November 8

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

Nov 8 - 11:8:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 8, 1769).

“A Large and Compleat ASSORTMENT of EAST-INDIA and EUROPEAN GOODS.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, had too much content to include all of the news and advertisements in his newspaper on November 8, 1769.   As a result, he issued a small supplement to accompany the standard issue, though it took a different form than most supplements distributed by printers in eighteenth-century America.

For context, first consider the format of a standard issue of the Georgia Gazette and most other newspapers of the period. They usually consisted of only four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half. The Georgia Gazette featured two columns per page; most newspapers published in the 1760s had three columns, but a select few had four columns. When printers had excess content, they either inserted a note that certain items would appear in the following issue or they distributed some sort of supplement. Supplements usually consisted of two pages of the same size as the standard issue; in terms of production and appearance, they amounted to half of a standard issue. Given the expense and scarcity of paper, very rarely did printers distribute supplements that had content on only one side but left the other side blank. Those additional pages usually had some sort of title, most often Supplement, but on occasion Postscript or Extraordinary. The last two applied most often to additional pages that featured news (rather than advertising) that arrived in the printing office too late for inclusion in the standard issue.

The supplement that accompanied the November 8, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette deviated greatly from most other supplements. It consisted of seven advertisements printed on only one side of a smaller sheet than the standard issue. (The size of the sheets cannot be determined from consulting digital surrogates in databases of eighteenth-century newspapers, but experienced researchers easily recognize when the relative sizes of newspaper pages differ based on several features.) The compositor arranged those seven advertisements in an unusual manner. Three ran in a vertical column; rotated ninety degrees to the left, the other four ran in two horizontal columns. All seven appeared in the previous issue of the Georgia Gazette. The compositor adopted this unusual format for the supplement in order to use type that had already been set while maximizing the amount of content that would appear on a smaller sheet. In another variation from the norm, the supplement did not include a masthead or title that associated it with the Georgia Gazette. Only a notation in the lower right corner, “[No. 318.],” identified it as a companion to the November 8 edition, labeled “No. 318” in the masthead on the first page of the standard issue.

In recent months, Johnston had sometimes resorted to postponing publication of paid notices and other times issued miniature supplements. Advertising represented an important source of revenue for colonial printers, which likely prompted Johnston to invest the time and resources required to produce those supplements and disseminate notices submitted to his printing office. He needed to do this while still covering the news for his subscribers, striking a balance between the two kinds of content.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:27:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (September 27, 1769).

“Pigtail tobacco,
Playing cards,
Box coffee mills.”

William Belcher and the partnership of Rae & Somerville both inserted advertisements in the September 27, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Each relied on consumer choice as the primary means of marketing their wares, though Belcher did make a nod toward low prices as well. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers that advertised in newspapers published throughout the colonies, Belcher and Rae & Somerville listed dozens of items available at their shops, cataloging their inventory to demonstrate an array of choices for consumers. Both concluded their advertisements with a promise of even more choices that prospective customers would encounter when visiting their shops. Belcher promoted “a variety if delph and tinware,” while Rae & Somerville resorted to “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc., etc., etc.”).

Despite this similarity, the advertisers adopted different formats for presenting their wares in the pages of the public prints. Rae & Somerville went with the most common method: a dense paragraph of text that lumped together all of their merchandise. Belcher, on the other hand, organized his goods into two columns with only one item per line. This created significantly more white space that likely made it easier for prospective customers to read and locate items of interest. Belcher and Rae & Somerville listed a similar number of items, yet Belcher’s advertisement occupied nearly twice as much space on the page as a result of the typography. Considering that most printers charged by the amount of space an advertisement required rather than the number of words in the advertisement, Belcher made a greater investment in his advertisement. Presumably he believed that this would attract more attention from prospective customers and garner better returns. In making this determination, Belcher relied on the skills of the compositor in the printing office to execute his wishes.

In general, advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers appear crowded by twenty-first-century standards, especially since they relied almost entirely of text and featured few images compared to modern print advertising. Advertisers, printers, and compositors, however, devised ways of distinguishing the visual appearance of advertisements that consisted solely of text. They experimented with different formats in effort to vary the presentation of vast assortments of goods offered to the general public for their consumption.

