What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Variety of News-Papers, will be procured for the Amusement of his respectable Customers.”
Many residents of Salem and nearby towns knew Ephraim Ingalls as a tailor, but he launched a new endeavor in the summer of 1773. He took to the pages of the Essex Gazette to announce that he “just opened” the “LONDON COFFEE-HOUSE” on Hanover Street, proclaiming that he provided the “best Entertainment usually met with at Coffee-Houses in large mercantile Places.” In other words, Ingalls’s establishment rivaled its counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia, and other major ports. Prospective patrons could “depend upon being treated and entertained with all possible Respect, in the neatest and genteelest Manner” when they gathered to socialize and drink coffee, tea, and chocolate.
Coffeehouses also served as places for conducting business and discussing politics. Ingalls extended an invitation to “Merchants, Captains of Vessels, and all other Gentlemen,” declaring that he outfitted the London Coffeehouse with the “best Accommodations for transacting Business.” That included supplying “English Magazines, and a Variety of News-Papers … for the Amusement of his respectable Customers” as well as for them to consult for the shipping news, entries from customs houses, prices current for commodities in various towns, and other news. Ingalls almost certainly subscribed to the Essex Gazette as well as a couple of newspapers published in Boston. He likely acquired copies of the New-Hampshire Gazette, the Providence Gazette, and the Newport Mercury as well as at least one newspaper from New York, another from Philadelphia, and another from Charleston. Although colonial printers reprinted accounts of current events from newspaper to newspaper, they did not tend to reprint items like marine lists and prices current. That made a “Variety of Newspapers” as well as access to “Captains of Vessels” who carried news that had not yet made it into the public prints especially attractive to merchants.
The London Coffeehouse in Salem, like coffeehouses in other ports in England and the colonies, also functioned as a library for merchants. That library set relatively narrow parameters for its collections, especially compared to the variety of books and magazines available at subscription libraries. Those collections, however, served the needs of the coffeehouse’s clientele … without an additional fee. Throughout the colonies, proprietors of coffeehouses provided newspapers as a service to entice merchants and others into their establishments.