February 3

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

Boston-Gazette (February 2, 1767).

“David Conkie Begs Leave to acquaint the Public that he is just arrived.”

Shopkeeper David Conkie placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette “to acquaint the Public that he is just arrived” and that he sold “a large Assortment of Winter and Spring Goods” at a store he opened near Faneuil Hall. A newcomer to the city, advertising in one of the local newspapers served a different function for Conkie than for many of his competitors who relied on inserting notices in the public prints. Conkie needed to make potential customers aware that his shop was now an alternative to others in the city, one where they could depend on the same courteous and conscientious service and low prices that other shopkeepers promised.

In contrast, many of Conkie’s competitors were well established in Boston. They operated shops already familiar to residents of the city. Even if readers of the local newspapers had not patronized Frederick William Geyer’s shop or Jolley Allen’s shop, they had certainly encountered advertisements placed by these industrious entrepreneurs. Geyer and Allen both used advertising to gain maximum market exposure.

Geyer’s advertisement appeared immediately to the left of Conkie’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, but on the same day it also ran in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy. Four days earlier it appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette. Geyer regularly advertised in all four of Boston’s newspapers, often choosing to run shorter advertisements (as opposed to lengthy list advertisements) in order to moderate the costs of his marketing campaign. All the same, he kept his name and his goods in the minds of local consumers.

Similarly, Allen regularly advertised in multiple newspapers. His distinctive advertisement appeared two columns to the left of Conkie’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, as well as in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy on the same day. Allen devised a brand, of sorts, for his advertising. Each notice featured a border composed of printing ornaments, making his advertisements immediately recognizable, especially for regular readers of Boston’s newspapers. Like Geyer, he established a prominent presence through continuous and widespread advertising in the local media.

David Conkie did not publish his advertisement in multiple newspapers. He may not have had the resources to do so, yet he recognized the importance of advertising in at least one if he wished to gain a foothold in the local marketplace. He deployed the same appeals concerning price, choice, and service as his competitors as he attempted to overcome the familiarity enjoyed by established shopkeepers and draw customers to his own shop.

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