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.

April 25

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 24, 1769).

“CHOICE CHOCOLATE … Cocoa manufactured for Gentlemen in the best Manner.”

When most people read the word “chocolate,” they probably pictures a Hershey’s chocolate bar. However, chocolate to the typical eighteenth-century colonist was a kind of frothy drink made from cocoa beans. According to Rodney Snyder, the chocolate drink originated in Mesoamerica, its first contact with Europeans being traced back to one of Christopher Columbus’s voyages in 1502. Chocolate was mentioned in a colonial newspaper for the first time in 1705, and it quickly became a colonial staple, since it was affordable and could be consumed by people from any class. Around the time of the printing of this newspaper, the colonies were importing over 320 tons of cocoa beans. So readily available was chocolate that it was actually given out as rations to soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Colonists commonly drank chocolate in coffeehouses, a place where they met to discuss politics, current events, and anything else.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Sam first consulted with me about this advertisement via email, I had a little difficulty finding it in the Boston-Gazette. She told me that it was on the third page, yet it is actually on the second page of the supplement. Sam did not, however, make an error. Instead, she reported the information available to her as a result of a design flaw for one of the databases of digitized newspapers that make the Adverts 250 Project possible.

I regularly sing praises for America’s Historical Newspapers. That database makes my research possible. It also allows me to bring my research into the classroom in meaningful ways, especially when I invite students to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. Beyond those projects, America’s Historical Newspapers is a valuable resource for examining primary sources in class, allowing me to present digital surrogates with much more context than modern editions in course readers allow.

That being said, I have learned from experience that the database does have a flaw in the manner that it incorporates supplements. Consider the April 24, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. It consists of the standard four-page issue and a two-page supplement. Ideally, the database would present the standard issue first and then the supplement. However, when viewing this issue online the first page of the supplement appears first, then the first page of the standard issue, then the second page of the supplement, followed by the second, third, and fourth pages of the standard issue. The pages appear in the same order when downloading a PDF of the entire issue. For issues with four-page supplements, the pages are interspersed back and forth between the supplement and the standard issue. I have learned to collate the pages in the correct order when I print them out to mark them up.

Guest curators with less experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, digitized primary sources, and, especially this idiosyncrasy, do not always realize that the pages presented online and in the PDF appear out of order … nor should they expect that the pages appear in any order other than first to last. When Sam consulted her digital copy of the Boston-Gazette for April 24, John Goldsmith’s advertisement for “CHOICE CHOCOLATE” appeared at the bottom of the third page in the document, hence her notation that I could find it there. I consulted a hard copy that I had collated into the proper order, which led me to a different page and created confusion. In the end, this yielded a teachable moment about how historians must continuously assess their sources, not just the contents but also the format and the media employed to make them available to us.

April 11

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (April 10, 1769).

“Sperma-Caeti CANDLES.”

In this advertisement from the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette for April 10, 1769, Richard Smith sold “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” at his store on King Street. What are spermaceti candles? According to Emily Irwin, the materials to make spermaceti candles came from sperm whales. Those materials were supplied by the whaling industry. Spermaceti candles burned longer, cleaner, and brighter than other candles made from tallow (animal fat) or beeswax, making them a popular choice. Spermaceti candles were the height of the candle-making technology for Americans in the eightheenth and nineteenth centuries. Irwin states, “The spermaceti candle represents a changing society and an evolving culture; a culture that was constantly striving for a clean burning and more efficient means by which to light the darkness.”[1]

Despite the high cost of these candles, Americans were willing to pay for them, but only the richest of Americans could afford to fully enjoy the benefits of spermaceti candles. These candles were made from the “head matter” which was an oily substance that came from sperm whales. This material was hard to acquire, especially compared to tallow and beeswax. Spermaceti candles were often made in port towns such as Providence or Boston.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Edes and Gill had too much content to fit all of it into the standard four-page edition of the Boston-Gazette on Monday, April 10, 1769. As the masthead proclaimed, they published “the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.” Some of those “Advices” were news items and editorials. Others were paid notices that also delivered news, such as an advertisement offering a reward for capturing the perpetrator of a theft that recently occurred at John Carnes’s shop in Boston and another that advised landholders to pay taxes on their property in Berkshire County or risk having their land sold at public auction. Even advertisements for goods and services counted among “the freshest Advices” as they informed readers of upcoming concerts, ships seeking passengers and freight in advance of departing for London, and all sorts of fashionable textiles and housewares in stock in local shops.

