September 27

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

Providence Gazette (September 27, 1766).

“A fresh and large Assortment of English and India Goods.”

This advertisement in the Providence Gazette features a lengthy list of newly imported goods at the shops of Thompson and Arnold. “TO BE SOLD, FOR READY MONEY ONLY,” these goods had been imported from both from England and India. Included in this “FINE assortment” were different textiles, clothing, and related items, such as “Irish and Russia linens of all sorts,” satin bonnets, shalloons, tammies, “colored threads of all sorts,” and countless other products. Why was importation so important? Business for the British was truly booming in colonial America. As T.H. Breen notes, newspapers “carried more and more advertisements for consumer goods,” and all Americans were a part of this “consumer revolution.”[1]

This shop clearly emphasized fashion, as they offered many different options in terms of colors and materials, which especially interested women. For women, shopping was an exhibition of liberty, and “with choice came a measure of economic power.” They had choices of products and choices of shops to visit. A variety of options allowed customers to gain leverage as they asked questions and made demands. Additionally, Breen argues, choice “reinforced the Americans’ already strong conviction of their own personal independence.”[2]



I originally intended to feature this advertisement a week ago today, but when Nick submitted the same advertisement (printed a week later) for approval I decided to hold off for a week. I figured that the chances were quite probable that he and I would approach the advertisement from very different perspectives, that discussion of this advertisement would be enhanced from both of us examining it.

That turned out to be the case. I initially selected this advertisement because I wanted to discuss its format. In some regards it looks quite similar to an advertisement previously published by Thompson and Arnold (which appeared for the first time in the August 9, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette and then many more times in subsequent issues.) The original iteration of this advertisement deployed graphic design in several unique ways. It surely caught the attention of readers and potential customers.

This version of the advertisement reverted to some of the more standard aspects of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. In particular, it inhabited a single column within the issue, whereas the earlier version spanned two columns. The previous version also used three columns to delineate Thompson and Arnold’s merchandise, but in today’s advertisement their inventory collapsed into a dense list instead. This did not have the same visual resonance, nor did it make it as easy for potential customers to locate specific products of interest.

Still, the updated version of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement featured design elements intended to continue drawing the eyes of readers. Like the previous version, it retained a decorative border made of printing ornaments. Very few newspaper advertisements in the 1760s had such borders (though we have previously seen that Jolley Allen made sure that his advertisements in Boston’s newspapers were easily identified by their borders). In addition, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement was much longer than most that appeared in the Providence Gazette. Its size alone merited notice. Finally, today’s advertisement appeared in the first column of the first page of the Providence Gazette, right below the masthead. In design, layout, and location, there was no way for readers to overlook Thompson and Arnold’s updated advertisement.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 486-487.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 489.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (September 13, 1766).

“AT BENJAMIN and EDWARD THURBER’s Shops, at the Signs of the Bunch of Grapes and Lyon.”

On August 9, 1766, Thompson and Arnold placed an exceptional advertisement in the Providence Gazette, an advertisement guaranteed to attract attention thanks to its innovative graphic design. Unlike the standard advertisement that appeared elsewhere in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement extended across two columns, sequestered from other content on the page by a decorative border comprised of printer’s ornaments. Within the advertisement, the extensive list of merchandise was set in three columns, further disrupting the lines formed by the other columns on that page and the rest of the issue. Furthermore, Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement was so large that it dominated the page. At a glance, it seemed more like a trade card or handbill, meant to be distributed separately, yet superimposed on the newspaper page.

Thompson and Arnold’s striking advertisement appeared in the Providence Gazette in subsequent issues, moving to different corners of the page depending on the needs of the printer, but always the focal point no matter the quadrant where it appeared. Then something even more interesting happened just five weeks later. The Providence Gazette featured another advertisement, this one the shops operated by Benjamin and Edward Thurber, that imitated the graphic design of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement. It was oversized. It spread across two columns. It included a decorative border made of printing ornaments. It further disrupted the lines on the page by dividing the merchandise into three columns. It could have been distributed separately as a handbill or trade card.

