December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:3:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (December 3, 1767).

“Sundry other Goods … will be sold great Bargains.”

Throughout the eighteenth century, newspaper advertisers most commonly deployed a handful of marketing strategies: appeals to price, quality, gentility, and consumer choice. Many advertisers incorporated several of these appeals into their commercial notices, while others crafted advertisements that emphasized a particular appeal.

Benjamin Booth adopted the latter strategy in his advertisement for several goods he imported from London that appeared in the New-York Journal in the late fall of 1767. He made nods toward quality (“BEST English sail-Cloth”) and consumer choice (a list of merchandise followed with a promise of “sundry other Goods”), but he reiterated appeals to price four times in his advertisement. Like many other advertisements placed by colonial shopkeepers, Booth’s notice included a header and a conclusion with a list of goods between them. Many advertisers inserted an appeal to price in either the header or the conclusion, but Booth attempted to incite demand for his wares by underscoring price in all three segments of his advertisement. He relied on formulaic language used by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the header, proclaiming that his merchandise “will be sold exceeding cheap.” In the list of his inventory, he singled out “Scotch Carpeting” as “very cheap,” indicating an especially good deal among his already low prices. In the course of a single sentence in the conclusion, Booth promoted his prices twice. He stated that his assortment of goods was “laid in upon very low Terms, and will be sold great Bargains.” Here Booth once again inserted formulaic language that appeared in other advertisements: “very low Terms.” However, he concluded with a relatively novel appeal: “great Bargains.” Although shopkeepers regularly marketed low prices in the 1760s, few invoked the word “bargain” to describe the benefits to consumers. In this regard, Booth took an innovative approach, even as the format and stock phrases for the rest of the advertisement replicated other commercial notices. He borrowed heavily from existing marketing methods, but also added his own modification to attract the attention of prospective customers.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Cowper and Telfairs in Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

“A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS.”

Lewis Johnson inserted an advertisement for his inventory of “A LARGE and COMPLETE ASSORTMENT of FRESH AND GENUINE MEDICINES” in the September 23, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. The partnership of Cowper and Telfairs also placed an advertisement, informing potential customers of the “LARGE ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” they had imported from London. The notices, each listing an elaborate array of items, appeared side by side.

Although Lewis Johnson and Cowper and Telfairs each resorted to the common list-style advertisement to market their wares, the visual aspects of their notices distinguished them from each other. Cowper and Telfairs opted for a dense paragraph that extended two-thirds of the column, enumerating everything from “white, striped and ermine flannels” to “shirt buttons” to “broad and narrow axes” to “complete sets of china.” With some exceptions, they grouped their merchandise together by category (textiles, accouterments and accessories, hardware, and housewares). This made it somewhat easier for potential customers to locate specific items of interest (while also introducing them to others they may not have otherwise considered), even though the merchants did not include any sort of headers to indicate where one type of merchandise ended and another began. This dense list maximized the number of items Cowper and Telfairs presented to the public. While its format may have been somewhat overwhelming or difficult to read, it offered extensive choices to consumers.

Johnson’s advertisement, on the other hand, occupied the same amount of space on the page, but did not list nearly as many items. Instead, it divided a single column into two narrower columns, listing only one item per line. This left much more white space on the page, making it easier for readers to navigate through the merchandise. Like Cowper and Telfairs, Johnson introduced his list with the phrase “Amongst which are,” indicating that the advertisement did not include an exhaustive inventory. Both carried additional items at their shops. Given that he carried additional medicines, Johnson made a calculated decision to truncate his list in order to make it easier to read. Compared to the dense format of everything else on the page, the layout of his list likely drew the eyes of colonial readers, increasing the likelihood that they would take note of his advertisement.

Both list-style advertisements had advantages and shortcomings inherent in their appearance on the page. Although eighteenth-century advertisements lack the dynamic graphic design elements of modern marketing efforts, advertisers and printers did experiment with different layouts in their efforts to attract attention and incite demand among potential customers.

Sep 23 - 9:23:1767 Johnson from Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 23, 1767).

September 21

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

Sep 21 - 9:21:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 21, 1767).

“New Shop at the Sign of the Naked Boy.”

George Bartram launched a new venture in 1767, opening his own shop “at the Sign of the Naked Boy” on Second Street in Philadelphia. To let both former and potential new customers know about his new location, he published an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Bartram promoted the “general Assortment of dry Goods, imported in the last Vessels from Great-Britain and Ireland,” but he did not confine himself to merely describing the goods he stocked. Instead, he included a woodcut that featured some of the textiles he imported and hoped to sell to consumers in the port city. A cartouche in the center depicted a naked boy examining a length of cloth, encouraging potential customers to imagine themselves inspecting Bartram’s merchandise. That the boy held the fabric close to his naked body suggested quality and softness, enticing readers to anticipate the luxurious pleasures that awaited them at Bartram’s shop. Many rolls of fabric flanked the central cartouche, testifying to the “general Assortment” of merchandise. What kinds of tactile sensations might shoppers experience when they compared the weave of one fabric to another? The naked boy surrounded by textiles of all sorts invited colonists to visit Bartram’s shop, where they did not need to confine themselves merely to window shopping but could indulge their sense of touch as well as sight.

