November 11

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

New-York Journal (November 8, 1770).

“Just received per the Hopewell … 53 56.”

John Morton’s advertisement for a “Neat and general Assortment of Good suitable for the Season” appeared on the front page of the November 8, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Morton indicated that he had just received a shipment via “the Hopewell, Capt. SMITH, from LONDON.”  The two numbers at the end of the advertisement, “53 56,” confirmed that it was the first time his notice ran in the newspaper.  The compositor included those numbers as a shorthand to indicate the first and last issues to insert the advertisement.  They corresponded to issue numbers in the masthead.  The November 8 edition was “NUMB. 1453.”  Morton’s advertisement was scheduled to run in issue 1454 on November 15, issue 1455 on November 22, and issue 1456 on November 29.

Morton’s advertisement was not the only one that included a combination of issue numbers and reference to Captain Smith and the Hopewell.  Hallett and Hazard proclaimed that they had “just imported an assortment of goods “in the Hopewell, Capt. Smith.”  Their advertisement ended with “53 6,” issue numbers intended for the compositor rather than readers.  Similarly, William Neilson promoted “a large Assortment of Goods suitable for the Season, imported in the Hopewell, Capt Smith, from London.”  His advertisement also ended with “53 6,” numbers not related to his merchandise but to bookkeeping in the printing office.

Morton, Neilson, and Hallett and Hazard all apparently placed advertisements as quickly as they could after acquiring new inventory transported across the Atlantic on the Hopewell.  The shipping news, labelled “CUSTOM HOUSE NEW-YORK, INWARD ENTRIES,” included the “Snow Hopewell, Smith, London” among the several ships that arrived in the busy port since the previous issue of the New-York Journal.  Readers may not have paid much attention to the correlation between the issue number and the notations at the end of advertisements, but they were more likely to have noticed the roster of vessels that had just arrived in New York.  That would have helped them to calibrate how recently advertisers acquired the goods they hawked to consumers.  That Morton received his wares via the Hopewell was not a quaint detail.  It was not any more insignificant than the numbers at the end of his advertisement.  Both delivered important information to eighteenth-century readers who understood the context.

June 1

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

Jun 1 - 6:1:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 1, 1767).

“JOHN MORTON, Has just received … a very neat Assortment of goods.”

The layout of John Morton’s advertisement on the front page of the June 1, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette would have attracted attention because it so significantly deviated from most other eighteenth-century advertisements. In his list-style advertisement, the text extended across two columns. In most cases, if a newspaper advertisement occupied space in two columns at all it was because of length, overflowing from one column into the next. That was not, however, necessary when it came to Morton’s advertisement. William Weyman, the printer of the New-York Gazette, or a compositor working in his printing shop made design decisions that not only yielded a unique advertisement for Morton but also produced a distinctive first page for the newspaper compared to the other three printed in New York and nearly two dozen more throughout the colonies.

Why assert that the printer and compositor were responsible for the typographical elements of Morton’s advertisement rather than merely responding to requests made by a paying customer who generated the copy? The New-York Gazette was not the only newspaper that carried Morton’s notice during the first week of June. It also appeared in the New-York Mercury on the same day and again in the New-York Journal three days later. Although the content of the advertisement was consistent across the three publications, the layout differed significantly. In the Mercury, Morton’s notice took the standard form of most list-style advertisements, a dense paragraph. In the Journal, the compositor introduced more white space that made it easier to distinguish among the assortment of merchandise by creating two columns and listing a small number of items on each line. These differences were the most substantial, but the three advertisements also had variations in font size and the inclusion of printing ornaments. The Gazette, for example, included a decorative border on three sides, but was the only one that did not use a manicule to draw attention to Morton’s final plea for former customers “to make speedy payment.”

Although advertisers wrote their commercial notices themselves, printers and compositors exercised primary responsibility for layout and other typographical elements of most eighteenth-century advertisements. There were occasional exceptions. Jolley Allen and William Palfrey, for instance, both negotiated for specific design aspects of their advertisements, but generally innovative visual effects originated in the imaginations of members of the printing trade who then experimented with their execution.

Jun 1 - 6:1:1767 First Page of New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 1, 1767).

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Jun 1 - 6:1:1767 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (June 1, 1767)

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Jun 1 - 6:4:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 1, 1767).