September 17

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

Boston-Gazette (September 17, 1770).

“To be sold one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”

Abigail Davidson was one of several women in Boston who placed newspaper advertisements offering seeds for sale in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Their advertisements usually ran in multiple newspapers starting late in the winter and continuing through the spring.  Most of these female seed sellers, including Davidson, did not place advertisements for seeds or other goods at any other time during the year.  That made Davidson’s advertisement in the September 17, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette all the more notable.

Rather than marketing seeds exclusively, Davidson offered trees, bushes, and “all Sorts of dried Sweet Herbs” as well.  She proclaimed that she had “a large Collection of the best Sorts of young graffed and innoculated English Fruit Trees.”  That work had been done “by William Davidson, deceased.”  Abigail did not comment on her relationship to the deceased William, but expected that prospective customers were familiar with his reputation for horticulture.  She did not previously mention a husband, son, brother, or other male relation in her advertisements, but perhaps a recent death in the family prompted her to assume greater responsibilities that had her placing advertisements in the fall in addition to the spring.  Widows who operated family businesses following the death of their husbands frequently made reference to their departed spouses in their newspaper advertisements as a means of offering reassurance to prospective customers that the quality of their goods and services continued uninterrupted.

Davidson was determined to attract customers and set her prices accordingly.  In a nota bene that concluded her advertisement, she declared that she sold her trees, bushes, and seeds “one third Part cheaper than they can be purchased at any Place in Boston.”  In other words, she offered a deep discount to her customers.  If she feared the family business might lose customers following the death of William, this strategy stood to preserve those relationships as well as entice new customers interested in significant savings.  Davidson combined William’s reputation and bargain prices in her marketing efforts.

August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:27:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 27, 1770).

They have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street.”

Colonial printers adopted various strategies when it came to inserting advertisements in their newspapers.  Some reserved advertisements for the final pages, appearing only after news items, editorials, lists of prices current, shipping news from the custom house, poems for amusement or edification, and other content selected by the editor rather than paid for inclusion by advertisers.  Others placed advertisements on the first and fourth pages, with other content on the second and third pages.  Doing so reflected practical aspects of producing newspapers.  Most consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  That meant the first and fourth pages were printed with one pull of the press and the second and third pages with another.  Advertisements, often repeated from week to week, could be printed first on the first and last pages, allowing for any breaking news to be set in type as late as possible before the second and third pages went to press.  Both of those methods kept advertisements clustered together, either at the end of an issue or bookending it.  Another method more evenly distributed advertising throughout the newspaper, placing advertisement on every page, often, but not always, at the bottom or in the final column.

For the August 27, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill included advertising on each of its four pages.  Advertisements constituted the first of three columns on the first page, but only a few short advertisements appeared at the bottom of the third column on the second page.  Advertisements accounted for half of the third page, but, like the second page, they ran after news content, sequestered at the bottom of the second column and in the third.  The fourth page consisted entirely of advertising, with the exception of the colophon at the bottom of the final column.  No matter which page they perused, readers encountered advertising in this edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In the midst of all those paid notices, Edes and Gill reserved a privileged place for an advertisement concerning their own business.  In the first item in the first column on the first page, “THE PUBLISHERS of this Paper” placed an advertisement to “hereby inform their Customers and others, That they have Removed their PRINTING-OFFICE two Doors lower down Queen-Street, to the House formerly improv’d by Messieurs Kneeland & Green, directly opposite the new Court-House.”  Edes and Gill exercised their power as printers of the Boston-Gazette and their access to the press to increase the chances that readers would see and take note of their advertisement.  Other advertisers paid for access to the press, but they usually had little control over where their advertisements appeared in the newspaper.  When it came to the placement of advertisements within newspapers, printers had an advantage that “their Customers and others” did not.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 20, 1770).

“Doctor’s Boxes … are carefully prepared.”

Peter Roberts advertised “An Assortment of the best DRUGS and MEDICINES” as well as other medical supplies, including “Surgeons Instruments,” “Iron and Marble Mortars and Pestles,” and “a great Variety of Smelling Bottles” in the August 20, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  In addition to listing his wares, he adopted two other marketing strategies commonly deployed by apothecaries and others who sold medicines.  In both, he emphasized convenience as an important part of the customer service he provided.

