August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:10:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 10, 1769).

The following assortment of GOODS.”

With the exception of the “POETS CORNER” in the upper left and the colophon running across the bottom, advertisements of various lengths comprised the final page of the August 10, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. Most consisted of dense blocks of text with headlines in a larger font, but two likely attracted attention because their format differed from the others. Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement included a familiar woodcut that depicted a Windsor chair. By that time, Hampton had included the image in his advertising so often that the woodcut had been damaged through such frequent use. The Windsor chair was missing an arm. Still, Hampton continued to garner a return on the investment he made in commissioning the woodcut, apparently believing that a visual image, even a slightly damaged one, enhanced the visibility of his advertisement.

Henry Remsen, Junior, and Company’s advertisement, on the other hand, consisted entirely of text, but its layout distinguished it from other advertisements, including those by competitors who also listed scores of goods available at their shops. Remsen and Company enumerated a variety of textiles and accessories, from “Blue and red strouds” and “Striped flannels and coverlids” to “Ribbons and gimps” and “Ivory and horn combs.” They divided their advertisement into two columns with a line down the center separating them. Only one or two items appeared on each line. Remsen and Company’s advertisement included far more white space than others that presented litanies of goods, making it easier to read and locate or notice merchandise of interest. The advertisement that ran immediately below it, for instance, also provided an extensive list of inventory at a shop in New York, but it followed the most common layout for advertisements of that sort. The goods appeared one after another in a dense paragraph. This format saved space (and thus reduced the cost of advertising) and may have been easier for the compositor to set the type, but it did not make the same impression on the page as the dual columns in Remsen and Company’s advertisement. Although compositors usually made decisions about typography and layout, Remsen and Company likely submitted specific instructions, possibly even a manuscript example, for the format they desired. While not every advertiser considered the power of graphic design in the eighteenth century, some, like Jonathan Hampton and Remsen and Company, did take how and advertisement looked in addition to what it said into account.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1769 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 17, 1769).

“Almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.”

Thomas Green inserted a lengthy advertisement for “All Sorts of English, India, West-India, and Homespun Goods” in the July 17, 1769, edition of the Newport Mercury. Although the advertisement listed hundred of items available at his shop at the Sign of the Roe Buck, Green concluded with a note that he also carried “almost every other Article common to a Shop, and too many to enumerate in an Advertisement.” Prospective customers could hardly have doubted that this shopkeeper offered choices to suit their own tastes.

Green did “enumerate” so many items that his advertisement extended more than a column, which was relatively rare even for the most extensive list-style advertisements of the period. At a glance, however, it may not have looked as dense and difficult to navigate as other advertisements. The compositor, likely with instructions from Green, devised a unique format that gave much of the advertisement the appearance of a series of shorter notices. Each section concluded with a line that ran across the remainder of the column, creating a visual effect similar to the lines that separated notices from each other. In addition each new section commenced with one or two lines in a larger font, similar to the format for the headers for other advertisements. This technique highlighted particular goods for sale while also breaking this advertisement into shorter segments that readers could more easily peruse.

Compare Green’s advertisement to another lengthy advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury. Gideon Sisson sold similar merchandise at his shop on Thames Street. His advertisement fell a few lines shy of filling an entire column. Below the header, it featured only two sections of equal length, approximately half a column each. Many readers likely found the format imposing compared to the inviting layout of Green’s advertisement. Sisson required prospective customers to work harder when examining his inventory of goods.

Without close examination, many readers may have found it difficult to determine where Green’s advertisement ended. Encountering a series of shorter segments forced readers whose attention fixed on any particular section to scan backwards until they determined that it was part of Green’s lengthy advertisement. This exposed them to the rest of the advertisement, sometimes repeatedly if they happened to note more than one section of Green’s advertisement as they made their way through the newspaper. Such reiterative viewing would have introduced prospective customers to even more merchandise Green stocked at the Sign of the Roe Buck while simultaneously underscoring the extent of the choices he presented to consumers.

The format of Green’s advertisement played an important role in introducing prospective customers to his wares and increasing the likelihood that they took notice of his advertisement. Copy and layout played off each other to increase the effectiveness of both.

June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 29, 1769).

“Any Branch of the Painting and Gilding Business.”

George Kilcup’s advertisement in the June 29, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter likely garnered attention due to it unique format and placement on the first page. The short advertisement ran across the bottom of the page, separated from the news items that appeared above it by a line that helped readers distinguish between the two types of content. Rather than run continuously across all three columns, the advertisement was also divided into three columns with three lines of text each. While it was not uncommon for advertisements to run on the front page of eighteenth-century newspapers, this format and placement was quite exceptional.

