February 29

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Feb 29 - 2:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

Just Imported from LONDON … A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the Season.”

Joseph Bass’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette is intriguing because of the diversity of goods he was selling. The advertisement suggests that he was trying to target as many different audiences as possible, while spending the least amount of money. In the world of advertising this is a very basic concept but one that can prove difficult. During this time, businesses operated on a face-to-face level of interaction that has been lost in todays culture. People chose who they bought their goods from based on the foundation of who they trusted and supported.

I also find it interesting that some of the goods advertised were seasonal. The first thing advertised was “A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the season.” Seasons in New Hampshire are very different than those of England, especially during the end of winter to the beginning of spring. The “Bedding suitable for the season” then exemplifies the demand of the colonial market in comparison to England’s market.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Many scholars of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America have demonstrated that colonists demonstrated their connections to the larger British Empire by purchasing and using the same goods as their cousins in London and the English provinces. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen demonstrated a rapid expansion of consumer choice in colonial America, accompanied by increasing standardization of consumer behavior and Anglicization of the consumer market.[1]

Some English observers, upon visiting the colonies, commented on how quickly fashions en vogue in London could be seen in British mainland North America. Residents of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and smaller towns like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, may have resided in some of the empire’s distant outposts, but that did not mean that they lacked taste. Perhaps because they were so far from the metropole they desired to demonstrate that they did not lack sophistication. Consumer culture gave them a means for doing so.

Trevor’s commentary challenges us to update, but not overturn, the narrative of Anglicization of American markets by reminding us that consumers (and advertisers!) often contended with very local concerns, including the changing of the seasons. Some of the goods included in Bass’s advertisement adhered to the current fashions in London, but that did not deprive colonists of the ability to make decisions independently of consumers on the other side of the Atlantic.

Jan 25 - 1:24:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 24, 1766).

Today’s advertisement may look familiar. A variant was previously featured five weeks ago, at which time I commented on the layout. I found the layout awkward as a result of the pilcrows forming a line to divide the columns. The graphic design has been improved for this advertisement, which features many of the same goods.

The entire first column of today’s advertisement was listed in the earlier one. This one inserts “black walnut and mahogony fram’d looking Glasses ; brass Nails ; choice cannon powder ; Shot ; black Pepper by the doz. or smaller quantity” before returning to the list included in the earlier version. The nota bene running across the bottom is new as well.

This and similar examples undercut claims that goods had been “Just Imported from LONDON.” Savvy consumers, especially those who paid attention to the shipping news elsewhere in newspapers, likely calibrated how much they weight they wished to give such appeals, just as modern consumers assess the advertising that assails them.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

February 28

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Feb 28 - 2:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

“Pork by the Barrell. – BUTTER by the Firkin. … English Sail CANVIS – One ANCHOR.”

This advertisement offers insight into the economy of New Hampshire during the late 1700s. Although many of the goods listed were common during this time period, the diversity and quantity of the goods is what I found interesting. Many of the goods were preserved foods being sold in large quantities, suggesting they were expected to last long durations of time. In the New Hampshire area during this time, the port of Portsmouth was thriving, leading me believe these goods were being marketed towards sailors.

Furthermore, after the advertisements for different foods there are two advertisements, one for English sail canvases and another for an anchor. These final two products further support the idea that this advertisement is being marketed towards sailors. When comparing the two different groups of goods being sold they seem out place, but when taking into account the variety of goods and the time period, it is suggestive that the advertisement was meant primarily for supplying ships and the sailors on them.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

The New-Hampshire Gazette was printed by Daniel Fowle, the newspaper’s founder (1756), and his nephew, Robert Fowle (admitted to a share in the management in 1764), in Portsmouth. As Trevor notes, this was a maritime community. Advertisers wished to attract a variety of customers, including sailors, captains of vessels, and merchants and quartermasters responsible for outfitting ships headed to sea. In this advertisement, John Wheitfield highlighted goods that would have been of particular interest to seafarers.

That being said, I suspect that he intended to address multiple audiences with this advertisement. While the goods he specifically enumerated would have been of interest to sailors, he first mentioned “A Variety of English Goods” that he did not describe in detail. Perhaps he could not afford or did not wish to purchase the space for a lengthier advertisement to list some of those wares. Perhaps he hoped to draw in customers curious about what that “Variety” might include and intentionally avoided listing specific goods. Whatever his reasoning, his advertisement suggests that his store did not cater to one clientele exclusively. He highlighted merchandise for crews of sailing vessels, but also indicated that he stocked assorted other wares for other members of the Portsmouth community.

