October 2

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (September 30, 1771).

“Choice Bohea, Souchon, and Hyson Tea.”

In the fall of 1771, Gilbert Deblois deployed graphic design to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from those placed by his competitors.  On September 30, he ran an advertisement with a unique format in the Boston Evening-Post.  The text ran upward at forty-five degree angles, creating an irregular diamond that filled the entire block of space he purchased in that issue.  That same day, he ran an advertisement featuring the same copy arranged in another distinctive format in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette.  The text once again formed a diamond, that one created by centering lines of text of progressively longer and then shorter lengths.  In contrast to the advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post, this one incorporated a significant amount of white space into Deblois’s notice.

That these advertisements appeared simultaneously in two newspapers published in Boston demonstrated that Deblois carefully coordinated an advertising campaign intended to attract attention with its unusual typography.  The compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and Boston-Gazette would not have independently decided to experiment with the format of Deblois’s advertisements.  Instead, the shopkeeper must have worked with the compositors or at least sent instructions to the printing offices to express his wishes for innovative graphic design.

In most instances, advertisers submitted copy and left it to compositors to produce an appropriate format.  Advertisements that ran in multiple newspapers often had variations in font size, capitalization, and italics according to the preference of the compositors, even as the copy remained consistent.  On occasion, however, advertisers assumed greater control over the design of their notices, creating spectacles on the page.  Both of Deblois’s notices demanded attention from readers because they deviated visually so significantly from anything else in the newspaper.  Deblois did not have to commission a woodcut or include a variety of ornamental type in his notices in order for them to stand out from others.  He achieved that by working with the compositors to determine what they could accomplish solely by arranging the text in unexpected ways.

September 23

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (September 23, 1771).

A large and compleat Assortment of ENGLISH, INDIA, and SCOTCH GOODS.”

Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, had more content than would fit in the standard issue on September 23, 1771.  Like other newspapers published during the colonial era, an issue of the Boston-Gazette consisted of four pages.  Edes and Gill printed two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folded it in half.  On occasion, however, they had sufficient content to merit publishing a supplement to accompany the standard issue.  They did so on September 23.  Hugh Gaine, printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, did so as well.

Both supplements consisted of two pages.  Both contained advertisements exclusively.  Despite these differences, Gaine adopted a slightly different strategy in producing the supplement for his newspaper than Edes and Gill did.  The standard issue of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury featured four columns per page.  The supplement did as well.  Gaine used a half sheet that matched the size of the standard issue; all six pages were the same size.  Edes and Gill, on the other hand, did not.  A standard issue of the Boston-Gazette had three columns, but only two columns for the supplement.  The printers chose a smaller sheet to match the amount of content and conserve paper.  They generated revenue from the advertisements in the supplement, but kept costs down in producing it.

The relative sizes of the supplements compared to the standard issues would be readily apparent when consulting originals, but not when working with digitized images.  As a result of remediation, digital images become the size of the screen and change as readers zoom in and zoom out.  The size of the page of a digital image is not permanent, unlike the size of the page of the original newspaper.  In the process of remediation, information about originals gets lost if those creating new images do not record and make metadata accessible.  In this case, modern readers consulting digitized images can deduce that Edes and Gill used a different size sheet for the supplement, but have a much more difficult time imagining the experience of eighteenth-century subscribers who received sheets of two different sizes.

September 16

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

Boston-Gazette (September 16, 1771).

“George Spriggs, Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”

In the early 1770s, George Spriggs supplied colonists with fruit trees.  In September 1771, he placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette to promote “ABOUT four or five Thousand Mulberry Trees of different Sizes,” “a large Assortment of English Fruit Trees,” and “an Assortment of flowering Shrubs.”  Those were not just any mulberry trees, Spriggs asserted.  They grew from seeds from “the first ripe Fruit of Mulberries, from a Tree of Mr. David Colson’s, which is the largest and finest Fruit that is in America.”  He expected consumers to be familiar with Colson and his trees or at least trust his expertise about the significance.  He carefully timed his marketing, advising prospective customers that “the best Time of transplanting” the fruit trees “is about the Middle of October.”  Anyone interested in purchasing trees or shrubs from Spriggs could plan accordingly.

