July 27

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

Jul 27 - 7:27:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 27, 1770).

“TEA … West-India and New-England RUM … handsome colour’d WILTONS.”

Thomas Martin advertised an assortment of goods available at his store in Portsmouth in the July 27, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He listed everything from coffee, tea, and sugar to hammers, nails, and files to handkerchiefs, stockings, and shoes.  His inventory was so extensive that his advertisement filled half a column and still concluded with “&c. &c.” to indicate that he did not have space to include everything consumers could find at his store.  (Colonists used “&c.” as an abbreviation for et cetera.)

Like many other advertisements of the era, Martin’s notice looked like a dense block of text.  To modern readers, this has little visual appeal, but Martin likely focused on other aspects of the advertisement in his efforts to market his wares.  In particular, he may have expected the length to attract the attention of prospective customers.  Few advertisements for consumer goods and services in the New-Hampshire Gazette occupied so much space.  Martin borrowed a strategy from advertisers in larger port cities where newspapers much more often ran such lengthy advertisements for consumer goods.  The long list of goods communicated the variety and consumer choice that Martin offered his customers.  They could acquire all sorts of grocery items, hardware, housewares, clothing, and accessories during a single visit to Martin’s store, combining choice and convenience.

Despite the density of the prose, Martin did deploy a couple of visual elements to aid readers in navigating his advertisement.  At various points he inserted lengthy dashes to break what otherwise would have been an undifferentiated paragraph into smaller pieces.  He also capitalized two words to draw attention to those products:  “West-India and New-England RUM” and “handsome colour’d WILTONS,” a popular kind of carpet.  (“TEA” was also capitalized, but that was standard for the first item listed in advertisements of this sort.)  While Martin did not make elaborate use of typography to lend visual appeal to his advertisement, he did not overlook using it entirely.  His advertisement incorporated more variation than the news articles that appeared elsewhere in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The effectiveness of Martin’s advertisement should be considered in relation to other items, both advertisements and news items, that it ran alongside.

June 1

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

Jun 1 - 6:1:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 1, 1770).

“Ratteen, / Wiltons, / Sagathees, / Ducapes, / Lutestrings.”

James King and Jacob Treadwell each advertised a variety of consumer goods in the June 1m 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  King’s advertisement took the more standard form.  After a brief introduction that included his name and location, the remainder of the advertisement consisted of a dense paragraph of text.  King listed dozens of items available at his shop, from textiles to “a Variety of Necklaces” to hardware.

Treadwell also published a catalog of the goods he sold, but his advertisement had a less common format.  Rather than a single paragraph, Treadwell’s notice divided the goods into three columns, listing only one item on most lines.  Given the space constraints, some items overflowed onto additional lines, such as “Shoe and Knee / Buckels,” “Wool and Cot- / ton Cards,” and “Silk, Lamb, and / Worsted Gloves / and Mitts.”  Creating columns also produced white space within the advertisement; the combination made Treadwell’s advertisement easier to peruse than King’s.  It likely helped prospective customers more fully appreciate Treadwell’s extensive assortment of merchandise.  That columns required more space also communicated the range of consumer choice, though Treadwell paid to make that part of the appeal he presented to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In the eighteenth century, advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied on the page, not the number of words.

To provide further visual distinction, some goods in Treadwell’s advertisement appeared in italics: “BRoad Cloths,” “Furniture Check,” “Damask Napkins,” “Laces of all sorts,” “Shoemakers Tools,” and “Breeches patterns.”  Why these particular items is not readily apparent today … and may not have been in 1770 either.  Did Treadwell believe they were in high demand?  Did he have surplus inventory?  Did Treadwell even instruct that those items appear in italics or did the compositor independently make the decision to provide even greater variation in the advertisement?  Whatever the reason, the graphic design elements of Treadwell’s advertisement likely garnered greater attention for it than King’s notice in standard format that ran on the same page.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:26:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 26, 1770).

“Horn combs, and ivory fine teeth’d ditto.”

Nicholas Bogart sold an assortment of goods at his shop “In the Broad-Way” in New York.  He listed many of them in an advertisement that ran in the April 26, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His inventory included “Worsted and leather womens mits,” “Broad-cloths of various colours and prices,” “A variety of Dutch books for teaching children,” and “Knee garters, various colours.”  He stocked and sold such an array of merchandise that it demanded cataloging in detail in order for prospective customers to realize the full extent.

