What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.”
Readers of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s would have been familiar with shopkeeper Frederick William Geyer thanks to his frequent advertising. On November 5, 1770, he placed a brief advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, but its length was not of his choosing. Instead, the printers truncated the notice that Geyer submitted for publication. The advertisement indicated that Geyer sold “a fine Assortment of Englishand India GOODS” at his shop on Union Street. It included a short list of textiles that extended only three lines that preceded a note from the printers that “The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.” Indeed, the following week a more extensive advertisement did appear in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. It opened with identical copy, but then devoted forty-four lines, rather than just three, to enumerating the inventory available at Geyer’s shop.
Based on the placement of Geyer’s advertisement in the November 5 edition, it appears that the printers cut short his notice in order to make room for news items. Like most other newspapers of the era, an issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first and fourth pages were often printed first. Printers held the second and third pages in reserve for news that arrived by messenger, post, or ship. Geyer’s notice ran in the final column on the third page, suggesting that it and other advertisements in that column filled out the issue once the printers inserted the news for the week. The news on that page included more than a column of content dated “Boston, November 5” that the printers apparently considered more pressing than Geyer’s advertisement.
This raises questions about the relationship between printers and advertisers. Did Geyer have to pay to have the truncated advertisement inserted in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy? Printers usually charged by the amount of space an advertisement occupied, so Geyer might have paid a smaller amount for the brief version than he paid for the full version a week later. Alternately, recognizing that Geyer was a regular customer whose advertisements generated revenues for their newspaper, the printers could have inserted a short version gratis as a courtesy, giving Geyer and his goods at least some exposure in the public prints. The length of the truncated advertisement implies that the printers may have valued it as filler to complete the column. The note about the remainder of his merchandise appearing in the next edition was likely intended just as much for the advertiser as for prospective customers who would be interested in perusing the list. Questions about these printing practices and business decisions cannot be answered by examining the newspapers alone, but ledgers and correspondence that provide more detail may no longer exist.