October 11

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 11, 1773).

“Positively the last Time here. MR. BATES Will perform To-Morrow.”

On the eve of his final performance in Boston, Mr. Bates once again published newspaper advertisements in hopes of drawing crowds for his feats of horsemanship.  His performances spanned about five weeks in September and October, only a limited time for audiences to witness his exhibitions of what he described as a “MANLY ART” in newspaper notices and as “Manly Exercises never seen here” on a handbill.  The performance on October 12 would be their last chance to see the spectacle or see it again, “Positively the last Time here.”  Like other itinerant performers, Bates attempted to harness the power of the press for his advantage, advertising widely in several newspapers during his time in Boston.  Both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy carried his notice on the day before his last performance.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 11, 1773).

Perhaps to Bates’s chagrin … or perhaps to his delight, if he considered any sort of publicity good publicity likely to turn out the curious … the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy also featured an advertisement for a pamphlet, “Mr. Bates and his Horses, WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE.”  The notice promised that the pamphlet would demonstrate “that his Exhibitions in Boston, are impoverishing, disgraceful to human Nature, and downright Breaches of the Sixth Commandment.”  Unlike an earlier advertisement that stated that the pamphlet would be printed “In a few Days,” this one declared that it was “THIS DAY PUBLISHED, And to be SOLD at the New Printing-Office” on Hanover Street.  Whatever the sales and circulation of the pamphlet may have been in October 1773, it proved more ephemeral than the handbill that the daredevil distributed to promote his show.  No known copy survives in a research library, historical society, or private collection.

The performer did not acknowledge any sort of controversy in his advertisements.  Instead, he offered his appreciation to his audiences, proclaiming that he “is extremely obliged to the Gentlemen of Boston, who have countenanced him in his Performances.”  He had gained enough celebrity (or perhaps notoriety) that he merely advised “TICKETS to be had at the usual Places,” without listing his local agents for readers.  Short of the authorities shutting down his show, Bates may have welcomed any sort of attention that raised the visibility of his show among prospective audiences.

October 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 7, 1773).

“Positively the last Time here.”

Mr. Bates’s brief time in Boston would soon come to an end.  In advance of his last exhibition of his feats of horsemanship, the itinerant performer placed an advertisement in the October 7, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Three days later, on the eve of what Bates billed as “Positively the last Time here,” he placed the same advertisement in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  By this time, he did not need to describe his act.  He assumed that prospective audiences in Boston had already seen, heard about, or read about his daring exhibitions.

The performer certainly made his presence known while he was in the city.  He arrived in Boston after spending a couple of months in New York.  He ran his first newspaper notices in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Post-Boy on September 6, deploying much of the same copy he used in his advertisements in New York.  Some sort of disruption apparently occurred at his first performance in Boston on September 8, prompting him to apologize “that the Ladies and Gentlemen were so much disturbed by a Number of unruly People” in an advertisement in Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter the next day.  That did not prevent him from simultaneously marketing his next show and announcing that he reduced the prices for tickets.    Bates also distributed at least one handbill for his show on September 28, though he may have commissioned broadsides and other handbills that have not survived.  He continued placing advertisements in various local newspapers, including in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on September 20.  He advertised in all three of those newspapers again a week later, though this time two of those publications carried an advertisement that denigrated the performer.  Bates did not encounter universal accolades.  Instead, a forthcoming pamphlet would demonstrate “that his Exhibitions in Boston are impoverishing, disgraceful to human Nature, and down-right Breaches of the Sixth Commandment.”

Did such critiques prompt Bates to finish up his performances in Boston?  Or did he already have plans to move along to another town?  Either way, he did not shy away from promoting his performances in the public prints, proclaiming “Positively the last Time here.”  That may have been welcome news to his detractors, yet that was not Bates’s intention.  Instead, he aimed to incite demand among prospective audiences by making clear that they had one last opportunity to witness the spectacle responsible for so much chatter around town.  He previously used a similar “limited time only” strategy in New York in his efforts to turn out audiences for his final performances there.  Whatever his shortcomings, the itinerant performer was a savvy marketer.  Bates repeatedly proclaimed himself an unexcelled master of horsemanship, harnessing the power of the press with both newspaper notices and handbills to reach the public.

September 20

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (September 20, 1773).

When there will be added to his other Performances.

