November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 7, 1768).

“A large Assortment of the following Goods.”

William Scott operated a store on the “North Side of Faneuil Hall, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe” in Boston. There he sold “a large Assortment” of goods, including “Manchester Cotton Checks and Handkerchiefs,” “Forest Cloths, Plains and Kerseys,” and “Irish Linens” of various widths.

To attract customers to his store, Scott inserted advertisements in every newspaper published in Boston. On Monday, November 7, 1768, his advertisement appeared in the Boston Chronicle. On the same day it simultaneously ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy, a joint publication with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette. On Thursday of that week, it ran in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, a publication printed on the same broadsheet and distributed with the Boston Weekly News-Letter. No matter which newspapers they read, residents of Boston and the surrounding area encountered Scott’s advertisement. He made a significant investment in advertising in his efforts to saturate the local print media with his notices.

Scott likely exercised little influence over where his advertisement appeared in each newspaper. The compositors made those choices. Still, his advertisements occupied a privileged position in the Boston Chronicle, appearing as one of only three advertisements on the final page, and in the Boston-Gazette, appearing on the first page above a news item. This increased the chances that readers of those newspapers would notice Scott’s advertisement.

The format of the advertisements provides further evidence of the role played by compositors in presenting them to the reading public. Scott apparently submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors made unique decisions when it came to typography. For instance, the list of merchandise had one item per line in the Boston Evening-Post iteration while the Boston Post-Boy version grouped all the items together into a single paragraph. Although Scott carefully planned for widespread distribution of his advertisement, he entrusted the compositors with its final format in each publication. He oversaw certain aspects of his marketing campaign – copy and distribution – while yielding others – format and placement on the page – to the printing offices. He considered some, but not all, of the opportunities made possible by print.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 31, 1767).

“Stage-Coach No. I. … SETS out on every Tuesday Morning.”

Thomas Sabin operated “Stage-Coach No. 1” between Boston and Providence. He had a flair for attracting attention to his transportation services, having advertised the previous summer that travelers would ride in “a most curious four wheeled Carriage, called the AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” Yet Sabin realized that generating business required more than just associating snappy names with the carriages that transported his passengers.

In particular, he advertised widely in both cities. His notice appeared week after week in the Providence Gazette, the only newspaper printed in that city in 1767. In addition, he placed advertisements in at least three out of four of the newspapers published in Boston. On August 31, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy carried identical notices, each with an impressive headline for “Stage-Coach No. 1.”

Sabin neglected only one newspaper, the Massachusetts Gazette, the only Boston newspaper distributed on Thursdays rather than Mondays. Here Sabin missed an opportunity to reach as many potential customers as possible by spreading out his advertisements in multiple newspapers. Or did he? Note the schedule for the Boston to Providence journey. His stagecoach departed on Thursdays. Perhaps Sabin did not consider advertising in the Massachusetts Gazette worth the investment since readers obtained their copies just as he left town. It may have made more sense to advertise widely on Mondays, giving potential passengers three days to make arrangements. He observed a similar schedule in Providence, where his advertisements appeared in a newspaper printed on Saturdays and clients had three days to book seats for departure on the following Tuesday.

Some eighteenth-century advertisers made efforts to maximize the number of potential customers exposed to their marketing efforts. In cities with multiple newspapers, they industriously placed the same notice in each of them. Sabin adopted this strategy, but adapted it to fit the particular circumstances of how his business operated.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 23, 1767).

“PETER GOELET … Has just imported … a great Variety of other Articles.”

Peter Goelet knew that potential customers might read one of several newspapers published in New York in 1767. To increase the chances that colonists who wanted or needed any of his “Large and complete Assortment of Ironmongery, Cutlery and Brasses” would see his advertisement and visit his shop “At the Golden-Key in Hanover-Square” he inserted his notice in more than one newspaper. On a Thursday, readers encountered it in the July 23, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal, but it had also appeared in the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on the previous Monday. The copy did not vary from one publication to another, but the compositors in each printing office made their own decisions about typography (though the variations were minor).

