April 1

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

Boston Evening-Post (April 1, 1771).

“At the Black Boy and Butt.”

Two advertisements in the April 1, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post featured Black bodies on display, either as part of a device that marked the location of a shop or in the description of an enslaved man who liberated himself by fleeing from his enslaver.  In each instance, an advertiser laid claim to a Black body for his own purposes and benefit.

Jonathan Williams sold “Good Madeira,” other imported wines, and cider at his shop “in Cornhill.”  To help customers identify his business, Williams marked the location with a sign, “the Black Boy and Butt,” that depicted a Black child and a large cask.  Like other purveyors of goods and services who included shop signs in their advertisements, Williams presented an image intended to represent his business, a precursor to the modern logo.  In this instance, that image commodified not only wine through the depiction of the cask but also Black men, women, and children through the depiction of the “Black Boy.”  Both wine and enslaved Black people arrived in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies via networks of trade that crisscrossed the Atlantic.  Colonial consumers very well knew that commerce depended in large part on enslaved labor and the transatlantic slave trade.  In placing a Black boy and a cask on display, Williams’s shop sign encapsulated that relationship.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (April 1, 1771).

Elsewhere among the advertisements in that issue, Hugh McLean of Milton provided a description of “a Negro Man, named Peleg Abby” and offered a reward to “Whoever will apprehend said Runaway.”  According to McLean, Abby was “about 26 Years of Age” and “about Five Feet Six Inches high.”  To help readers recognize the fugitive who sought his freedom so they could return him to bondage, McLean also documented the clothes Abby wore when he departed and other clothes he took with him.  McLean placed the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, but that version also included a generic woodcut of a Black man on the run.  The image helped draw attention to that advertisement at the same time that McLean asked readers to take careful note of the age, height, and clothing of all Black men they encountered in order to discern if any of them might be the enslaved man he sought to recover.

Black people were a common sight in Boston and its hinterlands in the colonial period on the eve of the American Revolution.  Descriptions of Black bodies, sometimes accompanied by nondescript woodcuts, were also subjects of interest in the public prints, frequently appearing in newspaper advertisements published in the bustling port city.  Their presence testified to the extent that both culture and commerce, even in New England, were enmeshed the transatlantic slave trade and the perpetuation of slavery in the colonies.

February 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 18, 1771).

“Massachusetts-Spy.”

Just over six months after the Massachusetts Spy commenced publication in July 1770, printer Isaiah Thomas temporarily suspended the newspaper in early February 1771.  Thomas warned both current and prospective subscribers of the hiatus in a series of notices in the Spy, pledging that he would relaunch the newspaper, with improvements, in March.  He hoped that the plans he outlined would attract new subscribers.

During the time that Thomas suspended publication, he turned to other newspapers to promote the Spy and seek subscribers.  On February 18, he placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  In each, he addressed “all LOVERS of NEWS, POLITICKS, TRUE LIBERTY, and the FREEDOM of the PRESS.”  He also declared that the Spy was “open to ALL Parties, but influenced by None,” though Thomas became an increasingly vocal supporter of the patriot cause.  Indeed, four years later he fled to the relative safety of Worcester and set up his press there because he feared retribution from British officials angered by coverage in his newspaper if he remained in Boston.

Rather than focus on politics in this advertisement, however, Thomas described the plan for publishing the improved Spy.  He originally intended to publish it on Tuesdays, the day after the newspaper that carried his advertisement, but reported that he would instead publish it on Thursdays “at the Request of a great Number of the Subscribers.”  In appearing to give the customers what they wanted, Thomas further enhanced the Spy by gaining “the Advantage of inserting what News may be brought by the Hartford-Post, who arrives on Wednesday Evenings.”  Like other newspapers, the Spy featured extracts of letters and items reprinted directly from other newspapers.

