February 8

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

Feb 8 - 2:81770 Massachusetts Gazzette and Boston Weekly News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (February 8, 1770).

“AUCTION HALL … JOHN GERRISH, (And COMPANY).”

This week the Adverts 250 Project has examined John Gerrish’s attempts to expand his media market beyond newspapers in Boston. In the late 1760s, he regularly inserted notices in several newspapers published in the city where he operated an auction hall, but in 1770 Gerrish experimented with running advertisements in newspapers in other towns as well. On February 3, for instance, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. On February 6, he ran a different advertisement in the Essex Gazette. The copy in those advertisements differed from what previously appeared in Boston’s newspapers; each included material likely of special interest to prospective buyers, bidders, and clients who resided away from the city. Gerrish promoted “Wholesale and Retail” sales of a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES” in the Providence Gazette rather than promoting the goods up for bid at any particular auction scheduled for a particular time. In the Essex Gazette, Gerrish made note of “Very Good Lodgings and Boarding, for COUNTRY GENTLEMEN, Travelers, and Traders” who might journey to Boston for the auctions he held “chiefly on TUESDAYS, and THURSDAYS.”

Even as he attempted to create a larger regional market for his goods and services by advertising in newspapers published in Salem and Providence, Gerrish understood that newspapers printed in Boston already served a region much larger than the bustling port and nearby neighboring towns and villages. Until recently, no other town in Massachusetts produced a newspaper; even after the Essex Gazette commenced publication, Boston’s newspapers continued to enjoy wide circulation throughout the colony and beyond. For that reason, some of the special appeals that Gerrish made in the Providence Gazette (wholesale and retail sales from a stable inventory rather than auctions) and the Essex Gazette (lodging and boarding for clients who traveled to the city) would also find ready audiences among readers of the Boston newspapers who resided in places other than Boston.

To that end, Gerrish placed three advertisements in the February 8, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Post-Boy. The first was a standard announcement of an imminent auction to take place “THIS EVENING.” By the time many readers outside of Boston received the newspaper with this notice, the sale already took place. For those prospective customers, Gerrish placed his advertisement from the Providence Gazette in its entirety, though he made two additions after signing his name. This slightly revised version added “Sets of China Cups, Saucers, &c.” to the list of inventory. It also assured colonists concerned about potential violations of the nonimportation agreement currently in effect that “The above Goods have been imported above a Twelve Month past.” In other words, the merchandise arrived in the colony prior to the agreement. Another advertisement appeared immediately below, that one advising “Country Gentlemen, Strangers, Traders, [and] Travelers” of “Lodgings and Boarding” available near Gerrish’s auction hall. It deployed copy nearly identical to what appeared near the end of Gerrish’s advertisement in the Essex Gazette. It also instructed interested parties to “Enquire of the Printer, or at Auction-Hall, King-Street.” Gerrish undoubtedly placed that advertisement as well.

John Gerrish and Company faced constant competition from other vendue masters and auctioneers in Boston. In an effort to maintain and expand his share of the market, Gerrish devised an advertising campaign that extended to newspapers published in places other than Boston and reiterated the strategies he developed in those advertisements in notices that he placed in local newspapers.

February 6

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

Feb 6 - 2:6:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (February 6, 1770).

“WHOEVER sends Goods … may be assured of the Fidelity of the Master of said Hall.”

In February 1770, John Gerrish “(And COMPANY.)” expanded his efforts to address prospective customers in a regional market when he published an advertisement for his “Auction-Hall” in the Essex Gazette just days after placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. He continued to insert advertisements in several of the newspapers printed in Boston.

Although Gerrish tended to submit the same copy to local printing offices, the advertisement he drafted for the Essex Gazette was quite different from the one in the Providence Gazette. He did not provide details about auctions for readers in Rhode Island, instead focusing on “Wholesale and Retail” sales for a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES.” For readers of the Essex Gazette, however, he extended an invitation to “Public-Vendues” or auctions “held Weekly in said Auction-Hall; but chiefly on TUESDAYS, and THURSDAYS.” He also encouraged prospective bidders to become clients, asserting that “WHOEVER sends Goods … to be Sold by private or public Sale, may be assured of the Fidelity of the Master of said Hall.” In other words, Gerrish recognized that clients took risks when they entrusted goods to him to sell; he sought to alleviate anxiety that he might give deals to close associates who did business with him regularly and, in the process, deprive clients of the best possible prices they could have achieved for their goods. When he pledged “Fidelity” to his clients, Gerrish vowed to operate in their best interests rather than underselling for his own benefit. He was not the only auctioneer in Boston to address such issues of trust in newspapers advertisements in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

To further entice “Country GENTLEMEN, Travelers, and Traders” from beyond Boston to examine the wares or attend a vendue at his auction house, Gerrish added a nota bene that advised they could find “Very Good Lodgings and Boarding … in Court-Square, opposite to AUCTION HALL.” In addition to seeing to the comfort of prospective bidders, buyers, and clients, that establishment also provided “very good Keeping for Horses.”

Gerrish had been advertising in multiple newspapers in Boston for years, but early in 1770 he experimented with placing notices in newspapers published in nearby towns. He likely hoped to expand his client base by enlarging the market for his services as a “Public Vendue-Master” and interest in the “New & Second-Hand” goods available at his auction house. He certainly increased his investment in advertising, hoping that it would result in more business and higher revenues at an auction house that competed with several others in Boston.

February 3

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

Feb 3 - 4:3:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 3, 1770).

“AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.”

Like other auctioneers, John Gerrish frequently inserted advertisements in several newspapers published in Boston. In a single week, he placed notices about upcoming sales in three local newspapers. On Monday, January 29, 1770, he ran nearly identical advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette to advise prospective customers of a “publick Vendue” or auction that would take place at his “Auction-Hall,—King-Street” the following evening. On Thursday, February 1, Gerrish placed another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, this time announcing an auction scheduled for ‘THIS EVENING.” Often promoting specific events happening within a matter of days, advertisements by auctioneers tended to run only once or twice, though Gerrish and others industriously submitted new notices to several printing offices almost every week.

Vendue masters in Boston, however, did not tend to advertise in the Providence Gazette. The short time that elapsed between announcing a sale and it taking place did not allow for sending notices to the printing office in Providence or for readers of that newspaper to make their way to Boston to participate in a particular auction. Yet Gerrish did not solely sell merchandise at auction. He ran a “Wholesale and Retail” operation out of his auction hall to supplement his revenues. For that enterprise he acquired a stable inventory that did not go to the highest bidder at the next sale, prompting him to experiment with placing an advertisement for those goods in the Providence Gazette in hopes of widening the market.

In so doing, Gerrish addressed “Country Gentlemen, Traders, [and] Shopkeepers,” that he offered a “GREAT Variety of ARTICLES.” He listed several items, including popular textiles, different kinds of paper, and more than one brand of snuff. Realizing that he addressed prospective customers much less familiar with his auction hall than residents of Boston, he provided much more extensive directions than he usually included in his local newspapers. Instead of “Auction-Hall,—King-Street,” he directed readers to the “AUCTION HALL, In Court-Square, near the Town-House, opposite the Royal Exchange.” He also assured prospective customers of “Constant Attendance given at said Hall.” Prospective customers from Providence and elsewhere in the “Country” need not worry about traveling some distance and arriving at the auction hall only to be inconvenienced by finding it closed or understaffed.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, most purveyors of consumer goods and services did not advertise in newspapers other than those published in their own towns. Some, however, did make the investment in hopes of enlarging their clientele. They imagined regional rather than local markets for their wares.