November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 7, 1768).

“A large Assortment of the following Goods.”

William Scott operated a store on the “North Side of Faneuil Hall, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe” in Boston. There he sold “a large Assortment” of goods, including “Manchester Cotton Checks and Handkerchiefs,” “Forest Cloths, Plains and Kerseys,” and “Irish Linens” of various widths.

To attract customers to his store, Scott inserted advertisements in every newspaper published in Boston. On Monday, November 7, 1768, his advertisement appeared in the Boston Chronicle. On the same day it simultaneously ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy, a joint publication with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette. On Thursday of that week, it ran in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, a publication printed on the same broadsheet and distributed with the Boston Weekly News-Letter. No matter which newspapers they read, residents of Boston and the surrounding area encountered Scott’s advertisement. He made a significant investment in advertising in his efforts to saturate the local print media with his notices.

Scott likely exercised little influence over where his advertisement appeared in each newspaper. The compositors made those choices. Still, his advertisements occupied a privileged position in the Boston Chronicle, appearing as one of only three advertisements on the final page, and in the Boston-Gazette, appearing on the first page above a news item. This increased the chances that readers of those newspapers would notice Scott’s advertisement.

The format of the advertisements provides further evidence of the role played by compositors in presenting them to the reading public. Scott apparently submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors made unique decisions when it came to typography. For instance, the list of merchandise had one item per line in the Boston Evening-Post iteration while the Boston Post-Boy version grouped all the items together into a single paragraph. Although Scott carefully planned for widespread distribution of his advertisement, he entrusted the compositors with its final format in each publication. He oversaw certain aspects of his marketing campaign – copy and distribution – while yielding others – format and placement on the page – to the printing offices. He considered some, but not all, of the opportunities made possible by print.

October 24

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

Oct 24 - 10:24:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (October 24, 1768).

“IN seventeen hundred and sixty-eight, / Of a runaway servant I’ll relate.”

A curious advertisement appeared in the October 24, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. It offered “THREE POUNDS Reward” for the capture and return of William Tyler, an indentured servant who ran away from John Townsend. Yet Townsend had not paid to have this advertisement inserted in the Boston Evening-Post. Instead, the printers, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, had made an editorial decision to reprint the advertisement as a novelty to entertain their subscribers and other readers. A brief note indicated that they reprinted it from the October 3 issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

The subject of the advertisement was hardly unusual, but the method of delivering the content certainly deviated from that of most other advertisements in colonial newspapers. Rather than writing a brief narrative about the runaway servant, Townsend composed a poem. In nearly two dozen rhyming couplets, he delivered the usual information about Tyler’s age, appearance, occupation, clothing, personality, and other distinguishing characteristics. “He has a hobble in his walk, / And a mutter in his talk,” Townsend reported. Furthermore, the runaway “takes tobacco and strong drink, / When he can get ‘em, I do think.” Many of the rhymes were rather labored, but Townsend managed to insert all the pertinent information. The Fleets apparently considered his efforts worthy of sharing with a larger audience, though likely more for amusement than edification.

Colonial newspapers regularly included items reprinted from other newspapers, some published in the colonies and others in England and other parts of Europe. Modern concepts of plagiarism did not apply; networks of printers exchanged their publications and then borrowed extensively, usually word-for-word, from other newspapers when they compiled news and editorial content for inclusion in their own newspapers. However, they did not usually reprint advertisements. After all, advertisements meant revenues. In most instances printers expected others to pay to have their advertisements inserted in newspapers, but on occasion certain advertisements possessed such entertainment value that printers selected them without concern for collecting fees. In June 1768, for example, the printers of both the New-York Journal and the Providence Gazette inserted an advertisement for a show featuring “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON.” That advertisement first ran in the London Gazetteer in March 31. Both newspapers acknowledged its origins. The New-York Journal explained that it “is inserted as a Curiosity.”

Advertisements had the capacity to entertain as well to inform or to shape consumer demand. That the Fleets reprinted Townsend’s advertisement that relayed the story of a runaway servant in a poem demonstrates that they perused more than just the news in other publications when identifying content to appropriate and share with their own readers.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 23, 1768).