The woodcut also included the proprietor’s name on either side of the cartouche, an unnecessary flourish in an advertisement that featured Bartram’s name as a headline. Its inclusion may have been necessary, however, if the woodcut doubled as an accurate representation of the “Sign of the Naked Boy” that marked Bartram’s shop. The shopkeeper had previously conducted business at a “Shop lately occupied by Bartram and Lennox.” To mark his new shop as exclusively his own, Bartram may have instructed the painter or carver who made his sign to include his name as well as the device he intended to serve as his brand. Eighteenth-century advertisements regularly indicate which shop signs marked which businesses, but few of those signs have survived. Woodcuts like the naked boy in Bartram’s advertisement suggest what colonists may have seen as they traversed the streets and visited retailers and artisans who used signs to mark their businesses.

September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 14, 1767).

“Just opened and now read for Sale, by Jolley Allen.”

A week ago I examined Jolley Allen’s extraordinary full-page advertisement in the September 7, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Given that Allen was prone to inserting the same advertisement in all four Boston newspapers, I noted that he had not placed that particular advertisement in the other two local newspapers distributed on the same day, nor the other one printed later in the week. The expense may have explained Allen’s decision, but space constraints may have played a role as well. The printers may not have been able to accommodate him at that time; after all, other advertisers had also contracted their services. It very well could have been a combination of the two factors, expense and limited space.

Allen’s full-page advertisement did not run a second time in the Boston-Gazette, but the following week a similar advertisement appeared in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy on September 14. In each case, the notice contained the same content, the same extensive list of merchandise, but had been condensed to two columns instead of three. Allen shared the page with other advertisers, reducing both expense and space. While the revised format may not have had the same impact as a full-page advertisement, taking up two columns was still an impressive feat that deviated from the vast majority of newspaper advertisements published in eighteenth-century America. Allen’s advertisement eventually ran in the Massachusetts Gazette, again condensed to two columns, on September 24, two and a half weeks after the full-page advertisement occupied the entire final page of the Boston-Gazette. It continued to appear sporadically in some, but not all, of Boston’s newspapers in October.

The two-column version lacked Allen’s signature decorative border in all three newspapers, but it did add an ornate printing device that flanked Allen’s name (itself printed in larger font than anything else in any of those newspapers, with the exception of the mastheads). In the absence of a border, Allen still managed to achieve visual consistency in his advertisements across three of Boston’s four newspapers.

Jolley Allen, a prolific advertiser, did not merely place notices in newspapers. Instead, he developed marketing campaigns that included advertising in multiple newspapers and consistent use of graphic design elements across those publications. He usually launched new advertisements through simultaneous publication in all of Boston’s newspapers, but the ability to do so with a full-page advertisement in September 1767 eluded him. Various factors may have been at play, yet Allen still managed to devise an advertising campaign of much greater magnitude than anything attempted by his competitors in Boston or his counterparts elsewhere in the colonies.

September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (September 7, 1767).

“Now ready for Sale by JOLLEY ALLEN, At his Shop.”

Jolley Allen regularly placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers published in the port city. On most occasions, readers could readily identify his notices, even at just a glance, because Allen made arrangements with printers to have them enclosed in decorative borders. This was a consistent feature from one newspaper to another, a relatively rare example of an advertiser exerting influence over typographical decisions in the eighteenth century. In most cases, advertisers generated copy but compositors made determinations about format and layout. Realizing the value of making his commercial notices easy to distinguish from others on the page, Allen insisted on retaining control over some of the visual aspects. Distinctive borders created with printing ornaments became his brand in multiple newspapers.

Allen neglected to utilize a border in some of his advertising during the summer of 1767, a decision he reversed in the September 7 edition of the Boston-Gazette. The border around his advertisement in that issue, however, was not its most distinctive element. Except for the colophon, Allen’s advertisement filled the entire final page. Spread over three columns, the merchant listed an assortment of imported goods – from textiles to groceries – that he sold “Wholesale and Retail” to customers in both town and country. Even without the decorative border, the size of the advertisement alone demanded attention. Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few full-page advertisements, each of them all the more noteworthy considering that a standard issue consisted of only four pages. The printers gave over a significant amount of space that might otherwise contain additional advertisements or news items.

