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.

December 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 23, 1771).

Give him the Preference of buying his Ames’s Genuine Almanack before any PIRATED Edition.”

Ezekiel Russell claimed that he published “The Original Copy of Ames’s Almanack, For the Year 1772.”  On December 9, 1771, he announced that he would print the almanac the following week, as well as disseminate new advertisements that included the “Particulars of the above curious Almanack with the Places where the Original are sold.”  True to his word, he placed much more extensive advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on December 16 and 23.  Those notices included an overview of the contents, such as “Eclipses” and “Courts in the Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode-Island,” as well as a list of nearly twenty printers and booksellers who carried copies, many of them in Boston, but others in Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth.

Russell also took an opportunity to air a grievance with other printers in hopes of convincing consumers to purchase his edition of Ames’s Almanack.  He asserted that he “purchased of Doctor AMES, at a great Expence, the true Original Copy of his Almanack.”  That being the case, he hoped that “the Publick, with their usual Impartiality,” would buy “hisAmes’s Genuine Almanack before any PIRATED Edition.”  Furthermore, he accused “some of his Elder Typographical Brethren,” other printers in Boston, of attempting to “prejudice the Interest of a YOUNGER BROTHER.”  In other words, Russell declared that his competitors, men with much greater experience as printers, unfairly attempted to sabotage his endeavor and ruin his business.  It was not the first time that residents of Boston witnessed disputes over which printers published the “Original” or the most accurate version of Ames’s Almanack.  In a crowded marketplace, several printers aimed to profit from the popular title.  Russell sought to convince consumers that the character of the printer mattered as much as the contents of the almanac.  At the very least, he wanted those who purchased copies of Ames’s Almanack to make informed decisions about what kind of behavior they were willing to tolerate from printers who produced and sold the almanac.

December 9

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 9, 1771).

“Subscriptions for the CENSOR, a New Political Paper.”

In a crowded market for selling almanacs, Ezekiel Russell advertised “The Original Copy of Ames’s Almanack, For the Year 1772” in the December 9, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Russell claimed that only he printed that version of the popular almanac and announced that he would publish it, along with “Three Elegant Plates,” at his printing office on Marlborough Street the following week.  In addition, he advised prospective customers to look for an updated advertisement that included the “Particulars of the above curious Almanack with the Places where the Original are Sold.”

Although Russell opted not to include that information in his current advertisement, he did devote space to promoting another publication that he recently launched on November 23.  “Subscriptions for the CENSOR, a New Political Paper, published every Saturday,” he declared, “are taken in at said Office.”  According to newspaper historian and bibliographer Clarence Brigham, The Censor was more of a magazine than a newspaper, though the advertising supplements that sometimes accompanied it resembled those distributed with newspapers.

Isaiah Thomas, printer of the Massachusetts Spy at the time Russell published The Censor, declared that “those who were in the interest of the British government” supported The Censor “during the short period of its existence” in his History of Printing in America (1810).[1]  Thomas credited his own newspaper with inspiring The Censor.  “A dissertation in the Massachusetts Spy, under the signature of Mucius Scaevola,” he explained, “probably occasioned the attempt to establish this paper.”  The piece “attached Governor Hutchinson with a boldness and severity before unknown in the political disputes of this country.”  In turn, it “excited great warmth among those who supported the measures of the British administration, and they immediately commenced the publication of the Censor; in which the governor and the British administration were defended.”

Thomas, one of the most ardent patriots among Boston’s printers, had little use for The Censor.  Neither did most other residents of the city.  According to Thomas, “the circulation of the paper was confined to a few of their own party.  As the Censor languished, its printer made an effort to convert it into a newspaper; and, with this view, some of its last numbers were accompanied with a separate half sheet, containing a few articles of news and some advertisements.”  In the end, Russell discontinued The Censor “before the revolution of a year from its first publication.”[2]  The last known issue bears the date May 2, 1772.  Despite Russell’s attempts to attract subscribers, he did not manage to establish a market for a publication, whether magazine or newspaper or amalgamation of the two, that defended the governor and British policies.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers, ed. Marcus McCorison (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 153.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 284-285.

November 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (November 25, 1771).

“Last Saturday was published … The CENSOR, No. 1.”

Ezekiel Russell distributed the first issue of The Censor on November 23, 1771.  Two days later, he promoted his new publication in an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Russell announced that he published the inaugural issue “Last Saturday” and invited prospective subscribers to reserve their copies.  “The Receiption this Paper has already met with,” he confided, “gives the Publisher Encouragement to hope for a large Subscription for the same, and that he shall be enabled to continue it on Saturday next.”

