November 24

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 22, 1771).

“Proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”

Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly placed advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter as well as the other newspaper published in Boston in the early 1770s.  While the shopkeepers aimed their notices at consumers, some merchants address both retailers and consumers.  William Bant, for instance, stocked a “large and general Assortment of GOODS … to sell by Wholesale and Retail.”  Not every advertiser identified their intended customers so explicitly; some instead made more specific appeals that invited both retailers and consumers to purchase their merchandise.

John Adams and Company advertised a “complete Assortment of Cream-colour’d China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” as well as groceries and a “small Assortment of English Goods” available at their shop near the Old South Meeting House.  Adams and Company informed prospective buyers that they sold their wares “very low for Cash – with proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”  In other words, retailers who bought in volume received discounts.  Similarly, William Bant concluded his extensive advertisement that listed dozens of items with a nota bene that alerted “Traders and Shopkeepers” that they “may be supplied with Assortments of the foregoing Articles, upon as good Terms, as at any Store in Town.”  Bant hoped to entice retailers by offering to match the prices set by his competitors.

In another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Smith and Atkinson made it clear that they intended to deal with retailers exclusively.  They acquired a “Large and General Assortment of European and India Goods … on the very best Terms,” allowing them to sell their merchandise “(by Wholesale only) at such Prices as shall give full Satisfaction to those in Town and Country who purchase their Assortments here.”  In addition, they encouraged retailers who imported goods on their own to supplement their inventories and “compleat their Assortments” by selecting from among the items Smith and Atkinson had on hand.

Readers encountered numerous advertisements for consumer goods in just about every issue of newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s.  Merchants and shopkeepers hoping to sell directly to consumers placed the majority of those advertisements, but not all of them.  William Bant, John Adams and Company, and Smith and Atkinson were among the many merchants who sold imported goods wholesale, designing marketing materials aimed at retailers rather than consumers.

November 2

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

Providence Gazette (November 2, 1771).

West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”

In the fall of 1771, Benjamin West, an astronomer and mathematician, and John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, collaborated in producing, marketing, and selling the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”  It was West’s tenth almanac.  Over a decade he worked with a succession of printers of the Providence Gazette, including William Goddard (almanacs for 1763, 1764, and 1765), William Goddard and Sarah Goddard (1766), Sarah Goddard and Company (1767), Sarah Goddard and John Carter (1768), and John Carter (1769, 1770, 1771, and 1772).  West not only provided the “usual Astronomical Calculations” but also assisted in selling copies to both readers and retailers.  Advertisements for the New-England Almanack consistently informed buyers that it was “Sold by the Printer hereof, and by the Author.”

West and Carter also collaborated in developing more than one format to suit the needs of their customers.  In late September, they announced the imminent publication of the standard edition, a pamphlet containing twenty-four pages.  In early November, they marketed an additional product, “West’s SHEET-ALMANACK, For the Year of our LORD 1772.”  Colonists who purchased that broadside as an alternative to the standard edition could post it for easy reference throughout the year.  The broadside cost a little less than the standard edition, four coppers compared to six.  In addition, West and Carter offered discounts for purchasing a quantity.  For the standard edition, buyers paid a lower rate “per single Dozen” and an even lower rate “per Dozen by the Quantity.”  The pricing structure for the broadside edition, however, was less complicated; buyers received a discount “per Dozen” regardless of how many dozens they purchased.

Rather than combine the marketing into a single advertisement, West and Carter promoted the two editions separately.  Doing so may have allowed them to gain greater notice through repetition since the advertisements ran on different pages of the Providence Gazette.  As printer of the newspaper, Carter exercised control over where notices appeared, an advantage not available to other advertisers.  In their efforts to sell the New-England Almanack, West and Carter brought together several strategies, including multiple formats, discounts for retailers and others who bought a quantity, and privileged placement on the page within the newspaper.

October 27

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

Massachusetts Spy (October 24, 1771).

“Neatly engraved … The BOSTON MASSACRE.”

In the fall of 1771, Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, advertised an almanac for the coming year.  In the October 27 edition of his newspaper, he announced that he published the “Massachusetts CALENDAR; or an ALMANACK, for the year, 1772.”  He deployed several strategies to market the almanac to both retailers and readers.  Like many printers, he listed the contents as a preview for prospective buyers.  In addition to the usual astronomical calculations, this almanac included “Several Select Pieces … On Liberty and Government; Thoughts on Government; On the Culture of Silk,” and other essays.  In addition, it contained poetry and useful tables, including one for calculating interest “on a Entire new Construction.”

