What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Genuine Medeira, Tenerif, and Fayal Wines, per Pipe or lesser Quantity.”
Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall’s advertisement for imported wines and other commodities stood out in the March 27, 1767, issue of the New-London Gazette. It was one of only three advertisements promoting consumer goods and services. One of them advertised ferry service – “A Passage-Boat” – that Ebenezer Webb operated between Long Island and New London. The other, placed by the printer, announced the publication of “An excellent Treatise, entituled Heaven upon Earth.” Very few other paid notices appeared in that issue.
Such was usually the case when it came to advertising in the New-London Gazette. Of the more than twenty newspapers published in the colonies in 1767, the New-London Gazette and Hartford’s Connecticut Courant carried the least advertising, often half a dozen or fewer total notices. Even the Providence Gazette, which experienced a dearth of advertising in the winter of 1766 and 1767, usually filled a page or more with advertisements repeated from earlier issues, but the printers of the New-London Gazette and the Connecticut Courant did not adopt that strategy. Visually, both newspapers from Connecticut stood in stark contrast to their counterparts published in other colonies. Other eighteenth-century newspapers overflowed with advertising, often to the extent that printers distributed supplements devoted exclusively to paid notices of all sorts.
In general, advertisements for consumer goods and services manifested dual purposes in early America. They did more than merely announce the availability of various wares. Instead, advertisers sought to incite demand among potential customers, fueling a consumer revolution that did not emerge from incipient demand alone. In the process of generating demand, advertisers also engaged in competition with others in the same occupation. At least this is the story the Adverts 250 Project tells almost every day. It is a story that flows naturally from the Pennsylvania Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, from the Boston Post-Boy and the New-York Mercury, each of them filled with advertisements, but not from the New-London Gazette or the Connecticut Courant.
What explains the differences? Was advertising primarily an urban phenomenon in the decade prior to the American Revolution? Do other factors explain the relative scarcity of advertising in some, but not all, newspapers published outside the largest cities? This project grew out of a dissertation that examined advertising in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Consulting as many newspapers from as many places as possible raises new questions and suggests that previous conclusions merit moderation.