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 5, 1769).

“BLANKS.”

Like printers in other towns and cities in the colonies, Samuel Hall sought to generate revenue by taking advantage of his access to the press to promote his own enterprises in the Essex Gazette. In addition to publishing a newspaper, Hall also produced “BLANKS” at his printing office in Salem. Colonists used blanks (or printed forms, as they would be described today) for a variety of common commercial and legal purposes. They saved significant time compared to writing out the same transaction repeatedly. In some instances, resorting to blanks allowed colonists to sidestep hiring a conveyancer or lawyer to draw up documents.

Most printers simply announced that they stocked blanks of all sorts at their printing offices. On occasion, however, some printers listed the different kinds of blanks, providing a better glimpse of how purchasing them could increase efficiency and streamline all variety of transactions. In his advertisement, Hall listed sixteen different blanks for purposes that ranged from “Apprentices Indentures” to “Bills of Lading” to “Short Powers of Attorney.”

Through his typographical choices, he made sure that readers of the Essex Gazette would notice his advertisement. Many eighteenth-century advertisements that listed goods for sale, especially those that ran in the Essex Gazette in the late 1760s, clustered the items together in dense paragraphs. Hall’s advertisement, on the other hand, listed only one type of blank per line, making it easier to read and identify forms of particular interest. Hall also selected a larger font for his advertisement than appeared throughout the rest of that edition of the Essex Gazette. His notice occupied nearly twice as much space as any other in the same issue. The combination of white space incorporated into Hall’s advertisement and the oversized type made it one of the most striking items on a page that included both news and paid notices. Another advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a ship at sea, but it appeared immediately above Hall’s advertisement for blanks, leading directly into it.

Hall promoted other aspects of his business in the Essex Gazette, hoping to generate revenue beyond subscriptions and advertising fees. In the process, he effectively used graphic design to draw attention to other products from his printing office, an array of blanks for commercial and legal purposes. His access to the press gave him opportunities to experiment with the format of his own advertisements to an extent not available to other colonists.

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 26, 1769).

Once more!

In the August 26, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Knight Dexter and Samuel Nightingale, Jr., both placed advertisements calling on those who owed them money to settle accounts or risk being sued. When it came to attracting the attention of readers, however, Dexter deployed much more effective typography that included a striking headline.

Compare the two advertisements, staring with the standard format adopted by Nightingale. “ALL Persons indebted to SAMUEL NIGHTINGALE, jun. by Book, Note, &c. are once more earnestly intreated to make immediate Payment.” The advertisement continued from there with the threat of legal action and a shorter paragraph that promoted the “large Assortment of European and West-India GOODS” in stock at Nightingale’s shop. The shopkeeper’s name and “GOODS” were the only words that appeared in all capitals. None of the text in the advertisement ran in a larger font. Visually, little distinguished it from other advertisements or other content in the issue.

On the other hand, Dexter’s advertisement opened with a headline that demanded attention: “Once more!” The font for the headline was even larger than that used for “PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” in the masthead on the front page. Elsewhere in the issue, only prolific advertisers Joseph Russell and William Russell used a font notable for being larger than anything else on the page; their names ran in font the same size as “PROVIDENCE GAZETTE” in the masthead. “Once more!” appeared in the largest font by far on the third page and the second page that faced it, making it difficult to miss. Such unique typography likely incited curiosity and prompted readers to investigate further and find out more about the advertisement.

Although unusual, the typography was not completely unique. In December 1768, Joseph Olney, Jr., and Jonathan Arnold, executors of the estate of Joseph Smith, ran an advertisement calling on creditors to settle their debts and advising the community of an estate auction. The advertisement featured the “Once more!” headline in oversized font. It ran in the Providence Gazette. Perhaps Dexter, who advertised frequently in that newspaper, remembered that advertisement and incorporated its distinctive feature into his own advertising several months later. Alternately, perhaps the printer or compositor recommended the striking device to Dexter when he expressed concern about attracting as much attention to the advertisement as possible. Either way, this innovation that originated in the Providence Gazette did not disappear after its first use. It reappeared within a year, heralding a practice that became common in newspaper advertising in the nineteenth century.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:1:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (June 1, 1769).

“BREW-HOUSE.”

