October 13

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

Oct 13 - 10:13:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (October 13, 1768).
“All Persons shall be as well served by Letter as if present.”

In the late 1760s Joshua Blanchard operated a “Wine-Cellar near the Market” in Boston. He sold “Choice Sterling Madeira … and all other Sorts of Wine” in a variety of quantities, “by the Pipe, Quarter-Cask, or in Bottles by the Groce or Dozen” or any other measure “as may suit the Buyer.” In addition, he also sold “West India and New-England Rum.” Transporting, repackaging, and selling wine and spirits required special skills and attention compared to textiles, housewares, hardware, and many other imported goods frequently promoted in newspaper advertisements. To that end, Blanchard informed prospective customers of the care exhibited in distributing his wine in the marketplace.

Blanchard envisioned several sorts of customers. He addressed “Gentlemen of the Town, Masters of Vessels, and all Persons going abroad,” promising them that he offered the “best Kinds” of wine. He also assured prospective customers about the packaging, noting that they “may depend on having their Wine put up in the best Manner.” There was no need to worry about spilling or spoiling that resulted from the work undertaken at Blanchard’s wine cellar to transfer wine from its original casks to new bottles or barrels of various sizes. Blanchard’s emphasis on quality extended beyond the product itself; it included his efforts in distributing the wine.

In addition to serving customers in the busy port, Blanchard invited “Gentlemen in the Country, Inn-keepers, and all other Persons” to send orders to his wine cellar. Transactions did not need to take place face to face. Instead, customers “shall be as well served by Letter as if present.” In other words, Blanchard provided a form of mail order service. That made his attention to quality an even more important marketing appeal. He first needed to assure prospective customers that his wine and rum would survive transport without incident before presenting the option of delivering it in response to orders placed in letters. Blanchard underscored “Care & Fidelity” in the second half of his advertisement, in relation to his work as a broker, but that phrase also applied to treatment of the products that passed through his wine cellar as well.

August 22

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

Aug 22 - 8:22:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Green and Russell
Massachusetts Gazette [Green & Russell] (August 22, 1768).
Norwich Stage-Coach.”

As the summer of 1768 drew to a close, David Greenleaf established a new “Stage-Coach” line between Norwich, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island. The stagecoach made one trip each week, covering a distance of almost fifty miles in each direction. Passengers could depart “from the House of Mr. AZARIAH LOTHROP, in Norwich” on Wednesday mornings and arrive at “the House of Dr. SAMUEL CAREW, at the Sign of the Traveller, in Providence” later in the day. The stagecoach made the return trip on Thursdays. Greenleaf saw to the comfort of the travelers who availed themselves of this new service, providing an “elegant STAGE-COACH” drawn by “four good Horses.” To make the trip as speedy as possible, Greenleaf also arranged for “four spare ones … to exchange on the Road.” In addition, he carefully selected the terminals for this new stagecoach line. Lothrop and Carew both offered “the best Entertainment” for passengers while they waited to make the journey. Greenleaf made the entire journey an experience, promising that “Ladies and Gentlemen will be treated in the kindest Manner.”

Greenleaf made a significant investment in this venture. He implicitly said as much in his description of the new stagecoach and the many horses. He more explicitly made the point when he argued that since “this new and useful Undertaking has been attended with a great Expence” that he hoped “it will meet with proper Encouragement from the Publick.” Advertising in the Massachusetts Gazette added to his Greenleaf’s expenses, but he certainly expected a return on that investment. To increase the effectiveness of his advertisement, he needed to increase the likelihood that readers would notice it. To that end, he incurred the extra expense of commissioning a woodcut that depicted a stagecoach drawn by four horses. The image also included a driver with a whip guiding the horses and a passenger peering out from the stagecoach. Compared to other woodcuts that accompanied advertisements, Greenleaf’s image was detailed and well executed. The vignette would have been difficult for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette to overlook. The quality of his coach and service did not matter if prospective customers did not know that the “Norwich Stage-Coach” existed. Enhancing the advertisement with a notable woodcut helped to bring Greenleaf’s new venture to the attention of colonists who planned to travel between Norwich and Providence and beyond.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:14:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (July 14, 1768).
“He will sell without Exception, as cheap as can bough at any Shop or Store in Town.”

