December 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 26, 1768).

“Ravens Duck | Bohea Tea | Mason Glasses.”

Samuel Fletcher aimed to use typography to his advantage in an advertisement that ran in the December 26, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In it, he listed a variety of imported goods among the inventory at his store “Near the Draw-Bridge,” including textiles, tea, and housewares. The contents of Fletcher’s advertisement did not much differ from what appeared in other notices for consumer goods placed in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers published in the busy port. The format, however, distinguished Fletcher’s advertisement from many others.

Fletcher enumerated approximately sixty items, organizing them into three columns that trisected the advertisement. Other advertisers that listed their wares tended to do so in dense paragraphs that did not feature any white space. Such was the case in Gilbert Deblois’s advertisement immediately below Fletcher’s notice and Joseph Barrell’s advertisement immediately to the right. Yet Fletcher was not alone among merchants and shopkeepers in electing to divide his goods into columns. Elsewhere on the same page, Samuel Allyne Otis divided his advertisement into two columns. Joshua Blanchard incorporated visual variety into his advertisement, publishing a short list of wines followed by a paragraph that promoted the quality of customer service his clients could anticipate. Although many advertisers opted for the standard dense paragraph, some experimented with other formats.

Fletcher’s decision to use columns came with one disadvantage. He could not list as many items in the same amount of space. Still, he managed to provide a general preview, enough to suggest an array of choices for consumers, before concluding with the phrase “With many Articles not mentioned” running across all three columns. This signaled to prospective customers that he did not necessarily stock fewer choices than his competitors, only that he organized them differently in his advertisement. In the spirit of “less is more,” listing fewer items but in a format with sufficient white space that allowed readers to navigate the contents of the advertisement more easily could have drawn attention to specific entries much more readily than had they appeared amidst a dense list of merchandise. For Fletcher’s advertisement, the typography very well could have been as effective as the copy.

December 8

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 8, 1768).

“THOMAS WEST … has imported in the last vessels from London and Liverpool, a neat assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

When he placed an advertisement for “a neat assortment of MERCHANDIZE” in the December 8, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Thomas West adopted a standard format for advertisements for consumer goods. The amount of variation in the graphic design of such advertisements varied from newspaper to newspaper, but tended to be fairly fixed among those placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette by merchants and shopkeepers in the late 1760s. The printers and compositors may have exercised some influence over this standardization, especially considering that the Pennsylvania Gazette featured an especially high volume of paid notices compared to its counterparts in Philadelphia and throughout the colonies. Those who worked in the printing office may have discouraged, or at least not encouraged, innovations in the visual aspects of advertisements, finding that a no-frills format streamlined setting type. Advertisers may not have insisted on introducing new design elements into advertisements, content to submit copy and leave the format to the compositors.

Consider West’s advertisement. His name, all in capital letters, served as a headline. Next his advertisement featured a short introductory paragraph that provided an overview of his location, the sorts of goods he sold, and their origins. The introduction concluded with a brief appeal to price. The remainder of the advertisement consisted of a lengthy list of his inventory, presented in a paragraph of dense text. Elsewhere in the same issue, Edward Cottrell and James Reynolds inserted advertisements that followed this format. Other advertisers of consumer goods opted for slight variations, reversing the order of the headline and introductory paragraph or placing the headline in the middle of that overview. Despite lists of merchandise that ranged from short to lengthy, Alexander Bartram, James Budden, Benjamin Gibbs, William Nicholls, Richard Parker, and Samuel Taylor all deployed one of those variations.

In this regard, the Pennsylvania Gazette was a fairly conservative newspaper, but given its extensive circulation perhaps neither printers nor advertisers considered innovative graphic design particularly imperative. Advertisements comprised of chunky blocks of text certainly appeared in other newspapers throughout the colonies. Advertisements that deviated from that standard also found their way into the Pennsylvania Gazette. In general, however, many other newspapers ran advertisements that varied in appearance to a much greater degree, incorporating different fonts and font sizes, creative use of white space, and columns within advertisements, even when they also included the advertiser’s name as the headline, an introductory paragraph, and a list of merchandise. The unvarying format of advertisements within its pages made the Pennsylvania Gazette easy to recognize at a glance, even when the masthead was not visible.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”

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.

October 11

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

Oct 11 - 10:11:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 11, 1768).

“Many other useful articles, too tedious to mention.”

