December 28

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

Boston-Gazette (December 28, 1772).

“The only true and correct ALMANACKS from my Copy, are those printed by R. Draper, Edes & Gill, and T. & [J.] Fleet.”

As 1772 came to an end and the new year approached, Richard Draper, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet continued their efforts to direct prospective customers to the edition of Nathaniel Ames’s almanac for 1773 that they collaboratively printed and sold.  The final issues of the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy for 1772 once again carried advertisements with a note from the almanac’s author that warned against counterfeit editions and proclaimed that the “only true and correct ALMANACKS from my Copy, are those printed by R. Draper, Edes & Gill, and T. & [J.] Fleet.”

None of those newspapers featured the extended version that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on December 24.  The Fleets even ran a streamlined version in the Boston Evening-Post, eliminated the introductory lines that declared “THIS DAY IS PUBLISHED, And TO BE SOLD by R. DRAPER, T. & J. FLEET, and EDES & GILL” as well as the final lines that advised “Purchasers, especially by the Quantity, are requested to be particular in enquiring whether they are printed by the above Printers, of whom ALMANACKS may be had at the cheapest Rate.”

The version of the advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy remained unchanged, as did the version in the Boston-Gazette.  Edes and Gill did not include any fanfare about “JUST PUBLISHED” the first time they inserted the note from Ames in the Boston-Gazette.  They positioned that note just below local news, implying that it was just as much a piece of newsworthy information as an advertisement for an item they sold.  Those printers pursued a similar strategy the next time they ran the notice.  This time it did not serve as a transition from news to advertising.  Instead, it was the only advertisement that appeared on second page of the December 28 edition of the Boston-Gazette, running immediately below news from Warsaw.  That made it even more likely that anyone carefully perusing the news would encounter the notice from the printers.  Taking advantage of their access to the press to shape how information was disseminated to reader-consumers, Edes and Gill continued their practice of treating counterfeit almanacs that competed with their “true and correct” almanacs as news the community needed to know.  As part of their marketing efforts, they used the placement of the notice on the page to enhance their insinuation that consumers had a duty to choose the “true and correct” copies over any counterfeits.

December 21

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

Boston-Gazette (December 21, 1772).

Purchasers, especially by the Quantity, … be particular in enquiring whether they are printed by the above Printers.”

All three newspapers published in Boston on December 21, 1772, carried a notice concerning Nathaniel Ames’s almanac for 1773.  Two of them announced that the almanac was “JUST PUBLISHED” and “sold by R. Draper, Edes & Gill, and T. and J. Fleet.”  All three contained a note from the author to advise consumers that the “only true and correct ALMANACKS from my Copy, are those printed by R. Draper, Edes & Gill, and T. & [J.] Fleet.”  Either Ames or, more likely, the printers added an additional note suggesting that “Purchasers, especially by the Quantity, … be particular in enquiring whether they are printed by the above Printers; of whom ALMANACKS maybe had at the cheapest Rate.”

In addition to the almanacs printed by Draper, Edes and Gill, and the Fleets, Ezekiel Russell and John Hicks produced and sold An Astronomical Diary; or, An Almanack for the Year of Our Lord, 1773 attributed to Ames.  They printed their edition in Boston.  Printers in other towns in New England reprinted Ames’s almanac from Boston editions, including Ebenezer Watson in Hartford, Thomas Green and Samuel Green in New Haven, and Timothy Green in New London.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 21, 1772).

The printers who printed the “only true and correct” editions of Ames’s popular almanac each inserted the warning about counterfeit editions in their newspapers.  The Fleets ran in the Boston Evening-Post on December 21, the same day that Edes and Gill published it in the Boston-Gazette.  Richard Draper ran a more extensive version in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on December 24.  To disseminate the message even more widely, the printers arranged to have the advertisement also appear in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on December 21.  Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, only Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy did not carry the notice.  Instead, it featured an advertisement for the version printed by Russell and Hicks on December 24.

The brief version of the advertisement devised by Draper, Edes and Gill, and the Fleets in the Boston-Gazette, the variation that did not announce the publication of the almanac, appeared immediately below news items and, unlike other advertisements, without a line to separate it from other content.  In making those choices about placement and typography, Edes and Gill implied that information about pirated editions was newsworthy rather than solely a notice directed at consumers.  Blending news and advertising, they sought to serve the best interests of prospective customers while simultaneously protecting their own interests.

