September 6

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

Boston Evening-Post (September 6, 1773).


Not long after Mr. Bates concluded his performances in New York, he arrived in Boston and began advertising exhibitions of his feats of horsemanship in the newspapers there.  He commenced with notices in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on Monday, September 6, 1773, informing ladies and gentlemen of the city about his performance on Wednesday or, if the weather did not permit, on Friday.

As he had done in his advertisements in New York, he deployed “HORSEMANSHIP” as a headline for his notice and then introduced himself as “The ORIGINAL PERFORMER; Who has had the honor or performing” for a longlist of royalty in Europe.  He declared that he earned “the greatest APPLAUSE” from those regal audiences, but did not expect colonizers in New York to take his word for it.  Instead, he had “Certificates from the several Courts” that they could examine.  In addition, he asserted that the “greatest Judges in the MANLY ART” of horsemanship considered his skills “to excel any Horseman that ever attempted any Thing of the Kind.”  Bates hoped that the promises of such a spectacle would entice audiences in Boston to attend his show.

He had reason to feel confident in the effectiveness of this marketing strategy.  After all, he gave the same pitch in New York.  He may have delivered newspapers, clippings, or perhaps even handbills from that city to the printing offices in Boston or he may have copied out the advertisement from one of those sources.  Whatever method he deployed, he remained consistent in how he introduced himself and described his skills to prospective audiences, likely sticking with what worked.  He also repeated another technique that he used in New York, encouraging anyone interested in the performance to acquire tickets quickly because “No Money will be taken at the Doors, nor Admittance without Tickets.”  Rather than wait until the time and day of the show, Bates aimed to generate ticket sales in advance.  Through experience, he devised a system that he believed worked best for inciting interest and securing his livelihood.

May 22

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (May 22, 1773).

“He was seen in New-York. And remained some Days there; but has since taken his Flight to Rhode-Island.”

An advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1773 described Jonathan Pinkard, an indentured servant who ran away from watchmaker Samuel Jefferys, and offered a reward for his capture.  Jefferys noted that Pinkard was “by Trade a Watchmaker,” likely the reason they entered the indenture contract together, and cautioned other watchmakers that Pinkard “will probably apply to the Trade for Work.”  He requested that they exercise special vigilance in detecting and detaining this “talkative Fellow.”

Unlike most other advertisements about runaway indentured servants in the Providence Gazette, this one did not concern a fugitive who departed from Providence or a nearby town.  Instead, Pinkard fled from Philadelphia.  What made Jefferys believe that placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette would yield results?  He reported that Pinkard “was seen in New-York, and remained some Days there; but has since taken his Flight to Rhode-Island, and will probably proceed to Boston.”  Where did Jefferys derive this intelligence?

Another advertisement in another newspaper may very well have put Jefferys on the trail of Pinkard.  In a notice in the April 5 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Jefferys offered a similar description of the “talkative cowardly fellow.”  In addition to the clothing that Pinkard took with him, he also had a “silver watch, with a steel chain, maker’s name Thomas Hill, London, No. 11,151,” which would have been easy to identify.  Jefferys did not mention the watch in his advertisement in the Providence Gazette, perhaps suggesting that he had evidence that the runaway servant sold or traded the watch in New York.  The aggrieved Jefferys also increased the reward from five dollars to eight dollars, an indication of his exasperation and his commitment to recovering Pinkard as the indentured servant put more and more distance between himself and the watchmaker in Philadelphia.  Jefferys’s investment in the effort already included advertising in newspapers in two cities.

That investment had not yet resulted in the capture and return of Pinkard, yet the progression of notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to notices in the Providence Gazette suggests some level of effectiveness of the initial advertisement and Jefferys’s belief that another advertisement had a good chance of producing the desired results.

January 8

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

Connecticut Journal (January 8, 1773).

“Whose motive is to settle here if health permit[s], and the business answers.”