John Edwards and Company advertised an array of goods in the supplement that accompanied the October 11, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. They emphasized abundance and consumer choice in the language deployed to describe the textiles available at their store on Tradd Street: “A LARGE QUANTITY of exceeding good WHITE PLAINS,” “a large assortment of Irish shirting and sheeting linen,” “a choice quantity of oznaburgs,” “a variety of checks, drawboys, and cotton velvets.” They applied the same appeals to other merchandise as well, including “an assortment of womens and childrens leather [shoes]” and “several very fashionable compleat sets of queens, or cream colour ware.” After listing dozens of items in their inventory, Edwards and Company concluded by underscoring the intertwined themes of abundance and choice, stressing that they carried “many other useful articles, too tedious to enumerate.” Rather than “tedious” perhaps the partners considered it too expensive to purchase additional space to list even more merchandise. They had made their pitch and their final appeal suggested prospective customers would discover an even more extensive selection when visiting their shop.

Other merchants and shopkeepers joined Edwards and Company in making general statements about the vast array of goods they sold. Godfrey and Gadsden, for instance, listed even more items than Edwards and Company yet also stated that carried “many other articles.” Mary King, a milliner, named about two dozen items associated with her trade but also promised “a variety of other articles.” Mansell, Corbett, and Roberts concluded their list-style advertisement with “&c. &c.” Dawson and Walter did the same. Not to be outdone, Alexander Gillon published a list twice as long and with an additional “&c.” at the end: “&c. &c. &c.” Through invoking the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, these entrepreneurs challenged readers to imagine what else they sold. Choosing not “to enumerate” all of their goods allowed advertisers to incite curiosity among prospective customers. They named enough to get readers thinking about the possibilities without eliminating any options outright. Advertisers offered consumers extensive choices, but when it came to tallying all of those choices in the public prints they often opted for a version of “less is more.” They accounted for just enough to stimulate interest and then promised even more, inviting prospective customers to see for themselves when visiting their shops.

October 2

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

Oct 2 - 9:29:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 29, 1768)

“A large and general assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

Shopkeepers and merchants frequently made appeals to consumer choice as they encouraged readers of colonial newspapers to become consumers of imported goods. Some considered it sufficient to inform prospective customers that they carried a vast array of merchandise. In the supplement that accompanied the September 29, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, one brief advertisement simply stated, “SAMUEL SANSOM, junior, HAS just imported in the Nancy, Captain Leech, and has for sale at his store, two doors above the City Vendue House, in Front-street, A fresh assortment of merchandize, on reasonable terms, for cash or short credit.” In another equally brief advertisement, Mifflin and Dean promoted “A LARGE Assortment of Fall GOODS, which they are now opening, at their Store.” Both advertisements comprised only five lines, making them some of the shortest that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

In contrast, Jonathan Zane placed one of the longest advertisements: ninety-nine lines detailing the “large and general assortment of MERCHANDIZE” at his shop “at the sign of the Crown, Cannister and Handsaw.” His advertisement extended three-quarters of a column. Zane devoted ninety lines to enumerating the goods he had “Just imported in the last vessels from London and Bristol,” everything from “iron pots, kettles, skillets, Dutch ovens, and scowered cart and waggon boxes” to “common spectacles” to “glovers and common sewing needles.” Even the descriptions of some types of merchandise promised even greater variety, including “a large assortment of Barlow’s and other penknives” and “a very large and neat assortment of brass furniture of various sizes and patterns.” Still, the list was not exhaustive. Zane concluded with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that prospective customers could expect to encounter even more treasures when they visited his shop.

Although Zane took the list-style advertisement to an extreme, publishing an extensive catalog of his inventory, he was not alone in presenting consumers with evidence of the choices he made available to them. Hugh Donnaldson, Robert Strettell Jones, Francis and Tilghman, James Gordon, and other merchants and shopkeepers published their own litanies of goods, though they limited the length of their advertisements to fifteen to thirty lines, plenty of space for listing dozens of items they stocked. Whether enumerating many different kinds of imported goods or simply underscoring “A large ASSORTMENT of GOODS” with no further elaboration, advertisers aimed to stimulate consumer demand by encouraging prospective customers to contemplate the many options available in the colonial marketplace.

September 25

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

Sep 25 - 9:22:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 22, 1768).

“Too many other articles too tedious to mention.”

In an extensive advertisement that comprised almost an entire column in the September 22, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, Samuel Broome and Company emphasized the choices they offered consumers by listing hundreds of items. Organized into two neat columns with only one or two items listed on each line, this list of goods enumerated a vast array of merchandise “imported in the Mercury, from London, and the last vessels from Bristol, Liverpool, and Scotland.”

