October 4

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

Oct 4 - 10:4:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 4, 1769).

“A Compleat Assortment of MEDICINES.”

Lewis Johnson’s advertisements for medicines became a familiar sight in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. Several qualities made them particularly notable, including their length, their unique format, and Johnson’s name in large gothic font as a headline. His advertisement in the October 4, 1769, edition included all of these attributes.

The compositor distributed gothic font throughout the issue, but sparingly. On the final page, four legal notices commenced by naming the colony. “Georgia” appeared in gothic font the same size as the rest of the copy in those advertisements. Another paid notice seeking overseers to manage a rice planation used “Wanted Immediately” in gothic font as a headline. The final advertisement on that page as well as another on the third page described enslaved people “Brought to the Workhouse.” That phrase in gothic type served as a standard headline for such advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, making them recognizable at a glance. One more notice, also on the third page with Johnson’s advertisement, described a house “To be Let” with that phrase in gothic font as the headline. In each instance of gothic font in the issue, it appeared in the same size as the copy for the rest of the advertisement, except for Johnson’s name. It ran in a much larger font, one larger than anything else in the newspaper except its title in the masthead. This created a striking headline that would have been difficult for readers to miss.

The length of Johnson’s advertisement also made it impossible to overlook. Listing dozens of medicines available at the apothecary’s shop, it extended two-thirds of a column. The entire issue consisted of only four pages of two columns each. Johnson’s advertisement was significantly longer than any other paid notice. It rivaled in length even the longest of news items, occupying a substantial amount of space in the issue. Considering that colonial printers charged by the amount of space rather than the number of words, Johnson’s advertisement represented a considerable investment.

Finally, the apothecary deployed unique typography that made it easier for prospective customers to read his advertisement than many others that listed their wares in dense blocks of text. Divided into three columns, his advertisement named only one item per line. Johnson did not always divide his advertisements into columns, but he
did so fairly regularly. Usually, however, he resorted to only two columns. This advertisement featured three, a graphic design decision that reduced the amount of space it occupied on the page while simultaneously introducing an innovative format that rarely appeared in advertisements in any colonial newspaper.

Johnson incorporated three visual elements that made his advertisement noteworthy and more likely to attract the attention of prospective customers. His name in large gothic font as a headline, the extraordinary length, and dividing it into three columns each on their own would have distinguished his advertisement from others in the Georgia Gazette. Combining them into a single advertisement made it even more unique. The various graphic design elements demanded that readers take notice.

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 26, 1769).

Once more!

In the August 26, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Knight Dexter and Samuel Nightingale, Jr., both placed advertisements calling on those who owed them money to settle accounts or risk being sued. When it came to attracting the attention of readers, however, Dexter deployed much more effective typography that included a striking headline.

Compare the two advertisements, staring with the standard format adopted by Nightingale. “ALL Persons indebted to SAMUEL NIGHTINGALE, jun. by Book, Note, &c. are once more earnestly intreated to make immediate Payment.” The advertisement continued from there with the threat of legal action and a shorter paragraph that promoted the “large Assortment of European and West-India GOODS” in stock at Nightingale’s shop. The shopkeeper’s name and “GOODS” were the only words that appeared in all capitals. None of the text in the advertisement ran in a larger font. Visually, little distinguished it from other advertisements or other content in the issue.

On the other hand, Dexter’s advertisement opened with a headline that demanded attention: “Once more!” The font for the headline was even larger than that used for “PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” in the masthead on the front page. Elsewhere in the issue, only prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell used a font notable for being larger than anything else on the page; their names ran in font the same size as “PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” in the masthead. “Once more!” appeared in the largest font by far on the third page and the second page that faced it, making it difficult to miss. Such unique typography likely incited curiosity and prompted readers to investigate further and find out more about the advertisement.

Although unusual, the typography was not completely unique. In December 1768, Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold, executors of the estate of Joseph Smith, ran an advertisement calling on creditors to settle their debts and advising the community of an estate auction. The advertisement featured the “Once more!” headline in oversized font. It ran in the Providence Gazette. Perhaps Dexter, who advertised frequently in that newspaper, remembered that advertisement and incorporated its distinctive feature into his own advertising several months later. Alternately, perhaps the printer or compositor recommended the striking device to Dexter when he expressed concern about attracting as much attention to the advertisement as possible. Either way, this innovation that originated in the Providence Gazette did not disappear after its first use. It reappeared within a year, heralding a practice that became common in newspaper advertising in the nineteenth century.

January 7

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

Providence Gazette (January 7, 1769).

“A HORSE stolen!”

Among the new advertisements that ran in the January 7, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, one proclaimed “A HORSE stolen!” Following that headline, the advertisement included further details, such as a description of the horse (“14 Hands and a half high, well set, 9 Years old, a dark Sorrel, intermixed with some white Hairs, and has some Spots under the Saddle”) and the date and time it had been stolen (“Tuesday Evening, the 27th of December”). The thief had made off with the saddle, bridle, and saddlebags as well. Finally, the advertisement offered two rewards: five dollars for finding and returning the horse or ten dollars for capturing the thief along with locating the horse.