Consumers in Boston had many choices when it came to shopping in the busy port city in the late 1760s. Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly advertised in the several newspapers published in Boston. Many others ran shops without promoting their wares in the public prints. This multitude of retailers presented colonists with opportunities to engage in comparison shopping in order to find the best deals on the merchandise they wished to purchase.

William Gale attempted to streamline the process for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette. When he advertised his “general Assortment of English and India Goods” he made a bold proclamation about his prices. Gale declared that “he will sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town.” The shopkeeper likely did not expect prospective customers merely to accept his claim; he probably expected that most would visit other shops to confirm that he did indeed offer the best deals or, at the very least, competitive prices. Expecting readers to be skeptical, he intended for them to consider his shop and the potential bargains when making their decisions about which retailers to visit.

In addition to promoting low prices, Gale may have also offered price matching for customers who found better values elsewhere. If he wished to honor the promises he made in print then he would have had to lower his prices if shoppers informed him of better deals offered by his competitors. Shopkeepers and customers expected to haggle with each other, so Gale may have anticipated price matching in order to “sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town” as part of the negotiations.

Retailers and other advertisers commonly made appeals to price throughout the eighteenth century. Some simply mentioned low prices, but others, including Gale, made other claims intended to further distinguish their prices from those of others who sold similar merchandise.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (June 9, 1768).
“Choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.”

Thomas Walley’s advertisement in the June 9, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette included an interesting mixture of imported and locally produced wares. He first promoted the imported goods: figs, tea, sugar, coffee, rice, and other groceries. Then he shifted attention to two products produced in New England: “choice Starch made in BOSTON” and “choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.” In describing each as “choice,” Walley indicated that they achieved the same quality as imported goods. He further underscored that the starch was “equal to Poland.”

He devoted significantly more space to mustard seeds, inserting a nota bene that made the advertisement half again as long. Walley had previously advertised “Choice New-England Flour of Mustard … which by repeated Trials is found to be extraordinary good, therefore needs no further Recommendation.” In his new advertisement he called on colonists not only to purchase mustard produced locally but also to participate in making it available as an option for all consumers. He offered cash for mustard seed, but he encouraged “Persons in the Country [to] endeavour to raise and save more Mustard Seed than they have done heretofore” for reasons other than financial gain. He depicted such efforts as “serving their Country” since “N.E. Flour of Mustard” was “certainly found to be preferable to any that is imported.” In what ways was it preferable? Walley did not mean solely the quality or taste. Instead, he invoked a movement to encourage “domestic manufactures” and the consumption of goods produced in the colonies as a means of resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, including the Townshend Act that had gone into effect the previous November. Over the past several months, newspapers throughout the colonies published or reprinted the resolutions of, first, the Boston Town Meeting and, in response, other towns that determined to decrease their dependence on goods imported from or via Britain.

Walley’s advertisement demonstrates that the idealism did not always keep pace with the practical realities. After all, he deployed “Choice Turkey FIGS” recently imported as the headline for an advertisement that eventually turned its attention to goods produced in the colonies. A series of advertisements encouraged colonists to drink “LABRADORE TEA” instead of imported “Best Bohea Tea,” but the demand for imported teas continued. Colonists could not produce some of the groceries listed in Walley’s advertisement. The merchant realized that was the case. Still, he encouraged colonists to modify their behaviors concerning products that were readily available, such as “Starch made in BOSTON,” as well as participate in bringing greater quantities of others, especially “N.E. Flour of Mustard,” into the local marketplace.

May 22

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

May 22 - 5:19:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 19, 1768).

“Said Paddock will take second hand Chaises in part Pay for new.”

In the late 1760s Adino Paddock operated a workshop “Where the Coach and Chaisemaking Business is carried on in every Branch.” In other words, Paddock made, repaired, and sold all sorts of carriages to the residents of Boston and its hinterlands. He frequently promoted his enterprise by inserting advertisements in multiple newspapers published in the city. In addition to some of the usual appeals made by other artisans, especially appeals to price and quality, Paddock deployed additional marketing strategies that seem strikingly modern.

