March 13

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1772).

Choice Bohea TEA.”

When Stephen Hardy, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the March 13, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, his name served as the headline.  Such was the case in many advertisements for consumer goods and services in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  The names of the purveyors appeared first or appeared in larger font than the goods and services offered for sale or both.  As a result, colonizers skimming advertisements encountered a litany of names of merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans rather than products.

On occasion, however, headlines for advertisements did identify products.  In that same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, one advertisement promoted “Choice Bohea TEA TO BE SOLD BY DANIEL PEIRCE, junr.”  The body of the advertisement listed other items for sale as well, but the headline, “Choice Bohea TEA,” appeared in the same size font as “Stephen Hardy” elsewhere on the page, making those two headlines the most noticeable content on the page.  Although Peirce’s name ran in all capital letters, the font size did not distinguish it from the rest of the content of his advertisement.  Indeed, the decision to also print “ENGLISH, & WEST INDIA GOODS,” “GROCERIES, NAILS, GLASS,” “PEPPER,” “GINGER,” and “SHOES” in all capital letters of the same size as “DANIEL PEIRCE” made it harder to spot the name of the advertiser.  “Choice Bohea TEA” was the focal point of Peirce’s advertisement, just as “Stephen Hardy” was the focal point of the tailor’s advertisement.

Other advertisements deployed a similar strategy.  Gilliam Butler’s advertisement for “ENGLISH and WEST INDIA GOODS” also used “Choice Bohea TEA” in a larger font as its headline.  Peter Pearse’s advertisement promoted “Shushong, Hyson, Congo, and Bohea TEA,” with “Sushong, Hyson” in a larger font, occupying the first line, and operating as an abbreviated headline.  Neal McIntire’s advertisement had a similar structure: “Tar, Pitch” led a list of commodities for sale, appeared in a larger font on the first line, and displaced the seller’s name as a headline.  In an advertisement for textiles, “Russia Duck” instead of “THOMAS MARTIN” served as the headline.

Why did so many advertisements in that issue deviate from using the name of the advertiser as the headline?  Did purveyors of goods and services who placed notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette adopt different standards for writing copy than advertisers in other towns?  That may have been the case, especially if they consulted advertisements that previously ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette when writing their own notices.  The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, may have also played a role.  On occasion, printers noted that they aided in composing advertisements.  Perhaps Peirce, Butler, Pearse, McIntire, and Martin received advice from the Fowles, encouragement to place their products first and their names later in their advertisements.  Whatever the explanation, the advertising pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette often had a distinctive look in the early 1770s because the headlines name products instead of purveyors.

February 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 17, 1772).

“On as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”

The partnership of Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers made low prices one of the focal points of their advertising in a notice that ran in the February 17, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Most newspaper advertisements of the era featured the names of the advertisers as headlines, if they included headlines at all, but in this case “Amorys, Taylor and Rogers” constituted a secondary headline.  Their advertisement commenced with a primary headline that proclaimed, “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP.”

The partners then developed that theme in a nota bene that preceded a lengthy list of their inventory that extended three-quarters of a column.  They offered their wares wholesale to retailers, both “Country Shopkeepers” and “Town Shopkeepers.”  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained that they offered their customers low prices because they acquired “almost every Kind of Goods usually imported from Great Britain … immediately from the Manufacturors.”  In other words, they did not deal with English merchants whose intervention tended to inflate prices.  By eliminating those middlemen, Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers kept prices down for American retailers.  In turn, those retailers could generate business by setting their own low prices for their customers.

The partners underscored that they offered the best bargains.  They pledged that “Country Shopkeepers may be supplied at any Time with what Goods they want, and on as low Terms as at any Store in BOSTON.”  Those “Country Shopkeepers” had many choices of merchants supplying retailers with imported goods in that bustling port city, but Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers indicated that they matched the prices of any of their competitors.  In addition, “Town Shopkeepers … who usually import their Goods, may have them on such Terms as may answer them as well as importing.”  Retailers in Boston would not find better deals through corresponding with English merchants, especially since Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers had their goods shipped “immediately from the Manufacturors.”