It was an interesting turn of events considering that a few years earlier it had been Draper, Edes and Gill, and the Fleets who published a pirated edition of Ames’s almanac.

November 30

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

Boston-Gazette (November 30, 1772).

“ANDREW DEXTER’S SHOP.”

Andrew Dexter’s advertisement in the November 30, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette consisted of only three lines, but its design likely gave it greater impact than other notices of similar length.  A border comprised of ornamental type enclosed the entire advertisement, making the manicule that called attention to the first line an unnecessary addition.  In its entirety, the advertisement stated, “ANDREW DEXTER’S SHOP, near the Mill-Bridge, is the Place for CHEAP GOODS, after all is done and said.”

Dexter had some experience using borders to set his advertisements apart from others in newspapers published in Boston.  A lengthier advertisement that ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in May featured a border.  The border was not nearly as elaborate as the one in the advertisement published in November, but so few newspaper advertisements had borders that it still served its purpose.

Boston Evening-Post (November 30, 1772).

The number of advertisers who opted for borders increased in the wake of examples that Jolley Allen, who had a long history with borders, and Dexter published in multiple newspapers in May.  On the same day that Dexter’s brief notice with the prominent border ran in the Boston-Gazette, William Bant inserted advertisements with borders in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.  Jonathan Williams, Jr., once again ran his advertisement enclosed within a border in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer had a border around just their names in an advertisement in the Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post.  Later in the week, Bant and Williams ran advertisements enclosed within borders in the December 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The Brimmers’ advertisement with a border around their names appeared in the supplement that accompanied that issue.

About half a dozen advertisers in Boston incorporated borders into their newspaper notices, publishing them so widely that they became a familiar to readers of several publications.  The majority of advertisers did not adopt this strategy for distinguishing their notices from others, but enough did so to suggest that advertisers carefully observed the tactics deployed by their competitors, including decisions about graphic design, and planned accordingly for their own advertisements.

November 23

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

Boston-Gazette (November 23, 1772).

“A General Supply of the most modern BOOKS.”

Like many modern booksellers, James Foster Condy sold books and more at his store on Union Street in Boston in the early 1770s.  In a lengthy advertisement that ran in the November 23, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he highlighted several aspects of his business, promoting his merchandise, his prices, and his customer service.

Condy began with an announcement about a new publication, “A POEM, Entitled, the GRAVE. By Robert Blair.”  That volume also included “An ELEGY written in a Country Church-Yard. By Mr. Gray.”  In addition to listing the price, just one shilling, Condy appealed to colonizers who considered themselves refined consumers of literature, assuring them that the “Pamphlet will fully recommend itself, to the best Judges and Lovers of Poetry.”  The bookseller had a particular interest in this pamphlet, having made arrangements with a local printer to produce a new edition.

The portion of Condy’s advertisement that hawked the poems could have stood on its own as a separate notice, but the bookseller determined that it served as a good introduction to an overview of his wares.  In addition to the poetry, printed in Boston, he also stocked a “General Supply of the most modern BOOKS” imported from London.  Rather than list any titles, Condy highlighted various genres, including “Law, Physick, History, Divinity, and every Branch of polite Literature” as well as bibles and other devotional materials.  He even had “Books for the Amusement and Instruction of Children.”

The bookseller also carried an assortment of stationery and writing supplies.  That portion of his advertisement occupied almost as much space as the portion about the poetry and more than the portion about other books.  Condy listed everything from “Writing Paper of every Sort” and “Account Books of every Size and Quality” to “various Sorts of Penknives” and “Quills,” to “Glass Ink Potts” and “red and black Sealing Wax.”  In yet another section of the advertisement, he called attention to other kinds of merchandise, some of it related to the books and stationery he sold.  Condy stocked “reading Glasses” and “Glasses for near-sighted Persons” as well as “Diagonal Machines for viewing of Prints” and “a Convex Glass for drawing Landscapes.”

