October 4

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

Oct 4 - 10:4:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 4, 1769).

“A Compleat Assortment of MEDICINES.”

Lewis Johnson’s advertisements for medicines became a familiar sight in the Georgia Gazette in the late 1760s. Several qualities made them particularly notable, including their length, their unique format, and Johnson’s name in large gothic font as a headline. His advertisement in the October 4, 1769, edition included all of these attributes.

The compositor distributed gothic font throughout the issue, but sparingly. On the final page, four legal notices commenced by naming the colony. “Georgia” appeared in gothic font the same size as the rest of the copy in those advertisements. Another paid notice seeking overseers to manage a rice planation used “Wanted Immediately” in gothic font as a headline. The final advertisement on that page as well as another on the third page described enslaved people “Brought to the Workhouse.” That phrase in gothic type served as a standard headline for such advertisements in the Georgia Gazette, making them recognizable at a glance. One more notice, also on the third page with Johnson’s advertisement, described a house “To be Let” with that phrase in gothic font as the headline. In each instance of gothic font in the issue, it appeared in the same size as the copy for the rest of the advertisement, except for Johnson’s name. It ran in a much larger font, one larger than anything else in the newspaper except its title in the masthead. This created a striking headline that would have been difficult for readers to miss.

The length of Johnson’s advertisement also made it impossible to overlook. Listing dozens of medicines available at the apothecary’s shop, it extended two-thirds of a column. The entire issue consisted of only four pages of two columns each. Johnson’s advertisement was significantly longer than any other paid notice. It rivaled in length even the longest of news items, occupying a substantial amount of space in the issue. Considering that colonial printers charged by the amount of space rather than the number of words, Johnson’s advertisement represented a considerable investment.

Finally, the apothecary deployed unique typography that made it easier for prospective customers to read his advertisement than many others that listed their wares in dense blocks of text. Divided into three columns, his advertisement named only one item per line. Johnson did not always divide his advertisements into columns, but he
did so fairly regularly. Usually, however, he resorted to only two columns. This advertisement featured three, a graphic design decision that reduced the amount of space it occupied on the page while simultaneously introducing an innovative format that rarely appeared in advertisements in any colonial newspaper.

Johnson incorporated three visual elements that made his advertisement noteworthy and more likely to attract the attention of prospective customers. His name in large gothic font as a headline, the extraordinary length, and dividing it into three columns each on their own would have distinguished his advertisement from others in the Georgia Gazette. Combining them into a single advertisement made it even more unique. The various graphic design elements demanded that readers take notice.

February 10

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

Connecticut Journal (February 10, 1769).

To be sold … By ADAM BABCOCK.”

When 1768 came to an end and 1769 began, Adam Babcock launched an advertising campaign in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy. For seven weeks his list-style advertisement informed prospective customers that he carried a variety of goods, from “black taffaty & black satten” to “callamancos of all colours” to “shoe & knee buckles.” Without interruption, his notice ran in every issue of the Connecticut Journal from January 6 through February 17.

Compared to similar advertisements in other newspapers published in other places, especially the largest urban ports, Babcock’s advertisement does not seem particularly extensive. It listed several dozens items, but others listed scores or even hundreds of goods that colonial merchants and shopkeepers included among their inventories. The number of items, however, may not be the best measure of the impact of Babcock’s advertisement. Instead, its appearance on the page merits consideration. The Connecticut Journal was a smaller newspaper than its counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. It carried less news and less advertising. Babcock’s advertisement would have been considered moderate in length had it been placed in a newspaper in one of those cities, but it occupied an exceptional proportion of the page in the Connecticut Journal.

Indeed, Babcock’s advertisement would have difficult for readers to overlook. It extended half a column on a page comprised of only two columns. In other words, Babcock purchased one-quarter of a page for his advertisement. Considering that the Connecticut Journal, like most other newspapers printed in the 1760s, consisted of only four pages, Babcock’s advertisement accounted for a substantial portion of the content presented to readers over the course of seven weeks (and generated significant revenue for the printers). Counting the number of items listed in his advertisement tells only a partial story about making appeals to consumer choice in eighteenth-century advertising. A more complete appreciation of Babcock’s advertisement requires consideration of its presence on the printed page alongside news items and other content. For readers of the Connecticut Journal it was more extensive than any other paid notice they encountered in that publication in January and February 1769.

