March 4

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

Boston-Gazette (March 2, 1772).


In 1772, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, published an American edition of The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook by Susannah Carter of London.  The book included “Five Hundred approved Receipts” for everything from roasting and frying to sauces and soups to tarts and puddings to jellies and custards as well as instructions for preserving, pickling, and candying various foods.  In addition, Carter provided “Various BILLS of FARE, For DINNERS and SUPPERS in every Month of the Year” to guide readers in consulting the many recipes and choosing which items to prepare together.  The book also featured “a copious Index of the whole” to help readers find the recipes.  Edes and Gill promised that “Any Person, by attending to the Instructions given in this Book, may soon attain to a compleat Knowledge in the Art of Cookery.”

The printers marketed The Frugal Housewife in their own newspaper, but they also turned to other publications in their effort to create a larger market for what they believed had the potential to be a popular American edition of a cookbook first published in London in the 1760s.  On March 2, 1772, they ran advertisements in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Three days later, they placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy.  The notices in the other newspapers were not as elaborate as the one that appeared in their own.  The version in the Boston-Evening Post, for instance, did not include the price nor the nota bene assuring prospective customers that they would acquire “a complete Knowledge” of cooking.  The version in the Massachusetts Spy, on the other hand, included both of those items as well as a note that the book “contains more in Quantity than most other Books of a much higher Price.”  It did not, however, feature the distinctive typography with only two items on each line that made the notices in the other newspapers occupy significantly more space.  Instead, a dense list of the contents comprised most of the content of the advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy.

Edes and Gill sought to expand their marketing and sales by placing advertisements in multiple newspapers.  Though they exercised control over the copy, they did not exert as much influence when it came to the format.  Compositors who labored in other printing offices made decisions about the appearance of Edes and Gill’s advertisements for The Frugal Housewife.

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