February 6

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 6 - 2:3:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766)

“Tickets in the Faneuil-Hall Lottery, Sold by Green & Russell.”

It seems that the interest modern Americans have in the lottery is not a new interest, as the lottery in America has its roots in colonial times. I have never seen a colonial lottery advertisement before, so it intrigued me. The advertisement itself is so simplistic and short that one could miss it by reading through the paper too quickly. The lottery advertisement also shocked me because of the religious devotion in the American colonies.

To compare the advertisement to those of the lottery in today’s day and age: this advertisement is not flashy and designed to entice you. It received the same printing treatment as other advertisements. Today, lottery commercials and billboards are covered in enticing colors and images, and of course the added temptation arrives with the amount of money at stake. This advertisement simply gives the location of the tickets to be sold and who the tickets are being sold by.

I question if an advertisement such as this one was effective, and yet I do not think it would be included in this paper if the lottery did not have a target audience in the colonial period.

**********

I have long argued that many marketing practices that we assume originated in the twentieth century actually had precursors in the eighteenth century. As modern Americans, we sometimes imagine the past as being too different from the present, not realizing some of the similarities. Perhaps we sometimes focus too much on change over time and make assumptions about the extent to which life in the twenty-first century must be significantly different than life in the colonial era.

The same sentiment applies to lotteries, as Maia discovered when she selected her final advertisement for this week as guest curator. I’d like to offer two recent examinations of lotteries in early America: Matthew Wittmann’s “Lottery Mania in Colonial America” and Diana Williams’ “Lottery Fever: A Brief History of American Lotteries.”

Maia notes that nothing in particular distinguishes this advertisement. In fact, it is at the bottom of the final column of the last page of the newspaper, suggesting that it may have been inserted simply to fill the space. I echo Maia’s question: was this advertisement effective?!

Feb 6 - Final Page of Boston Post Boy 2:3:1766
Final Page of Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766).

Having examined a greater number of colonial American newspapers I can offer a bit more context about advertisements for lotteries (another category that I have previously chosen not to feature). While some are this short, others are much more extensive (see the example below, published less than a month earlier in the Pennsylvania Gazette). Many comment on the civic and public works projects that will be accomplished with the proceeds. Others include extensive charts that detail how many tickets will be sold, how many drawn, and the varying amounts of money to be awarded to winners. Just as advertisements for consumer goods and services could be as short as a couple of lines or extend over and entire column, advertisements for lotteries did not all loo the same.

Feb 6 - Lottery Advert - Pennsylvania Gazette 1:9:1766
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 9, 1766).

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