What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“TO BE SOLD AT William Scott’s Store.”
When it came to disseminating his advertisements widely, William Scott was more industrious than most merchants, shopkeepers, and others who placed newspaper notices promoting consumer goods. His advertisements for a variety of textiles available “Wholesale & Retail” at his store on the “North-side of Faneuil-Hall” ran in the January 19, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, shortly after appearing in the Essex Gazette (published in Salem, Massachusetts) and four out of five of Boston’s newspapers. His advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette listed “Irish LINNENS,” “Diaper and Damask Table Cloths,” “Cambricks,” “Lawns,” and all of the other fabrics enumerated in the other newspapers, lacking only a note about “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods, by Retail” that concluded those advertisements.
That may have been the result of the advertisement’s position on the page in the New-Hampshire Gazette. It appeared in the lower right corner, the last item on the third page. The compositor had sufficient space to include the main body of the advertisement while still achieving columns of equal length, but not the additional note. Using a smaller font for Scott’s name would have yielded the necessary space to print the entire advertisement, but the compositor did not make the choice. Comparing Scott’s notices as they appeared in all six newspapers reveals that compositors exercised considerable discretion when it came to the format of advertisements. That discretion likely even extended to occasional minor adjustments to the copy. Scott generated the copy for his advertisements and submitted it to several printing offices, but compositors adopted very different approaches to how that copy appeared on the page when it came to font sizes, capitalization, italics, line breaks, and other typographical elements. Variations in spelling (“LINNENS” or “Linens”) and fractions (“Three quarter” and “3-4”) may have originated with the advertiser or the compositor.
Scott intended to engage as many prospective customers as possible by inserting the same advertisement in six newspapers published in three port cities in New England. His marketing efforts reveal testify to a division of labor in the production of advertisements for consumer goods. Advertisers generally took responsibility for composing copy, while compositors who worked in printing offices designed the format of advertisements in eighteenth-century America.