May 14

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 14, 1772).

Much cheaper than they are usually sold.”

In the spring of 1772, Samuel Gray sold “China WARE … At the Three Sugar Loaves in Cornhill, near the Heart and Crown,” the printing office where Thomas Fleet and John Fleet published the Boston Evening-Post.  Gray declared that he stocked a “neat Assortment of India China Ware.”  He provided a short list of merchandise, including a “Variety of pudding, sallad, and soop Dishes, round, eight-square, scalloped, and oval” as well as “octagon, and mackrel Dishes, of different sizes” and “others of various Forms and sizes.”  He also carried a “Variety of Table Plates and Butter Plates, Pattypans, Sauce Boats, Bowls, Tea Cups and Saucers, Coffee [Saucers], and other Articles.”  Repeatedly invoking a “variety” of styles and “others” encouraged prospective customers to imagine an even greater array of choices they would encounter at the Three Sugar Loaves.

In addition to consumer choice, Gray highlighted low prices in his efforts to entice readers into his shop.  The secondary headline for his advertisement proclaimed that he parted with his wares “CHEAP for CASH.”  Near the end of the notice, he underscored the bargains available to customers who paid in cash rather than credit.  He informed them that they could acquire most of his goods “exceeding low for Cash, much cheaper than they are usually sold.”  He likely intended for the italics to draw attention to this deal.  Gray further explained that “many of the Articles will be retailed at the first Sterling Cost,” suggesting that he did not mark up the wholesale prices that he paid.  Gray did not specify which items were among the “many” sold at such low prices.  He may have treated those items as loss leaders, figuring customers who purchased some of those “many” items would also buy other items.  He also acknowledged that he did not sell cups and saucers “much cheaper than they are usually sold.”  After all, he had to make a living.  In his marketing efforts, he carefully balanced bargain prices for most items with standard rates on just a couple, seeking to convince consumers that he offered better deals than they would find among his competitors.

May 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 7, 1772.)

“Oils…  Paints… Varnishes… GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement for an “Assortment of Painters Oil and Colours” available “At the Painters-Arms in Queen-Street” ran once again in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  It featured a table of “Oils… Paints… Varnishes… [and] GUMS” of various colors, making it distinct from other advertisements and easy to recognize.  Among the various paints, the table offered choices that ranged from “Princess Yellow, Naples Yellow, [and] Spruce Yellow” to “India Red, Venetian Red, [and] Vermilion.”  The format both delineated the many choices available to consumers and challenged them to imagine the possibilities.

Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury had seen this advertisement before.  It ran two weeks earlier in the April 23 edition.  Unlike other advertisements that ran for consecutive weeks, however, Gore and Son’s advertisement did not appear in the subsequent issue on April 30.  Instead, it ran in the Boston-Gazette on April 27.  That was not merely a case of an advertiser submitting the same copy to two newspapers.  Careful examination reveals that the notices in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Boston-Gazette featured identical format, indicating that someone transferred the type from one printing office to another.  That made publishing Gore and Son’s advertisement a collaborative effort among competitors.  It was not the only paid notice that originated in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and then ran in identical format in another newspaper in the spring of 1772.  The type for Gore and Son’s advertisement eventually found its way back to Richard Draper’s printing office, where the compositor added a final line about “A few Casks of NEW RICE” but otherwise did not make any adjustments to the format.

This raised all kinds of questions about the business of printing in early America.  What kinds of bookkeeping practices did this entail?  How did Draper and other printers keep track of which type belonged to them or to competitors?  How did they go about charging advertisers for notices that ran in multiple newspapers?  Did advertisers receive a discount from those printing offices that did not have to set the type?  Or did the work involved in transferring type from one office to another balance the labor required to set type?  Printers in Boston sometimes collaborated in publishing almanacs and pamphlets.  To what extent did they collaborate in publishing the advertisements that generated significant revenue for their newspapers?

April 29

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

Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).

