March 24

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

Mar 24 - 3:24:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 24, 1768).

“Work will be taken in either at said Shop, or by Edward Wentworth, at Milton Bridge.”

In the early spring on 1768, Theophilus Chamberlain, a clothier, turned to the public prints to announce that he “HAS opened Shop near the Sign of the White-Horse in BOSTON.” Like many other artisans in the garment trades, he promoted both his skill and his prices, pledging that he did “the Clothier’s Business in the best and cheapest Manner.” Perhaps realizing that this did not sufficiently distinguish him from his competitors, Chamberlain supplemented those appeals by offering prospective customers a choice for dropping off and picking up textiles and garments. In a nota bene, he advised that “Work will be taken in either at said Shop, or by Edward Wentworth, at Milton Bridge; and may be had again at either Place as the Owner may choose.” By extending these options, the clothier marketed convenience to his clients. He acknowledged that his location might be attractive to some, but out of the way for others. In an effort to increase his clientele he made arrangements to serve them at two locations.

The typography of the advertisement highlighted the additional appeal made in the nota bene, placing special emphasis on the convenience that Chamberlain provided that his competitors did not. While the graphic design of the advertisement – indenting the entire nota bene so the additional white space on a page of dense text drew more attention to it – likely drew more eyes, it does not appear that Chamberlain made particular arrangements concerning the format of the advertisement. The advertisement immediately below it also featured a short nota bene and identical decisions concerning the layout.

Chamberlain carefully crafted the copy for his advertisement to entice readers of the Massachusetts Gazette to hire him to dress their textiles and garments, finishing them so as to give a nap, smooth surface, or gloss, depending on the fabric. He underscored price, his skill, and, especially, the convenience of multiple locations. Fortuitously for Chamberlain, the typography of the advertisement amplified the most unique of his appeals. Some of the innovation of his advertisement was intentional, but other aspects that also worked to his benefit seem to have been merely circumstantial since they depended on decisions made by the compositor independently of the advertiser.

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 18, 1768).

“A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed, to be sold by Richard Woodhull, in New-Haven.”

Richard Woodhull’s advertisement for “A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed” benefited from its fairly unique yet conspicuous placement in the March 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Unlike some printers who reserved certain pages for news items and other pages for advertisements, brothers Thomas Green and Samuel Green distributed news and advertising throughout the entire issue, though only news and the masthead appeared on the first page. The second, third, and fourth pages all featured both news and paid notices, with news first and advertising filling in the remainder of the page. In other words, readers encountered news and then advertising when they perused the page from left to right. On the second and fourth pages, advertisements comprised nearly the entire final column. On the third page, however, a single paid notice appeared at the bottom of the last column …

… except for Woodhull’s advertisement, a short announcement printed on the far right of the page. The type had been rotated to run perpendicular to the rest of the text, replicating a strategy sometimes deployed by printers and compositors in other colonial newspapers. In this instance, however, the execution was rather clumsy in comparison. The text of Woodhull’s advertisement was positioned flush against the contents of the third column rather than set slightly to the right with at least a narrow strip of white space separating them. Unfortunately, examining a digital surrogate does not allow for any assessment of whether this was done out of necessity to fit the size of the sheet or if the Greens had sufficient margins that they could have moved Woodhull’s advertisement to the right and away from the third column. The March 18 edition was only issue “No. 22” of the Connecticut Journal. Given that the Greens had been publishing the newspaper for less than six months, they still may have been experimenting to determine their preferred format when it came to graphic design and visual aspects.

Alternately, the Greens may have resorted to squeezing Woodhull’s advertisement on the third page because they neglected to insert it when they set the type for the columns. The same advertisement appeared in the March 11 edition (in what appears to be the same size font, though working with a digital surrogate makes it impossible to definitively state that was the case), but in four lines in a column with other advertisements. The spacing between words seems to be replicated in the perpendicular insertion the following week, suggesting that the Greens at some point took four lines of type that had already been set and positioned them side by side to make a single line. A new version of the advertisement, completely reset and extending only three lines, appeared in a regular column in the March 25 issue. Yet another version, again completely reset but this time in only two lines, was inserted as the final item the last column in the April 1 issue before the advertisement was discontinued in subsequent issues.

