November 24

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

What was advertised in an American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post (November 24, 1766).

“A general assortment of GOODS, suitable for the Season.”

In this advertisement Baker and Bridgham marketed imported goods “suitable for the Season.” They sold a wide variety of fabrics and accessories that appealed to men, women, and children. They also had a lot of competition for the goods they sold. There were at least ten other advertisements that were almost the same in that newspaper. Other stores sold nearly the same products.

Compared to local shopkeepers in small towns, Baker and Bridgham had it much tougher. Those local stores were better known to residents. One online encyclopedia states, “Country storekeepers became important figures in their communities because they were the primary source for goods and information about the outside world.” Compared to country shopkeepers, Baker and Bridgham had to constantly advertise themselves, because in the cities colonists did not always know all the shops. Country shopkeepers did not have as much competition as Baker and Bridgham and other shopkeepers in Boston did.



As Patrick asserts, Baker and Bridgham certainly faced competition for customers from other merchants and shopkeepers in Boston. I would like to build on the work that Patrick has already done by providing a complete census of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services in Boston on November 24, 1766, in order to underscore Patrick’s main argument. (Note: I have tabulated only the advertisements for consumer goods and services. Other sorts of advertising, such as ships departing and legal notices, appeared alongside them).

In addition to its regular four-page issue, the Boston Evening-Post published a two-page supplement on November 24. As was often the case in such instance, about half of the supplement consisted of news and the other half of advertising. Overall, ten advertisements for consumer goods and services appeared in the regular issue and another thirteen, including Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement, in the supplement. T. and J. Fleet printed twenty-three newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services that week.

Boston Post-Boy (November 24, 1766).

Yet the story does not end there. Four newspapers were printed in Boston in 1766. Two others, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy, were published on the same day as the Boston Evening-Post. Turning to them yields another ten advertisements for consumer goods and services in the Boston-Gazette and sixteen more in its supplement, as well as fourteen additional advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy. (The Boston Post-Boy had an abbreviated version of Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement.) That amounts to another forty advertisements, twenty-six in the Boston-Gazette and fourteen in the Boston Post-Boy. Although three of Boston’s newspapers were distributed on Mondays, the Massachusetts Gazette found its ways to readers on Thursdays. Its most recent issue from November 20 included twenty-three advertisements for consumer goods and services in the regular issue and another four in an extraordinary, for a total of twenty-seven. (The Massachusetts Gazette featured Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement in its entirety.)

Massachusetts Gazette (November 20, 1766).

This means that residents of Boston had access to ninety newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services recently printed in local newspapers at the time that Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on November 24, 1766. In contrast, many of the newspapers from smaller towns ran just a handful of advertisements by shopkeepers and merchants promoting imported wares and other consumer goods and services. Competition for customers in urban ports certainly made advertising seem like a necessity to shopkeepers like Baker and Bridgham.

Even as American celebrate Thanksgiving today, many will already be thinking of the holiday season and the rampant consumption that accompanies it. Today’s holiday will be immediately followed by “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Critics will inevitably lament the rise of consumerism in America. The newspapers published 250 years ago today, however, suggest that a vibrant consumer culture has been a central part of American life since before the Revolution.

November 10

GUEST CURATOR: Carolyn Crawford

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

Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post (November 10, 1766).

“A fine assortment of neat pinchbeck shoe-buckles.”

As I read this advertisement, I was overwhelmed by the variety of goods imported in the Thames by Captain Watt and offered for sale by “Baker & Bridgham In Union Street.” The assortment of goods ranged from fabrics such as satins and flannels to accessories such as buckles and buttons.

I was intrigued by the description of the shoe buckles made of pinchbeck. Pinchbeck, a form of brass, was commonly used to design accessories during the colonial era. An alloy of copper and zinc, pinchbeck resembled gold in its appearance. At first, many colonists might have thought that pinchbeck was real gold because of its bright and polished image. However, pinchbeck was a “counterfeit” of gold regularly used to craft various jewelry and other adornments, including rings, necklaces, earrings, brooches and shoe buckles.

Colonial smiths and jewelers designed items made of pinchbeck for customers, who asked for their jewelry and accessories to be specific shapes, include precious stones, or have their name engraved. However, there were other colonists who preferred to take advantage of the already stocked and readymade items that were available from shopkeepers like Baker and Bridgham.



The November 10, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post was accompanied by an advertising supplement. Approximately half of the regular issue already consisted of advertising, but T. and J. Fleet sold more advertisements than the issue could contain. As was often the case with colonial newspapers, this issue and its supplement functioned as a delivery mechanism for advertising more than as a means of delivering news items. Rather than a mixture of legal notices and other sorts of advertising that transmitted news and announcements, almost every advertisement that appeared in the supplement promoted consumer goods and services. A couple of dozen merchants and shopkeepers enticed readers in Boston to desire and purchase the merchandise they stocked.

This supplement demonstrates one of the disadvantages of working with digitized sources. The size of the page on which it was printed appears to be different than the broadsheet for the regular issue, but the database does not provide sufficient metadata (or any sort of measurements at all) to make that determination. Each page of the regular issue included three columns, but both pages of the supplement had four. When downloading the entire issue as a PDF, the supplement appears wider, but there’s no way to know if the relative proportions accurately represent the original sources without consulting those sources themselves. This hinders our ability to understand some of the ways that colonists might have interacted with the advertising supplement as a material text.

The content of the advertisements does not tell the entire story. Was the supplement indeed printed on a larger sheet? If so, why? Would it have been simply to squeeze in all the remaining advertisements? Or was that a strategy the Fleets employed to call special attention to the advertisements they published, perhaps making their newspaper more attractive to other advertisers (and, in turn, generating more revenues)? Is there evidence that the supplement was folded in order to fit inside the original issue and delivered at the same time? The digitized images of the November 10 issue and its supplement do not indicate the answers to these questions. Digital surrogates simultaneously allow for greater access to historical sources and conceal some of the important attributes of the originals.