May 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 7, 1772.)

“Oils…  Paints… Varnishes… GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement for an “Assortment of Painters Oil and Colours” available “At the Painters-Arms in Queen-Street” ran once again in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  It featured a table of “Oils… Paints… Varnishes… [and] GUMS” of various colors, making it distinct from other advertisements and easy to recognize.  Among the various paints, the table offered choices that ranged from “Princess Yellow, Naples Yellow, [and] Spruce Yellow” to “India Red, Venetian Red, [and] Vermilion.”  The format both delineated the many choices available to consumers and challenged them to imagine the possibilities.

Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury had seen this advertisement before.  It ran two weeks earlier in the April 23 edition.  Unlike other advertisements that ran for consecutive weeks, however, Gore and Son’s advertisement did not appear in the subsequent issue on April 30.  Instead, it ran in the Boston-Gazette on April 27.  That was not merely a case of an advertiser submitting the same copy to two newspapers.  Careful examination reveals that the notices in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Boston-Gazette featured identical format, indicating that someone transferred the type from one printing office to another.  That made publishing Gore and Son’s advertisement a collaborative effort among competitors.  It was not the only paid notice that originated in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and then ran in identical format in another newspaper in the spring of 1772.  The type for Gore and Son’s advertisement eventually found its way back to Richard Draper’s printing office, where the compositor added a final line about “A few Casks of NEW RICE” but otherwise did not make any adjustments to the format.

This raised all kinds of questions about the business of printing in early America.  What kinds of bookkeeping practices did this entail?  How did Draper and other printers keep track of which type belonged to them or to competitors?  How did they go about charging advertisers for notices that ran in multiple newspapers?  Did advertisers receive a discount from those printing offices that did not have to set the type?  Or did the work involved in transferring type from one office to another balance the labor required to set type?  Printers in Boston sometimes collaborated in publishing almanacs and pamphlets.  To what extent did they collaborate in publishing the advertisements that generated significant revenue for their newspapers?

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