Visually, the design of the advertisement readily communicated the choices available to prospective customers, but Broome and Company relied on more than just copy filling so much space in the newspaper to make their point. For many items they provided descriptions that further testified to the variety readers could expect to encounter upon visiting their store “near the Merchant’s Coffee-House.” For instance, they stocked “Gilt, silver’d and metal buttons of all sorts.” After listing dozens of textiles, Broome and Company stated that they also stocked “a large assortment of other handsome figur’d stuffs.” They did not merely carry ribbons but instead “Ribbons a complete assortment.” Similarly, they carried “Rose blankets of all sorts.” They also emphasized the range of colors and prints for many of their fabrics and garments, including “Flannels of all colours,” “Tammies, durants, and callimancoes of all colours,” “Silk, hair and scarf twist of all colours,” and “Cotton checks of all sorts[,] Check linen handkerchiefs[, and] Printed blue and red do.” They used an eighteenth-century abbreviation for “ditto” – “do” – as they expanded on the variety of handkerchiefs. They did the same when they listed an assortment of hinges: “H and HL hinges[,] Table do[,] Dovetail do[,] Butts do[, and] Rais’d joint do.”

As if this was not enough to entice potential customers, Broome and Company invoked a familiar refrain to conclude their list: “With too many other articles too tedious to mention.” Despite all of the textiles, housewares, and hardware named in the advertisement, the partners suggested to consumers that they provided only a small preview of the many wares available at their store. Many of their competitors who advertised in the same issue of the New-York Journal also made appeals to consumer choice, but the combination of copy and design deployed by Broome and Company most effectively delivered the message to consumers in the city and its hinterlands.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 13, 1768).

“Black silk and cotton gauzes.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed list-style advertisements in the September 13, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its two-page supplement. Among them, George Ancrum and Company, Elizabeth Blaikie, Thomas Walter, Godfrey and Gadsden, and John McCall each enumerated dozens of items they offered for sale. Most of these advertisements took the form of dense paragraphs that did not incorporate visual signals intended to differentiate the various goods they listed. Godfrey and Gadsden, however, experimented with the format of one of their advertisements. Rather than a single paragraph, they opted for two columns with only one or two items listed on each line, making it easier for prospective customers to spot “coloured ribbons” and “parrot cages” amid the many other goods. This distinctive layout distinguished Godfrey and Gadsden’s advertisement from the many other notices on the same page, even though their inventory replicated the merchandise available from their competitors.

Yet this was not the only advertisement Godfrey and Gadsden placed in that issue. In another advertisement on the same page they deployed a lengthy paragraph that rivaled all others in its density. Although the advertisement with the dense paragraph of goods occupied a privileged position as the first item in the first column, the format of the advertisement divided into two columns (with significantly more white space) made the latter much more prominent, even though it appeared near the bottom of the final column. The disparity between the two demonstrates that Godfrey and Gadsden were not committed to one format over the other; it does suggest that they did intentionally experiment with the visual elements of their advertisements, perhaps of their own volition or perhaps at the urging of a compositor who made suggestions about possible alternatives. Compared to newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal featured less variation when it came to the format of list-style advertisements in the late 1760s, yet advertisers and compositors did sometimes play with typography to create notices with unique graphic design elements.

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.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“A fresh and complete assortment of the following goods, in the greatest variety and newest patterns.”

“WILLIAMS’s STORE, In Broad-Street, New-York, near the Exchange, facing the house of his Excellency Gen. GAGE” was so well know, or so the proprietor hoped to assert, that he did not need to list his full name in an advertisement that appeared in the supplement that accompanied the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Confident that readers already knew something of “WILLIAMS’s STORE” by reputation, the proprietor focused his efforts on enticing potential customers to visit his establishment.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Williams devoted much of his advertisement to tantalizing consumers with a list of items from among his “fresh and complete assortment” or goods. He specialized in textiles, everything from “printed cottons and chintz for gowns and furnitures” to “Irish linens of all breadths and prices” to “Manchester velvets” to “Scotch oznaburghs.” Yet Williams did more than present a list of fabrics to capture the imagination. He also provided guidance for prospective customers before they even began navigating the list of textiles available at his store. He prompted them to associate terms like “greatest variety” and “newest patterns” with his merchandise. Even as readers imagined some aspects of his inventory, they could not do it justice since that “greatest variety” of “newest patterns” had arrived in New York “in the last ships.” This “fresh and complete assortment” required examination in person.

Williams further extended this invitation with a challenge to prospective customers to assess his prices. He declared that he charged “such prices as will, on inspection, convince all who understand goods, of his ability, and inclination not to be undersold.” He offered such bargains that his prices could not be beat by any of his competitors, but potential customers needed to visit his shop to confirm this themselves. He confidently proclaimed that their inspection of both his prices and his merchandise would satisfy customers.

Williams did not rely solely on an impressive list of imported textiles to coax consumers to visit his store. He presented the list to spark their imaginations, but he also sought to guide their musings with implicit instructions about how to read the list. He primed prospective customers to think about how they could acquire the “newest patterns” at the lowest prices. In the process, he invited readers to visit his store so they could experience even more pleasures – examine more patterns – than their imaginations could conjure.