April 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 22, 1773).

“Garden Seeds, &c. Are to be Sold by the following Persons, who have advertised the Particular Sorts in this Paper.”

Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, did not have room for all of the news, letters, and advertisements submitted to his printing office for the April 22, 1773, edition.  To remedy the matter, he collected together and abbreviated notices about “Peas, Beans, [and] Garden Seeds” peddled by John Adams, Ebenezer Oliver, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Susanna Renken, Elizabeth Clark and Nowell, and Lydia Dyar.  Draper informed readers that the “following Persons, who have advertised the Particular Sorts in this Paper” continued to sell seeds, but “we have not Room this Week.”  Along with each name, the printer provided the location, but did not elaborate on their merchandise except for a note at the end intended to apply to each advertiser, a single line advising prospective customers that “All the Seeds [were] of the last Year’s Growth.”

Indeed, each of those purveyors of seeds had indeed “advertised the Particular Sorts in this Paper” … and in the four other newspapers published in Boston in the spring of 1773.  For two months readers had encountered advertisements placed by Adams, Oliver, Greenleaf, Renken, Clark and Nowell, and Dyar, an annual herald of the arrival of spring in Boston.  Eighteenth-century printers did not usually classify and categorize advertisements according to purpose and then organize them accordingly in the pages of their newspapers.  Advertisements for seeds, however, proved the exception to the rule. In each of the newspapers printed in the city, the compositors often clustered advertisements for seeds together.  When they did so, those advertisements filled entire columns and, sometimes, more than one column.  In the supplement that accompanied the previous edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, the advertisements by Adams, Oliver, Greenleaf, Renken, Clark and Nowell, and Dyar accounted for half the content on the final page, running one after another in the last two columns.

That practice in place, it made sense for Draper to truncate those advertisements when he did not have sufficient space for all of them in the April 22 edition.  He likely assumed that subscribers and others who regularly read his newspapers had already seen those notices on several occasions.  They could even consult previous editions if they needed more information.  Besides, the season for advertising seeds was coming to an end.  The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury did not run any more advertisements for seeds in the following weeks, nor did some of the other newspapers.  Some of the seed sellers discontinued their advertising efforts.  The others began tapering off their notices, placing them in fewer newspapers for the overall effect of seeds having less prominence in the public prints in Boston as April came to a close and May arrived.  The annual ritual completed for 1773, it would begin again the following February.

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.”