“Oils … Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement in the April 27, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette raises all sorts of interesting questions.  An identical advertisement appeared in the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This does not seem to have been just a case of an advertiser inserting the same notice in multiple newspapers.  That was quite common in the 1770s, especially in Boston.  Yet this was not simply an instance of an advertiser writing out the copy more than once and then submitting it to more than one printing office.  Yes, the copy was identical … but so was the format and every aspect of typography, from the design of the table listing different kinds of paints to the line breaks to font sizes to capitalization of certain words.  Rather than a compositor copying an advertisement as it appeared in another newspaper, this looks like Richard Draper’s printing office outright transferred type already set for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s printing office for publication in the Boston-Gazette.

That was not the only instance of such a transfer in the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  John Barrett and Sons ran an extensive advertisement that previously appeared in Draper’s newspaper on April 23.  So did Joseph Peirce.  To further complicate matters, both of these advertisements also ran in the April 27 edition of the Boston Evening-Post. Once again, this does not seem to have been merely an instance of a compositor consulting an advertisement in another newspaper when setting type.  Instead, the type from one printing office found its way to another printing office.

The placement of these advertisements on the page in each newspaper contributes to some confusion about the sequence of events.  Take into consideration that a standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Printers often printed the front and back pages first, filling them with the masthead, colophon, and advertisements.  They saved the second and third pages for the latest news.  Peirce’s advertisement ran on the fourth page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, suggesting that the compositor received the type from the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury fairly quickly.  That also allowed sufficient time to pass along the type to the Boston-Evening Post for inclusion in a two-page supplement that consisted entirely of advertising.  That timing makes sense.

The timing for inserting Barrett and Sons’ advertisement in each newspaper, however, does not seem as clear.  It ran on the first page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, printed at the same time that Peirce’s advertisement was printed on the fourth page.  It did not, however, run in the supplement to the Boston Evening-Post or even on the second or third pages among the last items inserted in the standard issue.  Instead, it appeared on the fourth page, presumably making it one of the first items printed for that issue.  The compositor did eliminate the final eight lines listing several imported goods in order to make the advertisement fit among the other content on the page, but did not make other alterations.  That someone transferred the type from one printing office to another so quickly for it to appear in the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post on the same day suggests a very efficient operation.

This raises questions about the organization and collaboration between printing offices.  Who assumed the responsibility for transferring the type for these advertisements from one printing office to another?  Did they make sure that the type was returned to its original printing office?  Did any of the printing offices adjust the prices they charged for running these advertisements based on whether they invested time and labor in setting type?  How extensive were these practices of transferring type from one printing office to another?  These are all questions that merit further investigation.

Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Right: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).

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Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Center: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772). Right: Boston Evening-Post (April 27, 1772).

April 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772).

“Oils .. Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”

John Gore and Son included a table listing the various colors available at their shop “At the Painters-Arms” in Queen Street in Boston when they placed an advertisement in the April 23, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  They clustered other goods together in dense paragraphs, including “Brushes, Tools, and Pencils of all sorts” and “Stone and Pallet Knives,” but used the table to demonstrate the range of choices and guide prospective customers in selecting the ones that most interested them.

Gore and Son divided the table among “Oils,” “Paints,” “Varnishes,” and “GUMS.”  Each category listed half a dozen items, except for “Paints.”  Instead, Gore and Son further subdivided the table to include sections for “WHITE,” “RED,” “BROWN,” “YELLOW,” “BLUE,” “GREEN,” and “BLACK.”  Each of those sections listed several options.  Rather than settle for blue, customers could choose from among “Ultramarine, Ultramarine Ashes, Prussian Blue of various sorts, Calcin’d Smalt, Verditer, [and] Powder Blue.”  Similarly, the varieties of yellow included “King’s Yellow, Princess Yellow, Naples Yellow, Spruce Yellow, Stone Yellow, Maryland Yellow, English Oaker, Gum Bogium, Yellow Orpiment, [and] Dutch Pink.”  To produce the table of paints and colors, the compositor created three columns and incorporated horizontal and vertical lines to separate each category from the others.

This method of displaying the extensive choices to consumers anticipated the racks of cards on display in hardware and home improvement stores today.  Gore and Son did not merely tell prospective customers that they stocked “COLOURS of all sorts” but instead encouraged them to imagine the different shades and contemplate which they preferred.  They likely hoped that some readers would visit their shop to compare the colors after seeing the many options listed in the table in the newspaper advertisement.  Gore and Son relied on text without images when marketing their paints, yet they still attempted to leverage graphic design and visual effects to make sales.  They opted for typography that simultaneously highlighted choices available to customers and distinguished their advertisement from others.

