January 13

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 13, 1772).

A Mahogony Desk and Book-Case.

This advertisement presents a conundrum.  It attracted my attention because someone made manuscript notations on the copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy that has been preserved in an archive and digitized for greater accessibility.  They crossed out “FRIDAY” in the portion of the headline that gave the date of an auction, crossed out “a Mahagony Desk and Book-Case” midway through the advertisement, and placed three large “X” over most of the rest of the content.  I suspected that either Joseph Russell or John Green, the partners who published the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, made those notations to guide the compositor in setting type for a revised version of the advertisement to appear in a subsequent issue.  Russell, the auctioneer who placed the advertisement, focused primarily on operating the “Auction Room in Queen-Street” while Green oversaw the newspaper and the printing office.

A revised version did not appear in a subsequent edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  The same advertisement did run in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Gazette on Monday, January 13, 1772, the same day it appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those newspapers ran the same copy, but with variations in line breaks because the compositors made their own decisions about format.  I also looked for revised versions of the advertisement in other newspapers published in Boston between January 13 and the day of the sale.  The Massachusetts Spy published on Thursday, January 16, the day before the say, did not carry the advertisement, but the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter distributed on the same day did feature a slightly revised version.  Only the first line differed from the original version, stating that the auction would take place “TO-MORROW” rather than “On FRIDAY next.”

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 16, 1772).

The rest of the advertisement was identical to the one that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy earlier in the week.  The copy was identical and the format (including line breaks, spelling, and capitals) was identical.  Even the lines on either side of “FRIDAY next, TEN o’Clock” on the final line were identical.  Both advertisements lacked a space between “by” and “PUBLIC VENDUE” on the third line.  The manuscript notations on the original advertisement may have directed someone in revising the first line, but not the remainder of the notice.  Even more puzzling, it looks as though Green and Russell shared type already set at their printing office with Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This is not the first time that I have detected such an instance in newspapers published by these printers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  It raises questions about both the logistics and the business practices of those involved, questions that merit greater attention and closer examination of the contents, both news and advertising, in the two newspapers.

December 25

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 23, 1771).

“He intends to stay a month only in this city.”

John Siemon, a furrier, planned to remain in New York for a short time, “a month only,” so he quickly set about introducing himself to prospective clients by placing advertisements in local newspapers.  He commenced with an advertisement in the New-York Journal on December 19, followed by another advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on December 23.  In the latter advertisement, he informed the public that he had “Lately arrived from LONDON” and visited New York via Philadelphia.  He brought with him “a general assortment of the newest fashion’d MUFFS, TIPPETS, ERMINES and lining for CLOAKS … now worn by the LADIES at the Court of Great-Britain.”  He also instructed milliners and shopkeepers to contact Fromberger and Siemon on Second Street in Philadelphia if they wished to place any orders following his departure.

Word for word, Siemon’s advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury replicated the one he placed in the New-York Journal.  One important difference, however, distinguished one notice from the other.  An image of a muff and tippet adorned the advertisement in the New-York Journal, doubling the amount of space it occupied (and its cost).  The same image previously appeared in Fromberger and Siemon’s advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal, transferred from one printing office to another.  Siemon collected the woodcut and took it with him to New York to incorporate into his advertising campaign there, but since he had only one woodcut the image could appear in only one newspaper at a time.  He apparently chose to include it in the advertisement in the first newspaper going to press after his arrival in the city, intending to maximize the number of readers who encountered the image and took note of his advertisement as quickly as possible.  After all, if he planned “to stay a month only in this city” then he needed to make prospective customers aware of his presence as quickly as possible.  Advertising in multiple newspapers helped, but Siemon also strategically selected which newspaper would carry the image that identified his business.

October 22

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 22, 1771).

“Several scandalous and malicious written bills stuck up in many public places about town.”

