May 13

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 11, 1772).

“Oils…  Paints…  Varnishes… GUMS.”

When it appeared in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette on May 11, 1772, John Gore and Son’s advertisement for paint and supplies may have looked familiar to readers who regularly perused that newspaper.  After all, it ran two weeks earlier in the April 27 edition.  By the time the notice appeared in the Boston-Gazette a second time, it had also appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter twice, first on April 23 and then on May 7.  The format made it memorable, an extensive list of oils, paints, varnishes, and gums arranged as a table.  That table had sections for various shades of whites, reds, browns, yellows, blues, greens, and blacks, suggesting the many choices available to customers.  No other advertisement in any of the newspapers published in Boston at the time incorporated that distinctive design.

It was not uncommon for advertisers to place notices in multiple newspapers in order to reach more consumers and increase their share of the market.  When they did so, they usually submitted copy to the printing offices and then compositors made decisions about the design of each advertisement when they set the type.  That meant that advertisements with identical copy had variations in line breaks, font sizes, italics, and capitalization from newspaper to newspaper, depending on the decisions made by compositors.  In some instances, advertisers made requests or included instructions.  For example, some merchants and shopkeepers preferred for their merchandise to appear in two columns with only one item on each line rather than in a dense block of text.  In such cases, compositors still introduced variations in graphic design, even when working with identical copy.

That did not happen with Gore and Son’s advertisement.  Instead, the same advertisement ran in both the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Boston-Gazette.  Workers in the two offices transferred type already set back and forth multiple times.  When the time the advertisement appeared in the Supplement to the Boston-Gazette, three transfers had taken place, first from Richard Draper’s printing office to the Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s printing office, then a return to Draper’s office, and once again to Edes and Gill’s office.  Early American printers frequently reprinted content from one newspaper to another.  That was standard practice for disseminating news, but it did not involve the coordination and cooperation required for sharing type.  Gore and Son’s advertisement suggests even greater collaboration among printers in Boston, a relationship that merits further investigation to understand how they ran their businesses.

April 26

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772).

“Oils .. Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”

John Gore and Son included a table listing the various colors available at their shop “At the Painters-Arms” in Queen Street in Boston when they placed an advertisement in the April 23, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  They clustered other goods together in dense paragraphs, including “Brushes, Tools, and Pencils of all sorts” and “Stone and Pallet Knives,” but used the table to demonstrate the range of choices and guide prospective customers in selecting the ones that most interested them.

Gore and Son divided the table among “Oils,” “Paints,” “Varnishes,” and “GUMS.”  Each category listed half a dozen items, except for “Paints.”  Instead, Gore and Son further subdivided the table to include sections for “WHITE,” “RED,” “BROWN,” “YELLOW,” “BLUE,” “GREEN,” and “BLACK.”  Each of those sections listed several options.  Rather than settle for blue, customers could choose from among “Ultramarine, Ultramarine Ashes, Prussian Blue of various sorts, Calcin’d Smalt, Verditer, [and] Powder Blue.”  Similarly, the varieties of yellow included “King’s Yellow, Princess Yellow, Naples Yellow, Spruce Yellow, Stone Yellow, Maryland Yellow, English Oaker, Gum Bogium, Yellow Orpiment, [and] Dutch Pink.”  To produce the table of paints and colors, the compositor created three columns and incorporated horizontal and vertical lines to separate each category from the others.

This method of displaying the extensive choices to consumers anticipated the racks of cards on display in hardware and home improvement stores today.  Gore and Son did not merely tell prospective customers that they stocked “COLOURS of all sorts” but instead encouraged them to imagine the different shades and contemplate which they preferred.  They likely hoped that some readers would visit their shop to compare the colors after seeing the many options listed in the table in the newspaper advertisement.  Gore and Son relied on text without images when marketing their paints, yet they still attempted to leverage graphic design and visual effects to make sales.  They opted for typography that simultaneously highlighted choices available to customers and distinguished their advertisement from others.

December 3

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

Dec 3 - 11:30:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 30, 1769).

