November 26

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 26, 1770).

“Those Customers who live in the Country are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

Extensive credit played an important role in fueling the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans all extended credit to their customers.  Printers did the same, often for periods of years rather than merely weeks or months.  Newspaper printers regularly inserted notices into their publications to call on subscribers, advertisers, and others to pay their debts.  In some instances, they stated that their ability to continue disseminating the news depended on customers paying their overdue bills.  More often, they threatened legal action against those who did not settle accounts by a specified date.

On November 26, 1770, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, once again joined the chorus of printers who inserted such notices in their newspapers.  They requested that “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been 12 Months standing … to make immediate Payment.”  Although they did not suggest taking anyone to court, they did express some exasperation with those who had not heeded previous notices.  “Those Customers who live in the Country,” the Fleets implored, “are more particularly desired to pay some Attention to the above reasonable Request.”

To increase the likelihood that those customers at least saw the notice, the Fleets deployed a couple of strategies.  First, they made it the first item in the first column on the first page.  It appeared immediately below the masthead and immediately above news items rather than interspersed among other advertisements.  Even if they only skimmed the contents to find items of interest, readers who perused that issue of the Boston Evening-Post were likely to spot the Fleets’ notice.  To help call attention to it and underscore its importance, the Fleets included several manicules.  A manicule on the first line directed attention to the notice.  A line composed of seventeen manicules beneath the advertisement seemed to insist that readers take note of what appeared above them.  Although the Fleets did not threaten to sue recalcitrant customers, they used other means to suggest they were serious about receiving overdue payments.

November 19

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

Boston Evening-Post (November 19, 1770).

“Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days.”

Was it news or advertising or both?  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, noted that “Ames’s ALMANACK is now in the Press, and will be published in a few Days” in the November 19, 1770, edition.  This note was one of several items collected together as news from Boston.  The various items from the city amounted to more than a column, but a short section included brief reports about local deaths, ships in port, and Ames’s almanac.  The Fleets informed readers of the death of Elizabeth Langdon, widow of Deacon Josiah Langdon, and advised that the funeral and procession would take place the next day “if the Weather be fair.”  The printers also made note of the death of Mary Collson, the wife of leather dresser Adam Collson and daughter of Solomon Kneeland.  They reported that the “Glasgow Man of War arrived her from the same Place” and the “Mermaid Man of War was to Winter at Halifax.”  The Fleets concluded this list of brief updates with the note about Ames’s almanac, adorning it with a manicule to enhance its visibility.

That was the end of the news in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  Paid notices comprised the remainder of the contents.  The Fleets did not present the notice about the almanac as a freestanding advertisement, but they did treat is as a transition from news items they selected for publication and advertisements submitted by merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, auctioneers, and others.  The strategic placement may have allowed them to capture the attention of readers who perused the issue for news without intending to examine the advertisements, position it as a final news items before the advertisements commenced.  This served their own interests as entrepreneurs.  Several variations of the popular Ames’s Astronomical Diary or Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1771 hit the market in the fall of 1770, but this was probably the version with an imprint that stated it was “Printed and Sold by the Printers and Booksellers” of Boston.  Within the next several weeks, Richard Draper would advertise it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Edes and Gill would advertise it in the Boston-Gazette, and the Fleets would advertise it in the Boston-Evening Post.  At that time, the Fleets devised a freestanding advertisement that ran among other advertisements rather than placing a notice within or adjacent to the news.

In advance of the almanac’s publication, the Fleets alerted prospective customers that an edition of Ames’s almanac would soon be available for sale at their printing office.  They used their access to the press to craft an announcement that appeared to be news even as it promoted a product that the printers had an interest in supplying to the public.  The placement of the notice as a transition between news and advertising was strategic.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 3, 1770).

“It is presumed preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here.”

As fall approached in 1770, the nonimportation agreement remained in effect in Boston.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods, but taxes on tea remained.  Although New York already resumed trade with Britain, debates continued in Boston and Philadelphia about whether that partial victory was sufficient to return to business as usual.

