GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“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.
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.