July 15

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 15, 1771).

“Buy worth a Dollar, when you come, / And you may drink a Glass of Rum.”

Lydia Learned received some free advertising in the July 15, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  She distributed a handbill that listed a variety of items available at her shop “Near the Sign of the Punch-Bowl” in Brookline.  Intrigued by the advertisement, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, inserted it in its entirety along with a note advising, “The following advertisement, copied from one in the Punch Bowl Tavern in Brookline, we publish for the Amusement of out Poetical Readers.”  Indeed, the poetry, not the assortment of goods offered for sale, attracted their attention.  Few advertisers attempted to transform their inventory into poetry in newspaper notices or on broadsides and handbills, helping to make Learned’s advertisement more memorable.

Her poetry featured three stanzas of four lines each, the second and fourth lines rhyming.  Learned devoted the first stanza entirely to her wares:  “FLOUR, Raisons, Rice, Molosses, Spice, / Good Indigo and Wire, / Knives[,] Combs, Fish-hooks, Verses and Books, / And Paper by the Quire.”  In the remaining stanzas, she used the final line to make appeals to prospective customers.  In the second, for instance, she listed “Sugar[,] Bisket and Chocolate, / Tinn, Glass and Earthen-ware, / Pins, Needles[,] Thread and Ginger-bread, / As good as any where.”  Her shop may have been humble compared to the larger enterprises operated by other entrepreneurs, but Learned assured prospective customers that the size of her business did not negatively affect the quality of her merchandise.  In the final stanza, she offered an additional incentive to shoppers.  “Salt, Allum, Coffee, Tea, and Snuff, / Crown-Soap and Candles, cheap enough / Buy worth a Dollar when you come, / And you may drink a glass of RUM.”  Perhaps the nip of alcohol as much as the poetry amused the Fleets and convinced them to reprint Learned’s handbill in their newspapers.

Learned was not the only entrepreneur to have the text from a trade card or billhead also printed in an eighteenth-century newspaper.  On May 5, 1768, Mary Symonds, a milliner in Philadelphia, ran a lengthy advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In it, she listed dozens of items among her inventory.  She also distributed a trade card that reiterated, with minor variations, the text from the newspaper advertisement.  In October and November 1770, she recorded a receipted bill for items purchased by the Cadwalader family on the reverse, suggesting that Symonds kept her trade card in circulation for some time.

Symonds seems to have made a more intentional effort than Learned when it came to deploying advertisements in multiple formats.  All the same, Learned demonstrated creativity in devising a billhead that distinguished her business from her competitors.  If prospective customers did not appreciate the poetry, then the promise of a glass of rum offered as a premium for making a purchase may have convinced them to check out her merchandise.

Lydia Learned, Trade Card, ca. 1771. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 4, 1768).

“All those who choose to continue taking the said Whig Papers … let the Printer know.”

Many American printers resorted to subscription notices to assess interest and incite demand for books and other items they considered publishing, but John Holt, publisher of the New-York Journal, experimented with another means of attracting customers for one of his projects. He offered a premium to those who subscribed to his newspaper. As Holt explained in an advertisement inserted in the August 4, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, he had been republishing “Half a Sheet weekly of the Papers called the American Whig, and others relating to that Controversy.” The “Controversy” referred to “the Residence of Protestant Bishops in the American Colonies.” Holt distributed the first twenty-six half sheets gratis to those who already subscribed to the New-York Journal, but he expected interested readers to subscribe to subsequent half sheets from the American Whig series. He established a subscription rate of “one Dollar for every Fifty-two Half Sheets” in addition to the usual subscription fees for the New-York Journal. Holt instructed those who wished to continue receiving the American Whig supplements to “let the Printer know it in Time, otherwise no more than the said Twenty-six Papers will be sent.”

In terms of generating content for the American Whig, Holt adapted the standard practice that printers throughout the colonies used to fill the pages of their newspapers. They participated in networks of exchange, receiving newspapers from near and far and reprinting items previously published elsewhere. This method gathered and distributed all sorts of news, but Holt suspected that some readers might be interested in creating and preserving a volume devoted specifically to the controversy over Protestant bishops. To that end, the additional half sheets featured only reprinted items relevant to that debate, published separately “for the Conveniency of binding” into a book upon collecting sufficient number. Although Holt reported that he undertook this project “at the Desire of many of his Subscribers,” his initial widespread distribution of the free half sheets combined with his notice calling for subscribers to commit to paying for subsequent items in the series demonstrates that he hoped to enlarge the number of customers who purchased the American Whig. He used the free issues as a tool for enticing subscriptions for publishing a book.

Innovative as this marketing strategy may have been, it seems to have fallen short of Holt’s goals for attracting subscribers. He issued enough half sheets for two volumes, the first drawn from the original twenty-six distributed gratis and the second consisting of the subscription series, but a proposed third volume never went to press. Through his various advertising efforts, Holt managed to generate sufficient interest to sustain the project beyond its initial stages, but not enough to continue it for as long as he intended.