The printers had so much content that many of the paid notices overflowed into a separate supplement devoted entirely to advertising. Richard Smith’s advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” and “an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” was one of two dozen that ran in the supplement. On the same day, the Boston Evening-Post also issued a two-page supplement, though advertising comprised only one of those pages. To the south, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury distributed its own two-page supplement filled with paid notices. Half a dozen other newspapers were also published throughout the colonies, from Massachusetts to South Carolina, on April 10, 1769. Each of them carried a significant amount of advertising, even if the printers did not have so many as to justify distributing a supplement. Green and Russell even squeezed a short advertisement into the bottom margin of the first page of the Massachusetts Gazette. Peter Crammer’s advertisement for “Choice Liver Oyl” ran as a single line across all three columns.

All of these examples demonstrate the popularity of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Printers certainly appreciated the revenues, squeezing as many advertisements as possible into each issue and distributing supplements when they did not have enough space. Many advertisers likely considered such marketing a necessary investment. Smith’s advertisement for “Sperma-Caeti CANDLES” ran between John Langdon’s advertisement for “Best Sperma Ceti Candles” and “Isaac White’s advertisement for “Dipp’d Tallow Candles.” With so many competitors advertising their wares in the public prints, Smith likely considered it imperative to do so as well or risk losing out on his share of the market.

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[1] Emily Irwin, “The Spermaceti Candle and the American Whaling Industry,” Historia 21 (2012), 45.

January 23

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

Boston-Gazette (January 23, 1769).

“John Nazro, At his Shop in Cornhill, BOSTON.”

To increase the chances that prospective customers would see his advertisement for a “Fresh Assortment of English and India GOODS,” John Nazro inserted it in more than one newspaper during the week of January 23, 1769. His options included the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy (co-published with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (co-published with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette). Occasionally advertisers sought to maximize the exposure for their advertisements by placing them in all or nearly all of the newspapers printed in Boston in the late 1760s, but Nazro was more modest in his approach. He selected only two, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy.

Finances may have played a role in his decision. Once he determined to limit the number of publications he likely took into account his impression of the circulation of each newspaper as well as the day of the week they were published. The Evening-Post, the Gazette, and the Post-Boy were all published on Mondays. The Weekly News-Letter was published on Thursdays. Earlier the month the Chronicle had moved to semi-weekly publication, expanding from Mondays to both Mondays and Thursdays. Nazro did not spread his advertisements throughout the week by choosing one newspaper published on Monday and another on Thursday. Perhaps he considered Monday the best day to introduce consumers to his merchandise. Alternately, he may have considered the circulation of the Gazette and the Post-Boy so superior to any of the newspapers published on Thursday that he would receive a better return on his investment by advertising in them.

Due to the culture of reprinting in eighteenth-century America, many newspapers often featured the same content when it came to news items. For instance, on January 23, the Evening-Post, the Gazette, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette (co-published with the Post-Boy) all included “The Humble Address of the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled” from November 8, 1768, as well as “The Humble ADDRESS of the HOUSE of COMMONS to the KING.” By then, those items had already appeared in the January 19 edition of Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette (co-published with the Weekly News-Letter). Only the Chronicle did not run them.

As these news items and Nazro’s advertisement demonstrate, colonial readers often encountered the same content in multiple newspapers, though for different reasons. Printers reproduced news items that appeared in other newspapers or arrived by ship, but advertisers paid to have their notices populate the pages of colonial newspapers.

November 15

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

Nov 15 - 11:15:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 15, 1768).

“WANTS a Place in a Store, either in Town or Country, a YOUNG MAN who can be well recommended.”

Advertisements for consumer goods and services, along with paid notices inserted for other purposes, filled the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers. Some colonists who placed advertisements did so in hopes of finding employment with the purveyors of consumer goods and services, seeking places to earn their own livelihoods in an expanding marketplace. At the same time that the consumer revolution presented many opportunities for entrepreneurship for shopkeepers, merchants, artisans, and other producers of goods, it also created employment opportunities for men and women who assisted retailers in making their wares available to customers.

