January 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Jan 31 - 1:30:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 30, 1766)

“Which has been proved by many Trials to be equal to the best snuff imported from Great-Britain.”

Advertisements for goods, such as the one depicted above, were commonplace in colonial newspapers. Advertising snuff, also known as sniffing tobacco, would not have been a shocking advertisement for the time as tobacco was a popular product. What is striking about the notice is what the tobacco was compared to:  tobacco imported from Great Britain.

I also find it interesting that Gilpin and Fisher would make a comparison to tobacco from Great Britain at a time when several of the colonies were prone to unrest. Britain had just passed the Stamp Act tax in 1765; some British products were currently being boycotted. Perhaps since the people of the colonies still considered themselves British citizens, they would have wanted to be loyal to British products. On the other hand, the advertisement would give colonists a sense of security in local products since the colonists had been so used to British goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I was excited when Maia chose this advertisement, for a variety of reasons. She did not know that I had already selected an advertisement from the Massachusetts Gazette for yesterday that was also shaped by the Stamp Act, making this a wonderful transition into her responsibilities as guest curator for this week. I also appreciated the appeal to locally produced good, which Maia highlights in the quotation she selected from this advertisement: “Which has been proved by many Trials to be equal to the best snuff imported from Great-Britain.”

When I have featured advertisements that make similar appeals, I have emphasized their political valence and their rhetoric of resistance. Maia offers a perspective that I have not given as much attention: assuring colonists that domestic products were as good as any imported from Great Britain was not just an assurance of quality. This was also a means of offering reassurance to potential customers who faced an increasingly disorienting world of consumption disrupted by transatlantic politics.

Also, in questioning to what extent colonists might have wanted, on some level, to remain loyal to British goods Maia also reminds us that this was indeed a period of resistance – not yet revolution – and colonists continued to embrace their identity as members of the British empire even as they sought redress of grievances within the British system of law and politics.

Welcome, Guest Curator Maia Campbell

Maia Campbell is a first-year student and History major in the Honors Program at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. Outside of studying history, with the goal of ultimately becoming a public historian, she writes for the college’s paper, Le Provacateur. She will be guest curator of The Adverts 250 Project during the week of January 31 to February 6.

Welcome, Maia Campbell!

Announcement: Guest Curators

For the next five weeks students from my introductory Public History class at Assumption College will take on new responsibilities as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project.  During this time, each guest curator will oversee the project for a week, selecting which advertisements to feature and writing a brief commentary explaining why they chose each  of them.  I will offer additional reflections and analysis.

Each student has learned how to navigate Readex’s Early American Newspapers database. In order to feature advertisements published on this date exactly 250 years ago (or as near as possible on those dates that no newspaper was printed in colonial America) each has learned about publication practices and schedules and, in turn, charted a calendar of all the newspapers published during his or her week.  They have written drafts of their commentary and met with me one-on-one during office hours to discuss their work.  I have made suggestions for revisions, but I have not intensively edited their work.  I prefer that each of them speaks (well, writes) in his or her own voice.

In addition to offering hands-on experience for my students, I anticipate that this will yield benefits for me as well.  Because we possess different levels of expertise and knowledge about the history of advertising, print, and consumer culture (as well as eighteenth-century America more generally), students will likely notice or have questions about different elements of newspaper advertising than those that usually attract my attention.  In preliminary meetings with students, they have already challenged me to think about some of their advertisements in new ways.

Some students have already described this project as “fun” in addition to educational.  I hope that regular readers will also enjoy this experience.  I know that I have been having a great time working with this engaged and dedicated group of students so far this semester.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on this date in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

Isaiah_Thomas1818
Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1749 – April 4, 1831)

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets,  and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

Jan 30 - Worcerster Magazine April 1786
Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786)

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

Jan 30 - Advertising Wrapper - Worcester Magazine - 4th week May 1786
Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786)

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 267th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

 

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 30, 1766)

“This masterly Performance merits the closest Attention and Consideration of every true SON of AMERICA the Propriety of imposing TAXES on free Subjects without their Consent.”

