July 20

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 20, 1772).

“Ebenezer Oliver Hereby informs the Publick and the Customers of his late Mother …”

In the summer of 1772, Ebenezer Oliver ran advertisements to advise “the Publick and the Customers of his late Mother Mrs. Bethiah Oliver, deceased,” that he had for sale a variety of goods “at the Shop formerly improved by her, nearly opposite the Old South Meeting-House, in Boston.”  The inventory included a “fine Assortment of China, Cream-colour’d, Glass, Delph, Flint and Stone WARE” as well as tea, sugar, coffee, and spices.

Ebenezer placed more emphasis on marketing those items than his mother had before her death.  Between 1765 and 1771, she placed advertisements in several newspapers each spring, joining the ranks of female seed sellers who sought customers among the residents of Boston.  Most of those women advertised seeds exclusively, even though they likely sold other items.  On occasion, Bethiah listed additional items at the end of an advertisement for “All Sorts of Garden Seeds,” such as a “general Assortment of Glass, Delph and Stone Ware, Lynn Shoes, best Bohea Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, and all other Groceries” in a notice in the April 14, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  In contrast, Ebenezer placed an advertisement that did not mention seeds at all, but did provide an extensive list of groceries organized in two columns.

He did not, however, immediately transform the advertisements placed by his mother.  Bethiah died in the spring of 1771.  The following spring, her name appeared as a headline in advertisements for “GARDEN SEEDS Just imported by Captain Scott, from LONDON” in several newspapers, including the April 6, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  That advertisement included an extensive list of seeds, similar to the lists Bethiah published in recent years.  On closer examination, readers noted that the advertisement specified that the seeds were “to be Sold at the Shop formerly improved by Bethiah Oliver.”  Ebenezer replicated the marketing strategy that his mother had deployed mother in the late 1760s and early 1770s, probably hoping that name recognition and customer loyalty would draw friends and former customers to the shop that he now operated.

When Ebenezer expanded his marketing efforts beyond selling seeds in the spring, he initially invoked Bethiah’s name and “the Shop formerly improved by her” as a means of enticing “the Customers of his late Mother.”  As spring approached in 1773, nearly two years after his mother’s death, Ebenezer placed advertisements for “GARDEN SEEDS … just Imported in Capt. Jarvis from London” that deployed his name as a headline and referred to “his Shop,” though he added “(formerly improv’d by his late Mother Mrs. Bethiah Oliver, deceased.”  In the February 25, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, he added a nota bene that alerted prospective customers that he also stocked “a fine Assortment of Cream-colour’d Ware, Glass, Delph, Flint and Stone Ware, with a general Assortment of Groceries.”  In so doing, he revived the format his mother formerly used but abandoned several years earlier when she decided that her notices in the public prints, like those of so many of her fellow female seed sellers, would focus exclusively on “GARDEN SEEDS.”