Those who will favor him with their Custom may always depend upon being as well used as at any Store or Shop in Town.”

Shopkeeper William Bant advertised in a very crowded marketplace. Residents of Boston encountered shops and stores practically everywhere they went as they traversed the city in the late 1760s. They also experienced a vibrant culture of advertising for consumer goods and services in the pages of the several newspapers published in the city. Some of those newspapers so overflowed with advertisements that the publishers regularly distributed supplements to accompany the regular issues. As the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century continued in Boston, Bant was just one of countless merchandisers attempting to entice prospective customers to patronize his shop.

As part of that effort, he inserted a relatively brief advertisement in the May 23, 1768, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In it, he announced that he stocked “A general Assortment of English and India GOODS.” Unlike many other shopkeepers, however, Bant did not provide a list of his inventory. On the following page, Thomas Lee’s advertisement extended one-third of a column and listed dozens of imported goods he offered for sale. Jonathan and John Amory’s advertisement was twice as long and listed even more merchandise. John Gore, Jr., inserted an advertisement of a similar length, though its list of goods appeared even more crowded due to graphic design choices made by the compositor.

How did Bant attempt to compete with merchants and shopkeepers who invested in so much more space for promoting their wares in the public prints? He left the details of his “general Assortment” of goods to the imagination, instead opting to emphasize customer service. He pledged that “those who will favor him with their Custom may always depend upon being as well used as at any Store or Shop in Town.” Bant did not promise merely satisfactory service; he proclaimed that the service he provided was unsurpassed in the busy marketplace of Boston. He did not need to overwhelm prospective customers with dense and extensive lists of all the items they could purchase in his shop. Instead, he invited them to imagine the experience of shopping and interacting with the purveyors of the goods they desired. Just as merchandisers competed with each other for customers, consumers sometimes competed with each other for the attention of merchants and shopkeepers. Bant presumed that shoppers sometimes experienced frustration when they dealt with retailers. In turn, he assured prospective customers that they would not be disappointed in the service they received at his shop.

February 28

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

Feb 28 - 2:29:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 29, 1768).

“The said Geyer, has thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum.”

In the months after the Townshend Act went into effect and colonists enacted nonimportation agreements in response, some advertisers incorporated implicitly political appeals into their commercial notices. In the February 29, 1768, editions of both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, for instance, Samuel A. Otis advertised “A variety of Flannels and Hose, fabricated by some of the best Manufacturers in the Province.” When town meetings throughout New England voted to boycott imported goods they simultaneously declared their intentions to encourage “domestic manufactures.” Otis sought to tap into this enthusiasm for goods produced locally, but the conversation was so familiar that he did not need to offer further elaboration.

Henry Christian Geyer, on the other hand, adopted a different strategy. On the same day he inserted an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy. In it, he rehearsed the recent history of decisions made at town meetings, explaining that he launched a new branch of his business because “not only this Town, but the whole Country, have voted and agreed to encourage all Arts and Manufactures of all sorts and kinds, in order to prevent the great and unnecessary Importations in North-America, and keep what little Money we have among us, without sending the same abroad.” Due to those circumstances, Geyer “thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum, or the making of all sorts of Images, Birds, Cats, Dogs, & all other sorts of curious Animals, all of Plaster of Paris.” Collectors now refer to such ornaments as chalkware.

Colonists did not need these decorative objects in the same whey they needed the textiles and garments advertised by Otis, yet Geyer attempted to incite demand for all sorts of consumer goods, not just the basic necessities. He emphasized that colonists needed to support “all Arts and Manufacturers of all sorts and kinds,” not just those related to food, clothing, and shelter. Nobody needed to refrain from obtaining trinkets to decorate their homes just because they had resolved not to purchase goods imported from England. Instead, Geyer offered an option for continuing to engage in conspicuous consumption and ostentatious displays within the home while simultaneously supporting the economic and political interests of the colonies. Prospective customers must have found his appeals convincing. For the next several years Geyer continued to advertise that he practiced “the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum” and produced all sorts of images and animals to decorate colonial homes.  Click here to examine examples of these images, a pair of portrait medallions of George III and Charlotte.