Consider, for example, an advertisement that ran in the November 15, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Quite briefly, it announced, “WANTS a Place in a Store, either in Town or Country, a YOUNG MAN who can be well recommended. Enquire of the Printer.” The previous day a similar advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette: “A Young Woman that understands keeping a Shop of English Goods, wants such an Employ. Any Person having Occasion for such a one, may know further by enquiring of Edes and Gill.” Both advertisements were published in newspapers that ran numerous advertisements for vast arrays of consumer goods for sale at local shops and stores.

In each instance the prospective employee requested that interested parties “Enquire of the Printer.” They provided little information about themselves beyond initial assurances that they were suited for the positions they sought. The young man asserted that he “can be well recommended” for the job. While this may have referred to endorsements from others, it may also have meant that he could make a case for himself based on his character and experience. The young woman stated that she “understands keeping a Shop of English Goods,” suggesting that she had previous experience.

Not surprisingly, both placed short advertisements, minimizing their expenses as they sought work. Both depended on a local printing office as a place of exchanging information. Printers did more than disseminate newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides; they also served as information brokers beyond the printed page. In that capacity, they facilitated not only the sale of consumer goods but also the hiring of men and women who waited on customers and otherwise assisted in the operation of shops and stores.

November 14

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

nov-14-11141768-boston-gazette
Boston-Gazette (November 14, 1768).

“The CHARTER of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.”

The first page of the November 14, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette featured both news and advertising.  Advertisements comprised the first of the three columns.  Extracts from the London Chronicle and the London Evening Post filled the second and overflowed into the third.  News from Charleston, South Carolina, and New London, Connecticut, nearly completed the third column.  The compositor inserted a short advertisement – just three lines – in the remaining space.

Although the placement of that advertisement was a practical matter, the position of the first advertisement was strategic.  It proclaimed, “THIS DAY PUBLISHED, (And Sold byEDES & GILL in Queen-Street.)… EDES & GILL’S NORTH-AMERICAN ALMANACK For the Year of our Lord1769.”  Edes and Gill happened to be the printers of the Boston-Gazette.  While most advertisements did not appear in any particular order, this advertisement for an almanac that they published and sold occupied a privileged place on the first page.  After the masthead, it was the first item that readers glimpsed, increasing the likelihood that prospective customers would notice it.

As part of their marketing effort, Edes and Gill inflected their advertisement with news.  They provided a general overview of the contents of the almanac, a standard practice in such advertisements, but made special note that it included “The CHARTER of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay; granted by King WILLIAM and Queen MARY.—Together with the Explanatory Charter, granted by His Majesty King GEORGE the First.” The printers then added an editorial note:  “[This CHARTER, tho’ not more esteem’d by simple ones than an OLD ALMANACK, has always been highly esteem’d by wise, sensible & honest Men.  It is the Basis of the civil Constitution of the Province, and should be often readAT THIS TIME, when the Rights and Liberties declared in it, are said to be invaded.]”  Edes and Gill harnessed the current political situation as they attempted to sell their almanac.  They knew that many prospective customers resented the Townshend Act and the quartering of troops in Boston.  In turn, they offered a resource that allowed them simultaneously to become better informed of their rights and express their own views through the act of purchasing Edes and Gill’s almanac over any of the many alternatives.

The placement of their advertisement as the first item on the first page was only part of Edes and Gill’s strategy.  In addition to the usual strategies for promoting almanacs, they incorporated content and commentary that addressed the unfolding imperial crisis.  By linking politics to the consumption of their almanac, they aimed to increase sales as well a produce a better informed populace.

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.

September 12

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

Sep 12 - 9:12:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (September 12, 1768).

“Those Persons who are desirous of Promoting our Own Manufactures.”

Enoch Brown mixed politics and commerce when he drew attention to his supply chain in an advertisement in the September 12, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Eighteenth-century advertisers frequently mentioned and even promoted the origins of the goods they sold, but prior to the 1760s they placed a premium on demonstrating that they carried imported goods. In the advertisement printed immediately above Brown’s notice, John Andrews noted that he had imported his inventory “in the last Ships from London and Bristol.” Further down the column, Moses Deshon announced that a “Variety of European” goods would be sold at public auction later in the week. In several other advertisements spread throughout the rest of the issue merchants and shopkeepers introduced their wares as “Imported from London.”