The needs of the printer rather than any sort of intentional design by the advertiser or compositor likely explain the unusual manner of presenting this advertisement. Notably, the advertisement did not appear in the same form in subsequent insertions. The following week it ran as a block of text confined to a single column, like all of the other advertisements on the page. It took the form readers were accustomed to seeing in the pages of newspapers. Apparently the compositor set the advertisement in three columns, rather than in lines that crossed the entire page like the masthead, for the sake of efficiency. Knowing that the advertisement would run again the following week, the compositor set it in columns that could be rearranged easily into a standard block of text rather than having to reset the type completely.

Inserting Kilcup’s advertisement on the front page at all seems to have been a decision made at the last moment as a partial solution to the lack of space for all the content the printer could have included in the June 29 edition. The issue ended with a brief note informing readers, correspondents, and advertisers that “The Articles of Intelligence and Advertisements omitted, will be in our next.” Yet advertisers paid to have their notices inserted, and newspaper printers depended on this important revenue stream. The text that bled through the second page to the first suggests that the compositor originally planned for shorter columns on the first page but later modified it to include Kilcup’s advertisement when running short of space elsewhere in the issue. The compositor managed to squeeze in one more advertisement to mollify a client who might not have been happy for his notice to be delayed by a week.

Printers and compositors and, sometimes, advertisers experimented with graphic design elements of advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, yet not all innovations derived from intentionally attempting to devise a combination of format and placement to draw the attention of readers to advertisements. In the case of Kilcup’s advertisement, transformed into the standard block of text at the first opportunity, it seems that necessity prompted the compositor to play with the usual format and placement after the printer compiled too much content to fit all of it in the newspaper that week. That does not negate the fact that Kilcup’s advertisement benefited from enhanced visibility for its first insertion, but that does not seem to have been the first priority of anyone involved in producing the advertisement.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:1:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (June 1, 1769).

“BREW-HOUSE.”

John Calvert and Company placed a brief advertisement in the June 1, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette to advise readers that they sold “ALE, TABLE and SHIP BEER.” The partners also offered a convenient service for their customers: delivery to “any part of the town,” provided that the buyer purchased at least five gallons.

Decorative typography, however, rather than the copy accounted for the most notable part of Calvert and Company’s advertisement. Like some other advertisers, they included a headline to draw attention: “BREW-HOUSE.” Unlike other advertisers, they arranged for a decorative border to enclose the headline, distinguishing the advertisement from almost every other in the South-Carolina Gazette. One other notice did feature a similar layout, an advertisement for the “Sloop MONTAGU” to be sold at public auction. Its headline announced “SALE by the Provost-Marshal,” also enclosed in decorative type.

The South-Carolina Gazette frequently featured such advertisements for goods, property, or enslaved men, women, and children seized by the provost marshal and to be sold to settle debts or resolve other legal disputes. Such notices benefited from the unique format, the headline in the decorative border, but other advertisements for goods and services placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others did not incorporate such distinctive typography. Although the compositor could have made the decision independently, this suggests that Calvert and Company negotiated for that particular element of their advertisement, realizing that the headline and border would make it more visible among the advertisements that filled the final pages of the South-Carolina Gazette. Alternately, the partners could have commissioned a woodcut to spruce up their advertisement, but that likely would have incurred greater expense compared to utilizing decorative type the printer already had in hand.

In general, advertisers generated copy for newspaper notices in eighteenth-century America, but printers and compositors made decisions about graphic design. Calvert and Company’s notice suggests that advertisers sometimes observed distinctive design elements that they wished to incorporate into their own advertisements. Some likely suspected that distinctive visual elements made advertisements more effective and yielded a greater return on their investment, prompting them to borrow styles that they regularly encountered when they perused the newspapers.

March 27

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
“TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen.”

