December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

“Stage-Waggons.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers featured few visual images. Many had some sort of device in the masthead, but usually delivered the news unadorned. Advertisements sometimes included images, but those were the exception rather than the rule. Those that did have woodcuts relied on stock images that belonged to the printer, primarily ships for notices about vessels preparing to depart, horses for advertisements about breeding, houses for real estate notices, and men or women fleeing for advertisements about apprentices and indentured servants who ran away or enslaved people who escaped. Such woodcuts were used interchangeably for advertisements from the appropriate genre. Other images that accompanied advertisements usually appeared because advertisers commissioned a woodcut specific to their business, either replicating their shop signs or depicting their most notable products.

When Joseph Crane and Josiah F. Davenport turned to the pages of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to advertise the stagecoach service they operated between New York and Philadelphia, they included a woodcut depicting a team of horses pulling a covered wagon. This was not one of the standard stock images, suggesting that Crane and Davenport had commissioned it for exclusive use in their advertisements. However, in their advertisements for “Stage-Waggons” that ran between New York and Philadelphia, John Mercereau and John Barnhill published what appeared to be the same image. This was not merely a case of using the woodcut in an advertisement that appeared on one page and then using it again in another advertisement on a page printed on the other side of the sheet. In the December 4, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, Crane and Davenport’s advertisement featuring the woodcut ran on the same page as Mercereau and Barnhill’s advertisement featuring the woodcut. They had to have been printed simultaneously, indicating that James Parker, the printer, possessed more than one woodcut depicting horses pulling wagons, just as he had multiple woodcuts of ships and houses. It seems unlikely that Crane and Davenport or Mercereau and Barnhill would have commissioned a woodcut that looked so nearly identical to one used by a competitor as to be indistinguishable. Apparently Parker’s collection of stock images was at least a little bit larger than the frequent reiteration of the most common woodcuts suggested. That did not, however, significantly alter the frequency of visual images accompanying either news or advertising in his newspaper. His publication, like other colonial newspapers, consisted almost exclusively of text and a limited number of stock images. That made any visual image, but especially those seen infrequently, all the more notable.

Dec 4 - 12:4:1769 Woodcuts New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (December 4, 1769).

December 1

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

Dec 1 - 12:1:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 1, 1769).

“A Stage from Portsmouth to Boston.”

When Joseph S. Hart established “a Stage from Portsmouth to Boston,” he inserted an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to provide the particulars to prospective clients. He offered to carry passengers, but also acknowledged that he accepted freight as well. Hart included a schedule, informing readers that he departed Portsmouth for Boston on Fridays and then departed Boston for the return trip on Tuesdays. Each journey began at “about Eight o’Clock in the Morning” in order to allow for a full day of travel.

Although Hart’s stage began or ended each trip at either his house in Portsmouth or “Thomas Hubbart’s in King Street, Boston, at the Sign of Admiral Vernon,” he allowed for other destinations for the convenience of his clients. He pledged to deliver passengers wherever they wished to go. Similarly, those shipping “Bundles” could send them wherever they wished, rather than having to arrange for recipients to retrieve them from Hubbart at the Sign of Admiral Vernon. He did not, however, indicate that he picked up passengers or packages in Boston or Portsmouth, though that may have been negotiable upon contacting Hart to engage his services.

In addition to offering such convenience to passengers and other clients, Hart imbued his entire enterprise with an atmosphere of good service. He carried passengers and goods “with Dispatch” and promised that “All Persons who favour me with their Custom may depend upon being well used.” In making such assertions, Hart repeated sentiments often deployed in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services. Although he used formulaic words and phrases, he also communicated to prospective clients that he understood their expectations and that they should anticipate the same attention and quality service from him that they received from other entrepreneurs who had been established for quite some time. Indeed, for this new endeavor Hart assured prospective clients that he would deliver a pleasant experience as part of delivering them to their destinations.

August 22

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

Aug 22 - 8:22:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Green and Russell
Massachusetts Gazette [Green & Russell] (August 22, 1768).
Norwich Stage-Coach.”

As the summer of 1768 drew to a close, David Greenleaf established a new “Stage-Coach” line between Norwich, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island. The stagecoach made one trip each week, covering a distance of almost fifty miles in each direction. Passengers could depart “from the House of Mr. AZARIAH LOTHROP, in Norwich” on Wednesday mornings and arrive at “the House of Dr. SAMUEL CAREW, at the Sign of the Traveller, in Providence” later in the day. The stagecoach made the return trip on Thursdays. Greenleaf saw to the comfort of the travelers who availed themselves of this new service, providing an “elegant STAGE-COACH” drawn by “four good Horses.” To make the trip as speedy as possible, Greenleaf also arranged for “four spare ones … to exchange on the Road.” In addition, he carefully selected the terminals for this new stagecoach line. Lothrop and Carew both offered “the best Entertainment” for passengers while they waited to make the journey. Greenleaf made the entire journey an experience, promising that “Ladies and Gentlemen will be treated in the kindest Manner.”

Greenleaf made a significant investment in this venture. He implicitly said as much in his description of the new stagecoach and the many horses. He more explicitly made the point when he argued that since “this new and useful Undertaking has been attended with a great Expence” that he hoped “it will meet with proper Encouragement from the Publick.” Advertising in the Massachusetts Gazette added to his Greenleaf’s expenses, but he certainly expected a return on that investment. To increase the effectiveness of his advertisement, he needed to increase the likelihood that readers would notice it. To that end, he incurred the extra expense of commissioning a woodcut that depicted a stagecoach drawn by four horses. The image also included a driver with a whip guiding the horses and a passenger peering out from the stagecoach. Compared to other woodcuts that accompanied advertisements, Greenleaf’s image was detailed and well executed. The vignette would have been difficult for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette to overlook. The quality of his coach and service did not matter if prospective customers did not know that the “Norwich Stage-Coach” existed. Enhancing the advertisement with a notable woodcut helped to bring Greenleaf’s new venture to the attention of colonists who planned to travel between Norwich and Providence and beyond.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (August 31, 1767).