Benjamin and Edward Thurber’s advertisement appeared on the third page of the September 13, 1766, issue of the Providence Gazette. Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement continued to appear on the fourth page. What might Thompson and Arnold have thought of their competitors aping their unique graphic design? Advertisers seemed to be paying attention to the commercial notices placed by others and updating their own marketing in response to what they saw and what they anticipated would be effective.

August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:9:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 9, 1766).


The graphic design of Thompson and Arnold’s newspaper advertisement would have certainly caught readers’ attention in the 1760s. Featuring a decorative border and three columns listing “A large and general Assortment of English and India Goods,” it was unlike any other advertisements that appeared in newspapers of the period.

Whenever possible, I highlight innovations in format and graphic design that set particular eighteenth-century advertisements apart from their contemporaries. For the most part, these innovations were fairly conservative as advertisers and printers experimented with new methods yet continued to create advertisements that, to a greater or lesser degree, blended in with other commercial notices.

That was not the case with Thompson and Arnold’s eye-catching advertisement. The border was sufficient to mark this advertisement as different, but a small number of other advertisers (such as Jolley Allen) also used borders to set their advertisements apart from their competitors.

The number of columns in this advertisement also merited attention. Other advertisers frequently divided their lists of goods into two columns, but Thompson and Arnold managed to squeeze three columns into their advertisement. How did they do that? Their advertisement actually extended across two columns of the Providence Gazette, a mode of setting type not commonly used for either advertisements or new items. Typically only the masthead and the colophon extended across more than one column in any eighteenth-century newspaper.

Aug 9 - 8:9:1766 Fourth Page Providence Journal
Fourth Page of Providence Gazette (August 9, 1766).

The printer would have had to set Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement separately. Its design and inclusion required special effort and attention. Visually, it dominated the final page of the Providence Gazette. If a reader were holding open the newspaper to read the second and third pages, this advertisement would have also dominated any observer’s view of the first and fourth pages.

Other newspaper advertisements were certainly set in type specifically for inclusion in newspapers and possessed no other purpose. The size and design of this advertisements, however, suggests that it could have also been printed separately as a trade card or handbill, which would have benefited both the advertisers and the printer who generated revenue for the job.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:14:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 14, 1766).

“A large Assortment of English and India GOODS, consisting of the the following Articles.”

The July 14, 1766, issues of the Boston-Gazette overflowed with advertising, in part because several merchants and shopkeepers inserted extensive list advertisements. Several of them were of a moderate length, extending two or three times the number of column inches occupied by those that were the standard “squares” that served as the basic unit for selling advertising in many colonial newspapers. William Palfrey’s advertisement on the first page took up most the third and final column, running from just below the masthead almost to the bottom of the page. It left just enough room to squeeze in a four-line advertisement for loaf sugar available at “John and William Powell’s Warehouse.”

Samuel Eliot’s advertisement was by far the longest. It took up the entire first column on the third page. What could have been a dense and impenetrable block of text, however, had some visual variation thanks to the decision to divide the list of merchandise into two columns and list only one or two items per line. This created sufficient white space to make the advertisement a bit more navigable.

Only three of the list advertisements in this issue of the Boston-Gazette were divided into columns. They happened to be the three longest advertisements, which may not have been a coincidence. The printer may have decided that some means of dividing the page was necessary. In addition to the advertisements placed by Eliot and Palfrey, Jolley Allen’s advertisement (with its distinctive decorative border) was divided into columns. Recall that Allen placed the same advertisement, complete with a distinctive border, in all four of Boston’s newspapers, but the Boston-Gazette was the only one in which it was divided into two columns.

It seems quite possible that the printer experimented with the design of the longer advertisements in order to create a more visually appealing publication and to make the advertisements easier to navigate. This strategy replicated the “LIST of LETTERS remaining in the Post-Office” that covered the entire first column and half of the second on the first page of this issue of the Boston-Gazette. In general, this provides further evidence, though certainly not definitive, that printers took the lead in determining the format of newspaper advertisements while their clients supplied the copy.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 25, 1766).

“The surviving Copartners of Alexande Fyffe and Co. Give this Publick Notice.”

“NOTWITHSTANDING the repeated notice the subscribers have from time to time given.”

