August 24

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

Boston Evening-Post (August 24, 1772).

“At the Sign of the STAGE COACH and FOUR on the one Side, and MAN and HORSE on the other.”

Shop signs identified a variety of businesses in colonial Boston.  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, operated their printing office at the Sign of the Heart and Crown, a symbol so synonymous with their business that in an advertisement in the August 24, 1772, edition they advised readers of “Paper, To be Sold at the Heart& Crown” without giving any other details about the location.

In the same issue, Edward Wentworth, Jr., included two shop signs in his advertisement for a “Variety Shop” where he sold “All Sorts of West-India Goods, and many other Articles in the Grocery Way.”  He indicated that customers could find the shop “at the Sign of the STAGE COACH and FOUR on the one Side, and MAN and HORSE on the other,” perhaps appropriating signs that marked other businesses in directing customers to the “Variety Shop.”  The remainder of the advertisement suggests that Wentworth ran one or both of those other businesses as well.  He offered “Victualling, Lodging & Boarding for Gentlemen and good Keeping for Horses” as well as “Horses and Carriages to Let.”  The “Variety Shop” may have been a new venture, one that did not yet merit its own sign since others already marked its location.

Wentworth may have been quite content to stick with signs already familiar to residents of the South End, images they associated with his reputation, rather than hanging yet another sign, especially if he was uncertain how long he might run a “Variety Shop” in addition to a tavern.  After all, the devices on shop signs did not always directly correspond to the goods and services available in the shops they marked.  Residents of Boston knew that the Sign of the Heart and Crown adorned a printing office through experience, not because the image replicated the work undertaken there.  The Sign of the Stage Coach and Four and the Sign of the Man and Horse did correlate with “Victualling, Lodging & Boarding for Gentlemen and good Keeping for Horses,” but that did not preclude Wentworth from associating those images with other enterprises.   Rather than literal representations of the businesses they marked, shop signs often served as symbols meant to resonate with much more meaning.  They represented colonial entrepreneurs, their skills and reputations, not just the work they performed.

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