Thomas also listed other details, including the size and appearance of the newspaper and subscription rates.  The revitalized Spy “will be printed on Demy Paper, every Number to contain four Pages large Folio, and every Page four columns.”  While a couple of newspapers published in other towns at that time featured four columns per page, none of those published in Boston did.  In this manner, Thomas sought to distinguish his newspaper from the local competition.  If printers mentioned subscriptions rates in print at all, they most often did so in the plan of publication.  Thomas set the price at six shillings and eight pence per year, with half to be paid on delivery of the first issue and the other half paid at the end of the year.  Like other printers, he extended credit to subscribers.

The enterprising printer also gave instructions for subscribing, inviting “All those who are kind enough to encourage this Undertaking … to give in their Names as soon as they conveniently can.”  Thomas accepted subscriptions himself, but he also specified several agents in Boston.  They included fellow booksellers and printers, though none of the printers of other newspapers published in Boston.  He also had local agents in nearby Charlestown as well as the more distant Salem.  Thomas would eventually collect the “Subscription Papers” from his various agents and collate the names into a single subscription list.

Thomas envisioned significant improvements to the Massachusetts Spy, but he needed the support of subscribers to put his plans into effect.  He first outlined new aspects of his newspaper in the Spy before it temporarily halted publication, but then he turned to advertising in other newspapers to seek subscribers (and presumably advertisers) and generate interest as the public anticipated publication of the new Massachusetts Spy.

February 13

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

Left: Boston-Gazette (February 11, 1771); Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 14, 1771).

“The following BOOKS, which will be Sold for a little more than the SterlingCost.”

John Boyles placed identical advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in January and February 1771.  Purveyors of goods and services often submitted identical copy to printing offices, leaving the format to the compositors who set the type.  As a result, the contents of their advertisements were consistent across publications, but graphic design varied significantly.  That was not the case, however, with Boyles’s advertisements.  They were identical – copy and format – in the two newspapers.

Consulting digital copies rather than originals does not allow for measurements, but it does permit other means of comparison.  Note, for instance, that in Boyles’s location on the third line, “Next Door to the THREE DOVES,” the last three letters in the word “DOVES” rise slightly in both advertisements.  Similarly, the “o” in “to” is slightly higher than the “t.”  Three lines lower, the words “Sterling” and “Cost” do not have a space between them in either advertisement.  Instead, they run together as “SterlingCost.”  The line that separates the two columns extends only to the top of the last item in the list, “Hoyle’s Games,” in both advertisements.  Throughout the advertisements, spelling, capitalization, italics, spacing, line breaks, and every other typographical choice appear identical, a lack of variation rendered practically impossible unless the printers of the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy shared the advertisement after setting the type.

The timing of the advertisement’s appearance in the two newspapers allows for that possibility.  It ran once in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on January 14, 1771, and then ran twice more in the Boston-Gazette on February 4 and 11.  Three weeks elapsed between its appearance in the first newspaper and the next.

This example raises a variety of questions about the business practices of early American printers as well as decisions made by at least one advertiser.  Printers usually established advertising rates that included setting type and running advertisements in several issues, usually three or four.  They then charged additional fees for each subsequent insertion.  Boyles’s advertisement ran three times, but not in consecutive issues of the same publication.  Why did the advertisement seemingly move from one newspaper to another (as opposed to the common practice of submitting the same copy to multiple newspapers simultaneously)?  What role did Boyles play in making this decision?  What role did the printers of the two newspapers play?  Who transferred the type from one printing office to another?  Under what circumstances?  When and how did the type return from the Boston-Gazette to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  How did the printers and Boyles handle payment for the advertisement?  How often did early American printers share type already set?  They frequently reprinted items from one newspaper to another, but sharing type in this manner suggests a very different level of collaboration among printers.  These questions do not have easy answers, but they suggest complex interactions among printers and advertisers that merit more investigation to understand the production of early American newspapers and the business of advertising in the eighteenth century.

December 24

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 24, 1770).

“The Royal Exchange Tavern … will be opened this Day as a COFFEE-HOUSE.”

When Abigail Stoneman opened a new coffeehouse in Boston in December 1770, she attempted to increase the visibility of her venture by advertising in multiple newspapers rather than trusting that word-of-mouth recommendations and the readership of a single publication would be sufficient to attract customers.  Having “repaired and fitted for the Reception of Company” the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street, Stoneman announced that it now operated as a coffeehouse, though she also provided furnished lodgings “for constant or occasional Boarders.”