DANIEL OCAIN in Savannah, HATH opened a house of entertainment.”

This page of the Georgia Gazette has a rather curious layout. Four of the advertisements have been rotated to run perpendicular to the others printed on the page. I previously encountered something similar in the New-Hampshire Gazette. I hypothesized that it might be an attempt to used layout innovatively to draw attention to the advertisements, but upon consulting original copies (rather than digitized surrogates) of the New-Hampshire Gazette I discovered that the paper supply had been disrupted temporarily. The newspaper had been printed on smaller sheets, which prompted the printer to rotate some of the advertisements already set in type as a strategy for squeezing in as many as possible on a smaller page.

I wondered if that might be the case in this instance. I consulted the original issue of the Georgia Gazette in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society, but I encountered something rather different this time around. In addition to the usual broadsheet folded in half to create a four-page issue, the printer also distributed an additional quarter sheet with advertisements printed on one side only. Fairly regularly in the eighteenth century an additional half sheet (printed on both sides) accompanied the four-page broadsheet newspaper, especially in urban ports with well-established presses and periodical publications. This quarter page advertising supplement, however, was quite unique. I have not previously encountered others like it.

Jun 25 - Quarter Sheet
Quarter sheet advertising supplement accompanying the Georgia Gazette (June 25, 1766).  American Antiquarian Society.

Why did the printer of the Georgia Gazette do this? It was not uncommon for printers to insert messages alerting readers (and presumably the advertisers themselves) that advertisement excluded in the current issue would be printed in the next. Why not do that in this instance? Was there such a backlog of advertising that the printer needed to publish these as soon as possible in order to satisfy readers and advertisers alike? Or was there another explanation for this curious quarter sheet?

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1766 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 23, 1766).

This brief advertisement for linseed oil may have caught readers’ attention because it filled a space that otherwise would have been a conspicuously blank space at the bottom of the last column on the third page of the May 23, 1766, issue of the New-London Gazette. The printer needed some sort of content to fill out the column. This advertisement served that purpose, plus it might have helped to generate additional revenue if readers opted to visit the “Printing-Office” to purchase linseed oil.

May 23 - 5:23:1766 entire page New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 23, 1766).

Did the printer intend to announce linseed oil for sale before setting type for this page? Might there have been plans for a longer and more detailed advertisement had space permitted? There’s no way to know. This brief advertisement might have been planned all along; it may not have merely been a convenient means of completing the page. After all, there were other ways to fill that space, including additional use of the ornamental type that provided a border for Nathan Douglass’s advertisement for “Choice Connecticut Rye and Indian Corn” or inserting slightly more space between the other advertisements on the page.

Just thirty-six characters and four spaces, this advertisement certainly took less time and effort to set than most others, especially the lengthy lists of merchandise that often filled the pages of colonial newspapers. Charming in its brevity, this advertisement demonstrates that eighteenth-century advertisements came in vastly different lengths and featured varying levels of sophistication.

March 21

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 21 - 3:20:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 20, 1766).

This found this advertisement on the second page. It intrigued me because of the goods described and the layout. From a marketing point of view, I wonder if William Taylor intentionally had the printer put the “Choice St. Georges WINE” at the top in the largest print because that was his best selling item. Wine was a very common drink for the every day as was the ale mention at the bottom of the advertisement. The ale came from Liverpool, England, as did many of the goods on the ships that supplied Taylor and other shopkeepers.

As I was scanning the advertisements the phrase “Ship Chandlers Ware” caught my attention and made me keep reading the other items Taylor sold. A ship chandler is “a person who deals in cordage, canvas, and other supplies for ships.” With Boston being a major seaport, much of the population relied on the shipping, importing, exporting, and shipbuilding industries. Other materials such as the nails, hooks, hemp, and cod and mackerel lines would also been in high demand for day-to-day usage in colonial America, but also in the fishing industry. It makes sense that William Taylor ran his shop on “the Long- Wharff,” where many similar businesses operated.



Elizabeth notes that today’s advertisement appeared on the second page of the Massachusetts Gazette. This detail gains in significance when examining the customary layout of this publication.

