What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A small Assortment of English Goods.”
The partnership of Smith and Atkinson placed an advertisement offering cash for “POT and PEARL ASH” in the April 9, 1770, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. In that same advertisement they offered for sale a “small Assortment of English Goods.” They did not confine themselves to advertising in the Boston Evening-Post alone. That same day they inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. Later in the week, their advertisement also ran in the April 12 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, the Boston Chronicle was the only one that did not carry Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement.
Even though they attempted to increase the number of readers who would see their advertisement, they may have declined to place it in the Chronicle for a couple of reasons. Politics may have played a part: the Chronicle had earned a much-deserved reputation as a Loyalist newspaper. Smith and Atkinson may not have wished to be associated with the newspaper or its printers. The potential return on their investment may have also influenced their decision. The Chronicle ran far fewer advertisements than any of the other newspapers published in Boston, suggesting that it likely had fewer readers. Smith and Atkinson may not have considered inserting their advertisement in the Chronicle worth the expense.
In addition, the political argument they made in their advertisement would not have fit the Chronicle’s outlook and reputation. Smith and Atkinson carefully specified that their English goods had been “imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants.” They abided by the nonimportation agreement adopted in protest of duties assessed on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea. They suggested that consumers should abide by the agreement as well, grafting politics onto decisions about their participation in the marketplace. The Chronicle, on the other hand, devoted significant effort to accusing patriot leaders and merchants of secretly cheating on the nonimportation agreement and misleading their customers and the public.
When Smith and Atkinson decided to advertise in most of Boston’s newspapers, they likely had more than one motivation for doing so. They did not necessarily seek merely to attract customers for their goods. Their strategy allowed them to widely publicize that they abided by the political principles adopted by most of their community, enhancing their reputation among readers even if those readers did not become customers.