While most of contents of the advertisement were standard for the genre, the lively headline, including the exclamation point, was not. The headline did, however, echo the headline in another advertisement in the same issue, the Once more! that introduced an estate notice placed by executors Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold. That advertisement also ran in the previous issue. Perhaps Samuel Danielson, Jr., had seen Olney and Arnold’s estate notice. Perhaps it had influenced him to devise a bold headline for his own advertisement. The signature at the end of Danielson’s advertisement indicated that he composed it on January 5 (even though the theft took place on December 27). He certainly could have seen the contents of the December 31 edition, including Olney and Arnold’s “Once more!” notice, before composing the copy for his own advertisement.

Danielson’s “A HORSE stolen!” headline suggests that eighteenth-century readers noted innovations in advertising and that some advertisers adopted those innovations when placing their own notices in the public prints. Yet they did so unevenly. Many other advertisers continued to place notices that deployed their names as the headlines or did not feature headlines at all. Notable for their innovation in the eighteenth century, headlines like “Once more!” and “A HORSE stolen!” were precursors of a common strategy later incorporated into newspaper advertisements in the nineteenth century.

December 31

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

Providence Gazette (December 31, 1768).

Once more!

In their capacity as the executors of the estate of Joseph Smith of North Providence, Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. In it, they called on creditors to attend a meeting to settle accounts and announced an auction of the deceased’s real estate. The contents of their advertisement did not differ from other estate notices, but the headline set it apart, drawing attention with a proclamation of “Once more!” Eighteenth-century advertisements did not always consist of dense text crowded on the page.

This innovative headline most likely emerged via collaboration between the advertisers and the compositor, perhaps even accidentally. Many eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements did not feature headlines at all. Some treated the advertiser’s name as the headline or otherwise used typography to make it the central focus. The names “Darius Sessions,” “Samuel Black,” and “J. Mathewson” all served as headlines for advertisements, each in italics and a font the same size as “Once more!” In another advertisement, “Gideon Young” appeared in the middle, but in a significantly larger font. Other advertisements used text other than names as headlines. John Carter’s advertisement for an almanac deployed “A NEW EDITION” at the top. A real estate advertisement used “TO BE SOLD” and an advertisement for a runaway slave used “FIVE DOLLARS Reward.” Both were standard formulations when it came to introducing information to newspaper readers.

On the other hand, “Once more!” was different than anything else that usually appeared in the headlines of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. Playful and quirky, it was a precursor to the advertisements that regularly appeared in American newspapers in the nineteenth century. Its departure from standard practices for headlines accompanying advertisements in the 1760s suggests that Olney and Arnold did not merely go through the motions of placing an announcement in the public prints. Instead, they devised copy intended to draw more attention than formulaic language would have garnered. The uniqueness of “Once more!” was calculated to arouse curiosity among readers. That it appeared in italics and larger font was most likely a fortunate accident, considering that the compositor gave other headlines the same treatment. (Recall Darius Sessions,” “Samuel Black,” and “J. Mathewson.”) Still, it signaled the possibilities of combining clever copy with unconventional typography, a strategy that subsequent generations of advertisers and compositors would explore much more extensively.

February 23

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

Feb 23 - 2:23:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country-Journal (February 23, 1768).

“FINE BOHEA TEA.”

William Greaves opened his advertisement by announcing that he sold “FINE BOHEA TEA, At twenty-seven shillings and six pence per pound.” The format distinguished it from other advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in the late 1760s. Advertisers tended to follow certain conventions when they wrote copy, but Greaves experiments with something different. That variation likely drew greater attention to his advertisement.

Advertisements, especially list-style advertisements that enumerated an assortment of merchandise, in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers usually opened in one of two ways. Some merchants and shopkeepers used their own names, all in capital letters, as a headline, followed by a description of their origins of their goods or their location as a distinct section of text, and then the list of goods in stock. Such was the case in an advertisement that advised readers “JAMES McCALL, HAS just imported in the London, Captain Curling, and the Mary, Captain Gordon, from London, and Indian King, Captain Baker, from Bristol, a large supply of GOODS, amongst a great variety of other articles.” McCall’s advertisement then listed scores of items. Similarly, “WILLIAM WILLIAMSON, In Broad-street, next door to Mr. Lockwood’s watchmaker, &c. hath received per consignment, for sale” several sorts of spirits. Each of these advertisements was divided into three segments, each of them familiar to reader, each of them with a purpose easily identifiable.

The same was true of the other popular method for writing copy for advertisements for consumer goods and services. That format reversed the order of the first two elements. The advertiser’s name appeared as a headline, but only after introductory remarks about the origins of the goods offered for sale. For instance, an advertisement for dry goods began with “JUST imported in the ship Bacchus, Daniel Jackson, Master, from Liverpool, and to be sold by WILLIAM HARROP.” Another advertisement more simply started with “JUST IMPORTED, and to be SOLD, By NATHANIEL RUSSELL.” In all of these, the name of the advertiser appeared in larger type than any other text in the advertisement.