“Stage-Coach No. I. … SETS out on every Tuesday Morning.”

Thomas Sabin operated “Stage-Coach No. 1” between Boston and Providence. He had a flair for attracting attention to his transportation services, having advertised the previous summer that travelers would ride in “a most curious four wheeled Carriage, called the AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” Yet Sabin realized that generating business required more than just associating snappy names with the carriages that transported his passengers.

In particular, he advertised widely in both cities. His notice appeared week after week in the Providence Gazette, the only newspaper printed in that city in 1767. In addition, he placed advertisements in at least three out of four of the newspapers published in Boston. On August 31, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy carried identical notices, each with an impressive headline for “Stage-Coach No. 1.”

Sabin neglected only one newspaper, the Massachusetts Gazette, the only Boston newspaper distributed on Thursdays rather than Mondays. Here Sabin missed an opportunity to reach as many potential customers as possible by spreading out his advertisements in multiple newspapers. Or did he? Note the schedule for the Boston to Providence journey. His stagecoach departed on Thursdays. Perhaps Sabin did not consider advertising in the Massachusetts Gazette worth the investment since readers obtained their copies just as he left town. It may have made more sense to advertise widely on Mondays, giving potential passengers three days to make arrangements. He observed a similar schedule in Providence, where his advertisements appeared in a newspaper printed on Saturdays and clients had three days to book seats for departure on the following Tuesday.

Some eighteenth-century advertisers made efforts to maximize the number of potential customers exposed to their marketing efforts. In cities with multiple newspapers, they industriously placed the same notice in each of them. Sabin adopted this strategy, but adapted it to fit the particular circumstances of how his business operated.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1766 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 23, 1766).

“A most curious four wheeled Carriage, called the AETHERIAL VEHICLE.”

Thomas Sabin provided transportation between Providence and Boston “or elsewhere” for his clients, but he marketed an experience (not unlike modern car manufacturers and airlines). According to his advertisement, the important part of a trip was not necessarily arriving at the destination. Instead, enjoying the journey itself, including the amenities of his “AETHERIAL VEHICLE,” transformed getting from here to there into an event itself.

This was no ordinary “four wheeled Carriage,” Sabin proclaimed. A variety of factors, including its “wonderful and most elegant Construction,” merited an equally wonderful and most elegant name – the “AETHERIAL VEHICLE” – that distinguished it from any of the other carriages, coaches, chaises, phaetons, and, especially, stage wagons common in colonial America.

Sabin conjured up images of practically gliding from place to place, compared to the bumpy ride passengers experienced when using other wheeled vehicles. “It is airy, and more easy than any other Carriage,” he explained. “It would be almost impossible to describe it’s uncommon Machinery in Words, so as to give an adequate Idea of its Ease and Use.” Sabin implicitly challenged readers with doubts about the accuracy of this hyperbolic description to engage his services and judge for themselves, a crafty way to generate more business.

He also deployed another strategy to encourage the curious to become customers. “Those who are not inclined to ride in it, and desire to see it, shall be waited upon by the Owner to view it, when in his Coach House, gratis.” Once Sabin had potential customers in his “Coach House” and was able to speak to them directly, he could work on convincing them to hire his “AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” It’s difficult to know Sabin conducted himself in person, but it’s possible he could have given the same sort of hard sell that modern consumers encounter when they visit car dealerships.

At the very least, Sabin assured clients that they would receive special treatment when they rode the “AETHERIAL VEHICLE.” He promised that “besides the Satisfaction of being conveyed in so convenient a Machine,” customers “may depend upon the most ready Observance of their Desires, and punctual Compliance with their Commands.” For colonists, this would have been the equivalent of hiring a limousine or flying first class.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:11:1766 Advert 2 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 11, 1766).

“The Portsmouth PACKET sails for Boston next Monday.”

This advertisement caught my eye thanks to its fairly unique format. It ran across the bottom of the three columns on the second page of the July 11, 1766, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. It briefly announced that “The Portsmouth PACKET sails for Boston next Monday. Those who incline to go to Commencement may have a Passage, &c.” While it was short on details, the advertisers assumed that readers had sufficient background knowledge to fill in the gaps on their own.

For readers who read or examined this newspaper long after it was published, another advertisement at the bottom of the third column on the facing page told more of the story.

Jul 13 - 7:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 11, 1766).

(As an aside, I note that the third page is not the facing page when accessing this issue digitally since only one page at a time can be accessed and viewed. This creates yet another distinction between the manner in which eighteenth-century readers consumed newspapers and modern readers experience their digital surrogates. Researchers working with original newspapers, however, benefit from a better impression of the visual composition of multiple pages in relation to each other.)

This second advertisement revised the schedule for the stagecoach that regularly traveled between Portsmouth and Boston. Instead of leaving on the following Tuesday, it was instead scheduled to depart on Monday “for the better Convenience of those who may incline to go to the ensuing Commencement at Cambridge, on Wednesday next.”

The Commencement ceremony at Harvard College was a significant enough event that the providers of multiple forms of transportation in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, placed advertisements intended to facilitate travel to it and attract passengers. Their advertisements on facing pages created competition between two modes of transportation, a stagecoach by land or a ship by sea.