William Tweed was angry.  As he strolled through the streets of Charleston in the fall of 1771, he discovered that an anonymous antagonist had posted small broadsides, written by hand rather than printed, that attacked him.  In response, he turned to the public prints to achieve some sort of remedy.  In an advertisement in the October 22 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, he expressed his frustration that “several scandalous and malicious written bills” had been “stuck up in many public places about town, tending to injure his character and reputation with the public.”  To remedy the situation, he offered a generous “One Hundred Pounds reward” to “Whoever will discover the author thereof, so that he may be brought to justice.”

Tweed meant business.  He placed the same advertisement in the South-Carolina and American Gazette on October 21 and in the South-Carolina Gazette on October 24.  In the course of three days, it ran in each newspaper published in the city, maximizing the number of readers likely to see it.  Considering the size of the reward that Tweed offered, he probably did not think twice about how much it cost to run the advertisement simultaneously in three newspapers.

Tweed likely removed the handwritten bills wherever and whenever he encountered them, but his advertisements may have called additional attention to the accusations they made against him.  Newspaper readers who had not otherwise been aware of the bills may have sensed a good story, one that Tweed did not commit to print, and asked their friends and associates if they knew more about what had transpired than appeared in the advertisements.  Even as Tweed attempted to leverage the power of print for damage control, he may have given the handbills new life and greater reach as colonists gossiped about what occurred.  On the other hand, discovering the author of those missives gave him a better chance to defend himself and rehabilitate his character and reputation.  That, apparently, was worth the risk of drawing attention to the incident in a series of newspaper advertisements.

October 11

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

New-London Gazette (October 11, 1771).

“The Staffordshire and Liverpool WARE-HOUSE In KING-STREET.”

Ebenezer Bridgham launched a regional advertising campaign for his “Staffordshire and Liverpool WARE-HOUSE In KING-STREET” in Boston in the fall of 1771.  Beyond his own city, he began by placing advertisements in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, and the Providence Gazette, published in the neighboring colony.  Many of the readers of those newspapers resided in the hinterlands around Boston, making them as likely to order merchandise from shops in that busy port as from shops in Salem or Providence.

Bridgham, however, sought to enlarge his market to include prospective customers who resided at much more considerable distances.  Over several weeks, he inserted advertisements in most of the newspapers published in New England outside of Boston.  On October 11, 1771, Bridgham’s advertisement ran in the New-London Gazette, a newspaper just as likely to carry notices from New York as from Boston.  Indeed, another advertisement in that issue promoted the “Passage-Boat” or passenger ferry that Clark Truman operated between New London and Sag Harbor, a village on Long Island, once a week.  That service helped residents of New London other parts of Connecticut keep better connected to New York, facilitating commerce and purchasing goods from merchants and shopkeepers there.

In each instance that Bridgham’s notices ran in additional newspapers, they featured identical copy but unique formats designed by the compositor who labored in the local printing office.  That copy included a pledge that Bridgham was “able and fully inclin’d to sell” his wares “at least as low as they were ever Sold in America.”  In attempting to create a regional market in which he competed with merchants and shopkeepers beyond Boston, Bridgham considered it imperative to assure prospective customers that he offered prices as good as any they might find locally.  In stating that his prices were “at least as low” as others, he hinted at even better bargains for consumers in distant towns and villages who sent away to Boston for their “China, Glass, Delph, and Stone WARE.”

September 10

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

Connecticut Courant (September 10, 1771).

“The Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House, In King Stret BOSTON.”

As summer turned to fall in 1771, Ebenezer Bridgham, the proprietor of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House” on King Street in Boston, attempted to cultivate a regional reputation for his store.  Not content seeking customers in Boston and the surrounding towns, he also placed advertisements in newspapers published in other places in New England. On September 7, for instance, he inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, informing prospective customers that he stocked “a very large and elegant Assortment of China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” that he imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool.”  Three days later, the same advertisement also ran in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, and the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  Bridgham disseminated information about the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse far more widely than if he had placed his notice solely in the several newspapers published in Boston.  To entice customers in towns throughout New England to place orders from his store, he pledged to part with his wares “as low as they were ever sold in America.”

Essex Gazette (September 10, 1771).

