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.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 30, 1769).

“VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON.”

Advertising increasingly took on a political valence during the imperial crisis that preceded the American Revolution. Advertisers made political arguments about which goods and services to purchase, encouraging colonists to support “domestic manufactures” and abide by nonimportation agreements intended to exert economic pressure to achieve political goals. Some advertisements included commentary on current events, blurring the line between advertisements and editorials.

Other advertisements sometimes delivered news to colonists. Consider an advertisement for a pamphlet that appeared in the October 30, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette and Country Journal. Patriot printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced that they has “Just Published … AN APPEAL TO THE WORLD; OR A VINDICATION OF THE Town of BOSTON,” a pamphlet historians attribute to Sam Adams. The pamphlet included “certain Letters and Memorials, written by Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, the Commissions of the American Board of Customs, and others” as well as “RESOLVES” from “a Meeting of the Town of BOSTON.” The lengthy advertisement concluded with an excerpt “From the APPEAL to the WORLD, Page 33.” Edes and Gill gave prospective customers a preview of the contents of the pamphlet in order to entice them to purchase their own copies.

Even if readers did not buy the pamphlet, the advertisement still delivered news to them. Indeed, it looked much more like a news item than an advertisement, especially given its placement in the October 30 edition of the Boston-Gazette. It appeared on the first page, nestled between news items, spilling over from the first column into the second. Most of the advertising for that issue ran on the third and fourth pages. Edes and Gill exercised their prerogative as printers of the Boston-Gazette to give the advertisement a privileged place in their own newspaper. Yet they were not the only printers to do so. The same advertisement, including the “RESOLVES” and the excerpt from the pamphlet, ran on the first page of the Boston Evening-Post on the same day. It was also nestled between news items and spilled over from one column to the next, while most of the advertising for that newspaper also ran on the third and fourth pages. T. and J. Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, gave the advertisement the same privileged place in their own newspaper, further blurring the line between advertising and news. Even though they were rivals when it came to selling newspapers, they had an affinity when it came to politics. The Fleets used the advertisement to deliver news to their readers while simultaneously presenting an opportunity to become even better informed by purchasing the pamphlet. The worlds of commerce and politics became even more firmly enmeshed as printers and advertisers deployed advertising for partisan purposes during the era of the American Revolution.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

May 22

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

“Enquire of the Printers.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (May 22, 1769).

On May 22, 1769, readers of the Boston Evening-Post encountered an advertisement offering an enslaved youth for sale: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, brought up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of the Printers.” On the same day, a nearly identical advertisement ran in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette: “TO BE SOLD, A fine healthy Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Enquire of Edes and Gill.” The Massachusetts Gazette, published the same day, also carried that advertisement: “TO BE SOLD, A fine likely Negro Boy, 17 Years old, bro’t up to Kitchen Work, and is fit for Town or Country. Inquire of Green & Russell.”

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 22, 1769).

Except for variations in the spelling of “brought” (or “bro’t”), the copy in all three notices was identical until the final sentence that advised interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information. These advertisements and many others like them made T. and J. Fleet, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell active participants in the slave trade. Printing advertisements for the purposes of buying and selling enslaved men, women and children or capturing those who escaped from bondage already made printers complicit in the perpetuation of slavery, but these “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements demonstrated even more active involvement as purveyors of people, not merely as conduits for disseminating information.

May 22 - 5:22:1769 Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (May 22, 1769).
Compared to newspapers published in the Chesapeake and Lower South, far fewer advertisements concerning enslaved men, women, and children ran in newspapers in New England and the Middle Atlantic, but they were not absent. Printers in Boston devoted less space in their newspapers to these advertisements, but the frequency of “Enquire of the Printer” advertisements suggests that the Fleets, Edes and Gill, and Green and Russell invested time in facilitating these transactions beyond what was required for receiving the copy and setting the type. In effect, they served as brokers, even if they never described or advertised their services in that manner.