August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:6:1767 Massacgusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (August 6, 1767).

“A Fresh and general Assortment of English Goods.”

In his short advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette, William Fisher used “Fine Hyson TEA,” a popular commodity, to attract the attention of readers, but Fisher did not sell just tea “at his Shop in Cornhill near the Post-Office.” Once he had their attention, he informed potential customers that he had also “lately Imported a fresh and general Assortment of English Goods.” To make his merchandise more alluring, he also pledged to charge “the cheapest Rates.” Although brief, especially compared to popular list-style advertisements that enumerated dozens or even hundreds of items, Fisher’s advertisement made several appeals to consumers, including choice, price, and quality.

I chose this advertisement to highlight a recent change in the methodology used for selecting advertisements featured by the Adverts 250 Project. Since the project commenced, every day it has consistently examined an advertisement published 250 years ago that day. When no newspaper had been published on a particular day, the methodology required going back a day to select an advertisement from among newspapers that would have been published most recently in the colonies, a version of consulting the “freshest advices” so often promoted in mastheads of the era. The project resorted to this fairly regularly during the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act crisis because so many newspapers ceased publication while the act was in effect. After repeal, however, scarcity of newspapers – and advertisements – rarely presented a problem. Colonial printers returned to distributing their weekly publications in the late spring of 1766; that meant that curating the Adverts 250 Project involved working with a much fuller slate of newspapers in the spring of 2016, at least one new publication every day …

… with one exception. No colonial printers distributed newspapers on Sundays. The methodology for selecting advertisements required going back one day. As noted yesterday, the Providence Gazette was the only colonial newspaper distributed on Saturdays in 1766 and 1767. Strict adherence to the project’s methodology meant featuring advertisements from the Providence Gazette two consecutive days every week. Yesterday I celebrated the inclusion of the Providence Gazette in this project. Similarly, the regular inclusion of advertisements from the Georgia Gazette, the only newspaper printed on Wednesdays, has enhanced the project by incorporating yet another newspaper from a smaller city. Yet drawing two out of every seven advertisements from the Providence Gazette seemed to do more than shift the emphasis away from exclusively examining the most significant commercial centers and the advertisements inserted in their more fully developed newspapers. On Mondays and Thursdays, printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia issued multiple competing publications, each with a much, much greater array of advertising than appeared in the pages of the Providence Gazette, the Georgia Gazette, and other newspapers from smaller cities and towns. Strict adherence to the project’s methodology meant sometimes passing over important and interesting advertisements.

That prompted an adjustment to the methodology, but only as far as Sundays were concerned. (Keep in mind that Sundays in 1767 correspond to Wednesdays in 2017). The Adverts 250 Project continues to feature an advertisement originally published 250 years ago that day throughout most of the week. However, on the day that no newspapers were published the project now draws from any newspaper published during the previous week. This yields a better representation of advertising from early America. I will continue to consult newspapers from smaller cities regularly, but not at the expense of quite so disproportionately underrepresenting the multitude of publications from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

As a result of this modification, William Fisher’s advertisement for “Fine Hyson TEA” and other imported goods found its way into the Adverts 250 Project, displacing a second advertisement from the August 8, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. That issue featured only a page and a half of advertising, whereas newspapers from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia usually had at least two pages of advertising and some of them regularly distributed advertising supplements. That being the case, a slight adjustment to the project’s methodology, one that acknowledged its spirit and original intent, seemed appropriate and warranted.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:6:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (August 6, 1767).

“JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston.”

The proprietor of “JACKSON’S Mineral-Well in Boston” deployed a philanthropic appeal to increase the allure of the spa. In a set of “RULES” published among the advertisements in the August 6, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette, Jackson first specified the rates for enjoying the waters: one copper for “the Use of the Water” and then another copper for “every Quart Bottle to carry away.” Lest he be seen as withholding access to the therapeutic qualities of the “Mineral-Well” by focusing exclusively on how much revenue it could generate from entry fees paid by middling and affluent colonists, Jackson also proposed a plan that more broadly served the interests of the general public. Should “any Physician in Town” prescribe visiting the spa to impoverished patients, Jackson offered free admission “to any poor Persons” who could produce a certificate verifying their circumstances. These “poor Persons” could enjoy the baths “gratis,” but only after providing sufficient documentation from their doctors. Charity, it seemed, had its limits; Jackson did not want his spa overrun by the lower sorts.

The advertisement also noted that “Rules for the hot, and for the cold Baths, will be fixed up in one of the Rooms.” That Jackson did not specify or elaborate on these additional rules in his notice suggests that he was less interested in informing the public of all the procedures for enjoying the “Mineral-Well” and more concerned with getting out the word that he incorporated humanitarian ventures into his business model. Other eighteenth-century advertisers made similar bids for approval from potential customers and the community in general, including schoolmasters who provided free lessons to less fortunate children. In modern times, corporate philanthropy is a standard public relations practice, but it was not invented after the rise of Madison Avenue. Some eighteenth-century entrepreneurs experimented with promoting their businesses by engaging the needs of the community, demonstrating that they were good citizens and neighbors who merited patronage from consumers.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:23:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 23, 1767).

