What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“AUCTION HALL … JOHN GERRISH, (And COMPANY).”
This week the Adverts 250 Project has examined John Gerrish’s attempts to expand his media market beyond newspapers in Boston. In the late 1760s, he regularly inserted notices in several newspapers published in the city where he operated an auction hall, but in 1770 Gerrish experimented with running advertisements in newspapers in other towns as well. On February 3, for instance, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. On February 6, he ran a different advertisement in the Essex Gazette. The copy in those advertisements differed from what previously appeared in Boston’s newspapers; each included material likely of special interest to prospective buyers, bidders, and clients who resided away from the city. Gerrish promoted “Wholesale and Retail” sales of a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES” in the Providence Gazette rather than promoting the goods up for bid at any particular auction scheduled for a particular time. In the Essex Gazette, Gerrish made note of “Very Good Lodgings and Boarding, for COUNTRY GENTLEMEN, Travelers, and Traders” who might journey to Boston for the auctions he held “chiefly on TUESDAYS, and THURSDAYS.”
Even as he attempted to create a larger regional market for his goods and services by advertising in newspapers published in Salem and Providence, Gerrish understood that newspapers printed in Boston already served a region much larger than the bustling port and nearby neighboring towns and villages. Until recently, no other town in Massachusetts produced a newspaper; even after the Essex Gazette commenced publication, Boston’s newspapers continued to enjoy wide circulation throughout the colony and beyond. For that reason, some of the special appeals that Gerrish made in the Providence Gazette (wholesale and retail sales from a stable inventory rather than auctions) and the Essex Gazette (lodging and boarding for clients who traveled to the city) would also find ready audiences among readers of the Boston newspapers who resided in places other than Boston.
To that end, Gerrish placed three advertisements in the February 8, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Post-Boy. The first was a standard announcement of an imminent auction to take place “THIS EVENING.” By the time many readers outside of Boston received the newspaper with this notice, the sale already took place. For those prospective customers, Gerrish placed his advertisement from the Providence Gazette in its entirety, though he made two additions after signing his name. This slightly revised version added “Sets of China Cups, Saucers, &c.” to the list of inventory. It also assured colonists concerned about potential violations of the nonimportation agreement currently in effect that “The above Goods have been imported above a Twelve Month past.” In other words, the merchandise arrived in the colony prior to the agreement. Another advertisement appeared immediately below, that one advising “Country Gentlemen, Strangers, Traders, [and] Travelers” of “Lodgings and Boarding” available near Gerrish’s auction hall. It deployed copy nearly identical to what appeared near the end of Gerrish’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette. It also instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer, or at Auction-Hall, King-Street.” Gerrish undoubtedly placed that advertisement as well.
John Gerrish and Company faced constant competition from other vendue masters and auctioneers in Boston. In an effort to maintain and expand his share of the market, Gerrish devised an advertising campaign that extended to newspapers published in places other than Boston and reiterated the strategies he developed in those advertisements in notices that he placed in local newspapers.