January 7

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

Providence Gazette (January 7, 1769).

“A HORSE stolen!”

Among the new advertisements that ran in the January 7, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, one proclaimed “A HORSE stolen!” Following that headline, the advertisement included further details, such as a description of the horse (“14 Hands and a half high, well set, 9 Years old, a dark Sorrel, intermixed with some white Hairs, and has some Spots under the Saddle”) and the date and time it had been stolen (“Tuesday Evening, the 27th of December”). The thief had made off with the saddle, bridle, and saddlebags as well. Finally, the advertisement offered two rewards: five dollars for finding and returning the horse or ten dollars for capturing the thief along with locating the horse.

While most of contents of the advertisement were standard for the genre, the lively headline, including the exclamation point, was not. The headline did, however, echo the headline in another advertisement in the same issue, the Once more! that introduced an estate notice placed by executors Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold. That advertisement also ran in the previous issue. Perhaps Samuel Danielson, Jr., had seen Olney and Arnold’s estate notice. Perhaps it had influenced him to devise a bold headline for his own advertisement. The signature at the end of Danielson’s advertisement indicated that he composed it on January 5 (even though the theft took place on December 27). He certainly could have seen the contents of the December 31 edition, including Olney and Arnold’s “Once more!” notice, before composing the copy for his own advertisement.

Danielson’s “A HORSE stolen!” headline suggests that eighteenth-century readers noted innovations in advertising and that some advertisers adopted those innovations when placing their own notices in the public prints. Yet they did so unevenly. Many other advertisers continued to place notices that deployed their names as the headlines or did not feature headlines at all. Notable for their innovation in the eighteenth century, headlines like “Once more!” and “A HORSE stolen!” were precursors of a common strategy later incorporated into newspaper advertisements in the nineteenth century.

December 31

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

Providence Gazette (December 31, 1768).

Once more!

In their capacity as the executors of the estate of Joseph Smith of North Providence, Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. In it, they called on creditors to attend a meeting to settle accounts and announced an auction of the deceased’s real estate. The contents of their advertisement did not differ from other estate notices, but the headline set it apart, drawing attention with a proclamation of “Once more!” Eighteenth-century advertisements did not always consist of dense text crowded on the page.

This innovative headline most likely emerged via collaboration between the advertisers and the compositor, perhaps even accidentally. Many eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements did not feature headlines at all. Some treated the advertiser’s name as the headline or otherwise used typography to make it the central focus. The names “Darius Sessions,” “Samuel Black,” and “J. Mathewson” all served as headlines for advertisements, each in italics and a font the same size as “Once more!” In another advertisement, “Gideon Young” appeared in the middle, but in a significantly larger font. Other advertisements used text other than names as headlines. John Carter’s advertisement for an almanac deployed “A NEW EDITION” at the top. A real estate advertisement used “TO BE SOLD” and an advertisement for a runaway slave used “FIVE DOLLARS Reward.” Both were standard formulations when it came to introducing information to newspaper readers.

On the other hand, “Once more!” was different than anything else that usually appeared in the headlines of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. Playful and quirky, it was a precursor to the advertisements that regularly appeared in American newspapers in the nineteenth century. Its departure from standard practices for headlines accompanying advertisements in the 1760s suggests that Olney and Arnold did not merely go through the motions of placing an announcement in the public prints. Instead, they devised copy intended to draw more attention than formulaic language would have garnered. The uniqueness of “Once more!” was calculated to arouse curiosity among readers. That it appeared in italics and larger font was most likely a fortunate accident, considering that the compositor gave other headlines the same treatment. (Recall Darius Sessions,” “Samuel Black,” and “J. Mathewson.”) Still, it signaled the possibilities of combining clever copy with unconventional typography, a strategy that subsequent generations of advertisers and compositors would explore much more extensively.

December 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 26, 1768).

“Ravens Duck | Bohea Tea | Mason Glasses.”