Yet Bogart did not merely list his wares.  He deployed rudimentary graphic design principles to make them easier for readers to peruse, dividing his advertisement into two columns and mentioning only one, two, or three items on each line.  When more than one item appeared on a line, they were all related to each other.  When a category of items overflowed onto the next line, the second line was usually indented.  In comparison, most merchants and shopkeepers who enumerated dozens of items did so in dense paragraphs.  Such was the case in James Beekman’s advertisement on the same page as Bogart’s notice.  Beekman included a similar number of items, but clustered them together in a manner that required more effort to read.  As a result, Beekman’s advertisement took up only about half the space of Bogart’s.  According to the colophon at the bottom of the page, advertisers paid by the amount of space that their notices occupied, not by the number of words.  That meant that Bogart paid twice as much as Beekman even though they listed a similar number of items.

Bogart was not alone in incorporating columns into his advertisement.  Immediately above Bogart’s notice, John Keating also used columns.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Abeel and Byvanck used columns to organize their “considerable Assortment of Ironmongery and Cutlery.”  Advertisers knew that this option was available to them on request, though the dense paragraph was the default format.  The more attractive option required a greater investment, but some advertisers apparently believed they would benefit from a greater return on that investment if they made it easier for prospective customers to engage with the extensive lists of merchandise they published in newspaper notices.

December 20

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

Dec 20 - 12:20:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 20, 1769).

“Will be sold … at their store in Sunbury.”

In December 1769, the partnership of Kelsall and Spalding placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to inform prospective customers that they stocked “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST INDIA GOODS” recently imported via the Georgia Packet and other vessels. Kelsall and Spalding were not the only merchants and shopkeepers who ran such notices. Samuel Douglass advertised “AN ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.” Reid, Storr, and Reid similarly promoted “A NEAT ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.” Yet Kelsall and Spalding inserted the most extensive advertisement, one designed to showcase the extent of their inventory and demonstrate to consumers the many choices that awaited them “at their store in Sunbury.”

Sunbury! Unlike Douglass and Reid, Storr, and Reid, Kelsall and Spalding did not operate a shop in Savannah. Founded on the Medway River south of Savannah in 1758, Sunbury was an emerging center of commerce in the 1760s and 1770s. That seaport might have eventually rivaled Savannah, but it never recovered from the disruptions of the American Revolution. Today it is remembered as a “lost town” of the colonial era. In the late 1760s, however, it was a bustling community.

That was the narrative that Kelsall and Spalding aimed to bolster in their advertisement. Prospective customers did not need to visit or send to the shops in Savannah to acquire the myriad of consumer goods they desired. Instead, anything they obtain the same merchandise at Kelsall and Spalding’s store in Sunbury. Printed calico fabric? Kelsall and Spalding sold it! Barlow’s best single and doubled bladed penknives? Kelsall and Spalding had them! Tin pudding pans and round sugar boxes? No need to look any further than Kelsall and Spalding’s store in Sunbury! From textiles to housewares to hardware, Kelsall and Spalding did indeed carry “A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT.”

Kelsall and Spalding’s advertisement was notable for its length, extending more than two-thirds of column in the December 20, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partners may have considered such a complete accounting of their wares imperative in convincing consumers that they offered the same array of merchandise as their counterparts and competitors in Savannah. Readers could hardly peruse Kelsall and Spalding’s advertisement without recognizing the variety of goods on offer.

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:29:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 29, 1769).

“A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS.

Cowper & Telfairs and Rae & Somerville both sold imported goods, but adopted very different marketing strategies when they placed advertisements in the November 29, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Rae & Somerville inserted a notice that read, in its entirety, “JUST IMPORTED, in the Ship Georgia Packet, from London, and to be sold by RAE and SOMERVILLE, A NEAT ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS, suitable for the present and approaching season.” In so doing, they made an appeal to consumer choice, informing customers of the “NEAT ASSORTMENT” now in stock.

Yet the copy for Rae & Somerville’s advertisement merely served as an introduction when adapted for an advertisement published their competitors. Consider how another partnership opened their notice: “COWPER & TELFAIRS HAVE IMPORTED, in the Wolfe, Capt. Henry Kemp, from London, and the Britannia, Capt. John Dennison, from Glasgow, via Charleston, A large and compleat Assortment of well chosen GOODS, Which they will dispose of on reasonable Terms.” Incorporating appeals to price and consumer choice, that could have stood alone as a complete advertisement. Cowper & Telfairs continued, however, with an extensive list of their merchandise, divided in two columns to allow prospective customers to peruse their wares easily. Cowper & Telfairs carried everything from textiles and garments to a “large quantity of tin ware” and an “assortment of earthen ware” to “Neat Italian chairs” and an “assortment of Glasgow saddlery.” They strategically deployed capitals to draw attention to certain goods, including “GLASS WARE,” “CHINA WARE,” “PEWTER,” and “STATIONARY.”