John Calvert and Company placed a brief advertisement in the June 1, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette to advise readers that they sold “ALE, TABLE and SHIP BEER.” The partners also offered a convenient service for their customers: delivery to “any part of the town,” provided that the buyer purchased at least five gallons.

Decorative typography, however, rather than the copy accounted for the most notable part of Calvert and Company’s advertisement. Like some other advertisers, they included a headline to draw attention: “BREW-HOUSE.” Unlike other advertisers, they arranged for a decorative border to enclose the headline, distinguishing the advertisement from almost every other in the South-Carolina Gazette. One other notice did feature a similar layout, an advertisement for the “Sloop MONTAGU” to be sold at public auction. Its headline announced “SALE by the Provost-Marshal,” also enclosed in decorative type.

The South-Carolina Gazette frequently featured such advertisements for goods, property, or enslaved men, women, and children seized by the provost marshal and to be sold to settle debts or resolve other legal disputes. Such notices benefited from the unique format, the headline in the decorative border, but other advertisements for goods and services placed by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others did not incorporate such distinctive typography. Although the compositor could have made the decision independently, this suggests that Calvert and Company negotiated for that particular element of their advertisement, realizing that the headline and border would make it more visible among the advertisements that filled the final pages of the South-Carolina Gazette. Alternately, the partners could have commissioned a woodcut to spruce up their advertisement, but that likely would have incurred greater expense compared to utilizing decorative type the printer already had in hand.

In general, advertisers generated copy for newspaper notices in eighteenth-century America, but printers and compositors made decisions about graphic design. Calvert and Company’s notice suggests that advertisers sometimes observed distinctive design elements that they wished to incorporate into their own advertisements. Some likely suspected that distinctive visual elements made advertisements more effective and yielded a greater return on their investment, prompting them to borrow styles that they regularly encountered when they perused the newspapers.

April 3

GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin

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

Boston Chronicle (April 3, 1769).

“A GRAND CONCERT of VOCAL and INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC.”

Music was popular in colonial America, just like it is today. In April 1769 “A GENTLEMAN from LONDON” performed a “GRAND CONCERT” in Boston. What kind of music did colonists hear? David K. Hildebrand lists four categories: theater music, dance music, church music, and military music. In early America, colonists heard “ballads, dance tunes, folk songs and parodies, comic opera arias, drum signals, psalms, minuets, and sonatas.” Which instruments were present in eighteenth-century America? Hilbebrand says that violins (fiddles) and flutes were the most popular, “[d]rums and trumpets, trombones and French horns, cellos, violas da gamba, clarinets, oboes and bassoons, glass armonicas, hammered dulcimers, [and] organs” were all played in the colonies, “in varying numbers. Women did not usually play these instruments. Hildebrand states, “A very tight self-regulation of activity in the name of ‘maintaining reputation’ limited musical options for women.” Wealthy women played harpsichords and English guitars. To learn more, visit “What was Colonial or ‘Early American’ Music?”

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Boston Evening-Post (April 3, 1769).

The promoters of a “GRAND CONCERT of VOCAL and INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC” scheduled for April 14, 1769, did not confine their marketing efforts to the pages of the Boston Chronicle. On the same day, that this advertisement ran in that newspaper it also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, increasing the number of readers and prospective patrons that would encounter it and consider attending.

Boston-Gazette (April 3, 1769).

These advertisements demonstrate an important aspect of the division of labor and creative input in early American advertising: advertisers generated copy and compositors determined the design elements. The copy in each iteration of the “GRAND CONCERT” advertisement remained constant, suggesting that the advertiser wrote the text, copied it several times, and submitted those copies to the various printing offices around Boston. The compositors then exercised their own discretion concerning how the advertisement looked on the page when they set the type. The version in the Boston Chronicle, for instance, announced a “GRAND CONCERT,” putting those words in all capitals and a font larger than almost everything else in the advertisement. “MUSIC” appeared in the largest font, making it the focal point of the advertisement. In contrast, “Grand Concert,” this time not in all capitals, was in the smallest font used in the advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. There, “Mr. HARTLEY” and “Vocal and Instrumental Musick” appeared in the largest font. The compositor for the Boston Evening-Post adopted yet another strategy, making “A grand CONCERT” the most prominent words in the advertisement. Other variations included different uses of italics and capitalization elsewhere in the advertisements as well as a manicule that appeared in the Boston Chronicle but not in the other two newspapers.