In addition to establishing a connection to Colson, Spriggs leveraged his connection to a colonist so prominent that readers of the Boston-Gazette almost certainly knew who he was.  Before he even described the trees and shrubs he offered for sale, Spriggs described himself as “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”  It was not the first time he deployed that strategy, seeking to benefit from the celebrity of one of his clients.  In February 1770, for instance, he opened another advertisement in the same manner.  Nor was he the only advertiser who named a famous client as a means of establishing his credentials.  Elsewhere in the Boston-Gazette, Jacob Hemet introduced himself as “DENTIST to her Majesty, and the Princess Amelia.”  Doctors and dentists who migrated to the colonies frequently claimed they previously provided their services to nobles and the gentry in Europe, expecting prospective clients to take their word for it.  Spriggs, on the other hand, knew that customers could much more easily confirm whether he actually was a “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”  He did not publish a testimonial from the prominent merchant, but encouraged customers to believe that his association with Hancock was recommendation enough.

July 29

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

Boston-Gazette (July 29, 1771).

“The Particulars in our next.”

In late July 1771, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, ran short on space for advertising.  In the July 22 edition, they included a note that “ADVERTISEMENTS omitted will be in our next.”  A week later they apparently had sufficient space to insert notices from all advertisers that submitted them to the printing office and even had room for a note of their own to remind “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above Twelve Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.”  Not every advertisement, however, appeared in its entirety.  Samuel Parkman’s advertisement for a “neat & fresh Assortment of English and India Goods” concluded with a note advising, “The Particulars in our next.”

Boston-Gazette (August 5, 1771).

Parkman’s complete advertisement did indeed appear in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette.  Perhaps to make amends for truncating its earlier appearance, the printers gave it a privileged place at the top of the third column on the first page.  The first two columns consisted of news, making Parkman’s advertisement the first commercial notice that readers encountered when perusing the August 5 edition.  The copy for the complete advertisement suggests that the printers consulted with Parkman about how to abbreviate his initial advertisement.  In most cases, the compositor would have set the type for the first portion of the advertisement and later added additional material, in this case a list of goods available at Parkman’s shop, without making revisions to the introductory section.  In this case, however, it appears that the compositor started afresh in setting type for the second iteration of the advertisement.  Notice, for instance, the spacing for “the Diana” in the first and “theDiana” in the second as well as the changing line breaks for “Union-Street” and “Assortment of English and India Goods.”  More significantly, the first advertisement stated that Parkman “will sell be Wholesale or Retail, as low as can be bought at any Store or Shop in Town.”  In the second advertisement, this shifted to “will sell on the best Terms by Wholesale or Retail.”  That version did not make explicit comparisons to other stores and shops.  In general, advertisers were responsible for copy and compositors responsible for design, so it seems likely that Parkman at least approved the revisions incorporated into the second advertisement.

As with many aspects of the business of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers, this conclusion rests on reasonable conjecture based on close examination of advertising in the Boston-Gazette and many other newspapers.  The advertisements offer clues about what might have happened or what likely happened, but often no definitive answers about the relationship between advertisers and printers.

July 17

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

Boston-Gazette (July 15, 1771).

“PROPOSALS For PRINTING by SUBSCRIPTION.”

In the summer of 1771, James Humphreys wished to publish an American edition of William Robertson’s History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI, perhaps inspired in part by Robert Bell’s efforts to publish an American edition of Robertson’s History of the Reign of Charles the Fifth, Emperor of Germany.  To that end, Humphreys adopted a method pursued by Bell and other printers and publishers when they wished to gauge interest and incite demand for a publication.  He distributed a subscription notice, calling on subscribers to reserve copies in advance.  The number of subscribers determined the viability of a publication.

Such endeavors depended on regional, rather than local, markets.  Humphreys promoted the project in his own city, Philadelphia, but he also placed “PROPOSALS For PRINTING by SUBSCRIPTION” in newspapers published elsewhere, including in the July 15, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  He listed the printers of that newspaper, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, as local agents who accepted subscriptions, but also noted that “the different Printers and Stationers on the continent” handled subscriptions in other places.  Such projects often depended on cultivating networks of local agents.

In the “CONDITIONS,” Humphreys specified that the two volumes of Robertson’s History would go to press “as soon as three hundred subscribers have given their names.”  To entice prospective buyers, he pledged that the “names of the subscribers [would] be printed in the beginning of the first volume.”  As a result, subscribers received more than just the books; they also received recognition as members of a learned community who simultaneously supported American publications as alternatives to imported books.  Humphreys charged one dollar per volume, two dollars total, as well as the “expense of sending them to distant places.”  Unlike some other subscription projects, however, he did not collect money in advance to secure the commitments made by subscribers and offset initial costs for producing the books.  Instead, he declared, “No money is expected but on delivery of the books.”  He likely hoped to attract more subscribers by not requiring a down payment.