When Thomas Hilldrup arrived in Hartford in the fall of 1772, he commenced an advertising campaign to advise prospective customers that he repaired watches “in a perfect and durable manner, at an easy expence.”  Throughout late September and into October, November, and December, he consistently ran his advertisement in the Connecticut Courant, alerting readers that he planned “to settle here if health permit[s], and the business answers.”  That being the case, he invited the public “to make a trial of his abilities.”  In addition to repairing watches, Hilldrup also sold watches and accessories and provided ancillary services, including consultations with “those who are about to buy, sell or exchange.”

Hilldrup continued placing his advertisement in the Connecticut Courant in the new year.  He also decided to expand his advertising campaign to another newspaper, the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Doing so extended the reach of his advertising and gave him access to a new market.  Why did the watchmaker decide to advertise in another publication?  Did he believe that the notice in the Connecticut Courant had been sufficiently successful to merit advertising in a newspaper in another town?  Among colonizers who perused multiple newspapers as they circulated far and wide in Connecticut and beyond, that certainly likely enhanced Hilldrup’s visibility and name recognition.  That he continued to invest in advertisements in the Connecticut Courant also suggests that he considered the outcomes so far worth the expense.

On the other hand, those advertisements may not have been as successful as Hilldrup hoped.  Perhaps placing the same notice in the Connecticut Journal and attempting to capture a portion of an adjacent market was an attempt to generate enough business to make remaining in Hartford a viable option.  Whatever his reasons for choosing to run his advertisement in an additional newspaper in January 1773, Hilldrup eventually determined that he cultivated a large enough clientele to remain in Hartford.  He continued advertising watches and repairs in newspapers published in that town for nearly two decades.  In the coming months, the Adverts 250 Project will examine some of his subsequent newspaper notices.

September 21

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

Boston-Gazette (September 21, 1772).

“The great Encouragement he has had beyond Expectation from his former Advertisements.”

John Thompson described himself to current and prospective customers as a “Tinman and Brazier from LONDON.”  In an advertisement in the September 21, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he declared that he “Makes various Articles in Tin and Copper too tedious to enumerate.”  Other artisans and purveyors of goods published lengthy lists of their merchandise to entice consumers, but Thompson opted instead to focus on a few select items.  He proclaimed that he made “all Sorts of Polish’d Tin Ware like Silver, never before manufactured in Boston,” underscoring the value of purchasing from an artisan “from LONDON.”  In addition, he carried “all Sorts of Come Tin Ware” as well as “Brass and Copper Vessels Tin’d with pure Grain Tin in the London Fashion.”

In his effort to secure his reputation and attract even more customers, Thompson expressed his gratitude to existing customers.  Doing so suggested to prospective customers that he already established a clientele at his shop.  He stated that he “is much oblig’d to all his Customers in General, and to the good People of Boston in Particular, for the great Encouragement he has had beyond Expectation from his former Advertisements.”  Furthermore, his previous success “imboldens him again to advertise, hoping for a Continuance of Favours” from customers in Boston.  Thompson offered rare commentary from an advertiser on the effectiveness of advertising in colonial America.  He asserted that his advertising had indeed produced positive results even “beyond Expectation.”  That certainly supported his allusions to an existing clientele, but that does not necessarily mean that it was mere puffery.  After all, Thompson chose to place a new advertisement following his “former Advertisements.”  He apparently believed that his earlier advertising had been successful, even if he exaggerated its effects in his new notice, or at least considered one more advertisement worth the investment.  Some advertisers testified to the effectiveness of advertising by repeatedly placing notices in the public prints.  Relatively few, however, made such explicit comments on the effectiveness of their marketing.

April 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 9, 1772).

“The Second Edition.”