Low prices played an important role in marketing imported goods among both wholesalers and retailers in eighteenth-century Boston.  Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers explained at some length how they were able to part with their goods “EXTREMELY CHEAP,” hoping to attract the attention of retailers looking to set low prices of their own and pass along the savings to consumers.  That merchants and shopkeepers promoted low prices comes as no surprise, but the commentary about prices that sometimes appeared in newspaper advertisements demonstrates that some advertisers made deliberate efforts to engage prospective customers rather than passively announcing low prices and expecting that would be sufficient to generate business.

November 15

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

Connecticut Journal (November 15, 1771).

Cheaper than the Cheapest.”

In the fall of 1771, Henry Daggett advertised a “large & general Assortment of English & India GOODS” in the Connecticut Journal.  His advertisement in the November 15 edition also listed several different kinds of wines and spirits as well as “Loaf and Brown SUGARS by the large or small Quantities” available at his store near Yale College in New Haven.  He offered all of his inventory “Wholesale and Retail,” supplying shopkeepers and selling directly to consumers.

Most purveyors of goods and services made appeals to price when they placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, but Daggett emphasized low prices to an extent not seen in most other notices in the Connecticut Journal and other publications.  John Sherman informed prospective customers that he sold his “large Assortment of GOODS … very reasonably.”  Similarly, John Atwater stocked a “general Assortment of English Goods” that readers could acquire “very cheap.”  Sherman and Atwater embedded appeals to price within their notices; in comparison, Daggett crafted a headline that presented his establishment as “ANOTHER CHEAP STORE!”  He deployed price as a means of framing the rest of his advertisement.  In the middle of the advertisement, he further elaborated, proclaiming that he set prices “Cheaper than the Cheapest.”  Customers might have found some of the same imported goods at Sherman’s store or Atwater’s store, but Daggett suggested that his competitors did not match the bargains he offered.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements might not appear very sophisticated compared to marketing campaigns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but those notices should not be dismissed as mere announcements.  Daggett attempted to incite demand for his goods by emphasizing low prices, hoping that the promise of good deals would convince customers to make purchases and buy in greater quantities if he could convince them that they were getting the better end of the transaction.  Even the wording and format incorporated innovation as Daggett deviated from standardized language concerning prices to promote “Cheaper than the Cheapest” goods and inserted a headline describing his “CHEAP STORE!”  At a glance, Daggett’s advertisement may look like all the others to modern readers, but on closer examination it becomes clear that Daggett sought to create a distinctive notice that would garner greater attention.

September 6

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

Connecticut Journal (September 6, 1771).

Shoes sold cheap.”

Joseph Smith and Jacob Thompson competed for customers.  Both placed advertisements in the September 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal to promote the shoes they made and sold in New Haven.  Smith’s notice appeared first, informing prospective customers that “he carries on the Business of shoemaking or cordwaining, in all its Branches” at his shop located at “the Green Boot and Shoe.”  He used “good Materials” and hired “the best of Workmen.”  In case that was not enough to attract the attention of local consumers, Smith also described a limited-time offer for those ready to pay (or barter for “Country Produce”) immediately rather than purchase their shoes and boots on credit.  Until September 20, he would “work 10 per cent. cheaper than the booking price.”  Customers could take advantage of this bargain, but only if they acted quickly.

Thompson’s advertisement ran immediately below Smith’s notice.  He declared that he “continues to carry on the Business of Shoe-making as usual” and already had “a quantity of ready made Shoes” in stock.  Rather than allow Smith to get the upper hand by setting lower prices, Thompson made an offer of his own.  For customers prepared to pay (or, again, barter) rather than buy on credit, he sold his shoes “10 per cent cheaper than Joseph Smith.”  This offer also concluded on September 20.  Only on rare occasions did advertisers mention competitors by name in eighteenth-century America, making Thompson’s notice exceptional.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently proclaimed that they had the lowest prices in town (or sometimes the entire colony).  Some offered to match the prices of their competitors, but they usually did not seek to undercut other purveyors of goods and services as blatantly as Thompson attempted to do with Smith.

The publication history of these advertisements added another layer to the competition.  Smith first inserted his notice in the Connecticut Journal on August 23, giving prospective customers four weeks to respond to his offer.  The following week, Thompson placed his advertisement as a response, but the two notices appeared on different pages.  On September 6, the printers decided to place the two advertisements together and added a headline that trumpeted, “Shoes sold cheap.” Neither Smith nor Thompson had previously included that headline in their advertisements.  A line separated it from Smith’s advertisement, making clear that the headline was an addition rather than part of either notice.  Why did the printers intervene?  Were they having some fun with the competition between two local shoemakers?  Whatever their intention, the new headline enhanced the advertisements, calling greater attention to them and benefitting consumers with cash (or country produce) on hand to respond to the limited-time offer.

