November 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 26, 1770).

“Those Customers who live in the Country are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

Extensive credit played an important role in fueling the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans all extended credit to their customers.  Printers did the same, often for periods of years rather than merely weeks or months.  Newspaper printers regularly inserted notices into their publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their debts.  In some instances, they stated that their ability to continue disseminating the news depended on customers paying their overdue bills.  More often, they threatened legal action against those who did not settle accounts by a specified date.

On November 26, 1770, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, once again joined the chorus of printers who inserted such notices in their newspapers.  They requested that “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been 12 Months standing … to make immediate Payment.”  Although they did not suggest taking anyone to court, they did express some exasperation with those who had not heeded previous notices.  “Those Customers who live in the Country,” the Fleets implored, “are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

To increase the likelihood that those customers at least saw the notice, the Fleets deployed a couple of strategies.  First, they made it the first item in the first column on the first page.  It appeared immediately below the masthead and immediately above news items rather than interspersed among other advertisements.  Even if they only skimmed the contents to find items of interest, readers who perused that issue of the Boston Evening-Post were likely to spot the Fleets’ notice.  To help call attention to it and underscore its importance, the Fleets included several manicules.  A manicule on the first line directed attention to the notice.  A line composed of seventeen manicules beneath the advertisement seemed to insist that readers take note of what appeared above them.  Although the Fleets did not threaten to sue recalcitrant customers, they used other means to suggest they were serious about receiving overdue payments.

July 3

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

Jul 3 - 6:30:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 30, 1768).

“Jolley Allen, At his Shop almost opposite the Heart and Crown, in Cornhill, Boston.”

Almost without exception, shopkeeper Jolley Allen used bold visual elements to distinguish his advertisements from others that appeared in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. Sometimes he arranged to have borders composed of printing ornaments surround his advertisements. Other times he dominated the page with lengthy list-style advertisements that included his name in a font that far exceeded the size of anything else printed in the newspaper. To add further interest, designs derived from printing ornaments flanked his name, making the graphic design elements of his advertisements even more distinctive.

Such was the case in the summer of 1768 when Allen once again published advertisements that filled two out of three columns on a page, this time in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. He had launched this strategy late in the previous summer. For the new iteration he maintained the format but updated the copy. In addition to the decorative elements that headlined his notice, he also inserted manicules to direct attention to specific merchandise or promotions. For instance, one manicule pointed to “Cotton Wool, very good and very cheap.” Another directed readers to “Choice Jamaica and other brown Sugars, by the barrel, hundred or smaller Quantity, some as low as 3s. O.T. per single pound, and cheaper by the Quantity.”

Allen even deployed double manicules – one at the beginning of the sentence and another at the end – to draw attention to the most significant appeals aimed at convincing readers to make their purchases from him. In one case, he proclaimed, “The above TEA is warranted of the best Kind, and if it proves otherwise, after trying it, will be taken back and the Money returned, by the said JOLLEY ALLEN.” The manicules made it less likely that prospective customers would miss this generous money-back guarantee. The advertisement concluded with an appeal reprinted from the previous iteration, this time with double manicules to draw greater attention. In it, Allen advised that his “Town and Country Customers, and others, may depend upon being supply’d with all the above Articles the Year round … as cheap in P[r]oportion as those which have the Prices fixed to them.” Unlike most merchants and shopkeepers, Allen did indicate prices for several items in his advertisement.

It might be tempting to dismiss the placement of the manicules and other visual aspects as haphazard or accidental, especially since compositors rather than advertisers generally determined the layout and other graphic design elements of advertisements. However, the consistency demonstrated in Allen’s advertisements from newspaper to newspaper suggests that he carefully consulted with compositors in order to achieve the visual elements important to him. Not all eighteenth-century advertisers left it to the printing office to determine how their notices would appear on the page.