Samuel Fletcher aimed to use typography to his advantage in an advertisement that ran in the December 26, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In it, he listed a variety of imported goods among the inventory at his store “Near the Draw-Bridge,” including textiles, tea, and housewares. The contents of Fletcher’s advertisement did not much differ from what appeared in other notices for consumer goods placed in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers published in the busy port. The format, however, distinguished Fletcher’s advertisement from many others.

Fletcher enumerated approximately sixty items, organizing them into three columns that trisected the advertisement. Other advertisers that listed their wares tended to do so in dense paragraphs that did not feature any white space. Such was the case in Gilbert Deblois’s advertisement immediately below Fletcher’s notice and Joseph Barrell’s advertisement immediately to the right. Yet Fletcher was not alone among merchants and shopkeepers in electing to divide his goods into columns. Elsewhere on the same page, Samuel Allyne Otis divided his advertisement into two columns. Joshua Blanchard incorporated visual variety into his advertisement, publishing a short list of wines followed by a paragraph that promoted the quality of customer service his clients could anticipate. Although many advertisers opted for the standard dense paragraph, some experimented with other formats.

Fletcher’s decision to use columns came with one disadvantage. He could not list as many items in the same amount of space. Still, he managed to provide a general preview, enough to suggest an array of choices for consumers, before concluding with the phrase “With many Articles not mentioned” running across all three columns. This signaled to prospective customers that he did not necessarily stock fewer choices than his competitors, only that he organized them differently in his advertisement. In the spirit of “less is more,” listing fewer items but in a format with sufficient white space that allowed readers to navigate the contents of the advertisement more easily could have drawn attention to specific entries much more readily than had they appeared amidst a dense list of merchandise. For Fletcher’s advertisement, the typography very well could have been as effective as the copy.

December 1

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

Dec 1 - 12:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 1, 1768).

“EUROPEAN GOODS”

Two days after their advertisement for “A LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS” dominated the front page of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Webb and Doughty inserted the same advertisement in the December 1, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. The advertisements featured identical copy but variations in typography. The most significant aspect of the advertisement’s format, however, carried over from one newspaper to the other. Webb and Doughty’s advertisement spanned two columns, distinguishing it from all others on the same page.

For most eighteenth-century newspaper notices the advertiser wrote the copy but the compositor determined the format. Some advertisers placed the same notice, at least as far as the copy was concerned, in multiple newspapers, but those notices varied in appearance as the result of decisions made by compositors. Advertisements that retained particular features across multiple publications, such as the decorative border that enclosed Jolley Allen’s advertisements, testify to explicit instructions given by advertisers. Most advertisers seemed content to entrust the graphic design to the printing office, but it was possible for advertisers to exert more control over the appearance of notices they paid to insert in colonial newspapers.

It appears that Webb and Doughty did offer instructions to the compositors at the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. It seems unlikely that the two would have independently made the same decision to create advertisements that spanned two columns. (Unfortunately, Webb and Doughty did not place the same advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Perhaps they tried but the printer rejected any special instructions.) The compositors still exercised the discretion to make other decisions about the format of Webb and Doughty’s advertisement. The list of goods appeared as a paragraph in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but as three narrow columns in the South-Carolina Gazette. The names of the merchants appeared in the largest font in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but “EUROPEAN GOODS” appeared as the most prominent headline in the South-Carolina Gazette.

Although Webb and Doughty’s advertisement was the only one that spanned two columns on its page, two notices on the front page also spanned two columns. One for “SALES by the Provost-Marshal” was a somewhat regular feature. The headline enclosed in a decorative border occasionally graced advertisements of various lengths. The other, an advertisement for “A COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF GOODS” placed by Mansell, Corbett, and Roberts,” had the same format as Webb and Doughty’s advertisement. It spanned two columns. The list of goods was organized into three columns. What explains its appearance? Did Mansell, Corbett, and Roberts see Webb and Doughty’s advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and choose to adopt its format themselves? Or did the compositor at the South-Carolina Gazette decide to experiment with that format in other advertisements of sufficient length?