Note that Geyer also listed his location as “near Liberty-Tree, South-End, Boston.” Even in telling readers where to find him, he injected politics into his advertisement.

November 23

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

Nov 23 - 11:23:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 23, 1767).

“The Sons of Liberty now have an Opportunity of manifesting their Regard for the Encouragement of our Manufactures.”

Just as the Boston town meeting voted to encourage consumption of domestic goods rather than imports on the eve of the Townshend Act going into effect, Peter Etter and Sons placed an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette to promote their stockings and other garments “Manufactured in Braintree.” Two weeks after that advertisement first appeared, Etter and Sons also inserted it in the Boston Evening-Post.

The version in the Gazette remained unchanged, but the Evening-Post included a short addition at the end of the notice. A manicule drew attention to this note: “The Sons of Liberty now have an Opportunity of manifesting their Regard for the Encouragement of our Manufactures, by calling at the above Store, and buying some of the abovementioned Articles.” Just in case the “Manufactured in Braintree” headline was too subtle, Etter and Sons explicitly challenged colonists who considered themselves “Sons of Liberty” to demonstrate their commitment to the cause by purchasing their wares rather than the imported goods that retailers hawked in approximately a dozen other advertisements in the same issue.

Etter and Sons may have benefited from the fortuitous placement of their advertisement. Not only was it at the top of the first column on the third page, it also appeared immediately to the right of a related news item printed in the final column on the second page. It reported that “THE Inhabitants of this Metropolis still persevere in their resolution to discourage the use of foreign Superfluities as the only means of saving the Country from Impending ruin.” The town meeting had authorized non-importation and non-consumption agreements. To that end, subscription lists circulated; colonists publicly pledged to support the boycotts by “subscribing” or signing their names. According to the Evening-Post, many colonists styled themselves “Sons of Liberty” because “it appeared that great Part of the Freeholders had subscribed.” Other colonists still had a chance to join the movement by visiting the Town Clerk’s Office and signing their own names.

With so many Bostonians signing the subscription rolls, Etter and Sons should have benefited from a vastly expanded market for their clothing “Manufactured in Braintree.” It was one thing to pledge not to purchase imported goods, however, and quite another to follow through on that promise. Etter and Sons challenged those who professed to be “Sons of Liberty” to demonstrate their resolve by actually purchasing garments from local producers.

November 16

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

Nov 16 - 11:16:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 16, 1767).

“To be sold by John Spooner, Choice Raisins.”

Considered on its own, John Spooner’s advertisement seems to do little by way of marketing. At a glance, this item appears to be merely an announcement. Its length – short enough to publish in a modern tweet (even a few days ago before Twitter doubled the numbers of characters) – did not allow Spooner to develop appeals to consumers, though he did make a nod toward quality by describing his raisins as “Choice.” The typography may have also drawn readers’ eyes, though the phrase “Choice Raisins” was no larger than the names of advertisers John Hunt, Henry Laughton, and Joshua Blanchard elsewhere on the same page.

The potential effectiveness of this advertisement cannot be understood by examining the copy and the layout alone. Taking into account its placement on the page relative to the specific content of other items, Spooner’s advertisement becomes much more powerful as an example of product placement in the eighteenth century.

It appeared in the middle column on the front page, immediately after a “Receipt

to make RAISIN WINE.” T. and J. Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, reported that they were “desired to publish” the recipe “for the benefit of the public,” though they did not indicate who made that recommendation. While Spooner may not have had any influence on the layout of news items and advertisements, the placement of his advertisement for “Choice Raisins” right after the recipe for raisin wine certainly seems like more than a fortunate coincidence. It raises suspicions that Spooner may not have considered it necessary to devise more extensive copy because he planned to have the recipe do the necessary marketing to incite demand for his raisins.

Even though it appeared as a separate and distinct item, perhaps the recipe should be considered one portion of a slightly longer advertisement. Some of its instructions suggested that consumers needed to obtain raisins as soon as possible if they wished to make their own raisin wine. The first line advised that readers should begin the process in October or November. Given that it appeared in print midway through November, readers needed to make haste getting started. That included purchasing the necessary supplies, especially raisins. The recipe eventually acknowledged that the process “may be begun in February or March,” but concluded with an assertion that “the fall is the best time.” The recipe then almost seamlessly flowed into Spooner’s advertisement for “Choice Raisins.”