April 19

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

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

“Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods.”

Joseph Peirce’s advertisement occupied half a column in the April 16, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, listing dozens of items for sale and fulfilling a promise made the previous week.  In the previous issue, an abbreviated version of the advertisement informed readers that “Joseph Peirce HAS receiv’d by Capt. Scott, who is just arriv’d from London, a genteel Assortment of English and India Goods, which he will sell, at his Shop at the North Side of the Town House, Boston, at such Rates as shall give full Satisfaction to the Purchaser.”  A short note also clarified that “The Particulars must be deferred till our next.”

The shipping news from the customs house confirmed that several vessels from London, including one commanded by Capt. Scott, recently arrived “Enter’d in” the bustling port.  In some instances, advertisers placed preliminary notices to alert prospective customers that they had new merchandise before they had time to unpack it or include all the “Particulars.”  In a competitive commercial landscape, they considered it imperative to advertise as quickly as other merchants and shopkeepers.  That does not seem to have been the case with Peirce’s advertisement, however.  Richard Draper, the printer, inserted a note at the bottom of the page, stating that “A Number of New and Old Advertisements, we are obliged to omit for want of Room.”  The decision to delay some of the content of Peirce’s advertisement therefore seems to have been made by the printer rather than by the advertiser.  Even the half sheet that accompanied the standard issue did not provide sufficient space for the remaining advertisements.  Draper declared that “The LONDON NEWS by the last Vessels are in the Gazette Extraordinary.”  That the masthead of the additional half sheet named it the Massachusetts-Gazette Extraordinary rather than the usual Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette distributed by Draper signaled that it contained news that readers would not want “deferred till our next.”  He prioritized news for subscribers over paid notices by advertisers, carefully balancing his obligations as printer.  After all, the newspaper depended on the patronage of both kinds of customers.

Peirce’s complete advertisement appeared in the next issue, the original notice serving as an introduction to an extensive catalog of imported goods.  The delay might not have mattered for some readers and prospective customers.  A note from the printer in the April 16 edition indicated that delivery had been postponed because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road” so those subscribers received the April 9 and the April 16 editions (and the abbreviated version and the full version of Peirce’s advertisement) at the same time.  Both the advertiser and the printer experienced delays in circulating Peirce’s notice to colonizers in and beyond Boston.

April 16

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

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

Last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Advertisements accounted for important revenue for colonial printers.  That was certainly the case for Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  So many colonizers submitted advertisements for inclusion in the April 16, 1772, edition, that he resorted to distributing a half sheet supplement devoted almost exclusively to paid notices.  That helped, but still did not provide enough space for all of the advertisements that he should have published that week.  That prompted him to insert a brief note to address the situation.  “A Number of Advertisements,” Draper stated, “are omitted for want of Room.”  He then tried to convince advertisers that they did not need to be concerned because “no Post went last Week” along “the Western Road, (where we have a great many Customers)” so that meant that “last Thursday’s Paper containing their Advertisements accompany this Day’s Papers.”

Would that mollify advertisers who expected to see their notices in print?  Draper did the best he could to give a favorable impression of the situation, assuring advertisers that readers would indeed see their notices that week even if they did not happen to appear in the most recent edition or its supplement.  He did not, however, attempt to explain why they should not be concerned that delivery of the previous edition had been delayed by a week, perhaps because everyone understood he had less control over the post than his press.  He simply expected advertisers to accept that their notices had not been distributed as widely as they anticipated as soon as they intended.  What truly mattered, he sought to convince them, was that their advertisements were now before the eyes of readers.  Interestingly, Draper’s note explicitly addressed advertisers, not subscribers.  He made no apology to subscribers outside of Boston that they had to wait a week to receive either news or notices.  Through that omission, he once again positioned delivery as further beyond his control than the contents of his newspaper.  In this instance, maintaining good relationships with customers and safeguarding an important revenue stream meant focusing on the concerns of advertisers.

