What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods.”
Joseph Peirce’s advertisement occupied half a column in the April 16, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, listing dozens of items for sale and fulfilling a promise made the previous week. In the previous issue, an abbreviated version of the advertisement informed readers that “Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods, which he will sell, at his Shop at the North Side of the Town House, Boston, at such Rates as shall give full Satisfaction to the Purchaser.” A short note also clarified that “The Particulars must be deferred till our next.”
The shipping news from the customs house confirmed that several vessels from London, including one commanded by Capt. Scott, recently arrived “Enter’d in” the bustling port. In some instances, advertisers placed preliminary notices to alert prospective customers that they had new merchandise before they had time to unpack it or include all the “Particulars.” In a competitive commercial landscape, they considered it imperative to advertise as quickly as other merchants and shopkeepers. That does not seem to have been the case with Peirce’s advertisement, however. Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a note at the bottom of the page, stating that “A Number of New and Old Advertisements, we are obliged to omit for want of Room.” The decision to delay some of the content of Peirce’s advertisement therefore seems to have been made by the printer rather than by the advertiser. Even the half sheet that accompanied the standard issue did not provide sufficient space for the remaining advertisements. Draper declared that “The LONDON NEWS by the last Vessels are in the Gazette Extraordinary.” That the masthead of the additional half sheet named it the Massachusetts-Gazette Extraordinary rather than the usual Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette distributed by Draper signaled that it contained news that readers would not want “deferred till our next.” He prioritized news for subscribers over paid notices by advertisers, carefully balancing his obligations as printer. After all, the newspaper depended on the patronage of both kinds of customers.
Peirce’s complete advertisement appeared in the next issue, the original notice serving as an introduction to an extensive catalog of imported goods. The delay might not have mattered for some readers and prospective customers. A note from the printer in the April 16 edition indicated that delivery had been postponed because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road” so those subscribers received the April 9 and the April 16 editions (and the abbreviated version and the full version of Peirce’s advertisement) at the same time. Both the advertiser and the printer experienced delays in circulating Peirce’s notice to colonizers in and beyond Boston.