GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“John Taylor At his SHOP by the Draw-Bridge.”
I originally picked this advertisement from the Boston Evening-Post because John Taylor’s shop was in close proximity to a drawbridge that I researched for an entry last semester. Then this particular advertisement became more interesting when I found it in a second newspaper, the Boston-Gazette, printed on the same day by a rival publisher. As I did more research on the people and places in Boston, I learned about the printers of the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.
Printers have an interesting role in early American history, especially in colonial Boston. They were the ones who provided various types of entertainment and, more importantly, news and communication to the populace. Printers T. and J. Fleet at the Heart and Crown printed many items other than newspapers. They operated their shop on Cornhill Street, which was laid out in 1708 and ran from Water Street to Dock Square. (In 1789 it was renamed Washington Street.) Even from its earliest days Cornhill Street was full of intellectuals and publishers and printers. The Fleet family lived on Cornhill and ran their print shop beneath their residence.
Thomas and John Fleet were prominent printers during the 1760s. In addition to newspapers, they sold broadsides and other important printed items that spread news and information. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, their father started the newspaper that became the Boston Evening-Post, which they continued to print until 1776.
Benjamin Edes and John Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. These partners would over time get themselves in trouble with British authorities because of what they printed. J. L. Bell has written about many examples of the printers of the Boston-Gazette closely walking the line of legal and illegal; for an example, see “Henry Bass Spills the Beans on a Political Protest.” Edes and Gill had a large circulation and may have been the Boston Evening-Post’s biggest competition. One reason that they may have had such a large circulation and got in to trouble often was Benjamin Edes was a member of the Loyal Nine, which was a secret group of patriots, nine “young business men” who planned a protest of the Stamp Act in 1765.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Elizabeth brings a sense of excitement to the research she does for the Adverts 250 Project. I’m continuously impressed with the primary and secondary sources she consults and incorporates into her analysis of the advertisements she has selected. As we work through revising and refining her first drafts, often we determine that some material should be eliminated in the interest of producing a concise entry that addresses one major theme. I know from experience how difficult and disappointing it can be to jettison portions of my own research and writing when certain parts of it just don’t work out. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hard lessons that Elizabeth and the other guest curators learn as we work collaboratively through the writing, revision, and publication process.
I appreciate the way that Elizabeth has used today’s advertisement as a jumping off point for examining the printers who produced newspapers and the advertisements they contained. However, she contemplated an alternate analysis of John Taylor’s advertisement that appeared in the October 6, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post. Elizabeth located the same advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, prompting her to think about how “marketing and exposure were key to drawing in consumers, even in colonial America.” This is the third week that Elizabeth has been a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project. With that statement from her first draft, she demonstrated that she really understands some of the questions that I find most interesting about the ongoing project.
Since this is a collaborative effort, I picked up Elizabeth’s research by consulting the other two newspapers printed in Boston in 1766. John Taylor’s advertisement also appeared later in the week in the October 9, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, furthering strengthening Elizabeth’s suspicion that Taylor was being savvy by marketing his wares in multiple newspapers, increasing his shop’s exposure to as many readers as possible. The October 6, 1766, issue of the Boston Post-Boy did not carry Taylor’s advertisement. That does not mean that he did not attempt to place it in that publication. News items and other advertisements may have squeezed out Taylor’s advertisement in that particular issue.
At the very least, Elizabeth and I have identified three newspapers that carried Taylor’s advertisement 250 years ago this week, demonstrating that the shopkeeper did calculate the benefits of increased exposure from multiple publications. As we saw in June, Jolley Allen pursued a similar strategy, placing the same advertisement in all four newspapers printed in Boston. Were these two advertisers outliers? Answering that question will require a lot more roll-up-the-sleeves research.