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.



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.

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 28, 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


  • 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)


  • [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


  • [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


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


  • [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


  • [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


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

Rhode Island

  • Newport Mercury


  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant
  • New-London Gazette

New York

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


  • [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).

Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839).

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 256th birthday, Mathew Carey!

January 28

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

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

“To be sold, By DAVID MOORE … Women’s Damask and Calamanco Shoes … Boys Felt Hats … &c. &c.”

I recently featured an advertisement noteworthy in that it explicitly addressed female consumers.  I pointed out that this was not a standard practice in colonial America, that most advertisers did not narrow the realm of possible customers by specifying that they expected to sell their wares to patrons of one sex or the other.  I also noted some occasional exceptions, such as milliners who specialized in women’s hats or tailors who made men’s garments.  Still, most shopkeepers, like David Moore, did not place advertisements that singled out one sex or the other.

That being said, many shopkeepers did indicate that they stocked goods, almost always clothing items, intended for men or women, boys or girls, such as the “Women’s Damask and Calamanco Shoes” and Boys Felt Hats” in this advertisement.  They were not, however, parceled out in distinct sections of advertisements.  Instead, they appeared mixed in with the multitude of other goods included in the list advertisements so common during the period.  Rather than categorize their merchandise to make it easier for consumers to find men’s, women’s, and children’s garments, advertisers allowed them to discover these items in the midst of others that may or may not have been related.

Announcement: Adverts 250 Featured by The Junto

I recently had the chance to talk about research, pedagogy, and public history with Sara Damiano from The Junto:  A Group Blog on Early American History.  Yesterday The Junto featured our conversation as “An Interview with Carl Robert Keyes, creator of Adverts250.”  If you go over there to read it (and I hope you do!), spend some time exploring their other content (essays, interviews, reviews, podcasts, and so much more).

The Junto “is a group blog made up of junior early Americanists—graduate students and junior faculty—dedicated to providing content of general interest to other early Americanists and those interested in early American history, as well as a forum for discussion of relevant historical and academic topics.”

Many thanks to The Junto for inviting me to discuss the Adverts 250 Project with your readers.

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (January 27, 1766)

“To be SOLD by JANE BLUNDELL, Near the FORT; A fresh and general Assortment of GARDEN SEEDS.”

Eighteenth-century advertisements make it clear that women did not act solely as consumers during the period.  They were also producers, suppliers, and retailers who marketed goods and services to the general public.

It is difficult, however, to describe how frequently they placed commercial notices in the public prints.  It seems to vary from place to place, from newspaper to newspaper.  Women rarely resorted to advertising in smaller cities and towns.  They were more likely to use advertising to attract potential customers in larger port cities:  Philadelphia, Boston, Charleston, and New York.  Even in those urban centers, however, women were underrepresented on the advertising pages.  By numbers, they operated a significant proportion of shops, yet their male counterparts were more likely to place advertisements.

Jane Blundell not only advertised, she offered specialized merchandise that set her apart from the female shopkeepers, seamstresses, and milliners more likely to market their goods and services.  Advertisements like this one demonstrate what was possible (rather than what was most probable) for women in the commercial realm in eighteenth-century America.  Jane Blundell and other “she-merchants” pursued many different kinds of entrepreneurial activities, even as men outnumbered them.  Perhaps advertising helped Blundell to operate a viable business in the face of competition from male competitors.