GUEST CURATOR: Maia Campbell
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Quantity of choice Jamaica FISH to be Sold.”
Trade was, of course, a crucial part of colonial life. Since the colonists could not grow and produce everything they needed, the colonies traded the products they did make for items produced elsewhere, such and sugar, tea, and coffee. Most of their trade was with Britain and British colonies.
This is where Jamaica comes in. It is peculiar to me that Boston would import fish from Jamaica, when New England is known for its seafood as well. However, I think this import has much to do with trade with England. As Jamaica was an English colony, Britain regulated its imports and exports, as it did with the American colonies. Trade between the colonies was not uncommon. Also, even though New England was known for its seafood, the exotic appeal of “Jamaica FISH” could have been strong as well. It would have been a change to receive fish from elsewhere within the British Empire instead of having fish from New England all the time.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Today’s advertisement is very brief compared to the one Maia selected for yesterday. In general, it is shorter than most of the other advertisements in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette. It also appeared as nearly the last item in that issue. Only a two-line advertisements for a “Wet Nurse with a good Breast of Milk” and the colophon (“Boston, Printed by EDES & GILL, in Queen-Street. 1766.”) followed Samuel Hughes’s notice that he sold “A Quantity of choice Jamaica FISH.”
In length and placement, this advertisement likely did not garner the same attention as yesterday’s advertisement for a political pamphlet that appeared at the top of the first page alongside political news. Still, the advertiser and the printer included some features intended to attract the attention of potential customers, making it more than just a bland commercial notice.
Samuel Hughes made an appeal to quality when he described the fish as “choice.” Throughout the eighteenth century, appeals to price and quality were among those most frequently deployed by advertisers. The printers varied the size and style of the font, putting “Jamaica” and “Samuel Hughes” in italics and capitalizing “FISH.” Ornamental type separated this advertisement from those that appeared above and below.
By today’s standards, this advertisement may not appear especially engaging. It lacks the proverbial bells and whistles that we associate with marketing in the modern world. Yet it helps to demonstrate the evolution of advertising. Compare it to the advertisements that appeared in the Boston News-Letter fifty years earlier. Today’s advertisement may look rather stark to our eyes, but it showed evidence of innovation in the eighteenth century.