Goelet incurred expenses when he placed his advertisement in multiple newspapers. Neither William Weyman nor Hugh Gaine, the printers of the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury, respectively, listed the price for advertising in their publications. John Holt, on the other hand, incorporated the fee schedule into the colophon of the New-York Journal: “Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” Goelet and other advertisers paid a fee to have their notices set in type, but after a month purchased only the space. Goelet, however, did not take advantage of these savings. His advertisement first appeared on July 16 and then again in the next three issues. Perhaps he had stretched the resources he was willing to commit to marketing as far as possible at the time and decided not to continue inserting this particular advertisement. Apparently, however, he believed that advertising in the New-York Journal had been worth the investment. Within three months he inserted a new, much lengthier list-style advertisement that enumerated scores of items recently imported from London and Bristol. New merchandise merited new expenditures on advertising in order to move the goods out the door and generate revenue.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 23, 1767).

“WILLIAM ROGERS, Of Newport, Rhode-Island … has newly furnished his Shop with a neat Assortment of GOODS.”

In general, eighteenth-century advertisers tended to place notices only in their local newspapers, though members of the book trades sometimes accounted for exceptions as they cooperated with colleagues to create larger markets for promoting and distributing reading materials. What qualified as a local newspaper depended on the perspective of readers and advertisers since newspapers were printed only in slightly more than a dozen cities and towns in 1767. Most publications thus served an extensive hinterland, often an entire colony and sometimes a region that included portions of other colonies as well. The Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, had subscribers throughout the colony as well as Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. In the absence of local newspapers to carry their marketing messages, shopkeepers and others in those colonies sometimes advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia but distributed widely.

William Rogers “Of Newport, Rhode-Island, on the Parade opposite the Custom-House” did not want for a local newspaper to carry his advertisements. Samuel Hall published the Newport Mercury from his printing shop on Thames Street. The Mercury was Newport’s only newspaper. This did not, however, prevent Rogers from advertising in multiple publications. He took the rather extraordinary action of injecting himself into the Providence market when he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Several shopkeepers who advertised regularly in the Gazette (including Thompson and Arnold, Joseph and William Russell, Benjamin and Edward Thurber, and James Green) already competed with each other to gain both attention in the public prints and customers in their shops. Rogers presented the “neat Assortment of GOODS” in his shop as a viable alternative, especially since “he intends to sell as cheap as can be bought at any Shop in PROVIDENCE.” In the course of the week, Rogers’ advertisement appeared in both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury.

Rogers may not have expected to garner many customers from Providence, but he almost certainly aimed to attract readers of the Providence Gazette elsewhere in Rhode Island, especially those who lived between Providence and Newport. Shopkeepers in Providence served the city’s hinterland as well as their neighbors in the city. William Rogers wanted some of that business for himself.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 11, 1767).

“None but the best of Medicines.”

The mononymous Steuart, “DRUGGIST and APOTHECARY, At the GOLDEN HEAD” on Queen Street in New York, crafted an advertising campaign intended to maximize market penetration. Most advertisers inserted paid notices in only one newspaper, though enterprising entrepreneurs sometimes promoted their goods and services in multiple publications. Rarely did advertisers in New York, however, invest the effort or expense in placing advertisements in all four of the city’s newspapers in a single week in 1767. Steuart, however, advertised in the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on May 11, as well as in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy on May 7. In all except that final publication, he was fortunate that his notice appeared on the front page.

It might be tempting to conclude that a recent relocation made such advertising imperative. The advertisements indicated that he had “removed from between Burling’s and Beekman’s-Slip, to the House lately occupied by Messrs. Walter and Thomas Buchannen, in Queen-Street, (between Hanover-Square and the Fly-Market:).” The move certainly provided one motive for advertising in as many newspapers as possible, but Steuart also competed with McLean and Treat, prolific advertisers who inserted their own notices for their “Medicinal Store, in Hanover-square” in three out of four of New-York’s newspapers that same week. McLean and Treat had also been advertising in multiple newspapers for several weeks before Steuart’s notices appeared. In addition, other apothecaries and shopkeepers who sold medicines took to the public prints to promote their ware that week, including Edward Agar in the New-York Journal and the New-York Mercury; Thomas Bridgen Attwood in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette; and Gerardus Duyckinck in the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy, the New-York Journal, and the New-York Mercury.

