July 28

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

Jul 28 - 7:28:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (July 28, 1766).

“Daniel Jones INFORMS his Customers and others … that he has Removed … to a Corner Shop.”

Like many shopkeepers and other advertisers, Daniel Jones used his advertisements to communicate with different groups of readers: “his Customers and others,” those who had previously purchased his wares and those that he hoped to entice to visit his shop as new patrons.

In order for customers of all sorts to buy his merchandise, they first needed to know where to find Jones. He opened his advertisement by announcing that he had recently moved “to a Corner Shop” (a location that likely increased the foot traffic moving past his door and window). In an age before standardized street numbers, he listed his location as “the Easterly side of Newbury-Street,” sufficient directions to find the shop. To further aid former customers familiar with his previous location, however, he added that his new shop was “situated about three Rods to the Southward of that he Removed from.”

Such directions may have also been helpful to readers who had not previously made purchases from Jones. Even if they had not visited his shop, many likely knew where it was (or had been). Boston was, after all, a fairly compact city despite being a busy port. Customers who had not been to the Jones’s previous location may have also been intrigued to check out his “Corner Shop (which was lately improved by Capt. John Smith).” Even if the list of goods for sale did not draw them in, curious readers may have wanted to check out what kinds of improvements had been made to the shop itself.

In addition, Jones also addressed readers “both in Town and Country.” For former customers who lived outside Boston yet visited his shop when they came into town, an announcement about the new location and where it was located relative to his previous establishment was imperative. Jones did not want to risk disrupting his relationship with existing customers by having them arrive at a location he no longer maintained and not know how to find him. Especially if another shopkeeper set up business in Jones’ former location, he wanted former customers to know that he still kept shop in the same neighborhood.

July 27

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

Jul 27 - 7:26:1766 Connecticut Gazette
Connecticut Gazette (July 26, 1766).

“Proper allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.”

Shopkeeper John MacCrackan promoted a deal, first on “BEST Bohea Tea” and later on all the merchandise he stocked and advertised, a “general Assortment of European and East-India GOODS.”

Eighteenth-century advertisements rarely listed prices (with the exception of subscription notices for books, magazines, and other printed items), but occasionally shopkeepers and others inserted the price of one or two items. MacCrackan led his advertisement with “BEST Bohea Tea at 6s. per pound.” Readers likely took note of the price; tea was such a popular commodity in the 1760s that many potential customers probably knew the going rate in their community, just as many modern Americans can recite the price of a gallon of gas on any given day. Accordingly, MacCrackan indicated the price of tea at his shop in order to announce that his customers got a deal. (Perhaps MacCrackan’s tea was even a so-called loss leader, an item priced below market value as a means of getting customers into the shop to then tempt them into purchasing other, more expensive wares.) At the very least, MacCrackan wanted readers to know that his price for tea was both reasonable and competitive.

The shopkeeper also made it attractive for customers to buy in bulk (thus increasing his revenue and turning over his inventory) when he noted that the price for tea would be “lower by the Quantity.” Near the end of the advertisement, he extended this offer to all of his merchandise: “Proper allowance will be made to those who take a Quantity.” Purchasing in volume yielded savings for customers.

This may have been most attractive to those who planned to purchase their own stock to resell, perhaps other shopkeepers in New Haven’s hinterland, some of the customers who may have paid in “Some Kinds of Country Produce.” However, MacCrackan sold goods both “Wholesale or Retail.” His advertisement suggest he was willing to negotiate with customers purchasing solely for their own household needs as well as those who intended to resell and further distribute this merchandise.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1766 Connecticut Gazette
Connecticut Gazette (July 26, 1766).

“LUKE BABCOCK, At his Shop in New Haven, has to sell … Nails, … Irish Linnens, … Raisins.”

Shopkeeper Luke Babcock’s list-style advertisement would have looked very familiar to colonial consumers. It did not elaborate much on the merchandise he stocked, except to not that Babcock sold his wares “at the most reasonable Rate.” The variety of goods – everything from “Brass Knobs” to “genuine black Barcelona Handkerchiefs” to “Lisbon Wine by the Quarter Cask” – comprised the advertisement’s primary marketing appeal, promising potential customers an assortment of choices. So many advertisers used this method of promoting their goods in eighteenth-century America that at a glance this advertisement appears indistinguishable from so many others.

