March 22

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 19, 1772).

“To prevent deception, the paper which contains the Hooks is marked ABRAHAM CORNISH.”

Abraham Cornish deployed a variety of marketing strategies for the “NEW ENGLAND COD FISH-HOOKS” that he made in the North End of Boston.  In an advertisement that appeared in the March 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, he described himself as “a regular bred FISH-HOOK MAKER, From Exeter, in England,” who produced “all sorts of FISH-HOOKS … warranted in every respect equal to any, and superior to most,” whether imported or made in the colonies.  Cornish was so certain of the quality of his hooks that offered a guarantee, stating that he “warrants every hook proof, and should any be found otherwise, he engages to give TWO good hooks for every one so defective.”  That two-for-one replacement policy testified to his confidence in the quality of his product.

Cornish also challenged prospective customers to compare his hooks to those of a competitor who marked hooks with the initials “IP.”  He asserted that “Every Fisherman” who did such a “trial” as well as “every impartial person” who performed a similar examination “would soon discover” the “superiority” of his hooks.  The success of voyages to New England and Newfoundland fisheries depended in part on the “quality of hooks in catching Fish,” so “Every Fisherman” should outfit themselves with hooks that Cornish made “in the best and most compleat manner.”

Cornish also cautioned buyers to be cautious about counterfeits, especially if they acquired hooks from retailers rather than directly from him.  “To prevent deception,” he instructed, “the paper which contains the Hooks is marked ABRAHAM CORNISH, &c. and the letters AC are marked on the flat of the stem of each hook.”  Both the hooks and the packaging attributed the hooks to Cornish.  Marking each hook with “AC” served as an enduring advertisement for his work, even after buyers separated the hooks from their package.  Cornish used “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) in describing the packaging.  What else did it include?  His newspaper advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a fish.  Did the packaging also have a visual image to make it distinctive and memorable?  Did the packaging include Cornish’s location?  Did it include the guarantee that he promoted in the newspaper?  Whatever might have appeared on the packaging, Cornish used it as an additional means of marketing his product.

March 5

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

Massachusetts Spy (March 5, 1772).

“MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENTS … At the Head of the Long-Wharf, King-Street, BOSTON.”

Thick black mourning borders enclosed the columns of the March 5, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy.  Isaiah Thomas, one of the most ardent patriots among the printers in Boston, commemorated the second anniversary of the Bloody Massacre, the Massacre in King Street, better known today as the Boston Massacre.  Colonial printers most often used mourning borders when announcing the death of an official (including Francis Fauquier, lieutenant governor of Virginia, in March 1768) or a prominent figure (including George Whitefield, a minister associated with the revivals now known as the Great Awakening, in September 1770), but in the 1760s and 1770s American printers also deployed mourning borders to lament the death of liberty, doing so in response to the Stamp Act and the “HORRID MASSACRE! Perpetrated in King-street.”

On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Thomas did more than frame the content of the Massachusetts Spywithin mourning borders.  A woodcut depicting a skull and bones, familiar from the Stamp Act protests, appeared near the top of the first column on the front page, just below several lines about massacre that Thomas attributed to Shakespeare.  The printer also inserted a letter written on the occasion of the anniversary of the “fifth of March … to appear with the labours of those able and assiduous patriots, who have rendered the Spy the terror of tyrants, the scourge of traitors, and expositor of the violent and fraudulent usurpations of a set of villains partaking largely the nature of both.”  Thomas also published a memorial to “FIVE of your fellow countrymen, GRAY, MAVERICK, CALDWELL, ATTUCKS and CARR … most inhumanly MURDERED … By a Party of the XXIXth Regiment, Under the command of Capt. Tho. Preston.”  The memorial linked the Boston Massacre to the murder of Christopher Seider, an “innocent youth,” by Ebenezer Richardson, “Informer, And tool to Ministerial hirelings,” on February 22, 1770, just two weeks before the events in King Street.  The memorial expressed dismay that even though Richardson “was found guilty By his Country On Friday April 20th, 1770,” he “Remains UNHANGED” on “This day, MARCH FIFTH! 1772.”  The memorial concluded with a proclamation that “the PRESS” should “Remain FREE” as “a SCOURGE to Tyrannical Rulers.”

