What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
Jonathan Williams, Jr., placed an advertisement for a “Number of the most Fashionable BROAD CLOTHS” and “ENGLISH GOODS in general” in the November 1, 1773, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. On that day, he ran the same advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. It appeared again in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy on November 4. Jeremiah Allen also advertised widely, promoting a “new Supply of Goods in the Hard-Ware Branch” in the same newspapers. Archibald Cunningham did the same, inserting advertisements for wine, tea, and groceries in all of those newspapers.
That these entrepreneurs advertised in several newspapers simultaneously did not distinguish them from others in Boston and other urban ports with multiple newspapers, but an innovative aspect of their marketing efforts did deviate from standard practices. Williams, Allen, and Cunningham apparently collaborated in creating a business district where they encouraged consumers to shop. Their advertisements appeared together under the heading “Ann-Street Advertisements” in the Boston Evening-Post. Decorative type marked the beginning and end of this set of advertisements. The same header ran in the Massachusetts Spy, though the notices lacked the decorative type. Still, a double line followed the last of the three advertisements, in contrast to the single line that separated most advertisements, indicating to observant readers where the section of “Ann-Street Advertisements” concluded. Those three advertisements received the same treatment in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter as in the Boston Evening-Post. Even though Cunningham’s advertisement did not consistently run in the Boston-Gazette, a header for “Ann-Street Advertisements” introduced the notices placed by Allen and Williams. As in the Massachusetts Spy, the dividing lines indicated that those advertisements constituted a distinct section. Unfortunately, America’s Historical Newspapers, the most extensive database of early American newspapers, does not include some editions of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. The issue for November 15 features all three advertisements by Allen, Cunningham, and Williams, one after the other under a header for “Ann-street Advertisements.” Those three entrepreneurs introduced their business district in all five newspapers published in Boston at the time.
The campaign did not continue in all of those newspapers, but it did run in some of them for several weeks. For instance, the series of “Ann-Street Advertisements,” treated as a section within the paid notices, appeared in the Massachusetts Spy through December 2, running for five consecutive weeks. The advertisements appeared together with their header for three consecutive weeks in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Allen, Cunningham, and Williams apparently determined that the whole was worth more than the sum of the parts, that they would benefit more from advertising as a collective than marketing their wares separately. Their strategy focused on enticing consumers to visit a commercial district to fulfill various needs while their competitors all focused on a single shop or store. They likely hoped that cooperating among themselves and coordinating with the local printing offices would multiply the returns on their investments in advertising.