“A handsome Assortment of Feather Plumes for Ladies Heads.”

Unlike most advertisements for consumer goods published in eighteenth-century newspapers, this notice for a “Variety of Millenary Goods” did not indicate who sold the “handsome Assortment of Feather Plumes” or “Hats of all colours.” Instead, it simply stated that these items were “Sold cheap at the House of Capt. Joseph Goldthwait.”

Who placed this advertisement and ran a shop out of Goldthwait’s house? It may very well have been a female entrepreneur who did not wish to call widespread attention to her participation in the marketplace as a retailer rather than as a consumer. Women often operated small retail establishments out of their own homes or rooms they rented, especially in urban ports, but they were much less likely to advertise their commercial activities than their male counterparts. Female shopkeepers tended to be disproportionately underrepresented among the advertisements in the public prints.

That did not mean that women did not advertise at all. This advertisement for “Millenary Goods” appeared immediately below Jane Eustis’s own notice for a “Large and beautiful Assortment [of] Silks, Cap Laces,” and other millenary goods. Although she stocked “Mens and Womens silk Hose” and “Mens white silk Gloves,” Eustis promoted mostly textiles and adornments intended for female customers. Like the anonymous advertiser, she concluded by making special note of the “Tippets and Turbans” she sold “for less than the prime Cost.” The type of merchandise hawked by the anonymous advertiser increases the likelihood that a woman placed the notice and operated the shop “at the House of Capt. Joseph Goldthwait.”

This sort of anonymous advertisement was rather rare in colonial America. Certainly newspapers frequently carried notices that advised readers to “enquire of the printer,” but usually those regarded only one or a small number of commodities, not the “Variety” or “handsome Assortment” of imported goods marketed in this advertisement. It even ended with a teaser, “&c &c &c” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc. etc. etc.”), suggesting an even greater array of goods that rivaled what customers would find in the shops kept by Jane Eustis and other advertisers.

Women had a variety of reasons for not calling as much attention to their entrepreneurial activities as their male competitors, including assumptions about their appropriate roles in the household and marketplace. This advertisement may have been designed by a woman eking out a living who hoped to attract female customers yet remain shielded from other readers in colonial Boston.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 16, 1767).

“Just imported and to be Sold by John Mein At the LONDON BOOK-STORE.”

John Mein regularly advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette in 1767. He also advertised in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy. With so many local publications carrying news and advertising to local consumers, he increased the likelihood that potential customers would be exposed to his advertisements.

The length of Mein’s advertisements may have also drawn attention. Shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements that extended half a column or more, but rarely did they exceed a single column. Mein, however, inserted advertisements that overflowed into second and sometimes even third columns. The variable length of his advertisements suggests that he may have submitted extensive sample advertisements to newspaper offices with an understanding that they would include as much as possible but truncate them to fit the space available. In such cases, printers and compositors would have played a role in editing advertising copy even though they were not responsible for generating it.

This particular advertisement may have also drawn attention because it covered almost the entire front page of the July 16 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, almost squeezing out a notice for a “Variety of Millenary Goods” at the lower right. Its placement may seem strange considering the importance associated with front-page news in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but it also demonstrates the evolution in journalism practices and consumption practices. Neither publishers nor readers engaged with newspapers and their content in quite the same way in the eighteenth century that they have in time since then.

Early Americans expected (or at least would not have been surprised) to encounter major news stories nestled within the inner pages of any given issue. Taking into consideration the production of the July 16 edition helps to demonstrate what that was the case. A four-page issue, it resulted from printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half. The first and fourth pages, comprised entirely of the masthead and advertisements the printer received well in advance (and most of them already set in type for previous issues), were printed first. Only after they dried were the second and third pages printed on the other side. In this case, those pages included the news content for the issue, including items dated the date before and the day of publication.

To modern eyes, John Mein’s (nearly) full-page advertisement on the front page of a newspaper may seem extraordinary. Its lengthy certainly merited notice in the eighteenth-century, but contemporary readers may not have been especially surprised by its placement. That it appeared on the front page just would not have resonated as being all that significant for readers accustomed to seeing advertising, rather than news, immediately under the masthead.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:9:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 9, 1767).

“Ready for Sale, BY Jolley Allen.”

Regular readers of the Massachusetts Gazette may have been surprised when they glimpsed this notice for Jolley Allen’s “Shop about Midway between the Governor’s and the Town-House, and almost Opposite the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, BOSTON.” Allen regularly advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette. He also regularly advertised in the city’s other three newspapers, so the advertisements itself would not have caused surprise. No, that would have resulted from the design of the advertisement. It did not feature a border comprised of printing ornaments, a distinctive aspect of Allen’s advertising that had practically become his trademark in all of his notices, regardless of which newspaper published them. Allen had developed a consistent visual appearance for his advertisements, making them instantly recognizable. This advertisement, however, looked like so many others on the page. It lacked the most significant element that previously set Allen’s notices apart from others.