Mr. Bates continued exhibiting feats of horsemanship for audiences in Boston in late September 1773, advertising once again in the September 20 editions of the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  He planned his next performance for Tuesday, September 21, weather permitting.  He placed shorter notices in the first two newspapers, but in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy reverted to some of the material from the lengthier version that he initially published to introduce himself when he arrived in town.

The copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy digitized in America’s Historical Newspapers features manuscript additions, likely notes generated in the printing office when producing a handbill for Bates’s performance a week later on September 28.  For instance, the date has been crossed out and “28” written above it.  Similarly, “at the Bottom of the MALL in Boston” has a line through it after a description of the act with the location added in manuscript to the portion giving the date.  Manuscript additions for “A Variety of Manly Exercises never se[en here]” and the word “with” to introduce “a Burlesque on Horsemanship” appear on that copy of the newspaper, later integrated into the handbill, along with a line through “The Seats are made proper Ladies and Gentlemen,” which did not appear on the handbill.  The newspaper advertisement also features manuscript lines under each of the European courts where Bates previously performed.  Perhaps the compositor or an assistant underlined each when added to the handbill, ensuring none were overlooked or inadvertently omitted.  Large crosshatching at the bottom of the advertisement may have been added once all the material had been set in type and transferred to the handbill.

Handbill: Mr. Bates, “Horsemanship,” (Boston: [likely Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks], 1773). Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

The manuscript additions do not capture all of the additions made to the handbill.  For instance, the handbill included an appeal intended to incite a sense of urgency to see the show: “AS Mr. BATES’s Stay in Town will be but short, he will go thro’ all his Performances at the above Time.”  In other words, audiences would see all of the acts in his repertoire during a single performance, but only if they acquired tickets quickly before Bates departed from Boston.  He previously used a similar marketing strategy in New York.  Even though the manuscript notes do not document every revision made for the handbill, they do suggest that Bates turned to the printing office of Nathaniel Mills and John Hicks, the printers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, to produce the handbill.  The colophon for their newspaper solicited advertisements, presumably both newspaper notices and other formats, and stated that they pursued the printing business “in its different branches.”  This copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy digitized for broader access to the newspaper likely reveals some of the consultation between the printing office and the advertiser that went into producing a handbill that circulated in Boston.

August 7

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

Providence Gazette (August 7, 1773).

“He is under absolute Engagements to return to Boston by the last of October.”

At the same time that Mr. Bates waged his limited-time-only marketing campaign for his final performances exhibiting feats of horsemanship in newspapers in New York, Mr. Delile, “Professor of the French Language,” utilized a similar advertising strategy in Providence.  On August 7, 1773, the tutor introduced himself to readers of the Providence Gazette.  He stated that he taught French in Boston and Cambridge, but planned to spend three months in Providence and Newport.  An invitation “by several Gentlemen” in the two towns convinced him to spend the late summer and early fall in Rhode Island “for the Purpose of teaching said Language.”

Most language tutors who placed advertisements in colonial newspapers did so when they opened schools or academies with set days and times for classes.  They hoped to provide instruction to multiple students simultaneously, collecting tuition from several pupils for each lesson they taught.  Most also promoted an option for private instruction, either at the school or in the homes of families who engaged their services.  Delile did not mention any sort of academy; instead, he offered private lessons exclusively.  He advised that “those Gentlemen or Ladies who please to employ him” should “send a Line to Mrs. Westran’s, when he will immediately wait on them.”  Delile scheduled tutoring sessions around the “several Appointments” or schedules of his students.

Whether they wished to start learning French, continue lessons taken at another time, or brush up on their skills, prospective pupils had only a limited time to benefit from Delile’s instruction.  In a nota bene he underscored that he “is under absolute Engagements to return to Boston by the last of October.”  He could not tarry in Providence and Rhode Island.  A couple of days earlier, he placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letterto alert his pupils in Boston and Cambridge that he planned to spend three months in Rhode Island and return after “the present Vacation at Cambridge.”  Delile apparently taught Harvard students while classes were in session there, lucrative and steady employment that explained his resolve to return to Boston after only a few months.  Colonizers in Providence and Newport had only a limited time to engage his services.

August 5

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (August 5, 1773).

“It was intirely the Printer’s mistake in advertising last week that Mr. BATES would perform only once more.”

