October 12

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

Oct 12 - 10:12:1767 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (October 12, 1767).

“The Calamitous State of the Enslaved NEGROES in the British Dominions.”

American colonists became increasingly preoccupied with their own liberty and potential enslavement by Parliament in the 1760s and 1770s. Among their many methods of protest, they gave voice to their anxieties in newspapers. For instance, Edes and Gill printed a lengthy letter warning against “parliamentary slavery” resulting from the “corruption of Parliament” alongside the text of the an “ACT OF PARLIAMENT, for granting certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America,” better known today as the Townshend Act.

Colonists concerns about the enslavement they believed they experienced stood in stark contrast to advertisements concerning enslaved Africans that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies, including those published in New England. In the same issue of the Boston-Gazette that Edes and Gill paired the Townshend Act with a spirited critique of Parliament, four advertisements presented slaves for sale. Whether for “a very likely Negro Boy” who could “sort & cut & spin all Sorts of Tobacco” or a “healthy, stout Negro Man … who has been in this Country about three Months,” all four advertisements instructed interested buyers to “inquire of Edes and Gill” for more information. A fifth advertisement offered “A fine Negro Male Child, well provided with Cloathing” for free, “To be given away.” Again, the advertisement concluded with “inquire of Edes & Gill.” The printers who gave voice to Anglo-American colonists’ objections to the tyranny of Parliament not only generated revenues by selling advertisements for slaves but also served as agents who facilitated the trade for anonymous sellers.

Edes and Gill could not have been completely oblivious to this contradiction. After all, one additional advertisement mentioned slavery. The printers announced that they sold “A CAUTION and WARNING to Great-Britain and her Colonies, in a short Representation of the Calamitous State of the Enslaved NEGROES in the British Dominions.” Anthony Benezet, a Quaker abolitionist from Philadelphia, penned this pamphlet in 1766. Originally published in Philadelphia, it was reprinted in London the following year. Based on the supplementary materials mentioned in the advertisement, Edes and Gill sold yet another edition, this one printed by Hall and Sellers in Philadelphia in 1767.

As many colonists fretted over the tension between their own liberty and imagined enslavement, some applied such rhetoric more broadly to include enslaved Africans and their descendants in the colonies. Others conveniently ignored any contradictions. Printers like Edes and Gill, through the advertisements and pamphlets they sold and the exchanges they facilitated, stood to gain financially from the activities of slaveholders and abolitionists alike.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 5, 1767).

As the Articles in this Advertisement were very numerous, we are obliged to omit them till the next Week for want of Room.”

Bookseller John Mein frequently placed advertisements in Boston’s newspapers (and sometimes publications in other towns) in the 1760s. Even if they had never visited the “LONDON BOOK-STORE North Side of King-Street,” regular readers of the Boston-Gazette would have been familiar with Mein’s marketing efforts. On occasion his advertisements occupied even more space than those inserted by shopkeepers with the most extensive lists of imported merchandise, extending anywhere from an entire column to an entire page. Mein intended to publish another lengthy advertisement in the Boston-Gazette on the first Monday in October 1767, but had to settle for a shorter notice.

Actually, Mein placed two advertisements in the October 5 issue. One appeared at the top of the third column on the second page, to the right of an open letter “To The People of Boston and all other English Americans,” a letter that argued Parliament had renewed its attempts to reduce the colonies to “perfect slavery.” This relatively short advertisement amounted to a single square, the standard length for most paid notices in that issue. The second advertisement, approximately two squares, appeared in the middle of the third column on the third page, less easy to distinguish among the other notices on the page.

Both advertisements announced that Mein stocked “A Grand Assortment Of the most modern BOOKS, In every Branch of polite Literature, Arts and Sciences” (though the typography differed significantly). The shorter notice also indicated that since “the Articles in this Advertisement were very numerous, we are obliged to omit them till the next Week for want of Room.” The second notice focused primarily on a single volume, a new edition of “Dilworth’s Spelling Book” just published on “fine Paper” with new type. It concluded with a brief note that “Printed Catalogues may be had Gratis at the Store” on King Street. Surely Mein’s catalog included many of the books he meant to advertise in the Boston-Gazette that week had space permitted.