The Stamp Act crisis and protests spilled over into advertisements for consumer goods in colonial newspapers.  In late 1765 and early 1766 newspapers were filled with editorials opposing the Stamp Act as well as news items about debates and protests reprinted from far and wide.  Nonimportation agreements altered consumer culture, but, as this advertisement and others indicate, the imperial crisis transformed the meaning of consumption in other ways as well.

Printers and booksellers might be considered opportunistic for taking advantage of a political crisis to market and sell newspapers, books, and pamphlets, but believing in a cause and being entrepreneurial were not mutually exclusive.  Publications that considered “the Propriety of imposing Taxes in the British Colonies” based on “Knowledge of the Laws of our Mother-Country” reflected many printers’  views and likely shaped the political attitudes of many colonists, prompting them to further consider resistance efforts and, eventually, revolution.

Even if colonists did not buy and read such any particular publication, encountering  advertisements like this one yielded a certain consistency throughout the various sections of the newspaper.  Commerce and consumption could not be separated from politics in an easily classified manner.

January 29

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

Jan 29 - 1:28:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (January 18, 1766)

“At the Sight of the Mathematical Instruments, next Door to the Golden Eagle, in Thames-Street.”

Sometimes the directions for locating a business are just as interesting as the merchandise offered for sale, at least to someone observing from a distance of 250 years.  I’ve commented fairly regularly about various modes of identifying where a business happened to be located, especially when such directions crowded out appeals that could have marketed goods and services to potential customers.  (On the other hand, advertisers couldn’t sell anything if customers couldn’t find them.)  Last week I even made sport of an attorney who provided unnecessarily convoluted and legalistic directions to his office.  Providing adequate directions was a part of doing business in the days before standardized street numbers (an innovation that appeared in many American cities around the final decade of the century).

This advertisement does not make reference to cross streets or counting the number of doors after arriving at an intersection.  It simply states that this shop is located “At the Sight of the Mathematical Instruments, next Door to the Golden Eagle, in Thames-Street.”  Contemporary visual images of streetscapes in colonial American cities are relatively rare, but advertisements like this one help to envision what colonists would have seen as they went about their daily business.

Contemplating “the Sight of the Mathematical Instruments” or “the Golden Eagle” evokes days gone by.  It might even seem quaint, but I’m not certain that the American consumer landscape has changed as significantly as we might like to imagine.  After all, how many people actually know the street address of the fast food restaurant where they grab a quick lunch or the store where they buy everything from bread to toys to clothes?  I’m guessing that most people look for golden arches or a big red target rather than a street number.

Also, note what kinds of merchandise Benjamin King sells and the sign that announces the location of his shop to potential customers.  Clever.

In Which the Digital Archive Is Incomplete

Last week I shared my process for charting which newspapers were published on which days during the third week of January 1766. I did so to demonstrate how I choose the “freshest Advices,” to borrow the tagline included on the Boston Post-Boy’s masthead that week (as well as the masthead of many other American newspapers throughout the eighteenth century).

As a result, I ended up selecting seven advertisements from six newspapers in five cities in four colonies, all of them in New England. Based on the newspapers available via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers, I recognize one possible improvement. I could have selected an advertisement from one of two newspapers published in New York, but I had recently featured notices from both of them. In an effort to rotate through newspapers to include relatively even coverage, I opted for publications from other cities. If I were to assess coverage over a month rather than a week, this problem would not be nearly as apparent. (After my students complete their time as guest curators over the next eleven weeks, I will aim to rectify this small problem by choosing newspapers from as many different cities and colonies as possible each week, planning further ahead to make that possible.)

Jan 29 - Wochenliche Masthead
Masthead for Der Wöchentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote (January 27, 1766).

Still, based on when each newspaper was published during the week, even if I had included a newspaper from New York I would have only slightly improved the coverage: seven advertisements from six newspapers in six cities in five colonies. The most significant difference would have been including a newspaper from the Middle Atlantic, but this still would not have increased the geographic scope significantly.