Woodhull may have requested these variations as a means of drawing attention to his advertisements, but it seems more likely that they resulted from the Greens working through their practices for the publication process for what was a relatively new endeavor. Although Thomas had more than a decade of experience as a printer, setting up shop with his brother Samuel was a new enterprise. The two may have been working out a system for operating their business and organizing tasks. Whatever the reason for the awkward insertion of Woodhull’s advertisement, it had the effect of making his notice difficult to overlook. Casual observers could not help but notice the strange line of text, in larger font, set perpendicular to the rest when they glanced at the page. Those who actively read the news from Boston or the shipping news from New Haven’s Custom House could not have missed Woodhull’s advertisement. Whether done intentionally or not, the unusual typography made Woodhull’s advertisement more visible to potential customers.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 15, 1768).

“A fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.”

James McCall stocked and sold a variety of imported merchandise “at his store in Tradd-street” in Charleston. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he attempted to incited demand for his wares by placing an advertisement that listed many of them in a dense paragraph, everything from “neat Wilton carpeting” to “shot of all sizes” to “coffee and chocolate.” His inventory included groceries, clothing, housewares, and much more.

For the most part McCall did not make special efforts to promote any particular items, with one exception. Deploying typography strategically, he did draw attention to his “fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.” Very few words in his advertisement appeared in all capital letters; most of those that did were names: his own name that served as a headline, the name of the ship and captain that transported the goods, and the name of the English port of departure. In the main body of the advertisement, the list of items for sale, the first word appeared in all capitals, as was the convention for all advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Otherwise, the words “GARDEN SEEDS” about midway through the list of goods were the only words in all capitals in the body of McCall’s notice.

Although advertisers usually wrote copy and left it to compositors to determine the graphic design elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, deviations from the standard appearance of notices within particular publications suggest that advertisers could and did sometimes request specific typography for certain aspects of their notices. Such appears to have been the case for McCall’s advertisement since the compositor would have had little reason to randomly set “GARDEN SEEDS” in all capitals. On the other hand, McCall had particular interest in drawing attention to such seasonal merchandise. In other advertisements, he developed a habit for singling out a specific item to promote to prospective customers. For instance, the previous August he included “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE” in a list-style advertisement that did not feature any other items in all capitals.

McCall could have chosen to highlight these items by listing them first or writing a separate nota bene to append to his advertisements. Instead, he opted to experiment with variations in typography to accentuate his “GARDEN SEEDS” and “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE.” Although rudimentary compared to modern understandings of graphic design, his choices indicate some level of understanding that the appearance on the page could be just as effective as the copy when it came to delivering advertising content to consumers.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:4:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (March 4, 1768).


An advertisement seeking “LIVE WILD TURKIES” occupied a strange place on the sixth and final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The text was rotated and printed near the bottom of the page, nestled between another advertisement and the colophon that advised readers that the newspaper had been “Printed by ROBERT WELLS, at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY.” Indeed, this advertisement was one of several that gave the page a strange appearance, though one not completely uncommon in eighteenth-century newspapers. In an attempt to squeeze as much content as possible onto the fifth and sixth pages, two sides of a single sheet, the compositor had rotated several advertisements already set in type. This created a fourth column of text perpendicular to the other three columns on the page.

Compositors deployed this trick when using paper that deviated from the usual size for their newspapers. Although the digitized images of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette are not supplemented with metadata that indicates the measurements of each page, it is possible to reach some reasonable conclusions through close examination of the contents. First, this newspaper usually ran four columns per page. That was the case for the first four pages of the March 4 issue, all of which would have been printed on a single sheet and folded in half to yield four distinct pages. The fifth and sixth pages, however, featured only three columns plus the narrow column of rotated text. Viewed on a screen as part of a database of digitized images of eighteenth-century newspapers, the fourth page and the sixth page appear the same size. When printing those images, both take on the standard size of a sheet of office paper. Further examination of the contents, however, suggests that the originals were different sizes. Upon comparing several advertisements on the fifth and sixth pages of the March 4 issue to their appearance in previous issues, it seems that the compositor used type that had already been set when preparing the new pages. The sheet must have been smaller, wide enough for only three columns with just enough space to rotate some of the short advertisements and squeeze them into an extra narrow column at the edge of the page. Not wanting to waste any space, the compositor did have to set two advertisements, each approximately half as wide as the standard column. The advertisement concerning “LIVE WILD TURKIES” thus found a spot near the bottom of the sixth page. Another advertisement of a similar size mirrored its location on the other side of the sheet, that one announcing “To be Let, A Genteel LODGING ROOM and a very good Cellar, by WILLIAM GOWDEY.”

The last two pages of the March 4 issue may appear unusual to twenty-first century eyes, but eighteenth-century readers would have been familiar with this strategy. The printer and compositor of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette selected a sheet just large enough to contain the news and advertisements for publication that week. At a time when imported paper was taxed under the Townshend Act, this may have been an especially important method of lowering the costs of publication.

