November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1768 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (November 28, 1768).

“Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.”

As November came to an end and a new year drew even closer, printers and booksellers in Boston and throughout the colonies placed advertisements for almanacs for the year 1769. Almanacs were big business for eighteenth-century printers. From the most humble to the most elite households, customers of assorted backgrounds purchased these slender and inexpensive volumes, creating a broad market. As a result, printers and booksellers considered almanacs an important revenue stream, one that justified extensive advertising.

Compared to many other advertisements for almanacs, William McAlpine’s notice in the November 28, 1768, edition of the Boston Chronicle was short and simple. In its entirety, it announced, “Ames’s Almanack for 1769, SOLD by William M‘Alpine in MARLBOROUGH STREET, Boston.” Other printers and booksellers sold other titles by other authors, but some also sold “Ames’s Almanack.” Indeed, more than one version of that popular almanac circulated in the fall of 1768.

The same day that McAlpine advertised in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette ran identical notices that warned readers that “a counterfeit Ames’s Almanack has been printed not agreeable to the original copy.” That notice implied that the counterfeit contained “above twenty Errors in the Sittings of the Courts,” making that important reference information included among the contents of many almanacs useless to anyone who purchased the counterfeit. The notice also advised prospective buyers how to recognize the counterfeit: “the Name of William MAlpine” appeared in the imprint at the bottom of the title page. Anyone wishing to acquire “the true genuine correct Ames’s ALMANACKS” needed to “take Notice” of the imprint and select only those “that at the Bottom of the Outside Title, is ‘BOSTON, Printed and sold by the Printers,’ &c. and no particular Name thereto.”

Rather than a public service, this notice was actually an act of sabotage. A cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of McAlpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almakach for the Year of our Lord Christ 1769 and, adding insult to injury, accused McAlpine of introducing multiple errors into a counterfeit that he printed and distributed. Charles Nichols estimates that printers annually sold 50,000 copies of Ames’s almanac by the time of the Revolution, making it quite tempting for printers to seek their own share of that market. Not coincidentally, the notice warning against McAlpine’s supposed counterfeit ran in newspapers published by printers responsible for the pirated edition. T. & J. Fleet printed the Boston Evening-Post and Edes and Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. Richard Draper, printer of the Boston Weekly News-Letter, operated the third printing office involved in the conspiracy. His newspaper did not run the same notice that week, but it did include an advertisement for “AMES’s Almanack for 1769” that bore the imprint “Sold by the Printers and Booksellers in Town, and Traders in the Country.”

Quite simple in appearance, McAlpine’s advertisement for Ames’s almanac provides a window for a much more complicated story of competition, piracy, and sabotage committed by printers in eighteenth-century Boston. The notice about a counterfeit inserted in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette had the appearance of a news item. In each instance it appeared at the end of news content and the start of advertising, blurring the distinction. The marketing strategy deployed by the printers of the pirated edition went far beyond fair dealing.

October 6

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

oct-6-1061766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (October 6, 1766).

“John Taylor At his SHOP by the Draw-Bridge.”

I originally picked this advertisement from the Boston Evening-Post because John Taylor’s shop was in close proximity to a drawbridge that I researched for an entry last semester. Then this particular advertisement became more interesting when I found it in a second newspaper, the Boston-Gazette, printed on the same day by a rival publisher. As I did more research on the people and places in Boston, I learned about the printers of the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette.

oct-6-1061766-boston-gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 6, 1766).

Printers have an interesting role in early American history, especially in colonial Boston. They were the ones who provided various types of entertainment and, more importantly, news and communication to the populace. Printers T. and J. Fleet at the Heart and Crown printed many items other than newspapers. They operated their shop on Cornhill Street, which was laid out in 1708 and ran from Water Street to Dock Square. (In 1789 it was renamed Washington Street.) Even from its earliest days Cornhill Street was full of intellectuals and publishers and printers. The Fleet family lived on Cornhill and ran their print shop beneath their residence.

oct-6-detail-of-map-of-boston
Detail of A Plan of the Town of Boston.
oct-6-map-of-boston
A Plan of the Town of Boston with the Intrenchments &ca. of His Majesty’s Forces in 1775, from the Observations of Lieut. Page of His Majesty’s Corps of Engineers, and from Those of Other Gentlemen (1777?). Library of Congress.

