What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Auction-Hall, KING-STREET … BOSTON.”
John Gerrish, “Public Vendue-Master” or auctioneer, continued his endeavor to extend the range of his advertising by developing a marketing campaign for his auction hall that incorporated newspapers published in towns other than Boston. In early February 1770, he placed notices in the Providence Gazette, the Essex Gazette, and, eventually, the New-Hampshire Gazette, in addition to three of the five newspapers in Boston. In so doing, he coordinated a campaign that involved six newspapers in four cities spread over three colonies. The Adverts 250 Project has been tracking the development of that campaign in several entries published during the past week.
Not surprisingly, Gerrish’s efforts radiated outward from Boston. His advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette only after it ran in the Essex Gazette, moving from Boston to Salem to Portsmouth. That the notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette included exactly the same copy, down to the punctuation (such as the brackets around “[Public Vendue-Master]”), as the one in the Essex Gazette suggests one possible mode of transmission. While Gerrish might have carefully written out identical copy in letters sent to the two printing offices, he may very well have instructed Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, to forward instructions to reprint the advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he sent an exchange copy to Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of that newspaper. The Fowles, like every other colonial printer, liberally reprinted news items, letters, and editorials from other newspapers when selecting the content for the New-Hampshire Gazette. When sent instructions (and promises of payment) they could have done the same with an advertisement.
Although the advertisements in the Essex Gazette and the New-Hampshire Gazette featured identical copy, they did have variations in format, including capitalization, italics, and line breaks, though certain key appeals to prospective customers did appear in capitals in both newspapers (“EXCEEDING CHEAP” and “VERY CHEAP TERMS INDEED”). That was standard practice in the production of newspaper advertisements. Advertisers provided the copy and sometimes made suggestions or requests concerning format, but printers and compositors exercised broad discretion when it came to typography and graphic design.
For Gerrish, the format, as long as it was done well, likely mattered less than disseminating his advertisements over greater distances than he managed previously by inserting them solely in the Boston newspapers. He aimed to create a much larger regional market for himself by boosting the circulation of his notices in additional publications and new places where prospective bidders and clients had less awareness of his “Auction-Hall” on King Street in Boston.