The mourning borders did not enclose just the memorial, editorials, and other content related to the Boston Massacre.  Instead, they appeared on all four pages, enclosing even the advertisements for cookbooks, “ENGLISH GOODS,” almanacs, and mathematical instruments.  Even if readers chose to skip over the dense essays that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper, they could not miss the mourning borders when they perused the advertisements.  Merely reading the advertisements on the final page of the Massachusetts Spy required colonizers to engage with the politics of the period.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Charlotte Hatcher

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

Postscript to the Massachusetts Spy (February 27, 1772).

“A large Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”

Thomas Lee sold many fabrics and other household goods from his shop “near the Swing-Bridge” in Boston in 1772. This advertisement originally caught my eye due to the “ENGLISH GOODS” he advertised. After the Townshend Acts placed duties on glass, lead, paper, paints and tea in 1767, many colonists used social pressure to boycott goods imported from England. In a broadside issued by the town clerk of Boston in late October 1767, the notes about a town meeting listed items that colonists agreed to boycotted out of protest.  Residents of the town of Boston, according to the broadside, were encouraged to “take all prudent and legal Measures to encourage the Produce and Manufactures of this Province, and to lessen the Use of Superfluities” imported from England. The list of boycotted goods included many items that Thomas Lee advertised less than five years later. Colonists quickly resumed buying those goods as soon as Parliament repealed the duties on most of the items in the Townshend Acts and even though Parliament did not repeal the duty on tea.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Not surprisingly, we spend a lot of time examining the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century in my Revolutionary America class.  Understanding changing consumption habits provides important context for understanding political participation during the imperial crisis that eventually resulted in thirteen colonies declaring independence.  I challenge my students to think about political participation broadly, not just as voting or serving in a colonial legislature.  We discuss various ways that everyday activities, including shopping, became political statements.  Colonizers could not remain neutral when they made decisions about consumption.  They either supported colonial liberties by choosing not to purchase imported goods or they supported Parliament by ignoring the nonimportation agreements adopted by their fellow colonizers.  Merely thinking about consumption forced colonizers to think about the political implications as well the repercussions they faced from friends and neighbors for the decisions they made.

That meant that colonizers of various backgrounds participated in politics.  Affluent colonizers chose whether to curtail extravagant consumption habits, yet colonizers of more humble means also made decisions about whether to make purchases.  Men considered the politics of consumption, as did women who desired the “beautiful variety of LADIES SILKS” that Thomas Lee and other shopkeepers advertised in the 1760s and 1770s.

That political participation, as Charlotte notes, was not a steady crescendo.  By the time that Lee placed his advertisement for “ENGLISH GOODS, suitable for all seasons,” colonizers already enacted nonimportation agreements twice and then eagerly resumed consuming imported goods as soon as Parliament met their demands, first in response to the Stamp Act and later in response to the Townshend Acts.  Indeed, colonizers were so eager to once again gain access to imported goods and merchants and shopkeepers were so eager to resume business as usual that the nonimportation agreements enacted in response to the Townshend Acts lapsed even though duties on tea remained in place.  Some colonizers objected, encouraging their communities to continue the boycotts until they achieved all of their goals, but the pull of commerce and consumption was so strong among the majority of colonizers that the most strident advocates of defending colonial liberties managed to delay the resumption of trade and consumption only briefly.  Colonizers adjusted how they interpreted the politics of consumption in the wake of new developments on several occasions.

 

February 20

GUEST CURATOR:  Blue Gabriel

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

Massachusetts Spy (February 20, 1772).

“All sorts of Mathematical Instruments are made and repaired by the above WILLIAMS.”