The appearance of Bridgham’s advertisement in several newspapers demonstrated a division of responsibilities in the creation of marketing materials in the eighteenth century.  As the advertiser, Bridgham supplied the copy.  The composition, however, made decisions about the format.  In each newspaper, the graphic design of Bridgham’s advertisement looked consistent with other paid notices in that publication.  In the Essex Gazette, for example, the advertisement promoted “a very large and elegant Assortment of CHINA, GLASS, DELPH and STONE WARE,” the various categories of goods in capital letters.  Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette also featured key words in all capitals.  On the other hand, notices in the Connecticut Courant did not tend utilize that means of drawing attention to particular goods, reserving capitals for names of advertisers and towns.  Similarly, “Staffordshire” and “Liverpool” appeared in italics in the headline in the Essex Gazette, but “King Street” appeared in italics in the Connecticut Courant.  The compositors made decisions independently when they set type.  As a result, Bridgham’s advertisement had variations in design, but not copy, when it ran in multiple newspapers.

September 2

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 2, 1771).

“Those who have taken subscriptions of others, [send] their lists … to the Publisher.”

In the course of just a few days late in the summer of 1771, readers in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina encountered the same advertisement in their local newspapers.  John Dunlap, a printer in Philadelphia, distributed subscription notices for his current project, “ALL THE POETICAL WRITINGS, AND SOME OTHER PIECES, of the Rev. NATHANIEL EVANS,” in order to entice customers in distant places to reserve copies of the forthcoming work.  On September 2, Dunlap’s advertisement ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Four days earlier, the same advertisement ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Pennsylvania Journal.

With one exception, the advertisements featured identical copy with minor variations in format, the copy being the domain of the advertiser and decisions about design at the discretion of the compositor.  The exception concerned the directions issued to prospective subscribers for submitting their names.  In the newspapers published in Philadelphia, Dunlap requested “that all who are desirous of encouraging this publication, and who may not yet have subscribed, will send their names” to him directly.  In addition, he asked that “those who have taken subscriptions of others,” acting as agents on Dunlap’s behalf, dispatch “their lists without loss of time to the Publisher.”  In the advertisements in the other newspapers, however, he instructed subscribers to submit their names “to the Printer hereof.”  Newspaper printers in other cities served as his local agents, including Richard Draper in Boston and Hugh Gaine in New York.  Robert Wells, printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, underscored that he was Dunlap’s local agents, revising the copy in his newspaper to instruct subscribers to “send in their Names, without Loss of Time, to ROBERT WELLS.”

Dunlap did not rely merely on generating demand among local customers when he published “THE POETICAL WRITINGS … of the Rev. NATHANIEL EVANS.”  Instead, he inserted subscription notices in newspapers published in the largest cities in the colonies, hoping to incite greater interest in the project and attract additional buyers.  In the process, he recruited other printers to act as local agents who collected subscriptions on his behalf.  He created a network of associates that extended from New England to South Carolina as part of his marketing campaign.

April 17

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 17, 1771).

“Grand Feast of Historical Entertainment … XENOPHONTICK BANQUET.”

Robert Bell advertised widely when he published an American edition of William Robertson’s History of the Reign of Charles the Fifth in 1771.  Though he printed the three-volume set in Philadelphia, he placed advertisements in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  In seeking subscribers in advance of publication and buyers after the books went to press, Bell did not rely on the usual means of marketing books to consumers.  Instead, he adopted a more flamboyant style, an approach that became a trademark of his efforts to promote the American book trade in the late eighteenth century.

For instance, Bell announced “the Completion of the grand Feast of Historical Entertainment” with the imminent “Publication of the third Volume of Robertson’s celebrated History of Charles the Fifth” in an advertisement in the April 17, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  He invited “all Gentlemen that possess a sentimental Taste” to participate in “this elegant XENOPONTICK BANQUET” by adding their names to the subscription list.  In continuing the metaphor of the feast, Bell invoked Xenophon of Athens, an historian and philosopher considered one of the greatest writers of the ancient world.  The phrase “XENOPHONTICK BANQUET” appeared in all capitals and a slightly larger font, as did “HISTORY,” the headline intended to draw attention to the advertisement.