In the spring of 1772, Benjamin Edes and John Gill marked the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre by printing “AN ORATION DELIVERED MARCH 5th … TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY Of the FIFTH of March, 1770.”  Dr. Joseph Warren gave the address to “the INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON.”  Edes and Gill advertised the pamphlet widely, starting with a lengthy notice in their own Boston-Gazette on March 23.  The next day, the Essex Gazette carried an advertisement alerting readers in Salem and nearby towns that Samuel Hall stocked copies of Warren’s oration “published in Boston.”  Over the next week, Edes and Gill ran advertisements in other newspapers, including the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on March 26 and the Boston Evening-Post on April 1.

Did those advertisements work?  Perhaps.  Edes and Gill sold enough copies of Warren’s oration that they printed a second edition and began advertising it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on April 9.  Their new advertisement, much more extensive than the one that previously appeared in that newspaper, proclaimed that “The Second Edition” was “THIS DAY PUBLISHED … by EDES and GILL.”  It informed prospective customers that they could acquire the address for nine pence.  It also included two other details that appeared in Edes and Gill’s original advertisement in the Boston-Gazette but not in subsequent advertisements in other newspapers, a quotation in Latin by Virgil and a note that the printers also had on hand “A few of Mr. LOVELL’S ORATIONS Deliver’d last April, on the same Occasion.”  Why did Edes and Gill decide to include Lovell’s address from the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre in this new advertisement?  Did they believe that the advertisements in several newspapers incited such demand for the address that Warren recently delivered that they had a good chance of selling surplus copies of Lovell’s oration?  That Edes and Gill expanded their advertising campaign for “The Second Edition” of Warren’s oration suggests that they considered their first round of notices successful and effective.

April 18

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

New-York Journal (April 18, 1771).

“His Stay in this City will be but a few Weeks.”

Michael Poree, a surgeon dentist, occasionally placed newspaper advertisements in New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He offered a variety of services, including “cleaning the Teeth,” “supplying New Ones,” and providing patent medicines related to dental care.  Poree did not, however, make the busy port his permanent residence.  Instead, he moved back and forth between New York and Philadelphia, serving patients in both cities.

In the spring of 1771, he published advertisements simultaneously in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal upon arriving in the city.  He began by renewing his acquaintance with former clients, extending “his hearty Thanks to the Gentlemen and Ladies of this City, for the Encouragement they have given him in his Profession.”  He then informed them “and others,” prospective new clients who needed dental care, that his stay in New York would be short, “but a few Weeks.”  He planned to return to Philadelphia and would not be back for nearly six months, not until “October next.”  Not unlike itinerant performers and peddlers, the surgeon dentists proclaimed that he would be in town for a limited time only as he persuaded customers to engage his services promptly or else miss their opportunity.

According to the colophon for the New-York Journal, Poree paid five shillings to insert his advertisement for four weeks.  He likely paid a similar amount to run the same notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  That he advertised in two newspapers indicated that he considered the cost well worth the investment in terms of attracting a sufficient number of clients to make his stay in New York profitable.  Experience may have taught him that he served a greater number of patients, new and returning, when he placed newspaper notices.  Documenting the reception of advertisements remains an elusive endeavor.  That an itinerant surgeon dentist like Poree repeatedly paid to inform the public of his services and his schedule, however, suggests that he considered advertising an effective means of promoting his business.

February 8

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

Georgia Gazette (February 8, 1769).

“WRITING PAPER of different sorts to be sold at the Printing-Office for cash.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, peppered the final page of the February 8, 1769, edition with his own advertisements. He inserted three brief advertisements, each of them extending only two or three lines. Two of them offered goods for sale: “WRITING PAPER of different sorts to be sold at the Printing-Office for cash” and “TOBLER’s ALMANACKS, for 1769, To be sold at Messrs. Clay and Habersham’s Store, and at the Printing-Office.” The other announced an opportunity for a young man: “WANTED, An honest, sober, and industrious LAD, as an APPRENTICE to the PRINTING BUSINESS. Such a one will meet with good encouragement by applying to the printer of this paper.” In addition, the colophon at the bottom of the page advertised services that Johnston provided at his printing office: “Advertisements, Letters of Intelligence, and Subscriptions for this Paper, are taken in.—Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.” Like other colonial printers, Johnston took advantage of his access to the press to market his own goods and services as well as post announcements intended to advance his own business interests.

