What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.”
Like other auctioneers, John Gerrish frequently inserted advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston. In a single week, he placed notices about upcoming sales in three local newspapers. On Monday, January 29, 1770, he ran nearly identical advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette to advise prospective customers of a “publick Vendue” or auction that would take place at his “Auction-Hall,—King-Street” the following evening. On Thursday, February 1, Gerrish placed another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, this time announcing an auction scheduled for ‘THIS EVENING.” Often promoting specific events happening within a matter of days, advertisements by auctioneers tended to run only once or twice, though Gerrish and others industriously submitted new notices to several printing offices almost every week.
Vendue masters in Boston, however, did not tend to advertise in the Providence Gazette. The short time that elapsed between announcing a sale and it taking place did not allow for sending notices to the printing office in Providence or for readers of that newspaper to make their way to Boston to participate in a particular auction. Yet Gerrish did not solely sell merchandise at auction. He ran a “Wholesale and Retail” operation out of his auction hall to supplement his revenues. For that enterprise he acquired a stable inventory that did not go to the highest bidder at the next sale, prompting him to experiment with placing an advertisement for those goods in the Providence Gazette in hopes of widening the market.
In so doing, Gerrish addressed “Country Gentlemen, Traders, [and] Shopkeepers,” that he offered a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES.” He listed several items, including popular textiles, different kinds of paper, and more than one brand of snuff. Realizing that he addressed prospective customers much less familiar with his auction hall than residents of Boston, he provided much more extensive directions than he usually included in his local newspapers. Instead of “Auction-Hall,—King-Street,” he directed readers to the “AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.” He also assured prospective customers of “Constant Attendance given at said Hall.” Prospective customers from Providence and elsewhere in the “Country” need not worry about traveling some distance and arriving at the auction hall only to be inconvenienced by finding it closed or understaffed.
In the late 1760s and early 1770s, most purveyors of consumer goods and services did not advertise in newspapers other than those published in their own towns. Some, however, did make the investment in hopes of enlarging their clientele. They imagined regional rather than local markets for their wares.