July 31

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (July 29, 1771).

“Now Selling very Cheap.”

In the decades prior to the American Revolution, purveyors of goods and services regularly incorporated appeals to price into their advertisements.  They did so often enough, in fact, that many delivered appeals to price in standardized or formulaic language in their newspaper notices.  In the July 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, Joseph Gardener informed prospective customers that he sold a variety of textiles “at the very lowest Rates” and “upon the most reasonable Terms.”  Those phrases frequently appeared in the introductions and conclusions to advertisements, before and after lists of goods that demonstrated the choices available to consumers.

Some advertisers, on the other hand, experimented with other means of enticing customers with low prices.  The proprietors of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in King-Street” stocked a “General Assortment of Ironmongery, Braziery and Cutlery Ware.”  To attract attention, they made their appeal to price the headline for the entire advertisement: “Now Selling very Cheap.”  Near the end of the advertisement, the proprietors also stated that their inventory “will be Sold much lower than those Articles are usually Sold in this place.”

The headline appeared in the largest font and preceded everything else in the advertisement.  Other headlines tended to focus on the advertiser or the merchandise.  For instance, “Joshua Gardner” appeared in the largest font in that advertisement, as did “Richard Clarke & Son” in an advertisement for tea, spices, and other groceries.  Another advertisement bore a headline proclaiming “IRISH LINNENS” for sale at Bethune and Prince’s store.  On the same page, the headline for Joseph Mann’s advertisement drew attention to the “CHOCOLATE” he ground and sold.  Another advertisement for a stolen anchor demanded inspection with a headline that promised “Eight Dollars Reward.”

The proprietors of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse recognized an opportunity to deviate from the usual practices concerning headlines in newspaper advertisements.  They made low prices the focal point of their notice with a headline, attempting to hook readers with that appeal and encourage them to examine the rest of the advertisement in greater detail.  Even when advertisements consisted entirely of text without images, advertisers and printers experimented with graphic design to deliver messages to consumers.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:8:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 8, 1770).

“[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”

The first page of the March 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted almost entirely of the masthead and news items, though the last column did carry three advertisements followed by the brief notice that instructed readers “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page.]”  Colonial printers and compositors made little effort to organize or classify the notices that ran in the page of their newspapers.  Advertisements for consumer goods and services ran alongside notices about wives, indentured servants, and horses that ran away and enslaved people who escaped from bondage.  Legal notices and announcements about ships preparing to sail for faraway ports were interspersed with those various kinds of advertisements.  Headlines had not yet been developed as a means of informing readers of the contents of articles.  As Joseph M. Adelman explains, “News was published by paragraphs with no headlines; the only way to determine what news was important was to read all of it.”

Advertisements did have headlines of sorts.  The Pennsylvania Gazette often featured generic headlines for advertisements, such as “TO BE SOLD” or “WANTED,” though many were more specific, “such as “AUCTION OF BOOKS.”  Advertisers sometimes used their names as their headlines, including “GARRETT & GEORGE MEADE” and “THOMAS STAPLETON, Brush-Maker.”  Some advertisements had introductory headers that provided overviews of the dense text that comprised the remainder of the advertisements, though most were too extensive to be considered headlines.  One of the more succinct versions extended five lines:  “Neat DRUGS and MEDICINES, / SOLD BY / ROBERT BASS, / APOTHECARY in MARKET-STREET, / Wholesale and Retail, at the usual moderate Rates.”  With few visual images, advertisements looked similar to news items.  All of the content of early American newspapers required close examination to determine purpose and significance.

Occasionally printers and compositors provided some aid intended to help readers navigate the contents of their newspapers.  Such was the case with the notice about “new Advertisements” on the “Fourth Page” of the March 8 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  That notice let readers interested in perusing new content know that they pass over the advertisements that filled half of the third page.  Those new advertisements were not organized by purpose.  Some had the headlines listed above, while most had no headline or introductory header at all.  Colonial printers and compositors still had work to do to make the contents of newspapers more accessible for their readers.  That brief notice, “[For more new Advertisements, see the Fourth Page,]” suggested that some were contemplating what could be done on that count.

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.