In placing advertisements in his own newspaper, Johnston also testified to his confidence in their effectiveness. He implicitly suggested that he expected to sell almanacs and writing paper as a result of publishing short notices in the Georgia Gazette. Similarly, he expected that inserting an advertisement for an apprentice would yield more and better candidates than relying on word-of-mouth appeals via his friends, neighbors, and associates. To underscore the point that his notices were more than just filler, Johnston distributed the three advertisements to different locations on the final page of the February 8 issue. One appeared one-third of the way down the first column and another two-thirds of the way down. The last appeared near the bottom of the second column. By interspersing them among other advertisements rather than grouping them together at the end of the last column, the savvy printer sought to reduce any impression that his notices primarily served as filler. Instead, he indicated that he had faith in this method of circulating information. Prospective advertisers should exhibit the same confidence when they chose to place notices of their own.

October 28

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Oct 28 - 10:28:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 28, 1768).

“A very likely, healthy Negro BOY, about 17 Years of Age, to be Sold.”

A brief advertisement in the October 28, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette advised readers of “A very likely, healthy Negro BOY, about 17 Years of Age, to be Sold.” The notice did not provide any additional information about the enslaved youth or the seller; instead, it instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printers.”

Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would not have considered such an advertisement particularly remarkable. Although they did not appear in the same numbers as in newspapers published in Boston, advertisements concerning enslaved people were inserted in New Hampshire’s only newspaper regularly. This particular advertisement was more likely to attract attention for its format rather than its content. With the exception of the masthead on the first page and the colophon on the final page, the rest of the content was organized into three columns on each page. The masthead, colophon, and this advertisement for a “Negro BOY,” however spanned all three columns. The advertisement ran across the bottom of the third page, a position that distinguished it from news and other paid notices.

Did this format make the advertisement more effective? It is impossible to say for certain, but it is also worth noting that it ran for only one week. Newspaper printers who listed their rates for advertising typically indicated a flat fee for setting the type and inserting an advertisement for three or four weeks as well as additional fees for each additional week the notice ran. Unless they struck a special deal, the printers and advertiser would have expected this advertisement for an enslaved youth to appear in at least three consecutive issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette. That it was discontinued after its initial appearance suggests that someone did indeed purchase the “healthy Negro BOY,” prompting the anonymous advertiser to cancel further insertions.

This does not conclusively demonstrate the success of the advertisement, but it does strongly suggest an active marketplace for buying and selling enslaved people in New Hampshire. At the very least, the advertisement testifies to the presence of slaves in the colony, a familiar sight both in public and in the public prints.

May 1

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

May 1 - 4:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 28, 1768).

THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.”

Richard Draper inserted a short notice at the bottom of the middle column on the third page of the April 28, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, the printer informed the public that “THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.” Like the abbreviated colophon (“Printed by R. DRAPER”) that appeared at the same place on the final page, it looked like the printer barely had enough space to squeeze this announcement into an issue that quite literally overflowed with news, editorials, and, especially, advertising. Unlike other printers in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies, Draper did not issue a supplement. Perhaps he did not have sufficient time or resources to do so. Perhaps he did not have sufficient content to fill an additional two pages, even though he had not been able to run all of the advertisements he had received.