This division was not a hard and fast rule. On occasion, similarities in graphic design in multiple newspapers suggested that advertisers provided instructions or negotiated for particular design elements, but generally they did not. Much more often, compositors made copy submitted by advertisers conform to their own graphic design preferences, creating advertisements from multiple advertisers within a single publication that looked more similar to each other than advertisements from a single advertiser in multiple newspapers. In other words, the visual qualities of an advertisement depended greatly on which compositor set the type and which newspaper published that advertisement.

March 27

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
“TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen.”

Jolley Allen, a merchant from London, had been selling goods in Boston since 1755. In this advertisement he listed many things, from clothes to china to tea. I am interested in the man selling those goods. Allen was a known Loyalist. He had remained in Boston under the British occupation in 1775 and 1776. He planned to leave with his family on a private ship named Sally whose captain was Robert Campbell when the British and all of the other Loyalists planned to evacuate in March 1776. The Allens planned to leave on March 14, 1776. They boarded the ship for their voyage, planning to follow the British vessels to Nova Scotia. According to the New England Historical Society, on March 17 “it became clear just how inept Robert Campbell was. Over the next 24 hours, Campbell managed to collide with two other fleeing British ships, nearly capsize Sally and finally run it aground while the British ships sailed away for Nova Scotia.” The crew then anchored the ship near Provincetown, which was not under British control. Allen then lost all of his possessions to the residents of Provincetown. He later went back to his old home in Boston and found that his barber had taken up residence in his house. For a short time Allen rented a room in his former home. He eventually escaped to London in Febraury 1777, where he published “Account of the Sufferings and Losses of Jolley Allen, a Native of London” in hopes of being compensated for his losses during the American Revolution.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Almost without fail, Jolley Allen placed distinctive advertisements in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. They were not distinctive so much for their contents. After all, Allen listed the same sorts of items stocked by shopkeepers throughout the city and throughout the colonies. Instead, his attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements distinctive. In most cases advertisers submitted copy to the printing office and compositors assumed responsibility for the format of newspaper advertisements. However, the consistency of graphic design elements in Allen’s advertisements across multiple newspapers, whether borders enclosing his lists of goods or ornamental type flanking his name in the headline, demonstrate that Allen negotiated with printers and compositors to have specific visual elements included in his advertisements. That made his advertisement in the March 27, 1769, edition of Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette particularly noteworthy, in addition to its size. Filling two of three columns on the final page, Allen’s advertisement dominated the page.

Such attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements easy for prospective customers to recognize. Multiple iterations of his advertisements, especially over extended periods, also suggest that after initially agreeing with the printer and compositor on the format that Allen simply submitted a copy of an earlier advertisement cut from the newspaper, along with revisions marked or attached, when he wished to revive his marketing campaign. His advertisement from March 27, 1769, replicated almost exactly an advertisement that he previously ran nearly nine months earlier in the July 3, 1768, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. The new version included a slightly altered headline, “TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen” rather than “Now ready for Sale, at the most reasonable Rate, BY Jolley Allen,” but the shopkeeper’s name still appeared in a much larger sized font than anything else in the newspapers with the exception of the masthead. Decorative ornaments forming diamonds flanked his name. The list of goods he offered for sale was almost exactly the same in terms of both content and order. For the few items missing from the previous version, he likely crossed them off the copy he submitted to the printing office. A limited number of new items appeared at the bottom of the first column and the top of the second, perhaps written in the margins or on a separate sheet by Allen. A final note to “Town and Country Customers” ran across both columns at the bottom, replicating the format of the earlier advertisement. In addition, manicules appeared in all the same places in both advertisements, including three printed upside down at the end of lines rather than at the beginning. This suggests that the compositor faithfully followed the graphic design elements present in the earlier advertisement.

Note the manicules enclosing Allen’s money back guarantee for tea. Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
Allen likely had to invest some time in working with printers and compositors to achieve the format he desired for his advertisement the first time it ran in any of Boston’s newspapers. That facilitated the process for subsequent insertions since he could simply submit a copy from a previous publication with any revisions marked, trusting the compositor to replicate a design already established.

