What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WILLIAM WINGFIELD, At his Shop in Union-Street, BOSTON.”
Like many advertisers who resided in town with more than newspaper, shopkeeper William Wingfield attempted to capture a larger share of the market by inserting notices into multiple newspapers. On Monday, March 9, 1772, he ran an advertisement for a “General Assortment” of textiles and “all sorts of Goods suitable for all seasons” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. On Thursday, March 12, he placed the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. By then, his advertisement ran in both newspapers for several weeks. Wingfield ended the week with the same advertisement in the Postscript to the Censor on Saturday, March 14. Ezekiel Russell, the printer of The Censor, had only recently expanded that magazine of political essays to include a half sheet supplement that featured news and advertising. Wingfield was among the first colonizers to place an advertisement in that supplement.
What prompted Wingfield to make that decision? Russell had not established an extensive circulation for The Censor and its supplement. Indeed, the publication folded just two months later because Russell could not find sufficient readers in Boston who appreciated the Tory perspective promoted in his magazine. If Wingfield wanted to place his advertisement before greater numbers of readers and prospective customers, then he would have been better served by placing it in the Boston Evening-Post or the Massachusetts Spy, two other newspapers published in Boston at the time. Politics did not seem to be the defining factor. The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter were friendly to the British government, suggesting that Wingfield may have made a political decision when expanding his advertising campaign to the Postscript to the Censor. However, he had also been publishing his advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. Benjamin Edes and John Gill, the printers of that newspaper, consistently advocated the patriot cause, making the Boston-Gazette as much of a nuisance to colonial officials as Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy. Before inserting advertisements in the Postscript to the Censor became an option, Wingfield already distributed his advertisements among newspapers that took various political positions. Choosing to advertise in the Postscript to the Censor neither bolstered his affiliation with publications that expressed Tory views nor diversified his outreach to consumers according to the politics of the publications they read. What else might have explained his decision to start advertising in the Postscript to the Censor but not the Boston Evening-Post or the Massachusetts Spy? Perhaps Russell, the printer, offered good deals on advertising in his attempts to cultivate a new clientele. In his advertisement, Wingfield noted that he carried “too many [goods] to enumerate in an Advertisement,” suggesting a certain frugality compared to competitors who published much longer lists of their merchandise. If Russell offered bargains on advertising, then Wingfield might have seized the opportunity. Whatever his reasons for advertising in the Postscript to the Censor, Wingfield expanded his advertising campaign from three of the six weekly publications in Boston to four of the six in March 1772.