Welcome, Guest Curator Trevor Delp

Trevor Delp is a sophomore and History major at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. His favorite historical topics include Latin American history and Revolutionary American history. Outside of studying history, Trevor is interested in literature and film and cooking. He will be guest curating from Sunday, February 28 through Saturday, March 5.

Welcome, Trevor Delp!

Reflections from Guest Curator Mary Aldrich

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Aldrich

Working for the Adverts 250 Project has made me more appreciative of advertisements. It is interesting to be working with material that today many of us just skim over or are slightly annoyed by. We generally see advertisements as things that get in the way of what we are actually interested in. It has made me wonder what the people reading newspapers in the colonial and Revolutionary periods thought about advertisements. Did they skip over them or were advertisements an integral part of a newspaper which contributed to the reading experience? No matter what they thought about advertisements in their newspaper, here we are 250 years later analyzing them. What will people do with our advertisements 250 years from now? Will they even care about them? Initially when I was introduced to this project, I thought it would be boring: how interesting could 250-year-old advertisements be? I was still operating in the mindset of a twenty-first-century individual dealing with advertisements. As I progressed throughout the project, I began to find many of the advertisements to be really interesting and informative.

People put advertisements for a wide verity of goods and services as well as other things in newspapers:  advertisements for runaway slaves, people looking for good servants, or even just looking for a person that they may have lost contact with (as was the case in an advertisement I commented on this week). In the process of my search for advertisements to include this week I stumbled across a few where people were airing the state of their relationships or asking for the return of their stolen or lost property. People used the newspaper as their primary source of communication with the general public in a similar way to the verity of platforms we use to communicate with people anywhere in the world in the twenty-first century. This project utilizes two such platforms to communicate with the public, Twitter and blogging. Doing this puts the concept of ‘doing history in public’ directly into practice. Anyone with a connection to the Internet can view it and that is what makes this project wonderful. It also makes doing research correctly and writing with the audience in mind especially important. Even when choosing advertisements, I thought about what other people might like to learn about and what sort of content they would be interested in.

This project enriched my understanding of the products and services that people in the colonial and Revolutionary periods relied upon. Through my research about the products that people used I was able to flesh out my understanding of the period and what their needs may have been on a daily basis. These advertisements packed a lot of information into just a few lines and choosing what to research and write about was, in some cases, the hardest part of this project. Each advertisement has the potential to be dissected in a much more lengthy setting and yet I did not have the space to do so. Overall, this project was interesting and I do hope that all the work that is being done here can be used by others to further or provide more insight in their own projects.

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ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:  Carl Robert Keyes

Thank you, Mary, for a great selection of advertisements during the past week.  I also appreciate your efforts to provide more context for understanding many of the advertisements.  Your research turned up some great sources and valuable links to include here so readers can find out much more about patent medicines, paint, and a variety of other eighteenth-century goods.  Mary will be returning for a second week as guest curator later in the semester.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 27 - 2:27:1766 Boston News-Letter
Boston News-Letter (February 27, 1766).

“WHITE Lead, red Lead, Spanish Brown, Verdigrease, Prussian Blue.”

Paint itself was not sold as we have it now; separate parts had to be purchased and were mixed right before they were needed. The entire job needed to be completed as soon as possible because the mixed ingredients would harden if left for the next day.

The white and red lead advertised here were not often used as paint by themselves but as an additive to other paints in order to change and fortify the mix. For someone who had paints and wanted to change slightly the color he or she would add this red or white lead.

According to Robert Foley, “Spanish Brown” on the other hand was one of the cheapest and therefore most common paint in the colonies. In England and the colonies, this paint was derived from grinding up dirt with the presence of iron oxide and adding linseed and turpentine. This inexact science produced a multitude of brownish colors that was determined by other elements present in the dirt and the amount used. This paint was used mainly as the “first coat” and primarily on houses, barns, and outbuildings.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

William Gooch used the Sign of Admiral Vernon to identify his shop on King Street in Boston. Given that he sold paints and painting supplies, I wonder how colorful the Sign of Admiral Vernon might have been. After all, a well-painted sign would have testified to the quality of Gooch’s wares.