Thomas also noted the price, including discounts for retailers and others who bought in volume.  A single copy cost three shillings, but a dozen only twenty-two shillings and six pence.  That meant that anyone who purchased eight copies received four additional copies for free, a pricing scheme that allowed booksellers, shopkeepers, and others to charge competitive prices that still allowed them to generate profits on the sale of the almanac.  In addition, Thomas emphasized that he published “The SECOND Edition,” suggesting that this particular almanac was especially popular among the many choices available to consumers.  Anyone interested in acquiring copies needed to act quickly.

To further entice customers, Thomas also promoted the “FOUR Plates, neatly engraved” that embellished the almanac.  Those images included “The four Seasons, with the Twelve Signs of the Zodiac,” rather standard fare in eighteenth-century almanacs, as well as portraits of “The King of Denmark” and “Mr. Weatherwise,” whose “Prognosticks” appeared among the contents.  Thomas considered one image especially significant, a depiction of “The BOSTON MASSACRE, on the evening of the 5th of March 1770.”  He listed it first and used capital letters to draw attention to this relief cut from an engraving attributed to Paul Revere.  The combination of essays examining “Liberty and Government” and an image of the Boston Massacre made clear that this almanac incorporated a particular political ideology among its contents.  This was an almanac for American patriots who remained vigilant throughout the imperial crisis.

September 21

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

Providence Gazette (September 21, 1771).

“Price Three Shillings per single Dozen, Two Shillings and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”

As fall arrived in 1771 advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  On September 21, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted an advertisement that he would publish “THENEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” by Benjamin West.  For several years West, an astronomer and mathematician, and Carter collaborated on almanacs, the former as author and the latter as printer.  As always, the newest edition included “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining” in addition to “the usual Astronomical Calculations.”

Like others who promoted almanacs, Carter and West offered the New-England Almanack wholesale and retail.  Consumers could purchase single copies for “Six Coppers” or six pence from the author or at the printing office.  Shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others who bought by the dozen, however, received discounts.  Carter and West charged “Three Shillings per single Dozen,” but offered an even better bargain to those who bought in even greater volume.  Those customers paid “TWO SHILLINGS and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”  In other words, a dozen almanacs cost thirty-six pence (or three pence each), but two dozen almanacs cost thirty pence per dozen (or two and a half pence each).

This pricing structure suggests just how much retailers could mark up prices for almanacs.  Those who bought only a dozen still acquired them for half the retail price that Carter and West charged.  Retailers who purchased two dozen or more could double the price they paid to five pence per almanac and still charge less than Carter and West did for single copies.  The printer and author probably did not worry too much about being undersold by retailers who assumed the risk for finding consumers for the almanacs, preferring the revenues guaranteed in bulk sales.  For their part, some readers may have decided to hold off on purchasing new almanacs for their homes, hoping to get better bargains from local shopkeepers and booksellers.

July 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 25, 1771).

“JAPANED WARE … now made and sold by TIMOTHY BERRET, and COMPANY.”

Advertisements for domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, appeared in colonial newspapers with greater frequency when nonimportation agreements remained in effect in response to the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the Coercive Acts in the 1760s and 1770s.  They tapered off, but did not disappear altogether, when colonists resumed regular trade with merchants in Britain.  Some advertisers continued to encourage consumers to acquire domestic manufactures, even if doing so did not have the same political valence when tensions between colonists and Parliament eased.

In the summer of 1771, for instance, Timothy Berret and Company advertised “JAPANED WARE” made in Pennsylvania.  The partners recognized the popularity and demand for fashionable housewares with patterns carved into thick black varnish, following styles and techniques that originated in Japan.  Such items testified to commercial networks that extended far beyond the Atlantic as well as to the cosmopolitanism of consumers who acquired and displayed “JAPANED WARE,” no matter whether made in Britain, the colonies, or elsewhere.  Berret and Company adamantly proclaimed their merchandise “Equal in quality to any that can be imported from Great-Britain.”  They underscored the point, declaring their wares “no way inferior, either in neatness of workmanship, japaning, painting, or polishing, to any that is made in England.”  For those consumers skeptical that Berret and Company achieved the same quality as imported items, the partners had on hand “very neat bread-baskets, tea-boards, and waiters” for sale and inspection.

In an effort to gain more orders for their “new Manufactory,” Berret and Company sought buyers among retailers as well as end-use consumers.  They offered discounts, a “great allowance,” to shopkeepers and others “who buy to sell again.”  In addition to quality that matched imported goods, they passed along bargains to their customers with prices “as cheap as in England.”  Purchasers did not have to pay a premium when acquiring domestic manufactures from Berret and Company instead of imported goods produced in greater quantities.