Jolley Allen, a merchant from London, had been selling goods in Boston since 1755. In this advertisement he listed many things, from clothes to china to tea. I am interested in the man selling those goods. Allen was a known Loyalist. He had remained in Boston under the British occupation in 1775 and 1776. He planned to leave with his family on a private ship named Sally whose captain was Robert Campbell when the British and all of the other Loyalists planned to evacuate in March 1776. The Allens planned to leave on March 14, 1776. They boarded the ship for their voyage, planning to follow the British vessels to Nova Scotia. According to the New England Historical Society, on March 17 “it became clear just how inept Robert Campbell was. Over the next 24 hours, Campbell managed to collide with two other fleeing British ships, nearly capsize Sally and finally run it aground while the British ships sailed away for Nova Scotia.” The crew then anchored the ship near Provincetown, which was not under British control. Allen then lost all of his possessions to the residents of Provincetown. He later went back to his old home in Boston and found that his barber had taken up residence in his house. For a short time Allen rented a room in his former home. He eventually escaped to London in Febraury 1777, where he published “Account of the Sufferings and Losses of Jolley Allen, a Native of London” in hopes of being compensated for his losses during the American Revolution.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Almost without fail, Jolley Allen placed distinctive advertisements in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. They were not distinctive so much for their contents. After all, Allen listed the same sorts of items stocked by shopkeepers throughout the city and throughout the colonies. Instead, his attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements distinctive. In most cases advertisers submitted copy to the printing office and compositors assumed responsibility for the format of newspaper advertisements. However, the consistency of graphic design elements in Allen’s advertisements across multiple newspapers, whether borders enclosing his lists of goods or ornamental type flanking his name in the headline, demonstrate that Allen negotiated with printers and compositors to have specific visual elements included in his advertisements. That made his advertisement in the March 27, 1769, edition of Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette particularly noteworthy, in addition to its size. Filling two of three columns on the final page, Allen’s advertisement dominated the page.

Such attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements easy for prospective customers to recognize. Multiple iterations of his advertisements, especially over extended periods, also suggest that after initially agreeing with the printer and compositor on the format that Allen simply submitted a copy of an earlier advertisement cut from the newspaper, along with revisions marked or attached, when he wished to revive his marketing campaign. His advertisement from March 27, 1769, replicated almost exactly an advertisement that he previously ran nearly nine months earlier in the July 3, 1768, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. The new version included a slightly altered headline, “TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen” rather than “Now ready for Sale, at the most reasonable Rate, BY Jolley Allen,” but the shopkeeper’s name still appeared in a much larger sized font than anything else in the newspapers with the exception of the masthead. Decorative ornaments forming diamonds flanked his name. The list of goods he offered for sale was almost exactly the same in terms of both content and order. For the few items missing from the previous version, he likely crossed them off the copy he submitted to the printing office. A limited number of new items appeared at the bottom of the first column and the top of the second, perhaps written in the margins or on a separate sheet by Allen. A final note to “Town and Country Customers” ran across both columns at the bottom, replicating the format of the earlier advertisement. In addition, manicules appeared in all the same places in both advertisements, including three printed upside down at the end of lines rather than at the beginning. This suggests that the compositor faithfully followed the graphic design elements present in the earlier advertisement.

Note the manicules enclosing Allen’s money back guarantee for tea. Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
Allen likely had to invest some time in working with printers and compositors to achieve the format he desired for his advertisement the first time it ran in any of Boston’s newspapers. That facilitated the process for subsequent insertions since he could simply submit a copy from a previous publication with any revisions marked, trusting the compositor to replicate a design already established.

December 16

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

Just come to Hand, and to be sold by Glen and Gregory.”

Connecticut Journal (December 16, 1768).

As fall turned to winter in 1768, the partnership of Glen and Gregory ran an advertisement for “A Neat Assortment of Goods suitable for the Season” in several consecutive issues of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. In the process of creating this advertisement, Glen and Gregory most likely wrote the copy and submitted it to the printing office. Then the compositor set the type, making all of the decisions about fonts, format, and other graphic design elements. Occasionally advertisers made specific requests concerning the visual appearance of paid notices, but in most instances they left that part of producing advertisements to the compositors.

In the case of Glen and Gregory’s advertisement, the compositor most likely made decisions about which words appeared in italics and which in larger font. The compositor also elected to center the first two lines of the advertisement, which served as a headline to draw attention. The compositor also made other decisions about the appearance of advertisements in the Connecticut Journal, moving beyond the copy submitted by Glen and Gregory and other advertisers. Lines of ornamental type separated many (but not all) of the advertisements in the December 16, 1768, edition and most other issues. Compositors at other newspapers also placed decorative borders above and below advertisements. In the same week that Glen and Gregory’s advertisement appeared in the Connecticut Journal, the compositors for the Boston-Gazette and Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette also deployed this strategy for dressing up advertisements.

Doing so operated as an implicit advertisement for the services provided at the printing offices where these newspapers were published. In addition to publishing newspapers, printers solicited job printing orders for blanks, broadsides, handbills, and other items. The ornamental type that separated advertisements in newspapers alerted prospective clients to the possibilities of decorative printing for their own orders. Although they did not do so exhaustively, these borders served as specimens of type otherwise not widely incorporated into the news items, advertisements, and other content of colonial newspapers. They offered compositors an opportunity to play with the visual appearance of advertisements and challenged prospective clients to think about the possibilities for their own job printing orders.

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.