April 3

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 3, 1772).

“Country Traders … may be supplied with all Kinds of Writing-Paper … at any Store in Town.”

John Fleeming published the Boston Chronicle in partnership with John Mein from 1767 to 1770.  That newspaper folded, in large part due to the blatant Tory sympathies espoused by Fleeming’s partner.  Mein fled Boston, leaving Fleeming to oversee the business for the few months that the newspaper continued publication in his absence.  With the Boston Chronicle behind him, Fleeming turned to job printing and selling stationery and writing supplies.  In the April 3, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, he advertised a “large Assortment of STATIONARY” that included “Writing Paper of all Kinds, Quills, Wax, Wafers, Ink-Chests & Stands of various Kinds, Ivory Folders, Leather Ink Bottles, Ink-Powder, and Patent Cake Ink.”

Fleeming hoped to encourage retail sales among residents of Boston who visited his shop, but he also made an appeal to “Country Traders and Shopkeepers” looking to make wholesale purchases.  He promised them that they “may be supplied with all Kinds of Writing-Paper by the Ream, as Cheap as at any Store in Town.”  Fleeming competed with a number of stationers who imported paper from England, especially after Parliament repealed the duties on paper and other items and merchants called an end to the nonimportation agreement adopted to achieve that goal.  Eager to maximize revenues, Fleeming aimed to attract wholesale as well as retail customers.

In so doing, he resorted to a familiar marketing strategy, one adopted by merchants who sold a variety of imported goods ranging from textiles to housewares to hardware to patent medicines.  Some advertised that they filled retail orders sent from colonizers in the countryside.  Others did not work directly with consumers outside of Boston, but that did not mean that they neglected to capture wider markets as wholesalers.  Merchants frequently assured “Country Traders” that they offered the best bargains, allowing them to generate sales by passing along the savings to their customers.  By modern standards, Fleeming’s advertisement may not appear flashy, but that does not mean that it lacked a sound marketing strategy in the eighteenth century.

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