The “young beginners” in Philadelphia refrained from inserting political commentary into their advertisement, instead choosing to reassure hesitant buyers that the quality and price of their “JAPANED WARE” rivaled anything imported.  For many advertisers and consumers, politics did not matter as much in 1771 as they did in 1766 or 1769 or would again in 1774.  Several times in the 1760s and 1770s, the marketing appeals in newspaper advertisements, the arguments in favor of purchasing domestic manufactures, shifted depending on current events and the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

January 8

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

Connecticut Courant (January 8, 1771).

“He will sell for the following Prices.”

K. Sexton sold books at a shop “Near the Great Bridge in Hartford” in the early 1770s. Like many other early American booksellers, he placed newspaper advertisements that listed various titles available at his shop. In his advertisement in the January 8, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, however, he included an enhancement not part of most newspaper advertisements or book catalogs published during the period.  He gave the prices of his merchandise.

In orderly columns that ran down the right side of his notice, Sexton listed prices in pounds, shillings, and pence, allowing prospective customers to anticipate what they would spend on his books as well as identify bargains.  He charged, for instance, fourteen shillings for a two-volume set of “SMALL Morrocco Bibles, bound in the neatest Manner,” five shillings and four pence for a “large” edition of a popular novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and four shillings and eight pence for a “small” edition, and ten pence for “Cato’s Tragedy.”

For some items, Sexton sought buyers among both consumers and retailers.  He sold “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God, a Sermon preach’d by the Rev’d Jon. Edwards at Enfield, at a Time of great awakenings” for six pence for a single copy or four shillings for a dozen.  Retailers and others who bought in volume enjoyed a significant discount when they paid four shillings or forty-eight pence for twelve copies; Sexton reduced the retail price by one third.  He offered similar savings for purchasing at least a dozen copies of six other titles, including “Mr. Moodys Sermon to Children” and “Watts’s Catechism.”  For each of those, he charged either four pence each or three shillings (or thirty-six pence) for a dozen.  Those who bought a dozen save one quarter of the retail price.

Most booksellers did not specify prices for their merchandise in newspapers advertisements that listed multiple titles, though they were more likely to mention prices in advertisements for single titles and almost always did so in subscription notices for proposed books, magazines, and pamphlets.  In general, most purveyors of goods and services in eighteenth-century America did not indicate prices in their advertisements, except to offer assurances that they were low or reasonable.  Setting prices and promoting them to prospective customers eventually became a standard marketing strategy, but it was not common in eighteenth-century advertisements.  In the early 1770s, Sexton’s use of prices in his newspaper notices amounted to an experiment and innovation in marketing.

December 22

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

Providence Gazette (December 22, 1770).

“On Wednesday next will be Published … Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”

Advertisements for almanacs were ubiquitous in American newspapers in late December during the era of the American Revolution.  They began appearing in late summer or early fall, usually just brief announcements that printers planned to publish and start selling them within the coming weeks.  The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall and continued as winter officially arrived just before the end of the year.  Printers continued to advertise almanacs in January, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that cut into their revenues.  Advertisements tapered off in February and beyond, though some notices occasionally appeared well into the new year.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both that almanac and the Providence Gazette, were among the promoters of almanacs in the public prints in 1770.  They offered “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity.”  In other words, shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others received discounts for buying by volume, thus allowing them to charge competitive retail prices.

By the first day of winter, West and Carter had already been advertising the New-England Almanack for more than a month.  The advertisement that ran in the December 22 edition of the Providence Gazette likely looked familiar to readers, but the conclusion announced a new product that would soon be available for customers.  Within the next week, Carter planned to publish “Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”  This condensed version of the pamphlet organized the contents on a single broadsheet to hang on a wall in a home or office for easy reference.  West and Carter realized that consumers might have use for an almanac in a different format instead of or, even better, in addition to the standard pamphlet version.  Their decision to publish a sheet almanac presented customers with choices.  Waiting to publish the sheet almanack until just a week before the new year may have been a savvy decision when it came to customers who preferred that format but who already purchased the pamphlet version.  For printers of all sorts, including those who published newspapers, almanacs were an important source of revenue.  For Carter, that made introducing a sheet almanac just a week before the new year worth the risk.

November 10

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

Providence Gazette (November 10, 1770).

“NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771.”