Experimenting with a full-page advertisement must have been an expensive investment for Allen. He usually placed identical advertisements in all four of Boston’s newspapers, but not during the week that his full-page advertisement ran in the Boston-Gazette. None of the other local newspapers carried any advertising by Allen. He may have exhausted the money he budgeted for marketing in a single advertisement. He might also have wished to see what kind of response it garnered, waiting to place full-page advertisements in other publications only if he determined doing so was worth the investment.

Historians of advertising and print culture usually describe full-page advertisements as nineteenth-century innovations, but colonial merchants and shopkeepers had already experimented with the format. Though uncommon, such advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century America.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 29, 1767).

“He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage, to come and see for Love.”

John Mathewson opened a new shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge” in Providence during the summer of 1767. To attract customers, he regularly inserted advertisements in the Providence Gazette in July and throughout August, deploying some of the most common marketing appeals yet also giving some of them his own twist in an effort to distinguish him form his competitors.

Prospective customers would have recognized Mathewson’s appeals to current styles and consumer choice within a transatlantic marketplace centered in Britain. To that end, he included formulaic language that could have been drawn from advertisements that appeared in any newspaper throughout the colonies: “a very fashionable and neat Assortment of English Goods.” He also made a standard appeal to price, following a recent trend among shopkeepers who advertised in the Providence Gazette to compare their own prices to others in the port city, colony, or region. Many local shopkeepers had moved away from merely stating that customers could acquire their merchandise at low costs in favor of making bolder pronouncements. Mathewson, for instance, asserted that he would “sell as cheap as are sold in New-England,” suggesting that prospective customers did not need to do any comparison shopping because he already offered the best bargains.

Yet Mathewson did not simply reiterate the language of standard marketing appeals or recent trendy updates. He infused his advertisement with some of his own personality as well. He extended a special invitation to potential customers: “He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage to come and see for Love, and buy for Money.” Mathewson did not depict just a commercial transaction, an exchange of money for goods. Instead, he encouraged readers to imagine the pleasures of shopping, the joys of sorting through the “neat Assortment” he made available to them. More explicitly than most of his competitors, Mathewson depicted a visit to his shop as an experience in and of itself, a pleasant outing that included being “genteely served” while selecting among the many options presented for their consideration. That they would “come and see for love” suggested the delights of window shopping even if customers did not ultimately purchase every item that caught their fancy. In addition, an invitation to “come and see for love” addressed critiques of excessive luxury that accompanied the consumer revolution. Mathewson signaled to potential customers that it was acceptable to entertain their desires without being deemed frivolous or irresponsible, especially since his low prices meant they could “lay their Money out to Advantage.”

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 7:30:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 30, 1767).

“The following Goods, which will to be sold … by JOHN SHEE.”

Consisting of a block of densely formatted text with little white space and almost no variation in font size, John Shee’s advertisement certainly would not have been considered flashy, but that did not necessarily mean that it was ineffective by eighteenth-century standards.

Shee observed many of the conventions of the day. He made an appeal to price (“sold on the most moderate terms”) and offered more than one option for payment (“cash, or the usual credit”). In noting that his merchandise had been “Imported in the last vessels from England,” he reminded potential customers that they were participating in transatlantic consumer culture that linked them to their counterparts in London and the English provinces. That these goods arrived via the “last vessels” also suggested that they were the most current fashions available.

Shee expended the most effort in detailing the assortment of items he stocked, everything from textiles and adornments (comprising more than half the advertisement) to coffee mills to pen knives to gunpowder and shot. Even then, he had not exhausted his inventory. Eighteenth-century readers knew that the “&c. &c.” that concluded his list meant “etc. etc.,” a promise that potential customers could examine an even greater array of goods upon visiting Shee’s shop. By listing dozens and dozens of items, Shee made an appeal to consumer choice. He invited potential customers to imagine acquiring, wearing, admiring, using, displaying, and possessing the goods he sold. He also offered them independence, the ability to make their own decisions about which items to purchase to fit their own tastes or to distinguish themselves from friends and neighbors. Such a lengthy list meant that customers did not have to content themselves with whatever happened to be on the shelves. A nota bene appended to the conclusion even suggested that the shopkeeper was constantly adding new merchandise to the selection he offered for sale.

In terms of the graphic design elements, Shee’s advertisement replicated others in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Short of paying extra for a woodcut to accompany his advertisement, he likely had little control over the layout. Instead, he accepted the standard format adopted by a compositor who squeezed as much content as possible onto the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. It was not the visual appeal of their advertisements that Shee and many of his counterparts were convinced would sell their goods. Instead, they relied on careful attention to a set of appeals they believed resonated with consumers. In the absence of varied graphic elements, Shee and other shopkeepers expected potential customers to approach their advertisements as active readers.