What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“William Godfrey, PERUKE MAKER, ACQUAINTS the publick that he has opened shop/”
What was a peruke maker? Once again we discover that eighteenth-century consumers often spoke a language that would become unfamiliar to modern readers. “Peruke” is another name for “periwig” or “wig.” William Godfrey made wigs! When he stated that “he proposes carrying on his business in all its branches,” he most likely meant “making wigs, shaving, cutting and dressing men’s hair and, presumably, dressing wigs,” according to historians from Colonial Williamsburg.
Although his advertisement was relatively short, Godfrey’s occupation opens up an entire world of colonial fashion, a culture of consumption, and the commerce and labor that fueled both. For instance, although Godfrey made his wigs in Virginia, he most likely imported hair and other materials from England. In 1751, William Peale advertised that he had “Just IMPORTED from BRITAIN, A CHOICE Assortment of the best Hairs, and all other Materials proper for Wigmaking.”
Other scholars have created a variety of resources about peruke makers for various audiences, including:
- “Perukes, Pomade, and Powder: Hair Care in the 1700s,” a relatively short blog entry for general audiences;
- “Wigmaker,” in “An 18th-Century Trades Sampler,” a photographic essay designed for teachers; and
- “Wigmaking in Colonial America,” an extensive report prepared by Colonial Williamsburg.
I find the use of advertisements from eighteenth-century Virginia in “Wigmaking in Colonial America” especially interesting. With only one extant account book from a wigmaker in colonial Virginia, much of what we know about their wares and services in that colony derives from newspaper advertisements. The original intention of those advertisements may have been to incite demand and attract customers, but, just as language has shifted over time, our purpose in examining those advertisements and what we expect to learn from them has changed as well.