This is especially striking when taking into consideration how many newspapers were published in the colonies in 1766. Here’s a list (with some notations), arranged geographically, from Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820. [1]

New Hampshire

  • Portsmouth Mercury (last known issue on September 29)
  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury
  • Providence Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; extra and supplement on March 12; resumed August 9)

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • [New Haven] Connecticut Gazette
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Journal (began publication on October 16)
  • New-York Mercury

Pennsylvania

  • [Germantown] Wahre und Wahrscheinliche Begebenheiten (only known issue on February 24)
  • Germantowner Zeitung (few known issues)
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Gazette
  • [Philadelphia] Pennsylvania Journal
  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

Maryland

  • [Annapolis] Maryland Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; issues on January 30, February 20; resumed March 6)

Virginia

  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Hunter) (suspended at beginning of year; resumed March 7)
  • [Williamsburg] Virginia Gazette (Rind) (began publication on May 16)

North Carolina

  • [Wilmington] North-Carolina Gazette (last known issue on February 26)

South Carolina

  • [Charleston] South-Carolina and American General Gazette
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette (suspended at beginning of year; resumed June 2)
  • [Charleston] South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal

Georgia

  • [Savannah] Georgia Gazette (suspended at beginning of year, but resumed May 21)

(Why were so many newspapers suspended at the beginning of the year? Was that unusual? Yes! When the Stamp Act went into effect on November 1, 1765, many newspapers stopped publication out of protest. Others continued in defiance of the Stamp Act. I’m planning to address the Stamp Act and its effects on advertising in a later post.)

Lathem indicates that twenty-eight newspapers were published in fifteen cities in eleven colonies (but not Delaware or New Jersey) in 1766. Eliminating those with few known issues as well as others that had been suspended or had not yet begun publication still leaves nineteen newspapers published in ten cities in eight colonies during the fourth week of January 1766.  This includes newspapers published in New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Lower South (but not the Chesapeake).

Now compare that to the list of newspapers I was able to access via my college’s subscription to Early American Newspapers.

New Hampshire

  • [Portsmouth] New-Hampshire Gazette

Massachusetts

  • Boston Evening-Post
  • Boston Gazette
  • Boston Post-Boy
  • [Boston] Massachusetts Gazette

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury

Connecticut

  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • New-London Gazette

New York

  • New-York Gazette [Weyman’s]
  • New-York Mercury

Philadelphia

  • [Philadelphia] Der Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote

This list consists of only eleven newspapers in seven cities in six colonies, compared to nineteen newspapers in ten cities in eight colonies actually published during the fourth week of January 1766. No newspapers from the Chesapeake or the Lower South appear on this list. (I am being generous here by including the German newspaper from Philadelphia even though I revealed a few weeks ago that I do not read German and will not be including German-language newspapers and advertisements in this project.)

I claimed last week that the geographic scope of advertisements I select derives from a methodology that is well-crafted and appropriate given the sources available. That claim comes into sharper focus now. I have been experimenting with what is possible using the resources available to me via an Internet connection from my living room or from my office, without stepping into an actual archive to examine original copies of newspapers or dreaded reels of microfilm.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Masthead
Masthead for the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

It should now be apparent that I am working with an incomplete archive! Digitization is wonderful in so many ways. I love that I have so many sources available any time I am connected to the Internet. I appreciate that I am able to introduce my students to colonial newspapers in a way that just was not possible when I was an undergraduate. As I think about their tasks as guest curators in the coming weeks and how I might have approached a similar assignment as an undergraduate I realize that it would have been possible, with a lot of effort, at the major research university I attended, with its massive library and banks of microfilm readers. It would not, however, have been possible at the small liberal arts college where I currently teach, at least not without extensively relying on interlibrary loan to procure microfilms of colonial newspapers.  My campus library certainly would not possess the budget to purchase all of these microfilms. Even then, the process might have been too cumbersome.

I now find myself on some sort of middle ground. Digitization of early American sources is a significant boon, both for research and teaching, but digital archives need to be approached with full awareness that they do not (yet and may never) replicate all the holdings of the physical collections in libraries, historical societies, and other institutions throughout the United States and beyond.

Jan 29 - Boston Gazette Supplement Masthead
Masthead for Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (January 27, 1766).

Next week I’ll explore varying levels of access to Early American Newspapers and how that shapes the scope of this project.

[1] Edward Connery Lathem, compiler, Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820: Being a Tabular Guide to Holdings of Newspaper Published in America through the Year 1820 (Barre, MA: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 1972).