September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Cowper and Telfairs in Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

“A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.”

Lewis Johnson inserted an advertisement for his inventory of “A LARGE and COMPLETE ASSORTMENT of FRESH AND GENUINE MEDICINES” in the September 23, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partnership of Cowper and Telfairs also placed an advertisement, informing potential customers of the “LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” they had imported from London. The notices, each listing an elaborate array of items, appeared side by side.

Although Lewis Johnson and Cowper and Telfairs each resorted to the common list-style advertisement to market their wares, the visual aspects of their notices distinguished them from each other. Cowper and Telfairs opted for a dense paragraph that extended two-thirds of the column, enumerating everything from “white, striped and ermine flannels” to “shirt buttons” to “broad and narrow axes” to “complete sets of china.” With some exceptions, they grouped their merchandise together by category (textiles, accouterments and accessories, hardware, and housewares). This made it somewhat easier for potential customers to locate specific items of interest (while also introducing them to others they may not have otherwise considered), even though the merchants did not include any sort of headers to indicate where one type of merchandise ended and another began. This dense list maximized the number of items Cowper and Telfairs presented to the public. While its format may have been somewhat overwhelming or difficult to read, it offered extensive choices to consumers.

Johnson’s advertisement, on the other hand, occupied the same amount of space on the page, but did not list nearly as many items. Instead, it divided a single column into two narrower columns, listing only one item per line. This left much more white space on the page, making it easier for readers to navigate through the merchandise. Like Cowper and Telfairs, Johnson introduced his list with the phrase “Amongst which are,” indicating that the advertisement did not include an exhaustive inventory. Both carried additional items at their shops. Given that he carried additional medicines, Johnson made a calculated decision to truncate his list in order to make it easier to read. Compared to the dense format of everything else on the page, the layout of his list likely drew the eyes of colonial readers, increasing the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisement.

Both list-style advertisements had advantages and shortcomings inherent in their appearance on the page. Although eighteenth-century advertisements lack the dynamic graphic design elements of modern marketing efforts, advertisers and printers did experiment with different layouts in their efforts to attract attention and incite demand among potential customers.

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Johnson from Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 21, 1767).

“Choice London BOHEA TEA, to be sold by Henry Appleton, at £4 10s. Old Tenor by the Dozen.”

Henry Appleton advertised “Choice London BOHEA TEA” in the August 21, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. His was one of nearly two dozen paid notices that appeared in that issue, its format distinguishing it from the others. Appleton’s advertisement ran in a single line across the bottom of the third page, extending nearly the width of three columns. At a glance, it could have been mistaken for the colophon printed on the other side of the page.

Why did Appleton’s advertisement have such a unique layout? A few other advertisements were nearly as brief, yet they had been set as squares of text within the usual three-column format of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The brevity of Appleton’s notice alone did not justify its unusual layout.

Who made the decision to treat Appleton’s advertisement differently? Perhaps Appleton, wishing to draw special attention to it, made arrangements with Daniel and Robert Fowle, the printers, to deploy an innovative format. Perhaps the Fowles or someone working in their printing office opted to experiment with the appearance of advertising on the page.

Perhaps neither the advertiser nor the printers put that much consideration into Appleton’s notice. If it had been submitted late or somehow overlooked, running it in a single line across the bottom of the page may have been the result of practicality rather than an intentional effort to challenge the conventions of eighteenth-century advertising.

As far as potential customers were concerned, however, the origins likely would have been less important than the effects. Readers scanning the contents of the issue would have encountered Appleton’s advertisement three times instead of passing over it only once. Its unique format demanded at least one close reading to determine what kind of information it contained, whereas advertisements that conformed to the standard layout did not elicit the same curiosity merely from their appearance.

Even in a short advertisement, Henry Appleton incorporated appeals to price and quality, but the format of his advertisement – whether intentionally designed or not – made it much more likely that consumers would spot those appeals and consider purchasing his merchandise.

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).

May 25

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

May 25 - 5:25:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

“Very handsome Ivory Paddle Fans,

Bone Stick and Ebony Ditto,

Womens silk Mitts and Gloves.”

The layout of William Palfrey’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of English Piece Goods” distinguished it from most other commercial notices published in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers in the 1760s. The shopkeeper listed much of his merchandise, but he did not resort to a paragraph of dense text or dividing the advertisement into two columns with one or two items on each line. Instead, he chose a couple of items for each line, specifying that every line be centered. This created quite a different visual effect in contrast to other advertisements that were crisply justified on the left and quite often on the right as well. Compare Palfrey’s advertisement to Daniel McCarthy’s advertisement, which appeared immediately to the left. Readers likely found Palfrey’s layout disorienting in comparison, especially since every advertisement on the page followed the style adopted by McCarthy. Palfrey’s disorienting layout thus made his advertisement the most noticeable advertisement on the page, giving him an edge over ten other shopkeepers.

