May 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

“ALLEN … will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

Jolley Allen made his advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston Gazette, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter easy to recognize in the spring of 1772.  Each of them featured a border comprised of ornamental type that separated Allen’s notices from other content.  Allen previously deployed this strategy in 1766 and then renewed it in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  Four days later, advertisements with identical copy and distinctive borders ran in three other newspapers printed in town.  Allen apparently gave instructions to the compositors at the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Those advertisements had copy identical to the notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, but the compositors made different decisions about the format (seen most readily in the border of Allen’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy).  Allen’s advertisement in the Boston-Gazette, however, had exactly the same copy and format as the one in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  For some of their advertisements, newspapers in Boston apparently shared type already set in other printing offices.

That seems to have been the case with Andrew Dexter’s advertisement.  He also included a border around his notice in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The same advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post four days later.  It looks like this was another instance of transferring type already set from one printing office to another.  The compositor for the Boston Evening-Post may have very carefully replicated the format of Dexter’s advertisement that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury, but everything looks too similar for that to have been the case.  In particular, an irregularity in closing the bottom right corner of the border suggests that the printing offices shared the type once a compositor set it.  They might have also shared with the Boston-Gazette.  Dexter’s advertisement also ran in that newspaper on May 25.  It had the same line breaks and italics as Dexter’s notices in the other two newspapers.  The border looks very similar, but does not have the telltale irregularity in the lower right corner.  Did the compositor make minor adjustments?

It is important to note that these observations are based on examining digitized copies of the newspapers published in Boston in 1772.  Consulting the originals might yield additional details that help to clarify whether two or more printing offices shared type when publishing these advertisements.  At the very least, the variations in Allen’s advertisements make clear that he intentionally pursued a strategy of using borders to distinguish his advertisements in each newspaper that carried them.  The extent that Dexter meant to do the same or simply benefited from the printing offices sharing type remains to be seen after further investigation.

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury (May 21, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 25, 1772).

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Left to Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772); Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1772); Boston-Gazette (May 25, 1772).

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.

May 7

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 7, 1772.)

“Oils…  Paints… Varnishes… GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement for an “Assortment of Painters Oil and Colours” available “At the Painters-Arms in Queen-Street” ran once again in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  It featured a table of “Oils… Paints… Varnishes… [and] GUMS” of various colors, making it distinct from other advertisements and easy to recognize.  Among the various paints, the table offered choices that ranged from “Princess Yellow, Naples Yellow, [and] Spruce Yellow” to “India Red, Venetian Red, [and] Vermilion.”  The format both delineated the many choices available to consumers and challenged them to imagine the possibilities.

Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury had seen this advertisement before.  It ran two weeks earlier in the April 23 edition.  Unlike other advertisements that ran for consecutive weeks, however, Gore and Son’s advertisement did not appear in the subsequent issue on April 30.  Instead, it ran in the Boston-Gazette on April 27.  That was not merely a case of an advertiser submitting the same copy to two newspapers.  Careful examination reveals that the notices in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Boston-Gazette featured identical format, indicating that someone transferred the type from one printing office to another.  That made publishing Gore and Son’s advertisement a collaborative effort among competitors.  It was not the only paid notice that originated in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury and then ran in identical format in another newspaper in the spring of 1772.  The type for Gore and Son’s advertisement eventually found its way back to Richard Draper’s printing office, where the compositor added a final line about “A few Casks of NEW RICE” but otherwise did not make any adjustments to the format.

This raised all kinds of questions about the business of printing in early America.  What kinds of bookkeeping practices did this entail?  How did Draper and other printers keep track of which type belonged to them or to competitors?  How did they go about charging advertisers for notices that ran in multiple newspapers?  Did advertisers receive a discount from those printing offices that did not have to set the type?  Or did the work involved in transferring type from one office to another balance the labor required to set type?  Printers in Boston sometimes collaborated in publishing almanacs and pamphlets.  To what extent did they collaborate in publishing the advertisements that generated significant revenue for their newspapers?

April 29

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

Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).

“Oils … Paints … Varnishes … GUMS.”

John Gore and Son’s advertisement in the April 27, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette raises all sorts of interesting questions.  An identical advertisement appeared in the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  This does not seem to have been just a case of an advertiser inserting the same notice in multiple newspapers.  That was quite common in the 1770s, especially in Boston.  Yet this was not simply an instance of an advertiser writing out the copy more than once and then submitting it to more than one printing office.  Yes, the copy was identical … but so was the format and every aspect of typography, from the design of the table listing different kinds of paints to the line breaks to font sizes to capitalization of certain words.  Rather than a compositor copying an advertisement as it appeared in another newspaper, this looks like Richard Draper’s printing office outright transferred type already set for the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to Benjamin Edes and John Gill’s printing office for publication in the Boston-Gazette.