Mar 4 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Page 6
Final page of the March 4, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

March 3

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

Mar 3 - 3:3:1768 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (March 3, 1768).
“Just imported … A LARGE assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”

All of the advertisements in the March 3, 1768, edition of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette included a unique visual feature: bold lines on either side of either side of the column. The advertisements, however, were not the only content that received this treatment. Throughout the entire issue, from the first page to the last, such lines separated all of the columns of news, essays, advertisements, and other items. Why?

These heavy lines were a typographical convention that expressed mourning. Francis Fauquier, the lieutenant governor of the Virginia colony who had served as acting governor in the absence of the Earl of Loudon and Jeffery Amherst for the past decade, died on March 3, 1768. Rind honored him by transforming the usual appearance of his newspaper. Readers knew at a glance that someone important had passed away. The announcement appeared on the second page, made even easier to locate because it was the only item in the entire issue that also had wide lines printed above and below. An outline composed of printing ornaments enclosed the announcement, further distinguishing it from the other content. Alexander Purdie and John Dixon also marked Fauquier’s death in their Virginia Gazette, though they restricted the typographical intervention to a box that enclosed the announcement. The visual aspects of the remainder of their newspaper did not deviate from standard practices. Still, their treatment of Fauquier was exceptional. Death notices for colonists regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, but only the most influential were demarcated in this manner.

Colonists sometimes adapted this convention for other purposes. The day before the Stamp Act went into effect, for instance, Benjamin Franklin and David Hall enclosed the first and last pages of the October 31, 1765, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette with dark and heavy lines as a symbol of mourning for the rights colonists lost at the hands of Parliament. A single news item on the third page received similar typographical treatment. It lamented “the most UNCONSTITUTIONAL ACT that ever these Colonies could have imagined, to wit, The STAMP ACT.”

Although Fauquier had dissolved the House of Burgesses when members passed several resolutions in opposition to the Stamp Act, he also gained a reputation for being sympathetic to the colonists and often advocated in their interests. Issues of both newspapers that bore the name Virginia Gazette that announced his death also included the eighth letter from John Dickinson’s series of “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania.” The bold lines of mourning in Rind’s newspaper ran alongside this letter from “A FARMER.” As much as colonists mourned the loss of a popular acting governor, many likely also considered it appropriate that the typography of mourning extended to Dickinson’s essay about taxation without representation, not unlike Franklin and Hall’s treatment of the Stamp Act a few years earlier.

Mar 3 - 3:3:1768 Announcement Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (March 3, 1768).


Mar 3 - 3:3:1768 Announcement Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (March 3, 1768).

January 9

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

Jan 9 - 1:9:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 9, 1768).

“At their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.”

Benjamin Thurber and Daniel Cahoon informed residents of Providence and its hinterland that they had formed a partnership in an advertisement that ran in the Providence Gazette in the fall of 1767. In their initial notice the shopkeepers emphasized their retail space, trumpeting that they “have built and compleated the best and largest Shop and Store in Providence.” They also proclaimed that they had “furnished it with a very large and general Assortment of the very best of English and India Piece Goods, Hard Ware, all Sorts of West-India Goods, and Groceries of all Kinds.”

In their subsequent advertising Thurber and Cahoon turned to demonstrating the extent of their inventory, listing dozens of items available for purchase “at their New Shop and Store, the sign of the Bunch of Grapes.” Just as they claimed to operate the largest shop in town, their advertisement occupied the most space in the January 9, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette, although it had been rivaled by Jonathan Russell’s advertisement in the previous issue. Thurber and Cahoon may have been motivated, in part, by Russell’s lengthy advertisement and its extended run in their local newspaper. It commenced in mid November, shortly after they announced their partnership, and continued for eight weeks, disappearing from the pages of the Providence Gazette after the first issue of the new year. Thurber and Cahoon may have determined that they needed to place an advertisement of similar length to challenge Russell and to remind potential customers of the size of their shop, supposedly the largest in Providence.

Their advertisement extended nearly three-quarters of a column, twice the length of the next longest advertisement in the January 9 issue. It also featured unique typography. Rather than list their wares in a single continuous and dense paragraph, they instead enumerated one or tow items per line and created two narrower columns within the single column that contained their advertisement. Not only did this typographical strategy make their notice appear even longer, it may have conjured up rows of shelves in their shop, suggesting how much space Thurber and Cahoon made available for customers to leisurely browse through their merchandise. By comparison, the other advertisements in the same issue looked much more cramped, implying that their shops were equally crowded and difficult to navigate.