May 25 - 5:25:1767 McCarthy in Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

Although advertisers usually generated copy and printers determined layout, it seems clear that Palfrey had a hand in designing the unique visual aspects of his advertisement. He placed the same notice in the Boston-Gazette on May 25, 1767. It featured almost identical format and layout. All of the same words appeared in capitals or italics. Certain lines appeared in larger font: not just “William Palfrey” and the first line of the list of goods (both of which would have been standard in any advertisement in any newspaper) but also “Tippets and Turbans,” items that the shopkeeper apparently wanted to emphatically bring to the attention of potential customers. A manicule directs readers to Palfrey’s promise to sell “very low for CASH” at the conclusion of the advertisement in both newspapers.

Very few advertisements for consumer goods and services included visual images in the eighteenth century, but that did not prevent some advertisers from attempting to distinguish their notices from those placed by their competitors. Although Palfrey advanced many of the same appeals, he devised another sort of innovation in marketing his wares.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:21:1767 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 21, 1767).

“SUPPEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL.”

John Holt printed a four-page supplement to accompany the May 21, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal. It included one page of “ARTICLES left out last Week, for Want of Room,” but the remainder of the supplement consisted primarily of advertisements. Almost every issue of the New-York Journal published in April, May, June, and July that year had a corresponding supplement, but the length, size, and purpose of the supplements varied. Sometimes they were mechanisms for delivering advertisements, but on other occasions few, if any, advertisements appeared. In an era when the standard issue for any American newspaper was four pages (created by folding a broadsheet in half) with only occasional supplements, Holt regularly adjusted his publication according to the amount of news and advertising of the week. In so doing, he was responsive to the needs of both readers and advertisers.

The May 21 supplement first caught my eye because of its strange format: two regular columns (as opposed to the usual three) with four short columns that ran perpendicular to the other two. Since I was working with a digitized copy, the size of the sheet was not readily apparent, but, having encountered something similar previously, I suspected that the supplement had been printed on a different size sheet than the regular issues. Consulting an original issue at the American Antiquarian Society confirmed that was indeed the case. The regular issue had been printed on a 9 ½ x 15 ½ sheet with three columns, the supplement on an 8 ¼ x 13 ½ sheet in the configuration described above. All columns measured 2 ¾ inches across. Holt rotated type that had already been set to create the four short columns that ran perpendicular to the rest of the content. For instance, shopkeeper Ennis Graham’s dense and lengthy list-style advertisement was divided into four columns. The printer maximized the amount of content he provided when printing on a smaller sheet.

May 24 - Graham 5:21:1767 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 21, 1767).

When I have encountered this trick of the trade in the past, most often it resulted from the printer not having access consistently to paper of the size usually used to publish the newspaper. That does not seem to have been the case in this instance. Sometimes Holt printed the supplement on the smaller sheet, but other times on a sheet the same size as the regular issue. The regular issue always appeared on the larger sheet. Whether on a smaller or larger sheet, sometimes Holt issued a half sheet (two-page) supplement and other times a full sheet (four-page) supplement. Usually the supplement included advertising, but not always. News from England and elsewhere merited immediate publication rather than waiting until the following week.

The supplements that accompanied the New-York Journal in 1767 sometimes had a strange layout because the printer carefully calculated the size of the sheet needed to deliver the content for the week, not because shortages of paper made peculiar layouts necessary. When other newspapers pledged that advertisement omitted would be printed in the next issue, Holt resorted to supplements to disseminate both advertising and the most current news as quickly as possible.

March 10

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

Mar 10 - 3:10:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 6
This is the orientation of these advertisements in the Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 10, 1767).

“A Parcel of good large Parchment Skins, for for Vessels Registers, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Advertising supplements were a fairly common feature of newspapers in the 1760s, especially publications printed in the largest American cities. Between news items, commercial notices, and paid announcements of various sorts, printers frequently ran out of space in the standard four-page issue. It made a lot of sense to distribute two-page supplements comprised solely of advertisements since it was advertising, rather than subscription fees, which really paid the bills.

Still, printers had to be careful in allocating resources to the advertising supplements. They had to weight the labor, time, and supplies they would expend against how quickly for frequently they published advertisements. Sometimes printers had more material than would fit in the standard issue but not enough to justify devoting an entire half sheet to a supplement. In such instances, they could opt to print the supplement on smaller sheets.