Thomas and John Fleet were prominent printers during the 1760s. In addition to newspapers, they sold broadsides and other important printed items that spread news and information. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, their father started the newspaper that became the Boston Evening-Post, which they continued to print until 1776.

Benjamin Edes and John Gill printed the Boston-Gazette. These partners would over time get themselves in trouble with British authorities because of what they printed.  J. L. Bell has written about many examples of the printers of the Boston-Gazette closely walking the line of legal and illegal; for an example, see “Henry Bass Spills the Beans on a Political Protest.” Edes and Gill had a large circulation and may have been the Boston Evening-Post’s biggest competition. One reason that they may have had such a large circulation and got in to trouble often was Benjamin Edes was a member of the Loyal Nine, which was a secret group of patriots, nine “young business men” who planned a protest of the Stamp Act in 1765.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth brings a sense of excitement to the research she does for the Adverts 250 Project. I’m continuously impressed with the primary and secondary sources she consults and incorporates into her analysis of the advertisements she has selected. As we work through revising and refining her first drafts, often we determine that some material should be eliminated in the interest of producing a concise entry that addresses one major theme. I know from experience how difficult and disappointing it can be to jettison portions of my own research and writing when certain parts of it just don’t work out. Unfortunately, that’s one of the hard lessons that Elizabeth and the other guest curators learn as we work collaboratively through the writing, revision, and publication process.

I appreciate the way that Elizabeth has used today’s advertisement as a jumping off point for examining the printers who produced newspapers and the advertisements they contained. However, she contemplated an alternate analysis of John Taylor’s advertisement that appeared in the October 6, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post. Elizabeth located the same advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, prompting her to think about how “marketing and exposure were key to drawing in consumers, even in colonial America.” This is the third week that Elizabeth has been a guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project. With that statement from her first draft, she demonstrated that she really understands some of the questions that I find most interesting about the ongoing project.

Since this is a collaborative effort, I picked up Elizabeth’s research by consulting the other two newspapers printed in Boston in 1766. John Taylor’s advertisement also appeared later in the week in the October 9, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, furthering strengthening Elizabeth’s suspicion that Taylor was being savvy by marketing his wares in multiple newspapers, increasing his shop’s exposure to as many readers as possible. The October 6, 1766, issue of the Boston Post-Boy did not carry Taylor’s advertisement. That does not mean that he did not attempt to place it in that publication. News items and other advertisements may have squeezed out Taylor’s advertisement in that particular issue.

oct-6-1091766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 9, 1766).

At the very least, Elizabeth and I have identified three newspapers that carried Taylor’s advertisement 250 years ago this week, demonstrating that the shopkeeper did calculate the benefits of increased exposure from multiple publications. As we saw in June, Jolley Allen pursued a similar strategy, placing the same advertisement in all four newspapers printed in Boston. Were these two advertisers outliers? Answering that question will require a lot more roll-up-the-sleeves research.

October 2

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

oct-2-1021766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 2, 1766).

“Just Published … The Examination of Doctor BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, before an AUGUST ASSEMBLY.”

In the eighteenth century and today, most people agree that Benjamin Franklin significantly influenced colonial American politics and commerce. Some count him as an honored founding father, but if you ask my seven-year-old nephew he’ll declare that Franklin was his favorite president (despite my repeated attempts to tell him that, no, Mr. (or Dr.) Franklin was in fact not a president). Franklin made many contributions to early America history and life.

One of his most significant contributions was his delegation to England on behalf of Pennsylvania and other colonies. On February 13, 1766, he testified before Parliament about repealing the Stamp Act. On March 18, 1766, Parliament did in fact repeal the Stamp Act, although on that same day they voted in the Declaratory Act. News of the repeal reached the colonies around six weeks later, around the start of May.

As I was reading this advertisement I wondered, “Why would this be an August Assembly?” I found myself needing to know more, and went to J.L. Bell’s blog, Boston 1775. There I learned that Parliament’s proceedings were very secretive. Actions that Parliament took were made public, but the debates and arguments were private. Speaking about conversations held within either of the two houses was considered a breach of privilege and punishable by both houses.