November 29

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

Nov 29 - 11:29:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 29, 1768).

“WEBB & DOUGHTY, HAVE JUST IMPORTED A LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS.”

As a result of its length and, especially, its graphic design, Webb and Doughty’s advertisement for a “LARGE AND COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT OF EUROPEAN GOODS” dominated the front page of the November 29, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. No other item in that issue, neither news nor other paid notices, rivaled Webb and Doughty’s call to prospective customers to purchase the array of goods they had “JUST IMPORTED” from London and Liverpool.

Their advertisement occupied a privileged place, appearing immediately below the masthead. That alone would have drawn the eyes of readers, but the unique format increased the likelihood that subscribers and others would take note. Webb and Doughty’s advertisement extended across two of the three columns, unusual for any sort of content in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other colonial newspapers. This advertisement would have otherwise filled an entire column, but that long-and-narrow format would have been much more familiar to readers. Due to that familiarity, it would not have been as visually striking as the lengthy list of goods that seemed to overflow the boundaries of its column. Overall, this advertisement accounted for one-quarter of the content on the first page.

Spanning two columns also allowed Webb and Doughty to mobilize a headline that would not have been possible in a single column. The additional space allowed them to increase the size of the font for both their names and “EUROPEAN GOODS.” Indeed, “WEBB & DOUGHTY” appeared in a larger font than “SOUTH-CAROLINA JOURNAL,” shifting attention away from the masthead in favor of the advertisement or, at the very least, setting the two in competition. The masthead proclaimed that the newspaper “Contain[ed] the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic,” but readers had to turn to the second page to encounter any news. Webb and Doughty’s oversized advertisement made it clear that advertising was the order of business in this issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In addition to Webb and Doughty’s advertisement, other paid notices filled three of four pages in the November 29 edition.

Webb and Doughty’s merchandise did not much differ from what competitors offered in their own advertisements, but the graphic design significantly deviated from the appearance of other advertisements for consumer goods and services in colonial newspapers. Webb and Doughty did not rely on copy alone to market their goods. Instead, they incorporated typographical innovation into their marketing strategy.

November 25

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

Nov 25 - 11:25:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 25, 1768).

“Broad cloths in|Best belladine sew-|Bellows’s Gimblets”

The format of Samuel Broome and Company’s advertisement in the Connecticut Journal suggested the work of an unskilled compositor, someone who had not sufficiently mastered the typographical arts to create an advertisement that was either visually appealing or easy to read. Yet Bernard Lintot’s advertisement that appeared immediately to the left in the November 25, 1768, edition hinted that the compositor of Broome and Company’s notice might not have been entirely at fault for its dense and cluttered appearance.

Both advertisements featured two vertical lines trisecting three columns of goods. Lintot’s advertisement listed only one item per line in each column, taking advantage of white space to make each legible for readers. Broome and Company’s advertisement, on the other hand, included multiple items per line and crushed the columns together without any space to separate them. Why adopt that approach when it was clear that those employed at the printing office were capable of doing better?

It may have been an issue of finances rather than a lack of aesthetics. The cramped advertisement already filled an entire column. If Broome and Company had insisted on a style that replicated Lintot’s advertisement, their notice would have extended into a second column. That may not have been a viable alternative considering that the partners ran their advertisement in the Connecticut Journal in alternating issues for five months, incurring significant advertising costs. Broome and Company may have intentionally avoided the additional expense associated with overflowing into a second column; given their frequent publication schedule, the printers also may have confined Broome and Company to a single column. Each time their notice appeared it accounted for one-eighth of the total content in a four-page newspaper with only two columns per page.

What kind of consultation took place among advertisers, printers, and compositors in the eighteenth century? On its own, Broome and Company’s advertisement suggests that the compositor did not execute his charge particularly well, but that might not have been the case. The variation in visual appeal among the advertisements in the Connecticut Journal indicates that other factors may have also been at play in determining the format of Broome and Company’s lengthy notice.

