January 28

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 28, 1773).

An EXTRAORDINARY … will be published To morrow.”

“Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!”  That was Isaiah Thomas’s message to readers of the Massachusetts Spy.  The printer included an announcement in the January 28, 1773, edition, alerting subscribers and other readers that “An EXTRAORDINARY [No. 104, of the] Massachusetts SPY, or Thomas’s Boston Journal, will be published To morrow.”  Unlike the supplements and postscripts that sometimes accompanied early American newspapers, Thomas considered the extraordinary, distributed on a Friday, a separate issue.  As he noted in his announcement, it had its own number, 104, following “NUMB. 103,” distributed on Thursdays as usual for the Massachusetts Spy.  Thomas or a compositor who worked in his printing office updated the masthead to include “EXTRAORDINARY.”

The “extra” issue consisted of two pages, compared to four for the weekly standard issues of the Massachusetts Spy and other American newspapers published at the time.  It consisted almost entirely of a single item from the “HOUSE of REPRESENTATIVES” in Boston, along with half a column of news from Salem and one short advertisement for grocery items.  (In similar circumstances, other printers took the opportunity to insert advertisements about the goods and services available at their printing offices.)  The main item that prompted publication of the extraordinary was an “ANSWER to [Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s] SPEECH, to both Houses, at the opening of this session.”  Representatives “ORDERED” that a committee comprised of “Mr. Adams, Mr. Hancock, Mr. Bacon, Col. Bowes, Major Hawley, Capt. Darby, Mr. Philips, Col. Thayer, and Col. Stockbridge” compose that answer.  Members of the committee agreed with the governor that “the government at present is in a very disturbed state.”  They did not, however, identify the same causes.  “[W]e cannot ascribe it to the people’s having adopted unconstitutional principles,” as the governor claimed.  Instead, they believed that problems arose as a result of “the British House of Commons assuming and exercising a power inconsistent with the freedom of the constitution to give and grant the property of the colonists, and appropriate the same without their consent.”

When Thomas published the extraordinary, he already had a reputation as a printer devoted to principles espoused by the patriots.  The masthead for his newspaper described it as “A Weekly, Political, and Commercial PAPER:– Open to ALL Parties, but Influenced by None,” yet immediately below that sentiment appeared this message: “DO THOU Great LIBERTY INSPIRE our Souls,– And make our Lives in THY Possession happy,– Or our Deaths glorious in THY JUST Defence.”  Thomas likely had two reasons for quickly publishing the committee’s response as an extraordinary.  He scooped his competitors while also disseminating rhetoric that matched his own views.  (Most other newspapers printed in Boston included the response as part of their coverage when they distributed their next weekly edition, but that took several days or, in the case of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, printed by Loyalist Richard Draper, an entire week.)  Thomas previously published the governor’s speech as an extraordinary, dated and distributed on the same day as the weekly issue on Thursday, January 7.  In so doing, he upheld his pledge that the Massachusetts Spy was “Open to ALL Parties,” yet publishing the governor’s speech also kept colonizers informed about the dangers they faced from the narrative of recent events that Hutchinson constructed.  Releasing the committee’s response as its own extraordinary on a day that no other newspapers were published in Boston and announcing his plans to issue that extraordinary may have garnered more attention more quickly to the version of events that matched Thomas’s own views.  Patriots and imperial officials vied over how to represent what was occurring in Boston and throughout the colonies.  Thomas may have considered getting the committee’s response to the governor in print as quickly as possible an important counteroffensive against the governor’s speech that he published three weeks earlier.

Massachusetts Spy Extraordinary (January 29, 1773).

January 21

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 21, 1773).

“The SECOND EDITION.”

Just a week after the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements announcing that An Oration on the Beauties of Liberty or the Essential Rights of the Americans was “Now in the press, and will be published in a few days” on January 14, 1773, both newspapers carried notices about the publication of a second edition.  John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark identify the author, “A British Bostonian,” as John Allen, a Baptist minister who migrated to New England in the early 1770s.  They consider the Oration “one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775.”[1]

The Oration very quickly went to a second edition.  Was that because the first edition sold out so quickly?  Or did other factors play a role.  The advertisement in the January 21 edition of the Massachusetts Spy implied that it was the former, that the popularity of the pamphlet prompted the printers, David Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis, to publish “The SECOND EDITION.”  In addition to the advertisements that ran on January 14, another advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette on January 18, helping to incite interest and demand in a pamphlet drawn from an address that many Bostonians heard several weeks earlier.  Word-of-mouth chatter about the Oration likely supplement newspaper advertisements in promoting the pamphlet.

