November 18

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 18, 1773).

“[The Particulars we have not Time nor Room to insert.]”

Robert Gould, an auctioneer in Boston, planned to hold an auction of a “valuable Assortment of English Goods” on the morning of November 19, 1773.  Like many other auctioneers in the busy port, he attempted to drum up interest by placing advertisements in the local newspapers, including the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  His advertisement that appeared in that newspaper on the day before the sale, however, featured an unusual note from the printer or compositor.  Gould apparently submitted a lengthy list of items going up for bid, but someone in the printing office inserted this comment instead: “[The Particulars we have not Time nor Room to insert.]”  A truncated list that included several textiles and “Silver Watches” followed that note, concluding with “&c. &c. &c.”  Repeating the abbreviation for et cetera three times suggested how many other items Gould planned to auction that would not fit in that edition of the newspaper.

The auctioneer may have been a victim of his own negligence in submitting his advertising copy to the printing office too late to include all of it.  The November 18 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letteroverflowed with content, so much so that Richard Draper, the printer, distributed a two-page supplement for news and advertisements that did not otherwise fit.  Draper may have anticipated needing to publish a supplement and set about printing it even as he worked on the standard four-page issue.  Like other printers, he printed the first and fourth pages on one side of a broadsheet and, while they dried, set type for the second and third pages, reserving that space for the latest news as it arrived at the printing office and new advertisements.  Gould’s advertisement appeared on the third page, indicating it was among the last of the type set for that issue.  Printers sometimes inserted instructions for advertisers to submit their notices by a particular time if they wanted them to appear in the next edition of the newspaper.  Perhaps if Gould had budgeted more time in delivering his advertising copy to the printing office, Draper and the compositor would have had the time to accommodate him by making room to include it in its entirety.  If Gould habitually made late submissions, the unusual note in the middle of his advertisement may have been an attempt to modify that behavior.  Two weeks later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter carried another advertisement from Gould, that one apparently received early enough to print in its entirety.

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 30

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

Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 30, 1773).

“At such Rates as may encourage all Retailers in Town and Country … to complete their Assortments.”

Smith and Atkinson encouraged shopkeepers in and near Boston to augment their inventories for the fall season.  In an advertisement that appeared in several newspapers in September 1773, the merchants announced that they carried a “large and general Assortment of Piece GOODS, suitable for the FALL TRADE” that they “Imported in sundry Vessels lately arrived from England.”  These were not leftovers from last year, Smith and Atkinson suggested, but instead new merchandise to enhance the offerings of “all Retailers in Town and Country.”  Those prospective customers needed such items “to complete their Assortments” and attract the attention of consumers.  They knew that shopkeepers emphasized providing choices for consumers in their own advertisements.

For their part, Smith and Atkinson did not deal with shoppers directly.  The merchants confined their business to wholesale purchases only, supplying shopkeepers with goods at advantageous prices.  Smith and Atkinson proclaimed that they acquired their shipments “on the very best Terms” and planned to pass along the bargains “at such Rates as may encourage” shopkeepers to do business with them rather than their competitors.  As further inducement, the merchants declared that they gave “Due Encouragement … to those who pay ready Money.”  In other words, cash purchases qualified for additional discounts.

Smith and Atkinson competed with other merchants who made similar appeals while also attempting to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.  In the September 30, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, James and Patrick McMasters and Company similarly advertised a “large and general Assortment of English, India, and Scotch GOODS, suitable for the Season” that they “imported in the last Ships from LONDON.”  While they did not specify that they sold “by Wholesale only” like Smith and Atkinson, McMasters and Company did assert that “Town and Country Merchants and others who are pleased to favour them with their Custom, may depend on the best Usage, and handsome Allowance to those who buy by the Quantity.”  They offered discounts for purchasing in volume rather than discounts for cash.  Some retailers may have found that marketing strategy more appealing.

In another advertisement, Amorys, Taylor, and Rogers declared that they sold a “general Assortment of GOODS Suited to the Season … at the lowest Rates, by Wholesale or Retail.”  Other merchants inserted advertisements with their own variations in their efforts to move their merchandise.  They did not expect that they could merely announce that they had goods for sale and then expect retailers to purchase them.  Instead, merchants devised marketing strategies to entice shopkeepers to acquire merchandise from them.  In turn, shopkeepers crafted strategies for inciting demand among consumers rather than relying on incipient demand.

September 23

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (September 23, 1773).

“Those who may defer purchasing any of the above GOODS in Expectation of their being put up at Public Auction will be disappointed.”

Ward Nicholas Boylston planned to leave the colonies in the fall of 1773.  Before his departure, he attempted to the liquidate the merchandise at his store on King Street in Boston.  His advertisement in September 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter incorporated several strategies to entice customers to purchase his wares.

