July 3

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

Jul 3 - 6:30:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 30, 1768).

“Jolley Allen, At his Shop almost opposite the Heart and Crown, in Cornhill, Boston.”

Almost without exception, shopkeeper Jolley Allen used bold visual elements to distinguish his advertisements from others that appeared in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. Sometimes he arranged to have borders composed of printing ornaments surround his advertisements. Other times he dominated the page with lengthy list-style advertisements that included his name in a font that far exceeded the size of anything else printed in the newspaper. To add further interest, designs derived from printing ornaments flanked his name, making the graphic design elements of his advertisements even more distinctive.

Such was the case in the summer of 1768 when Allen once again published advertisements that filled two out of three columns on a page, this time in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. He had launched this strategy late in the previous summer. For the new iteration he maintained the format but updated the copy. In addition to the decorative elements that headlined his notice, he also inserted manicules to direct attention to specific merchandise or promotions. For instance, one manicule pointed to “Cotton Wool, very good and very cheap.” Another directed readers to “Choice Jamaica and other brown Sugars, by the barrel, hundred or smaller Quantity, some as low as 3s. O.T. per single pound, and cheaper by the Quantity.”

Allen even deployed double manicules – one at the beginning of the sentence and another at the end – to draw attention to the most significant appeals aimed at convincing readers to make their purchases from him. In one case, he proclaimed, “The above TEA is warranted of the best Kind, and if it proves otherwise, after trying it, will be taken back and the Money returned, by the said JOLLEY ALLEN.” The manicules made it less likely that prospective customers would miss this generous money-back guarantee. The advertisement concluded with an appeal reprinted from the previous iteration, this time with double manicules to draw greater attention. In it, Allen advised that his “Town and Country Customers, and others, may depend upon being supply’d with all the above Articles the Year round … as cheap in P[r]oportion as those which have the Prices fixed to them.” Unlike most merchants and shopkeepers, Allen did indicate prices for several items in his advertisement.

It might be tempting to dismiss the placement of the manicules and other visual aspects as haphazard or accidental, especially since compositors rather than advertisers generally determined the layout and other graphic design elements of advertisements. However, the consistency demonstrated in Allen’s advertisements from newspaper to newspaper suggests that he carefully consulted with compositors in order to achieve the visual elements important to him. Not all eighteenth-century advertisers left it to the printing office to determine how their notices would appear on the page.

February 22

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

Feb 22 - 2:22:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 22, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen.”

The graphic design elements of Jolley Allen’s advertisement did little to distinguish it from other notices in the February 22, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy. It looked much the same as those placed by shopkeeper Gilbert Deblois and chairmaker Nathaniel Russell and others. That Allen’s advertisement followed the same format as others merits notice only because this deviated from the signature visual element that Allen previously incorporated into his advertisements: a decorative border composed of printing ornaments that enclosed the list of goods he offered for sale. Allen previously went to great lengths – and probably some expense – to have the compositors for multiple newspapers create borders that made his advertisements recognizable at just a glance. In the summer of 1766, for instance, his advertisements in four newspapers – the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazetteall featured a decorative border. Readers familiar with his advertising in one publication would have readily identified his advertisements when they glimpsed them in others. Even when Allen discontinued the borders in his advertisements in 1767, he still incorporated distinctive visual elements in notices that appeared in multiple newspapers. He consistently strove to enhance the visibility of his advertisements via graphic design, a strategy not employed by the vast majority of advertisers who left it to compositors to determine the layout and other visual aspects of their advertisements.

Allen’s advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy was not an aberration. Neither his advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post on the same day or in the Massachusetts Gazette four days earlier had any distinctive visual effects. By that time he had been inserting these relatively plain advertisements in Boston’s newspapers for weeks. What prompted Allen to do this? His previous advertising campaigns had been innovative. They drew the eye and attracted attention. But had they been effective? Did Allen believe that they attracted enough customers to justify the additional effort and expense they required? He apparently still believed in the value of advertising in general or else he would not have continued to place notices in multiple newspapers in early 1768. Perhaps he could not longer justify the cost of advertisements that demanded special attention by the compositor. Note that even though he listed some of his goods he also stated that he stocked “too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.” This particular advertisement was shorter than most others he previously published. Allen very well may have determined that he need to cut back on length and graphic design in order to afford advertising at all. His advertisements and the pages of several of Boston’s newspapers became much less visually interesting as a result.

October 8

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

Oct 8 - 10:8:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 8, 1767).

The Advertisements taking up so much Room, the several Articles intended for this Page are thrown into a SUPPLEMENT.”

This notice appeared at the bottom of the first column on the second page of the October 8, 1767, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. Richard Draper followed a standard procedure among eighteenth-century printers: when faced with too much content to fit into the allotted space he opted to distribute a two-page supplement along with the regular issue. This happened fairly frequently, especially in major port cities. Higher concentrations of residents meant greater numbers of advertisements to squeeze into each week’s four-page issue, sometimes yielding supplements devoted almost exclusively to advertising. The October 8 supplement, however, consisted primarily of news items as a result of “The Advertisements taking up so much Room” in the regular issue.