Unfortunately for Humphreys, his marketing efforts apparently did not yield the necessary number of subscribers to move forward with the project.  He acknowledged Bell’s “lately published beautiful History of CHARLES V. Emperor of Germany” in the subscription notice.  Rather than creating an opening for another printer to publish an American edition of one of Robertson’s other works, Bell and his aggressive marketing campaign in newspapers throughout the colonies may have saturated the market.

June 3

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

Boston-Gazette (June 3, 1771).

“It is also by special appointment sold by Mr. Daniel Martin, in Boston.”

Many patent medicines were widely available from apothecaries, shopkeepers, and even printers throughout the American colonies.  From New England to Georgia, newspaper advertisements listed popular remedies, including Stoughton’s Elixir, Bateman’s Drops, and Hooper’s Pills.  Consumers recognized the various brands and understood which symptoms each supposedly relieved without encountering additional information in the advertisements.

Other patent medicines, however, were not as widely available.  Such was the case for the “GREAT AND LEARNED DOCTOR SANXAY’s IMPERIAL GOLDEN DROPS,” the subject of a lengthy advertisement in the June 3, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  The Imperial Golden Drops required greater elaboration since they were not as widely familiar to consumers as many other medicines.  The advertisement explained that the Imperial Golden Drops “are composed from the finest essence of the richest gums and balsams of the east and west parts of the world; therefore, this Medicine is truly the Balsam of all the other known balsams.”  The advertisement claimed that this restorative could “fortify the weak & enfeebled parts; to give health, strength and vigour to a worn-out constitution.”  The Imperial Golden Drops aided with “rheumatic and gravelly complaints” as well as “barrenness and sterility in women, & impotency in men.”

Consumers could not acquire this nostrum in just any shop in the colonies.  Instead, it was exclusively available from a select few vendors.  Thomas Anderton, a bookseller in Philadelphia, began advertising the Imperial Golden Drops in January 1771.  According to his advertisement in the January 31 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Anderton supplied customers to the south via “WILLIAM DIELEY, Post-rider, from Philadelphia to Virginia” and “Mr. BALL, the sign of the White Horse, in Annapolis.”  Several months later, Daniel Martin supplied the Imperial Golden Drops to consumers in Boston.  Martin reprinted Anderton’s advertisement that first ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 18, adding an additional headline and a final note.  The headline proclaimed, “Sold by DANIEL MARTIN,” and listed the price before transitioning to the copy originally printed in other newspapers.  That copy included a short paragraph identifying Anderton as the supplier.  It also warned against counterfeits, noting that Anderton “hath sealed the bottle with his coat of arms, and signed each bottle in his own hand writing.”  For local customers, Martin added a brief note: “It is also by special appointment sold by Mr. Daniel Martin, in Boston.”

Apothecaries and other retailers in Boston marketed a variety of patent medicines found in shops throughout the colonies, but Martin provided access to an elixir not stocked elsewhere in the city.  His “special appointment” to sell the Imperial Golden Drops in New England made him the sole vendor of a patent medicine billed as “the greatest … medicine ever produced.”  Martin likely hoped that such exclusivity generated demand and added value to the unique product he hawked to prospective patients in Boston and surrounding towns.

May 29

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

Boston-Gazette (May 27, 1771).

“Encouraged by several gentlemen of eminence in the different provinces, to undertake the publication of the following litterary works, in America.”

Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers and publishers in eighteenth-century America, cultivated a distinctly American market for the production and consumption of books, both before and after the American Revolution.  Although American printers produced some titles, they were relatively few compared to those imported from Britain.  Bell sought to change that, advertising widely rather than only in newspapers published in his own town.