Cowper & Telfairs’s advertisement extended two-thirds of a column, occupying significantly more space than Rae & Somerville’s advertisement printed immediately below it. Rae & Somerville ran a second advertisement on the following page, that one a bit longer but still only a fraction of the length of Cowper & Telfairs’s notice. In that second advertisement, Rae & Somerville listed approximately two dozen items, but did so in a dense paragraph that did not lend itself to skimming as well as Cowper & Telfairs’s neatly organized columns. They concluded their list with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that they had many more items in their inventory.

Cowper & Telfairs made a more significant investment in their advertisement, both in terms of the expense incurred for publishing such a lengthy notice and in terms of the strategies they deployed in hopes of gaining a better return on that investment. They did more to entice readers to become customers after encountering their advertisements.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:27:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 27, 1769).

“Pigtail tobacco,
Playing cards,
Box coffee mills.”

William Belcher and the partnership of Rae & Somerville both inserted advertisements in the September 27, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Each relied on consumer choice as the primary means of marketing their wares, though Belcher did make a nod toward low prices as well. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers that advertised in newspapers published throughout the colonies, Belcher and Rae & Somerville listed dozens of items available at their shops, cataloging their inventory to demonstrate an array of choices for consumers. Both concluded their advertisements with a promise of even more choices that prospective customers would encounter when visiting their shops. Belcher promoted “a variety if delph and tinware,” while Rae & Somerville resorted to “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc., etc., etc.”).

Despite this similarity, the advertisers adopted different formats for presenting their wares in the pages of the public prints. Rae & Somerville went with the most common method: a dense paragraph of text that lumped together all of their merchandise. Belcher, on the other hand, organized his goods into two columns with only one item per line. This created significantly more white space that likely made it easier for prospective customers to read and locate items of interest. Belcher and Rae & Somerville listed a similar number of items, yet Belcher’s advertisement occupied nearly twice as much space on the page as a result of the typography. Considering that most printers charged by the amount of space an advertisement required rather than the number of words in the advertisement, Belcher made a greater investment in his advertisement. Presumably he believed that this would attract more attention from prospective customers and garner better returns. In making this determination, Belcher relied on the skills of the compositor in the printing office to execute his wishes.

In general, advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers appear crowded by twenty-first-century standards, especially since they relied almost entirely of text and featured few images compared to modern print advertising. Advertisers, printers, and compositors, however, devised ways of distinguishing the visual appearance of advertisements that consisted solely of text. They experimented with different formats in effort to vary the presentation of vast assortments of goods offered to the general public for their consumption.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (August 23, 1769).

“Several other articles too tedious to enumerate.”

Although male merchants and shopkeepers placed the vast majority of advertisements for imported consumer goods in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and other newspapers published in Charleston in the 1760s, their female counterparts occasionally inserted advertisements as well. Given the number of women who earned their livelihoods as shopkeepers in the largest port cities, female entrepreneurs were disproportionately underrepresented when it came to advertising in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Those who did advertise, however, tended to deploy the same marketing strategies as men rather than crafting commercial notices that made distinctive appeals based on their sex.

Such was the case for Frances Swallow. Except for her name and the pronouns, her advertisement did not differ from those placed by male competitors in the August 23, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. She made an appeal to price, stating that she sold her wares “on the most reasonable terms.” She also invoked current tastes more than once. She sold “ribbons of the newest fashion” and “continues to make up all kinds of MILLINERY, in the newest fashion.” Price and fashion, along with quality, were among the most commonly deployed marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspapers.

Most significantly, Swallow’s advertisement emphasized consumer choice, another exceptionally popular marketing strategy of the period. Swallow produced a litany of goods equal in length to those published by her male competitors in the same issues. Indeed, Swallow’s list might be considered even more extensive because it consisted almost exclusively of textiles and millinery supplies, whereas most of the male advertisers listed those items along with housewares, hardware, and other items. To underscore the extent of the choices she presented to customers, Swallow concluded her list with a proclamation that she also carried “several other articles too tedious to enumerate.” This challenged readers who already envisioned the dozens of items she did describe to imagine what other merchandise did not appear on Swallow’s list.