October 3

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

Oct 3 - 10:3:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 3, 1768).

“JUST imported by ADAM GILCHRIST.”

Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, took in so many advertisements that he could not fit all of them in the standard four-page issue for October 3, 1768. In addition to two pages of advertising in the regular issue, Gaine distributed a two-page supplement comprised solely of advertisements. That still did not provide sufficient space for all of the paid notices submitted to the printing shop at the Sign of the Bible and Crown in Hanover Square. Either Gaine or the compositor who set the type for the October 3 edition made space for inserting four additional advertisements on the second and third pages by printing them in the margins.

The first and fourth pages appeared as usual: three columns on each page as well as the masthead and prices current running across the top of the first page. The second and third pages, however, each had a slender fourth column created by rotating the text of short advertisements and setting them perpendicular to the rest of the content. These advertisements appeared in the left margin of the second page and the right margin of the third page, positioned away from the fold that separated the two pages.

This strategy required selecting short advertisements to divide into columns. For instance, the second page featured two short advertisements: nine lines from Adam Gilchrist promoting textiles he had recently imported and five lines announcing an employment opportunity for “A Person qualified to teach three or four Children, in a Gentleman’s Family.” These notices had the same width as other advertisements and news content throughout the rest of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury yet they were broken into several columns to fit them in the margins. If necessary, the several columns of each could be combined into one and printed elsewhere in subsequent issues without having to set the type from scratch.

The unconventional placement of these advertisements may have given them more visibility than if they had appeared in the long columns amidst other paid notices. Their position on the page may have incited curiosity among readers, yielding a benefit for the advertisers even as Gaine and the compositor sought to solve the problem of having too much content for the current issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Many printers throughout the colonies resorted to this trick on occasion, yet not so frequently that the unusual placement of these advertisements would have passed without notice.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 13, 1768).

“Black silk and cotton gauzes.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed list-style advertisements in the September 13, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its two-page supplement. Among them, George Ancrum and Company, Elizabeth Blaikie, Thomas Walter, Godfrey and Gadsden, and John McCall each enumerated dozens of items they offered for sale. Most of these advertisements took the form of dense paragraphs that did not incorporate visual signals intended to differentiate the various goods they listed. Godfrey and Gadsden, however, experimented with the format of one of their advertisements. Rather than a single paragraph, they opted for two columns with only one or two items listed on each line, making it easier for prospective customers to spot “coloured ribbons” and “parrot cages” amid the many other goods. This distinctive layout distinguished Godfrey and Gadsden’s advertisement from the many other notices on the same page, even though their inventory replicated the merchandise available from their competitors.

Yet this was not the only advertisement Godfrey and Gadsden placed in that issue. In another advertisement on the same page they deployed a lengthy paragraph that rivaled all others in its density. Although the advertisement with the dense paragraph of goods occupied a privileged position as the first item in the first column, the format of the advertisement divided into two columns (with significantly more white space) made the latter much more prominent, even though it appeared near the bottom of the final column. The disparity between the two demonstrates that Godfrey and Gadsden were not committed to one format over the other; it does suggest that they did intentionally experiment with the visual elements of their advertisements, perhaps of their own volition or perhaps at the urging of a compositor who made suggestions about possible alternatives. Compared to newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal featured less variation when it came to the format of list-style advertisements in the late 1760s, yet advertisers and compositors did sometimes play with typography to create notices with unique graphic design elements.

August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:5:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (August 5, 1768).

“colours, Six quarter|London quality’s|common, Spike do”

Although many eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods took the form of long lists delivered in dense paragraphs, some advertisers and compositors experimented with other formats that made advertisements easier to read. Listing only one or two items per line better highlighted each item; the white space aided in directing readers to those goods that most interested them. This strategy, however, reduced the number of items that could be included in the same amount of space. Advertisers had to choose between listing fewer goods or paying for advertisements that occupied greater amounts of space in newspapers.