The bookseller concluded with a pitch that extended beyond his merchandise.  He proclaimed that he offered the lowest prices that consumers would encounter not only in the city but anywhere in the colonies, asserting that “All those Persons who please to purchase at said Store, may depend on buying as cheap as at any Store in BOSTON or AMERICA.”  He was so confident in that claim that he declared its veracity “without Exception.”  In addition, his customers would be “used” or treated “in such a Manner as will leave no Room for Complaint, but give entire Satisfaction.”  In other words, Condy considered customer service an important aspect of his business.

With all of the books, stationery, writing supplies, glasses, and other merchandise, the inventory at Condy’s bookstore looked much the same to consumers in eighteenth-century America as modern bookstores appear to customers who browse an array of goods.  Condy did not rely on a single revenue stream.  Instead, he marketed and sold a variety of wares, using price and customer service to further entice prospective clients.

November 2

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

Boston-Gazette (November 2, 1772).

“The Sale of this Book has been so surprizingly rapid, as to demand Three Editions in New-York and Philadelphia.”

Two advertisements for “A DISSERTATION on the GOUT, and all CHRONIC DISEASES” by William Cadogan, “Fellow of the College of Physicians,” ran in the November 2, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, one right above the other.  Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of that newspaper and printers of a Boston edition of Cadogan’s book, inserted the first advertisement.  Joseph Edwards, a bookseller, placed the other notice.

Both advertisements attempted to leverage the popularity of the book in other markets to generate sale in Boston.  Edes and Gill confided that the “above Pamphlet had Nine Editions in England in the short Space of Five Months.”  Edwards provided a similar figure, stating that the “Book is so much esteemed in England, that it has already past through Eight Editions.”  It had also gained following in the colonies.  “The Sale of this Book has been so surprizingly rapid, as to demand Three Editions in New-York and Philadelphia.”  Several months earlier, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford deployed a similar strategy in marketing their Philadelphia editions.  Given that so many other readers already purchased the book, the printers and the bookseller in Boston suggested that prospective customers should not miss out on acquiring copies of this bestseller.

Such demand suggested that the “rational and natural Method of CURE” for gout and other chronic illnesses that Cadogan proposed in the book was indeed effective.  Indeed, Edes and Gill even made a joke at the expense of colonizers in New York.  They observed that the book “has had such an Effect on the veteran Bacchanalians of New-York, that Madeira is no longer a fashionable Prescription for the Cure of this Disease.”  The printers included a short blurb from the book, explaining how “strong Wines” like Madeira actually made gout worse rather than better.  Cadogan was so convincing and his cure so effective that even New Yorkers who previously imbibed too much Madeira in their quest to quell the symptoms of gout had given up that remedy in favor of a more “judicious” approach.

Edwards did not resort to such levity.  Instead, he emphasized the accessibility of Cadogan’s writing.  A wide array of readers, not just physicians, could understand the discourse and recommendations in the book.  “The Doctrines advanced in it,” Edwards declared, “are rational and philosophical, and are delivered in a familiar style, which renders them intelligible to Gentlemen of all professions, as well as to Physicians.”  The bookseller sought to avoid the impression of a niche market for the medical text.

In their newspaper notices, the printers and the bookseller promoted the popularity of Cadogan’s Dissertation on the Gout, the effectiveness of the “Method of “CURE” outlined in it, and the accessible style.  Running simultaneous advertisements also testified to the popularity of the book.  Edes and Gill as well as Edwards aimed to encourage sales by creating a wide market that extended beyond physicians.

October 12

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

Boston-Gazette (October 12, 1772).

New Advertisements.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, wanted to increase the chances that readers took notice of their call to settle accounts in the fall of 1772.  In the October 12 edition, they inserted an announcement that “ALL Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above 12 Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.”  The copy was standard for such notices, placed by printers throughout the colonies, but Edes and Gill deployed a format intended to increase the attention the notice received.  Decorative type enclosed the printers’ notice to delinquent subscribers within a border.  Edes and Gill did not however, devise that format for their own purposes.  Instead, they adopted a strategy already in use by some of their advertisers.  Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer, for instance, enclosed “Variety of Goods,” the headline to their lengthy advertisement listing scores of items, within an ornate border.  Jonathan Williams, Jr., had a border around his entire advertisement.