To spread the news widely, she placed notices in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, three of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  She did not insert her advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter or the Massachusetts Spy.  The latter had only recently launched and carried few advertisements, perhaps indicative of a smaller readership and, accordingly, fewer prospective customers.  Her budget for advertising may have prompted Stoneman to limit her efforts to three newspapers instead of placing notices in all four with wider distributions.

The copy and format of Stoneman’s advertisements further confirm the division of labor evident in other paid notices that ran in multiple newspapers.  The advertiser assumed responsibility for composing the copy, but the compositor exercised discretion when it came to format.  Stoneman’s advertisements featured identical copy (with the exception of a dateline that did not appear in the Boston Evening-Post, though that very well could have been a decision made by the compositor).  The format from newspaper to newspaper, however, varied.  The iteration in the Boston Evening-Post had the most recognizable headline and made use of centering for “COFFEE-HOUSE” in a larger font.  The other two iterations treated the copy as a single paragraph that lacked centering or white space to draw attention to significant aspects.

Regardless of the graphic design decisions made by compositors for the various newspapers, Stoneman informed the public that she offered hospitality at a new coffeehouse in the Royal Exchange Tavern.  Readers of multiple newspapers encountered her invitation to enjoy the new atmosphere at the Royal Exchange Tavern, repaired and remodeled as a coffeehouse.  Whether or not readers had previously visited, she welcomed them all to her new enterprise.

December 10

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 10, 1770).

“The Co partnership of JOSEPH and DANIEL WALDO, is mutually dissolv’d.”

When their partnership came to an end in the fall of 1770, Joseph Waldo and Daniel Waldo placed newspaper advertisements “to give Notice to all Persons who have any Demands on said Company, to apply to DANIEL WALDO for Payment.”  They also called on “those who are indebted to said Company” to settle accounts “as soon as possible.”  That portion of the advertisement was fairly standard, replicating many others that appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.

The nota bene at the end of the advertisement, however, incorporated a marketing strategy not nearly as common in these routine notices.  In this special note, Daniel proclaimed that he “continues the Business as usual.”  He pledged that the “Customers of the late Company, and all others, who may Favour him with their Custom may depend on being used in the best Manner.”  In the course of their partnership, the Waldos had established a clientele and a reputation among consumers in Boston and beyond.  Although the partnership had been “mutually dissolv’d,” Daniel sought to maintain both the clientele and the reputation, inviting existing customers to continue to deal with him and alerting others that the business continued to operate after Joseph’s departure.

That may explain why the advertisement did not include a certain element common to many such notices about partnerships dissolving.  The Waldos did not threaten legal action against those who owed debts, unlike others that made it clear that those who did not settle accounts would find themselves in court.  Doing so would have impaired Daniel’s attempts to continue friendly relationships with a customer base that he hoped to maintain.  After all, he promised continuing and prospective customers that they “may depend on being used in the best Manner.”  Daniel focused on customer service as a means of cultivating his business as it entered a new stage without Joseph as a partner.

November 5

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (November 5, 1770).

“The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.”

Readers of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s would have been familiar with shopkeeper Frederick William Geyer thanks to his frequent advertising.  On November 5, 1770, he placed a brief advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, but its length was not of his choosing.  Instead, the printers truncated the notice that Geyer submitted for publication.  The advertisement indicated that Geyer sold “a fine Assortment of Englishand India GOODS” at his shop on Union Street.  It included a short list of textiles that extended only three lines that preceded a note from the printers that “The remainder of the Articles will be advertised next Week.”  Indeed, the following week a more extensive advertisement did appear in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  It opened with identical copy, but then devoted forty-four lines, rather than just three, to enumerating the inventory available at Geyer’s shop.