On closer examination, however, it appears that Babcock introduced an innovation not readily apparent in advertisements published by many of his counterparts and competitors. His advertisement was carefully organized. Similar types of products were grouped together rather than appearing in an undifferentiated and disorienting list. Babcock first named hardware items, then textiles, and, finally, groceries. To make it even easier to navigate the advertisement, each major category had its own paragraph.

While this may seem like such common sense today that it should merit no comment, the format of this advertisement must be considered in the context of other eighteenth-century advertisements and the printing practices that shaped them. Babcock’s marketing may not have been flashy, but he attempted to make it more effective by helping readers better grasp the extent of his offerings and find merchandise that most interested them. It’s even possible that such careful organization on the printed page helped potential customers to imagine the layout of his shop, envisioning themselves examining the merchandise available in the section where hardware was stocked or in another area of the shop where textiles were displayed. Where other list-style advertisements often presented chaos, Babcock brought order to his goods, guiding consumers to the items they wanted or needed.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 25, 1766).

“Where likewise may be had the mathematical GOUTY CHAIR.”

What was a “mathematical GOUTY CHAIR”? The gouty chair was a precursor to the modern wheelchair (though what made this particular model “mathematical” remains unclear). In Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England, 1754-1851, Akiko Shimbo indicates that it is not exactly certain when gouty stools and gouty chairs first appeared: “the earliest example in published pattern books was Hepplewhite’s Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide (first edition, 1788).”[1]

Those who suffer from gout experience painful inflammation of the joints, notably in the hands and feet (and especially the toes), which would indeed make standing or walking difficult. Shimbo further indicates that elite men were especially prone to gout in the eighteenth century; the malady was associated with an increase in luxury. The term “gouty chair” was likely intended “to convey a luxurious and superior image.”[2]

That made the gouty chair ideal for Benjamin Bucktrout, CABINET MAKER, from LONDON,” to promote in his advertisement. Bucktrout arrived in Williamsburg in 1766; his advertisement was the first time his name appeared in any sort of public records in the colony. He seized upon the occasion to make a memorable first impression. Not only did he have the cachet of migrating from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, he also promised that he produced furniture “in the neatest and newest fashions.” What better way to demonstrate the fashionable aspects of his work than to construct gouty chairs, a product already linked to luxury and refinement? In highlighting this particular piece of furniture, he signaled to the local elite that he understood their concerns and was prepared to serve them well.

Jul 25 - Gouty Chair
Gouty Chair (Unknown Maker, ca. 1800).  Victoria and Albert Museum.

**********

[1] Akiko Shimbo, Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England, 1754-1851: Design as Interaction (Routledge, 2015). See chapter 4, “Forming Taste and Style: Consumers’ Needs and Participation.”

[2] Shimbo, Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England. See chapter 4.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 24, 1766).

“ROBERT HARRIS, At the sign of the Golden Pestle, in Second-street.”

Not only did a variety of shop signs announce where entrepreneurs operated their businesses, those signs also aided colonists in navigating the streets of cities and towns in an era before street numbers and addresses were either common or standardized. Some shopkeepers and artisans had signs that were memorable and imaginative but did not necessarily correspond to their occupation in any way other than their decision to adopt them as their own logo. For instance, shopkeeper William Murray could be found at the Sign of General Wolfe in Marlborough Street in Boston. Murray’s sign celebrated the British general, a hero of the empire, but in depicting Wolfe it did not reveal what kind of business operated at that location.

Robert Harris, on the other hand, chose a device directly connected to the merchandise he sold. He advertised “Drugs, Chymical and Galenical Medicines, of all sorts,” including an extensive list of popular patent medicines familiar on both sides of the Atlantic. He sold them “At the sign of the Golden Pestle, in Second-street” in Philadelphia. The mortar and pestle were perhaps the equipment most frequently associated with apothecaries in the colonial era, just as they continue to be a recognized symbol and emblem for pharmacists today.