Edes and Gill also selected an advantageous place on the page for their notice, inserting it at the top of the first column on the final page.  It appeared immediately below a headline for “New Advertisement,” another design element intended to direct attention to the printers’ call for subscribers to pay their bills.  That headline helped to distinguish advertisements on that page from others that ran on the second and third pages.  A brief note on the third page also aided Edes and Gill’s efforts to highlight their notice.  The advertisements on the third page commenced with instructions: “For New Advertisements, See last Page.”  The printers incorporated a variety of means of increasing the visibility of their notice. They exercised their prerogative in placing it first among the notices labeled “New Advertisements” and used notes elsewhere in the issue to direct readers to one of the only advertisements that featured a border composed of decorative type.  Edes and Gill used graphic design to demand attention for an otherwise mundane notice.

September 28

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (September 28, 1772).

“FALL and WINTER / GOODS / OF ALL KINDS, / AND EXCELLENT / BROAD CLOTHS.”

In their efforts to capture as much of the market as they could, merchants and shopkeepers in cities with multiple newspapers often advertised in more than one publication.  They submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors usually exercised discretion over the appearance of the advertisements in their newspapers.  This resulted in all sorts of variations in capitalization, italics, font sizes, line breaks, and white space.

Consider, for instance, an advertisement that Jonathan Williams, Jr., placed in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on September 28, 1772.  The two notices had identical copy, but what appeared as “Fall and Winter GOODS / of all Kinds,—and excellent / BROAD CLOTHS” on three lines in the Gazette ran as “FALL and WINTER / GOODS / OF ALL KINDS, / AND EXCELLENT / BROAD CLOTHS” over five lines in the Post-Boy.  Similar variations occurred throughout the remainder of the advertisements.  The version in the Post-Boy also occupied more space relative to other advertisements than the one in the Gazette.  Longer than it was wide, Williams’s advertisement in the Post-Boy filled nearly two “squares” of space.  In contrast, his advertisement in the Gazette was wider than it was long, filling a little less than one square.

Boston-Gazette (September 28, 1772).

Despite the differences in size and format, both advertisements featured borders made of decorative type that distinguished them from other notices.  It hardly seems likely that this happened by chance, that compositors working independently in two printing offices just happened to create borders for Williams’s notice.  This suggests that the advertiser played some role in designing those advertisements.  That may have involved brief conversations with the printers or compositors, but more likely resulted from submitting written instructions.

Williams certainly did not invent this strategy of making his advertisements distinctive compared to others that did not incorporate borders or other decorative type.  In July 1766, Jolley Allen placed the same advertisement in four newspapers published in Boston.  They had identical copy but different formats.  Borders enclosed all of them, though the compositors made different decisions about what kind of decorative type formed those borders.  Other advertisers occasionally adopted a similar strategy, hoping the borders would help draw attention to their advertisements across multiple newspapers.

September 21

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

Boston-Gazette (September 21, 1772).

“The great Encouragement he has had beyond Expectation from his former Advertisements.”

John Thompson described himself to current and prospective customers as a “Tinman and Brazier from LONDON.”  In an advertisement in the September 21, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he declared that he “Makes various Articles in Tin and Copper too tedious to enumerate.”  Other artisans and purveyors of goods published lengthy lists of their merchandise to entice consumers, but Thompson opted instead to focus on a few select items.  He proclaimed that he made “all Sorts of Polish’d Tin Ware like Silver, never before manufactured in Boston,” underscoring the value of purchasing from an artisan “from LONDON.”  In addition, he carried “all Sorts of Come Tin Ware” as well as “Brass and Copper Vessels Tin’d with pure Grain Tin in the London Fashion.”

