July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 24, 1770).

“An Exhibition of modern Books, by AUCTION.”

Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers and auctioneers in eighteenth-century America, toured New England in the summer of 1770.  Bell is widely recognized among historians of the book for his innovative marketing practices.  The tone and language in his advertisement in the July 7, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, however, seems rather bland compared to the flashy approach that eventually became the hallmark of Bell’s efforts to promote his books and auctions.  On the other hand, another advertisement in the Essex Gazette just a few weeks later hinted at the showmanship that Bell was in the process of developing and refining.

In announcing auctions that would take place at a tavern in Salem on three consecutive nights, Bell addressed prospective bidders as “the Lovers of literary Instruction, Entertainment, and Amusement.”  Deploying such salutations eventually became a trademark of his newspaper advertisements, broadsides, and book catalogs.  The advertisement in the Essex Gazette gave customers a glimpse of the personality they would encounter at the auction.  Bell described each auction as “an Exhibition of modern Books” and proclaimed that one each evening “there will really exist an Opportunity of purchasing Books cheap.”  He seemed to take readers into his confidence, offering assurances that the prospect of inexpensive books was more than just bluster to lure them to the auction.

In the same advertisement, Bell sought to incite interest in another trilogy of auctions.  “An Opportunity similar to the above,” he declared, “will revolve at the Town of NEWBURY-PORT.”  Readers of the Essex Gazette who could not attend any of the book auctions in Salem had another chance to get good bargains while mingling with other “Lovers of literary Instruction, Entertainment, and Amusement.”  Like other itinerants who announced their visits in the public prints, whether peddlers or performers, Bell made clear that he would be in town for a limited time only.  He advised that “the Public may be certain that the Auctionier’s Stay in those Towns will not exceed the Time limited as above.”  Bell would be in Salem for just three nights and then in Newburyport for three more nights before moving along to his next destination.

Compared to his recent notice in the Providence Gazette, the advertisement Bell placed in the Essex Gazette much more resembled the style of promotion that made him famous in the eighteenth century and infamous in the history of the book.  His lively language suggested that his auctions would be more than the usual sort of sale.  They would be events that readers would not want to miss.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 7, 1770).

“Robert Bell, BOOKSELLER and AUCTIONIER.”

Historians of the book have long credited Robert Bell as one of the most innovative, industrious, and successful booksellers in eighteenth-century America.  His auctions achieved great success, due in part to the larger-than-life personality he cultivated and in part to the marketing strategies he developed.  Carl Bridenbaugh asserts that Bell “institutionalized the colonial book auction, and more than any one else in [the era of the American Revolution] laid the solid foundations for book publishing in America.”[1]

At the time that he ran his advertisement for “An OLD LOOKING-GLASS For the LAITY and CLERGY Of all Denominations” in the Providence Gazette in the summer of 1770, he had only recently arrived in the colonies.  James N. Green explains that Bell, “a Scot who reached Philadelphia in 1768 after a career as a reprinter of English properties in Ireland, was the first American bookseller to reprint systematically new and popular British books in direct competition with imports.”[2]  This distinguished him from other booksellers who sold primarily imported books rather than taking on the risk and expense of publishing and selling American editions.  In 1770, Bell circulated a subscription proposal for Blackstone’s Commentaries.  Upon acquiring sufficient subscribers, he published an American edition in 1771 and 1772.  Green echoes Bridenbaugh, describing Bell as an “innovative and dynamic” promoter of printed wares who provided “a model of what the book culture of an independent country might be like, and he foreshadowed the transformation of the book trade in the postwar years.”[3]

Yet Bell sometimes resorted to traditional means of advertising books, especially near the beginning of his career in America.  Bell’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette was muted compared to others.  Some of his subsequent newspaper advertisements addressed readers and prospective customers as “Sons of Science,” “Sentimentalists of America,” and “The Lovers of literary entertainment, amusement and instruction.”[4]  By 1780, Bell devised advertisements that hawked his own personality in addition to describing the community of readers, including in a broadsheet in which he described himself as “Bookseller, Provedore to the Sentimentalists, and Professor of BOOK-AUCTIONEERING in America.”  According to Green, “Before Bell, book advertisements consisted of nothing more than a transcription of their titles; no one had ever used language to sell books in this way.”[5]  The length of Bell’s advertisement in the Providence Gazette, however, set it apart from others in the same issue, but the language did not distinguish it from other advertisements for books from the period.  The personality associated with his bookselling and auctioneering enterprise was still a work in progress.