The advertisement in the January 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter provided additional details. It featured two revisions to the original notice.  The headline now read “This Day Published” instead of “To-Morrow will be Published.”  In addition, a new line at the end of the notice advised prospective customers that they could purchase “The SECOND EDITION corrected.”  Did Kneeland and Davis sell out of the first edition?  Or did they take advantage of producing a second edition that corrected errors to suggest that such the first edition met with such success that it made the immediate publication of a second edition necessary?  Either way, the reception of the first two editions apparently convinced other printers in Boston, Hartford and New London in Connecticut, and Wilmington in Delaware, that they could generate revenues by publishing their own editions.  In so doing, they assisted in disseminating arguments that encouraged colonizers to move from resistance to revolution during the era of the imperial crisis that culminated in thirteen colonies declaring independence from Great Britain.

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[1] John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 561.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 19 (New Style) in 1749 (or January 8, 1748/49, Old Style).  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

isaiah_thomas1818
Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

jan-30-worcerster-magazine-april-1786
Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

jan-30-advertising-wrapper-worcester-magazine-4th-week-may-1786
Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 274th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

January 14

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 14, 1773).

“AN ORATION on the Beauties of Liberty.”

An advertisement in the January 14, 1773, editions of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy announced the imminent publication and sale of a political pamphlet about “the Beauties of Liberty or the essential rights of the Americans.”  David Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis advised that the work was “Now in the press” and would be available in a few days.  The printers also noted that the pamphlet was “AN ORATION … Delivered at the second Baptist-Church in Boston, upon the last annual thanksgiving.”

Kneeland and Davis did not name the orator-author, perhaps expecting that many prospective customers already knew his identity as a result of having heard the sermon on liberty or heard about it from friends and acquaintances.  The title page attributed the Oration on the Beauties of Liberty to “A British Bostonian.”  The same author composed The American Alarm, published and advertised a few weeks earlier.  John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark identify both pamphlets as the work of John Allen, “a Baptist minister and recent émigré from England, politically disenchanted and personally discredited” for an incident involving a forged promissory note.[1]

According to Bumsted and Clark, the second of those pamphlets, the Oration, “proved to be one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775” and the “immense popularity of this fiery attack on British policy – specifically the appointment of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the burning of the Gaspee – marked the author as an agitator of considerable importance.”[2]  Advertising may have contributed to the popularity of the pamphlet, especially if Kneeland and Davis carefully chose which newspapers carried their notice.  Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, had a reputation as an agitator.  Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette did as well.  Following the initial announcement about the pamphlet on January 14, Kneeland and Davis placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette on January 18, but opted not to insert notices in the other two newspapers published in the city that day, the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Their conceptions of the political sympathies of both the printers and readers of those newspapers may have played a role in selecting where to invest their limited funds for advertising.

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[1] John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 562.

[2] Bumsted and Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine,” 561.

December 24

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter(December 24, 1772).

There are some Almanacks with Dr. Ames’s Name thereto that are very erroneous.”

In the December 24, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Richard Draper continued the efforts to inform the public about counterfeit editions of “AMES’s Almanack for 1773” that he, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, and Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, began three days earlier.  According to a note from Nathaniel Ames, the author of the popular almanac, “The only True and Correct Almanacks from my Copy, are those printed by R. Draper, Edes & Gill and T. & J. Fleet.”

Draper expanded on the notice that previously appeared in other newspapers, advising readers and prospective customers that “there are some Almanacks with Dr. Ames’s Name thereto that are very erroneous.”  In particular, those counterfeits contained misinformation about “Roads and Stages,” but in the “true Almanack” those errors had been “corrected, amended and placed in a better Manner than in any Almanack heretofore published.”  Draper offered a justification not only for choosing Ames’s “true Almanack” over counterfeit editions but also for choosing it over any other almanacs advertised and sold in New England.

Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy, advertised some of those almanacs on the same day that Draper published the extended version of the advertisement about Ames’s “True and Correct Almanacks.”  Under a headline that simply declared, “ALMANACKS,” Thomas listed “AMES’s, Lowe’s, Gleason’s (or Massachusetts Calender) and Sterne’s ALMANACKS” available at his printing office.  Thomas did not note whether he sold Ames’s almanac printed by Draper, the Fleets, and Edes and Gill, but his newspaper was the only one in Boston that did not carry the notice from those printers that week.

Postscript to the Massachusetts Spy (December 24, 1772).

