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