It was in that context that Harbottle Dorr advertised nails and other items in the Boston Evening-Post, grounding his marketing appeals in politics.  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he listed the various merchandise available at his shop.  He prefaced his list, however, by noting that the items enumerated first were “manufactured in this Town” rather than imported from Britain.  Those goods included “choice hammered Pewter Dishes & Plates, Cod and Mackrel Lines, best Copper Tea Kettles, all sizes of Porringers, Quart Pots, [and] Basons,” yet he started with “10d.* and 20d. Nails, warranted tough.”  The asterisk directed readers to a short sermon that encouraged them to buy goods produced in the colonies that appeared at the end of the advertisement.  “*It is presumed,” Dorr lectured, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers, –but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.”  Dorr linked several appeals that supporters of the nonimportation agreement often combined.  Buying American goods, Dorr and others argued, was not merely a statement of political principles but also a smart choice when it came to quality.  Consumers did not need to worry about purchasing inferior goods, in this case nails, when they bought items made in the colonies.

Yet Dorr also stocked imported goods in addition to domestic manufactures, including “all sorts Pad & Door Locks,” “London Pewter Dishes and Plates,” and “good Combs.”  He emphasized, however, that those items “have been imported above THREE YEARS.”  In other words, Dorr acquired them before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  He had not violated the pact and prospective customers could purchase those items with confidence that they did not act contrary to the nonimportation agreement.

Whether selling domestic manufactures or imported goods, Dorr made politics the focal point of his marketing efforts.  Even as some merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers advocated for following New York’s lead in resuming trade with Britain, he challenged them to consider “patriotic Principles” as they made their decisions about commerce.  Perhaps sensing that it was only a matter of time before the nonimportation agreement came to an end, he also made additional arguments in favor of nails produced in the colonies, noting their superior quality.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 9, 1770).

All which he will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”

In the summer of 1770, Nathaniel Tucker advertised a “large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDECINES, Chymical & Galenical,” for sale at his shop across the street from the Old South Meeting House in Boston.  His notice in the Boston Evening-Post listed several popular patent medicines, including Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Squire’s Original Grand Elixir, Fraunces’s Female Strengthening Elixir, and Dr. Bateman’s Golden Spirits.  These nostrums were so familiar to colonial consumers that Tucker did not elaborate on their efficacy.

He did, however, promote his low prices.  Tucker concluded his advertisement with a proclamation that he sold all of these items “as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”  He did not name any prices, but he did suggest to prospective customers that they would not find better bargains anywhere in the bustling port city.  Like the readers of the Boston Evening-Post, Tucker realized that consumers had many options for purchasing Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Dr. Walker’s Jesuit’s Drops, and the rest.  Apothecaries stocked them, but such specialists were not alone in making them available. Shopkeepers who sold all sorts of goods also carried patent medicines.  Even printers and booksellers frequently advertised that they sold patent medicines in addition to books, pamphlets, and stationery, a side hustle that supplemented revenues from activities more often associated with their trade.

In addition to offering low prices, Tucker implied that he would adjust those prices to reflect the local market.  Although he did not explicitly state that he matched the prices of his competitors, his assertion that he “will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston” suggested that his prices were flexible rather than fixed.  In addition to not having to worry about being overcharged, prospective customers likely had opportunities to haggle with Tucker; such encounters were opportunities for him as well, opportunities to make sales that might otherwise have gone to other purveyors of patent medicines.  Rather than simply listing the medicines at his shop, Tucker deployed price as the primary means of inciting demand for his wares.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:11:170 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (June 11, 1770).

“The Coach-Making Business in all its Branches is carried on as usual.”

Adino Paddock, a coachmaker in Boston, regularly placed newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He often promoted secondhand coaches, chaises, and other sorts of carriages as an alternative to purchasing new ones, anticipating marketing strategies that became standard in the automobile industry two centuries later.  He also provided maintenance and carried accessories and equipment, such as reins and whips, realizing that ancillary services and smaller sales supplemented the revenues he earned from carriages.

