What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Oils … Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”
John Gore and Son’s advertisement in the April 27, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette raises all sorts of interesting questions. An identical advertisement appeared in the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. This does not seem to have been just a case of an advertiser inserting the same notice in multiple newspapers. That was quite common in the 1770s, especially in Boston. Yet this was not simply an instance of an advertiser writing out the copy more than once and then submitting it to more than one printing office. Yes, the copy was identical … but so was the format and every aspect of typography, from the design of the table listing different kinds of paints to the line breaks to font sizes to capitalization of certain words. Rather than a compositor copying an advertisement as it appeared in another newspaper, this looks like Richard Draper’s printing office outright transferred type already set for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s printing office for publication in the Boston-Gazette.
That was not the only instance of such a transfer in the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette. John Barrett and Sons ran an extensive advertisement that previously appeared in Draper’s newspaper on April 23. So did Joseph Peirce. To further complicate matters, both of these advertisements also ran in the April 27 edition of the Boston Evening-Post. Once again, this does not seem to have been merely an instance of a compositor consulting an advertisement in another newspaper when setting type. Instead, the type from one printing office found its way to another printing office.
The placement of these advertisements on the page in each newspaper contributes to some confusion about the sequence of events. Take into consideration that a standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. Printers often printed the front and back pages first, filling them with the masthead, colophon, and advertisements. They saved the second and third pages for the latest news. Peirce’s advertisement ran on the fourth page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, suggesting that the compositor received the type from the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury fairly quickly. That also allowed sufficient time to pass along the type to the Boston-Evening Post for inclusion in a two-page supplement that consisted entirely of advertising. That timing makes sense.
The timing for inserting Barrett and Sons’ advertisement in each newspaper, however, does not seem as clear. It ran on the first page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, printed at the same time that Peirce’s advertisement was printed on the fourth page. It did not, however, run in the supplement to the Boston Evening-Post or even on the second or third pages among the last items inserted in the standard issue. Instead, it appeared on the fourth page, presumably making it one of the first items printed for that issue. The compositor did eliminate the final eight lines listing several imported goods in order to make the advertisement fit among the other content on the page, but did not make other alterations. That someone transferred the type from one printing office to another so quickly for it to appear in the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post on the same day suggests a very efficient operation.
This raises questions about the organization and collaboration between printing offices. Who assumed the responsibility for transferring the type for these advertisements from one printing office to another? Did they make sure that the type was returned to its original printing office? Did any of the printing offices adjust the prices they charged for running these advertisements based on whether they invested time and labor in setting type? How extensive were these practices of transferring type from one printing office to another? These are all questions that merit further investigation.