The notice commenced with a headline: “At first Cost, for Cash only.”  Like an advertisement that Boylston ran in February, a decorative border enclosed the headline to draw attention to it.  The merchant offered the best prices available, even the prices he paid to acquire his inventory.  Earning profits on the goods mattered less than getting them out of his store, but taking advantage of those bargains required paying in cash.  With his departure quickly approaching, Boylston was not in a position to extend credit.  That also explains why the merchant “repeatedly desires all Persons who have any Demands against him to bring in their Accounts & receive their Ballances, & those who are indebted to him to make immediate Payment.”  Boylston did not want any leftovers in his ledgers when he departed.

He also trumpeted that he provided “an Abatement to those who take large Quantities.”  Merchants who planned to wholesale the goods as well as retailers in town and country looking to supplement their inventories would receive discounts for purchasing in volume.  Boylston cautioned that these deals were the best that buyers should anticipate, warning that “[t]hose who may defer purchasing any of the above GOODS in Expectation of their being put up at Public Auction will be disappointed.”  He declared that “what may remain unsold when he leaves the Country … will be disposed of another Way,” but did not give details.  Once again, this advertisement echoed one that Boylston placed in February.  He addressed “[t]hose who have witheld buying hitherto, on a dependence that the above Goods will be finally exposed to Public Sale” and acknowledged that purchasing at auction often resulted in “better Pennyworths” or bargains. That would not be the case in this instance, the merchant promised, because he would dispose of unsold merchandise “otherwise than at Auction.”  The current sale, “The last Chance” promised in the headline, was “the present and last Opportunity” for the best deals possible for purchasing Boylston’s goods.

With only “Fifteen or Twenty Days” remaining before Boylston left town, those who previously did business with him and those who considered doing business with him had a limited time to settle accounts and to buy an “Assortment of English and India Goods … at the neat Sterling Cost, free of any Charges,” from the merchant.  Realizing that some prospective customers might attempt to wait him out in hopes of purchasing his wares at auction for even lower prices than “the first Cost” and discounts for volume that he already offered, Boylston cautioned them, as he had a habit of doing, not to depend on that strategy because he had other plans for disposing of his merchandise.

September 9

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (September 9, 1773).

“Mr. BATES Is extremely sorry that the Ladies and Gentlemen were so much disturbed by a Number of unruly People.”

Mr. Bates’s first performance in Boston did not go as well as he hoped.  Some sort of fracas interrupted his exhibition of feats of horsemanship, something significant enough to merit an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter the day after that inaugural performance.  Bates declared that he was “extremely sorry that the Ladies and Gentlemen were so much disturbed by a Number of unruly People on Wednesday last when he performed.”  He also expressed dismay at “so much Mischief done to the Fence,” threatening “to prosecute to the full Extent of the Law, any Person that shall attempt any thing of the Kind” during subsequent performances.

Whatever disorder occurred at that performance may have worked to Bates’s advantage.  Residents of Boston likely gossiped about the disruption, spreading word about Bates’s show when they did so.  Some colonizers may have become more curious to attend the next performance, both to see Bates riding “One, Two, and Three HORSES,” as he promised in his previous advertisement, and to observe whether the crowd behaved or repeated the commotion from the first performance.  Watching the audience had the potential to provide as much entertainment as the show, a situation perhaps not lost on Bates.  After all, he collected revenue no matter what motivated Bostonians to purchase tickets.

To further encourage sales and attendance, Bates announced that he “lower’d the Price to Three Shillings each,” part of his commitment “to do every thing in his Power to oblige the Ladies and Gentlemen” of the town.  Just in case some readers had not yet heard of him and his reputation, either via newspaper advertisements or word of mouth, Bates concluded his advertisement with a summary of the introduction that he inserted in other newspapers earlier in the week.  He trumpeted, “Mr. BATES is allowed by the greatest Judges in the Manly Art he professes, to excel any HORSEMAN that ever attempted any Thing of the Kind.”  Like other itinerant performers, Bates resorted to superlatives to market his show, promising a spectacle that exceeded anything audiences could view in Boston or anywhere else.

August 19

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 19, 1773).

“SILKS and superfine Broad-Cloths.”

Although John Barrett and Sons did not happen to adorn their advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter with a woodcut related to some aspect of their business, that did not mean that their notice lacked visual appeal.  A border comprised of decorative type enclosed their advertisement for a variety of imported textiles and “All Kinds of English, Scotch, India, Hard-Ware and Cutlary GOODS.”  Other typographical elements also helped draw attention to their advertisement.  It featured a headline, “SILKS and superfine Broad-Cloths,” that highlighted some of the goods that readers would encounter in the advertisement.  It alternated lines in larger and smaller fonts.  In addition to the headline, three other lines – “A Prime Assortment of Padusoys,” “By JOHN BARRETT & SONS,” “All Kinds of English, Scotch” – appeared in larger type.  An appeal to price, “to be sold at an exceeding low Rate,” utilized italics for emphasis.  Overall, Barrett and Sons’ advertisement had a lively appearance.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 19, 1773).

