March 27

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 25, 1771).

“She has resigned Business to her Son.”

When Susannah Brimmer “resigned Business to her Son,” Andrew Brimmer, in 1771, she (or they) placed an advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post.  The occasion of transferring her business to her son was the first time that Susannah’s name appeared in the public prints.  She did not previously advertise when she operated the shop.  A week after the advertisement first appeared, two versions ran on March 25.  Susannah or Andrew or the two working together updated the original advertisement.

The placement of these two advertisements helps to explain the likely sequence of events.  The original version appeared on the fourth page.  The updated version appeared on the third page.  Like most other newspapers published in the 1770s, the Boston Evening-Post consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The first and fourth pages, the “outside” of the newspaper, were printed simultaneously, as were the second and third pages, the “inside” of the newspaper.  Usually, the first and fourth pages were printed first.  That means that even though readers who perused the Boston Evening-Post from start to finish encountered the updated version first, it most likely was printed after the original version they eventually encountered on the last page.

The additional copy in the updated version made that even more likely.  More than doubling the amount of space occupied by the original version, the new copy listed dozens of items available at the shop.  The first portion retained the copy and layout for all but the final two lines.  The compositor made minor revisions that introduced a transition to the catalog of goods.  Who was responsible for extending the advertisement so significantly?  Given that Susannah never previously advertised, even though she made other astute entrepreneurial decisions, like making improvements to her shop, should the list of goods and the expense of publishing it be attributed to Andrew?  Was this an innovation that he introduced when he took control of the business?  Did Susannah make recommendations about strategies for relaunching the business in the public prints?  What explains the two variants of the advertisement and the timing of their publication?  Do the two versions represent different visions for establishing a presence in the public prints?  Or did other factors play a role in an updated version of their advertisement running in the same issue as the original version?  What stories about the intersections of gender, family, and business might these advertisements suggest but not fully reveal?

March 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 18, 1771).

“Susannah Brimmer … has resigned Business to he Son.”

In the early 1770s, Susannah Brimmer ran a shop the South End of Boston.  In May 1771, she placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter announcing that she “resigned Business to her Son, Andrew Brimmer.”  The younger Brimmer recently imported a “fresh Assortment of English Goods” from London and planned to sell them “Wholesale and Retail, Very Cheap for Cash.”  He also carried “Pepper, Spices, English Loaf Sugar,” and other grocery items.

Even though Susannah had been an enterprising entrepreneur who established her own clientele and made improvements to her shop, she did not appear in the pages of the Evening-Post, the Weekly News-Letter, or any of the other newspapers published in Boston prior to transferring her business to her son.  She did not place advertisements to promote her business.  Susannah instead relied on other means of attracting customers, such as renovations to her shop to enhance the shopping experience for consumers.

Not every merchant and shopkeeper in colonial Boston advertised in one or more of the many newspapers printed there, but women who ran businesses advertised less often than their male counterparts.  Certainly, fewer women than men earned their livelihoods as proprietors of businesses, yet that does not explain why they were proportionally underrepresented among advertisers.  It does not explain why Susannah never advertised until she transferred her business to Andrew.

Perhaps attitudes about women in business help to explain the reticence of some female entrepreneurs when it came to inserting advertisements in the public prints.  A satirical letter to the editor by the purported “Widows of this City” in the January 21, 1733, edition of the New-York Weekly Journal mocked “she Merchants” and their participation in any sector of the public sphere.  Shopkeepers like Susannah Brimmer may have navigated a careful course of encouraging prospective customers without drawing unwelcome attention to themselves via newspaper advertisements.  Friendships and other relationships, word of mouth, making improvements to her shop, and other strategies likely served Brimmer well in the absence of running advertisements.  Once she “resigned Business to her Son,” however, she did not have the same concerns.  To increase his likelihood of success, she recommended his shop to both “her Customers and Others,” hoping that he would build on and expand the clientele she cultivated.