Russell apparently had some doubts about whether The Censor would achieve a second issue.  It did, but publication lasted less than six months.  Russell distributed the last known issue on May 2, 1772.  In his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Clarence Brigham describes The Censor as “a political magazine rather than a newspaper, somewhat in the style of the ‘Tatler’ or ‘Spectator.’”  Frank Luther Mott indicates that it was one of only three American magazines founded between 1760 and 1774, but otherwise gives The Censor little attention beyond including it in a chronological list of magazines in an appendix.  “The political state of the Colonies was unfavorable to literature,” Mott intones.[1]  Brigham present a more sanguine view of The Censor, especially “its occasional ‘Postscripts’ [which] bore every appearance of being newspapers and contained certain local news and a large number of advertisements.”[2]

If such a Postscript accompanied the first issue, it has not survived.  Unlike printers who launched newspapers during the period, including Richard Draper and the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771, Russell did not seek advertisers in his notice.  Instead, he focused on attracting subscribers, expressing his desire that “every Subscriber will deposit something on subscribing” in order to defray the “great Expence” associated with the publication and “setting up a new Office.”  As Brigham notes, advertising supplements accompanied certain subsequent issues.  In the coming months, the Adverts 250 Project will examine some of those Postscripts to the Censor.

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[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1939), 26, 788.

[2] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester: Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 275.

August 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (August 12, 1771).

“Mary Smith … will be obliged to the friends of her Husband for their Custom.”

Following the death of her husband Thomas, a twine spinner, Mary Smith operated the family business on her own.  In the summer of 1771, she placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy to inform “the Public, that the Business is continued at the usual Place.”  She likely made a variety of contributions to the enterprise while her husband still lived, but became the proprietor and public face of the business upon becoming a widow.

In that regard, she joined other colonial women who gained greater visibility as entrepreneurs when they ran newspaper advertisements after their husbands died.  Mary Ogden, for instance, inserted an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that “ACQUAINTS the Public, that the Business of Shoe-making is carried on as usual.”  It appeared immediately below the estate notice she placed in collaboration with the other executors.  Similarly, Mary Crathorne, administratix of her husband Nathan’s estate, advised readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that the “mustard and chocolate business is carried on as usual.”  Cave Williams adopted a similar strategy, following the estate notice concerning her husband Thomas in the Maryland Gazette immediately with an update that the “Smith’s Shop is carried on, by the Subscriber, with the same Care and Dispatch as was in her Husband’s Lifetime.”

Other widows who placed similar advertisements placed greater emphasis on some combination of sympathy and assistance from their communities.  In the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Elisabeth Russel stated that her deceased husband’s “SHIPWRIGHT BUSINESS is carried on as heretofore, under the Direction of a proper Person.”  Even though she did not oversee the business directly, the advertisement noted that “Mrs. Russel will be much obliged to those that will employ her Hands.”  Elizabeth Mumford was more overt in her effort to gain sympathy from prospective customers.  She explained to readers of the Newport Mercury that “the Shoe-making Business is still carried on at her Shop in the New-Lane, for the Benefit of her and her Children, by JOHN REMINGTON, who has work’d with her late Husband several Years.”  Mary Smith may have been making a similar bid for sympathy and assistance when she declared that she “will be obliged to the friends of her Husband for their Custom” and that “the smallest favours will be greatfully Acknowledged.”

In the advertisements they composed and inserted in the public prints, each of these widows made choices about how to present themselves and their businesses.  Some more actively participated in the continued operations of those enterprises than others, but each probably had some previous experience from assisting their husbands in a variety of ways.  They strove to convince prospective customers that they could depend on the same quality and skill without interruption.

August 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (August 5, 1771).

“Diapers for clouting, napkins and table cloths.”

Throughout the summer of 1771, Bethune and Prince ran an advertisement for “IRISH LINNENS” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Like most other advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, it consisted entirely of text, but it differed in appearance from most other notices concerning commodities for sale.  Rather than goods listed in dense paragraphs of text, Bethune and Prince’s advertisement featured innovative graphic design that both organized the merchandise for readers and made the notice distinctive.

The “IRISH LINNENS” available at Bethune and Prince’s store on King Street included shirting, diapers, and sheeting.  Each of those categories appeared in font that rivaled the size of the headline.  Descriptions, in font the size that matched the text in the body of other advertisements on the same page, appeared to the right of each category of linen.  For instance, “Shirting” ran in larger font justified to the left margin with “3-4ths, 7-8th and yard wide” in smaller font on two lines to the right.  Similarly, “Diapers” appeared in larger font on the left and “for clouting, napkins and table cloths” in smaller font on the right.

