July 20

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 20, 1772).

“Ebenezer Oliver Hereby informs the Publick and the Customers of his late Mother …”

In the summer of 1772, Ebenezer Oliver ran advertisements to advise “the Publick and the Customers of his late Mother Mrs. Bethiah Oliver, deceased,” that he had for sale a variety of goods “at the Shop formerly improved by her, nearly opposite the Old South Meeting-House, in Boston.”  The inventory included a “fine Assortment of China, Cream-colour’d, Glass, Delph, Flint and Stone WARE” as well as tea, sugar, coffee, and spices.

Ebenezer placed more emphasis on marketing those items than his mother had before her death.  Between 1765 and 1771, she placed advertisements in several newspapers each spring, joining the ranks of female seed sellers who sought customers among the residents of Boston.  Most of those women advertised seeds exclusively, even though they likely sold other items.  On occasion, Bethiah listed additional items at the end of an advertisement for “All Sorts of Garden Seeds,” such as a “general Assortment of Glass, Delph and Stone Ware, Lynn Shoes, best Bohea Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, and all other Groceries” in a notice in the April 14, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  In contrast, Ebenezer placed an advertisement that did not mention seeds at all, but did provide an extensive list of groceries organized in two columns.

He did not, however, immediately transform the advertisements placed by his mother.  Bethiah died in the spring of 1771.  The following spring, her name appeared as a headline in advertisements for “GARDEN SEEDS Just imported by Captain Scott, from LONDON” in several newspapers, including the April 6, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  That advertisement included an extensive list of seeds, similar to the lists Bethiah published in recent years.  On closer examination, readers noted that the advertisement specified that the seeds were “to be Sold at the Shop formerly improved by Bethiah Oliver.”  Ebenezer replicated the marketing strategy that his mother had deployed mother in the late 1760s and early 1770s, probably hoping that name recognition and customer loyalty would draw friends and former customers to the shop that he now operated.

When Ebenezer expanded his marketing efforts beyond selling seeds in the spring, he initially invoked Bethiah’s name and “the Shop formerly improved by her” as a means of enticing “the Customers of his late Mother.”  As spring approached in 1773, nearly two years after his mother’s death, Ebenezer placed advertisements for “GARDEN SEEDS … just Imported in Capt. Jarvis from London” that deployed his name as a headline and referred to “his Shop,” though he added “(formerly improv’d by his late Mother Mrs. Bethiah Oliver, deceased.”  In the February 25, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, he added a nota bene that alerted prospective customers that he also stocked “a fine Assortment of Cream-colour’d Ware, Glass, Delph, Flint and Stone Ware, with a general Assortment of Groceries.”  In so doing, he revived the format his mother formerly used but abandoned several years earlier when she decided that her notices in the public prints, like those of so many of her fellow female seed sellers, would focus exclusively on “GARDEN SEEDS.”

August 25

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

Massachusetts Spy (August 22, 1771).

“BREWSTER’s BEST ground and made CHOCOLATE.”

Name recognition and brand loyalty have become important aspects of modern marketing campaigns, but those strategies have roots that go back centuries.  Consider John Farmer’s advertisement for chocolate in the August 22, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Spy.  Although he made and sold chocolate at his shop on Fish Street in Boston, Farmer promoted his product as “BREWSTER’s BEST ground and made CHOCOLATE.”

Farmer made Brewster the centerpiece of his advertisement.  Rather than have his own name serve as the headline, as John Cushing did in his advertisement for sugar and William Scott did in his advertisement for Irish linens on the same page, Farmer instead deployed Brewster’s name on its own, in capitals and centered on the first line.  Readers quickly perusing the Massachusetts Spy would have much more easily spotted Brewster’s name than Farmer’s name.  In addition, Farmer described himself as the “successor to the late John Brewster,” signaling to his former customers that they could acquire chocolate of the same quality from him.