Roberts informed prospective customers that “Doctor’s Boxes of various Prices, with proper Directions, are carefully prepared and put up for Ships or private Families.”  He produced an eighteenth-century version of a first aid kit, packaging together several useful items that buyers did not need at the moment but would likely find useful when need did arise.  Even if the purchasers never used some of those items but merely had them on hand out of caution, Roberts still generated revenue for each item included in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”  At the same time, he sold a sense of security to those who felt better prepared for illnesses, injuries, and emergencies because they had a variety of medical supplies on hand.  To enhance that sense of security, Roberts included “proper Directions” in each box he prepared.  Buyers benefited from the convenience of having medicines, medical supplies, and directions easily accessible in those “Doctor’s Boxes.”

Roberts also offered medical professionals the convenience of placing their orders through the post or messenger rather than visiting his shop “opposite the West Door of the Town-House, BOSTON.”  He advised that “Practitioners in Town and Country may depend on being as well used by Letter as if present themselves.”  Roberts likely hoped to increase his share of the market by assuring prospective customers who could not come to his shop because they were too busy or because they resided too far away that he would not provide second-rate service.  He underscored that their business was important to him.

Roberts made clear in his advertisement that he did more than merely dispense drugs and sell medical equipment.  He aimed to provide a level of service and convenience that added value to the merchandise he offered for sale.  He intended that such marketing strategies would attract customers choosing among the many purveyors of patent medicines and other medical supplies in colonial Boston.

August 1

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

Aug 1 - 7:30: 1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 30, 1770).

“He can fix them as well as any Surgeon-Dentist who ever came from London.”

Silversmith Paul Revere placed several advertisements in 1770, but not for his primary occupation.  Instead, he ran advertisements for other purposes.  In March, just three weeks after the Boston Massacre, Revere advertised “A PRINT containing a Representation of the late horrid Massacre in King-Street,” though his name did not appear in the advertisement.  Instead, it announced that Edes and Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, sold the print.  Still, Revere engraved the print and rushed it to market to beat a competing print by Henry Pelham (from whom Revere pirated the image).  A few weeks later, Revere advertised another print, this time with his name prominently displayed in the advertisement.  That print depicted “a View of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”  Revere likely considered this a companion piece to his Boston Massacre print.  Both of them operated as propaganda supporting the American cause.

By late July, Revere shifted the focus of his advertising efforts to “ARTIFICIAL-TEETH.”  He expressed gratitude to “the Gentlemen and Ladies who have employed him in the care of their Teeth” while simultaneously “inform[ing] them and all others … that he still conti[n]ues the Business of a Dentist.”  In the two years that he had followed that occupation, Revere claimed to have “fixt some Hundreds of Teeth.”  He made his own version of a “Buy American” appeal by proclaiming that he fixed teeth “as well as any Surgeon-Dentist who ever came from London.”  Advertisers who offered medical services often noted their origins or training in London as a means of establishing their credentials and even suggesting that they were more qualified than their counterparts from the colonies.  Revere had little patience for such claims, especially in comparison to the quality of the services he provided as a dentist.

Whether advertising prints of British troops arriving in Boston or firing on the residents of the city or promoting artificial teeth, Revere injected pro-American sentiments into the notices for goods and services he placed in the public prints in 1770.  Running advertisements in the Boston-Gazette allowed him to simultaneously seek advance his business interests and disseminate pro-American ideology.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 23, 1770).

American Manufacture.”

Cyrus Baldwin divided his advertisement in the July 23, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette into two parts.  The first part, much longer than the second, looked much like other advertisements placed by shopkeepers during the period.  It listed a variety of items for sale at Baldwin’s shop.  The second part included a separate headline.  That alone made the entire advertisement distinctive compared to others that ran in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers.

The headline announced that the second part listed goods of “American Manufacture.”  Baldwin carried “WORSTED Wilton, Middlesex Serge and plain Cloth, Shoe and Coat Bindings, Knee Garters, [and] Basket Buttons” made in the colonies.  He concluded the list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to suggest that he stocked even more items produced locally rather than imported.  By inserting this headline and highlighting a second category of merchandise available at his shop, Baldwin both offered consumers an opportunity to practice politics when they shopped and encouraged them to do so.

The nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts was still in effect in Boston.  At the time that merchants and traders adopted the measure, residents of the city also advocated that colonists encourage “domestic manufactures” through the production and consumption of goods in the colonies.  Such goods provided an alternative to imported goods that became politically toxic, yet the repeal of the Townshend duties was not the only reason to buy American products.  Colonists also worried about a trade imbalance with Britain.  Encouraging domestic manufactures provided employment for colonists while reducing reliance on imported goods.  Yet such encouragement could not be confined to production alone.  Retailers and consumers had to play their parts as well.  Baldwin did so by stocking goods produced in the colonies and calling particular attention to them in his advertisements.  Consumers then had a duty to heed the call by choosing to purchase “American Manufacture[s].”  Baldwin made it easy for them to identify goods that fit the bill.

