February 12

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 6, 1769).

“The following large assortment of GOODS.”

In January and February 1769, Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow attempted to maximize exposure for their advertisement concerning a “large assortment of GOODS” by running it in multiple newspapers. Over the course of several weeks, they first inserted it in the Pennsylvania Journal and then the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Gazette. The iterations in the Gazette and the Journal had strikingly similar appearances, almost as if the compositor for the former referred to an edition of the latter when setting type. The version in the Chronicle, however, looked quite different, even though it featured, for the most part, the same copy.

Rather than a lengthy paragraph of dense text that extended all or most of a column, the advertisement in the Chronicle treated each item separately. To achieve the necessary space for doing so, the compositor allowed the advertisement to extend more than one column. It filled two full columns and overflowed into a third. In addition, the compositor divided each column in half, thus giving the advertisement the appearance of running for four columns. That further underscored the appeal to consumer choice implicitly made within the advertisement, yet the format also made the contents easier to read. Prospective customers interested in particular kinds of merchandise could peruse the advertisement much more quickly and efficiently. The advertisement in the Chronicle left the order of the goods mostly intact, though instead of leading with “Blue, green, scarlet, claret, cinnamon, drab and copper coloured middling and low priced broadcloths” it instead moved “BEST bohea tea, by the chest” from the middle of the advertisement to become the first item.

This advertisement ran in the same issue that William Goddard, the printer, inserted a notice to subscribers and advertisers. In it, he informed advertisers that “due Care will be taken” that their notices would “appear in a correct, fair, and conspicuous Manner.” In addition, he asserted that since some advertisers were “unable to write in a proper Manner for the Press” that he “offers his Assistance gratis.” In other words, Goddard edited advertisements as a free service for his clients. Perhaps the familiar advertisement placed by the Benezets and Bartow demonstrates Goddard’s efforts in that regard. That could explain the significance differences in format when compared to the same advertisement in the Gazette and the Journal. Goddard may have also suggested listing tea first among their merchandise as a means of highlighting a popular product as well as making it immediately clear that the merchants carried grocery items as well as dry goods. Most evidence suggests that throughout the eighteenth century newspaper advertisers generally assumed responsibility for copy and compositors for format, but this advertisement considered in combination with Goddard’s notice suggests that sometimes printers took a more active role in designing advertisements to appeal to readers. In so doing, they anticipated an essential service provided by the advertising industry in the twentieth century.

February 9

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

The following large assortment of GOODS.”

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 9, 1768).

Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow placed an advertisement for a “large assortment of GOODS” that filled an entire column in the February 2, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. Their advertisement did not appear in that publication the following week, but it did run in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 6 and in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 9. The iteration in the Gazette featured the same copy as the original in the Journal, but the version in the Chronicle sported revisions to both content and format (which will be examined in a separate entry on February 12).

In addition to identical copy, the format of the advertisement in the Gazette replicated the notice that previously ran in the Journal in many ways. The two advertisements had the same headlines that introduced the merchants and instructed prospective customers where to find their store. Both advertisements concluded with the same nota bene that announced they expected to receive “a very large and compleat assortment of spring and summer GOODS” via vessels from England. The same words were capitalized in both advertisements. Beyond that both advertisements deployed italics for everything except the names of the merchants, even though most other advertisements on the page used italics sparingly, if at all. In the Journal, Philip Wilson’s list-style advertisement also used italics, suggesting that this may have been the format for that type of advertisement selected by the compositor. Alternately, either Wilson or the Benezets and Bartow may have specified that they wanted their advertisement in italics and the compositor chose to give the other the same treatment. Either way, the compositor for the Gazette copied the format from the Journal exactly, almost as if the Benezets and Bartow had cut their advertisement out of the Journal and submitted it to the Gazette. The line breaks were the only noticeable difference, with the Gazette squeezing more items onto each line. As a result, the version in the Gazette did not fill an entire column, but it very nearly did so.

This comparison suggests some likely printing practices when it came to advertisements, but does not present definitive evidence. What it does demonstrate for certain, especially when taken into consideration with the third advertisement in the Chronicle, is that some advertisers contemplated the significance of circulating their advertisements to as many readers and potential customers as possible. The Benezets and Bartow sought to maximize the number of colonists who would encounter their advertisement, so they moved it from newspaper to newspaper. Such a lengthy advertisement would have been a considerable investment. That being the case, the Benezets and Bartow chose not to run it for as many weeks as most other advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers appeared in the public prints. It ran once in both the Chronicle and Journal and twice in the Gazette. The Benezets and Bartow sacrificed the duration of their advertising campaign in favor of dissemination to the widest possible audience.