What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Next Door to the THREE DOVES.”
In an advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the February 4, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, Thomas Knight advised prospective customers that he sold window glass and bottles “at the Three Kings in Cornhill.” A short notice in the standard issue informed the public that the “Sale of Sugars, which was advertised to be at the Bunch of Grapes To-Morrow, is postpon’d.” John Boyles advertised several dozen books in the supplement, listing the titles in two columns. He also made reference to a shop sign in order to direct readers to his location. The bookseller gave his location as “Next Door to the THREE DOVES, In Marlborough-Street, Boston.”
Like other major urban ports, Boston did not adopt street numbers until the very end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. Prior to that, advertisers and others resorted to a variety of means of describing locations. For instance, they indicated street names and mentioned nearby landmarks. Shop signs also helped when giving directions, not only for those at the locations marked by the signs but also for others in close proximity. Boyles apparently had not commissioned his own sign for his bookshop, but that did not prevent him from using a sign affiliated with another business as a landmark for finding his location.
Some proprietors deployed their shop signs as brands representing their businesses, regularly naming them in their newspaper advertisements and sometimes inserting woodcuts depicting them. The most ambitious eighteenth-century advertisers also distributed trade cards and billheads that made reference to their shop signs and included images. Yet other entrepreneurs considered those shop signs a form of public property rather than the sole domain of the businesses they marked. Boyles, for instance, did not seem to believe that the Three Doves belonged exclusively to his neighbor’s business. He appropriated the shop sign in his own marketing efforts, using it as an efficient means of directing his own customers to his bookshop.