In the eighteenth century American printers tended to take different approaches when it came to the placement of advertisements within broadsheet newspapers folded in half to create four-page issues. Some printers tended to place advertisements on the first and final pages, which would have been printed with one impression (and, after the ink dried, flipped over to print the second and third pages in a single impression). In such instances, the first and last pages were printed earlier in the week; the “freshest advices foreign and domestick” were set in type and printed on the second and third pages later in the week. These seems counterintuitive to modern readers accustomed to headlines for major news stories appearing just below a newspaper’s masthead on the front page.

Other printers relegated advertisements to the final page. If their publication carried enough advertisements, they placed advertisements on the third and fourth pages, which, as explained above, would have been printed at different times during the week. Given that advertisements often repeated for multiple weeks, many would have been set in type already. Although the advertisements appeared together, they were not otherwise organized or “classified” by type. Printers who utilized this system sometimes placed short advertisements earlier in the newspaper as a means of filling space at the end of the final column on a page.

Whatever method they used, colonial printers tended to be fairly consistent from issue to issue. Richard Draper and Samuel Draper took a bit of a different approach. Like the latter method, the fourth page of the Massachusetts Gazette was often covered with advertisements exclusively, but the other three pages were peppered with advertisements. Those notices did not always appear in the final column of a page or at the bottom of a column. They sometimes appeared first or before news items or interspersed with news items. In that regard, the Drapers printed a newspaper that more closely resembled modern publications than many others: it featured both a separate section (page) for advertisements as well as additional advertisements alongside other content.

Such was the case for the Massachusetts Gazette on March 20, 176. The Drapers devoted the fourth page to advertising as usual, but a small number of short advertisements appeared at the end of the first and third columns on the first page. The second page featured news items, but only in the third column. The advertisement Elizabeth selected appeared in the first column of the second page. It would have been one of the first things a reader noticed when opening the newspaper to find more news.

What explains the Drapers’ decisions about layout? Was this mere expediency and efficiency? Or were they experimenting with different formats as a means of delivering advertisements to readers and potential consumers?

February 7

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

2:7:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).

“To be sold about 80 tons of good salt and English hay, for boards or staves.”

During Colonial times, items were often bartered, rather than sold. In this case, salt and hay are being offered in exchange for boards or staves, which were materials that might be used for carpentry projects, such as putting up buildings. In modern times, we would call a ‘stave’ a post, or a piece of wood used to make a wooden barrel and most individuals in the lumber industry today would not know what you meant if you asked them for a stave.

In this advertisement, it seems that the project that a person is trying to collect materials for might be one that will take place over a period of time, as it says that the individual seeking these materials has between now (which, remember, is February 1766) and ‘next’ July 1 for people to respond.

A final thing that catches my eye with this advertisement, is the mentioning of Jonathon Moulton of Hampton. Each time I see a name in an old newspaper, I have to see if there’s a trail that will lead me to understand what the mentioned individual was after and what information is available about their life and death. This will be a recurring theme within my posts this week. I often find individuals to be an intriguing area of history. I feel that in some cases, some historians favor learning about events, while others favor learning about individuals.

In researching Moulton, I was delighted to find a plethora of information available about him from a Hampton library website page. Johnathon Moulton was born on July 21, 1726, and is the descendant of some of the first settlers of Hampton, a group that came to the Colonies from Norfolk, England. Moulton died on September 18, 1787. To learn more about Moulton of Hampton, check out this link.



While Kathryn focuses on evidence of bartering in colonial advertisements and a more extensive biography of this particular advertiser, I am interested in the format of this advertisement and the layout of the rest of the issue. I sometimes insert an entire page of a newspaper to provide both visual and textual context, but today I think it would be helpful to see the entire issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette that included this advertisement.

The advertisement that Kathryn selected appeared at the bottom of the first page. It extends across both columns. This is unusual, but not completely uncommon. Printers sometimes used this method to fill space or perhaps to insert advertisements received just before going to press. Compare this advertisement to yesterday’s featured advertisement for a lottery, which appeared at the end of the final column of the final page. The page – and the issue – were set perfectly thanks to its inclusion.

