November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 7, 1768).

“A large Assortment of the following Goods.”

William Scott operated a store on the “North Side of Faneuil Hall, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe” in Boston. There he sold “a large Assortment” of goods, including “Manchester Cotton Checks and Handkerchiefs,” “Forest Cloths, Plains and Kerseys,” and “Irish Linens” of various widths.

To attract customers to his store, Scott inserted advertisements in every newspaper published in Boston. On Monday, November 7, 1768, his advertisement appeared in the Boston Chronicle. On the same day it simultaneously ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy, a joint publication with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette. On Thursday of that week, it ran in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, a publication printed on the same broadsheet and distributed with the Boston Weekly News-Letter. No matter which newspapers they read, residents of Boston and the surrounding area encountered Scott’s advertisement. He made a significant investment in advertising in his efforts to saturate the local print media with his notices.

Scott likely exercised little influence over where his advertisement appeared in each newspaper. The compositors made those choices. Still, his advertisements occupied a privileged position in the Boston Chronicle, appearing as one of only three advertisements on the final page, and in the Boston-Gazette, appearing on the first page above a news item. This increased the chances that readers of those newspapers would notice Scott’s advertisement.

The format of the advertisements provides further evidence of the role played by compositors in presenting them to the reading public. Scott apparently submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors made unique decisions when it came to typography. For instance, the list of merchandise had one item per line in the Boston Evening-Post iteration while the Boston Post-Boy version grouped all the items together into a single paragraph. Although Scott carefully planned for widespread distribution of his advertisement, he entrusted the compositors with its final format in each publication. He oversaw certain aspects of his marketing campaign – copy and distribution – while yielding others – format and placement on the page – to the printing offices. He considered some, but not all, of the opportunities made possible by print.

March 7

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

Mar 7 - 3:7:1768 Boston Post-Boy Supplement
Supplement to the Boston Post-Boy (March 7, 1768).

“(Being a Stranger) in order to establish an Acquaintance, he proposes to sell them for a very small Profit.”

William Scott was new to Boston. On account of “being a Stranger” he had not yet established any sort of personal or commercial reputation among local residents. Readers of the Boston Post-Boy were unfamiliar with him and his business practices, even if the goods he offered for sale seemed familiar enough. Realizing that this worked to his disadvantage in a crowded marketplace where prospective customers had existing relationships with other wholesalers and retailers, Scott determined that he needed to introduce himself to the community and entice them to the shop he kept “in the House wherein Mr. Copeland the Taylor, and Mr. Adams the Barber keep their Work-Shops, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe, on Dock-Square.”

To that end, Scott promised low prices, pledging to sell his wares “for a very small Profit.” He invited prospective customers to give him a chance, proclaiming that “such as please to make Tryal will find it much to their Advantage in dealing with him.” In addition, “such as buy in the Wholesale Way to sell again, shall have proper Encouragement.” Whether they wished to make purchases for household use or to stock their own shops, Scott offered bargains to all who read his advertisement. Although he did not use the terminology, the strategy he deployed paralleled what eventually became known as a “grand opening sale.” Scott had just set up his business and to get customers through the door he trumpeted the deals they would enjoy in his shop. He aimed “to establish an Acquaintance” with Bostonians who could become regular customers once they knew him and had opportunities to examine his merchandise.

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to price in newspaper advertisements published throughout the eighteenth century, but Scott managed to give that strategy an innovative twist. Rather than mention that he sold “on the most reasonable Terms” in passing, he instead constructed his advertisement around his plan to introduce himself to consumers by offering bargain prices. For all intents and purposes, he launched his business with a sale to attract attention.