What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
In the fall of 1772, David Sears joined other advertisers in Boston who used borders composed of decorative type to enclose either the headline or their entire newspaper notice. Sears proclaimed that he sold “CHEAP GOODS,” that headline surrounded by printing ornaments that called attention to his advertisement and prompted subscribers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to read more about the “fresh Assortment of Gall and Winter Goods” he recently imported from London. His advertisement in the October 26 edition of the Boston-Gazette included the same headline within a decorative border. In with instances, the headline and its border directed prospective customers to his bold claim that he set “such Prices that is not possible to be conceived of without Trial.” In other words, it would take some effort to even imagine such low prices.
Sears certainly was not the first advertiser in Boston to incorporate a border into a newspaper advertisement. As early as 1766, Jolley Allen made borders around his entire notices a signature element of his marketing. Occasionally other advertisers deployed borders as well, but greater numbers did so simultaneously in the summer and fall of 1772. Jolley Allen and Andrew Dexter both published advertisements with borders in May, though the Massachusetts Spy seemingly rejected any requests or instructions to include a border around Allen’s advertisement. Martin Bicker ran an advertisement surrounded by a border in August. Jonathan Williams, Jr., also did so in September. Other merchants and shopkeepers opted for borders around just the headlines. The week before Sears ran his advertisement on October 22, William Jackson introduced his notice with a border around the headline, “Variety Store.” A few days later, Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer had a border enclosing “Variety of Goods” at the top of their advertisement in Supplement to the Boston-Gazette. The printers of that newspaper had recently used a decorative border for their own notice calling on subscribers with overdue accounts “to make immediate Payment.”
These examples may seem scattered, but considering how infrequently borders adorned advertisements in Boston’s newspapers (or newspapers printed elsewhere in the colonies) they suggest a trend among advertisers in 1772. Sears may have observed that others included borders in their notices and determined that he desired the same for his advertisement, combining a pithy headline and graphic design to demand the attention of readers.