Swallow specialized in retailing textiles and millinery ware. In marketing her goods, she adopted the same strategies as male merchants and shopkeepers who advertised all sorts of imported goods. She made appeals to price, fashion, and, especially, consumer choice to convince prospective customers to visit her shop.

August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:10:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 10, 1769).

The following assortment of GOODS.”

With the exception of the “POETS CORNER” in the upper left and the colophon running across the bottom, advertisements of various lengths comprised the final page of the August 10, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. Most consisted of dense blocks of text with headlines in a larger font, but two likely attracted attention because their format differed from the others. Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement included a familiar woodcut that depicted a Windsor chair. By that time, Hampton had included the image in his advertising so often that the woodcut had been damaged through such frequent use. The Windsor chair was missing an arm. Still, Hampton continued to garner a return on the investment he made in commissioning the woodcut, apparently believing that a visual image, even a slightly damaged one, enhanced the visibility of his advertisement.

Henry Remsen, Junior, and Company’s advertisement, on the other hand, consisted entirely of text, but its layout distinguished it from other advertisements, including those by competitors who also listed scores of goods available at their shops. Remsen and Company enumerated a variety of textiles and accessories, from “Blue and red strouds” and “Striped flannels and coverlids” to “Ribbons and gimps” and “Ivory and horn combs.” They divided their advertisement into two columns with a line down the center separating them. Only one or two items appeared on each line. Remsen and Company’s advertisement included far more white space than others that presented litanies of goods, making it easier to read and locate or notice merchandise of interest. The advertisement that ran immediately below it, for instance, also provided an extensive list of inventory at a shop in New York, but it followed the most common layout for advertisements of that sort. The goods appeared one after another in a dense paragraph. This format saved space (and thus reduced the cost of advertising) and may have been easier for the compositor to set the type, but it did not make the same impression on the page as the dual columns in Remsen and Company’s advertisement. Although compositors usually made decisions about typography and layout, Remsen and Company likely submitted specific instructions, possibly even a manuscript example, for the format they desired. While not every advertiser considered the power of graphic design in the eighteenth century, some, like Jonathan Hampton and Remsen and Company, did take how and advertisement looked in addition to what it said into account.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 30, 1769).

“A good Assortment of Hard Ware and English Piece Goods.”

Several purveyors of goods imported from England advertised in the May 30, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. In an advertisement that previously appeared earlier in the month, John Appleton promoted “a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” but he also acknowledged that he had a smaller inventory than usual because he “strictly adher[ed] to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” Other advertisers, however, did not address the nonimportation agreement currently in effect as a means of resisting the duties on certain imported goods levied in the Townshend Acts. Samuel Cottnam and George Deblois, for instance, did not offer any explanation about when they imported the goods listed in their advertisements or how abiding by the boycott affected their businesses.

Cottnam advertised “a Variety of English Goods” and listed half a dozen textiles, “all at the very lowest Prices.” Deblois went into greater detail about the “good Assortment of Hard Ware and English Piece Goods” that he sold for low prices “by Wholesale and Retail.” His list of merchandise extended nearly half a column, repeatedly invoking the words “assortment” and “variety” to suggest even more extensive choices for prospective customers. He carried a “Good Assortment” of fabrics, a “large Assortment” of ribbons, threads, and other accessories, a “great Variety” of buttons, a “large Assortment” of hardware, and a “large Assortment” of cutlery. Where Appleton went out of his way to suggest that his own “good Assortment” did not amount to a “full Assortment” of items that consumers might otherwise expect to find at his shop, Deblois did not adapt the customary litany of goods in his advertisement in response to the nonimportation agreement. Nor did Cottnam, though he was not nearly as verbose in listing his merchandise.

Deblois and Cottnam may not have considered it necessary to comment on how carefully they adhered to the nonimportation agreement in their advertisements because committees of merchants compiled reports and submitted them for publication in the public prints. As long as they played by the rules and were not singled out for breaking the agreement, both may have considered underscoring the selection available at their shops the best marketing strategy, especially if they had previously imported surplus goods and saw nonimportation as an opportunity to rid themselves of merchandise that had occupied space on their shelves for too long. Appleton’s advertisement mobilized political virtues, but advertisements placed by many other merchants and shopkeepers suggest that the nonimportation agreement presented an opportunity to eliminate surplus inventory.

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.