Given the placement of Mein’s advertisements within the newspaper, he may not have submitted two separate notices for publication. Instead, the printers may have created the shorter advertisement, with its announcement anticipating a lengthier list of Mein’s titles in the next issue, and given it a prominent place to compensate for not publishing all of the copy Mein submitted. When the advertisement did appear the following week, it filled an entire page. Given the expense that Mein incurred, the printers may have considered a second advertisement promising more information about Mein’s “Grand Assortment Of the most modern BOOKS” the least they could do when they ran out of space to publish the list in its entirety. After all, they wanted to encourage the bookseller to continue (to pay) to insert lengthy advertisements in their newspaper.

Mein intended to attract attention through the volume of his advertising, yet circumstances prompted the printers to deliver an alternate marketing strategy. They incited interest by temporarily withholding the complete advertisement while simultaneously giving the announcement a prominent place in the publication to increase the number of potential customers who would read it.

September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (September 7, 1767).

“Now ready for Sale by JOLLEY ALLEN, At his Shop.”

Jolley Allen regularly placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and other newspapers published in the port city. On most occasions, readers could readily identify his notices, even at just a glance, because Allen made arrangements with printers to have them enclosed in decorative borders. This was a consistent feature from one newspaper to another, a relatively rare example of an advertiser exerting influence over typographical decisions in the eighteenth century. In most cases, advertisers generated copy but compositors made determinations about format and layout. Realizing the value of making his commercial notices easy to distinguish from others on the page, Allen insisted on retaining control over some of the visual aspects. Distinctive borders created with printing ornaments became his brand in multiple newspapers.

Allen neglected to utilize a border in some of his advertising during the summer of 1767, a decision he reversed in the September 7 edition of the Boston-Gazette. The border around his advertisement in that issue, however, was not its most distinctive element. Except for the colophon, Allen’s advertisement filled the entire final page. Spread over three columns, the merchant listed an assortment of imported goods – from textiles to groceries – that he sold “Wholesale and Retail” to customers in both town and country. Even without the decorative border, the size of the advertisement alone demanded attention. Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few full-page advertisements, each of them all the more noteworthy considering that a standard issue consisted of only four pages. The printers gave over a significant amount of space that might otherwise contain additional advertisements or news items.

Experimenting with a full-page advertisement must have been an expensive investment for Allen. He usually placed identical advertisements in all four of Boston’s newspapers, but not during the week that his full-page advertisement ran in the Boston-Gazette. None of the other local newspapers carried any advertising by Allen. He may have exhausted the money he budgeted for marketing in a single advertisement. He might also have wished to see what kind of response it garnered, waiting to place full-page advertisements in other publications only if he determined doing so was worth the investment.

Historians of advertising and print culture usually describe full-page advertisements as nineteenth-century innovations, but colonial merchants and shopkeepers had already experimented with the format. Though uncommon, such advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century America.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 31, 1767).

“Stage-Coach No. I. … SETS out on every Tuesday Morning.”

Thomas Sabin operated “Stage-Coach No. 1” between Boston and Providence. He had a flair for attracting attention to his transportation services, having advertised the previous summer that travelers would ride in “a most curious four wheeled Carriage, called the AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” Yet Sabin realized that generating business required more than just associating snappy names with the carriages that transported his passengers.

In particular, he advertised widely in both cities. His notice appeared week after week in the Providence Gazette, the only newspaper printed in that city in 1767. In addition, he placed advertisements in at least three out of four of the newspapers published in Boston. On August 31, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy carried identical notices, each with an impressive headline for “Stage-Coach No. 1.”

Sabin neglected only one newspaper, the Massachusetts Gazette, the only Boston newspaper distributed on Thursdays rather than Mondays. Here Sabin missed an opportunity to reach as many potential customers as possible by spreading out his advertisements in multiple newspapers. Or did he? Note the schedule for the Boston to Providence journey. His stagecoach departed on Thursdays. Perhaps Sabin did not consider advertising in the Massachusetts Gazette worth the investment since readers obtained their copies just as he left town. It may have made more sense to advertise widely on Mondays, giving potential passengers three days to make arrangements. He observed a similar schedule in Providence, where his advertisements appeared in a newspaper printed on Saturdays and clients had three days to book seats for departure on the following Tuesday.

Some eighteenth-century advertisers made efforts to maximize the number of potential customers exposed to their marketing efforts. In cities with multiple newspapers, they industriously placed the same notice in each of them. Sabin adopted this strategy, but adapted it to fit the particular circumstances of how his business operated.

July 20

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

Jul 20 - 7:20:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 20, 1767). Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society. View the advertisement and the rest of the newspaper via The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.