March 21

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Essex Gazette (March 21, 1769).

“CHOICE green Coffee.”

In this advertisement William Vans attempted to sell some items, including “CHOICE green Coffee.’ Green coffee had to do with the beans. Heather Baldus, the collections manager at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore, says, “In the 1700s, when you purchased coffee from your local merchant it most likely was in the form of bags of green beans.  The burden of turning those beans into the perfect cup of coffee was on the consumer.” When roasting the person doing it had to make sure that the beans were constantly turning so they would not burn. Then the person could use a coffee grinder, which was common and inexpensive in Europe, although most people in the colonies used a mortar and pestle to turn the beans into a powder. Finally, the person would put the amount they wanted with water, either boiling or infusing it. In addition to drinking coffee at home, some colonists went to coffeehouses. Coffeehouses began to pop up in colonial America in the eighteenth century. They were a mixture of a café, tavern, and inn. During the consumer revolution, coffee became a staple drink for early Americans.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

At a glance, William Vans’s advertisement for “CHOICE green Coffee” and other goods appears to be the same advertisement from the Essex Gazette that guest curator Luke DiCicco examined last week, a second insertion that ran in a subsequent issue. For the most part, that was indeed the case, but the notice that ran in the March 21, 1769, edition did feature one notable difference compared to the first iteration. It did not include the place and date on the final line: “Salem, March 13, 1769.” What explains the alteration?

Most likely the compositor exercised discretion in dropping the final line of the advertisement, choosing to do so in order to make it fit in the final column on the last page of the March 21 issue. Six notices comprised that column. In addition to Vans’s advertisement, Benjamin Coats and Susanna Renken each ran advertisements for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds,” Samuel Hall promoted a pamphlet for sale at the printing office, Benjamin Marston of Marblehead offered the Misery Islands for sale, and Peter Frye and Nathan Goodale published an estate notice following the death of Ebenezer Bowditch. All six advertisements ran in the March 14 issue. With the exception of Vans’s advertisement, all of them appeared in the March 21 edition exactly as they had the previous week.

Had the compositor not removed the final line from Vans’s notice, all six would not have fit in a single column. Most likely the compositor had looked for a convenient means of reducing the length of one of the advertisements. Two of them, Vans’s advertisement and the estate notice, included final lines listing place and date, lines easily removed without making it necessary to otherwise reset any type. The estate notice, however, needed the date because it specified that Frye and Goodale would continue to settle accounts at a local tavern “on the last Friday of this and of the five Months next ensuing.” Since such advertisements sometimes ran for weeks or months, the date at the end was imperative. Vans’s notice, on the other hand, did not require the date, facilitating the removal of that line. The compositor most likely made that decision without consulting the advertiser.

While these particulars may seem insignificant, they help to demonstrate the division of authority exercised by colonists involved in the production of newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century. Advertisers usually generated copy, but compositors determined graphic design elements. In this case, the compositor made a slight alteration to the copy in the service of the format of the entire page on which the advertisement appeared.

March 12

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).

“Samuel Elbert HAS JUST IMPORTED … NEW-ENGLAND RUM.”

This advertisement features a series of items that recently had been imported into Georgia by a trader named Samuel Elbert. Some of the items included soap, “CALIMANCO SHOES,” and New England rum.

Who was Samuel Elbert? Originally I was not expecting to uncover much about this advertiser, but I learned that he was an American merchant, politician, and officer during the Revolution. According to the Georgia Historical Society, Elbert started as a merchant and served in the colonial legislature as well as being a captain of a grenadier company. However, once fighting started, he decided that he wanted to serve in the war. He received a commission as an officer because of his wealth and social status. He rose up the ranks and was promoted to brigadier general in 1783 after years of service. He was later elected governor of Georgia. It is important to know about the many different people who participated in the American Revolution. Elbert may not be as famous as other officers, but he played a major role in the southern campaigns. Like other officers and soldiers from diverse backgrounds and occupations, he helped with defeating the British.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke has chosen an advertisement that may look familiar to regular readers of the Adverts 250 Project. Samuel Elbert’s notice was the featured advertisement on February 22. While the methodology for this project usually requires selecting an advertisement only once, I sometimes make exceptions when I wish to explore a particular aspect of an advertisement in more detail.