That was not the only instance of such a transfer in the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette.  John Barrett and Sons ran an extensive advertisement that previously appeared in Draper’s newspaper on April 23.  So did Joseph Peirce.  To further complicate matters, both of these advertisements also ran in the April 27 edition of the Boston Evening-Post. Once again, this does not seem to have been merely an instance of a compositor consulting an advertisement in another newspaper when setting type.  Instead, the type from one printing office found its way to another printing office.

The placement of these advertisements on the page in each newspaper contributes to some confusion about the sequence of events.  Take into consideration that a standard issue consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Printers often printed the front and back pages first, filling them with the masthead, colophon, and advertisements.  They saved the second and third pages for the latest news.  Peirce’s advertisement ran on the fourth page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, suggesting that the compositor received the type from the April 23 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury fairly quickly.  That also allowed sufficient time to pass along the type to the Boston-Evening Post for inclusion in a two-page supplement that consisted entirely of advertising.  That timing makes sense.

The timing for inserting Barrett and Sons’ advertisement in each newspaper, however, does not seem as clear.  It ran on the first page of the April 27 edition of the Boston-Gazette, printed at the same time that Peirce’s advertisement was printed on the fourth page.  It did not, however, run in the supplement to the Boston Evening-Post or even on the second or third pages among the last items inserted in the standard issue.  Instead, it appeared on the fourth page, presumably making it one of the first items printed for that issue.  The compositor did eliminate the final eight lines listing several imported goods in order to make the advertisement fit among the other content on the page, but did not make other alterations.  That someone transferred the type from one printing office to another so quickly for it to appear in the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post on the same day suggests a very efficient operation.

This raises questions about the organization and collaboration between printing offices.  Who assumed the responsibility for transferring the type for these advertisements from one printing office to another?  Did they make sure that the type was returned to its original printing office?  Did any of the printing offices adjust the prices they charged for running these advertisements based on whether they invested time and labor in setting type?  How extensive were these practices of transferring type from one printing office to another?  These are all questions that merit further investigation.

Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Right: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772).

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Left: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (April 23, 1772). Center: Boston-Gazette (April 27, 1772). Right: Boston Evening-Post (April 27, 1772).

February 13

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

Left: Boston-Gazette (February 11, 1771); Right: Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (January 14, 1771).

“The following BOOKS, which will be Sold for a little more than the SterlingCost.”

John Boyles placed identical advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy in January and February 1771.  Purveyors of goods and services often submitted identical copy to printing offices, leaving the format to the compositors who set the type.  As a result, the contents of their advertisements were consistent across publications, but graphic design varied significantly.  That was not the case, however, with Boyles’s advertisements.  They were identical – copy and format – in the two newspapers.

Consulting digital copies rather than originals does not allow for measurements, but it does permit other means of comparison.  Note, for instance, that in Boyles’s location on the third line, “Next Door to the THREE DOVES,” the last three letters in the word “DOVES” rise slightly in both advertisements.  Similarly, the “o” in “to” is slightly higher than the “t.”  Three lines lower, the words “Sterling” and “Cost” do not have a space between them in either advertisement.  Instead, they run together as “SterlingCost.”  The line that separates the two columns extends only to the top of the last item in the list, “Hoyle’s Games,” in both advertisements.  Throughout the advertisements, spelling, capitalization, italics, spacing, line breaks, and every other typographical choice appear identical, a lack of variation rendered practically impossible unless the printers of the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy shared the advertisement after setting the type.

The timing of the advertisement’s appearance in the two newspapers allows for that possibility.  It ran once in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on January 14, 1771, and then ran twice more in the Boston-Gazette on February 4 and 11.  Three weeks elapsed between its appearance in the first newspaper and the next.

This example raises a variety of questions about the business practices of early American printers as well as decisions made by at least one advertiser.  Printers usually established advertising rates that included setting type and running advertisements in several issues, usually three or four.  They then charged additional fees for each subsequent insertion.  Boyles’s advertisement ran three times, but not in consecutive issues of the same publication.  Why did the advertisement seemingly move from one newspaper to another (as opposed to the common practice of submitting the same copy to multiple newspapers simultaneously)?  What role did Boyles play in making this decision?  What role did the printers of the two newspapers play?  Who transferred the type from one printing office to another?  Under what circumstances?  When and how did the type return from the Boston-Gazette to the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy?  How did the printers and Boyles handle payment for the advertisement?  How often did early American printers share type already set?  They frequently reprinted items from one newspaper to another, but sharing type in this manner suggests a very different level of collaboration among printers.  These questions do not have easy answers, but they suggest complex interactions among printers and advertisers that merit more investigation to understand the production of early American newspapers and the business of advertising in the eighteenth century.