Draper and the Massachusetts Gazette did not have a higher number of advertisers than usual. Instead, advertisements placed by two local shopkeepers occupied significant amounts of space. Shopkeeper Jolley Allen continued publication of his lengthy list-style advertisement that filled two entire columns on the final page. Not to be outdone, bookseller John Mein commenced a new full-page advertisement for his “grand Assortment of the most MODERN BOOKS In every Branch of Polite Literature Arts and Sciences,” the one that he intended to launch in the Boston-Gazette three days earlier. That advertisement combined a previous advertisement for “A NEW EDITION of Dilworth’s Spelling Book” (set apart almost as a distinct advertisement in the lower right corner) and descriptions of two other books followed by a list of other books and stationery supplies in stock. The compositor created four narrow columns instead of the usual three slightly wider ones, resulting in a new look for that particular page compared to the rest of the newspaper.

Overall, just two advertisements accounted for nearly half of the October 8 issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, making the supplement practically a necessity. This happened as a result of both the printer and the advertisers experimenting with the format for newspaper notices. Although colonial newspapers published full-page advertisements sporadically in the 1760s, having an issue dominated by only two advertisements would have been an extraordinary event for readers, one that would have garnered even more notice among potential customers for John Mein and Jolley Allen.

September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 14, 1767).

“Just opened and now read for Sale, by Jolley Allen.”

A week ago I examined Jolley Allen’s extraordinary full-page advertisement in the September 7, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Given that Allen was prone to inserting the same advertisement in all four Boston newspapers, I noted that he had not placed that particular advertisement in the other two local newspapers distributed on the same day, nor the other one printed later in the week. The expense may have explained Allen’s decision, but space constraints may have played a role as well. The printers may not have been able to accommodate him at that time; after all, other advertisers had also contracted their services. It very well could have been a combination of the two factors, expense and limited space.

Allen’s full-page advertisement did not run a second time in the Boston-Gazette, but the following week a similar advertisement appeared in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy on September 14. In each case, the notice contained the same content, the same extensive list of merchandise, but had been condensed to two columns instead of three. Allen shared the page with other advertisers, reducing both expense and space. While the revised format may not have had the same impact as a full-page advertisement, taking up two columns was still an impressive feat that deviated from the vast majority of newspaper advertisements published in eighteenth-century America. Allen’s advertisement eventually ran in the Massachusetts Gazette, again condensed to two columns, on September 24, two and a half weeks after the full-page advertisement occupied the entire final page of the Boston-Gazette. It continued to appear sporadically in some, but not all, of Boston’s newspapers in October.

The two-column version lacked Allen’s signature decorative border in all three newspapers, but it did add an ornate printing device that flanked Allen’s name (itself printed in larger font than anything else in any of those newspapers, with the exception of the mastheads). In the absence of a border, Allen still managed to achieve visual consistency in his advertisements across three of Boston’s four newspapers.

Jolley Allen, a prolific advertiser, did not merely place notices in newspapers. Instead, he developed marketing campaigns that included advertising in multiple newspapers and consistent use of graphic design elements across those publications. He usually launched new advertisements through simultaneous publication in all of Boston’s newspapers, but the ability to do so with a full-page advertisement in September 1767 eluded him. Various factors may have been at play, yet Allen still managed to devise an advertising campaign of much greater magnitude than anything attempted by his competitors in Boston or his counterparts elsewhere in the colonies.

September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (September 7, 1767).

“Now ready for Sale by JOLLEY ALLEN, At his Shop.”

Jolley Allen regularly placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers published in the port city. On most occasions, readers could readily identify his notices, even at just a glance, because Allen made arrangements with printers to have them enclosed in decorative borders. This was a consistent feature from one newspaper to another, a relatively rare example of an advertiser exerting influence over typographical decisions in the eighteenth century. In most cases, advertisers generated copy but compositors made determinations about format and layout. Realizing the value of making his commercial notices easy to distinguish from others on the page, Allen insisted on retaining control over some of the visual aspects. Distinctive borders created with printing ornaments became his brand in multiple newspapers.

Allen neglected to utilize a border in some of his advertising during the summer of 1767, a decision he reversed in the September 7 edition of the Boston-Gazette. The border around his advertisement in that issue, however, was not its most distinctive element. Except for the colophon, Allen’s advertisement filled the entire final page. Spread over three columns, the merchant listed an assortment of imported goods – from textiles to groceries – that he sold “Wholesale and Retail” to customers in both town and country. Even without the decorative border, the size of the advertisement alone demanded attention. Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few full-page advertisements, each of them all the more noteworthy considering that a standard issue consisted of only four pages. The printers gave over a significant amount of space that might otherwise contain additional advertisements or news items.