For instance, in the May 19, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette Paddock provided a brief overview of some of his inventory. Among the various carriages available, he had “A very good second-hand Coach, Curricle, and several Chaises, some almost new.” He anticipated a common practice in the modern automobile industry. Then, as now, not all consumers could afford or wished to invest in a new vehicle, so Paddock provided an alternate means for acquiring carriages. His “second-hand Coach” was the eighteenth-century equivalent of today’s used car. Also like modern dealerships, Paddock realized that prospective customers balanced the price of a “second-hand” carriage against its condition. What kind of wear and tear took place before it landed in the resale market? To address such concerns, he described “several Chaises” as “almost new.” He offered the best of both worlds to his customers: lower prices for slightly used vehicles still in excellent condition. Paddock also incorporated another innovative marketing strategy into his advertisements: the trade-in. He advised readers that he “will take second hand Chaises in part Pay for new.” He simultaneously made his carriages more affordable and replenished his inventory.

Used vehicles and trade-ins are very familiar to modern consumers who buy vehicles, but these practices did not originate with the automobile industry. Instead, they were already in use in the colonial period, long before automobiles had even been invented. Automobile manufacturers and dealerships eventually adopted marketing strategies that their precursor industry had developed much earlier.

May 1

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

May 1 - 4:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 28, 1768).

THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.”

Richard Draper inserted a short notice at the bottom of the middle column on the third page of the April 28, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, the printer informed the public that “THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.” Like the abbreviated colophon (“Printed by R. DRAPER”) that appeared at the same place on the final page, it looked like the printer barely had enough space to squeeze this announcement into an issue that quite literally overflowed with news, editorials, and, especially, advertising. Unlike other printers in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies, Draper did not issue a supplement. Perhaps he did not have sufficient time or resources to do so. Perhaps he did not have sufficient content to fill an additional two pages, even though he had not been able to run all of the advertisements he had received.

Proportionally, Draper did publish a significant quantity of advertisements compared to other content in the April 28 edition. More than thirty advertisements of various lengths accounted for nearly two-thirds of the space, filling seven of the twelve columns and extending well into an eighth. Although the Massachusetts Gazette was alternately known as the Boston News-Letter, it also functioned as a delivery mechanism for advertising of all sorts in addition to news. In this particular issue, for instance, merchants and shopkeepers promoted vast assortments of consumer goods and services. Vendue masters highlighted which goods would be presented for bids at upcoming auctions. Local officials inserted legal notices. Executors called on debtors and creditors to settle accounts. Two schoolmistresses declared their intentions to open a boarding school for young ladies. Timothy Force warned others not to allow his wife to contract any debts in his name because she “has eloped and keeps away, and refuses to live with me.” All the way from Antigua, Edward Gamble announced an estate sale that included a plantation and 151 enslaved men, women, and children.

Although more than half of the paid notices in that issue featured consumer goods and services, “subscribers” placed advertisements with various purposes and goals in mind. Each expected some sort of results or return on their investment. In his own notice concerning “Advertisements which are omitted,” Draper primarily addressed advertisers rather than readers, though his announcement may have also incited anticipation about what else might appear in the pages of the next issue among some readers. The printer offered a consolation to advertisers, promising “a very good Place in our next.” That promise suggested that the printer put more consideration into the order of advertisements than their haphazard arrangement on the page otherwise indicated. That he could not include all of them in the issue also testified to the popularity of his publication, implying that prospective advertisers should follow the lead established by their peers and place their notices in the Massachusetts Gazette. After all, demand for space in that newspaper was so high, presumably because advertisers believed the publication placed their advertisements before as many eyes as possible, that Draper could not include all of them. Though he did not state it so bluntly, the printer transformed his inability to disseminate all the advertisements submitted for the April 28 edition into a rationale for others to advertise in his newspaper when choosing among the several published in Boston at the time.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

**********

[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.