GUEST CURATOR: Trevor Delp
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A Handsome Brick House.”
Today’s advertisement is different from others that I have analyzed because it offers no specified author. This was something I found interesting because it is unclear who is selling the house and why. Furthermore, at the end of the advertisement it requests that interested buyers “Inquire of the Printers.” This then leads me to question if the printer is the one selling the house?
One modern real estate brokerage reports that realtors did not become popular until the late nineteenth century so it is unlikely that a professional was helping to sell the house. The information surrounding the house provided in the advertisement is very basic and only gives a simplistic description of where the house is located. Also, the advertisement does not provide the price of the house for potential buyers. Overall, this advertisement seems a little out of place to me. I wonder if the advertisement was rushed or if the author did not have the financial means to support something larger.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Trevor suggests that this advertisement raises more questions than it answers, especially for modern readers accustomed to a very different real estate industry and its marketing methods. Because it does not meet our expectations of what belongs in an advertisement offering a house for sale, today’s advertisement demonstrates how much advertising for real estate has changed over the past 250 years. Even the brief history of realtors Trevor consulted came from a website advertising a modern real estate company! How awesome is that?
Even for the 1760s, however, this advertisement was rather bare bones. Others from the period provided much more detail. Many advertisements to sell or rent houses also included woodcuts. On the whole, eighteenth-century real estate advertisements were more likely to feature an image than advertisements for consumer goods and services. Printers had a several types of stock woodcuts (including houses, ships, and runaway slaves) that could be inserted when appropriate. (On the other hand, shopkeepers and artisans, if they wanted a visual image as part of their advertisement, were responsible for commissioning it themselves.) Although these woodcuts did not provide an image of the actual house for sale, they did help to draw the eye to real estate advertisements, proving a form of organization on pages that largely were not organized or “classified,” as we think of today’s print advertising.
While this advertisement lacks many of the bells and whistles we expect today (it’s certainly not a refrigerator magnet with a calendar of all the New England Patriots games my realtor sends me every year), it does offer some appeals that seem familiar. Readers learned that the house was “Handsome” and included a garden and “Many Accommodations, fit for a Gentleman.” As Trevor notes, the price was not listed, but the advertiser did mention financing: “Only one fourth Part is required to be paid down.” I suspect that mentioning that the house was “near the North Latin School” was offered merely to suggest the location, unlike modern real estate websites that promote a home’s school district.
I recently discussed some of the reasons that so many advertisements instructed those interested to “Inquire of the Printers,” a part of the process that seems rather unusual to us today. That was such a common way of doing business in the 1760s that the version of this advertisement that ran the same day in the Boston Evening-Post did not even include that final sentence. Even without such instructions, colonial readers would have known that was what they needed to do to get more information.