“Just Imported, and to be Sold by Harbottle Dorr.”

Harbottle Dorr’s name jumped off the page when I first spotted this advertisement in the July 20, 1767, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In terms of content and format, his notice was not particularly distinctive. So why did this particular advertisement catch my eye? Why did it create an extra spark of excitement?

In 1767, residents of Boston knew Harbottle Dorr as a merchant, in part because he advertised in several of the local newspapers. In the course of the next quarter century, he joined the Sons of Liberty and “served intermittently as a Boston selectman for many years between 1777 and 1791.” Today he is best known to historians, especially historians of print culture, thanks to his collection of newspapers from the period of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution, now in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. As the MHS explains, “Beginning in 1765, Dorr spent more than a dozen years purchasing newspapers, writing comments in margins, inserting reference marks in articles, and assembling indexes.” He aimed “to form a political history” of events as he witnessed and participated in them. His indexes and annotations demonstrate one reader’s intensive engagement with the public prints. Thanks to digitization and other technologies, scholars and the general public have access to The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr., via the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website.

In addition to advertising in the July 20 issue of the Boston-Gazette, Dorr also acquired a copy for his collection. It does not appear, however, that he purchased every newspaper that ran one of his advertisements. For instance, he inserted the same advertisement in the July 20 edition of the Boston Evening-Post, but that issue is not in the collection he assembled. At the very least, he did not save or add issues merely because they published his commercial notices. He may have confirmed that his advertisements indeed appeared as expected, but that was not sufficient reason for inclusion in his project.

Still, today’s advertisement has a unique twist compared to most others featured by the Adverts 250 Project, though a twist rendered more complex by digitization of historical sources. In most cases, the provenance of the original issue makes little difference. This advertisement, however, came from a copy originally possessed by the advertiser himself. In preparing today’s entry, I consulted Dorr’s newspaper to write about his advertisement. Or did I? Does it make sense to feel a connection to the material text – to feel excited that Dorr owned, touched, and annotated this particular issue – when I have not actually used the physical manifestation of that issue but a digital surrogate instead? Maybe, but maybe not.

In the past I have joined other scholars in arguing that digitized sources are best used as complements to, rather than replacements of, original sources. After all, sometimes consulting originals yields answers just not possible to achieve when examining digital surrogates, despite their many advantages. This response, however, does not factor in the emotional component of archival work, the excitement scholars feel when handling the things owned by the people we study, a physical connection that defies the passage of time.

Yet I still experienced a flash of excitement when I examined today’s advertisement via The Annotated papers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr., that I did not feel when I first saw the advertisement in Readex’s database of America’s Historical Newspapers. I feel a greater connection to the advertisement inserted in the Boston-Gazette, part of Dorr’s collection, than I do to the advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post, not in his collection, even though it was the same advertisement. Even mediated by digitization, “seeing” the original yields emotional satisfaction. In that regard, the Massachusetts Historical Society has done an even greater service than I previously realized. Their online collection of Dorr’s newspapers has enhanced my experience by associating a person with the material text.

July 6

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

Jul 6 - 7:6:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 6, 1767).

“At the London BOOK-STORE.”

Bookseller John Mein regularly advertised in Boston’s newspapers in the 1760s, often inserting lengthy advertisements that extended over multiple columns or even filled an entire page. Yet newspaper notices were not the only marketing media utilized by Mein and other eighteenth-century booksellers. They also used broadsides and catalogs to inform potential customers of the titles they sold.

To promote the “Grand Assortment of the most MODERN BOOKS, In every Branch of Polite LITERATURE, ARTS, and SCIENCES” at his “LONDON BOOK-STORE,” Mein distributed a small broadside in 1766. Measuring 20 x 13 cm (8 x 5 in), it could have been posted around town or passed out as a handbill. Unlike his newspapers advertisements, the broadside did not include titles of many books. Instead, Mein listed more than two dozen genres that might interest readers, from Divinity and Philosophy to Travels and Voyages to Anatomy and Midwifery. Potential customers need to visit his shop to discover which titles he stocked.