All the above is the Produce & Manufacture of North-America.”

John Gore sold paint and supplies at his shop at “the Sign of the PAINTERS ARMS, in Queen-Street” in Boston in the late 1760s and early 1770s, a curious time to peddle those products. In addition to imported paper, tea, glass, and lead, the Townshend Acts imposed duties on imported paint. In response to such taxes, colonists in Boston and other cities and towns organized nonimportation agreements that covered a vast array of goods. They intended to use economic pressure to convince Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts.

Given how politics affected commerce, Gore quite carefully enumerated the items he offered for sale at his shop. He led his advertisement with linseed oil, turpentine, varnish, lacquer, and “very good red, black and yellow Paints.” He then explicitly stated that “All the above is the Produce & Manufacture of North-America.” In other words, he had not violated the nonimportation agreement; prospective customers could safely purchase those items from him without sacrificing their own political principles. Furthermore, he demonstrated his commitment to the cause by offering “domestic manufactures” as an alternative to imported goods. In addition to the Townshend duties, colonists in Boston and elsewhere expressed concern about a trade imbalance with Britain. Many advocated producing goods in the colonies as a means of reducing dependence on imports. Buying and selling goods produced in North America thus served several purposes, including boosting local economies and providing employment for the colonists who made those goods. Advertisers often listed such outcomes when they simultaneously encouraged consumers to purchase domestic manufactures to achieve political purposes. Although Gore did not do so in this advertisement, he likely expected that many readers would make such arguments on his behalf, having encountered them so often in public discourse.

Selling goods produced in the colonies, however, did not prevent Gore from peddling imported goods as well. After first promoting merchandise from North America, Gore then noted that he also carried “An Assortment of Colours” but carefully explained that they had been “imported before the Agreement of the Merchants for Non-importation took Place.” Gore still had inventory imported from England to sell. Rather than take a loss, he stated the terms under which he had acquired those goods. Their presence alongside “the Produce & Manufacture of North-America” quietly testified to the fact that even though colonists attempted to devise appropriate substitutes for many imported goods they were not positioned to sustain themselves. Political rhetoric did not necessarily reflect the realities of commerce, production, and consumption in eighteenth-century America. Gore structured his advertisement to assert as much political virtue as possible in an imperfect situation.

March 4


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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 4, 1769).

“PAINT STORE … Yellow oaker … Prussian blue.”

This advertisement for a paint store can gives a look into status in colonial America by listing different color paints. In eighteenth-century America, some paint colors represented wealth and high social standing, but others did not. Some pigments were easier to produce so were therefore cheaper. For example, iron oxide pigment created a dark red color and was readily available and primarily used by people of a lower status. Other paint colors were hard to achieve, like “Prussian blue” and “Yellow oaker” (ochre), both in this advertisement.

When the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was working on restoring their historic buildings, historians had to figure out what the original colors of some of the historic buildings were to return them to how they appeared in the eighteenth century. However, not all the buildings survived and some that did did not have paint residues left on them. Historians had to make educated guesses as to what the original colors were. To figure this out, they looked to the houses’ values in the eighteenth century. One house was valued at 1100 pounds in 1790, a very large amount. “This indicated a higher-status structure,” according to Paul Aron, causing the team to choose yellow ochre, an expensive and sought-after color of the gentry. Another house, only valued at 70 pounds, was painted brown, a cheaper pigment that was readily available for the lower sorts. The paint types being sold in the advertisement would be primarily only available to the middling and better sorts. Just by the color, a house and therefore a family could display their wealth and social standing. Paint colors help to tell the story about how colonists made distinctions between social classes.



March 4 fell on a Saturday in 1769. The New-York Journal was not usually published on Saturdays, but John Holt, the printer, made an exception when he distributed a two-page supplement just two days after the newspaper’s usual publication date. Supplements usually appeared on the same day as regular issues, especially when printers already had the news in hand. Breaking news that could not wait until the next issue sometimes merited speedy publication in a midweek supplement or extraordinary issue, such as news of the repeal of the Stamp Act in the spring of 1766.