Feb 27 - 10:17:1743 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (October 17, 1743).

The sign was certainly a landmark. As early as 1743 Joseph Sherburne stated that his new shop was located “opposite to the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” In 1750, James Gooch & Son (presumably William) listed their location as “at the Sign of Admiral Vernon, at the Lower End of King-Street, Boston” in an advertisement for imported groceries, spices, tea, coffee, and tableware. William Gooch operated his business out of the same shop as his father, but the merchandise changed significantly.

Feb 27 - 12:17:1750 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 17, 1750).

The Sign of Admiral Vernon was fitting in a port city like Boston. It was named for Edward Vernon (1684-1757), who served in the Royal Navy for forty-six years. Although famous during his own lifetime, most people today are probably much more familiar with two of his namesakes.

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, was named for Admiral Vernon. Washington’s elder half-brother, Lawrence, had served under Vernon. He named the plantation, which passed to his widow upon his death. It was not until her death that George Washington became proprietor of Mount Vernon, though he had previously lived at and managed the estate.

Grog, another name for rum diluted with water and lemon or lime juice, derives from Admiral Vernon’s nickname. In 1740, Vernon devised a means of keeping water fresher and staving off scurvy aboard Royal Navy vessels. Having earned a reputation for wearing coats made of grogram cloth, he became known as Old Grog and the rum ration, over time, simply became grog.

February 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 26 - 2:24:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (February 24, 1766).

“Mr. James Ramsey … Will hear of something much to his Advantage.”

Mr. James Ramsey originally from the North of Ireland, who were you and what did Mr. William Gilliland want with you? Could this William Gilliland be the prosperous merchant who bought land in the Champlain Valley where he planned to build an estate and after whom the town of Willsborough is named?

I wonder what he could have wanted with James Ramsey, whom he obviously knew a deal about: where he was born, when he came to the colonies, and where he was living for a while. Yet he does not know where he went and for some reason  Ramsey did not leave a forwarding address with the man whom he previously had his letters directed to, Samuel Scott, Esq. Maybe he did not want to be found by Gilliland. This advertisement is not addressed only to Ramsey but instead to the population at large, as if Gilliland is hoping that someone will see this advertisement and bring it to the attention of Ramsey.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

This advertisement testifies to the mobility that was part of everyone’s experience in eighteenth-century America. Some colonists moved around quite regularly as they pursued opportunities to improve their lives or fled from debtors, to name just a couple of the many reasons for migration in the colonies and throughout the Atlantic world. Anyone who remained in one village, town, or city throughout his or her lifetime would have certainly witnessed others moving in, moving out, or passing through.

For instance, William Moraley migrated from England to Philadelphia and, eventually, Burlington, New Jersey, when he became an indentured servant after a series of misfortunes (some of his own making) befell him. After “earning” his freedom, he wandered around the Middle Colonies, half-heartedly seeking work, before returning to England and publishing a memoir and travelogue about his experiences.

James Ramsey also appears to have been a mobile fellow, moving from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to an unknown location in New Jersey. Today we have many tools for locating long lost friends and relatives, but the situation was much more difficult in the eighteenth century. A newspaper advertisement like this one, an open announcement for all readers to see and pass along, would have been William Gilliland’s best option for contacting Ramsey. No newspapers were published in New Jersey in 1766, but issues printed in New York would have circulated in the colony. Again, Gilliland deployed one of the best technologies and most sophisticated methods of disseminating information available at the time, but his efforts still relied on chance.

Binder’s Labels and Trade Cards: Or, Paratexts that Transformed Books into Advertisements

Readers who visit regularly know that I usually post extended commentary about methodological issues on Fridays, but I would like to depart from that today. It has been a while since I featured any marketing materials other than the day’s featured advertisement. When I expanded this project from Twitter to a blog I intended to use the “extra” space available to incorporate posts exploring other aspects of advertising in eighteenth-century America more regularly. After all, my handle on Twitter is @TradeCardCarl, so let’s see some trade cards!

In addition, in the course of my research I have identified more than a dozen forms of printed ephemera that circulated as advertising in eighteenth-century America, including trade cards, magazine wrappers, billheads, furniture labels, catalogues, and broadsides. I would like the Adverts 250 Project to explore all of those, even as it remains faithful to its primary mission, a “new” newspaper advertisement featured every day.

