December 3

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

New-London Gazette (December 3, 1773).

Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Ditto Elixir Bardana.”

Simon Wolcott advertised a “fresh and general Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the December 3, 1773, edition of the New-London Gazette.  The merchandise that he “Just IMPORTED from LONDON” and sold “as cheap as in New-York or Boston” included a dozen popular “PATENTED MEDICINES,” such Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, and Turlington’s Balsam of Life.  The copy of the New-London Gazette digitized for inclusion in America’s Historical Newspapers, the most extensive database of eighteenth-century newspapers, includes manuscript additions.  At some point, someone crossed out four of the patent medicines: Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Hill’s Elixir Bardana, Jesuit’s Drops, and Mountpelier Drops.  Why?

This could have been done in the printing office, especially if Wolcott wished to update his advertisement to exclude those medicines.  However, Wolcott’s notice ran in the next five issues of the New-London Gazette (which became the Connecticut Gazette with the December 17 edition) without any changes before he discontinued it in the middle of January 1774.  Such marks could have also been made in the printing office if Wolcott ordered handbills but for some reason wished to feature only some of the patent medicines.  Any handbills, trade cards, or other advertisements that Wolcott commissioned to supplement his newspaper notices have not survived.

Alternately, a reader may have crossed off those patent medicines for their own purposes.  For instance, an apothecary or shopkeeper looking to restock their own supplies could have crossed out those that they did not wish to acquire before writing a letter and sending an order to Wolcott or taking the newspaper to his shop to guide their purchases.  Similarly, someone managing a household or putting together a box of commonly used medicines for traveling could have made similar notations to indicate which medicines they needed and which they did not.  Someone else may have crossed out those patent medicines for some other reason, perhaps indicating which they had tried and found ineffective.

Whatever the reason for the manuscript additions to Wolcott’s advertisement in this copy of the New-London Gazette, the marks indicate that someone engaged with the newspaper beyond merely perusing its contents.  The notations indicate something of some significance to the person who made them, though their purpose remains a mystery to readers who encounter the newspaper notice centuries later.

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.

January 13

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 13, 1772).

A Mahogony Desk and Book-Case.

This advertisement presents a conundrum.  It attracted my attention because someone made manuscript notations on the copy of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy that has been preserved in an archive and digitized for greater accessibility.  They crossed out “FRIDAY” in the portion of the headline that gave the date of an auction, crossed out “a Mahagony Desk and Book-Case” midway through the advertisement, and placed three large “X” over most of the rest of the content.  I suspected that either Joseph Russell or John Green, the partners who published the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, made those notations to guide the compositor in setting type for a revised version of the advertisement to appear in a subsequent issue.  Russell, the auctioneer who placed the advertisement, focused primarily on operating the “Auction Room in Queen-Street” while Green oversaw the newspaper and the printing office.

A revised version did not appear in a subsequent edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  The same advertisement did run in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Gazette on Monday, January 13, 1772, the same day it appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those newspapers ran the same copy, but with variations in line breaks because the compositors made their own decisions about format.  I also looked for revised versions of the advertisement in other newspapers published in Boston between January 13 and the day of the sale.  The Massachusetts Spy published on Thursday, January 16, the day before the say, did not carry the advertisement, but the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter distributed on the same day did feature a slightly revised version.  Only the first line differed from the original version, stating that the auction would take place “TO-MORROW” rather than “On FRIDAY next.”

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

The rest of the advertisement was identical to the one that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy earlier in the week.  The copy was identical and the format (including line breaks, spelling, and capitals) was identical.  Even the lines on either side of “FRIDAY next, TEN o’Clock” on the final line were identical.  Both advertisements lacked a space between “by” and “PUBLIC VENDUE” on the third line.  The manuscript notations on the original advertisement may have directed someone in revising the first line, but not the remainder of the notice.  Even more puzzling, it looks as though Green and Russell shared type already set at their printing office with Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This is not the first time that I have detected such an instance in newspapers published by these printers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  It raises questions about both the logistics and the business practices of those involved, questions that merit greater attention and closer examination of the contents, both news and advertising, in the two newspapers.