In his effort to secure his reputation and attract even more customers, Thompson expressed his gratitude to existing customers.  Doing so suggested to prospective customers that he already established a clientele at his shop.  He stated that he “is much oblig’d to all his Customers in General, and to the good People of Boston in Particular, for the great Encouragement he has had beyond Expectation from his former Advertisements.”  Furthermore, his previous success “imboldens him again to advertise, hoping for a Continuance of Favours” from customers in Boston.  Thompson offered rare commentary from an advertiser on the effectiveness of advertising in colonial America.  He asserted that his advertising had indeed produced positive results even “beyond Expectation.”  That certainly supported his allusions to an existing clientele, but that does not necessarily mean that it was mere puffery.  After all, Thompson chose to place a new advertisement following his “former Advertisements.”  He apparently believed that his earlier advertising had been successful, even if he exaggerated its effects in his new notice, or at least considered one more advertisement worth the investment.  Some advertisers testified to the effectiveness of advertising by repeatedly placing notices in the public prints.  Relatively few, however, made such explicit comments on the effectiveness of their marketing.

July 1

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

Boston-Gazette (June 29, 1772).

“The Gentlemen who subscribed … for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries … are desired to apply for the second Volume.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column of the June 29, 1772, edition.  “The Gentlemen who subscribed with Edes and Gill for the American Edition of BLACKSTONE’S Commentaries on the Laws of England,” they announced, are desired to apply for the second Volume.”  In addition, “A few of the First Volume may be had by applying as above.”  Edes and Gill did not publish this “American Edition.”  Instead, they served as local agents for Robert Bell, a printer and bookseller based in Philadelphia.

Over the course of many months, Bell inserted subscription notices for an American edition of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  He also distributed handbills to promote the project.  Bell sought to cultivate an American literary market that supplied American readers with American editions instead of books imported from London.  In addition to Blackstone’s Commentaries, he advertised an American edition of David Hume’s History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1688.  Bell suggested that consumers had a civic obligation to purchase these volumes, addressing his subscription notices to “all those who are animated by the Wish of seeing Native Fabrications in AMERICA.”

Bell also stated that those who assisted him in this venture engaged in “peaceable, yet active Patriotism.”  In case that was not enough to recruit local agents like Edes and Gill in Boston, he also pledged that “All Persons who collect the Names and Residence, and deliver the Books to twelve Subscribers, have a Claim of Right, and are allowed fourteen to the Dozen for their Assiduity.”  In other words, local agents received two copies gratis for each dozen they sold to subscribers.  The copies of the first volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries that Edes and Gill offered for sale when they announced that subscribers could pick up the second volume may have been copies they received for gathering subscriptions in Boston.  Bell devised marketing strategies to entice both reader-consumers and local agents.

May 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

“ALLEN … will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

Jolley Allen made his advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter easy to recognize in the spring of 1772.  Each of them featured a border comprised of ornamental type that separated Allen’s notices from other content.  Allen previously deployed this strategy in 1766 and then renewed it in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Four days later, advertisements with identical copy and distinctive borders ran in three other newspapers printed in town.  Allen apparently gave instructions to the compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those advertisements had copy identical to the notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, but the compositors made different decisions about the format (seen most readily in the border of Allen’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy).  Allen’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, however, had exactly the same copy and format as the one in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  For some of their advertisements, newspapers in Boston apparently shared type already set in other printing offices.

That seems to have been the case with Andrew Dexter’s advertisement.  He also included a border around his notice in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The same advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post four days later.  It looks like this was another instance of transferring type already set from one printing office to another.  The compositor for the Boston Evening-Post may have very carefully replicated the format of Dexter’s advertisement that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, but everything looks too similar for that to have been the case.  In particular, an irregularity in closing the bottom right corner of the border suggests that the printing offices shared the type once a compositor set it.  They might have also shared with the Boston-Gazette.  Dexter’s advertisement also ran in that newspaper on May 25.  It had the same line breaks and italics as Dexter’s notices in the other two newspapers.  The border looks very similar, but does not have the telltale irregularity in the lower right corner.  Did the compositor make minor adjustments?

It is important to note that these observations are based on examining digitized copies of the newspapers published in Boston in 1772.  Consulting the originals might yield additional details that help to clarify whether two or more printing offices shared type when publishing these advertisements.  At the very least, the variations in Allen’s advertisements make clear that he intentionally pursued a strategy of using borders to distinguish his advertisements in each newspaper that carried them.  The extent that Dexter meant to do the same or simply benefited from the printing offices sharing type remains to be seen after further investigation.

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 21, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772).