What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Lucerne and Burnett seed, warranted to be of last year’s growth.”
Spring was coming. In late February 1768 colonists in Boston could tell that spring was on its way by looking for certain signs. While watching for changes in the weather and landscape provided clues about the passage of the seasons, colonists also witnessed other indications. The appearance of Susanna Renken’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette testified that spring was indeed on its way. It was the first to promote a variety of seeds that colonists would need to purchase soon so they could plant their gardens.
Renken participated in an annual ritual, one that transformed the pages of newspapers printed in Boston for a few months. She had previously advertised seeds in 1766 and 1767, but she had not been alone. Other women had placed their own advertisements, presenting local customers with many choices for obtaining the seeds they needed. Readers of the newspapers published in Boston knew that in the coming weeks several other female shopkeepers would join Renken, each inserting their own advertisements for seeds. If the past was any indication, they could expect to see these advertisements printed one after the other, sometimes filling entire columns in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette. Renken and her competitors usually inserted their notices in multiple publications.
For now, however, Renken advertised alone. She was the first seed seller to take to the pages of the public prints in 1768, heralding the proliferation of advertisements that would soon appear, bloom for a couple of months, and recede until the next year. Colonists in Boston and its hinterlands observed this annual cycle unfold in their newspapers in the late winter and early spring, just as they saw advertisements for almanacs make their first appearances in the fall, intensify in number and frequency over several months, and taper off after the new year.
Susanna Renken was the first to advertise seeds in 1768, but soon she would not be alone. At the same time colonists noticed certain birds returning to New England as part of their seasonal migration, they also saw advertisements for seeds once again in the pages of their newspapers. The print culture of marketing had its own rhythms that colonists could associate with the changing seasons.