Perhaps the printer made an error. Perhaps a new compositor now worked in the shop and set the type without realizing that Jolley’s advertisement was supposed to have a decorative border. After all, the shopkeeper seems to have consistently negotiated with the printers of all four of Boston’s newspapers to include that adornment. Perhaps he forgot to underscore this request when he submitted the copy for this advertisement.

Yet later in the week, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy all carried Allen’s newest advertisement. None of them enclosed his list of “English and India Goods” within any sort of border. While it was possible that one printing office overlooked this particular request, it seems unlikely that all four made the same mistake. Apparently Allen had not renewed his instructions concerning the graphic design of his advertisement. Why did he abandon a practice that made his advertisements so easily identifiable to readers and potential customers? Why did he eliminate the most innovative aspect of his advertising?   Even as eighteenth-century advertisers experimented with early forms of branding, they did not consistently adopt new methods, not realizing the value of cementing unique images of their business endeavors in the minds of consumers.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:18:1767 Massachusetts Gazette.jpg
Massachusetts Gazette (June 18, 1767).

“At the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves.”

According to his advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette, William Hill, a baker in Boston, made and sold “Ship Bread,” biscuits, and gingerbread at “the Bake House” appropriately marked with “the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves.” In an era before standardized street numbers organized the streets of towns and cities, shop signs helped both entrepreneurs and customers identify and locate businesses of all sorts. Some shopkeepers and artisans also used the devices depicted on their signs as rudimentary brands, sometimes adopting similar visual images in newspaper advertisements as well as on magazine wrappers, trade cards, and billheads.

Not every advertiser had his or her own shop sign, but that did not prevent them from using the signs of others who ran businesses nearby as landmarks to guide potential customers to their own shops. In the same issue that Hill promoted the breads he sold “at the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves,” Nathaniel Cudworth reported that he kept shop “in KING-STREET, opposite the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” Similarly, Joseph Domett gave the location of his store as “nearly opposite the GOLDEN BALL.” That Domett gave no other directions, not even a street name, suggests the Golden Ball was widely recognized by residents of Boston. The shopkeeper expected potential customers to already be familiar with that landmark, a common point of reference for advertiser and reader alike.

Even without woodcuts depicting the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves, the Golden Ball, or the Sign of Admiral Vernon, the advertisements reveal some of the visual culture of eighteenth-century streets. Advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and other newspapers published in Boston named dozens of signs present in the city in 1767, a vibrant display that served several purposes but now can only be imagined. Sighting various signs aided colonists as they navigated through cities. Signs also enticed colonists to become customers as they encountered them because marketing efforts encouraged consumers to associate certain signs with particular businesses and the men and women who ran them.

May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“They are much the same in all the Stores.”

Many eighteenth-century shopkeepers promoted their merchandise by publishing extensive lists of their inventory. They presented potential customers with a multitude of choices amongst the “general Assortment of English and India GOODS” they imported. Three shopkeepers – Joshua Blanchard, Joshua Gardner and Company, and Clement Jackson – each inserted list-style advertisements that extended half a column or more in the May 14, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. Each named dozens of items that readers could purchase in their shops.

Nathaniel Appleton saw little sense in paying for such extensive advertisements, especially not when his competitors already did so. Yet he did not want to lose any prospective customers who might assume that his failure to list so many goods indicated that he had an inferior selection. To that end, he supplemented his assertion that he carried a “general Assortment” of goods with a nota bene that offered further explanation: “The Articles of English Goods are not enumerated, as they are much the same in all the Stores that import direct from LONDON.”

Appleton poked at his competitors, suggesting that one of the most popular marketing methods employed by other shopkeepers might be pointless. He carried the same goods as his competitors but had the good sense not to attempt to manipulate potential consumers with efforts to overwhelm them with extensive advertisements. He acknowledged standardization in consumer culture, noting that retailers generally depended on the same suppliers.

Appleton was not the only retailer to critique lengthy list-style advertisements. Just ten days earlier Gilbert Deblois’ advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post proclaimed that his inventory “consist[ed] of every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements,” though that did not prevent him for providing an abbreviated list of his own. A couple of months earlier Benjamin Thurber and Edward Thurber inserted a notice in the Providence Gazette in which they announced that they stocked “too many [goods] … to enumerate each Particular in an Advertisement.” In addition, refusing to take on the costs of doing so allowed them to keep their prices low. At the beginning of the year, Joshua Blanchard deployed a similar argument as he lambasted the list-style advertisements published by his competitors: “The VERY LOW Price at which he sells will not afford a lengthy Advertisement, enumerating every Particular, even to Pins and Needles.” Blachard apparently had a change of heart. His lengthy advertisement “enumerating” dozens of items “Imported from LONDON” appeared immediately to the right of Appleton’s notice in the May 14 issue. Blanchard paid for his advertisement, but Appleton benefited from its proximity to his own.

Eighteenth-century advertisers like Appleton played with the conventions developing around consumer marketing, sometimes critiquing them if they thought doing so might result in some advantage or attract customers bored with the usual sorts of appeals.