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