Jul 6 - Mein Broadside
John Mein’s broadside advertisement (Boston: 1766). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Mein adopted the opposite strategy in the fifty-two-page “CATALOGUE OF CURIOUS and VALUABLE BOOKS” he distributed the same year, listing (and numbering) 1741 different titles. For some, particularly bibles and prayer books, he also described the material aspects of the books, such as “Baskerville’s large Octavo Prayer-Book, bound in red Morocco, gilded” (#1734) and “Tate and Brady’s Psalms, fine Paper, bound in Morocco and Calf, gilded” (#1739). Mein used two different methods in categorizing his books. The first 367 were organized by size: octavo or folio. The remainder, however, fell under subject headings similar to those listed on the broadside. Under certain headings, some books were further demarcated by size. The bookseller aimed to help readers find books that corresponded to their interests, their budgets, their preferences for storing them, and their tastes for displaying them.

Mein’s newspaper advertisement melded aspects of his broadside and catalog, listing multiple titles under several categories. He also added a blurb to promote one book, Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield. Lest potential customers not see any books that interested them, Mein concluded by stating that he “has for Sale a grand Assortment of the best AUTHORS in evry Art and Science, and in every Branch of polite Literature.” Like other eighteenth-century booksellers, he experimented with media and organization in his efforts to market his wares. His advertising may have helped to fuel a reading revolution as colonists’ habits veered from intensive reading of devotional literature to extensive reading of many genres, including novels.

April 20

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (April 20, 1767).

“A Large & beautiful assortment of Silks.”

Silk imports were common during the eighteenth century. According to Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at Colonial Williamsburg, “Many Virginia women favored gowns made of lustring, a crisp, light silk.” This is noteworthy because Jane Eustis ran a shop – and sold an “assortment of Silks” – in Boston and advertised in the Boston Gazette. This shows the far reach of the silk trade in eighteenth-century America. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen presents the idea of standardization of consumer culture, seen here with the silks.[1]

Some people bought silks as a way to denote social status. In addition, much of the clothing worn in the American colonies was typically not light. In the warmer months this could cause many issues regarding the heat. Baumgarten notes, “One Virginia woman related in her diary that she did not bother to get dressed immediately on a particularly ‘sulterry’ day; she remained ‘up stairs in only shift and petticoat till after Tea.” This is fascinating because of the stark difference compared to modern ideas of modesty and appropriate ways to dress in the heat.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jane Eustis advertised “Silks, Cap Laces, and a great Variety of other Goods.” Although she did not provide an extensive list of those “other Goods,” her advertisement concluded with a promise that “The Particulars of which will be in our next.” Why was Eustis’s advertisement truncated?

Perhaps Eustis had not had time to compile a list of “The Particulars.” Other advertisers, including William Fisher, indicated that their wares had “just arrived from LONDON” on the same vessel that carried Eustis’s merchandise. Instead of listing the goods, most offered some sort of variation of “A Fresh Assortment of English GOODS.” John Symmes, a goldsmith, did insert a short list, but his was very specialized merchandise of the sort that he might have placed detailed orders or may have otherwise known or anticipated in advance exactly what associates in London had shipped. Shopkeepers who carried general merchandise, like Eustis and Fisher, may not have known all “The Particulars” of what had been dispatched to them by contacts in London until they unpacked the crates and barrels. An initial advertisement for a “great Variety” of goods at least informed prospective customers that they carried new merchandise.

Alternately, Eustis may have submitted a longer advertisement to Edes and Gill, only to have the printers run out of space to print it in its entirety. While possible, that seems less likely given that Eustis’s advertisement appeared on the same page as another that extended more than a column. If Edes and Gill were rationing space, why not abbreviate Frederick William Geyer’s extensive list to free up room for at least some of Eustis’s “Particulars”? Even if the printers did not wish to displace Geyer, a regular advertiser, they could have shortened lengthy list advertisements placed by other shopkeepers. In addition, they also issued a two-page supplement with even more advertising for the week. This also suggests that Eustis had not yet generated the copy for “The Particulars” that were supposed to appear in the next issue.

A week later, no advertisement by Jane Eustis appeared in the Boston-Gazette. Two weeks later, that newspaper ran a new advertisement, though it lacked “The Particulars” that had been promised: “Just Imported in Capt. Skillings, and to be sold by Jane Eustis By Wholesale and Retail, at her Shop the North Side of the Town-House, A great Variety of India and English Goods.” By then Eustis certainly had a chance to compile a list of her new inventory. She may have decided that a shorter advertisement was sufficient for her purposes. She may have determined that a longer advertisement exceeded her budget and decided against it. Whatever the circumstances, her initial advertisement presented a bit of a mystery. It would be fascinating to know more about the factors that influenced Eustis’s decisions about advertising her wares.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.