September 29

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

Massachusetts Spy (September 29, 1770).

“LISBON LEMONS … to be sold at the Sign of the Basket of Lemons.”

The selection of advertisements for the Adverts 250 Project is contingent on which newspapers were published on a particular day 250 years ago.  On some days that means far more advertisements to choose among than others.  Consider the publication schedule of most newspapers in the fall of 1770.  Most newspapers were weeklies; printers distributed a new issue once a week.  For instance, John Carter published the Providence Gazette on Saturdays in 1770.  (The corresponding dates fall on Tuesdays in 2020.)  Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy, published three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, was the one exception.

Some days were more popular than others.  Most printers chose Mondays or Thursdays to distribute new issues, though at least one newspaper was published somewhere in the colonies on every day of the week except Sundays.  Mondays saw the publication and distribution of the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, the Newport Mercury, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy.  A similar number of newspapers were published in Annapolis, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg on Thursdays.  An array of advertising appeared in those newspapers, sometimes overflowing the standard issues into supplements distributed simultaneously.

In contrast, the Massachusetts Spy and the Providence Gazette were the only newspapers printed on Tuesdays.  The Providence Gazette featured a moderate amount of advertising in 1770, but the Massachusetts Spy was a new publication, founded a few months earlier, and Thomas had not yet cultivated a clientele of advertisers for his new enterprise.  An advertisement for “LISBON LEMONS … to be sold at the Sign of the Basket of Lemons” in the September 29 edition was the first paid notice to appear in the Massachusetts Spy over the course of many issues.

In combination with the uneven distribution of newspaper publication throughout the week in 1770, that scarcity of advertisements in some newspapers and abundance in others shapes the Adverts 250 Project.  Some newspapers and towns perhaps receive too much attention and others not enough.  Recall, however, that printers did not published newspapers on Sundays.  This allows for a correction.  On days in 2020 that with no “new” newspapers from the corresponding days in 1770, the Adverts 250 Project features advertisements from any time during the previous week.  Strictly adhering to an “On This Day” format has consequences for which advertisements become part of the project, but a slight revision to the methodology in recognition of printing practices in the 1770s allows for a more representative sampling of advertisements, newspapers, and places of publication.

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