GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A Fellow had the Impudence to Steal five Pair of worsted Stockings.”
I could not imagine having my stockings and handkerchiefs stolen from within my own home or shop. Clearly this person from New Hampshire could not either until it happened to him, and he was upset enough to place a whole two dollar reward for information on thief. That would have been a lot of money for five pairs of stockings and two red and white handkerchiefs. This makes me wonder if it was more about revenge on the thief.
This advertisement was placed in Portsmouth, which was one of the biggest cities in New Hampshire, and had different types of people living in the area: robbers and other questionable characters, shopkeepers, merchants, and the genteel class. Edmund Coffin went on to say that “every inhabitant” should watch out and report such behavior or it could happen to them.
This advertisement really grabbed my attention. It was a little different from some of the other advertisements that I had seen, because it was not a service or goods begin sold or bought. Especially in today’s society socks and handkerchiefs are so easily attainable that I would never even think twice if two of my socks disappeared.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
The Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on marketing consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America, but then (as now) not all advertisements were placed for that purpose. The guest curators from my Public History class and I have reached an agreement: each may select one advertisement not intended to sell goods or services during his or her week.
Elizabeth is beginning her week as guest curator with her “exception(al)” advertisement, but it is an extremely good choice because it tells us a lot about consumption in eighteenth-century America. Purchasing goods was not the only way to participate in the consumer revolution taking place in the colonies and Britain. Sometimes people came into possession of goods in more nefarious ways via an underground economy that included stolen items. Serena Zabin devotes an entire chapter to this “Informal Economy” in Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York. In addition to stolen items, secondhand goods were often exchanged via the informal economy. As Elizabeth notes, people of various backgrounds – from the lower sorts to the elite – resided in colonial cities and towns. Not all of them purchased new goods, but a great many found alternate ways to participate in the marketplace. This advertisement demonstrates one way they did so, much to the chagrin of poor Edmund Coffin who was the victim of an eighteenth-century shoplifter.