June 13

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 10, 1773).

“(The particulars in Monday’s papers.)”

After opening the “New Auction-Room” in Boston in 1773, auctioneer William Greenleaf sometimes deployed a two-step strategy for promoting upcoming sales in the public prints.  Consider the notice that he placed in the Massachusetts Spyon Thursday, June 10.  Greenleaf advised readers that a “great variety of English GOODS” “Will be sold by PUBLIC VENDUE” on the following Tuesday.  Rather than publish a roster of those items, he encouraged colonizers to look for subsequent advertisements with “The particulars in Monday’s papers.”  That meant that readers had to consult newspapers other than the Massachusetts Spy.  All five newspapers published in Boston in 1773 were weeklies, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy appearing on Thursdays and the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on Mondays.  The auction would be over by the time the printer published the next edition of the Massachusetts Spy.

Readers who turned to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy for “The particulars” on the following Monday did not encounter any additional information, but those who perused the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette did indeed discover a more complete preview of Greenleaf’s next auction.  In nearly identical advertisements, the auctioneer listed dozens of items, including “a fine Assortment of Chints, Callicoes and Printed Linens,” “a Number of Silver Watches,” and “a suit of Green Bed Curtains.”  The sale would begin “precisely at Ten o’clock” the next morning, so readers interested in bidding on any of the items needed to arrive in time that they did not miss that part of the sale.  Those advertisements likely contained information that had not yet been finalized the previous Thursday, yet given that Greenleaf competed with several other auctioneers in Boston he wished to generate some level of visibility for his next vendue, especially since those other auctioneers regularly advertised in multiple newspapers as well.  As advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers came and went in the public prints, notices from auctioneers, updated weekly, remained a constant feature in the city’s many newspapers.  In this instance, Greenleaf oversaw an advertising campaign that he updated more than once a week, coordinating with multiple printing offices.

May 21

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

Connecticut Journal (May 21, 1773).

(The Particulars will be in our next.)

Several shopkeepers advised readers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy that they recently acquired new merchandise. William Sherman advertised a “compleat Assortment of English & India Goods” and a “general Assortment of Hard-Ware.”  Thomas Gelstharp stocked a “Small Assortment of the neatest Silk, Thread, Cotton & Worsted HOSE” and other garments, while Daniel Lyman carried a “fresh Assortment of GOODS,” including nails, wines, shoes, and “sundry Articles, too tedious for Advertisement.”

Joseph Smith promoted his own “fresh and neat Assortment of GOODS, suitable for the Season,” but, unlike Lyman, he did wish to provide a more complete catalog of his wares to entice prospective customers to visit his shop.  His brief advertisement, however, ended with a note that “(The Particulars will be in our next.)”  A more extensive advertisement did indeed appear in the May 28, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Journal, filling more than half a column and listing dozens of items.

What explained the note appended to Smith’s initial advertisement?  Had his new merchandise “just come to Hand” so recently that he did not have an opportunity to compose a list of items in time to submit his advertisement to the printing office for the next edition of the Connecticut Journal?  Had that been the case, he may have believed that a short notice with few details was better than no advertisement at all.  When readers encountered the advertisements from Sherman, Gelstharp, and Lyman, they also saw Smith’s notice.

On the other hand, the printers, Thomas Green and Samuel Green, may have revised Smith’s advertisement and inserted the note about “The Particulars” appearing in the next issue because they did not have sufficient space to run all of the copy.  They could have strategically selected which advertisement to truncate when they set type for the May 28 edition. In that case, how did they handle the accounting and customer service?  Did the abbreviated version run gratis, the note about “The Particulars” intended for the advertiser rather than readers?  Did Smith pay a reduced rate for it?  Did the printers make any other effort to alert Smith that they would print his advertisement in its entirety but did not have enough space in the current issue?

Printers who published newspapers depended on revenue from advertising as much as revenue from subscriptions.  In addition, they likely had more contact with most advertisers than they had with most subscribers, especially considering that advertisements usually ran for only three or four weeks.  Renewing advertisements or placing new ones required contacting the printing office once again.  Both resulted in additional entries in the ledgers.  Printers likely had to exert more effort in managing their relationships with their advertisers than their relationships with their subscribers.  The note at the end of Smith’s advertisement may have been part of the Greens’ effort to manage their relationship with a local shopkeeper they hoped would continue to place notices in their newspaper.