The border certainly distinguished it from other notices, but many had their own distinctive visual elements to draw attention.  An advertisement for the sloop Industry seeking freight and passengers for a voyage to New York was the only advertisement in the August 19, 1773, edition with a woodcut.  The printer provided a stock image of a vessel at sea.  Other advertisements had their own headlines in larger fonts, including “WHIPS,” “Fyal WINE,” and “Drugs & Medicines.”  An advertisement for groceries and other goods sold “Next Door Southward of the Sign of the Buck and Gloves” divided the items into three columns, listing one item per line rather than clustering them together in a paragraph of dense text.  Daniel Bell did not resort to columns in his advertisement; he (and the compositor) devised a different means of giving each item more space on the page, naming one or two items per line and centering them.  That resulted in an amorphous and irregular shape about as different from the rectangle defined by the border of Barrett and Sons’ advertisement as possible.  All of the advertisements in that issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter relied primarily on text rather than images, yet they did not lack visual images.  The advertisers and compositors deployed typography that distinguished advertisements from the columns of news and from each other, creating a visual cacophony to engage readers and prospective customers.

August 15

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 12, 1773).

“On Account of the present Vacation at Cambridge … he can be absent without an Injury to his Pupils.”

Mr. Delile, “Professor of the French Language in Boston and Cambridge,” spent August, September, and October in Providence and Newport in 1773.  He used newspaper advertisements in each location to advise current pupils of his departure and plans to return or his arrival and plans to offer lessons for a limited time only.

On August 7, he advised readers of the Providence Gazette that “several Gentlemen of this Town and Newport” invited him to spend three months in Rhode Island “for the Purpose of teaching said Languages in those Places.”  Rather than establish a school or academy where he would teach multiple students simultaneously, Delile confined his efforts to private lessons.  He underscored that “Gentlemen or Ladies who please to employ him” needed to do so quickly because he “is under absolute Engagements to return to Boston by the last of October.”  On August 16, he inserted a similar advertisement in the Newport Mercury, having arrived in that town.  In a slight variation, he stated that he hoped that me met with “encouragement equal to that he had in Boston for 16 months past.”

Before he left Boston and Cambridge, Delile arranged for an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  He relayed the same story, that he had been “invited by several Gentlemen at Providence and Newport, to teach the French Language in those Places” for three months.  He also explained that “on Account of the present Vacation at Cambridge,” referring to Harvard College, “and the Season of the Year,” he believed that he “can be absent without an Injury to his Pupils.”  The French tutor vowed to return, hoping that his students would be “in the best Dispositions to pursue their Studies” when he did.

Delile’s advertisement first appeared on August 5 and repeated a week later.  He did not insert it any of the other newspapers published in Boston at the time.  With notices running in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Providence Gazette, and the Newport Mercury, he incurred significant expense, perhaps as much as he dared risk on a stay in Rhode Island that would last only three months.  Delile may have believed that a notice in just one newspaper in Boston was sufficient to alert some of his pupils and then the news would spread to others in the course of everyday conversations.  He likely also informed many or most of his pupils before he departed, placing the newspaper advertisement as a means of informing the general public and prompting prospective students to consider engaging his services when he returned in the fall.

June 20

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (June 14, 1773).


Isaac Greenwood may not have believed that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery when John Cutler decided to run advertisements adorned with a woodcut that closely replicated the image of genteel woman shaded by an umbrella that he had included in many of his advertisements for the past couple of years.  Greenwood first used the image in May 1771 and continued incorporating it into his newspaper notices in 1772 and 1773.  In the summer of 1773, he launched a new advertising campaign that featured the woodcut and the headline “NOT IMPORTED” to underscore that he made the “UMBRILLOES” he sold while simultaneously encouraging consumers to support domestic manufactures by choosing them over imported alternatives.

Boston Evening-Post (June 14, 1773).

Cutler also made “Umbrilloes of all sorts for Ladies and Gentlemen … in the best Manner.”  In addition, he “mended and covered” old umbrellas.  As Greenwood’s latest advertisement with the image of the woman and umbrella appeared in supplement that accompanied the June 14 edition of the Boston-Gazette, Cutler debuted his strikingly similar woodcut in an advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post on the same day.  He then took the rather extraordinary step of having the woodcut transferred to the printing offices of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter in time to run in the June 17 edition.  Such transfers continued for the next several weeks as Cutler increased the exposure for the image by inserting it in more than one newspaper.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 17, 1773).