As I read through all of the newspapers for my week as guest curator, I aw advertisements for perishable goods or clothing items such as linens and other fabrics. This advertisement for “MATHEMATICAL INSTRUMENTS” caught my eye because it was so different. I became more and more interested in in this “Mathematical Instrument Maker” and his life during the eighteenth century.

William Williams started making and repairing mathematical instruments and clocks in 1770, according to Silvio A. Bedini. His shop was called “The Little Admiral” because of a carved figure that marked its location. Bedini notes that Williams served in the American Revolution “as a private in Captain Mills’ company, of Col. Jeduthan Baldwin’s regiment of artificers, during the years 1777-1779.  In 1780 he served in Captain Pattin’s company of General Knox’s artillery, which was stationed at West Point.”[1]

In addition to the mathematical instruments that he made and sold, Williams also sold general goods such as “Journal Books, Ink-powder, Quills and Paper, … and plated Shoe and Knee Buckles.” The nonimportation agreement adopted by the town of Boston on August 1, 1768, restricted importing British goods in response to the duties that Parliament placed on some goods. When the nonimportation agreement ended, Williams sold imported goods.  Shopkeepers, artisans, and other colonists wanted to participate in the consumer revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

One of my favorite parts of inviting students in my classes to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project is seeing which advertisements they select, what part of each advertisement they choose to research in greater detail, and the sources they consult in their research.  Blue decided to focus on the biography of the advertiser, William Williams, just as Dillon Escandon did in an advertisement placed by Henry Knox, a bookseller, featured on the Adverts 250 Project a week ago.  Williams and Knox may have crossed paths in Boston prior to the American Revolution.  Blue determined that they did indeed have a connection at West Point in 1780.

Between them, Blue and Dillon researched three people mentioned in their advertisements:  Henry Knox, William Williams, and Captain Cazneau.  Their research yielded some interesting insights about how much we can learn about the advertisers whose names appeared in the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers.  Dillon had little difficulty finding information about Henry Knox, a bookseller who became a prominent general in the Continental Army and the first Secretary of War after the American Revolution.  It took a bit more work for Blue to locate biographical information about William Williams, the mathematical instrument maker.  Their research led them to a bulletin about Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers written by Silvio A. Bedini, curator of mechanical and civil engineering at the Smithsonian Institution, and published in 1964.  Williams was one of just over a dozen instrument makers with brief biographies in Bedini’s bulletin.  That bulletin is now available via Project Gutenberg.  Captain Cazneau was the most elusive of the people mentioned in the advertisements Blue and Dillon examined.  Dillon managed to find references to the captain in correspondence between Thomas Digges and John Adams, but very little information compared to what Bedini’s bulletin provided about Williams.  The National Archives provided access to a transcription of the letter from Digges to Adams.

Between them, Blue and Dillon demonstrated the possible outcomes of researching eighteenth-century advertisers and the people mentioned in their newspaper notices.  For some of them who achieved fame or influence, including Henry Knox, historians and scholars have already compiled extensive biographies.  Others, like Captain Cazneau, remain obscure.  Even with painstaking research, it may not be possible to recover significantly more information about Cazneau.  William Williams falls somewhere in the middle.  An historian and curator consulted a variety of primary sources, including multiple newspaper advertisements, to piece together a brief biography.  From my perspective as the instructor for Blue and Dillon’s Revolutionary America class, that may have been the most interesting case because Bedini succinctly demonstrated both how much we can learn about this mathematical instrument maker and how many different kinds of primary sources contributed to the biography he constructed.

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[1] Silvio A. Bedini, Early American Scientific Instruments and Their Makers (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1964), 95.

February 9

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

Massachusetts Spy (February 6, 1772).

“MANCHESTER GOODS.”