April 12

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 9, 1772).

“The Second Edition.”

In the spring of 1772, Benjamin Edes and John Gill marked the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre by printing “AN ORATION DELIVERED MARCH 5th … TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY Of the FIFTH of March, 1770.”  Dr. Joseph Warren gave the address to “the INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN OF BOSTON.”  Edes and Gill advertised the pamphlet widely, starting with a lengthy notice in their own Boston-Gazette on March 23.  The next day, the Essex Gazette carried an advertisement alerting readers in Salem and nearby towns that Samuel Hall stocked copies of Warren’s oration “published in Boston.”  Over the next week, Edes and Gill ran advertisements in other newspapers, including the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on March 26 and the Boston Evening-Post on April 1.

Did those advertisements work?  Perhaps.  Edes and Gill sold enough copies of Warren’s oration that they printed a second edition and began advertising it in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on April 9.  Their new advertisement, much more extensive than the one that previously appeared in that newspaper, proclaimed that “The Second Edition” was “THIS DAY PUBLISHED … by EDES and GILL.”  It informed prospective customers that they could acquire the address for nine pence.  It also included two other details that appeared in Edes and Gill’s original advertisement in the Boston-Gazette but not in subsequent advertisements in other newspapers, a quotation in Latin by Virgil and a note that the printers also had on hand “A few of Mr. LOVELL’S ORATIONS Deliver’d last April, on the same Occasion.”  Why did Edes and Gill decide to include Lovell’s address from the first anniversary of the Boston Massacre in this new advertisement?  Did they believe that the advertisements in several newspapers incited such demand for the address that Warren recently delivered that they had a good chance of selling surplus copies of Lovell’s oration?  That Edes and Gill expanded their advertising campaign for “The Second Edition” of Warren’s oration suggests that they considered their first round of notices successful and effective.

April 3

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 3, 1772).

“Country Traders … may be supplied with all Kinds of Writing-Paper … at any Store in Town.”

John Fleeming published the Boston Chronicle in partnership with John Mein from 1767 to 1770.  That newspaper folded, in large part due to the blatant Tory sympathies espoused by Fleeming’s partner.  Mein fled Boston, leaving Fleeming to oversee the business for the few months that the newspaper continued publication in his absence.  With the Boston Chronicle behind him, Fleeming turned to job printing and selling stationery and writing supplies.  In the April 3, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, for instance, he advertised a “large Assortment of STATIONARY” that included “Writing Paper of all Kinds, Quills, Wax, Wafers, Ink-Chests & Stands of various Kinds, Ivory Folders, Leather Ink Bottles, Ink-Powder, and Patent Cake Ink.”

Fleeming hoped to encourage retail sales among residents of Boston who visited his shop, but he also made an appeal to “Country Traders and Shopkeepers” looking to make wholesale purchases.  He promised them that they “may be supplied with all Kinds of Writing-Paper by the Ream, as Cheap as at any Store in Town.”  Fleeming competed with a number of stationers who imported paper from England, especially after Parliament repealed the duties on paper and other items and merchants called an end to the nonimportation agreement adopted to achieve that goal.  Eager to maximize revenues, Fleeming aimed to attract wholesale as well as retail customers.

In so doing, he resorted to a familiar marketing strategy, one adopted by merchants who sold a variety of imported goods ranging from textiles to housewares to hardware to patent medicines.  Some advertised that they filled retail orders sent from colonizers in the countryside.  Others did not work directly with consumers outside of Boston, but that did not mean that they neglected to capture wider markets as wholesalers.  Merchants frequently assured “Country Traders” that they offered the best bargains, allowing them to generate sales by passing along the savings to their customers.  By modern standards, Fleeming’s advertisement may not appear flashy, but that does not mean that it lacked a sound marketing strategy in the eighteenth century.

March 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 26, 1772).