Yet this supplement did not deliver breaking news, suggesting that Holt just did not have enough time to print the supplement for distribution on Thursday. He offered a brief description of its contents at the top of the first column on the first page: “[Further Advices by Capt. Berrian, left out, on Thursday last for want of Room.]” Those “Advices” from Berlin and London, a series of news items, filled the entire first page and most of the second. To complete the supplementary issue, Holt inserted brief updates from Charleston and Boston, a little bit of local news from New York, and four advertisements. L. Kilburn’s notice concerning his “PAINT STORE, at the White-Hall” was one of those advertisements.

That advertisement, or any other advertisement from the New-York Journal, usually would not have been an option for Olivia to analyze. As I explained in a recent entry about the Adverts 250 Project’s methodology and the distribution of newspaper publication throughout the week in 1769, the Providence Gazette was the only colonial newspaper published on Saturdays in 1769 (which correspond to dates that fall on Mondays in 1769). During most other weeks, the methodology would have prescribed that Olivia choose from among the advertisements in the Providence Gazette, a newspaper overrepresented in the project because it was the only one published on Saturdays.

In selecting an advertisement from the Supplement to the New-York Journal, Olivia continues a practice that I had previously instituted: choosing advertisements from midweek supplements whenever possible as a means of addressing the overrepresentation of the Essex Gazette (published on Tuesdays in 1769), the Georgia Gazette (Wednesdays) and the Providence Gazette (Saturdays).

February 27

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 27 - 2:27:1766 Boston News-Letter
Boston News-Letter (February 27, 1766).

“WHITE Lead, red Lead, Spanish Brown, Verdigrease, Prussian Blue.”

Paint itself was not sold as we have it now; separate parts had to be purchased and were mixed right before they were needed. The entire job needed to be completed as soon as possible because the mixed ingredients would harden if left for the next day.

The white and red lead advertised here were not often used as paint by themselves but as an additive to other paints in order to change and fortify the mix. For someone who had paints and wanted to change slightly the color he or she would add this red or white lead.

According to Robert Foley, “Spanish Brown” on the other hand was one of the cheapest and therefore most common paint in the colonies. In England and the colonies, this paint was derived from grinding up dirt with the presence of iron oxide and adding linseed and turpentine. This inexact science produced a multitude of brownish colors that was determined by other elements present in the dirt and the amount used. This paint was used mainly as the “first coat” and primarily on houses, barns, and outbuildings.



William Gooch used the Sign of Admiral Vernon to identify his shop on King Street in Boston. Given that he sold paints and painting supplies, I wonder how colorful the Sign of Admiral Vernon might have been. After all, a well-painted sign would have testified to the quality of Gooch’s wares.

Feb 27 - 10:17:1743 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (October 17, 1743).

The sign was certainly a landmark. As early as 1743 Joseph Sherburne stated that his new shop was located “opposite to the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” In 1750, James Gooch & Son (presumably William) listed their location as “at the Sign of Admiral Vernon, at the Lower End of King-Street, Boston” in an advertisement for imported groceries, spices, tea, coffee, and tableware. William Gooch operated his business out of the same shop as his father, but the merchandise changed significantly.

Feb 27 - 12:17:1750 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 17, 1750).

The Sign of Admiral Vernon was fitting in a port city like Boston. It was named for Edward Vernon (1684-1757), who served in the Royal Navy for forty-six years. Although famous during his own lifetime, most people today are probably much more familiar with two of his namesakes.

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, was named for Admiral Vernon. Washington’s elder half-brother, Lawrence, had served under Vernon. He named the plantation, which passed to his widow upon his death. It was not until her death that George Washington became proprietor of Mount Vernon, though he had previously lived at and managed the estate.

Grog, another name for rum diluted with water and lemon or lime juice, derives from Admiral Vernon’s nickname. In 1740, Vernon devised a means of keeping water fresher and staving off scurvy aboard Royal Navy vessels. Having earned a reputation for wearing coats made of grogram cloth, he became known as Old Grog and the rum ration, over time, simply became grog.