Samuel Partridge offered many choices to consumers at his shop on Marlborough Street in Boston.  In an advertisement in the February 6, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, he demonstrated the extent of choices available, listing dozens of items from an “assortment of superfine and low prized Broad-Cloths” and “an assortment of womens and childrens black Cloth coloured and crimson worsted Gloves and Mitts” to “large printed cotton Handkerchiefs” and “a compleat assortment of fashionable Ribbons” to “Cambricks” and “Calamancoes of all colours.”  His inventory was so extensive that his advertisement filled almost an entire column on the final page of the newspaper.

Partridge deployed a marketing strategy common among merchants and shopkeepers in Boston and other colonial cities and towns.  He encouraged prospective customers to imagine themselves purchasing and wearing, displaying, or using his merchandise by presenting them with many options.  Repeatedly inserting the word “assortment” underscored the number of choices.  However, he also differentiated his advertisement from others by using headings to categorize his wares and direct readers to items that most interested them.  He incorporated six headings, each of them in all capitals and centered.  At a glance, readers identified sections for “CLOTHS,” “HOSIERY,” “MANCHESTER GOODS,” “SILKS,” “INDIA GOODS,” and “STUFFS.”  Following a heading for “ALSO,” Partridge named additional items, that part of the advertisement resembling the format of most others placed by his competitors.  He listed most items, however, under the various headings.

Though enmeshed within newspapers rather than printed separately, such advertisements served as catalogs.  For Partridge’s advertisement, the headings made that even more the case.  Those headers helped readers navigate the contents.  Such an innovation suggests that Partridge did not merely announce that he had imported goods for sale but instead consciously considered how to most effectively engage consumers in hopes of inciting demand and convincing them to make their purchases at his shop.

January 30

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 30, 1772).

“The copartnership between HANNAH and HEPHZIBAH CARNES is mutually dissolved.”

For a time in the early 1770s, Hannah Carnes and Hephzibah Carnes operated a millinery shop together.  In December 1771, however, they “mutually dissolved” their partnership and set up their own businesses.  The former partners became competitors, both placing advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy.

Both women were conscious of the costs of advertising.  They placed their notices in only two of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  In addition, each of them listed some of the items available among the “large and compleat assortment of Millinery and piece Goods” in their shops, but also stated that their wares were “too numerous to particularize in an advertisement.”  Hannah went into greater detail in her advertisement, perhaps a necessity because Hephzibah remained in the shop “near the Town pump, in Cornhill,” and Hannah “removed to the shop opposite to Mr. Cranch Watch-Maker’s near the Mill Bridge.”  With Hephzibah having the advantage of a location already familiar to former customers, Hannah may have found it necessary to elaborate on the goods and services she offered as a means of catching the attention of “the Ladies” that she hoped would seek out her new shop.  Unlike Hephzibah, Hannah also mentioned that she sold “Bohea Tea” to entice prospective customers.

Their notices happened to appear one after the other on three occasions in the Massachusetts Spy, likely the result of happenstance rather than design on the part of the milliners.  Hannah launched her advertising campaign first, placing a notice in the Boston-Gazette on December 23, 1771.  It ran in that newspaper for five consecutive weeks.  Hephzibah also placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette, starting on December 30, but only for three weeks.  On only one occasion, January 13, did their advertisements appear together.  Once again, Hannah may have invested in more advertising in order to direct customers to her new location.  Both women ran advertisements in the Massachusetts Spy on January 2, 9,16, and 30.  In that newspaper, their notices appeared together in all but the January 16 edition.  These variations suggest that compositors made decisions about the placement of the advertisements when they set the type for each issue.  Hannah and Hephzibah may not have appreciated their advertisements appearing in such close proximity, but advertisers exercised little control over where their notices appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 19 (New Style) in 1749 (or January 8, 1748/49, Old Style).  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

isaiah_thomas1818
Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

jan-30-worcerster-magazine-april-1786
Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

jan-30-advertising-wrapper-worcester-magazine-4th-week-may-1786
Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 273rd birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

January 19

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 16, 1772).

