September 25

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

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

“[The particulars are ommitted this week for want of room.]”

When the ship America arrived in New York as summer turned to fall in 1771, merchants and shopkeepers received new merchandise from their associates in England.  Many of them placed newspaper advertisements to alert prospective customers that they had new inventory.  Purveyors of goods were not alone, however, in welcoming new opportunities to do business.  For Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the America delivered more than just news for him to publish but also opportunities to generate advertising revenue.

Henry Remsen and Company placed an advertisement announcing that they “Have imported in the America, Capt. Hervey, from Hull … a general assortment of seasonable goods.”  Similarly, Daniel Phoenix noted that he “Has just imported in the America, Capt. Hervey, from Hull … the following goods” and then, like Remsen and Company listed dozens of items.  Henry Williams ran a shorter advertisement, but he also declared that he “HATH imported by theAmerica, Captain Hervey,” a variety of textiles that he would sell for low prices.

Gerret Keteltas and Wynandt Keteltas also published a short advertisement in the September 23 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, after receiving “a neat and general assortment of European and India goods” via “the America, Capt. Hervey.”  Unlike the others, their advertisement did not appear in its entirety.  Instead, Gaine truncated their notice and included an explanation that “The particulars are ommitted this week for want of room.”  The printer could have made room for the advertisement, but at the expense of publishing news from London received by ships that recently arrived in New York.  Instead, he gave the Keteltases’ advertisement a privileged spot in the next edition placing it at the top of one of the columns on the third page.  It appeared immediately below the chart of high tides and prices current that Gaine regularly incorporated into the masthead, making it even more likely that readers would take note of the advertisement.

Like other printers, Gaine faced editorial decisions about the balance of news and advertising.  Paid notices accounted for significant revenue for many printers, especially for Gaine since he regularly issued a two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising.  Yet subscribers who wanted to read the news were also an important part of the equation.  If they discontinued their subscriptions because they did not receive as much news content as they wished, then newspapers became less attractive to advertisers who wished to reach as many prospective customers as possible.  In this instance, Gaine attempted to chart a course to satisfy both readers and advertisers when both news and imported good arrived on the America.

July 29

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

Boston-Gazette (July 29, 1771).

“The Particulars in our next.”

In late July 1771, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, ran short on space for advertising.  In the July 22 edition, they included a note that “ADVERTISEMENTS omitted will be in our next.”  A week later they apparently had sufficient space to insert notices from all advertisers that submitted them to the printing office and even had room for a note of their own to remind “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above Twelve Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.”  Not every advertisement, however, appeared in its entirety.  Samuel Parkman’s advertisement for a “neat & fresh Assortment of English and India Goods” concluded with a note advising, “The Particulars in our next.”

Boston-Gazette (August 5, 1771).

Parkman’s complete advertisement did indeed appear in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette.  Perhaps to make amends for truncating its earlier appearance, the printers gave it a privileged place at the top of the third column on the first page.  The first two columns consisted of news, making Parkman’s advertisement the first commercial notice that readers encountered when perusing the August 5 edition.  The copy for the complete advertisement suggests that the printers consulted with Parkman about how to abbreviate his initial advertisement.  In most cases, the compositor would have set the type for the first portion of the advertisement and later added additional material, in this case a list of goods available at Parkman’s shop, without making revisions to the introductory section.  In this case, however, it appears that the compositor started afresh in setting type for the second iteration of the advertisement.  Notice, for instance, the spacing for “the Diana” in the first and “theDiana” in the second as well as the changing line breaks for “Union-Street” and “Assortment of English and India Goods.”  More significantly, the first advertisement stated that Parkman “will sell be Wholesale or Retail, as low as can be bought at any Store or Shop in Town.”  In the second advertisement, this shifted to “will sell on the best Terms by Wholesale or Retail.”  That version did not make explicit comparisons to other stores and shops.  In general, advertisers were responsible for copy and compositors responsible for design, so it seems likely that Parkman at least approved the revisions incorporated into the second advertisement.

As with many aspects of the business of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers, this conclusion rests on reasonable conjecture based on close examination of advertising in the Boston-Gazette and many other newspapers.  The advertisements offer clues about what might have happened or what likely happened, but often no definitive answers about the relationship between advertisers and printers.

November 5

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (November 5, 1770).

“The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.”