The placement of the recipe and Spooner’s advertisement suggests deliberate product placement in an eighteenth-century newspaper. On its own, Spooner’s notice does not appear particularly innovative, but when considered in the context it may very well have deployed the most sophisticated marketing strategy of any advertisement in that issues of the Boston Evening-Post.

Nov 16 - 11:16:1767 Recipe Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 16, 1767).

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 2, 1767).

“China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”

In the fall of 1767, Caleb Blanchard placed the same advertisement in multiple newspapers published in Boston, increasing the likelihood that potential customers would learn that he stocked an assortment of imported goods. In the course of a single week, his advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette on October 29 (examined yesterday) and the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on November 2. Blanchard certainly was not the only colonial merchant who attempted to broadcast his marketing efforts as widely as possible by advertising in several newspapers. By the late 1760s this was a fairly common strategy among advertisers in port cities with competing newspapers.

Yet Blanchard’s advertisement merits attention not only because it was the same advertisement, in terms of the content, in more than one newspaper. On closer examination it appears to have been the same advertisement set with the same type yet printed in two different newspapers.

At a glance, it is fairly easy to distinguish between the typography of Blanchard’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and its counterpart in the Boston-Gazette. The compositors make different decisions about capitalization, italics, and line breaks. In addition, the Massachusetts Gazette version lists three captains who imported Blanchard’s inventory but the version in the Boston-Gazette includes only two. While they had the same copy (with the exception of the third captain), these were two different advertisements.

Comparing the versions in the Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post, however, does not yield any readily apparent visual discrepancies. Even after examining the original issues in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society, the advertisements do not seem to be distinctive or unique to their respective publications. Instead, it appears that Richard Draper at Massachusetts Gazette and Thomas and John Fleet at the Boston Evening-Post shared an advertisement set in type at one printing office and transported to the other.

This requires a lot more investigation, especially since this is not the first instance of this sort of cooperation and sharing of advertisements among Boston printers during the fall of 1767 that I have encountered. This example raises many questions about the printing trade and the business practices adopted in Boston that will require much more research. Yet I wanted to highlight these advertisements as a means of demonstrating how a much larger project can originate from discovering something unexpected. Blanchard’s advertisements are only a tiny part of an expansive print culture in eighteenth-century America, yet they suggest that big questions come from small pieces of evidence.

Nov 1 - 10:29:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 29, 1767).
Nov 2 - 11:2:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 2, 1767).

September 14

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

Sep 14 - 9:14:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 14, 1767).

“Just opened and now read for Sale, by Jolley Allen.”

A week ago I examined Jolley Allen’s extraordinary full-page advertisement in the September 7, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Given that Allen was prone to inserting the same advertisement in all four Boston newspapers, I noted that he had not placed that particular advertisement in the other two local newspapers distributed on the same day, nor the other one printed later in the week. The expense may have explained Allen’s decision, but space constraints may have played a role as well. The printers may not have been able to accommodate him at that time; after all, other advertisers had also contracted their services. It very well could have been a combination of the two factors, expense and limited space.

Allen’s full-page advertisement did not run a second time in the Boston-Gazette, but the following week a similar advertisement appeared in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy on September 14. In each case, the notice contained the same content, the same extensive list of merchandise, but had been condensed to two columns instead of three. Allen shared the page with other advertisers, reducing both expense and space. While the revised format may not have had the same impact as a full-page advertisement, taking up two columns was still an impressive feat that deviated from the vast majority of newspaper advertisements published in eighteenth-century America. Allen’s advertisement eventually ran in the Massachusetts Gazette, again condensed to two columns, on September 24, two and a half weeks after the full-page advertisement occupied the entire final page of the Boston-Gazette. It continued to appear sporadically in some, but not all, of Boston’s newspapers in October.

The two-column version lacked Allen’s signature decorative border in all three newspapers, but it did add an ornate printing device that flanked Allen’s name (itself printed in larger font than anything else in any of those newspapers, with the exception of the mastheads). In the absence of a border, Allen still managed to achieve visual consistency in his advertisements across three of Boston’s four newspapers.