“ADVERTISEMENTS taken in … Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”

Advertising represented significant revenues for early American printers.  For many, advertising, rather than subscriptions, determined the viability and profitability of their newspapers.  Some printers included invitations to submit advertisements along with publication information in the colophons that appeared at the bottom of the final page of their newspapers.  In the colophon for the Massachusetts Spy, for instance, Isaiah Thomas proclaimed, “ADVERTISEMENTS taken in.”  Considering how much revenue advertisements generated, some printers devoted as much space (or more!) to paid notices in their newspapers as to other content, though others made efforts to balance news and advertising.  For his part, Thomas did not allow advertising to crowd out local news for Boston, “AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE” from other cities, letters to the editor, and other content.  In the January 16, 1772, edition, for instance, he filled one-third of the columns with advertising and the rest with news.  He also inserted a note that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next,” alerting advertisers that their notices had not been overlooked but merely delayed.

At the same time, Thomas produced other forms of advertising, including handbills, and promoted such work as well as other job printing performed “on the most reasonable Terms.”  Those services appeared in the colophon of every issue of the Massachusetts Spy in the early 1770s.  The printer alerted prospective advertisers that he produced “Small HAND-BILLS at an Hour’s Notice.”  Though relatively few of those handbills survive today, especially compared to newspapers (and the advertisements in them) preserved in their entire runs, they were part of a vibrant culture of advertising in the second half of the eighteenth century.  As they traversed the streets of Boston and other cities and towns, colonizers glimpsed broadsides pasted to buildings and grasped handbills thrust at them as they passed.  Merchants and shopkeepers gave out trade cards to promote their businesses and wrote accounts and receipts on billheads.  Booksellers and auctioneers distributed catalogs.  Advertisements were not the only kind of job printing undertaken by Thomas, but singling out handbills for special attention in the colophon of his newspaper suggests that he saw advertising as an especially lucrative endeavor.

January 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Benjamin Andonian

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 2, 1772).

“WANTED immediately, a Journeyman COMPOSITER.”

This advertisement struck me because it was related to the production of the newspapers we were reading in class.  This advertisement “WANTED immediately” a compositor at a newspaper. I thought it would be interesting to learn about what a compositor is and how this might increase my knowledge of early American newspapers.

The invention of movable type opened the door for a new age of printing in Europe in the 1500s.  That meant new crafts and careers, including compositors. Compositors arranged the letters in advance of them being covered in ink.  Historian Liz Covart describes the job expectations step by step.  The compositor starts with the composition stick, placing letters in proper order.  The placement of letters is done in opposite order, right to left, so they appear right side up and left to right on final edition.  After a quick check to clean up errors, compositors place their work in a chase to be inked up and printed.

I found it very interesting how the printing press offered positions for compositors and others to make the newspapers we read in class and consulted for this project.  Each sentence, letter, and word or punctuation mark was positioned by a compositor like the one sought in this advertisement.  Seeing such a specific job and the steps involved made me think of the process today and the new jobs and careers that the internet has created, like the printing press did in early America.  Lily Talavera expands on this in an article about the booming market for social media jobs.  According to Talavera, “Social media has created a new category of jobs. You may have heard them as social media jobs or with other names relevant to the requested tasks. These jobs are in high demand, and many people already work full-time on social media.”  Innovations in delivering news today have a similar effect on creating new kinds of jobs as an innovation like the printing press had in creating jobs for compositors in the early modern period.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

When I taught a course about Revolutionary America, 1763-1815, in Fall 2021, I once again incorporated the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  I asked each of the twenty-three students in the class to serve as guest curators for those projects.  Each of them was responsible for compiling a digital archive of newspapers originally published during a particular week in 1772.  Then they scoured the newspapers to identify advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children for inclusion in the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  For each of those advertisements, the guest curators composed tweets that included the project’s tagline, a quotation, and a citation.  For the Adverts 250 Project, each student selected one advertisement to research in greater detail, consulting at least one secondary source by an historian of early America, and then wrote an entry about what they learned and what the advertisement reveals about some aspect of commerce, politics, or daily life during the era of the American Revolution.