Experimenting with a full-page advertisement must have been an expensive investment for Allen. He usually placed identical advertisements in all four of Boston’s newspapers, but not during the week that his full-page advertisement ran in the Boston-Gazette. None of the other local newspapers carried any advertising by Allen. He may have exhausted the money he budgeted for marketing in a single advertisement. He might also have wished to see what kind of response it garnered, waiting to place full-page advertisements in other publications only if he determined doing so was worth the investment.

Historians of advertising and print culture usually describe full-page advertisements as nineteenth-century innovations, but colonial merchants and shopkeepers had already experimented with the format. Though uncommon, such advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century America.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:9:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 9, 1767).

“Ready for Sale, BY Jolley Allen.”

Regular readers of the Massachusetts Gazette may have been surprised when they glimpsed this notice for Jolley Allen’s “Shop about Midway between the Governor’s and the Town-House, and almost Opposite the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, BOSTON.” Allen regularly advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette. He also regularly advertised in the city’s other three newspapers, so the advertisements itself would not have caused surprise. No, that would have resulted from the design of the advertisement. It did not feature a border comprised of printing ornaments, a distinctive aspect of Allen’s advertising that had practically become his trademark in all of his notices, regardless of which newspaper published them. Allen had developed a consistent visual appearance for his advertisements, making them instantly recognizable. This advertisement, however, looked like so many others on the page. It lacked the most significant element that previously set Allen’s notices apart from others.

Perhaps the printer made an error. Perhaps a new compositor now worked in the shop and set the type without realizing that Jolley’s advertisement was supposed to have a decorative border. After all, the shopkeeper seems to have consistently negotiated with the printers of all four of Boston’s newspapers to include that adornment. Perhaps he forgot to underscore this request when he submitted the copy for this advertisement.

Yet later in the week, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy all carried Allen’s newest advertisement. None of them enclosed his list of “English and India Goods” within any sort of border. While it was possible that one printing office overlooked this particular request, it seems unlikely that all four made the same mistake. Apparently Allen had not renewed his instructions concerning the graphic design of his advertisement. Why did he abandon a practice that made his advertisements so easily identifiable to readers and potential customers? Why did he eliminate the most innovative aspect of his advertising?   Even as eighteenth-century advertisers experimented with early forms of branding, they did not consistently adopt new methods, not realizing the value of cementing unique images of their business endeavors in the minds of consumers.

October 9


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

Massachusetts Gazette (October 9, 1766).

“A large and general Assortment of silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.”

This advertisement caught my eye because Jolley Allen ran a store in Boston. I live nearby in Medway, Massachusetts. Allen probably thought the items he sold would be bought mostly by women. His advertisement lists many items that women would want to look more fashionable, including “silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.” As Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, explains, “Like us, eighteenth-century people needed clothing for warmth and comfort, but they quickly abandoned those needs if fashion or the occasion dictated.”

Another reason Allen directed his advertisement towards women was because “the exercise of choice in the marketplace may have been a liberating experience” for women.[1] The choice of where to shop and what to purchase allowed women to bring business where they wanted. Jolley Allen probably knew this was the case and listed so many items to attract women to his store.



This advertisement may look familiar to readers who visit the Adverts 250 Project regularly. Guest curator Nicholas Commesso selected an advertisement by Jolley Allen to feature and analyze on September 29, less than two weeks ago. Doesn’t this advertisement deviate from the methodology established for the project, a commitment to feature a new advertisement every day? Why did I allow Jordan to choose this advertisement instead of sending her back to the Massachusetts Gazette or either of the other two newspapers printed in colonial America on October 9, 1766?

I could justify that decision by noting that Allen’s extensive advertisement merits attention more than once. It possessed features commonly found across advertisements during the colonial period, such as the implicit emphasis on female consumers that Jordan examined today. Allen also incorporated a variety of distinctive features into his advertisement, such as the money-back guarantee that Nick examined or the unique decorative border that was the focus of my analysis. This single advertisement included a multitude of significant aspects that tell us about colonial culture and commerce and the development of marketing techniques in eighteenth-century America. Considering how much was “going on” in Allen’s advertisement, no short analysis by a guest curator (nor my own slightly extended additional commentary) could do this advertisement justice.

Still, that was not the deciding factor when Jordan submitted this advertisement for my consideration and I approved it and told her to move forward with research and writing. After all, I did not know at that time that she would take a different approach than Nick did in his analysis. Although this advertisement looks familiar, it is actually a different advertisement than the one Nick examined on September 29. The copy was almost identical, though today’s version added an additional sentence after the nota bene. In addition, careful analysis reveals that the type was set differently, both for the body of the advertisement and the decorative border, which should come as no surprise considering that today’s advertisement was printed in the Boston News-Letter, but Allen’s advertisement featured on September 29 came from the Boston Evening-Post. While this might seem like a technicality (after all, Allen composed only one advertisement but submitted it to multiple newspapers), that the “same” advertisement appeared in more than one publication tells us something interesting about colonial entrepreneurs attempting to maximize exposure for their advertisements, as guest curator Elizabeth Curley demonstrated with John Taylor’s advertisements last week.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 489.