Essex Gazette (April 16, 1771).

The previous day, a very similar advertisement ran in the Essex Gazette.  It featured “HISTORY” and “XENOPHONTIC BANQUET” in capital letters and larger font.  Most of the text was identical as well, though local printers adjusted the instructions for acquiring copies of the book.  The version in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette directed subscribers to “any of the Booksellers in Boston, New-York, Philadelphia, or to ROBERT WELLS,” bookseller and printer of the newspaper, “in Charlestown.”  The variant in the Essex Gazette also mentioned “Booksellers in Boston, New-York, [and] Philadelphia,” but also listed local agents in seven other towns, including Samuel Orne in Salem.  Wells also inserted a note that he sold writing paper and trunks in addition to the first and second volumes of Robertson’s History.

Published just a day apart in Charleston, South Carolina, and Salem, Massachusetts, these advertisements with such similar copy and format created a near simultaneous reading experience in towns located hundreds of miles distant.  Reprinting news accounts from one newspaper to another to another had a similar effect, though it took time to disseminate news in that manner.  Bell engineered an advertising campaign without the same time lapse as coverage of the “freshest Advices” among the news accounts.  Among the imagined community of readers and consumers in South Carolina and Massachusetts, the simultaneity of being encouraged to purchase an American edition of Robertson’s famed work was much less imagined than the simultaneity of keeping up with current events by reading the news.

February 13

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

Left: Boston-Gazette (February 11, 1771); Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 14, 1771).

“The following BOOKS, which will be Sold for a little more than the SterlingCost.”

John Boyles placed identical advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in January and February 1771.  Purveyors of goods and services often submitted identical copy to printing offices, leaving the format to the compositors who set the type.  As a result, the contents of their advertisements were consistent across publications, but graphic design varied significantly.  That was not the case, however, with Boyles’s advertisements.  They were identical – copy and format – in the two newspapers.

Consulting digital copies rather than originals does not allow for measurements, but it does permit other means of comparison.  Note, for instance, that in Boyles’s location on the third line, “Next Door to the THREE DOVES,” the last three letters in the word “DOVES” rise slightly in both advertisements.  Similarly, the “o” in “to” is slightly higher than the “t.”  Three lines lower, the words “Sterling” and “Cost” do not have a space between them in either advertisement.  Instead, they run together as “SterlingCost.”  The line that separates the two columns extends only to the top of the last item in the list, “Hoyle’s Games,” in both advertisements.  Throughout the advertisements, spelling, capitalization, italics, spacing, line breaks, and every other typographical choice appear identical, a lack of variation rendered practically impossible unless the printers of the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy shared the advertisement after setting the type.

The timing of the advertisement’s appearance in the two newspapers allows for that possibility.  It ran once in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on January 14, 1771, and then ran twice more in the Boston-Gazette on February 4 and 11.  Three weeks elapsed between its appearance in the first newspaper and the next.

This example raises a variety of questions about the business practices of early American printers as well as decisions made by at least one advertiser.  Printers usually established advertising rates that included setting type and running advertisements in several issues, usually three or four.  They then charged additional fees for each subsequent insertion.  Boyles’s advertisement ran three times, but not in consecutive issues of the same publication.  Why did the advertisement seemingly move from one newspaper to another (as opposed to the common practice of submitting the same copy to multiple newspapers simultaneously)?  What role did Boyles play in making this decision?  What role did the printers of the two newspapers play?  Who transferred the type from one printing office to another?  Under what circumstances?  When and how did the type return from the Boston-Gazette to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  How did the printers and Boyles handle payment for the advertisement?  How often did early American printers share type already set?  They frequently reprinted items from one newspaper to another, but sharing type in this manner suggests a very different level of collaboration among printers.  These questions do not have easy answers, but they suggest complex interactions among printers and advertisers that merit more investigation to understand the production of early American newspapers and the business of advertising in the eighteenth century.

February 9

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

Providence Gazette (February 9, 1771).

“HIS Majesty’s Post-Master General … has been pleased to add a fifth Packet-Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York.”