Getting creative with typography allowed for another choice: dividing an advertisement into columns and listing one item per line per column. When undertaken by a skilled compositor, this strategy still introduced sufficient white space to significantly improve readability while doubling or tripling, depending on the number of columns, the number of goods that appeared in a neatly organized list. List-style advertisements that featured columns usually had only two, but occasionally compositors demonstrated that it was possible to effectively incorporate three columns.

The success of this strategy depended on the skills of the compositor. An advertisement placed by Samuel Broome and Company in the August 5, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal demonstrates that experimenting with the graphic design elements of newspaper advertisements did not necessarily produce positive results. In an advertisement that filled an entire column, Broome and Company made an appeal to consumer choice by listing scores of items they sold at their store in New York. The compositor divided the advertisement into three columns, but apparently nobody affiliated with the production of the advertisement – neither Broome and Company when writing the copy nor the compositor when setting the type – insisted that it should list only one item per line per column. Instead, the advertisement featured the dense paragraph format common to so many newspaper advertisements, but divided into three narrow columns. Not only did this not make the contents any easier for prospective customers to read, the lack of space devoted to separating columns made the advertisement even more confusing and difficult to decipher.

While it is possible that the strange format may have attracted some attention, the challenges inherent in reading Broome and Company’s advertisement likely did not prompt potential customers to examine it closely, especially not casual readers who did not already have an interest in some of the goods that Broome and Company carried (if they could only find them in that disorienting list). Good typography helped to develop interest and perhaps incite demand for consumer goods listed in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but clumsy typography that made it more difficult for readers to peruse some advertisements likely made those advertisements even less effective than if they had simply resorted to the traditional dense paragraph format.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - Connecticut Courant 7:25:1768
Connecticut Courant (July 25, 1768).

“RUN-AWAY.”

When Ephraim Smith, “an assigned Servant,” ran away from Dr. Eliot Rawson of Middletown in the summer of 1768, the doctor placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant in hopes that someone would “take up said Runaway, and secure him in any of his Majesty’s Goals.” Once Smith had been captured and committed to jail, Rawson pledged to pay a reward as well as other expenses. One aspect of Rawson’s advertisement especially distinguished it from other notices concerning runaway servants, apprentices, and slaves. The headline featured unique typography, the word “RUN-AWAY” in capital letters printed upside down.

Was this intentional? Or was it merely an error made by the compositor? If it was an error, nobody associated with the runaway notice – not the advertiser, not the compositor, not the printers of the Connecticut Courant – considered it consequential enough to remedy. The advertisement ran for three weeks, the standard time specified in rate structure listed in the colophon, before being discontinued. Throughout its entire run it likely attracted attention as a result of the upside down text that introduced the description of Smith and the reward offered by Rawson.

The compositor certainly had opportunities to correct the error. The advertisement first appeared in the July 11 edition, at the top of the center column and immediately below the masthead on the front page. It moved to different positions on the fourth page in the next two issues, indicating that the compositor viewed and handled the type.

Even if the headline initially appeared upside down as a mistake, perhaps everyone involved considered it a fortuitous one and intentionally chose not to reset the type in the first line of the advertisement. After all, it made Rawson’s notice difficult to miss on a page that consisted almost entirely of densely text. An advertisement for a runaway servant might not have merited a second glance by readers who had previously encountered it in another edition, but the incongruity of the upside down text in all capitals and a larger font demanded subsequent notice. It forcefully reminded readers to keep their eyes open for the delinquent Smith when they might otherwise have passed over the advertisement as old news.

Whether intentional or an error, the unique headline produced benefits that relied on the visual elements of the advertisement rather than the copy, making it unnecessary or undesirable to flip the headline to the proper orientation in subsequent iterations of the advertisement. Especially in the absence of visual images, typography played an important role in the quest to have readers take note of newspaper advertisements.