In addition, the supplement that accompanied that edition of the Massachusetts Spy contained just one advertisement.  It advised prospective customers about “AMES’s Almanack, for 1773, just published and to be sold by Russell & Hicks, in Union street, next the Cornfield.”  Whether or not Thomas sold the counterfeit almanac at his own shop, he did not seem to have any qualms about generating revenue by running advertisements placed by the printers who published the suspect edition.  Given that households from the most grand to the most humble acquired almanacs each year, those pamphlets were big business for printers.  Rivalries in printing, marketing, and selling almanacs became a regular feature of newspaper advertising each fall and into the winter months.

December 20

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 17, 1772).

“It is requested that those thoughts may be published, at this alarming season.”

In November and December 1772, an author who identified himself as “A BRITISH BOSTONIAN” placed a newspaper advertisement addressed to “the Inhabitants of the Town of BOSTON” in which he proposed publishing “a concise Essay upon the Beauties of LIBERTY in its Political and Sacred branches.”  As a relative newcomer to the city, he considered it “very unpolite [for] a stranger to take this freedom” of publishing “The AMERICAN ALARM, Or, a Confirmation of the Boston Plea, for the Rights and Liberties of the People” without first requesting “the approbational leave of the Gentlemen of Boston.”  The “Gentlemen” of the city could demonstrate their approbation or support for the project by entering their names on the subscription lists kept by printers David Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis.

Although historians and bibliographers formerly attributed American Alarm to Isaac Skillman, the pastor at the Second Baptist Church of Boston, John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark convincingly demonstrate that John Allen, “a Baptist minister and a recent émigré from England, politically disenchanted and personally discredited,” penned both American Alarm and An Oration, Upon the Beauties of Liberty, Or the Essential Rights of the Americans.[1]  Kneeland and Davis printed these “small but inflammatory political pamphlets” in 1773, suggesting that the advertisement in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy helped in recruiting subscribers for American Alarm.[2]  Bumsted and Clark describe the Oration as “one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775.”[3]

They devote less attention to American Alarm, but do provide essential context for understanding events that would have resonated with newspaper readers and prospective subscribers to the pamphlet when they encountered the advertisement.  Allen wrote American Alarm in response to Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s announcements that the colonial legislature would no longer pay the salaries of the governor and judges.  Instead, those officers would receive their salaries from the Crown, an arrangement that many colonizers believed made the governor and judges beholden to the monarch and, especially, Parliament.  According to the British Bostonian, “The plan is laid, the foundation is fixed, to make them [the governor and judges] dependant for place and payment, upon the arbitrary will, and power of the British ministry; upon that power that has for years been seeking the destruction of your RIGHTS.”[4]

Bumsted and Clark describe Allen as “New England’s Tom Paine,” a counterpart to the author of the political pamphlet, Common Sense, widely considered to have had the most significant impact in convincing colonizers to declare independence.  Bumsted and Clark assert that some colonizers did not need as much pushing in that direction as their leaders.  The arguments made by the British Bostonian and the popularity of American Alarm and, especially, the Oration “suggest that in attitude if not in ideology, a large portion of the population may have been well in advance of its leadership” in 1772 and 1773.[5]  Those colonizers expressed their politics by buying the pamphlets and imbibing their contents.  Though he may have exaggerated how much support and encouragement he initially received, Allen asserted that after he delivered “my thoughts in public, upon the Beauties of LIBERTY” that listeners “requested that those thoughts may be published, at this alarming season.”

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[1] John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark, “New-England’s Tom Paine:  John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 562.

[2] Bumsted and Clark, “New-England’s Tom Paine,” 561.

[3] Bumsted and Clark, “New-England’s Tom Paine,” 561.

[4] British Bostonian [John Allen], The American Alarm, or the Bostonian Plea, for the Rights, and Liberties of the People (Boston:  D. Kneeland and N. Davis, 1773), 17.

[5] Bumsted and Clark, “New-England’s Tom Paine,” 570.

October 18

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 15, 1772).

“The least favours gratefully acknowledged.”

John Langdon deployed a variety of strategies for marketing his inventory at the “New Book-Store” in Boston in the fall of 1772.  Like many other retailers, he emphasized the choices that he provided for consumers.  In an advertisement in the October 15 edition of the Massachusetts Spy, the bookseller informed prospective customers that he recently imported a “LARGE and Grand Assortment of BOOKS in all Arts and Sciences.”  Those new titles supplemented those he already had in stock.  He confidently proclaimed that he now offered “as large a collection as is to be found at any Store in America.”  His selection supposedly rivaled what consumers would encounter in shops in urban ports like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia as well as in the shops operated by local competitors.  Langdon intended for that bold claim to double as an invitation for prospective customers to browse in his shop and discover titles of interest among his extensive inventory for themselves.