Based on the placement of Geyer’s advertisement in the November 5 edition, it appears that the printers cut short his notice in order to make room for news items.  Like most other newspapers of the era, an issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy consisted of four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  The first and fourth pages were often printed first.  Printers held the second and third pages in reserve for news that arrived by messenger, post, or ship.  Geyer’s notice ran in the final column on the third page, suggesting that it and other advertisements in that column filled out the issue once the printers inserted the news for the week.  The news on that page included more than a column of content dated “Boston, November 5” that the printers apparently considered more pressing than Geyer’s advertisement.

This raises questions about the relationship between printers and advertisers.  Did Geyer have to pay to have the truncated advertisement inserted in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  Printers usually charged by the amount of space an advertisement occupied, so Geyer might have paid a smaller amount for the brief version than he paid for the full version a week later.  Alternately, recognizing that Geyer was a regular customer whose advertisements generated revenues for their newspaper, the printers could have inserted a short version gratis as a courtesy, giving Geyer and his goods at least some exposure in the public prints.  The length of the truncated advertisement implies that the printers may have valued it as filler to complete the column.  The note about the remainder of his merchandise appearing in the next edition was likely intended just as much for the advertiser as for prospective customers who would be interested in perusing the list.  Questions about these printing practices and business decisions cannot be answered by examining the newspapers alone, but ledgers and correspondence that provide more detail may no longer exist.

October 17

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 15, 1770).

“Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, colonial printers quickly engaged in simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification.  Radiating out from Boston, newspapers provided extensive coverage of Whitefield’s passing, in news articles reprinted from one newspaper to another, in verses dedicated to the minister, and in a hymn composed by Whitefield himself in anticipation of it one day being sung at his funeral.  In addition to widespread and widely reprinted commemorations of Whitefield, printers also hawked memorabilia that commodified his death.

The first instance appeared in the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, just days after residents of Boston received the news that Whitefield died at Newburyport.  The news coverage included an announcement of “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr, Whitefield … Sold at Green & Russells.”  Within two weeks, every newspaper published in Massachusetts as well as the New-Hampshire Gazette published at least one freestanding advertisement that promoted a broadside that commemorated the minister.  Printers and others made available several broadsides for consumers, some of that memorabilia featuring the funeral hymn and others featuring poems dedicated to Whitefield.

The advertisements for those broadsides initially addressed individual consumers, but on October 15 the advertisements for the “ELEGIAC POEM” by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet, in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy included a new note at the end: “Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”  Ezekiel Russell and John Boyles offered discounts to peddlers, shopkeepers, and anyone else who would purchase in bulk and then retail the broadside beyond Boston.  Just as news of Whitefield’s death spread through printing and reprinting of articles, verses, and hymns in newspapers that were distributed far beyond the towns in which they were published, the opportunities to engage in commemoration through commodification also widened.  Newspapers in Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth all ran advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia.  The producers of that memorabilia expected and encouraged further distribution into villages, offering discounts to facilitate the further dissemination of their product.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1770 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (June 25, 1770).

“The above Goods were imported before the Merchants Agreement.”

John Nazro sold a variety of goods at his shop in Boston.  In an advertisement in the June 25, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, he listed dozens of items, mostly textiles and accessories to adorn garments.  He concluded the notice with a nota bene directing prospective customers and the entire community to take note that it “may be depended upon” that “the above Goods were imported before the Merchants Agreement.”  In so doing, Nazro acknowledged that the nonimportation agreement was still in effect, at least in Boston.

Word of the repeal of the Townshend duties on imported goods, with the exception of tea, had arrived in the colonies in May.  Almost immediately, merchants in New York abandoned their nonimportation agreement, eager to resume trade.  The agreements in Boston and Philadelphia, however, continued throughout the summer; some merchants in those cities hoped to continue to use economic leverage to exert influence over British imperial policy.  They unsuccessfully attempted to convince their peers to extend the nonimportation agreement.  In September, Philadelphia followed New York.  By the end of October, merchants in Boston also voted to resume trade with Britain, even as some still wished to arrange a meeting with their counterparts in other cities.