As I include diverse advertising media in the coming weeks and months, much of it will come from decades other than the 1760s. For today, however, I have chosen two items that would have been in circulation at the same time as the newspaper advertisements featured throughout the week: trade cards issued by bookbinder Andrew Barclay in the mid 1760s.

The first, according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1764 through 1767. It measures 11 cm x 12 cm (or 4¼ in x 4¾ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 1
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1764-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

(Let’s take a little digital humanities detour here. As I have stated repeatedly, digital sources are wonderful and have revolutionized the work done by scholars and opened up new levels of access to historic sources for scholars and general audiences alike. But digital sources are not without their shortcomings. Viewing original sources on screens tends to standardize them. They appear to “be” whatever size the screen happens to be. As a result, all sources take on the same size. Others with much more digital humanities experience have commented on this at great length, but it bears repeating here, especially since I will be returning to the actual size, rather than the virtual size, of today’s featured trade cards later.)

The second, again according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1765 through 1767. It measures 6 cm x 9 cm (or 2½ in x 3½ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 2
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1765-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

Both trade cards list the same address, but use slightly different language: “Next Door but one to the sign of the Three KINGS … in Cornhill Boston” and “next Door but one North of the three KINGS, in Cornhill Boston.” Thomas Johnston (1708-1767) engraved both. (Johnston’s death explains why both cards have been dated to 1767 at the latest.)

Unlike most of the newspaper advertisements for goods and services printed in the 1760s, these trade cards used both text and images to make appeals to potential customers. In addition to giving Barclay’s location, both announced that he bound and sold books, “Gilt or plain.” Consumers were accustomed to making choices and selecting goods that corresponded to their rank and stature. Offering “Gilt or plain” bindings allowed customers to choose features that corresponded to other decisions they made about how to present themselves to others.

Each trade card included an image of man leaning over a bookbinding press, hard at work. Shelves stocked with books are on display in the background. The books, bookbinding press, and assorted tools were testaments to Barclay’s trade. Both images also suggested an important quality that Barclay wanted past and potential customers to associate with him: industriousness. In both images, a bookbinder wearing an apron could be seen busily at work. Benjamin Franklin did not begin writing his famous Autobiography until 1771 (and it was not published until 1791, after his death), but other eighteenth-century artisans certainly knew the value of industry and the appearance of industriousness that Franklin extolled in his memoir.

Classifying and cataloging early American advertising media is as much art as science. Such items often defy strictly defined categories. I have described both of these items as “trade cards.” In the AAS catalog, however, both are described as “advertising cards” in the genre/form field. That seems like an appropriate description. Although I have heard curators and other staff at the AAS refer to such items as “trade cards,” there are a variety of reasons why catalogers would choose the alternate (and perhaps broader) “advertising cards” to classify these items.

One of these trade cards was featured in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, the first volume of the impressive History of the Book in America. There it is described as a “binder’s label.” That is a much narrower category than either “trade card” or “advertising card.” It is likely more accurate for its specificity (but I believe that fewer researchers would find it in the AAS catalog if it were classified only as “binder’s label” rather than “advertising card”).

This is where the size of these items becomes important. Most trade cards were larger, making them easier to pass from hand to hand, but also significant enough that they would not be misplaced easily. Many also tended to be large enough that vendors could record purchases and write receipts on the reverse (transforming them into billheads, of sorts).

These relatively small items, on the other hand, would have much more easily gotten lost in the shuffle or discarded … unless they were secured inside a book. Andrew Barclay likely pasted one of these labels inside some of the books he bound for his patrons. In the process, he transformed both the service he provided and the goods he sold into advertising media. When that happened, colonial consumers did not possess their books exclusively; instead, they shared ownership with an artisan who left his mark on a material object that happened to be in their possession. Some readers pasted their own bookplates in the volumes they owned, but Andrew Barclay’s binder’s label pre-empted that practice. Consumers could still place a bookplate in books bound by Barclay, but unless they pasted their own bookplate over his label, their act of taking possession competed with, rather than negated, Barclay’s label.

In the end, readers who took their books to Barclay to be bound ended up purchasing an advertisement that they would later encounter every time they used the item they had purchased from him.  Every time they opened a book bound by Barclay consumers were once again exposed to his binder’s label advertisement.