As part of his marketing efforts, Paddock inserted his advertisements in multiple newspapers published in Boston.  While this increased his expenses, it also placed his notice before greater numbers of potential customers.  During the week of June 11, 1770, for instance, Paddock placed the same advertisement in three of the five newspapers printed in Boston at the time.  It appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on the same day at the beginning of the week.  It did not, however, appear in the issue of the Boston Chroniclepublished that same day or the subsequent issue distributed later in the week, but Paddock may not have considered running it there worth the investment.  Relatively few advertisements ran in the Chronicle, perhaps due to the newspaper’s outspoken Tory sympathies.  (Less than two weeks later that newspaper permanently ceased publication, though Paddock would not have known that the end was near for the Chronicle when he submitted his advertisements to the various printing offices in town.)  Paddock also declined to place his notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Perhaps running notices in the other three newspapers exhausted his budget.

Whatever his reasons for choosing some newspapers over others, Paddock did submit identical copy to the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Post-Boy, multiplying the number of readers who would encounter his advertisements.  For readers who perused more than one publication, his advertisement likely became more memorable due to its familiarity.  Paddock was not alone in adopting this strategy.  Artisans, merchants, and shopkeepers in cities with multiple newspapers often sought to increase their visibility by placing identical notices in more than one publication.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1770 Boston Evening-Post Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post (April 30, 1770).

“New Philadelphia FLOUR.”

“New Philadelphia FLOUR.”

John Head’s advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette demonstrate the relationship between advertisers and compositors in the eighteenth century.  Advertisers composed the copy for their notices.  Compositors generally designed the format, though advertisers occasionally collaborated on specific elements they wanted incorporated into their advertisements.  For his advertisements, Head submitted the copy and almost certainly specified that he wished for the list of goods to appear in columns, but the compositors for the Evening-Post and the Gazette made their own decisions about the font size, capitalization, italics, and the layout of the columns.

Apr 30 - 4:30:1770 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 30, 1770).

At a glance, the two advertisements appear remarkably similar, but on closer examination it becomes clear that even though they featured nearly identical copy they also had significant variations in design.  Only two discrepancies in copy distinguish the advertisements from each other, one of them the result of a design decision made by a compositor.  In the first discrepancy, the Gazette version lists “Jamaica Spirit” among Head’s inventory; the Evening-Post version has “Jamaica Fish” instead.  Either Head miscopied from one to the other or a compositor made an error.  For the second discrepancy, the compositor for the Gazette made a decision to list “Best green Coffee” on the line after “Cocoa,” reversing the order of the items in order to accommodate an oversized “N” in “NEW Rice” that adorned the first item listed.  That “N” made it impossible to fit “Best green Coffee” on the second line, but the much shorter “Cocoa” fit just fine.

Those lists of merchandise provide perhaps the most visible evidence of the different decisions made by the compositors.  The Evening-Post version featured only two columns, but the Gazette version had three.  Other differences in capitalization and italics appeared throughout the advertisements.  Consider just the first three lines: “New Philadelphia FLOUR, / To be Sold by / John Head” in the Evening-Post and “New Philadelphia FLOUR, / TO BE SOLD BY / John Head” in the Gazette.  The first used few capitals and no italics, but the second incorporated italics and many more capitals.  The short paragraph at the end of the advertisement also received different treatment from the compositors.  The version in the Evening-Post appeared mostly in italics, introduced with a manicule.  The version in the Gazette did not appear in italics.  An assortment of lesser-used type called attention to it.

In an era without professional advertising agencies, Head assumed responsibility for generating the copy for his advertisement.  He also gave directions concerning an element of its layout, organizing the list of merchandise into columns, but the printing office, the compositor in particular, was primarily responsible for graphic design.  Like Head, other advertisers ran notices in multiple newspapers in colonial America.  Comparing copy and format in those other advertisements further confirms the relationship between advertisers and compositors.