Bethune and Prince deployed other means of enticing customers.  They promoted their “large Assortment” and promised that “Wholesale Customers may be supplied nearly as low as they are bought in England.”  Their marketing efforts, however, did not rely solely on those appeals.  Instead, their advertisement deployed graphic design to attract attention, increasing the chances that prospective customers would notice the variety of choices and low prices.  The unusual format required additional effort on the part of the compositor who set the type, but likely not so much as to increase the price of an advertisement usually determined by the amount of space that it occupied rather the number of words it included.  Bethune and Prince likely requested the unique format, but it also may have been the product of a compositor looking to experiment with the design elements of the advertisement.

July 31

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (July 29, 1771).

“Now Selling very Cheap.”

In the decades prior to the American Revolution, purveyors of goods and services regularly incorporated appeals to price into their advertisements.  They did so often enough, in fact, that many delivered appeals to price in standardized or formulaic language in their newspaper notices.  In the July 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, Joseph Gardener informed prospective customers that he sold a variety of textiles “at the very lowest Rates” and “upon the most reasonable Terms.”  Those phrases frequently appeared in the introductions and conclusions to advertisements, before and after lists of goods that demonstrated the choices available to consumers.

Some advertisers, on the other hand, experimented with other means of enticing customers with low prices.  The proprietors of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse in King-Street” stocked a “General Assortment of Ironmongery, Braziery and Cutlery Ware.”  To attract attention, they made their appeal to price the headline for the entire advertisement: “Now Selling very Cheap.”  Near the end of the advertisement, the proprietors also stated that their inventory “will be Sold much lower than those Articles are usually Sold in this place.”

The headline appeared in the largest font and preceded everything else in the advertisement.  Other headlines tended to focus on the advertiser or the merchandise.  For instance, “Joshua Gardner” appeared in the largest font in that advertisement, as did “Richard Clarke & Son” in an advertisement for tea, spices, and other groceries.  Another advertisement bore a headline proclaiming “IRISH LINNENS” for sale at Bethune and Prince’s store.  On the same page, the headline for Joseph Mann’s advertisement drew attention to the “CHOCOLATE” he ground and sold.  Another advertisement for a stolen anchor demanded inspection with a headline that promised “Eight Dollars Reward.”

The proprietors of the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse recognized an opportunity to deviate from the usual practices concerning headlines in newspaper advertisements.  They made low prices the focal point of their notice with a headline, attempting to hook readers with that appeal and encourage them to examine the rest of the advertisement in greater detail.  Even when advertisements consisted entirely of text without images, advertisers and printers experimented with graphic design to deliver messages to consumers.

June 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 24, 1771).

“To particularize every Article would near fill up the whole Paper.”

To demonstrate the extent of choices available to consumers, advertisers often included lengthy lists of merchandise in their newspaper notices.  Joshua Gardner did so in an advertisement in the June 24, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In a paragraph of dense text, he named dozens of items, including “Queens black silk mitts, Queens white silk mitts, black, white and cloth coloured silk mitts and gloves close wove, [and] worsted gloves and mitts.”  He stocked a similar variety of stockings, ribbons, textiles, and other “English Goods.”  Henry Leddle deployed the same strategy, cataloging an even more extensive inventory in an advertisement divided into two columns.

Gilbert Deblois, on the other hand, took a different approach.  He identified a few items from among his “ELEGANT Assortment of English, India and other Piece Goods suitable for all Seasons.”  He also carried housewares, cutlery, and hardware, but did not elaborate on which items.  Instead, he declared that “To particularize every Article would near fill up the whole Paper, and be very Tedious to the Public, therefore it may suffice that he has almost every Article that can be asked for.”  Prospective customers likely did not consider it hyperbole to suggest that a complete accounting of Deblois’s wares would indeed fill all four pages of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  After all, they regularly encountered advertisements that extended more than a column and still grouped similar items together as “an assortment” or “a variety” without enumerating each separately.  Asking readers to imagine an entire issue of the newspaper devoted to nothing but a list of Deblois’s merchandise prompted them to consider just how many items he carried at his shop.  By comparison, the lists in the advertisements placed by Gardner, Leddle, and others seemed short.  Deblois aimed for some of the benefits of such a lengthy advertisement without the expense.  At the same time, he hedged his bets, stating that he had “almost every Article.”  Once prospective customers visited his shop, he could suggest alternatives to anything he did not have in stock.