In January and February 1771, an advertisement that ran in newspapers published in several colonies informed colonists of an improvement to the communications infrastructure that connected them to Britain.  The postmaster general added “a fifth Packet-Boat to the Station between Falmouth and New-York” for the purpose of “better facilitating … Correspondence between Great-Britain and America.”  The advertisement gave notice that the mail “will be closed at the Post-Office in New-York … on the first Tuesday in every Month” and then “dispatched by a Packet the next Day for Falmouth.”

Dated “New-York, Jan. 22, 1771,” this advertisement appeared in the January 28 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  The notice next ran in the New-York Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal on January 31.  (It may have been in the January 24 edition of the New-York Journal; a page is missing from the digitized copy.)  The advertisement soon found its way into the Providence Gazette on February 2 and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on February 4.  By then, it ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury a second time, though it did not run in every newspaper more than once.  The advertisement next appeared in the Maryland Gazette on February 7 and the New-Hampshire Gazette on February 8.  Additional newspapers in Boston carried it on February 11, including the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  The Essex Gazette ran the notice on February 12, as did Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette and Rind’s Virginia Gazette on February 14.  It made a surprising late appearance in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 18 (though it may have been in that newspaper on February 4, an issue not available via the databases of digitized newspapers).  Unfortunately, several issues of newspapers published in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in the ensuing weeks have not survived, making it impossible to determine when or if readers in those colonies encountered the same advertisement.

Throughout the Middle Colonies, New England, and the Chesapeake, however, colonists had access to the notice within a matter of weeks.  It did not appear in every newspaper, but it did run in newspapers in the major newspapers published in the largest port cities as well as several minor newspapers in smaller towns.  Although formatting shifted from one newspaper to another, the copy remained the same.  In each case, the first appearance of the advertisement benefited from a privileged place on the page, often positioned immediately after news items and before other advertisements.  That likely increased the chances that readers uninterested in perusing the advertisements would at least see the notice about the additional packet boat that transported mail across the Atlantic.  Its placement allowed it to operate as both news and advertisement.  Newspapers, one vital component of colonial communications networks, kept readers informed about improvements to the postal system, another important component.

December 24

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 24, 1770).

“The Royal Exchange Tavern … will be opened this Day as a COFFEE-HOUSE.”

When Abigail Stoneman opened a new coffeehouse in Boston in December 1770, she attempted to increase the visibility of her venture by advertising in multiple newspapers rather than trusting that word-of-mouth recommendations and the readership of a single publication would be sufficient to attract customers.  Having “repaired and fitted for the Reception of Company” the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street, Stoneman announced that it now operated as a coffeehouse, though she also provided furnished lodgings “for constant or occasional Boarders.”

To spread the news widely, she placed notices in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, three of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  She did not insert her advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter or the Massachusetts Spy.  The latter had only recently launched and carried few advertisements, perhaps indicative of a smaller readership and, accordingly, fewer prospective customers.  Her budget for advertising may have prompted Stoneman to limit her efforts to three newspapers instead of placing notices in all four with wider distributions.

The copy and format of Stoneman’s advertisements further confirm the division of labor evident in other paid notices that ran in multiple newspapers.  The advertiser assumed responsibility for composing the copy, but the compositor exercised discretion when it came to format.  Stoneman’s advertisements featured identical copy (with the exception of a dateline that did not appear in the Boston Evening-Post, though that very well could have been a decision made by the compositor).  The format from newspaper to newspaper, however, varied.  The iteration in the Boston Evening-Post had the most recognizable headline and made use of centering for “COFFEE-HOUSE” in a larger font.  The other two iterations treated the copy as a single paragraph that lacked centering or white space to draw attention to significant aspects.

Regardless of the graphic design decisions made by compositors for the various newspapers, Stoneman informed the public that she offered hospitality at a new coffeehouse in the Royal Exchange Tavern.  Readers of multiple newspapers encountered her invitation to enjoy the new atmosphere at the Royal Exchange Tavern, repaired and remodeled as a coffeehouse.  Whether or not readers had previously visited, she welcomed them all to her new enterprise.