On Thursday, July 22, 1773, Mr. Bates ran an advertisement in the New-York Journal to promote his next performance showcasing feats of horsemanship, informing the public that it would take place on Tuesday, July 27.  In the same notice, he announced that he “proposes, but twice more, before he leaves this City, to exhibit his Performances in Horsemanship.”  He did not indicate the date of his final performance, but the same day he inserted a much shorter advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  “MR. BATES,” that notice proclaimed, “PROPOSES to perform on Tuesday next, and on Friday the 30th instant, and no more, before he leaves this City.”  The performer placed a longer advertisement, with nearly identical copy to the one in the New-York Journal, in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on July 26, the day before one of those final performances.  In it, he stated that “Mr. Bates’s stay in town will be very short, as he intends performing only twice.”  In each advertisement, Bates made it clear that he would remain in New York for a limited time only.  Audiences interested in attending his show needed to purchase tickets before it was too late.

The next advertisement that appeared in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer was consistent with Bates’s marketing over the prior week.  On Thursday, July 29, that notice encouraged readers to attend his final performance in the city: “MR. BATES PROPOSES to perform tomorrow at the usual place, for the last time.”  The New-York Journal did not happen to carry an advertisement from Bates on the day before that final performance.  On Monday, August 2, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury once again ran the advertisement from July 26, with one update.  It now stated, “TO-MORROW, being TUESDAY the 3d August, he will perform on One, Two, Three and Four HORSES, at the Bull’s-Head, in Bowery-Lane.”  Only the date changed, from “27th of July” to “3d August.”  A note at the end still asserted that “Mr. Bates’s stay on town will be very short, as he intends performing only twice.”  On August 5, he once again advertised in the New-York Journal.  The opening paragraph remained the same as what appeared in the previous two issues, but he updated information about his final performance and departure from New York.  “On TUESDAY next, the 10th of August, if the weather permits, if not on the Friday following, which positively will be the last time, as Mr. Bates intends to set out on a tour for Boston the next day,” the advertisement explained, “He will perform on one, two, three and four Horses, at the Bull’s-Head, in the Bowery Lane.”

That same day, August 5, Bates placed a new advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, the publication that announced a week earlier that he would give his final performance on Friday, July 30.  In this notice, Bates stated that he would perform the following Tuesday and allowed for the next Friday as the rain date.  He once again underscored that this was the last chance to attend his who, that audiences had a limited time to witness the spectacle for themselves before he left town.  He underscored that “the public may be assured this will be his last exhibition, and that he will leave this town on his way to Boston, the day after his finishing performance.”  He added that it “was intirely the Printer’s mistake in advertising last week that Mr. BATES would perform only once more.”  Was it?  The advertisement in the July 29 edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazette accurately reflected the dates from the advertisement that appeared in the previous issue as well as the appeals that Bates made in notices in other newspapers.  A savvy marketer like Bates may have intended all along to announce his imminent departure, creating demand for the final shows, and then “extend” his time in New York by a week in order to give two more performances.  Alternately, his plans might have changed and that allowed him to sell tickets for two more shows.

The discrepancy in the advertisements and the supposed “Printer’s mistake” in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer raises questions about how closely Bates coordinated his marketing efforts with each of the printing offices.  Given the revisions to the advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal, he apparently submitted new instructions.  Did he also send updated information to the other printing office only to have it inadvertently overlooked?  Or did Bates plan for that newspaper to carry the “Printer’s mistake” as a means of creating confusion to amplify the sense of urgency for purchasing tickets that he wanted audiences to experience?  The relief they felt after learning that they had another chance following the “Printer’s mistake” might have convinced some readers to buy tickets for what would actually be Bates’s final performance in New York … but that was not a ploy that the performer could use in more than one newspaper.  Bates carefully managed his marketing efforts while in New York.  He certainly sought to manipulate audiences into attending his shows after announcing they he would soon leave the city.  Was the “Printer’s mistake” an actual mistake or another manipulation intended to incite interest?

July 25

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (July 22, 1773).


“MR. BATES PROPOSES to perform on Tuesday next, and on Friday the 30th instant, and no more, before he leaves this City.”  That brief advertisement in the July 22 edition of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer put readers on notice that only limited opportunities remained to see Bates’s show.  From both his frequent advertisements in New York’s newspapers and the reputation that he cultivated in the city, most readers probably knew that Bates performed feats of horsemanship for the entertainment of his audiences.

New-York Journal (July 22, 1773).