For instance, in an advertisement in the May 27, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, Bell listed “the late Union Library in Third-street, Philadelphia” as his location.  Yet prospective customers interested in any of the titles included in his advertisement did not need to contact him there.  Instead, they could deal with Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette.  Bell proclaimed that he supplied Edes and Gill with “printed proposals, with speciments annexed” for “HUME’s elegeant HISTORY of ENGLAND, … BLACKSTONE’s splendid COMMENTARIES on the LAWS of ENGLAND, … Also, FERGUSON’s celebrated ESSAY on the HISTORY of CIVIL SOCIETY.”  As local agents acting on behalf of Bell, Edes and Gill distributed the proposals, collected the “names & residence” of subscribers, and sent the lists to Bell.  The enterprising bookseller and publisher enlisted many other local agents, instructing prospective “purchasers, of any of the fore mentioned litterary works” to contact “any of the Booksellers and Printers on this continent.”  Advertisements in other newspapers from New England to South Carolina indicated that Bell established an extensive network of associates and local agents.

In another way, this was not Bell’s endeavor alone.  He claimed that many others supported his efforts to create an America market for books printed in America.  He proclaimed that he had been “encouraged by several gentlemen of eminence in the different provinces, to undertake the publication” of several notable works “in America.”  Others, he declared, shared his vision.  Bell extended an invitation to even more readers to join them, addressing “Gentlemen who wish prosperity to the means for the enlargement of the human understanding in America.”  Such explicit reference to the edification and refinement of readers did not, however, did not tell the entire story.  Subscribers also implicitly made political statements about American identity and expressed support for American commerce.  Americans did not need to think of themselves or the books they produced and consumed as inferior to those imported from Britain.  Bell promised that “BLACKSTONE’s famous COMMENTARIES” compared favorably “page for page with the London edition.”  Prospective subscribers could conform the quality of the books by examining the proposals and, especially, the specimens entrusted to Bell’s local agents.

Bell commenced his advertisement with an announcement that “THE THIRD VOLUME OF ROBERTSON’s splendid History of CHARLES the Fifth, with compleat Indexes, is now finished for the Subscribers.”  He previously advertised all three volumes widely, starting with subscription notices before taking the work to press and providing updates and seeking additional subscribers along the way.  Alerting readers that the project came to a successful conclusion served as a testimonial to the vision that Bell and “several gentlemen of eminence in the different provinces” shared.  Achieving that vision and moving forward with the publication of American editions of other significant works required continued support from readers who committed to becoming subscribers.  Their decisions about consumption, Bell suggested, had ramifications beyond acquiring books for their own reference.

May 22

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 20, 1771).

“A large and elegant Assortment of Chinces, Callicoes, printed Cottons … at the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane.”

Following the custom of the time, the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette arranged news accounts according to geography.  News from London (dated April 2), far away, came first, followed by news from other colonies.  The printers also selected updates from Newport (dated May 13) and Portsmouth (dated May 17), in that order, getting closer to their own city before inserting news from Boston (dated May 20).  The local news included a curious item: “A large and elegant Assortment of Chinces, Callicoes, printed Cottons, Clouting Diapers, Dowlasses, Huckabuck, Irish Linnens, Silk and Linnen Handkerchiefs, may be had very cheap at the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane, if apply’d for this Day.”  Rather than news, it read like an advertisement that belonged elsewhere in the newspaper.

The same item appeared among the news dated “BOSTON, May 20” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and in the Boston Evening-Post.  All three newspapers printed in Boston on that day included what otherwise looked like an advertisement among the local news.  In each case, the printers reprinted some items from a supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter published on May 16.  They also inserted new items, varying the order.  In other words, a compositor did not set type from start to finish for content that first appeared elsewhere.  The printers of each newspaper made decisions about which items to include and in which order.  They all decided to include this advertisement among the local news.

Why?  Was it a favor for Joseph Russell, one of the proprietors of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  Russell was also a successful auctioneer who regularly advertised in several newspapers rather than restricting his marketing efforts to his own publication.  For instance, he placed an advertisement for an upcoming auction in the May 20 edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  He gave the usual location, “the Auction-Room in Queen-street” rather than “the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane.”  Something distinguished the sale of the “large and elegant Assortment” of textiles as different, meriting a one-day-only sale at Russell’s home rather than the auction house … and its unique placement among news items instead of alongside other advertisements.

As a partner in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, Russell certainly exercised some influence in the placement of his advertisements, even though John Green oversaw the day-to-day operations of the newspaper.  Deciding to experiment with an unusual placement for his notice, Russell may have convinced other printers to give his advertisement a privileged place in their publications as well.  In his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas described Russell as “full of life,” asserting that “[f]ew men had more friends, or were more esteemed.  In all companies he rendered himself agreeable.”[1]  Perhaps this vivacious auctioneer convinced his partner and several other printers to slip an advertisement into a place that such notices did not customarily appear in the 1770s.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 140.