To protect Franklin, his previous printing partner (and now owner of the Pennsylvania Gazette), David Hall changed the story. By saying that Franklin simply had spoken at an “August Assembly,” Franklin and Hall were attempting to get around the legality of publishing Franklin’s “Examination,” which discussed the flow of the questions and testimony and even recalled some speakers in Parliament by name. Publishing the testimony was a big deal, not only because many times colonists heard news months later, but also because this kept them better informed about Parliament, which met very far away from them.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth introduces the curious history of “The Examination of Doctor BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, before an AUGUST ASSEMBLY, relating to the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” The colonists were certainly hungry for information, which meant that advertisements for this pamphlet did not have to offer much in the way of marketing other than announcing that it was “Just Published … And Sold” by local printers and booksellers.

Indeed, members of the book trades in multiple cities produced, distributed, and sold pamphlets about Franklin’s testimony before “an AUGUST ASSEMBLY.” The American Antiquarian Society’s catalog indicates that at least five editions were printed in British mainland North America in 1766. As Elizabeth indicates, the original edition came off the presses of Hall and Sellers in Philadelphia, but that did not prevent other printers from producing their own editions. In each instance, politics and profit overlapped as printers and booksellers simultaneously sought to keep colonists informed about what was taking place in Parliament and generate revenues for themselves in the process.

Still, even with the subterfuge involved in allusions to “an AUGUST ASSEMBLY,” printers took on some risk when they decided to reprint their own copies of this pamphlet. The edition printed in New York did not list a printer, though bibliographers have associated James Parker with this imprint. An edition from New England listed neither printer nor city, but book historians believe Edes and Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, produced it. The title page of an edition from Virginia stated that it had been “Printed and sold by William Rind, opposite the Capitol” in Williamsburg. Back in Philadelphia, Heinrich Miller printed a German translation, which should come as little surprise considering the large population of German settlers in Pennsylvania. Timothy Green did not bother with printing another separate edition in Connecticut; instead, he reprinted the pamphlet in the New-London Gazette, beginning with the October 10, 1766, issue. In addition to being a treat for his readers and keeping them better informed, this stunt may have attracted new subscribers.

Today’s advertisement suggests that politics and a desire to keep colonists informed of Parliament’s machinations sometimes trumped competition among colonial printers. Note that the pamphlet was sold by “T. and J. Fleet, at the Heart & Crown in Cornhill,” yet the advertisement appeared in a newspaper “PUBLISHED by RICHARD DRAPERS, Printer to the Governor and Council, and by SAMUEL DRAPER, At their Printing Office in Newbury-Street.” In other words, the printers of Boston Evening-Post stocked and sold a pamphlet most likely produced by the printers of the Boston-Gazette and placed advertisements for it in the Massachusetts Gazette. This suggests cooperation and coordination rather than competition among the printers in Boston, all of whom faced a challenge to their livelihoods when the Stamp Act was in force.

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:29:1766 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (May 29, 1766).

Print played a significant role in the coming of the American Revolution. Some scholars argue for the primacy of newspapers in facilitating debate, giving a voice to protest, and shaping public opinion. Other printed items, however, also played a role, including pamphlets, sermons, almanacs, and engraved images (the eighteenth-century counterpart to modern political cartoons). Many of the advertisements selected for inclusion here directly addressed the discontent over the Stamp Act, some of them by marketing tracts that defended the colonies against the abuses of Parliament.

Printers and booksellers simultaneously expressed political views and sought to earn a living by advertising and selling items related to the crisis while the Stamp Act was still in effect. That did not change when the Stamp Act was repealed, though the rhetoric may have shifted slightly. Rather than promote a work condemning an overzealous and overreaching Parliament, today’s advertisement announced the publication of a “Thanksgiving-Discourse, on the REPEAL of the Stamp-Act.” That hated piece of legislation was gone, but printers continued to express their political beliefs – and they seized new opportunities to turn a profit as well.

In this case, politics might have slightly edged out profit. Three printing firms that otherwise would have been competitors joined together to advertise and sell the “Thanksgiving-Discourse”: Richard Draper and Samuel Draper (printers of the Massachusetts Gazette), Benjamin Edes and John Gill (printers of the Boston-Gazette) and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet (printers of the Boston Evening-Post).

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Bonus: Newspapers carried more than editorials and advertisements that commented on politics. This “ODE On the Repeal of the Stamp-Act” appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette in the same week as the advertisement for the “Thanksgiving-Discourse, on the REPEAL of the Stamp-Act.”

May 29 - 5:29:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 29, 1766).