As debates about resuming trade took place in Boston, Nazro proclaimed that he abided by the nonimportation agreement.  Some readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy might have interpreted that a form of encouragement for continuing the agreement.  At the very least, Nazro sought to demonstrate to the community that even in those uncertain times he followed the pact that had been adopted and not yet formally dissolved.  He took his cue from the community of merchants in his city, not the actions of Parliament in repealing most of the Townshend duties or the merchants in New York who so quickly returned to business as usual.  Nazro suggested that customers could feel confident making purchases at his shop because neither he nor they deviated from the nonimportation agreement still in place in Boston.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:11:170 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (June 11, 1770).

“The Coach-Making Business in all its Branches is carried on as usual.”

Adino Paddock, a coachmaker in Boston, regularly placed newspaper advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He often promoted secondhand coaches, chaises, and other sorts of carriages as an alternative to purchasing new ones, anticipating marketing strategies that became standard in the automobile industry two centuries later.  He also provided maintenance and carried accessories and equipment, such as reins and whips, realizing that ancillary services and smaller sales supplemented the revenues he earned from carriages.

As part of his marketing efforts, Paddock inserted his advertisements in multiple newspapers published in Boston.  While this increased his expenses, it also placed his notice before greater numbers of potential customers.  During the week of June 11, 1770, for instance, Paddock placed the same advertisement in three of the five newspapers printed in Boston at the time.  It appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on the same day at the beginning of the week.  It did not, however, appear in the issue of the Boston Chroniclepublished that same day or the subsequent issue distributed later in the week, but Paddock may not have considered running it there worth the investment.  Relatively few advertisements ran in the Chronicle, perhaps due to the newspaper’s outspoken Tory sympathies.  (Less than two weeks later that newspaper permanently ceased publication, though Paddock would not have known that the end was near for the Chronicle when he submitted his advertisements to the various printing offices in town.)  Paddock also declined to place his notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Perhaps running notices in the other three newspapers exhausted his budget.

Whatever his reasons for choosing some newspapers over others, Paddock did submit identical copy to the Evening-Post, Gazette, and Post-Boy, multiplying the number of readers who would encounter his advertisements.  For readers who perused more than one publication, his advertisement likely became more memorable due to its familiarity.  Paddock was not alone in adopting this strategy.  Artisans, merchants, and shopkeepers in cities with multiple newspapers often sought to increase their visibility by placing identical notices in more than one publication.

April 9

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 9, 1770).

“A small Assortment of English Goods.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson placed an advertisement offering cash for “POT and PEARL ASH” in the April 9, 1770, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  In that same advertisement they offered for sale a “small Assortment of English Goods.”  They did not confine themselves to advertising in the Boston Evening-Post alone.  That same day they inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Later in the week, their advertisement also ran in the April 12 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, the Boston Chronicle was the only one that did not carry Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement.

Even though they attempted to increase the number of readers who would see their advertisement, they may have declined to place it in the Chronicle for a couple of reasons.  Politics may have played a part:  the Chronicle had earned a much-deserved reputation as a Loyalist newspaper.  Smith and Atkinson may not have wished to be associated with the newspaper or its printers.  The potential return on their investment may have also influenced their decision.  The Chronicle ran far fewer advertisements than any of the other newspapers published in Boston, suggesting that it likely had fewer readers.  Smith and Atkinson may not have considered inserting their advertisement in the Chronicle worth the expense.

In addition, the political argument they made in their advertisement would not have fit the Chronicle’s outlook and reputation.  Smith and Atkinson carefully specified that their English goods had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.”  They abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties assessed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  They suggested that consumers should abide by the agreement as well, grafting politics onto decisions about their participation in the marketplace.  The Chronicle, on the other hand, devoted significant effort to accusing patriot leaders and merchants of secretly cheating on the nonimportation agreement and misleading their customers and the public.

When Smith and Atkinson decided to advertise in most of Boston’s newspapers, they likely had more than one motivation for doing so.  They did not necessarily seek merely to attract customers for their goods.  Their strategy allowed them to widely publicize that they abided by the political principles adopted by most of their community, enhancing their reputation among readers even if those readers did not become customers.