Jolley Allen, a prolific advertiser, did not merely place notices in newspapers. Instead, he developed marketing campaigns that included advertising in multiple newspapers and consistent use of graphic design elements across those publications. He usually launched new advertisements through simultaneous publication in all of Boston’s newspapers, but the ability to do so with a full-page advertisement in September 1767 eluded him. Various factors may have been at play, yet Allen still managed to devise an advertising campaign of much greater magnitude than anything attempted by his competitors in Boston or his counterparts elsewhere in the colonies.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).

“I … am of Opinion that they may be serviceable in many Disorders, if properly used.”

These items from the August 17, 1767, edition of the Boston Evening-Post blurred the lines between advertising and news content. The proprietor of “JACKSON’s Mineral Well in Boston” had previously advertised the spa in other newspapers. The “RULES” for the establishment, including the hours and rates, appeared in an advertisement on the final page of the issue that carried these announcements, easily identified as an advertisement among more than a score of other advertisements. These announcements, on the other hand, occupied a more liminal space on the third page, at the transition between the news content and advertising in the issue.

The notices had the appearance of news. They followed immediately after an extract from a “Letter from a Gentleman in London” and news from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but they preceded James McMaster’s advertisement for “A general Assortment of Scotch and English Goods” and the advertising that accounted for the remainder of the issue. In particular, the item by James Lloyd resembled a letter submitted to the newspaper rather than an advertisement. Lloyd sought to rectify an incorrect report that he described “Mr. Jackson’s mineral Spring” as being “of a noxious Quality.” Furthermore, he so wholly approved of the waters that he “recommended the Use of them” to his patients afflicted with various disorders. Was this news or an endorsement? The other item contained information that might have been considered general interest but did not explicitly address potential patrons.

Were these pieces local news items the editor selected as a service to readers? Or were they puff pieces and product placements that the proprietor of the “Mineral Well” had arranged to have printed in such close proximity to the news as to make them appear as though they came from a source that did not stand to generate revenue from inciting clients to visit the spa? If they were indeed advertisements, they could have been combined with verifiable advertisement printed on the following page.

Aug 17 - 8:17:1767 Page 3 of Boston Evening-Post
Third Page of Boston Evening-Post (August 17, 1767).

May 25

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

May 25 - 5:25:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

“Very handsome Ivory Paddle Fans,

Bone Stick and Ebony Ditto,

Womens silk Mitts and Gloves.”

The layout of William Palfrey’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of English Piece Goods” distinguished it from most other commercial notices published in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers in the 1760s. The shopkeeper listed much of his merchandise, but he did not resort to a paragraph of dense text or dividing the advertisement into two columns with one or two items on each line. Instead, he chose a couple of items for each line, specifying that every line be centered. This created quite a different visual effect in contrast to other advertisements that were crisply justified on the left and quite often on the right as well. Compare Palfrey’s advertisement to Daniel McCarthy’s advertisement, which appeared immediately to the left. Readers likely found Palfrey’s layout disorienting in comparison, especially since every advertisement on the page followed the style adopted by McCarthy. Palfrey’s disorienting layout thus made his advertisement the most noticeable advertisement on the page, giving him an edge over ten other shopkeepers.

May 25 - 5:25:1767 McCarthy in Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

Although advertisers usually generated copy and printers determined layout, it seems clear that Palfrey had a hand in designing the unique visual aspects of his advertisement. He placed the same notice in the Boston-Gazette on May 25, 1767. It featured almost identical format and layout. All of the same words appeared in capitals or italics. Certain lines appeared in larger font: not just “William Palfrey” and the first line of the list of goods (both of which would have been standard in any advertisement in any newspaper) but also “Tippets and Turbans,” items that the shopkeeper apparently wanted to emphatically bring to the attention of potential customers. A manicule directs readers to Palfrey’s promise to sell “very low for CASH” at the conclusion of the advertisement in both newspapers.

Very few advertisements for consumer goods and services included visual images in the eighteenth century, but that did not prevent some advertisers from attempting to distinguish their notices from those placed by their competitors. Although Palfrey advanced many of the same appeals, he devised another sort of innovation in marketing his wares.