May 18

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

May 18 - 5:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 17, 1766).

“Ladies in the Country may be supplied by sending measures.”

It was not necessary to visit William Harvey’s shop for a fitting. He made “WOMEN’s and children’s stays, … women’s riding dresses, cloaks and cardinals, vests and tunicks” for “Ladies in the Country” who sent their measurements to him. Mail order and catalog shopping became especially popular at the end of the nineteenth century, but this service offered by a “STAY-MAKER and TAYLOR” in eighteenth-century Philadelphia” could rightly be considered a precursor of those methods of marketing and selling goods.

In addition to capturing a greater portion of the market, there were other advantages to conducting portions of the staymaking business solely through letters. Taking measurements required close personal contact between the staymaker and the customer. Harvey could avoid potential accusations of impropriety, at least as far as his patrons “in the Country” were concerned, by eliminating face-to-face encounters.

That Harvey acknowledged “Ladies in the Country” also demonstrates the reach of colonial newspapers and the advertisements in them. Newspapers did not serve only the city in which they were printed. Instead, they were distributed throughout a vast hinterland, in part because there were so few newspapers. In 1766, only four newspapers were printed in the entire colony of Pennsylvania, three in Philadelphia (two English and one German) and one in nearby Germantown (in German). That meant that the Pennsylvania Journal was a “local” newspaper for colonists who lived outside Philadelphia and William Harvey was a “local” staymaker and tailor. He advertised accordingly.

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