**********

[1] Carl Bridenbaugh, “The Press and the Book in Eighteenth Century Philadelphia,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 65, no. 1 (January 1941): 16.

[2] James N. Green, “The Rise of Book Publishing,” in Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, eds., An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840, vol. 2, A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 77.

[3] Green, “Rise of Book Publishing,” 77.

[4] Bridenbaugh, “Press and the Book,” 15.

[5] James N. Green, “English Books and Printing in the Age of Franklin,” in Hugh Amory and David D. Hall, eds., The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, vol. 1, A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press with the American Antiquarian Society, 2007), 285.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 2, 1770).

Catalogues may be had the day of viewing at the place of sale.”

On Monday, July 2, 1770, John Taylor ran an advertisement that announced an auction scheduled for the following Thursday.  He advised readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that the items up for bid included “houshold furniture, china, glass, and jewellery ware, silver watches, some copper, tea, and kitchen furniture.”  He concluded the list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), an indication of even more items than the newspaper advertisement could contain.

Prospective bidders did not, however, need to consult the newspaper advertisement for a complete listing of the items offered for sale.  Taylor announced that “Catalogues may be had the day of viewing at the place of sale.”  Auctioneers and booksellers both made frequent reference to catalogs in their advertisements, though relatively few of those eighteenth-century auction catalogs or book catalogs survive.  Some historians suspect that many of those catalogs never existed; it is impossible to know for certain.  The mere promise of a catalog may have helped to convince some readers to visit Taylor’s auction house.  Taylor scheduled an advance viewing of the goods as a means of priming interest, but handing out catalogs encouraged viewers to continue engaging with items of potential interest after departing the auction house.  Upon examining the items for sale, prospective bidders did not have to rely on memory alone as they contemplated which actions they would take.  A catalog also provided additional details that prospective bidders could further enhance with their own notes.

Like other auctioneers, Taylor almost certainly realized that anticipation was an integral component of a successful auction.  Prospective bidders envisioned acquiring goods before they had an opportunity to purchase them.  They could imagine bargains if others did not bid on the items they wanted, but they could also imagine steadily increasing their bids if they encountered competition.  Either way, prospective bidders made some sort of commitment before the auction began.  By providing catalogs, Taylor facilitated these acts of imagination, increasing the likelihood that prospective bidders put them into action at the auction.

February 26

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

Feb 26 - 2:26:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 26, 1770).

Advertisement to the Ladies.”

Like other auctioneers and vendue masters, Moore, Lynsen, and Company used newspaper advertisements to alert prospective bidders to upcoming sales.  In an advertisement that appeared in the February 26, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, they noted upcoming auctions of Irish linens, gloves, and sugar.  Moore, Lynsen, and Company also indicated that they handled a portion of the estate of “his late Excellency Sir HENRY MOORE, Baronet,” the royal governor of New York who had passed away the previous September.  Among the items for the Moore estate, the auctioneers advertised “Genuine old Madeira WINE of the first quality” and “A COACH, CARRIAGE, HORSES, AND SADDLERY.”  Those items were slated for sale the following day.

Rather than conducting a single estate sale, Moore, Lynsen, and Company scheduled a second auction, that one to be begin more than a week later on March 6 and “continue every morning” until everything was sold.  For that “great auction,” the vendue masters inserted a special “Advertisement to the Ladies.”  They called attention to the “great variety of the genteelest furniture, made by the first workmen,—all new, and in the best order” as well as “PLATE, CHINA, &c. &c.”  The double “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) promised a vast assortment of goods.  In addressing “the Ladies” in particular, Moore, Lynsen, and Company made a relatively rare appeal.  Editorials that appeared in other parts of eighteenth-century newspapers frequently accused women of becoming too enamored of the consumer revolution, asserting that female consumers surrendered to the vice of luxury.  Yet purveyors of goods and services rarely targeted women exclusively when they marketed the “genteelest” merchandise.  Eighteenth-century advertisements suggest that despite the rhetoric of gendered consumption that circulated widely, those who sold goods pursued customers of both sexes and anticipated that men were as likely as women to make purchases.  Moore, Lynsen, and Company were relatively unique in their assertion that “the Ladies” would be most interested in the “genteelest” wares that they put up for bid.

February 9

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

Feb 9 - 2:9:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 9, 1770).

“Auction-Hall, KING-STREETBOSTON.”