He also offered assurances about quality.  Just as customers came to expect the “BEST ground and made CHOCOLATE” from Brewster, they could depend on Farmer meeting the same standards.  He made a promise to that effect, stating that his product was “warranted good and fre[e] from any mixture.”  Farmer may have also expected that others could leverage the quality associated with Brewster’s chocolate.  He sold it “Wholesale or Retail.”  Shopkeepers who purchased it wholesale may have similarly informed their customers that they carried the familiar Brewster’s chocolate made by Brewster’s successor.

When it came to buying chocolate, residents of Boston had many options.  To incite demand for his product, Farmer depended on name recognition and encouraged brand loyalty among consumers in his efforts to convince them to shop “at the sign of the Chocolate-Cakes” rather than anywhere else.

September 6

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

Sep 6 - 9:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 6, 1768).

“ANDREW LORD, Has just imported …”

In September 1768 Andrew Lord experimented with a marketing strategy deployed by relatively few merchants and shopkeepers prior to the American Revolution. He placed multiple advertisements in a single issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, improving the likelihood that readers would notice at least one of them. For readers and prospective customers who happened to notice both, this further increased Lord’s visibility in the Charleston marketplace, making it difficult to overlook his significance in the local commercial landscape. Publishing multiple advertisements enhanced his name recognition.

Printers frequently crowded newspapers with advertisements for their own goods and services, exercising one of the privileges of operating the press, but merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others were slow to follow their lead. Financial considerations certainly played a role. Advertisers not affiliated with the newspaper did, after all, have to pay to have their notices inserted, but that alone does not sufficiently explain their failure to appreciate how to better take advantage of the power of the press in presenting their goods and services to prospective customers. After all, many advertisers made significant investments when they inserted lengthy notices that listed vast arrays of merchandise.

Sep 6 - 9:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 6, 1768).

Lord could have done the same. He could have combined his two advertisements into a single advertisement. Doing so would have had the advantage of making his assortment of merchandise seem even more expansive by taking up more space on a single page. Yet he opted for two distinct advertisements instead. Since most printers charged by the length, Lord incurred the same costs whether he published one longer advertisement or two shorter ones. Given the choice, he determined that two shorter notices better suited his purposes. One appeared on the third page of the September 6 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, the other on the fourth page. This bolstered his presence in the newspaper, further solidifying his reputation as a merchant of note in the bustling port of Charleston. The appeals Lord made in his advertisements did not distinguish him from his competitors, but the reiteration of his name in a single issue did.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 23, 1768).

“A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.”

It would have been practically impossible for regular readers of the Providence Gazette not to know something about the commercial activities of Joseph Russell and William Russell in the late 1760s. The Russells were prolific advertisers. They saturated the pages of their local newspaper with a series of notices that made their names and merchandise familiar to prospective customers.

For instance, the Russells placed three advertisements in the July 23, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. One promoted their “most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS.” Another offered a house for rent, but concluded with an announcement concerning textiles, tea, and spices they sold. The third called on fellow colonists to deliver potash to the Russells.

The three appeared in a single column on the final page of the July 23 issue. It was the fifth issue that featured all three advertisements and the third consecutive issue in which they appeared one after another, though their position on the page changed from week to week depending on the needs of the compositor. By placing so many advertisements and so frequently, the Russells made it difficult to overlook their activities in the colonial marketplace.

The first of their advertisements was especially notable for its longevity. The “(23)” inserted on the final line indicated that it first ran in issue number 223, published April 16. Since then, it had maintained a constant presence in the Providence Gazette, appearing every week for fifteen consecutive weeks before being discontinued. Throughout most of that time the Russells simultaneously published at least one other advertisement in the Providence Gazette. The notice concerning a house for rent and assorted goods for sale first appeared on July 25, replacing another advertisement that exclusively promoted consumer goods that ran for seven weeks beginning in May.

Most advertisers usually ran notices for only three or four weeks in newspapers published in other cities. Those who advertised in the Providence Gazette tended to run their advertisements for even longer (which may suggest the publishers offered discounted rates in order to generate content and revenue). Still, the Russells’ “SPRING and SUMMER GOODS” notice enjoyed an exceptionally long run, signaling that they wanted to be certain that readers saw and remembered their advertisement. Combining it with other notices further increased the name recognition they achieved.