Thurber and Cahoon used the amount of space on the page and design elements to their advantage when they placed their advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Although they echoed many of the same appeals to price, quality, and service that appeared in other commercial notices, the typography set their advertisement apart and buttressed the claims they made to potential customers.

January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 2, 1767).

“Very CHEAP.”

The typography of Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement in the January 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette deviated from the standard format for notices placed by merchants and shopkeepers throughout the rest of the issue. Each advertisement had a headline of sorts, but in most instances the headline announced the name of the advertiser. In fonts several sizes larger than the text for the rest of the advertisement, those headlines marked notices inserted by Samuel Carew, Nathl. Greene, J. Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Jonathan Russell, J. & Wm. Russell, and Darius Sessions. Some of them abbreviated their names in order to fit on a single line.

Thompson and Arnold’s notice, on the other hand, included their names in larger font than most of the advertisement yet reserved the largest font for a marketing appeal that appeared first, preceding their names and all other information included in the advertisement. “Very CHEAP” proclaimed their headline, immediately signaling to prospective customers what kinds of prices they could expect to pay if they decided “to call at [Thompson and Arnold’s] Store, near the Great Bridge.” Each of the other advertisers included an appeal to price somewhere in their notices. Some deployed elaborate language to convince consumers that they sold their wares “cheaper than any Person or Persons in Providence” or “at the very cheapest rate.” Yet readers had to at least skim the notices places by J. Mathewson, Jonathan Russell, and their counterparts to encounter those appeals to price. Associating low prices with Thompson and Arnold required nothing more than a quick glance at their advertisement.

Perhaps the deployment of this typography was merely circumstantial in this case. After all, the name of their partnership contained more characters than the much shorter Samuel Carew or Darius Sessions and could not be abbreviated conveniently like Nathl. Greene or J. & Wm. Russell. Neither situation, however, prevented advertisers and the compositor devising other solutions that still gave primacy to the name of the advertiser in other advertisements elsewhere in the same issue. Nicholas Brown and Company, for instance, listed Brown’s name in large font on the first line, followed by “and COMPANY” in middling-sized font (but strategic capitals) on the next line. “THURBER AND CAHOON” used fonts as large as those in any other advertisement for their names, inserting one word on each of the first three lines of their advertisement.

Thompson and Arnold could have adopted a similar strategy. Doing so would have adhered to custom when it came to the standard format for advertisements in the Providence Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Finding themselves in the same position as their competitors – making an appeal to price – the partners innovatively wrote their copy in such a way that made their marketing strategy double as the headline for their advertisement. As a result, the typography of their advertisement promoted their business in a manner unique among the paid notices that appeared throughout the same issue.

December 27

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

Dec 27 - 12:24:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 24, 1767).

“MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a short advertisement for an almanac, “MEIN and FLEEMING’s Register for 1768,” in the final issue published in 1767. More than any other aspect, the typography of this notice distinguished it from news items and advertisements that appeared on the same page and throughout the rest of the newspaper. It appeared as a single line that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the second page. Another short advertisement, that one calling on the owner to retrieve a boat recently found adrift, mirrored the position of the Fowles’ advertisement on the facing page, running across all three columns at the bottom of the third page. Had they been set into columns, each advertisement would have consisted of three lines.

Why did the Fowles choose to deviate from the usual format in this issue of their newspaper? They may have wished to draw particular attention to the almanacs for 1768 as the first day of the new year approached. In that case, they might have inserted the notice concerning the boat on the opposite page in order to provide balance. Alternately, they may have received the notice about the boat too late to integrate it into columns that had already been set, but found a creative way to include it in the issue. In that case, the advertisement for the almanac provided balance (though they exercised their privilege as printers to place it first in the issue) and supplemented their lengthier advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack” and “Bickerstaff’s curious Almanack” on the final page.

Measuring the length of the columns on each page would aid in determining the viability of either of these options as explanations for what occurred. That, however, requires access to the original copies rather than digital surrogates. Digitized editions standardize the size of every page to the dimensions of the screen on which they appear. Although metadata, including measurements, could be included in the process of producing digital editions, that would significantly increase the time and cost, ultimately further limiting access to a format intended to broaden access for historians, other scholars, and the general public. Even as librarians and archivists and the communities they serve celebrate new opportunities presented by evolving technologies, they also acknowledge that digital surrogates supplement rather than replace original sources.

November 25

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

Nov 25 - 11:25:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (November 25, 1767).