John Gerrish, “Public Vendue-Master” or auctioneer, continued his endeavor to extend the range of his advertising by developing a marketing campaign for his auction hall that incorporated newspapers published in towns other than Boston. In early February 1770, he placed notices in the Providence Gazette, the Essex Gazette, and, eventually, the New-Hampshire Gazette, in addition to three of the five newspapers in Boston. In so doing, he coordinated a campaign that involved six newspapers in four cities spread over three colonies. The Adverts 250 Project has been tracking the development of that campaign in several entries published during the past week.

Not surprisingly, Gerrish’s efforts radiated outward from Boston. His advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette only after it ran in the Essex Gazette, moving from Boston to Salem to Portsmouth. That the notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette included exactly the same copy, down to the punctuation (such as the brackets around “[Public Vendue-Master]”), as the one in the Essex Gazette suggests one possible mode of transmission. While Gerrish might have carefully written out identical copy in letters sent to the two printing offices, he may very well have instructed Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, to forward instructions to reprint the advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he sent an exchange copy to Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of that newspaper. The Fowles, like every other colonial printer, liberally reprinted news items, letters, and editorials from other newspapers when selecting the content for the New-Hampshire Gazette. When sent instructions (and promises of payment) they could have done the same with an advertisement.

Although the advertisements in the Essex Gazette and the New-Hampshire Gazette featured identical copy, they did have variations in format, including capitalization, italics, and line breaks, though certain key appeals to prospective customers did appear in capitals in both newspapers (“EXCEEDING CHEAP” and “VERY CHEAP TERMS INDEED”). That was standard practice in the production of newspaper advertisements. Advertisers provided the copy and sometimes made suggestions or requests concerning format, but printers and compositors exercised broad discretion when it came to typography and graphic design.

For Gerrish, the format, as long as it was done well, likely mattered less than disseminating his advertisements over greater distances than he managed previously by inserting them solely in the Boston newspapers. He aimed to create a much larger regional market for himself by boosting the circulation of his notices in additional publications and new places where prospective bidders and clients had less awareness of his “Auction-Hall” on King Street in Boston.

February 8

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

Feb 8 - 2:81770 Massachusetts Gazzette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 8, 1770).

“AUCTION HALL … JOHN GERRISH, (And COMPANY).”

This week the Adverts 250 Project has examined John Gerrish’s attempts to expand his media market beyond newspapers in Boston. In the late 1760s, he regularly inserted notices in several newspapers published in the city where he operated an auction hall, but in 1770 Gerrish experimented with running advertisements in newspapers in other towns as well. On February 3, for instance, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. On February 6, he ran a different advertisement in the Essex Gazette. The copy in those advertisements differed from what previously appeared in Boston’s newspapers; each included material likely of special interest to prospective buyers, bidders, and clients who resided away from the city. Gerrish promoted “Wholesale and Retail” sales of a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES” in the Providence Gazette rather than promoting the goods up for bid at any particular auction scheduled for a particular time. In the Essex Gazette, Gerrish made note of “Very Good Lodgings and Boarding, for COUNTRY GENTLEMEN, Travelers, and Traders” who might journey to Boston for the auctions he held “chiefly on TUESDAYS, and THURSDAYS.”

Even as he attempted to create a larger regional market for his goods and services by advertising in newspapers published in Salem and Providence, Gerrish understood that newspapers printed in Boston already served a region much larger than the bustling port and nearby neighboring towns and villages. Until recently, no other town in Massachusetts produced a newspaper; even after the Essex Gazette commenced publication, Boston’s newspapers continued to enjoy wide circulation throughout the colony and beyond. For that reason, some of the special appeals that Gerrish made in the Providence Gazette (wholesale and retail sales from a stable inventory rather than auctions) and the Essex Gazette (lodging and boarding for clients who traveled to the city) would also find ready audiences among readers of the Boston newspapers who resided in places other than Boston.

To that end, Gerrish placed three advertisements in the February 8, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Post-Boy. The first was a standard announcement of an imminent auction to take place “THIS EVENING.” By the time many readers outside of Boston received the newspaper with this notice, the sale already took place. For those prospective customers, Gerrish placed his advertisement from the Providence Gazette in its entirety, though he made two additions after signing his name. This slightly revised version added “Sets of China Cups, Saucers, &c.” to the list of inventory. It also assured colonists concerned about potential violations of the nonimportation agreement currently in effect that “The above Goods have been imported above a Twelve Month past.” In other words, the merchandise arrived in the colony prior to the agreement. Another advertisement appeared immediately below, that one advising “Country Gentlemen, Strangers, Traders, [and] Travelers” of “Lodgings and Boarding” available near Gerrish’s auction hall. It deployed copy nearly identical to what appeared near the end of Gerrish’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette. It also instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer, or at Auction-Hall, King-Street.” Gerrish undoubtedly placed that advertisement as well.