In contrast, this issue includes several advertisements laid out in unusual ways. Short advertisements from Jonathan Moulton run across both columns at the bottom of both the first and final pages. These two pages would have been printed on the same side of the broadsheet before it was folded in half to make a four-page newspaper. It is likely that both were added after the remainder of the issue had been set. In making each page the same length, the advertisements provided balance on the first and last pages (which others would have seen next to each other when looking at a subscriber reading the second and third pages). This suggests conscientiousness about the appearance of the newspaper on the part of the printer.

The advertisements on the third page, however, were laid out in an extremely unusual manner. That page features two columns of advertisements, as expected, along with four additional advertisements rotated ninety degrees clockwise to form a third column. This would be very visually striking. It might draw attention to the advertisements. Perhaps this was the printer’s intention, but I hesitate to make this claim without evidence that other similar experiments appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette over the next several weeks or months. Something else may have explained this decision, such as advertisers clamoring to have commercial notices for which they had already paid appear in print. After all, the New-Hampshire Gazette had recently printed relatively few advertisements in favor of covering the Stamp Act crisis throughout the colonies. The printer may have been attempting to insert advertisements usually any layout necessary to do so.

This is an instance in which digitized sources reveal some questions that cannot be answered without consulting the original sources in an archive. I’d like to know about the amount of space covered in print on the second and third pages relative to each other, but both appear exactly the same size on my computer screen, making it impossible to make such an assessment. Indeed, I assumed above that Jonathan Moulton’s advertisements mirroring each other on the first and fourth pages caused the text on both to cover the same amount of space. This seems like a reasonable conclusion, but it must be tested by consulting an original (rather than photographed, microfilmed, or digitized) issue of the February 7, 1766, New-Hampshire Gazette.

Feb 7 - New-Hampshire Gazette First Page 2:7:1766
First Page of New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).


Feb 7 - New-Hampshire Gazette Second Page 2:7:1766
Second Page of New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).


Feb 7 - New-Hampshire Gazette Third Page 2:7:1766
Third Page of New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).


Feb 7 - New-Hampshire Gazette Fourth Page 2:7:1766
Fourth Page of New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).

January 9

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

Jan 9 - 1:9:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 9, 1766)

“PAINTS.  White. … Reds. … Yellows. … Blues. … Greens. … Blacks. … Varnishes.”

The three columns in John Gore’s advertisement for paints and related supplies draw the eye.  Unlike the dense layout of the list advertisement featured yesterday, Gore’s notice uses varying font sizes and, especially, white space to direct potential customers’ attention to some of his wares.

I am resisting the urge to assume that it was only natural to use columns to organize this advertisement simply because doing so makes good sense, from a modern perspective, for several reasons.  It provides better organization and highlights individual products.  Such line of reasoning did not always seem to hold sway with eighteenth-century advertisers, however, as they often opted for dense paragraphs listing goods and occasionally experimented with fonts, sizes, and layout.

The longer I study early American advertising, the more strongly I become convinced that advertisers sometimes played a role in determining the appearance of their notices, but most often the printer who set the type played the most influential role.  What was the case here?  Did Gore request that his paints be divided into three columns?  Or did the printer make this decision without consulting the advertiser?

January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:3:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 3, 1766)

“- Who has to Sell all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates.”

At first glance, this does not appear to be an advertisement for consumer goods and services.  A variety of kinds of notices populated the advertising sections of eighteenth-century newspapers, often seemingly placed haphazardly without concerns for classification or categorization.  An advertisement for goods and services might appear above a legal notice, below an advertisement for a runaway wife, to the left of an announcement about a vessel departing port, and to the right of an advertisement to sell or lease property.  Indeed, printers’ practical concerns about fitting columns on a page or using type previously set for advertisements that previously appeared likely played a more significant role in the layout of advertisements than any deliberate effort to place similar items near each other.  Edward Emerson’s advertisement requires careful reading to discover that he sold “all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates” at all.


UPDATE:  Emerson W. Baker notes, via Twitter, that “Edward Emerson lived in York, Maine.  His house is now part of the Museums of Old York.”  He also tweeted this image of the Emerson-Wilcox House.

Emerson-Wilcox House
Emerson-Wilcox House, Museums of Old York