Greaves included the same information in his advertisement, but he used one item from among his merchandise to draw the attention of potential customers and encourage them to peruse the rest of his list of goods. Unlike the advertisements placed by his competitors, Greaves’ notice had two headlines: “FINE BOHEA TEA” at the beginning of the advertisement, followed by his name. Both appeared in all capital letters of a larger font than the remainder of the text. Rather than rely on an implicit appeal to consumer choice through publishing an extensive list of his wares, Greaves explicitly marketed one item in order to set the tone for prospective customers to read the rest of the advertisement. He underscored the quality, price, and freshness of his “BOHEA TEA” before giving any of the other information about his business that usually appeared first in advertisements. When it came to innovation, the format of this advertisement alone made Greaves’ notice distinctive, both in a newspaper crowded with advertisements and in a port city busy with commercial exchanges.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 30, 1768).

“JUST OPENED, and to be Sold by Nathl. Greene.”

To modern readers it may appear that Nathaniel Greene had just launched a new venture when he placed his advertisement in the January 30, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. After all, the first line announced in capital letters that he had “JUST OPENED” his shop at “the West End of the Great Bridge.” Residents of Providence in the late 1760s, however, would have understood this advertisement rather differently. Even if they had never visited, a great many would have been aware of his shop already. Readers of the Providence Gazette would have been exposed to Greene’s advertisements fairly regularly for more than a year. For instance, in August 1766 he had placed an advertisement that included the same location for “his Shop, on the West Side of the Great Bridge, Providence.”

So what did Greene mean when he proclaimed that he had “JUST OPENED” in late January 1768? This phrase described his merchandise rather than his location. His advertisement informed potential customers that he had updated his inventory and now offered a “neat Assortment of English and India GOODS, of all Kinds” that he had not previously made available. He attempted to entice consumers to examine his wares by presenting those goods as new rather than leftovers that had been lingering on the shelves.

That appeal may have lost some of its initial power to persuade by the end of January. Greene’s advertisement first ran in the January 2 issue, the promise of new merchandise coinciding with the new year. It then ran in five consecutive weekly issues, becoming as familiar to readers as the location of Greene’s shop, before being discontinued in the first issue published in February.

When it first appeared, however, the headline “JUST OPENED” distinguished Greene’s goods from those carried by his competitors – Joseph and William Russell, John Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Thompson and Arnold, Jonathan Russell, and Darius Sessions – who had been advertising in late December and continued in January. Many of those competitors composed longer advertisements and purchased more space in the Providence Gazette. Only one, however, utilized a headline that promoted some aspect of their goods: Thompson and Arnold underscored they set “Very CHEAP” prices. In response, Greene chose an alternate appeal to emphasize in his headline. In the body of his notice he did pledge “to sell as low as any that are sold in this Town,” but only after demanding prospective customers’ attention with his “JUST OPENED” headline.

January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 2, 1767).

“Very CHEAP.”

The typography of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement in the January 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette deviated from the standard format for notices placed by merchants and shopkeepers throughout the rest of the issue. Each advertisement had a headline of sorts, but in most instances the headline announced the name of the advertiser. In fonts several sizes larger than the text for the rest of the advertisement, those headlines marked notices inserted by Samuel Carew, Nathl. Greene, J. Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Jonathan Russell, J. & Wm. Russell, and Darius Sessions. Some of them abbreviated their names in order to fit on a single line.

Thompson and Arnold’s notice, on the other hand, included their names in larger font than most of the advertisement yet reserved the largest font for a marketing appeal that appeared first, preceding their names and all other information included in the advertisement. “Very CHEAP” proclaimed their headline, immediately signaling to prospective customers what kinds of prices they could expect to pay if they decided “to call at [Thompson and Arnold’s] Store, near the Great Bridge.” Each of the other advertisers included an appeal to price somewhere in their notices. Some deployed elaborate language to convince consumers that they sold their wares “cheaper than any Person or Persons in Providence” or “at the very cheapest rate.” Yet readers had to at least skim the notices places by J. Mathewson, Jonathan Russell, and their counterparts to encounter those appeals to price. Associating low prices with Thompson and Arnold required nothing more than a quick glance at their advertisement.

Perhaps the deployment of this typography was merely circumstantial in this case. After all, the name of their partnership contained more characters than the much shorter Samuel Carew or Darius Sessions and could not be abbreviated conveniently like Nathl. Greene or J. & Wm. Russell. Neither situation, however, prevented advertisers and the compositor devising other solutions that still gave primacy to the name of the advertiser in other advertisements elsewhere in the same issue. Nicholas Brown and Company, for instance, listed Brown’s name in large font on the first line, followed by “and COMPANY” in middling-sized font (but strategic capitals) on the next line. “THURBER AND CAHOON” used fonts as large as those in any other advertisement for their names, inserting one word on each of the first three lines of their advertisement.

Thompson and Arnold could have adopted a similar strategy. Doing so would have adhered to custom when it came to the standard format for advertisements in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Finding themselves in the same position as their competitors – making an appeal to price – the partners innovatively wrote their copy in such a way that made their marketing strategy double as the headline for their advertisement. As a result, the typography of their advertisement promoted their business in a manner unique among the paid notices that appeared throughout the same issue.