April 29

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

Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).

“Oils … Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement in the April 27, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette raises all sorts of interesting questions.  An identical advertisement appeared in the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This does not seem to have been just a case of an advertiser inserting the same notice in multiple newspapers.  That was quite common in the 1770s, especially in Boston.  Yet this was not simply an instance of an advertiser writing out the copy more than once and then submitting it to more than one printing office.  Yes, the copy was identical … but so was the format and every aspect of typography, from the design of the table listing different kinds of paints to the line breaks to font sizes to capitalization of certain words.  Rather than a compositor copying an advertisement as it appeared in another newspaper, this looks like Richard Draper’s printing office outright transferred type already set for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s printing office for publication in the Boston-Gazette.

That was not the only instance of such a transfer in the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  John Barrett and Sons ran an extensive advertisement that previously appeared in Draper’s newspaper on April 23.  So did Joseph Peirce.  To further complicate matters, both of these advertisements also ran in the April 27 edition of the Boston Evening-Post. Once again, this does not seem to have been merely an instance of a compositor consulting an advertisement in another newspaper when setting type.  Instead, the type from one printing office found its way to another printing office.

The placement of these advertisements on the page in each newspaper contributes to some confusion about the sequence of events.  Take into consideration that a standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Printers often printed the front and back pages first, filling them with the masthead, colophon, and advertisements.  They saved the second and third pages for the latest news.  Peirce’s advertisement ran on the fourth page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, suggesting that the compositor received the type from the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury fairly quickly.  That also allowed sufficient time to pass along the type to the Boston-Evening Post for inclusion in a two-page supplement that consisted entirely of advertising.  That timing makes sense.

The timing for inserting Barrett and Sons’ advertisement in each newspaper, however, does not seem as clear.  It ran on the first page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, printed at the same time that Peirce’s advertisement was printed on the fourth page.  It did not, however, run in the supplement to the Boston Evening-Post or even on the second or third pages among the last items inserted in the standard issue.  Instead, it appeared on the fourth page, presumably making it one of the first items printed for that issue.  The compositor did eliminate the final eight lines listing several imported goods in order to make the advertisement fit among the other content on the page, but did not make other alterations.  That someone transferred the type from one printing office to another so quickly for it to appear in the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post on the same day suggests a very efficient operation.

This raises questions about the organization and collaboration between printing offices.  Who assumed the responsibility for transferring the type for these advertisements from one printing office to another?  Did they make sure that the type was returned to its original printing office?  Did any of the printing offices adjust the prices they charged for running these advertisements based on whether they invested time and labor in setting type?  How extensive were these practices of transferring type from one printing office to another?  These are all questions that merit further investigation.

Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Right: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).


Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Center: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772). Right: Boston Evening-Post (April 27, 1772).

April 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 16, 1772).

“Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods.”

Joseph Peirce’s advertisement occupied half a column in the April 16, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, listing dozens of items for sale and fulfilling a promise made the previous week.  In the previous issue, an abbreviated version of the advertisement informed readers that “Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods, which he will sell, at his Shop at the North Side of the Town House, Boston, at such Rates as shall give full Satisfaction to the Purchaser.”  A short note also clarified that “The Particulars must be deferred till our next.”

The shipping news from the customs house confirmed that several vessels from London, including one commanded by Capt. Scott, recently arrived “Enter’d in” the bustling port.  In some instances, advertisers placed preliminary notices to alert prospective customers that they had new merchandise before they had time to unpack it or include all the “Particulars.”  In a competitive commercial landscape, they considered it imperative to advertise as quickly as other merchants and shopkeepers.  That does not seem to have been the case with Peirce’s advertisement, however.  Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a note at the bottom of the page, stating that “A Number of New and Old Advertisements, we are obliged to omit for want of Room.”  The decision to delay some of the content of Peirce’s advertisement therefore seems to have been made by the printer rather than by the advertiser.  Even the half sheet that accompanied the standard issue did not provide sufficient space for the remaining advertisements.  Draper declared that “The LONDON NEWS by the last Vessels are in the Gazette Extraordinary.”  That the masthead of the additional half sheet named it the Massachusetts-Gazette Extraordinary rather than the usual Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette distributed by Draper signaled that it contained news that readers would not want “deferred till our next.”  He prioritized news for subscribers over paid notices by advertisers, carefully balancing his obligations as printer.  After all, the newspaper depended on the patronage of both kinds of customers.

Peirce’s complete advertisement appeared in the next issue, the original notice serving as an introduction to an extensive catalog of imported goods.  The delay might not have mattered for some readers and prospective customers.  A note from the printer in the April 16 edition indicated that delivery had been postponed because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road” so those subscribers received the April 9 and the April 16 editions (and the abbreviated version and the full version of Peirce’s advertisement) at the same time.  Both the advertiser and the printer experienced delays in circulating Peirce’s notice to colonizers in and beyond Boston.

June 6

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 6, 1771).

“The Estate of JANE EUSTIS, late of Boston, Shop-keeper.”

For several weeks in the spring of 1771 the Massachusetts Spy carried a notice requesting “all those persons who are indebted to the Estate of JANE EUSTIS, late of Boston, Shop-keeper, deceased, or that have any Demands on, or accounts open with the estate … settle such accounts with JOSEPH PEIRCE, merchant, in Boston.”  During her lifetime, Eustis ran advertisements in the public prints in order to promote her business, but that was not the only form of marketing that she deployed.  In the late 1760s, Eustis distributed an engraved trade card, known at the time as a shopkeeper’s bill, to supplement her newspaper advertising.

Jane Eustis’s Trade Card or Shopkeeper’s Bill, ca. 1769. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Surrounded by a rococo border, the text resembled a newspaper advertisement.  It opened with a familiar phrase, “Imported from LONDON,” before naming Eustis, giving her location, and listing a variety of “English and India Goods,” primarily textiles, “Millinary & Haberdashery.”  A brief note assured prospective customers that Eustis sold her merchandise “All Cheap for Cash.”  Although a significant number of female entrepreneurs in Boston and other towns placed newspapers advertisements, relatively few disseminated trade cards, billheads, broadsides, or other forms of advertising in eighteenth-century America.  Eustis’s trade card is also notable for being the earliest known shopkeeper’s bill distributed by a woman.  The copy in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society features a receipted bill for lace, gloves, and textiles dated April 17, 1769, on the reverse.  Merchants and shopkeepers tended to use the same design for years, so Eustis may have commissioned her trade card well before 1769.

The design, especially the ornate border, testified to genteel tastes that resonated with many consumers.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in London and other English cities distributed similar trade cards throughout the eighteenth century.  Eustis, like other American entrepreneurs who commissioned trade cards, replicated a common style, positioning her marketing efforts within transatlantic networks of commerce and consumption.  In so doing, she enhanced her appeal asserting connections to London and current fashions in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.  Commissioning and distributing an engraved trade card that resembled those passed out in London suggested that even though Eustis operated a shop on the other side of the Atlantic neither she nor her merchandise could be dismissed as merely provincial.

Receipted Bill Dated April 17, 1769, on Reverse of Jane Eustis’s Trade Card. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.