In addition, thew bookseller made appeals to price and customer service.  He explained that he planned to depart for England in the spring.  As a result, he wished to sell his inventory over the course of the next several months.  To do so, he set low prices.  Langdon pledged that “every Gentleman who may please to favour him with their custom may depend on purchasing at a little more than the sterling cost and charges.”  In other words, he did not mark up the prices exorbitantly but instead sought to make only a small profit on each book he sold.  Langdon concluded his advertisement with a note that the “least favours [are] gratefully acknowledged.”  He appreciated any business, no matter how large or small the transaction.  Even though he had such a large inventory, no purchase … and no customer … was insignificant. Langdon intended to cultivate relationships with everyone who entered his shop.

Langdon’s advertisement for the New Book-Store was no mere announcement that he sold books.  Instead, he crafted a notice that incorporated multiple marketing strategies.  He emphasized the size of his inventory, his motivation for setting low prices, and the importance of every customer in his effort to encourage consumers to acquire books from him.

October 11

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 8, 1772).

“He has almost every Article usually enquired for in that way.”

In the fall of 1772, Duncan Ingraham, Jr., took to the pages of the Massachusetts Spy to promote “a very Large and Elegant Assortment of ENGLISH, India and Scotch GOODS, which are now ready for Sale, at his Shop” on Union Street in Boston.  In an advertisement that ran in the October 8 edition, he made appeals to both price and choice in his efforts to entice consumers to shop at his establishment.  Ingraham made bold claims in both regards.  He trumpeted that he would “sell Wholesale and Retail as cheap for Cash [as] at any Store in America,” comparing his prices to those in other shops in Boston as well as Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other ports throughout the colonies.  Ingraham confidently stated that “His Prices will show the Goods well charged.”  In turn, he “doubts not of giving satisfaction to all who please to favour him with their custom.”

He had many competitors in Boston, including several who advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on the same day.  Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer, Caleb Blanchard, Joshua Gardner, and William Jackson all placed advertisements that listed dozens of imported items available at their shops, demonstrating an array of choices for prospective customers.  The partnership of Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers also published what amounted to a catalog of their merchandise under a headline that promised “GOODS EXTREMELY CHEAP.”  Ingraham adopted a different strategy, choosing instead to market his “very Large and Elegant Assortment” of goods with a nota bene in which he declared that he “has almost every Article usually enquired for in that way.”  He left it to readers to imagine his merchandise on their own.  Even if he did not happen to carry an item a shopper desired, if such a bold claim managed to get them into his store, then he still had an opportunity to make a sale by recommending alternatives.

Ingraham may not have wished to pay to insert a lengthy list of his inventory in the public prints, but that did not mean that he did not attend to consumer choice in an effort to make himself competitive with other merchants and shopkeepers.  In some ways, he invocation of “almost every Article usually enquired for” made even bigger claims than the extensive lists in other advertisements.

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.

June 11

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 11, 1772).

“The Particulars too numerous for an Advertisement.”

Thanks to a signature design element, a border comprised of decorative type, readers easily spotted Jolley Allen’s advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston in late spring in 1772.  The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, carried his advertisement with its distinctive border on June 11.  Three days earlier, the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy featured Allen’s advertisement, complete with the border.  On June 1, the Boston Evening-Post did so as well.

On the same day that the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter carried Allen’s advertisement, it also ran in the Massachusetts Spy.  That completed Allen’s efforts to disseminate his notice as widely as possible by inserting it in all five newspapers printed in Boston at the time.  Yet the version in the Massachusetts Spy differed in format, though not in copy, from Allen’s advertisements in the other four newspapers.  No border enclosed the shopkeeper’s pronouncement that he “determined on an entire New Plan” for selling “His WHOLE Stock in Trade … at very little more than the Sterling cost and charges.”

Other design elements replicated Allen’s advertisements in the other newspapers.  For instance, the compositor centered the copy of the first portion, creating distinctive white space that helped draw attention to the notice, before resorting to a dense block of text that went to the left and right margins for the final portion.  Allen most likely requested a border when he submitted the copy to the printing office.  After all, he made an effort to make a consistent visual presentation throughout the other newspapers that carried his advertisement.  The compositor for the Massachusetts Spy allowed for some distinctiveness in the format of the notice, but apparently considered incorporating a border too much of a deviation.

The Massachusetts Spy already included borders comprised of thin lines around all advertisements, the only newspaper printed in Boston at the time to do so.  Perhaps the compositor exercised judgment in determining that a border within a border would appear too crowded, overruling instructions or preferences expressed by the advertiser.  This example hints at the conversations about graphic design that may have taken place between advertisers and those who worked in printing offices in early America.  How extensively did printers, compositors, and advertisers consult each other about the format of newspaper notices that customers paid to insert?