What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS.”
One advertisement dominated the final page of the November 20, 1772, edition of the New-London Gazette. Ebenezer Backus, Jr., ran a notice that filled more than three-quarters of the page, inviting customers to attend a sale of a “curious Assortment of new-fashion’d GOODS” at his store in Norwich. Although other items appeared at the top of the page, the size of Backus’s advertisement in general combined with the size of font for the word “GOODS” in the middle of the page in particular, drew attention away from everything else. Readers may have eventually noticed the “POETS CORNER,” a weekly feature on the final page, but the prominence of Backus’s advertisement likely meant they overlooked Thomas Hartshorn’s notice calling on those indebted to him to settle accounts, at least initially.
Backus’s notice may have circulated solely in this format, but that may not have been the case. He could have also made arrangements with Timothy Green, the printer of the New-London Gazette, to produce additional copies to distribute as broadsides or handbills. That seems to have been a practice among printers and entrepreneurs in the early 1770s. Smith and Coit likely did so with a broadside book catalog that also ran in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant. Similarly, John Boyles may have adopted the same strategy with subscription proposals for Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws in the October 19, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.
The inclusion of a colophon suggests that Green printed separate broadsides or handbills for Backus to post around town or give to prospective customers. Green did not always publish a colophon in the New-London Gazette. When he did, it sometimes read, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by T. Green,” and other times simply stated, “Printed by T. Green.” In contrast, the colophon centered at the bottom of the final page of the November 20 edition gave both the place of publication and the printer’s full name, “NEW-LONDON: Printed by TIMOTHY GREEN.” Printers often placed their colophon on broadsides and handbills they printed for others, giving announcements or advertisements intended for other purposes a secondary purpose as marketing materials promoting the services offered by printers. The presence of the colophon on the final page of the New-London Gazette does not definitively demonstrate that a broadside or handbill circulated separately, but it does support the possibility that colonizers encountered more advertising in a variety of formats than those preserved in the collections of research libraries and historical societies might suggest.