GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A general assortment of GOODS, suitable for the Season.”
In this advertisement Baker and Bridgham marketed imported goods “suitable for the Season.” They sold a wide variety of fabrics and accessories that appealed to men, women, and children. They also had a lot of competition for the goods they sold. There were at least ten other advertisements that were almost the same in that newspaper. Other stores sold nearly the same products.
Compared to local shopkeepers in small towns, Baker and Bridgham had it much tougher. Those local stores were better known to residents. One online encyclopedia states, “Country storekeepers became important figures in their communities because they were the primary source for goods and information about the outside world.” Compared to country shopkeepers, Baker and Bridgham had to constantly advertise themselves, because in the cities colonists did not always know all the shops. Country shopkeepers did not have as much competition as Baker and Bridgham and other shopkeepers in Boston did.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
As Patrick asserts, Baker and Bridgham certainly faced competition for customers from other merchants and shopkeepers in Boston. I would like to build on the work that Patrick has already done by providing a complete census of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services in Boston on November 24, 1766, in order to underscore Patrick’s main argument. (Note: I have tabulated only the advertisements for consumer goods and services. Other sorts of advertising, such as ships departing and legal notices, appeared alongside them).
In addition to its regular four-page issue, the Boston Evening-Post published a two-page supplement on November 24. As was often the case in such instance, about half of the supplement consisted of news and the other half of advertising. Overall, ten advertisements for consumer goods and services appeared in the regular issue and another thirteen, including Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement, in the supplement. T. and J. Fleet printed twenty-three newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services that week.
Yet the story does not end there. Four newspapers were printed in Boston in 1766. Two others, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy, were published on the same day as the Boston Evening-Post. Turning to them yields another ten advertisements for consumer goods and services in the Boston-Gazette and sixteen more in its supplement, as well as fourteen additional advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy. (The Boston Post-Boy had an abbreviated version of Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement.) That amounts to another forty advertisements, twenty-six in the Boston-Gazette and fourteen in the Boston Post-Boy. Although three of Boston’s newspapers were distributed on Mondays, the Massachusetts Gazette found its ways to readers on Thursdays. Its most recent issue from November 20 included twenty-three advertisements for consumer goods and services in the regular issue and another four in an extraordinary, for a total of twenty-seven. (The Massachusetts Gazette featured Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement in its entirety.)
This means that residents of Boston had access to ninety newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services recently printed in local newspapers at the time that Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on November 24, 1766. In contrast, many of the newspapers from smaller towns ran just a handful of advertisements by shopkeepers and merchants promoting imported wares and other consumer goods and services. Competition for customers in urban ports certainly made advertising seem like a necessity to shopkeepers like Baker and Bridgham.
Even as American celebrate Thanksgiving today, many will already be thinking of the holiday season and the rampant consumption that accompanies it. Today’s holiday will be immediately followed by “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Critics will inevitably lament the rise of consumerism in America. The newspapers published 250 years ago today, however, suggest that a vibrant consumer culture has been a central part of American life since before the Revolution.