What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Mens and womens black and white lamb gloves.”
Thanks to unique typographical features, Richard Champney’s advertisement for “A general & good assortment of English & India goods” stood out among those published in the June 3, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Like several of his competitors, Champney promoted his merchandise by listing dozens of items, prompting prospective customers to imagine the extensive variety he offered them, everything from “White and yellow coat and breast buttons” to “A large assortment of white wax necklaces” to “China, coffee, and tea cups and saucers.” Rather than publish his list in the form of a dense paragraph justified on both the left and right, Champney opted instead to name a limited number of items on each line and justify only the left margin. Especially given the length of his advertisement – more than half a column and twice as long as any other advertisement for consumer goods and services in the same issue – this format aided readers in distinguishing among his sweeping inventory, whether reading or skimming.
This layout may very well have been the work of the compositor rather than the result of a request by the advertiser, but other graphic design elements suggest that Champney at least consulted with those who produced the newspaper. For instance, the sparing use of italics called attention to a few items, including “A good assortment of dark Patches; blue and white dit[to]” and “A good assortment of Buckles.” One line appeared only partially in italics: “Window glass, and good assortment of Crockery Ware.” The compositor would have had no reason to randomly alter the format for those items; it seems more likely that Champney instructed that they receive some sort of special attention, not unlike “BOHEA TEA,” the only item that appeared in capitals. The white space that resulted from grouping like items together and proceeding to the next line without justifying the right margin increased the readability of the advertisement, making it more likely that prospective customers would notice the items that merited particular attention.
At a glance, Champney’s advertisement looked quite different than the other contents of the New-Hampshire Gazette, whether advertisements or news items. The format most resembled poetry, sometimes inserted in colonial newspapers as a transition between news selected by the editors and paid notices submitted by advertisers. Experimenting with the format may have drawn more eyes to the advertisement, prompting readers to scan it closely enough to determine that it was something other than the ode they anticipated. By the time they figured out it was not a poem, Champney had introduced them to some of the merchandise available at his shop.