Brown did not make such proclamations. Instead, he tied his merchandise to recent calls to reduce and eliminate dependence on imported goods as a means of resisting Parliament’s ongoing efforts to raise revenues by imposing taxes within the colonies. In addition, colonists were concerned about an imbalance of trade that benefited Britain at the expense of the colonies. Nearly a year earlier the Boston town meeting had voted to encourage “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to importing goods from London and other English cities. Residents of other cities and towns throughout the colonies followed Boston’s lead, either through formal ballots or newspaper editorials that spread the word. By the fall of 1768, the residents of Boston and other urban ports were preparing for non-importation agreements set to go into effect in January 1769.

In his advertisement, Brown encouraged consumers to get an early start. He requested that “those Persons who are desirous of Promoting our Own Manufactures” supply him with “all Sorts of Country-made Cloths.” Brown would then either sell those items on commission or barter for “West-India Goods,” such as sugar, molasses, and rum. This advertisement also informed prospective customers that they could put their political principles into practice by visiting Brown’s store and purchasing textiles produced locally rather than patronizing the shops of his competitors who were attempting to sell goods imported from England before the new agreement went into effect.

Brown was part of the first wave of marketers who deployed “Buy American” appeals, advancing this strategy even before the colonies declared independence. As the imperial crisis intensified, more advertisers adopted this approach. Once the fighting ended, however, many retailers returned to promoting the European origins of their wares. Yet in the 1780s and 1790s those advertisements increasingly appeared alongside “Buy American” advertisements, following a course first plotted by Enoch Brown and other advertisers in the wake of the Stamp Act, Townshend Act, and other attempts to tax the colonies.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.

March 28

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 28, 1768).

“Whoever Employs the said GERRISH may depend upon his Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY.”

John Gerrish was one of several auctioneers who sold goods “by PUBLIC VENDUE” in Boston in the late 1760s. He regularly advertised in the city’s newspapers, as did Elias Dupee and Joseph Russell. Residents recognized their establishments by name: Gerrish ran the “PUBLIC VENDUE-OFFICE, NORTH END,” Russell operated the “Auction-Room in Queen-Street,” and Dupee sold goods at the “NEW AUCTION ROOM.” In their competition for clients and bidders, all three inserted notices concerning upcoming auctions in the March 28, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Each offered a short description of items coming up for sale within the next couple of weeks, but Gerrish supplemented his brief overview with an additional appeal to prospective clients who wished to place items up for bidding.

“Whoever Employs the said GERRISH,” he proclaimed, “may depend upon his Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY to the Highest Bidders – and remitting the Neat proceeds immediately, after they are Sold, deliver’d, and paid for.” Gerrish’s clients “shall be faithfully served by him.” Dupee, Russell, and Gerrish periodically offered such assurances in their advertisements, but Gerrish made a point of it in the spring of 1768 since he and Dupee had recently been involved in a public dispute, waged in their newspaper advertisements, that highlighted the potential for disreputable behavior by vendue masters who might not always act in the best interests of their clients.

In stressing his “Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY to the Highest Bidders,” Gerrish addressed suspicions of collusion. His clients did not need to worry that he would attempt to rig sales to benefit his friends and associates looking to acquire goods for even better bargains than auctions might otherwise yield. The typography underscored this point: an examination of other advertisements in the same issue suggests that the compositor did not choose to capitalize “FAIRLY” or use italics for “Faithfulness” and “Highest Bidders” (as well as “Trustees” in a list of potential clients that included “Gentlemen Strangers, Passengers, [and] Factors”).

Consigning goods to an auctioneer required trust. Gerrish encouraged potential clients to deliver items they wished to sell to the Public Vendue Office in the North End rather than the Auction Room in Queen Street or the New Auction Room by pledging that he conscientiously worked to garner the highest proceeds and remitted them in a timely manner. He did not just offer a service; he built relationships that also enhanced his reputation.