John Gerrish and Company faced constant competition from other vendue masters and auctioneers in Boston. In an effort to maintain and expand his share of the market, Gerrish devised an advertising campaign that extended to newspapers published in places other than Boston and reiterated the strategies he developed in those advertisements in notices that he placed in local newspapers.

February 6

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

Feb 6 - 2:6:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (February 6, 1770).

“WHOEVER sends Goods … may be assured of the Fidelity of the Master of said Hall.”

In February 1770, John Gerrish “(And COMPANY.)” expanded his efforts to address prospective customers in a regional market when he published an advertisement for his “Auction-Hall” in the Essex Gazette just days after placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. He continued to insert advertisements in several of the newspapers printed in Boston.

Although Gerrish tended to submit the same copy to local printing offices, the advertisement he drafted for the Essex Gazette was quite different from the one in the Providence Gazette. He did not provide details about auctions for readers in Rhode Island, instead focusing on “Wholesale and Retail” sales for a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES.” For readers of the Essex Gazette, however, he extended an invitation to “Public-Vendues” or auctions “held Weekly in said Auction-Hall; but chiefly on TUESDAYS, and THURSDAYS.” He also encouraged prospective bidders to become clients, asserting that “WHOEVER sends Goods … to be Sold by private or public Sale, may be assured of the Fidelity of the Master of said Hall.” In other words, Gerrish recognized that clients took risks when they entrusted goods to him to sell; he sought to alleviate anxiety that he might give deals to close associates who did business with him regularly and, in the process, deprive clients of the best possible prices they could have achieved for their goods. When he pledged “Fidelity” to his clients, Gerrish vowed to operate in their best interests rather than underselling for his own benefit. He was not the only auctioneer in Boston to address such issues of trust in newspapers advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

To further entice “Country GENTLEMEN, Travelers, and Traders” from beyond Boston to examine the wares or attend a vendue at his auction house, Gerrish added a nota bene that advised they could find “Very Good Lodgings and Boarding … in Court-Square, opposite to AUCTION HALL.” In addition to seeing to the comfort of prospective bidders, buyers, and clients, that establishment also provided “very good Keeping for Horses.”

Gerrish had been advertising in multiple newspapers in Boston for years, but early in 1770 he experimented with placing notices in newspapers published in nearby towns. He likely hoped to expand his client base by enlarging the market for his services as a “Public Vendue-Master” and interest in the “New & Second-Hand” goods available at his auction house. He certainly increased his investment in advertising, hoping that it would result in more business and higher revenues at an auction house that competed with several others in Boston.

February 3

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

Feb 3 - 4:3:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 3, 1770).

“AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.”

Like other auctioneers, John Gerrish frequently inserted advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston. In a single week, he placed notices about upcoming sales in three local newspapers. On Monday, January 29, 1770, he ran nearly identical advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette to advise prospective customers of a “publick Vendue” or auction that would take place at his “Auction-Hall,—King-Street” the following evening. On Thursday, February 1, Gerrish placed another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, this time announcing an auction scheduled for ‘THIS EVENING.” Often promoting specific events happening within a matter of days, advertisements by auctioneers tended to run only once or twice, though Gerrish and others industriously submitted new notices to several printing offices almost every week.

Vendue masters in Boston, however, did not tend to advertise in the Providence Gazette. The short time that elapsed between announcing a sale and it taking place did not allow for sending notices to the printing office in Providence or for readers of that newspaper to make their way to Boston to participate in a particular auction. Yet Gerrish did not solely sell merchandise at auction. He ran a “Wholesale and Retail” operation out of his auction hall to supplement his revenues. For that enterprise he acquired a stable inventory that did not go to the highest bidder at the next sale, prompting him to experiment with placing an advertisement for those goods in the Providence Gazette in hopes of widening the market.

In so doing, Gerrish addressed “Country Gentlemen, Traders, [and] Shopkeepers,” that he offered a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES.” He listed several items, including popular textiles, different kinds of paper, and more than one brand of snuff. Realizing that he addressed prospective customers much less familiar with his auction hall than residents of Boston, he provided much more extensive directions than he usually included in his local newspapers. Instead of “Auction-Hall,—King-Street,” he directed readers to the “AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.” He also assured prospective customers of “Constant Attendance given at said Hall.” Prospective customers from Providence and elsewhere in the “Country” need not worry about traveling some distance and arriving at the auction hall only to be inconvenienced by finding it closed or understaffed.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, most purveyors of consumer goods and services did not advertise in newspapers other than those published in their own towns. Some, however, did make the investment in hopes of enlarging their clientele. They imagined regional rather than local markets for their wares.

