January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 19, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD AT William Scott’s Store.”

When it came to disseminating his advertisements widely, William Scott was more industrious than most merchants, shopkeepers, and others who placed newspaper notices promoting consumer goods. His advertisements for a variety of textiles available “Wholesale & Retail” at his store on the “North-side of Faneuil-Hall” ran in the January 19, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, shortly after appearing in the Essex Gazette (published in Salem, Massachusetts) and four out of five of Boston’s newspapers. His advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette listed “Irish LINNENS,” “Diaper and Damask Table Cloths,” “Cambricks,” “Lawns,” and all of the other fabrics enumerated in the other newspapers, lacking only a note about “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods, by Retail” that concluded those advertisements.

That may have been the result of the advertisement’s position on the page in the New-Hampshire Gazette. It appeared in the lower right corner, the last item on the third page. The compositor had sufficient space to include the main body of the advertisement while still achieving columns of equal length, but not the additional note. Using a smaller font for Scott’s name would have yielded the necessary space to print the entire advertisement, but the compositor did not make the choice. Comparing Scott’s notices as they appeared in all six newspapers reveals that compositors exercised considerable discretion when it came to the format of advertisements. That discretion likely even extended to occasional minor adjustments to the copy. Scott generated the copy for his advertisements and submitted it to several printing offices, but compositors adopted very different approaches to how that copy appeared on the page when it came to font sizes, capitalization, italics, line breaks, and other typographical elements. Variations in spelling (“LINNENS” or “Linens”) and fractions (“Three quarter” and “3-4”) may have originated with the advertiser or the compositor.

Scott intended to engage as many prospective customers as possible by inserting the same advertisement in six newspapers published in three port cities in New England. His marketing efforts reveal testify to a division of labor in the production of advertisements for consumer goods. Advertisers generally took responsibility for composing copy, while compositors who worked in printing offices designed the format of advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

January 16

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

Jan 16 - 1:16:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (January 16, 1770).

“At William Scott’s STORE, North Side of Faneuil-Hall, Boston.”

William Scott made sure that he placed his advertisement for various textiles and “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods” before the eyes of as many consumers in Boston and its environs as possible. His notice ran in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on January 11. Four days later it also appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. Of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time, Scott refrained from inserting his advertisement in the Boston Chronicle, a newspaper notable for its Tory sympathies as well as strident critiques and demeaning caricatures of patriot leaders. Perhaps Scott did not wish to have his store on the north side of Faneuil Hall associated with the rhetoric espoused in the Boston Chronicle.

Though he declined to advertise in that notorious newspaper, Scott did place his notice in a fifth publication that week. On January 16, it ran in the Essex Gazette, printed in Salem by Samuel Hall. For all intents and purposes, Salem was part of the same media market as Boston. Until relatively recently, it did not have its own newspaper. Hall began publishing the Essex Gazette in August 1768, less than a year and a half earlier. That newspaper certainly did not entirely displace those printed in Boston; they served the entire colony and circulated far beyond the bustling port. Even though prospective customers who read the Essex Gazette likely would have seen his advertisement in any of Boston’s several newspapers, Scott followed through on his strategy of saturating the market with his notice. It may even have garnered greater attention in the Essex Gazette since that newspaper carried far less advertising than any of its counterparts from Boston. In each of the other newspapers, Scott’s advertisement was nestled among dozens of others. In the January 16 edition of the Essex Gazette, it was one of only ten advertisements, all of them appearing in the far right column on the last two pages.

Several advertisers in Boston regularly inserted notices about consumer goods and services in multiple newspapers published in that city. William Scott, however, was one of the first to experiment with placing advertisements in publications that radiated outward from the colony’s largest port.

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.