Ben is the first of the students from that class to have his work as a guest curator appear on the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  In many ways, it is very fitting that he starts the entries researched and written for that class with one that examines an advertisement about the printing trade.  We devoted a lot of time to discussing print culture, consumer culture, slavery, and their intersections during the era of the American Revolution.  Compositors set the type for the newspapers, broadsides (including the Declaration of Independence), and pamphlets (such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense) that kept colonizers informed during the imperial crisis and, ultimately, encouraged them to sever their political allegiance to Great Britain.  Compositors also set the type for the countless newspaper advertisements that offered enslaved people for sale or promised rewards for the capture and return of those who liberated themselves from their enslavers.  Liberty and slavery appeared side by side on the pages of newspaper published during the era of the American Revolution.  Compositors also set the type for advertisements for consumer goods as well as essays that critiqued consumption and editorials that advocated nonimportation agreements and promoted “domestic manufactures” as means of exerting economic pressure to achieve political ends.

I invited students to contemplate all of these developments, not only in the abstract but also taking into consideration actual people and their experiences during the era of the American Revolution.  This advertisement for a “Journeyman COMPOSITER” provides a springboard for considering the many themes woven throughout the Revolutionary America class that I designed and that Ben completed.  Throughout the colonies, compositors played a role in presenting news and opinions about current events to the public.  They also played a role in shaping consumer culture and perpetuating slavery.  Beyond their contributions to producing the printed page, compositors made decisions about their own political activities and what kind of society they wanted to emerge from the American Revolution.  That being the case, Ben’s choice of an advertisement to start a new round of entries from guest curators is very fitting indeed.

December 26

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

Massachusetts Spy (December 26, 1771).

“AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Ebenezer Russell correctly anticipated that some of his competitors would produce and sell a pirated edition of “AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.”  He warned consumers, running advertisements that proclaimed that he published “THE original Copy” of the popular almanac yet suspected that other printers planned to market their own editions.  On December 26, 1771, the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements for both.  In a fairly lengthy advertisement, Russell described the contents to entice consumers.  He also listed nearly twenty booksellers in Boston, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth who sold his edition.  A shorter advertisement simply announced, “This day published, AMES’s ALMANACK, for 1772.  Sold by EDES & GILL, and T. & J. FLEET.”

Isaiah Thomas, the printer of the Massachusetts Spy, appeared on Russell’s list of booksellers.  That did not prevent him from running an advertisement for the pirated edition.  He also inserted his own advertisement advising readers of “AMES’s, Low’s, Bicker[st]aff’s, Massachusetts and Sheet ALMANACKS, to be sold by I. THOMAS, near the Mill Bridge.”  Conveniently, that notice was the only advertisement on the second page, making it the first that readers encountered as they perused the December 26 edition.  Almanacs had the potential to generate significant revenues for printers in the early American marketplace.

It was not the first time that Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, and Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, printers of the Boston Evening-Post, pirated Ame’s Almanack.  In 1768, a cabal of printers issued a pirated copy of William Alpine’s legitimate edition of Nathaniel Ames’s Astronomical Diary, or, Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ 1769.  The conspirators included Edes and Gill and the Fleets as well as Ricard Draper, the printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This time around, however, Draper did not join his fellow printers in that endeavor.  Instead, Russell included him among the authorized sellers of “THE original Copy” in his advertisements.

As the new year approached, consumers still in the market for purchasing almanacs had a variety of choices.  In addition to choosing from among a variety of popular and familiar titles, those who followed the dispute between Russell and his competitors that unfolded in newspaper advertisements faced decisions about whether they wished to acquire an “original Copy” or reward the printers and booksellers who sold a pirated edition.