April 23

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

Apr 23 - 4:23:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post (April 23, 1770).

“CHOCOLATE warranted good.”

T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, had far more content to publish than usual when they prepared the April 23, 1770, edition.  Issued once a week, their newspaper, like most others in colonial America, typically consisted of four pages created by printed two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  When printers had sufficient surplus content, they often distributed supplements, sometimes an additional four pages but more commonly two pages that required only half a broadsheet.  The Fleets certainly had sufficient surplus content to justify publishing a supplement.  Indeed, two supplements accompanied the April 23 edition of the Boston Evening-Post.

The first contained “Fresh Advices” that had “ARRIVED here last Week from LONDON.”  The captains of several vessels had delivered “the Public Prints” through February 24.  The Fleets extracted several items to republish from London’s newspapers.  This supplement consisted of only two pages printed on a broadsheet the same size as the standard issue of the Boston Evening-Post.  The second supplement, however, consisted of four pages printed on a smaller sheet. The first three pages delivered “Mr. Kent’s Vindications of his Character, from the Aspersions of Dr. Gardiner and others, in several late News-Papers.”  Given the size of the page, these “Vindications” appeared in two columns of a different width than the three columns per page from the standard issue.

Publishing the “Vindications” required only three pages.  The Fleets filled the remaining space with advertisements that ran in the Boston Evening-Post in previous weeks.  Rather than reset the type to achieve a consistent column width throughout the supplement they instead conserved time and effort through an unusual format for the page.  Two columns of advertisements filled most of the space.  For the remainder, they rotated advertisements to fit them into the space remaining on the right side of the page, creating a third column with text that ran in a different direction.

The Fleets did not improvise this strategy.  Colonial printers resorted to it on those occasions that they issued supplements of different sizes or when they could not acquire broadsheets of the usual size for their standard issues.  Doing so maximized the amount of content they could deliver while generating advertising revenues important to the continued publication of their newspapers.

April 9

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 9, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson placed an advertisement offering cash for “POT and PEARL ASH” in the April 9, 1770, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  In that same advertisement they offered for sale a “small Assortment of English Goods.”  They did not confine themselves to advertising in the Boston Evening-Post alone.  That same day they inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Later in the week, their advertisement also ran in the April 12 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, the Boston Chronicle was the only one that did not carry Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement.

Even though they attempted to increase the number of readers who would see their advertisement, they may have declined to place it in the Chronicle for a couple of reasons.  Politics may have played a part:  the Chronicle had earned a much-deserved reputation as a Loyalist newspaper.  Smith and Atkinson may not have wished to be associated with the newspaper or its printers.  The potential return on their investment may have also influenced their decision.  The Chronicle ran far fewer advertisements than any of the other newspapers published in Boston, suggesting that it likely had fewer readers.  Smith and Atkinson may not have considered inserting their advertisement in the Chronicle worth the expense.

In addition, the political argument they made in their advertisement would not have fit the Chronicle’s outlook and reputation.  Smith and Atkinson carefully specified that their English goods had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  They abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties assessed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  They suggested that consumers should abide by the agreement as well, grafting politics onto decisions about their participation in the marketplace.  The Chronicle, on the other hand, devoted significant effort to accusing patriot leaders and merchants of secretly cheating on the nonimportation agreement and misleading their customers and the public.

When Smith and Atkinson decided to advertise in most of Boston’s newspapers, they likely had more than one motivation for doing so.  They did not necessarily seek merely to attract customers for their goods.  Their strategy allowed them to widely publicize that they abided by the political principles adopted by most of their community, enhancing their reputation among readers even if those readers did not become customers.

March 26

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

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 26, 1770).

“A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street.”

Only three weeks after the Boston Massacre colonial consumers could purchase engravings depicting the event.  On March 26, 1770, the first advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Both announced “A PRINT, containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-street” available for sale by Edes and Gill, the patriot printers of the Boston-Gazette.  Engraved by Paul Revere, this print has become the most iconic image of the Boston Massacre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (though more colonists likely encountered woodcuts depicting the coffins of the victims that accompanied newspaper coverage of the event and the funeral procession than purchased or even glimpsed Revere’s Bloody Massacre in the eighteenth century).