“An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”

Encouragement to participate in the commemoration of the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre by purchasing a copy of the oration delivered by Joseph Warren to mark the occasion continued in the March 26, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Three days earlier, Benjamin Edes and John Gill announced in their own newspaper, the Boston-Gazette, that they had just published “AN ORATION DELIVERED MARCH 5TH, 1772 … TO COMMEMORATE THE BLOODY TRAGEDY.”  The following day, a notice in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, alerted readers that “Yesterday was published in Boston, and now to be sold by Samuel Hall … An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY.”  That advertisement was much shorter than the one in the Boston-Gazette.  Edes and Gill included a lengthy excerpt from Warren’s address in their notice as a means of inciting greater interest and enticing prospective customers.

As proprietors of the Boston-Gazette, Edes and Gill had access to as much space in that newspaper for promoting the goods and services available at their printing office as they wished.  On the other hand, they presumably had to pay to insert an advertisement in another newspaper, though they could have worked out some other arrangement with fellow printer Richard Draper when they advertised Warren’s oration in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The advertisement in that newspaper was much shorter, consisting of only six lines without any of the excerpt about “the ruinous Consequences of standing Armies to free Communities.”  There may have been limits to what Draper was willing to publish, either paid or gratis.  After all, the excerpt from the oration amounted to an editorial even though it appeared among advertisements.  Draper’s newspaper tended to take a more supportive stance toward the British government, especially compared to the strident critiques that regularly ran in the Boston-Gazette.  Among the printers in Boston, Edes and Gill were some of the most ardent in supporting and promoting the Patriot cause.  For them to advertise “An ORATION … to commemorate the BLOODY TRAGEDY” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter at all had political significance likely not lost on readers.

February 13

GUEST CURATOR: Dillon Escandon

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 13, 1772).

“BOOKS … which have just been received in the Paoli, Capt, Cazneau.”

This advertisement struck me particularly because I have always been curious about what kinds of books people read during the era of the American Revolution. Henry Knox listed books of divinity, surgery, sea books, and bibles. The source of the books also caught my attention. Many of the books were recently shipped in the Paoli by Captain Cazneau.

I wanted to learn more about the people mentioned in this advertisement, Henry Knox and Captain Cazneau. I learned that Henry Knox lived in Boston and worked as a bookseller before joining the Continental Army and participating in the siege of Boston. He ultimately became a member of George Washington’s cabinet as the first Secretary of War for the United States.  I did not locate as much information about Captain Cazneau.  In my research, I found a letter from June 8, 1780, written by Thomas Digges to John Adams that mentioned a “Capt. Cazneau” and a voyage to Ireland during the American Revolution.  Cazneau delivered “four Louis D’ors” to Digges to pay one of Adams’s debts.  I did not find out as much about his role in the American Revolution as I did about Henry Knox.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

I often tell my students that being an historian is similar to being a detective.  Reconstructing the past requires searching for clues in a variety of places, both primary sources and secondary sources.  Especially when consulting primary sources, historians sift through many, many items to determine which provide helpful clues and which do not.  It is a laborious and time-consuming process.  In the end, we do not always uncover all the clues that we want or need to offer a complete explanation of what happened.

Dillon had that experience in his effort to learn more about the people mentioned in the advertisement he selected.  When he embarked on his research, he consulted both primary sources and secondary sources, distinguishing his approach from the work undertaken by most students in my Revolutionary America class working on their own contributions to the Adverts 250 Project.  Working with eighteenth-century newspapers gave them an opportunity to consult primary sources from the era of the American Revolution.  After selecting their advertisements, each student needed to identify at least one additional source that helped them provide historical context as they explained what we might learn about the past from newspaper advertisements.  In most instances, students chose secondary sources to aid in analyzing their advertisements.  That presented many opportunities for discussing what constituted authoritative and reliable sources.

When Dillon went in search of primary sources, his research prompted a different conversation about the challenges of “doing” history.  He found a reference in a letter to John Adams to a “Capt. Cazneau” that might have been the same “Captain Cazneau” in Henry Knox’s advertisement published nearly a decade earlier.  Dillon identified a tantalizing clue, but one that requires much more research and consulting many more documents than the scope of the project assigned to him for my Revolutionary America class.  In this instance, I did not expect him to tell a complete story about Cazneau’s life and career.  Instead, I considered it valuable for him to have the experience of doing some of that detective work required of historians in order to gain greater appreciation for the research, writing, and revising that goes into crafting the narratives in secondary sources we read and discussed throughout the semester.