement took the more standard form.  After a brief introduction that included his name and location, the remainder of the advertisement consisted of a dense paragraph of text.  King listed dozens of items available at his shop, from textiles to “a Variety of Necklaces” to hardware.

Treadwell also published a catalog of the goods he sold, but his advertisement had a less common format.  Rather than a single paragraph, Treadwell’s notice divided the goods into three columns, listing only one item on most lines.  Given the space constraints, some items overflowed onto additional lines, such as “Shoe and Knee / Buckels,” “Wool and Cot- / ton Cards,” and “Silk, Lamb, and / Worsted Gloves / and Mitts.”  Creating columns also produced white space within the advertisement; the combination made Treadwell’s advertisement easier to peruse than King’s.  It likely helped prospective customers more fully appreciate Treadwell’s extensive assortment of merchandise.  That columns required more space also communicated the range of consumer choice, though Treadwell paid to make that part of the appeal he presented to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In the eighteenth century, advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied on the page, not the number of words.

To provide further visual distinction, some goods in Treadwell’s advertisement appeared in italics: “BRoad Cloths,” “Furniture Check,” “Damask Napkins,” “Laces of all sorts,” “Shoemakers Tools,” and “Breeches patterns.”  Why these particular items is not readily apparent today … and may not have been in 1770 either.  Did Treadwell believe they were in high demand?  Did he have surplus inventory?  Did Treadwell even instruct that those items appear in italics or did the compositor independently make the decision to provide even greater variation in the advertisement?  Whatever the reason, the graphic design elements of Treadwell’s advertisement likely garnered greater attention for it than King’s notice in standard format that ran on the same page.