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.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (May 21, 1770).

“JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, John Gore, Jr., consistently associated his business with the patriot cause by describing its location in relation to the Liberty Tree in Boston.  In an advertisement in the May 21, 1770, edition of the Boston-Gazette, for instance, he listed his address as “Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, Boston,” and did not provide any additional information, not even the name of the street, to assist prospective customers in finding his shop.

The first portion of Gore’s advertisement listed a variety of textiles and adornments, presenting consumers an array of choices.  Gore did not explicitly state that he acquired these items before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  Perhaps he hoped that readers would reach that conclusion because he so prominently made a connection between the Liberty Tree and his shop.  In the second portion of his advertisement Gore made a distinction between imported wares and those produced in the colonies.  In a header that appeared in larger font than most of the rest of the notice, Gore declared that he stocked “North-American Manufactures.”  That portion of his inventory included “black, pompadore, light and dark mix’d chocolate and drab colour’d Cloths,” “fine Teeth Horn Combs,” and the “best of Lynn Shoes.”  He also carried hose “equally as fine as any Imported from London.”  His customers did not need to fear accepting inferior goods when they selected among the “North-American Manufactures” he presented to them.

The headers in Gore’s advertisement told a story that did not require readers to peruse the rest of the advertisement.  Anyone who quickly looked over the page would see “JOHN GORE, jun. Opposite LIBERTY-TREE, BostonNorth-American Manufactures.”  Even if they did not choose to examine the advertisement more closely, they likely remembered the association among the shopkeeper, his location, and his merchandise produced in the colonies.

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 16

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (April 16, 1770).

“A Copper-Plate PRINT, containing a View of Part of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”

The simultaneous commemoration and commodification of the American Revolution began long before shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775.  Just three weeks after the Boston Massacre occurred, Paul Revere advertised an engraved print depicting the event in two of Boston’s newspapers.  It did not take long for Revere to issue another print inspired by the imperial crisis.  On April 16, 1770, he inserted an advertisement in the Boston-Gazette to promote “A Copper-Plate PRINT, containing a View of Part of the Town of Boston in New-England, and British Ships of War landing their Troops in the Year 1768.”

Catharina Slautterback asserts that the “citizens of Boston could not fail to make a connection between the two prints,” especially since the “relationship between the two events was underscored by the cartouche in the lower right-hand corner of A View of the Part of the Town of Boston.”  Revere stated in the advertisement that the print was “Dedicated to the Earl of Hillsborough,” a sarcastic honor that received further elaboration in the cartouche.  In addition to identifying Hillsborough as “HIS MAJEST[Y]’S Se[creta]ry of State for America,” the cartouche featured a Native American woman, bow and arrow firmly in hand, with her foot on the throat of a British soldier who had dropped his musket.  The soldier’s helmet bore the number “XXIX” for the 29th Regiment that had fired on the crowd during the Boston Massacre.  While the image of ships loaded with British soldiers arriving in Boston may have suggested imperial power, the personification of the American colonies readily dispatching one of those soldiers encouraged resistance and the possibility of overcoming abuse perpetrated by both soldiers and Parliament.  Revere’s image depicted the threat and called for action.

Apr 16 - Cartouche from Revere Engraving
Detail from A View of the Part of the Town of Boston (Paul Revere, 1770). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Slautterback states that the success of the The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King-Street demonstrated that “the public was hungry for anti-British propaganda.”  Revere was just as eager to provide it.  Indeed, he previously created another version of the engraved print, a woodcut offering A Prospective View of the Town of BOSTON, the Capital of New-England; and of the Landing of – Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry.  That woodcut accompanied Edes and Gill’s North-American Almanack and Massachusetts Register for the Year 1770, a publication that overflowed with propaganda favoring the patriot cause.  Revere’s image of the threat represented by the arrival of those troops in Boston was the first item in the lengthy list of contents that appeared in newspaper advertisements for the almanac and register.  Created before the Boston Massacre, it did not include the cartouche or the dedication, but the implication of the danger inherent in quartering British troops in the city was clear.   Revere further elaborated on the theme from A Prospective View when he created A View of the Part of the Town in Boston.  Compared to a woodcut, the copperplate engraving allowed for greater elaboration of details, including the addition of a Native American woman disarming a soldier from the 29th Regiment.

Revere promoted and sold the new print, as did Edes and Gill, publishers of the Boston-Gazette.  They marketed a pivotal event in the imperial crisis years before the military conflict between the colonies and Britain commenced.  Through their efforts, they attempted to leverage consumer culture and advertising to bolster support for the American cause among the broader public.

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.