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‘Buy Me, Boston’

Brian Coleman publishes a history of Boston through archived ads

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Buy Me, Boston’
Brian Coleman poses with a sign from a former Kenmore Square live-music venue. Photo: Courtesy Brian Coleman

On Oct. 24, local journalist and hip-hop historian Brian Coleman will debut his latest book, “Buy Me, Boston: Local Ads and Flyers Vol. 1.” The collection of over 390 color and black-and-white ads from Boston area newspapers provides a history of the city through the products being marketed to it. “There are so many stories to tell in Boston,” says Coleman. “This was a small step towards creating a narrative through advertising.”

The idea emerged in 2014 while Coleman was working on “Check the Technique Volume 2: More Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies,” a book that tells the stories of hip-hop music through interviews with the artists. He ran across a few advertisements for concerts and was fascinated with the history they illustrated.

For “Buy Me Boston,” Coleman focused on localized publications like The Bay State Banner and The Phoenix, pulling heavily on the archives of David Bieber, former creative director for the Phoenix, and Kay Bourne, former Bay State Banner arts writer. “For me it was about local businesses, local entrepreneurs, local musicians,” says Coleman. “One of the things this book does is stitch back together a Boston that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Bourne says, “‘Local Ads & Flyers’ is the first book that has come across my desk to offer a straightforward picture of Boston as a whole and vibrant city. It puts African Americans and others on an equal footing. It’s a corrective to the usual portrait of Boston where blacks are relegated to a few pages, if mentioned at all.”

The book features reproductions of the ads, all scanned from the original sources, with information about what the item is, what year it was published and its source. Coleman said he deliberately didn’t add scholarly commentary to each piece, preferring to let the ads stand alone as a visual guide to the city.

Coleman hopes the book will not just provide nostalgia, but also inspire new businesses to draw from Boston’s history.

For readers interested in finding more information or seeing the ads “live,” select pieces from Bieber’s archive make up a regularly rotating exhibit in the lobby of the Verb Hotel in Fenway. Bourne’s archives, which were donated to Emerson College, are not yet on view to the public. “Buy Me Boston” is available for purchase locally at Newbury Comics, Brookline Booksmith and Tres Gatos restaurant, book and music store. Signed editions are available directly from Coleman via his website. On Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre, Coleman will celebrate the book launch with a panel discussion, multimedia presentation and book signing.