Widely considered a piece of propaganda rather than an accurate depiction of the event that transpired on the evening of March 5, Revere’s engraving was the first to hit the consumer market in 1770.  Controversy at the time focused less on any liberties taken with the facts and more on Revere basing his work on an engraving by Henry Pelham and then issuing his own version so quickly that he edged out Pelham.  As the Massachusetts Historical Society explains, “Although Pelham created his image, The Fruits of Arbitrary Power first, somehow Revere, working from Pelham’s rendition of the scene, created, advertised, and issued his own version, The Bloody Massacre, ahead of Pelham’s.”  Although the advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette did not name Revere as the engraver, they certainly promoted sales of his depiction of the event.

Mar 26 - 3:26:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 26, 1770).

Pelham considered this an injustice.  He wrote to Revere shortly after the advertisements first appeared.  “When I heard that you was cutting a plate of the late Murder,” Pelham lamented, “I thought it impossible as I knew you was not capable of doing it unless you coppied it from mine and I thought I had intrusted it in the hands of a person who had more regard to the dictates of Honour and Justice than to take the undue advantage you have done of the confidence and trust I reposed in you.”  For his part, Revere may have been more concerned with disseminating as quickly as possible an incriminating image of the 29th Regiment firing on colonists.  After all, just as printers liberally reprinted news, letters, and editorials from one newspaper to another, eighteenth-century engravers frequently copied images that came into their possession, though usually after they had been published.

Did Revere weigh the “dictates of Honour and Justice” against serving the patriot cause and determine that the latter mattered more?  To what extent did the sirens of fame and fortune play a role in his decision to copy Pelham’s engraving and make his own version the first available for public consumption?  Can these questions be separated, or must they each inform the other?  Like printers and booksellers who profited from publishing and selling political treatises and accounts of current events during the era of the American Revolution, Revere also reaped rewards for his engraving even as he educated the public and shaped popular opinion.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - 12:11:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (December 11, 1769).

“Printed Catalogues of which will be given gratis.”

On December 11, 1769, auctioneer Joseph Russell placed advertisements about an estate sale “At the House of the late Mr. John Knight” in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston and Boston Post-Boy. He inserted the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter four days later, informing prospective bidders that a “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction of Knight’s “House-Furniture” would take place on December 20. Items up for bid included “Feather Beds, Bedsteds, and Bedding,” “a great Variety of Mens & Womens Wearing Apparel,” and “Shoe and Knee Buckles.” In additional to those items, Russell planned to auction “a valuable Library of Books, consisting of History and Divinity.”

The advertisement concluded with a note that “printed Catalogues … will be given gratis.” Those catalogs may have listed all of the items to be sold at auction, but more likely they listed only the books. That same year in Philadelphia William Bradford and Thomas Bradford printed a Catalogue of Books, to be Sold, by Public Auction, at the City Vendue-Store, in Front-Street. That catalog was a broadsheet with four columns; the format lent itself well to posting the catalog around town. Other eighteenth-century catalogs resembled pamphlets instead.

Auctioneers, printers, and booksellers regularly advised newspaper readers that they published book catalogs and distributed free copies, using one advertising medium to promote another. Some historians of print culture suspect that some references to such catalogs in newspaper advertisements led to bibliographic ghosts, alluding to catalogs that were never printed despite the promises or best intentions of the advertisers. For those that did make it to press, book catalogs were even more ephemeral than newspapers, making it less likely that colonists saved rather than discarded them. Still, enough have survived to demonstrate that auctioneers and others did print and distribute catalogs as a means of informing consumers and inciting demand. Newspapers notices were the most voluminous form of advertising in early America, but other marketing media, including catalogs, circulated as well. Russell expected his newspaper advertisements and book catalog to work in tandem.