Steuart stated that he “hopes his Friends in Town and Country will still continue to Favour him with their Custom.” He had established a clientele and wanted them to follow him to his new location on Queen Street. While that may have been reason enough to post an advertisement in each of the city’s newspapers, Steuart also realized that he faced competition from several other druggists who advertised aggressively. Getting his share of the market required advertising. Had his notices been intended solely to inform readers of his new location, it would not have been necessary to make appeals to quality – “none but the best of Medicines” – or price – “on as low Terms as possible” – or variety recently arrived from London – “just imported … a fresh and general Assortment.”

March 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Mar 3 - 3:3:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening Post (March 3, 1766).

“West India Pilots; 9 leaved Charts; Mariners Compasses and Kalenders.”

Richard Salter’s advertisement in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette gives a look into what was being sold in Boston during 1766. The goods advertised were “just imported from London” and to be sold at Salter’s shop in Boston “by Wholesale and Retail.” There was a great variety of goods being sold, from books to maritime instruments and even shoes.

Many of the items listed show the development of Boston’s economy and its successful port. One specific item in Salter’s advertisement I find interesting is the “West India Pilots.” This was a book published by Joseph Smith Speer an English mariner who spent many years in Central America and the Caribbean. The book contained thirteen maps and detailed instructions on how to navigate between Caribbean ports. A book like this would have been invaluable to merchants interested in trading in the Caribbean.

Items being sold this one, as well as paper, quills, and “Chambers Dictionary, with Scotts Supplement,” all allude to the growing literacy rate in Boston. An article published by Colonial Williamsburg explains how cities like Boston, by the end of the eighteenth century were approaching one hundred percent literacy rates. Advertisements like Salter’s helped push the colonies into the educational boom that transpired in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Richard Salter wanted to make sure that potential customers in Boston and its hinterland saw his advertisement. While many advertisers were content with publishing their notices in just one of the four newspapers printed in Boston in 1766, Salter arranged to have his advertisement inserted in three of them, presumably at some cost. In addition to the advertisement Trevor chose from the Monday, March 3, 1766 issue of the Boston Evening-Post, a similar advertisement appeared in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette on the same day. In addition, a nearly identical advertisement was also featured the previous Friday in the February 27 issue of the Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette.

Mar 3 - 3:3:1766 Boston-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (March 3, 1766).
Mar 3 - 2:27:1766 Massachusetts Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Massachusetts Gazette (February 27, 1766).

Only the Boston Post-Boy, also published on Mondays, neglected to print an advertisement from Salter during that week. Perhaps Salter could not afford to pay to advertise in yet another newspaper. Or, perhaps he figured that placing his advertisement in two of the three newspapers published on Monday gave him sufficient coverage of the market at the beginning of the week.

I am often asked if advertising actually worked in eighteenth-century America. Unfortunately, that is an extremely difficult question to answer. Early American consumers did not leave behind documents in which they explicitly stated that they did (or did not) make purchases based on advertising. Those who placed advertisements were more likely to comment that they believed in the effectiveness of their methods.

Salter’s multiple advertisements could be interpreted several ways. He may have placed them because they were indeed effective. Alternately, he may have placed so many of them out of sheer desperation, a last resort to move his merchandise out the door. I featured a nearly identical advertisement by Salter last December when this project existed exclusively on Twitter. Would Salter have placed this advertisement three months later (and in three newspapers!) if he did not believe it would garner new business? Although I believe that advertising incited consumer demand in the eighteenth century, examples like this one force me to consider the possible limits of marketing during the period.

Dec 8 - 12:6:1765 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (December 6, 1765).