January 8

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

Jan 8 1770 - 1:8:1770 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 8, 1770).

“Hart’s Vendue Store.”

Relatively few eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements featured visual images. Most that did relied on woodcuts of ships, houses, horses, or people that belonged to the printer for repeated use in various advertisements, but some advertisers did commission woodcuts that appeared exclusively in their notices. Oftentimes such woodcuts depicted their shop signs, creating consistent marketing iconography, but that was not always the case. Whether or not tied to shop signs, unique woodcuts stood to attract more attention to advertisements than they would have garnered without visual images.

Readers of the January 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle could hardly have overlooked the advertisement for an auction house, Hart’s Vendue Store, with its exceptionally large woodcut depicting a hand ringing a bell enclosed in a frame. Even though it was not the only visual image, it dominated the page, in large part due to its size. The woodcut occupied more space than the copy for the advertisement! The frame formed a square with the length of each side the same as the width of the column in which the advertisement ran. Woodcuts that the printer supplied, including one of a ship in the advertisement immediately to the left of the one for Hart’s Vendue Store, were much smaller icons. They usually appeared in the upper left corner of advertisements, with copy to the right and continuing below. In featuring such a large visual image, Hart invested not only in commissioning the woodcut but also in the space required to publish it in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. It more than doubled the amount of space filled by the advertisement. Hart may have considered it very well worth the investment if the woodcut managed to distinguish his advertisement and attract bidders to his auction house. Footman and Jeyes placed an advertisement for their “New VENDUE-STORE” on the same page. It lacked visual images. Indeed, the entire advertisement filled the same amount of space as Hart’s woodcut alone.

In the process of mobilizing a visual image, Hart’s advertisement may have engaged readers in other ways as well. Did colonists hear the ringing of the bell when they saw the woodcut? Did they imagine someone walking through the streets of Philadelphia proclaiming that they should visit Hart’s Vendue Store and participate in “the Sales of a large and very neat ASSORTMENT of Merchandize” on Tuesday afternoon? Did the woodcut evoke some of the sounds of the colonial city, prompting readers to imagine that they were already part of the sales that would soon take place?

No other advertisement in that issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle compared to the notice for Hart’s Vendue Store. The image of the hand and bell may look crude by model standards, but the size of the woodcut and its inclusion in the advertisement at all would have been notable to colonial readers.

September 21

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

Sep 21 - 9:21:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (September 21, 1769).
“Goods were shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October.”

In the late 1760s several vendue masters (or auctioneers) operated in Boston and regularly advertised in the city’s many newspapers. John Gerrish ran the “Public Vendue-Office” in the North End, where he held auctions on Tuesdays. In addition to putting items up for bid, Gerrish also sold some items by wholesale and retail, including an array of goods that he advertised in the September 21, 1769, edition of Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. These included textiles, stockings, pins, “and a great Variety of other Articles, too many to be here enumerated.”

Gerrish made a point of informing “his Friends, Country Gentlemen, Shopkeepers, Traders,” and anyone else reading his advertisement that the goods he offered for sale had been imported via London “last September & October.” They arrived a year earlier! Under most circumstances merchants, shopkeepers, and other traders avoided attaching any sort of age to inventory they had not just received on the latest ships from London and other English ports. Indeed, many advertisements for consumer goods incorporated standard language in the first lines, like “just imported,” before even listing the merchandise. This signaled to prospective customers that they could choose from among the most current fashions rather than sorting through leftovers which other shoppers passed over and left on the shelves for considerable amounts of time.

The age of Gerrish’s “very large Assortment of Goods, and Merchandize,” however, became a virtue as fall arrived in 1769. Items “shipp’d in London for Boston, last September & October” had been ordered before the nonimportation agreement adopted by merchants, shopkeepers, and other residents of Boston went into effect. As a means of economic resistance to the taxes levied in the Townshend Acts, colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere vowed not to import goods from England. They hoped to disrupt trade so significantly that Parliament could not help but take notice, especially if English merchants pressured for repeal of the odious measures. That Gerrish’s goods arrived in Boston “last September & October” was not trivial. It was an important detail that kept the auctioneer in the good graces of his fellow colonist while giving them permission to purchase his wares without violating the terms of the nonimportation agreement.