What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”
In the fall of 1767, Caleb Blanchard placed the same advertisement in multiple newspapers published in Boston, increasing the likelihood that potential customers would learn that he stocked an assortment of imported goods. In the course of a single week, his advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette on October 29 (examined yesterday) and the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette on November 2. Blanchard certainly was not the only colonial merchant who attempted to broadcast his marketing efforts as widely as possible by advertising in several newspapers. By the late 1760s this was a fairly common strategy among advertisers in port cities with competing newspapers.
Yet Blanchard’s advertisement merits attention not only because it was the same advertisement, in terms of the content, in more than one newspaper. On closer examination it appears to have been the same advertisement set with the same type yet printed in two different newspapers.
At a glance, it is fairly easy to distinguish between the typography of Blanchard’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and its counterpart in the Boston-Gazette. The compositors make different decisions about capitalization, italics, and line breaks. In addition, the Massachusetts Gazette version lists three captains who imported Blanchard’s inventory but the version in the Boston-Gazette includes only two. While they had the same copy (with the exception of the third captain), these were two different advertisements.
Comparing the versions in the Massachusetts Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post, however, does not yield any readily apparent visual discrepancies. Even after examining the original issues in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society, the advertisements do not seem to be distinctive or unique to their respective publications. Instead, it appears that Richard Draper at Massachusetts Gazette and Thomas and John Fleet at the Boston Evening-Post shared an advertisement set in type at one printing office and transported to the other.
This requires a lot more investigation, especially since this is not the first instance of this sort of cooperation and sharing of advertisements among Boston printers during the fall of 1767 that I have encountered. This example raises many questions about the printing trade and the business practices adopted in Boston that will require much more research. Yet I wanted to highlight these advertisements as a means of demonstrating how a much larger project can originate from discovering something unexpected. Blanchard’s advertisements are only a tiny part of an expansive print culture in eighteenth-century America, yet they suggest that big questions come from small pieces of evidence.