Proportionally, Draper did publish a significant quantity of advertisements compared to other content in the April 28 edition. More than thirty advertisements of various lengths accounted for nearly two-thirds of the space, filling seven of the twelve columns and extending well into an eighth. Although the Massachusetts Gazette was alternately known as the Boston News-Letter, it also functioned as a delivery mechanism for advertising of all sorts in addition to news. In this particular issue, for instance, merchants and shopkeepers promoted vast assortments of consumer goods and services. Vendue masters highlighted which goods would be presented for bids at upcoming auctions. Local officials inserted legal notices. Executors called on debtors and creditors to settle accounts. Two schoolmistresses declared their intentions to open a boarding school for young ladies. Timothy Force warned others not to allow his wife to contract any debts in his name because she “has eloped and keeps away, and refuses to live with me.” All the way from Antigua, Edward Gamble announced an estate sale that included a plantation and 151 enslaved men, women, and children.

Although more than half of the paid notices in that issue featured consumer goods and services, “subscribers” placed advertisements with various purposes and goals in mind. Each expected some sort of results or return on their investment. In his own notice concerning “Advertisements which are omitted,” Draper primarily addressed advertisers rather than readers, though his announcement may have also incited anticipation about what else might appear in the pages of the next issue among some readers. The printer offered a consolation to advertisers, promising “a very good Place in our next.” That promise suggested that the printer put more consideration into the order of advertisements than their haphazard arrangement on the page otherwise indicated. That he could not include all of them in the issue also testified to the popularity of his publication, implying that prospective advertisers should follow the lead established by their peers and place their notices in the Massachusetts Gazette. After all, demand for space in that newspaper was so high, presumably because advertisers believed the publication placed their advertisements before as many eyes as possible, that Draper could not include all of them. Though he did not state it so bluntly, the printer transformed his inability to disseminate all the advertisements submitted for the April 28 edition into a rationale for others to advertise in his newspaper when choosing among the several published in Boston at the time.

April 4

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

Apr 4 - 4:4:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 4, 1768).

“M’QUEEN continues as usual, to make all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.”

How effective were the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers?  This is a difficult question to answer, especially from the perspective of consumers. From the perspective of the advertisers, however, their persistence in running newspaper advertisements suggests that they believed those advertisements effectively generated more business than if they had instead chosen not to advertise.  This speaks to attitudes about advertising in eighteenth-century America.

John McQueen sold made and sold stays (or corsets) in New York in the 1760s.  He repeatedly placed advertisements in the local newspapers (including advertisements in March 1766 and February 1767), an indication that he considered them effective for stimulating demand among prospective customers. At the very least, he saw advertising as a necessity for informing readers of the various kinds of stays he stocked.  Neglecting to advertise might have resulted in surrendering his share of the market to competitors.  Such an interpretation implies that McQueen merely attempted to direct existing demand to his establishment.  The contents of the advertisements, however, suggest that he considered advertising more powerful than that.  After all, he did not merely announce that he sold stays; the staymaker also formulated appeals to fashion that he expected would resonate with potential customers.

For instance, McQueen underscored that he sold “all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.”  This echoed appeals that he made in previous advertisements:  “all sort of Stays for Ladies in the newest Fashions that is wore in London” and “all Sorts of Stays, in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.”  In addition to invoking current tastes, McQueen linked his stays to European fashions, especially those in the metropolitan center of the empire.  New York was a relatively small city compared to London, but “Ladies” who purchased McQueen’s stays could trust that they were not less cosmopolitan than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. McQueen reinforced this appeal when he also applied it “neat polished Steel back Shapes, and Collars, much used in London.”  He continued by asserting that these items were “necessary for young Ladies, at Boarding and Dancing Schools.”  He bound fashion and gentility together, seeking to convince prospective customers that they needed the stays he made and sold, especially if they intended to comport themselves appropriately at certain venues where the better sorts gathered.

McQueen considered these appeals effective enough that he consistently incorporated them into newspaper advertisements over the course of several years.  He did more than announce that he made and sold stays.  He offered reasons why readers should purchase his wares, attempting to stimulate demand.  Had he not believed that this would yield a return on his investment then he likely would have scaled back or discontinued his advertisements rather than continue to pay for notices that had no effect on consumers.