July 16

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (July 16, 1772).

“Printed Catalogues may be had at the Auction-Room.”

In the summer of 1772, Joseph Russell, the proprietor of the “Auction-Room in Queen street” in Boston,” advertised a sale of a “very Large and Valuable Collection of BOOKS, in almost every Branch of polite Literature” scheduled for July 17.  In anticipation of the auction, he offered “Printed Catalogues” for customers to peruse and mark.  Some historians of the book have suggested that many catalogs mentioned in newspaper advertisements never existed.  Some booksellers and auctioneers may have promised catalogs as a means of increasing foot traffic, achieving their goal whether or not they passed out any catalogs to anyone who visited their shops or auction halls.  Others may have had the best intentions of supplying catalogs, but lack of time or lack of resources worked against them.

Revisions to Russell’s advertisement as the day of the auction approached suggest that he did indeed distribute catalogs.  In an advertisement in the July 6 edition of the Boston-Evening Post July 9 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Russell informed the public that “Printed Catalogues may be had at the Auction-Room in Queen-street, the Monday preceding the Time of Sale.”  On Monday, July 13, the Boston Evening-Post ran the same advertisement again, but a new advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy stated that “Printed Catalogues may be had at the Auction-Room in Queen-street.”  A few days later, the advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter featured some new copy.  Instead of opening with “On Friday 17th July,” the new headline proclaimed “TO-MORROW.”  Russell also removed reference to “the Monday preceding the Time of Sale,” asserting that “Printed Catalogues may be had at the Auction-Room in Queen-street.”  That brought his advertisement in line with the one recently placed in the Massachusetts Gazette and Post-Boy.  Even though Russell neglected to update the advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post, he altered the notice in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, suggesting that he sought to bring it into conformity with new developments.

July 29

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

Boston-Gazette (July 29, 1771).

“The Particulars in our next.”

In late July 1771, Benjamin Edes and John Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, ran short on space for advertising.  In the July 22 edition, they included a note that “ADVERTISEMENTS omitted will be in our next.”  A week later they apparently had sufficient space to insert notices from all advertisers that submitted them to the printing office and even had room for a note of their own to remind “All Persons indebted for this Paper, whose Accounts have been above Twelve Months standing, are requested to make immediate Payment.”  Not every advertisement, however, appeared in its entirety.  Samuel Parkman’s advertisement for a “neat & fresh Assortment of English and India Goods” concluded with a note advising, “The Particulars in our next.”

Boston-Gazette (August 5, 1771).

Parkman’s complete advertisement did indeed appear in the next issue of the Boston-Gazette.  Perhaps to make amends for truncating its earlier appearance, the printers gave it a privileged place at the top of the third column on the first page.  The first two columns consisted of news, making Parkman’s advertisement the first commercial notice that readers encountered when perusing the August 5 edition.  The copy for the complete advertisement suggests that the printers consulted with Parkman about how to abbreviate his initial advertisement.  In most cases, the compositor would have set the type for the first portion of the advertisement and later added additional material, in this case a list of goods available at Parkman’s shop, without making revisions to the introductory section.  In this case, however, it appears that the compositor started afresh in setting type for the second iteration of the advertisement.  Notice, for instance, the spacing for “the Diana” in the first and “theDiana” in the second as well as the changing line breaks for “Union-Street” and “Assortment of English and India Goods.”  More significantly, the first advertisement stated that Parkman “will sell be Wholesale or Retail, as low as can be bought at any Store or Shop in Town.”  In the second advertisement, this shifted to “will sell on the best Terms by Wholesale or Retail.”  That version did not make explicit comparisons to other stores and shops.  In general, advertisers were responsible for copy and compositors responsible for design, so it seems likely that Parkman at least approved the revisions incorporated into the second advertisement.

As with many aspects of the business of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers, this conclusion rests on reasonable conjecture based on close examination of advertising in the Boston-Gazette and many other newspapers.  The advertisements offer clues about what might have happened or what likely happened, but often no definitive answers about the relationship between advertisers and printers.