The typography of John Rae’s advertisement distinguished it from others that ran in the November 25, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Most of the items for sale in his list-style advertisement appeared in capital letters, a style deployed sparingly elsewhere among the paid notices. This indicates that the advertiser sometimes exercised some influence over the format of advertisements in the eighteenth century, even though standard practice dictated that the advertisers write copy but leave it to the discretion of printers and compositors to determine the layout and other typographical aspects of advertisements.

Rae’s advertisement suggests collaboration between advertiser and compositor. Compared to newspapers printed in other colonies, especially in the largest port cities, the Georgia Gazette featured relatively little innovative typography in its advertisements. The compositor generally adhered to a particular format in order to achieve speed and efficiency when setting type. Rae may not have specifically instructed that his goods appear in capital letters; instead, he may have merely requested some unique attribute to attract the attention of potential customers. The compositor, less imaginative than counterparts in printing offices in other colonies, may have considered the capital letters an adequate solution.

The headline – “The Subscriber has for Sale” – in an ornate font also may have been an attempt to create a distinctive visual style for Rae’s advertisement. Four other advertisements in the November 25 issue included headlines: “Wanted to Hire,” “Wanted on Hire,” “To be Hired by the Month or Year,” and “Brought to the Work-house.” Each of these introduced advertisements concerning servants or slaves, again hinting that the compositor devised particular methods for setting type for specific kinds of advertisements. Rae may have disrupted that system by requesting that his headline appear in that font. Alternately, when pressed to spruce up Rae’s advertisement, the compositor may have resorted to a familiar method that did not require excessive creativity. The compositor may have been capable of only limited innovation.

The visual aspects of Rae’s advertisement raise many questions about the process that went into creating it. It may be tempting to dismiss its format as arbitrary or haphazard, but comparing it to others on the same page reveals that someone – advertiser, compositor, or the two in collaboration – made deliberate choices in creating an advertisement that differed from all others in the same issue.

November 15

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

Nov 15 - 11:12:1767 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (November 12, 1767).


Purdie and Dixon’s advertisement reveals several aspects of consumer culture, commercial exchange, and everyday life in colonial America, yet when considered alone it tells only a partial story of print culture and advertising practices in the eighteenth century. When disembodied from the rest of the newspaper in which it appeared, this advertisement does not fully communicate how readers would have interacted with its visual aspects. Viewers get a sense of the typography – different font sizes, the selective use of italics and capitals, and the deployment of white space – but cannot compare those details to their treatment in other advertisements. Only in examining the entire page or the entire issue does the full significance of the typographical choices become apparent.

When viewing Purdie and Dixon’s notice in isolation, it would be natural to consider the size of the font throughout most of the advertisement to be the standard or default size. The quasi-headline “STATIONARY” stands out not only because it appeared in italics and capitals but especially because the compositor chose a font significantly larger than that used for the remainder of the text. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that font size replicated what was used in other advertisements in the same issue. Throughout the rest of the newspaper, both advertisements and news items appeared in a significantly smaller font, making them appear more dense and more difficult to read. By printing their advertisement in a larger font, Purdie and Dixon called special attention to it.

In addition, this advertisement occupied a privileged place in the November 12, 1767, edition of the Virginia Gazette. The four-page issue featured slightly over one page of news items; advertisements filled nearly three pages. About one-third of a column of news flowed onto the second page before a header for “Advertisements” indicated the purpose of the remaining content. Purdie and Dixon’s advertisement, with its larger font, appeared at the top of the second (and middle) column on the second page. This positioned it at the head of the first full column devoted to advertising, practically implying that the advertisements began there rather than at the header (printed with much smaller type). As a result of these typographical decisions, readers turning from the first to second page likely noticed Purdie and Dixon’s advertisement before their gaze landed anywhere else. Any readers who intended to continue perusing the news could hardly help but notice “STATIONARY” immediately to the right of what little news appeared on the second page. (Purdie and Dixon may have been especially keen to sell as much stationery as quickly as possible since the Townshend Act, which assessed new duties on imported paper, was scheduled to go into effect just eight days after their advertisement appeared.)

While it may be tempting to dismiss all of this as circumstantial, keep in mind that Alexander Purdie and John Dixon printed the Virginia Gazette. While they may not have set the type themselves, the compositor would have acted on their behalf as the publishers of the newspaper. The typography benefited their business interests in particular, an element that gets lost when viewing just their advertisement but not the entire page or the rest of the issue in which it appeared. As printers, they exercised power over what appeared in their publication, but they also exercised privilege in the presentation of the selected contents.

To examine the entire issue of the Virginia Gazette, visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Digital Library.