Some prospective customers may have considered the woman depicted in Cutler’s advertisements more elegant than the one in Greenwood’s notices.  Both wore necklaces.  In the original image, the necklace hugged the woman’s chin, making it difficult to distinguish, while in the imitation the necklace hung lower on the woman’s neck and featured a pendant that enhanced it.  The original image offered a view of the woman’s decolletage, while the imitation placed greater emphasis on embroidery and other adornments.  The hairstyles differed as well.  The woman in the original image wore a high roll, but some viewers may have mistaken it for a turban.  In the imitation, the woman had her hair pile high upon her head, but the image suggested elaborate curls and even a tendril that hung below her right ear to frame her face.

In several ways, Cutler’s new image was superior to the familiar one that Greenwood had circulated for more than two years.  Cutler could have chosen another image to represent his business in the public prints.  After all, he advised prospective customers that he made umbrellas “at the Golden Cock, in Marlborough Street.”  Some advertisers experimented with branding and logos in the late eighteenth century, consistently associating an image with their shops and their goods.  Greenwood may not have been very happy that Cutler devised an image that so closely resembled the one that already represented his business.

May 27

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

Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 27, 1773).

“Goods very Cheap.”

As May 1773 came to an end, Samuel Eliot and Thomas Walley continued publishing advertisements that included colorful commentary about their low prices.  In the supplement that accompanied the May 27 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Eliot once again asserted that “Those who are acquainted with his Prices, will not need to be told that he sells at low Rates; those who are not, who will please to call on him, shall be satisfied he makes no idle Profession, when he engages to sell his Goods on the most similar terms.”  Elsewhere in the supplement, Walley expressed his exasperation with the elaborate stories that some of his competitors printed about how they “sell cheaper than cheap and lower than anybody else.”  Rather than publish tales with “little meaning,” he “rather chuses to inform his good Customers and others that he will sell at such Prices, as that both the Seller and Buyer may make a Profit.”

In contrast, Gilbert Deblois took a streamlined approach to promote the low prices he charged for a “large and beautiful Assortment” of textiles, accessories, housewares, tea, and a “great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention in an Advertisement.”  He deployed a headline that summarized his prices: “Good very cheap.”  He also inserted a nota bene to advise that “Country Traders may be supplied at as low Advance as can be bought at any Store in Town,” reinforcing the message in the headline.  In the standard issue, Herman Brimmer and Andrew Brimmer published an advertisement with a primary headline, “Variety of GOODS,” and a secondary headline, “Exceeding Cheap.”  The Brimmers listed dozens of items from among the “Assortment of English, India and Scotch GOODS” they recently imported, but they did not make additional remarks about the low prices of those items.  They relied on the secondary headline to market their prices.

Deblois and the Brimmers adopted a different approach than Eliot and Walley in their efforts to alert prospective customers to their low prices.  The former chose brevity, allowing short headlines to frame the remainder of their advertisements, while the latter offered narratives intended to engage and perhaps even entertain readers.  In both instances, the advertisers made price a defining factor in their newspaper notices.  They did not merely announce that they had goods for sale.  They presented a reason for consumers to select their shops over others.

May 16

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 13, 1773).

“[The Avertisements that are omitted this Week, will have a good Place in out next.]”

Richard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, inserted notes to readers and subscribers at the bottom of the third page of the May 13, 1773, edition.  In those notes, he provided information about the contents of the current issue and the next issue, acknowledging that he did not have sufficient space for all the materials received in his printing office that week.  Placing the notes on the third page made sense considering how eighteenth-century printers produced each standard issue of a four-page newspaper.  They printed two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folded it in half, usually printing the first and fourth pages first and the second and third pages later.  That meant that they set the type of the third page last.

It was only when setting type for the third page that Draper or a compositor who worked in his printing office knew the layout of the entire issue.  In this instance, that meant that “A variety of domestic Articles are in the last Page, and London Articles in the SUPPLEMENT.”  That note ran across all three columns at the bottom of the third page, a thick line separating it from the rest of the content.  In another note, this one appearing at the bottom of the first column, Draper advised that “[The Avertisements that are omitted this Week, will have a good Place in out next.]”  Draper may not have yet realized that news from London would occupy only one page of the two-page supplement, leaving room for another entire page of advertisements … or he may have realized that even with the extra space he still would not have enough room for all the paid notices that customers expected to see in his newspaper.  After all, he resorted to a supplement again the following week in order to increase the content he disseminated from four pages to six pages.

Given that advertising represented such an important revenue stream for colonial printers, Draper erred on the side of caution in letting advertisers know that their notices might not appear in the current issue or its supplement and, as a consolation, promised “a good Place” in the next issue.  His advertisers had the option of giving their business to any of the four other newspapers printed in Boston at the time, prompting Draper to provide updates and reassurances about when they could expect to see their notices in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.