April 21

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

Essex Gazette (April 21, 1772).

“It would be expensive to the Advertiser, and troublesome to the Reader, to mention every Article.”

In the spring of 1772, John Appleton took to the pages of the Essex Gazette to advertise a “full Assortment of English and India GOODS” in stock at his store in Salem.  Like many other advertisers who promoted their wares in newspapers throughout the colonies, Appleton sought to demonstrate to prospective customers that he offered them many choices by listing dozens of items.  His inventory included many varieties of textiles as well as “ivory and horn Combs,” “a fine assortment of blonde and bone Laces,” “Knee-Garters,” “white and cloth colour’d silk Mitts,” and “linen, silk and cotton Handkerchiefs of all sorts.”  He even concluded the catalog of his merchandise with “&c. &c.”  In repeating the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, he suggested that consumers encountered an even greater array of choices at his shop.

Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., apparently intended to publish a similar list in his advertisement in the April 21 edition of the Essex Gazette, but something prevented him from going into detail about the “great Variety and elegant Assortment of English and India GOODS” he “IMPORTED in the last Ships from LONDON.”  A note at the end of his advertisement stated that “Particular must be deferred till next Week.”  Sparhawk may have acquired his good so recently that he did not have an opportunity to make a full accounting in time for his advertisement to appear in the Essex Gazette that week.  Alternately, the printers ran out of space.  A week later, his advertisement filled the first half of the first column on the first page, perhaps a consolation from the printers for not including it in its entirety on April 21.

In contrast to Appleton and Sparhawk, George Deblois chose not to incorporate a catalog of his “English & Hard-ware GOODS” into his advertisement.  Even attempting to provide such a list, he asserted, would not do justice to the choices he made available to consumers.  “As his Assortment consists of a great Variety of Articles,” Deblois declared, “it would be too tedious to enumerate them in an Advertisement.”  John Cabot and Andrew Cabot were even more blunt and probably more honest about their decision to forego a list of merchandise in their advertisement.  They carried a “compleat and elegant Assortment of English and India GOODS … consisting of almost every Article that is necessary for the Consumption of the Country.”  However, they believed it “would be expensive to the Advertiser” as well as “troublesome to the Reader, to mention every Article.”  Instead, they promised that shoppers would not be disappointed at their store.  “Let is suffice to say,” the Cabots confided, “that there is a little of every Thing.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to consumer choice in their newspaper advertisements, but they adopted different strategies for doing so.  Many resorted to lengthy lists of goods, but others considered such methods “too tedious” and “troublesome” for readers.  In even more rare instances, some even confessed that cataloging their wares in the public prints “would be expensive.”  They found other means of suggesting that they offered plenty of choices for consumers.

December 17

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

Essex Gazette (December 17, 1771).

“An Elegant Assortment of English and India GOODS.”

John Cabot and Andrew Cabot sought to use typography to their advantage when they advertised in the Essex Gazette in December 1771.  They began with a notice in the December 3 edition, one that likely attracted attention because the copy was arranged to form a diamond.  The text ran upward diagonally with the longest line extending from the lower left corner to the upper right corner.

Two weeks later, they placed another advertisement that once again played with graphic design.  It featured the same copy as the previous advertisement, but this time the compositor created a different shape.  Not quite a diamond, it resembled a bulb.  The names of the advertisers filled most of the upper portion, helping to draw the eyes of the readers, but the white space in each of the corners also distinguished this advertisement from others on the page.

Except for the masthead on the front page, this edition of the Essex Gazette did not feature any images.  None of the advertisers opted to adorn their notices with woodcuts, yet the Cabots were not alone in their efforts to deploy typography to make their advertisement more conspicuous.  Nathaniel Sparhawk’s advertisement included a list of goods available at his store, divided into two columns, but it did not consist entirely of text.  Printing ornaments ran down the center, separating the columns.  Such visual appeal differentiated that advertisement from one with a similar format, but no decorative type, placed by John Gould and Company.

In most cases, advertisers submitted copy and compositors made decisions about format, but for these advertisements it seems almost certain that Sparhawk and, especially, the Cabots issued instructions or otherwise participated in developing the designs for their notices.  As they competed for customers with others who advertised similar goods, they likely hoped that savvy graphic design would prompt prospective customers to look more closely at their advertisements.

December 3

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

Essex Gazette (December 3, 1771).

“The Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”

John Cabot and Andrew Cabot operated a shop in Beverly, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  They took to the pages of Essex Gazette in December 1771 to promote an “Elegant Assortment of English and India GOODs.”  They boldly proclaimed that they offered the best prices in the region, “determined … to give undoubted Satisfaction to every Purchaser, and at as low a Rate, if not lower, than at any Store in BOSTON or SALEM, notwithstanding the Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”  The Cabots critiqued their competitors as they made their own “pompous” claim about their prices.

Such commentary may have captured the attention of prospective customers, but it was like the format of the advertisement that drew their attention in the first place.  The copy ran upward diagonally, forming a diamond that filled the traditional square of space that advertisers purchased.  One or two words appeared on the first lines.  The number of words and length of each line increased with each line until the line that extended from the lower left corner of the advertisement to the upper right corner, then decreased with each line.

The format was novel in the Essex Gazette, but that does not mean that it was unfamiliar to readers or to the Cabots.  Two months earlier, Gilbert Deblois, a shopkeeper in Boston, similarly experimented with the design of his advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The Cabots likely saw Deblois’s advertisement.  After all, they commented on the content of advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers in both Boston and Salem.  Perhaps they even clipped the advertisement or submitted an issue of the Boston Evening-Post with their copy and instructions for the compositor to replicate the format of Deblois’s unique notice.  They likely had to pay more than the three shillings that Samuel Hall usually charged for advertisements “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” but they may have considered it well worth the investment to create an advertisement practically guaranteed to attract notice from prospective customers.