August 6

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 6, 1772).

“THE Subscriber takes this Method to inform his Friend and the Public in general …”

When Martin Bicker “prepared a compleat Room at his Dwelling House … for the Reception of Goods, to be Sold at public Sale,” he placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  He advised prospective clients that “Such who are pleased to favor him with their Commands may, rest assured, that the greatest Punctuality and Honor will be strictly observed.”  He also asserted that since “the Situation is very suitable for said Business” that “the Result of his Undertaking will be attended with mutual Advantage to his Employers and self.”

To draw attention to his overtures “To the Public,” Bicker arranged to have his newspaper enclosed in a border composed of decorative type.  That distinguished the enclosure from the simple horizontal lines that separated other advertisements from one another.  No other advertisements in the August 6, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter had a border, making Bicker’s notice all the more distinctive.  That was not the first time that Bicker sought to enliven a newspaper notice with some sort of unique visual element.  Earlier in the summer, he placed an advertisement for hats in the Massachusetts Spy, adorning it with a woodcut depicting a tricorne hat.  Advertisers sometimes availed themselves of stock images of ships, houses, horses, and enslaved people provided by printers, but fewer of them commissioned woodcuts that correlated to the goods they produced or the signs that marked their shops.

Bicker strove to make his advertisements visually interesting on newspaper pages that often consisted primarily of dense text.  Indeed, the first time he inserted the advertisement with the border, it appeared at the top of the final column on the first page.  The two columns to the left contained news from London, Bristol, and Philadelphia.  The border around Bicker’s advertisement clearly signaled that it was not part of those dense dispatches, inviting readers to have a closer look at what merited such special typographical treatment.  Bicker sought to use graphic design to his advantage when he launched his new enterprise.

June 18

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 18, 1772).

“HATS manufactured and sold by the advertiser.”

Of the five newspapers published in Boston in the summer of 1772, the Massachusetts Spy had the most elaborate masthead, but it also had featured the fewest innovations in design for the rest of the contents, including advertisements.  For instance, a decorative border enclosed Jolley Allen’s advertisement when it appeared in each of the other newspapers, but that distinctive format was not incorporated into Allen’s notice when he submitted identical copy to the Massachusetts Spy.

That did not prevent Martin Bicker from attempting to draw more attention to his advertisement with an image of his merchandise in the upper left corner.  Bicker advertised that he “manufactured and sold” hats.  A woodcut depicting a tricorne hat, a popular style at the time, alerted readers to the contents of the advertisement before they read it.  Bicker did not provide many details about his hats, but he did declare that he “hopes he has given such satisfaction to his customers as will induce them to continue their favours.”  In other words, he invited repeat business and recommendations via word of mouth.

New-York Journal (June 18, 1772).

The same day that Bicker’s advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Spy, Nesbitt Deane once again inserted his advertisement for hats in the New-York Journal.  Both the appeals he made to customers and the image that accompanied the notice were more sophisticated.  Deane trumpeted that he made hats “to exceed in Fineness, Cut, Colour and Cock.”  In addition, he devised a means “to turn rain, and prevent the Sweat of the Head damaging the crown.”  Prospective customers would not find that feature in other hats, Deane asserted, because he invented “a Method peculiar to himself. He also gave a discount to retailers who bought in volume, offering “Encouragement to those who buy to sell again.”  Like Bicker, Deane acknowledged his existing customers and asked them to promote his hats.  “Such Gentry and others, who have experienced his Ability, ’tis hoped will recommend.”  The image at the top of Deane’s advertisement included both a tricorne hat and a banner with his name.  Rococo flourishes further enhanced that image.

Bicker did not deploy as many appeals as Deane in his effort to entice consumers to purchase his hats, but including an image in his advertisement distinguished it from most others in the Massachusetts Spy.  Relatively few advertisements published in the eighteenth-century newspapers featured images of any sort.  Did including images give advertisers an advantage?  Deane apparently thought so.  By the time Bicker placed his notice, Deane had been running his advertisement for nearly a year.  He likely would not have inserted it in the New-York Journal so many times if he did not believe he received a return on his investment.