October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 26, 1768).

“WHITE, green, and blue plains, London duffils, shags, white and striped flannels, striped linsies.”

In the fall of 1768, Rae and Somerville promoted their “Compleat ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” in an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette. The partners listed dozens of items in a notice that extended approximately one-third of a column. Compared to list-style advertisements that appeared in newspapers printed in other cities, especially the busiest ports, this advertisement may have seemed relatively short. Compared to other advertisements for consumer goods in the Georgia Gazette, however, Rae and Somerville’s notice was extensive.

Advertisements of a similar length did appear in the colony’s only newspaper, but they usually had other purposes. Many fell in the category of legal notices. Elsewhere in the same issue, advertisements of a similar length included a notice from the provost marshal concerning the sale of lands taken “under execution” and a notice from the surveyor general warning against fraudulent methods of delineating boundaries. Estate sales, especially when they included real estate, also tended to occupy as much space in the Georgia Gazette.

The length of Rae and Somerville’s advertisement made it particularly noticeable, especially considering that the Georgia Gazette featured only two columns per page. That meant that the extensive list of merchandise accounted for one-sixth of a page in the standard four-page issue. It was twice the length of any other advertisement for consumer goods in the same edition, with only one exception. Inglis and Hall once again inserted their advertisement for goods recently imported on the Industry and the Georgia Packet. Longer than most, it was not as lengthy as Rae and Somerville’s notice, neither by the number of items listed nor by the column inches. Inglis and Hall had listed only one item per line rather than a dense block of text that crowded as many items as possible into the space Rae and Somerville had purchased.

In addition, Inglis and Hall frequently advertised in the Georgia Gazette. When it came to presenting notices to local consumers via the newspaper, Inglis and Hall were the colony’s most prominent merchants. Readers were accustomed to seeing their lengthy advertisements. Rae and Somerville, on the other hand, had not previously made the same investment in advertising in the public prints. That made their extensive advertisement all the more noteworthy to those who regularly read the Georgia Gazette. In the range of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods published throughout the colonies in the 1760s, Rae and Somerville’s notice fits somewhere in the middle in terms of the number of items listed and how much of a column it occupied. Compared to others in the Georgia Gazette, the barometer most readers would have used, it was an exceptionally extensive advertisement. Its intended impact must be considered relative to experiences of the audience who would have read it.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.

January 9

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

Jan 9 - 1:9:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 9, 1768).

“At their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.”

Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon informed residents of Providence and its hinterland that they had formed a partnership in an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1767. In their initial notice the shopkeepers emphasized their retail space, trumpeting that they “have built and compleated the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” They also proclaimed that they had “furnished it with a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.”

In their subsequent advertising Thurber and Cahoon turned to demonstrating the extent of their inventory, listing dozens of items available for purchase “at their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.” Just as they claimed to operate the largest shop in town, their advertisement occupied the most space in the January 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, although it had been rivaled by Jonathan Russell’s advertisement in the previous issue. Thurber and Cahoon may have been motivated, in part, by Russell’s lengthy advertisement and its extended run in their local newspaper. It commenced in mid November, shortly after they announced their partnership, and continued for eight weeks, disappearing from the pages of the Providence Gazette after the first issue of the new year. Thurber and Cahoon may have determined that they needed to place an advertisement of similar length to challenge Russell and to remind potential customers of the size of their shop, supposedly the largest in Providence.

Their advertisement extended nearly three-quarters of a column, twice the length of the next longest advertisement in the January 9 issue. It also featured unique typography. Rather than list their wares in a single continuous and dense paragraph, they instead enumerated one or tow items per line and created two narrower columns within the single column that contained their advertisement. Not only did this typographical strategy make their notice appear even longer, it may have conjured up rows of shelves in their shop, suggesting how much space Thurber and Cahoon made available for customers to leisurely browse through their merchandise. By comparison, the other advertisements in the same issue looked much more cramped, implying that their shops were equally crowded and difficult to navigate.

Thurber and Cahoon used the amount of space on the page and design elements to their advantage when they placed their advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Although they echoed many of the same appeals to price, quality, and service that appeared in other commercial notices, the typography set their advertisement apart and buttressed the claims they made to potential customers.