During the second half of the eighteenth century, some colonists used their shop signs in ways that transformed them into what we would today consider a logo that branded their goods and services. They commissioned woodcuts that replicated their shop signs to accompany newspaper advertisements. They distributed trade cards and billheads that also made use of the same images. Robert Harris may not have been quite that innovative when it came to using multiple media and visual images to promote his business, but he was savvy in choosing a sign that unambiguously announced his occupation. This may have been especially imperative in Philadelphia, the largest city in the colonies and an extremely busy port with large numbers of people unfamiliar with the city and its vendors arriving regularly.

July 23

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

Jul 23 - 7:23:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 23, 1766).

“Most Kinds of BLANKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.”

Eighteenth-century printers often inserted advertisements for their own wares and services in the newspapers they published. They hoped to generate additional revenues, but they may have also strategically placed their own advertisements as a means of generating content that would fill space. Unlike other advertisers who usually purchased “squares” of advertising, thus paying by the length of the advertisement, printers who promoted their own enterprises did not have to factor the length of their advertisements into their calculations. That sometimes resulted in lengthy advertisements or multiple notices in a single issue.

In this case, however, printer James Johnston inserted a very brief advertisement, a single line announcing, “Most Kinds of BLANKS to be sold at the Printing-Office.” (By blanks, Johnston meant a variety of forms, including indentures. The advertisement appeared at the bottom of the second and final column on the last page of the newspaper, nestled right above the colophon. Johnston needed one more line of text to complete the column. This one had the added benefit of drawing attention to one of the services he provided.

Jul 23 - 7:23:1766 Colophon Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 23, 1766).

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Johnston also used the colophon (the space devoted to publication information, including printer and location, at the end of the newspaper) to promote both the newspaper and other parts of his business. In addition to noting that the Georgia Gazette was “Printed by JAMES JOHNSTON, at the Printing-Office in Broughton-Street” in Savannah, it also announced that he sold subscriptions and advertisements. Furthermore, he did job printing (like the blanks) “at the shortest Notice,” including handbills and other forms of advertising (such as broadsides, trade cards, or circular letters).

Throughout the eighteenth century, Johnston and other printers creatively shaped newspaper colophons to do more than provide basic publication information. They use them to promote other services available in their printing shops.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:21:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 21, 1766).

Mary Cowley was the subject of some gossip by “Envious or Prejudiced” residents of Newport. She placed this advertisement in part to promote her business enterprises and in part to set the record straight when it came to some false reports she had heard.

Cowley was a busy woman, which likely brought her under more scrutiny than some of her neighbors and made her a target of “Envious or Prejudiced” gossip. She pursued two occupations, proprietress of a house of entertainment and dancing instructor. Both of these may have made other colonists suspicious of her, especially if she was unmarried or widowed and without a male relative to oversee her activities and interactions with patrons who visited her at “the House near the Entrance of Mr. Dyer’s Grove” or her pupils for the dancing lessons she provided at her own house. Male dancing masters frequently inserted reassuring words in their advertisements to convince potential students and the general public of their propriety, which was especially important given the close physical contact with students inherent in dancing lessons. Cowley was also vulnerable to such suspicions, especially if she offered lessons in the absence of a patriarch to chaperone her. She did venture to address such concerns, but only pledged to “give Satisfaction in every Branch of my Undertaking.”

Entertaining “none but the genteeler Sort” (which may have entailed serving food and beverages and overseeing polite conversation) appears to have been a relatively new endeavor for Cowley. Some may have assumed that it would so distract her from teaching dancing that she would cease meeting with students, but she had “no Thoughts of giving up that Business.”

Unlike many other female advertisers who assured potential customers and the general public that they behaved in appropriately feminine fashion even though they operated businesses of their own and inserted their voice in the public prints to attract business, Mary Cowley took a much more assertive tone. She answered gossip that circulated beyond the newspaper and concluded by thanking “every Well wisher of their humble Servant” for the “due Encouragement” they would bestow upon her.