June 13

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 10, 1773).

“(The particulars in Monday’s papers.)”

After opening the “New Auction-Room” in Boston in 1773, auctioneer William Greenleaf sometimes deployed a two-step strategy for promoting upcoming sales in the public prints.  Consider the notice that he placed in the Massachusetts Spyon Thursday, June 10.  Greenleaf advised readers that a “great variety of English GOODS” “Will be sold by PUBLIC VENDUE” on the following Tuesday.  Rather than publish a roster of those items, he encouraged colonizers to look for subsequent advertisements with “The particulars in Monday’s papers.”  That meant that readers had to consult newspapers other than the Massachusetts Spy.  All five newspapers published in Boston in 1773 were weeklies, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy appearing on Thursdays and the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on Mondays.  The auction would be over by the time the printer published the next edition of the Massachusetts Spy.

Readers who turned to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy for “The particulars” on the following Monday did not encounter any additional information, but those who perused the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette did indeed discover a more complete preview of Greenleaf’s next auction.  In nearly identical advertisements, the auctioneer listed dozens of items, including “a fine Assortment of Chints, Callicoes and Printed Linens,” “a Number of Silver Watches,” and “a suit of Green Bed Curtains.”  The sale would begin “precisely at Ten o’clock” the next morning, so readers interested in bidding on any of the items needed to arrive in time that they did not miss that part of the sale.  Those advertisements likely contained information that had not yet been finalized the previous Thursday, yet given that Greenleaf competed with several other auctioneers in Boston he wished to generate some level of visibility for his next vendue, especially since those other auctioneers regularly advertised in multiple newspapers as well.  As advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers came and went in the public prints, notices from auctioneers, updated weekly, remained a constant feature in the city’s many newspapers.  In this instance, Greenleaf oversaw an advertising campaign that he updated more than once a week, coordinating with multiple printing offices.

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