Such appears to have been the case with the Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal from March 10, 1767. It is impossible to say so definitively based solely on digitized images of the newspaper from Accessible Archives. No provider of digital surrogates of eighteenth-century newspapers includes metadata concerning the dimensions of the page or columns relative to individual images. Doing so would be time consuming and prohibitively expensive, resulting in scholars and others having significantly less access to digitized sources at all.

Although I do not have access to original copies of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal from 1767, the layout of the March 10 supplement contains all the indications of a smaller sheet that I have been able to confirm when working between digital surrogates and original copies of other newspapers. The regular issue contains three columns, but the supplement has two columns along with a third column of advertisements rotated to fit in the remaining space. The rotated advertisements are the same width as the others, indicating that type had not been reset, nor would it need to be reset to move any of the advertisements back into future editions of the regular issue.

Mar 10 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 5
First page of Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 10, 1767).

In this instance, however, Charles Crouch engaged in even greater economy of space than his counterparts who adopted this trick in other newspapers. Rather than provide space between the rotated advertisements in the third column, he squeezed them together in order to fit in very short advertisements. On the front of the supplement, this resulted in a two-line advertisement oriented in a different direction than the others in the third column. On the other side, where he did not have to take space for the masthead into consideration, Crouch found room for two advertisements rotated in the same direction as the others in the additional column.

Mar 10 - South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 6
Second Page of the Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 10, 1767).

Charles Crouch worked to fill the March 10 supplement of his newspaper with as much advertising as he could possible fit on its pages. In so doing, he made room to promote products he sold (“WASTE Paper” and “good large Parchment Skins”) that otherwise would not have fit in the regular issue or the supplement.

January 30

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

jan-30-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette-slavery-6
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD … ALL the estate of said deceased.”

Today’s advertisement had an exceptionally unusual layout: four columns of about twelve lines each, rotated counterclockwise relative to other items, positioned on the left side of the final page of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Another advertisement on the other side of the sheet had a similar layout, rotated clockwise and positioned on the right side of the page.

When I first encountered similar layouts in the New-Hampshire Gazette I hoped to make an argument that advertisers played a role in the graphic design decisions, that they attempted to draw attention to their notices through creative and jarring layouts that departed from readers’ expectations. Upon consulting original copies of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, I discovered that the printers’ paper supply had apparently been disrupted temporarily and they compensated by finding means to squeeze as much type as had already been set to completely fill smaller broadsheets.

Something similar seems to have happened here. Unfortunately, my local archive does not have copies of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette in its collections and Accessible Archives, like other databases of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, does not provide metadata concerning the dimensions of each page. Still, based on experience working with other newspapers printed in the 1760s as well as their digital surrogates in multiple databases, I can advance a reasonable explanation for the unusual layout of today’s advertisement.

jan-30-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette-page-6
Final page of South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 30, 1767).

Most issues of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, like newspapers printed throughout the colonies, were four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Each page had four columns of news, advertisements, and other content. For the January 30, 1767, issue, these pages were numbered [19] through 22. Pages 23 and 24, featuring the unique layout, appeared to be printed on smaller sheets with just enough room for two regular columns and a third made from dividing an advertisement into four shorter columns and rotating each. Both of the advertisements given this treatment had appeared in a single column in the previous issue. The type had been set, making it relatively easy to reposition it for the smaller sheet. The previous issue also had two extra pages, but apparently on a slightly larger sheet that allowed for three full columns on each side. In neither case were these additional sheets entitled a supplement.

Most likely pages 23 and 24 did not appear sequentially when delivered to, or read by, subscribers. Instead, the smaller sheet would have been tucked inside the larger newspapers. These extra pages featured advertising exclusively, as did the extra pages in the previous issue. Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, may have taken in so many advertisements that he considered it necessary to provide the extra sheet as a means of not falling behind in their publication. After all, the colophon encouraged readers to submit advertisements, an important revenue stream for any newspaper publisher in eighteenth-century America. If Wells, who competed with printers of two other newspapers in Charleston, wanted to continue to receive advertisements then he needed to publish and distribute them quickly rather than resorting to an apology sometimes issued by printers: “advertisement omitted will appear in our next.”

In the end, Samuel Wise most likely had little control over the unique layout of today’s advertisement. Still, he and all the other advertisers whose notices appeared on the supplemental sheet perhaps benefitted from the extra attention it may have garnered among readers.