May 20

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

Boston-Gazette (May 20, 1771).

UMBRILLOES.”

A brief advertisement in the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette informed readers of “ALL Sorts of UMBRILLOS, made in the neatest Manner, and very cheap, to be sold at the Golden Cock, Marlboro’ Street, Boston—Where Ladies may have their own Silk made into Umbrillos, or old Umbrillos mended.”  That advertisement likely garnered less attention than the one placed by competitor Isaac Greenwood in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette.  As part of his marketing campaign, Greenwood used graphic design to his advantage.

Like many other advertisers, Greenwood led with a headline, in this case “UMBRILLOES” in capitals, italics, and a slightly larger font.  He paired the headline with a visual image depicting a woman holding an umbrella.  A close view of the woman, it included only her head and shoulders, thus allowing readers to see that she wore a necklace and had an elaborate hairstyle.  The umbrella contributed to her aura of refinement.  The entire umbrella was not visible; instead, it extended beyond the frame of the image, suggesting that the amount of protection it provided from sun or rain could not be fully represented in the image.  More importantly, this also communicated that a woman who carried an umbrella would occupy a greater amount of both physical and visual space.  That, in turn, meant greater notice by observers.  As a fashionable accoutrement, an umbrella enhanced a genteel woman’s image or even a young girl’s image.  Greenwood proclaimed that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 6 or 7 Years of Age.”  As Kate Haulman explains, umbrellas appeared in England and its American colonies in the 1760s, “stylistic spoils of empire hailing from India,” but many critics considered umbrellas “effeminate, appropriate only for use by women.”[1]  Note that both advertisements positioned women and girls as the primary consumers of umbrellas or parasols, the decidedly feminine counterpart.

Carrying an umbrella, the entire concept an exotic import in the early 1770s, likely meant attracting attention.  Greenwood underscored that was the case with a visual image that undoubtedly drew notice, especially since so few newspaper advertisements featured visual images of any sort.  In depicting both an umbrella and the woman who carried it, Greenwood anticipated the fashion plate that became such an integral part of marketing in the nineteenth century.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 632.

May 6

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

Boston-Gazette (May 6, 1771).

“AN ORATION … to COMMEMORATE the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

In the spring of 1771, colonists had several opportunities to purchase memorabilia that marked the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  For the fourth consecutive week, Benjamin Edes and John Gill advertised James Lovell’s “ORATION … to COMMEMORATE the BLOODY TRAGEDY” in the May 6 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Edes and Gill, printers of that newspaper, also printed the oration “by Order of the Town of BOSTON,” according to the imprint on the title page.

Lovell delivered the first oration commemorating the Boston Massacre sanctioned by the town of Boston on April 2, 1771, though Thomas Young also gave an address on the same theme a few weeks earlier and closer to the first anniversary of British soldiers firing into a crowd and killing several colonists.  No copy of Young’s address survives, but Edes and Gill took Lovell’s oration to press less than two weeks after he spoke to the residents of Boston.  Starting on May 15, they promoted the oration in the Boston-Gazette, informing readers that they could acquire copies of this commemorative item.  A week later, Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, advised residents of Salem and its environs that he also carried Lovell’s oration.

Edes and Gill simultaneously marketedINNOCENT BLOOD CRYING TO GOD FROM THE STREETS OF BOSTON,” a sermon that John Lathrop, “Pastor of the Second Church in BOSTON,” delivered just days after the Boston Massacre.  Edes and Gill reprinted a London edition delivered to them by a ship captain who carried both news and consumer goods across the Atlantic.  In the case of the sermon, news and merchandise came packaged in a single pamphlet, ready for reprinting and dissemination throughout the busy port and into the countryside.  According to their advertisement, Edes and Gill sold the sermon single and by the dozen, an invitation to retailers to purchase and sell it in their shops.

Civic leaders in Boston encouraged a culture of commemoration around the Bloody Massacre, just as colonists in many towns marked the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.  Printers like Edes and Gill eagerly participated in that process, inspired by both their political principles and their desire to generate revenues.  Printing and marketing orations and sermons about the Boston Massacre helped to keep the event fresh in popular memory by making those addresses readily accessible long after the speakers delivered them.