In eighteenth-century America, November was one of the most important months for marketing almanacs. Advertisements began appearing as early as August or September in some newspapers, but those were usually brief notices that printers planned to publish almanacs in the coming weeks or months.  More advertisements appeared with greater frequency in October, November, and December, many of them much more extensive than the earlier notices.  Those advertisements often included lists of the contents to convince prospective buyers that almanacs contained a variety of practical, educational, and entertaining items.  Sometimes they also featured excerpts taken from one of those features.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, ran a lengthy advertisement on November 10, 1770.  It extended more than half a column, much of that space filled with a list of its contents.  Practical entries included “High Water at Providence, and Differences of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent” and “Courts in the New England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method.”  The almanac also contained items intended to educate or entertain or both, such as “select Pieces of Poetry” and “an Essay on ASTROLOGY.”  A few verses appeared near the end of the advertisement, previewing what readers would encounter when they perused the almanac.  The astronomical calculations were “Fitted for the Latitude of PROVIDENCE,” but the almanac also included useful information for anyone venturing beyond the city, such as a “Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected, with the most noted Inns prefixed, for the Direction of Travellers.”

West and Carter aimed their advertisement at both consumers and retailers.  They promised “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity” or a discount for buying by volume.  They hoped to supply shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others with almanacs to sell to their own customers, further disseminating them beyond what the author and printer could accomplish by themselves.  The lengthy advertisement in the Providence Gazette also served the interests of those prospective retailers.  They did not need to post their own extensive advertisements to convince buyers of the benefits of acquiring this particular almanac but could instead advise customers that they carried the New England Almanack.  West and Carter already did much of the marketing for retailers gratis.

Readers of the Providence Gazette could expect to see similar advertisements throughout the remainder of November and into December and January before they tapered off in late winter.  Just as falling leaves marked the change of the season in New England, the appearance and length of newspaper advertisements for almanacs also signaled that fall had arrived and winter was on its way.

October 17

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 15, 1770).

“Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, colonial printers quickly engaged in simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification.  Radiating out from Boston, newspapers provided extensive coverage of Whitefield’s passing, in news articles reprinted from one newspaper to another, in verses dedicated to the minister, and in a hymn composed by Whitefield himself in anticipation of it one day being sung at his funeral.  In addition to widespread and widely reprinted commemorations of Whitefield, printers also hawked memorabilia that commodified his death.

The first instance appeared in the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, just days after residents of Boston received the news that Whitefield died at Newburyport.  The news coverage included an announcement of “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr, Whitefield … Sold at Green & Russells.”  Within two weeks, every newspaper published in Massachusetts as well as the New-Hampshire Gazette published at least one freestanding advertisement that promoted a broadside that commemorated the minister.  Printers and others made available several broadsides for consumers, some of that memorabilia featuring the funeral hymn and others featuring poems dedicated to Whitefield.

The advertisements for those broadsides initially addressed individual consumers, but on October 15 the advertisements for the “ELEGIAC POEM” by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet, in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy included a new note at the end: “Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”  Ezekiel Russell and John Boyles offered discounts to peddlers, shopkeepers, and anyone else who would purchase in bulk and then retail the broadside beyond Boston.  Just as news of Whitefield’s death spread through printing and reprinting of articles, verses, and hymns in newspapers that were distributed far beyond the towns in which they were published, the opportunities to engage in commemoration through commodification also widened.  Newspapers in Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth all ran advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia.  The producers of that memorabilia expected and encouraged further distribution into villages, offering discounts to facilitate the further dissemination of their product.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 19, 1770).

“A Discount of 5 per Cent. at least.”

In the summer of 1770, David Baty and Company advertised a variety of liquors available at their store in Charleston.  Their notice in the supplement to the June 19 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal listed “RUM of different Qualities,” brandy, Madeira, claret, port, and “a Variety of other WINES.”  Customers could select the quantity they desired.  For rum and brandy, that meant by the hogshead, quarter cask, or “smaller Quantity,” but not less than three gallons.  For the wines, they could select among pipes, casks, and bottles.

Baty and Company encouraged customers to make larger purchases.  To that end, they offered “a Discount of 5 per Cent. at least” for buying “any considerable Amount,” suggesting that they applied even more significant discounts as customers increased their orders.  The partners did not list any prices to capture the attention of prospective customers; instead, they asked them to imagine a different kind of bargain available at their store.

They also provided a discount to customers who paid cash rather than made their purchases on credit.  The same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included several notices calling on customers and others to settle overdue accounts.  Some of those advertisements included threats to place delinquent “Accounts in the Hands of a Lawyer.”  Baty and Company sought to avoid the hassle and expense of chasing down customers for payment at a later date, so they offered an incentive for paying with “Ready Money” at the time of sale.

Purveyors of goods and services frequently trumpeted their low prices in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.  Baty and Company took a different approach.  The partners asked prospective customers to consider how they could play a role in bringing down prices by ordering “any considerable Amount” or paying in cash, actions that provided even greater benefits to Baty and Company than simply making a sale.