Many eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers competed with each other when it came to the length of their newspaper notices.  Longer notices listed more goods, demonstrating choices available to consumers.  On occasion, some advertisers offered commentary on that method, seeking to distinguish themselves by simultaneously critiquing that marketing strategy while also maintaining that they provided the same array of choices for customers.  Deblois spared readers a “very tedious” list, but still promised as many choices as his competitors.

June 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 10, 1771).

“Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.”

Advertisements for consumer goods in eighteenth-century newspapers frequently included appeals to price.  In the June 10, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, for instance, William Bant informed his “Friends and Customers” that he sold a “General Assortment of English and India GOODS … at the very lowest Rates.”  Similarly, Lewis Deblois sold cutlery, hardware, and other goods “at the very lowest Price.”  Joshua Isaacs set “reasonable Terms” for the imported goods he sold.  In many instances, advertisers made only brief reference to the price of their merchandise, but some, like Joshua Gardner, underscored price in their attempts to entice customers.

Gardner stocked a “fine Assortment of English Goods” that he acquired from London, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, and other towns.  After listing several items, he declared that “the above-mention’d Goods are purchased upon the best Ter[m]s.”  In turn, he passed along the savings to his customers, pledging that everything in his inventory “shall be Sold as low as at any Store or Shop in Town.”  Prospective customers, he proclaimed, would not find better bargains anywhere in Boston.

In addition, Gardner inserted a special “NOTE” to retailers, informing “THOSE Persons who purchase to Sell again” that they “may be supply’d by the Piece, Half-piece or Quarter-piece, Dozen, Half-dozen or Quarter-dozen, at the same advance as if they bought large Quantities.”  Many wholesalers promoted discounts for purchasing in volume in their advertisements, but Gardner went beyond that deal.  He offered retailers an opportunity to purchase in smaller quantities at the same rates as if they placed larger orders.  Such an offer distinguished him among wholesalers who advertised in Boston, perhaps making his wares more attractive to shopkeepers in the city and surrounding towns.

Although many advertisers resorted to formulaic language when making appeals to price, others experimented with both the rates they charged and how they described prices to prospective customers.  Gardner devoted as much space in his advertisement to discussing his prices as he did to listing his goods, making his notice unique among those inserted by Bant, Deblois, Isaacs, and many other merchants and shopkeepers.

May 22

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 20, 1771).

“A large and elegant Assortment of Chinces, Callicoes, printed Cottons … at the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane.”

Following the custom of the time, the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette arranged news accounts according to geography.  News from London (dated April 2), far away, came first, followed by news from other colonies.  The printers also selected updates from Newport (dated May 13) and Portsmouth (dated May 17), in that order, getting closer to their own city before inserting news from Boston (dated May 20).  The local news included a curious item: “A large and elegant Assortment of Chinces, Callicoes, printed Cottons, Clouting Diapers, Dowlasses, Huckabuck, Irish Linnens, Silk and Linnen Handkerchiefs, may be had very cheap at the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane, if apply’d for this Day.”  Rather than news, it read like an advertisement that belonged elsewhere in the newspaper.

The same item appeared among the news dated “BOSTON, May 20” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and in the Boston Evening-Post.  All three newspapers printed in Boston on that day included what otherwise looked like an advertisement among the local news.  In each case, the printers reprinted some items from a supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter published on May 16.  They also inserted new items, varying the order.  In other words, a compositor did not set type from start to finish for content that first appeared elsewhere.  The printers of each newspaper made decisions about which items to include and in which order.  They all decided to include this advertisement among the local news.

Why?  Was it a favor for Joseph Russell, one of the proprietors of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  Russell was also a successful auctioneer who regularly advertised in several newspapers rather than restricting his marketing efforts to his own publication.  For instance, he placed an advertisement for an upcoming auction in the May 20 edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  He gave the usual location, “the Auction-Room in Queen-street” rather than “the House of Mr. Russell in Long-Lane.”  Something distinguished the sale of the “large and elegant Assortment” of textiles as different, meriting a one-day-only sale at Russell’s home rather than the auction house … and its unique placement among news items instead of alongside other advertisements.

As a partner in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, Russell certainly exercised some influence in the placement of his advertisements, even though John Green oversaw the day-to-day operations of the newspaper.  Deciding to experiment with an unusual placement for his notice, Russell may have convinced other printers to give his advertisement a privileged place in their publications as well.  In his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas described Russell as “full of life,” asserting that “[f]ew men had more friends, or were more esteemed.  In all companies he rendered himself agreeable.”[1]  Perhaps this vivacious auctioneer convinced his partner and several other printers to slip an advertisement into a place that such notices did not customarily appear in the 1770s.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 140.