Elbert’s advertisement first appeared in the February 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, notable because it was one of only two that incorporated a large gothic font for its headline. Such typography distinguished both advertisements from the others on the same page and throughout the issue. The other advertisement, an announcement that the former members of the “Ugly Club” would meet on the 25th was discontinued the following week, but Elbert’s advertisement ran once again on March 1. In that issue, Lewis Johnson, an apothecary, and William Sime, a goldsmith and jeweler, both inserted advertisements that displayed their names in the same large gothic font. Elbert, Johnson, and Sime all ran their advertisements once again in the March 8 edition, the one examined by Luke, though yet another notice deployed the same visual style, this time featuring the name of Michael Hamer, a shopkeeper.

Who was responsible for the sudden infusion of such bold typography? Was it all at the discretion of a compositor who wished to experiment with some of the types not often used in the pages of the Georgia Gazette? Or did Johnson, Sime, and Hamer notice how the unique type drew attention to Elbert’s advertisement and then request that their own notices receive the same treatment? The answers cannot be found in the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Instructions may have been submitted with the copy for those advertisements, though advertisers may have simply made verbal requests when visiting James Johnston’s printing office on Broughton Street in Savannah. In his examination of the typography of the Georgia Gazette, Ray Dilley remarks that the “large size (Great Primer, or 36 point), appears at least once as a fascinating announcement for a meeting of ‘The Ugly Club,’” but does not mention its use in Elbert’s advertisement or any that appeared in subsequent issues.[1] Nor does Lawrence speculate on why Johnston or a compositor happened to resort to that type. The advertisements themselves testify to a willingness to experiment with graphic design, but the identity of the innovator remains unknown.

**********

[1] Lawrence A. Alexander, James Johnston, Georgia’s First Printer: With Decorations and Remarks on Johnston’s Work by Ray Dilley (Savannah: Pigeonhole Press, 1956), 42.

February 22

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

Georgia Gazette (February 22, 1769).

“Samuel Elbert HAS JUST IMPORTED … NEW-ENGLAND RUM in hogsheads and quarter casks.”

James Johnston rarely experimented with typography in the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Both news items and advertisements generally adhered to a uniform format that did little to distinguish one news item from another or one advertisement from another. Like other colonial printers, Johnston printed some words in italics or all capitals, presumably for emphasis, but those examples usually represented the extent of his playfulness with the type that appeared in his newspaper in the late 1760s. One exception regularly distinguished an advertisement that listed captured runaway slaves who were being held until slaveholders claimed them. The headline “Brought to the Work-house” appeared in a gothic font of the same size as the rest of the advertisement. Although Johnston possessed that font, he rarely deployed it elsewhere in the pages of the Georgia Gazette.

The February 22, 1769, edition, however, included several advertisements that incorporated the gothic font for the headline. One presented an enslaved woman “To be hired out.” While rare, that advertisement was not unique. The phrase “To be hired out” did not appear nearly as often as ever constant “Brought to the Work-house,” but Johnston was just as likely to set it with gothic type when inserting such an advertisement. This advertisement introduced some variation onto the page, but not anything that caught the eye nearly so well as two other advertisements with headlines in gothic font. One informed prospective customers that Samuel Elbert had just imported a variety of goods from Boston. Like many other advertisements for consumer goods, the merchant’s name served as the headline. Unlike others in the Georgia Gazette, his name was in gothic font much larger than the remainder of the advertising copy. The same was true of “Ugly Club” in a notice that advised members of an upcoming gathering.

While either Elbert or the officers of the club may have negotiated with the printer for a distinctive headline, it seems unlikely that both did so simultaneously. More likely Johnston decided to experiment with the tools available to him. After all in the previous issue he upended the usual layout of the Georgia Gazette by distributing the advertisements throughout rather than grouping them all on the final pages after the news items. He did so again in the February 22 issue, with advertisements appearing on every page. In setting type for Elbert’s advertisement, Johnston demonstrated what was possible when it came to the paid notices in his newspaper, even if not what was probable. The spark of innovation apparent in that advertisement eventually became a much more common element of advertisements published in the nineteenth century.