A much longer advertisement in the New-York Journal on the same day deployed the usual headline, “HORSEMANSHIP,” and described him as “The ORIGINAL PERFORMER.”  Bates offered a spectacle of the “MANLY ARTS” that he previously performed for dignitaries that included “the Emperor of Germany, the Empress of Russia, the King of Great-Britain, the French King, the Kings of Prussia, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, and Poland, and the Prince of Orange.”  Bates confided that he “received the greatest applause” for those performances, “as can be made manifest by the CERTIFICATES from the several courts now in his possession.”  Readers did not have to take his word for it that he presented his feats of horsemanship to monarchs and aristocrats.  For a mere four shillings, colonizers in New York could gain access to the same exhibition enjoyed by royals and nobles, but they had to purchase tickets in advance because “No money will be taken at the Doors, nor Admittance without Tickets.”  Bates welcomed “Ladies and Gentlemen” and provided “proper” seating for their comfort, but requested that “Gentlemen will not suffer any dogs to come with them” for fear of scaring or distracting the horses.

A manicule drew attention to the same appeal that appeared in the other newspaper, though stated differently.  “Mr. Bates proposes, but twice more, before he leaves this City, to exhibit his Performances in Horsemanship,” the equestrian daredevil stated.  That being the case, he intended to sell “the Boards, Scantling, &c. at his riding Inclosure, together with the Benches, Rails, &c.”  Dismantling the venue underscored that audiences had only a limited time to witness Bates performing “on one, two, three and four Horses, at the Bulls-Head, in Bowery-Lane.”  They risked missing a performance that would “excel any Horseman that ever attempted any thing of the kind” if they hesitated and did not buy their tickets as soon as possible.

July 3

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 3, 1772).

The Printers will not Promise to exchange after the first of August next.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, gave one of their advertisements a privileged place in the July 3, 1772, edition of their newspaper.  They positioned their notice about “Compleat Sets of the new and correct Law-Book, for the Province of New-Hampshire” at the top of the first full column of advertising, increasing the likelihood that readers would take note of it as they finished the news items even if they only quickly glanced at the advertisements.

To encourage sales of the new edition, the Fowles offered a deal to customers who owned copies of the previous edition.  They stated that they “will take the old ones of such Persons, as were subscribers for that Edition, and allow them one Dollar for the same.”  In other words, those customers received a discount when they traded in the outdated edition.  To convince customers that this was a good deal, the Fowles proclaimed that the previous edition was “not worth a Farthing” now that they published a “new and correct” edition, so customers might as well take advantage of their generosity in allowing “one Dollar” for it.

The Fowles also attempted to create a sense of urgency by making clear that this was a limited time offer.  They asserted that customers who wished to return the previous edition must “purchase a new Book now.”  They warned that “the Printers will not Promise to exchange after the first of August next.”  Customers had only four weeks to contemplate this offer before the Fowles potentially rescinded it.  In addition, the printers had “but few to dispose of in this Way,” or so they claimed.  That meant that interested readers needed to make the exchange while supplies lasted.

The Fowles deployed several savvy marketing strategies when they published a new and updated edition of the laws of the colony.  They offered discounts to former customers who traded in the old edition, simultaneously pressuring them to purchase the new volume soon by cautioning that they had limited supply and the offer expired soon.  Prospective customers needed to act quickly or risk missing out!

December 25

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 23, 1771).

“He intends to stay a month only in this city.”

John Siemon, a furrier, planned to remain in New York for a short time, “a month only,” so he quickly set about introducing himself to prospective clients by placing advertisements in local newspapers.  He commenced with an advertisement in the New-York Journal on December 19, followed by another advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on December 23.  In the latter advertisement, he informed the public that he had “Lately arrived from LONDON” and visited New York via Philadelphia.  He brought with him “a general assortment of the newest fashion’d MUFFS, TIPPETS, ERMINES and lining for CLOAKS … now worn by the LADIES at the Court of Great-Britain.”  He also instructed milliners and shopkeepers to contact Fromberger and Siemon on Second Street in Philadelphia if they wished to place any orders following his departure.

Word for word, Siemon’s advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury replicated the one he placed in the New-York Journal.  One important difference, however, distinguished one notice from the other.  An image of a muff and tippet adorned the advertisement in the New-York Journal, doubling the amount of space it occupied (and its cost).  The same image previously appeared in Fromberger and Siemon’s advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal, transferred from one printing office to another.  Siemon collected the woodcut and took it with him to New York to incorporate into his advertising campaign there, but since he had only one woodcut the image could appear in only one newspaper at a time.  He apparently chose to include it in the advertisement in the first newspaper going to press after his arrival in the city, intending to maximize the number of readers who encountered the image and took note of his advertisement as quickly as possible.  After all, if he planned “to stay a month only in this city” then he needed to make prospective customers aware of his presence as quickly as possible.  Advertising in multiple newspapers helped, but Siemon also strategically selected which newspaper would carry the image that identified his business.