Readers of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s would have been familiar with shopkeeper Frederick William Geyer thanks to his frequent advertising.  On November 5, 1770, he placed a brief advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, but its length was not of his choosing.  Instead, the printers truncated the notice that Geyer submitted for publication.  The advertisement indicated that Geyer sold “a fine Assortment of Englishand India GOODS” at his shop on Union Street.  It included a short list of textiles that extended only three lines that preceded a note from the printers that “The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.”  Indeed, the following week a more extensive advertisement did appear in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  It opened with identical copy, but then devoted forty-four lines, rather than just three, to enumerating the inventory available at Geyer’s shop.

Based on the placement of Geyer’s advertisement in the November 5 edition, it appears that the printers cut short his notice in order to make room for news items.  Like most other newspapers of the era, an issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The first and fourth pages were often printed first.  Printers held the second and third pages in reserve for news that arrived by messenger, post, or ship.  Geyer’s notice ran in the final column on the third page, suggesting that it and other advertisements in that column filled out the issue once the printers inserted the news for the week.  The news on that page included more than a column of content dated “Boston, November 5” that the printers apparently considered more pressing than Geyer’s advertisement.

This raises questions about the relationship between printers and advertisers.  Did Geyer have to pay to have the truncated advertisement inserted in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  Printers usually charged by the amount of space an advertisement occupied, so Geyer might have paid a smaller amount for the brief version than he paid for the full version a week later.  Alternately, recognizing that Geyer was a regular customer whose advertisements generated revenues for their newspaper, the printers could have inserted a short version gratis as a courtesy, giving Geyer and his goods at least some exposure in the public prints.  The length of the truncated advertisement implies that the printers may have valued it as filler to complete the column.  The note about the remainder of his merchandise appearing in the next edition was likely intended just as much for the advertiser as for prospective customers who would be interested in perusing the list.  Questions about these printing practices and business decisions cannot be answered by examining the newspapers alone, but ledgers and correspondence that provide more detail may no longer exist.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 5, 1767).

As the Articles in this Advertisement were very numerous, we are obliged to omit them till the next Week for want of Room.”

Bookseller John Mein frequently placed advertisements in Boston’s newspapers (and sometimes publications in other towns) in the 1760s. Even if they had never visited the “LONDON BOOK-STORE North Side of King-Street,” regular readers of the Boston-Gazette would have been familiar with Mein’s marketing efforts. On occasion his advertisements occupied even more space than those inserted by shopkeepers with the most extensive lists of imported merchandise, extending anywhere from an entire column to an entire page. Mein intended to publish another lengthy advertisement in the Boston-Gazette on the first Monday in October 1767, but had to settle for a shorter notice.

Actually, Mein placed two advertisements in the October 5 issue. One appeared at the top of the third column on the second page, to the right of an open letter “To The People of Boston and all other English Americans,” a letter that argued Parliament had renewed its attempts to reduce the colonies to “perfect slavery.” This relatively short advertisement amounted to a single square, the standard length for most paid notices in that issue. The second advertisement, approximately two squares, appeared in the middle of the third column on the third page, less easy to distinguish among the other notices on the page.

Both advertisements announced that Mein stocked “A Grand Assortment Of the most modern BOOKS, In every Branch of polite Literature, Arts and Sciences” (though the typography differed significantly). The shorter notice also indicated that since “the Articles in this Advertisement were very numerous, we are obliged to omit them till the next Week for want of Room.” The second notice focused primarily on a single volume, a new edition of “Dilworth’s Spelling Book” just published on “fine Paper” with new type. It concluded with a brief note that “Printed Catalogues may be had Gratis at the Store” on King Street. Surely Mein’s catalog included many of the books he meant to advertise in the Boston-Gazette that week had space permitted.

Given the placement of Mein’s advertisements within the newspaper, he may not have submitted two separate notices for publication. Instead, the printers may have created the shorter advertisement, with its announcement anticipating a lengthier list of Mein’s titles in the next issue, and given it a prominent place to compensate for not publishing all of the copy Mein submitted. When the advertisement did appear the following week, it filled an entire page. Given the expense that Mein incurred, the printers may have considered a second advertisement promising more information about Mein’s “Grand Assortment Of the most modern BOOKS” the least they could do when they ran out of space to publish the list in its entirety. After all, they wanted to encourage the bookseller to continue (to pay) to insert lengthy advertisements in their newspaper.

Mein intended to attract attention through the volume of his advertising, yet circumstances prompted the printers to deliver an alternate marketing strategy. They incited interest by temporarily withholding the complete advertisement while simultaneously giving the announcement a prominent place in the publication to increase the number of potential customers who would read it.