September 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 27, 1771).

“As the Owner is returning immediately to ENGLAND, he will sell them on very low Terms.”

An anonymous advertiser informed readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that he offered great bargains on an assortment of textiles and other imported goods because he planned to sail “Immediately to ENGLAND.”  On September 27, 1771, the advertiser encouraged prospective customers to act quickly because “he will stay but a Fortnight in Town.”  Since he was such a motivated seller, he was willing to part with his goods “on very low Terms,” so retailers and consumers alike would “find it to their Advantage in dealing with him.”  He did not give his name, instead merely stating that he offered the goods for sale “at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern in Portsmouth.”

To whet the appetites of potential buyers, the anonymous advertiser listed many of the items, including an “Assortment of strip’d and flower’d border’d Lawn Handkerchiefs,” a “variety of Gauze Handkerchiefs and flower’d Gauze Aprons,” and an “elegant Assortment of Fashionable Ribbons.”  Reiterating “assortment” and “variety” underscored that his customers benefited from an array of choices in addition to low prices.

At the end of the notice, the advertiser also listed “a few Setts of Doctor HEMET’s Famous Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifice for the Teeth, with proper Brushes and Directions.”  Readers encountered a more extensive advertisement for that product further down the column, though that advertisement indicated that Hemet, a dentist in England, had appointed William Scott in Boston and W. Bayley in London as local agents for wholesale and retail sales.  The advertiser did not indicate where he acquired Hemet’s dental care products, but he offered consumers in Portsmouth greater convenience than sending away to Scott in Boston.  Scott’s advertisement providing more detail about the products bolstered his own marketing without incurring additional expense.

The anonymous advertiser attempted to capture the attention of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette with a “limited time only” offer, suggesting that his imminent departure for England put them in a good position to negotiate for low prices.  If that was not enough to entice prospective customers, he also promoted extensive choices and even the convenience of acquiring a product otherwise available only in Boston.  Appeals to price and choice were standard elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but this anonymous advertiser further enhanced those strategies in his efforts to engage customers.

May 8

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 6, 1771).

“Mr. SAUNDERS’s stay in this City will be but a few weeks.”

Like many other itinerant performers, Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, placed newspaper advertisements to inform the public when he arrived in town and to attract audiences throughout his stay.  In February 1771, he placed a notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that he planned to “CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights” longer in that city, presumably extending his stay.  Anyone who wished to see him perform had only a limited time to do so.

Saunders apparently exaggerated how quickly he would move to a new town.  Three months later he arrived in Philadelphia and ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, asserting that his “stay in this City will be but a few weeks.”  Once again, he attempted to attract audiences by proclaiming that they could see his show for a limited time only.  Local audiences had two options for seeing Saunder’s show, general admission at Josiah Davenport’s tavern or private functions.  He gave performances at the Bunch of Grapes on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings.  At other times, he “also performs in private to any select company, at any place they please to appoint.”

Describing his act helped Saunders incite interest among prospective audiences.  He declared that they would witness “a variety of new astonishing and entertaining performance, by dexterity of hand, surpassing any thing of the kind that has hitherto been seen or attempted on this side the Atlantic.”  Saunders promised a spectacle unlike anything audiences had ever seen.  Spread over three acts, his illusions would “deceive the eye of the nicest observer, and appear in a manner supernatural.”  Some of those previous observers included “his Excellency the Earl of DUNMORE, governor of New-York” as well as “nobility and gentry” on both sides of the Atlantic.  Saunders expected that performing before such dignitaries testified to the quality of the illusions he would soon present to audiences in Philadelphia.

In announcing his arrival and describing his act, Saunders relied on anticipation and exhilaration to entice audiences to catch a performance at the Bunch of Grapes or to hire him for a private exhibition.  He asked readers to imagine his show, building a sense of anticipation that would transform into exhilaration when they witnessed the spectacle of illusions unlike any others previously seen in the colonies.  Saunders also encouraged readers to anticipate his departure after a few weeks, warning them not to wait to attend his performance or risk not having an opportunity to see his “dexterity of hand” for themselves.