July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (July 21, 1766).

“James Daniel, Wig-Maker and Hair-Dresser … Also Operator for the Teeth.”

This advertisement first caught my attention because of the odd combination of occupations that James Daniel pursued. Not only was he a “Wig-Maker and Hair-Dresser,” he also marketed himself as an “Operator for the Teeth.” Today we would be very suspicious of anybody who included both in a single advertisement.

Though these occupations involved very different skills and responsibilities, they both emphasized the importance of personal appearance. As regular readers are aware, eighteenth-century newspapers overflowed with advertisements for imported textiles and accouterments for making clothing. These goods were often described as stylish or corresponding to the latest fashions in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Tailors and seamstresses also marketed their services by promising that they were cognizant of the latest fashions. As colonists consciously constructed outward appearances intended to testify to their character, demonstrate their affluence, and mark them as refined, they needed to take their hair, as well as their clothes, into account. Note that Daniel stated that he did wigs and hair “in the genteelest Manner,” indicating that his work communicated fashion, status, and good graces. Colonists also needed to care for their teeth, including “Scurvy in the Gums” that made them an unattractive white and sometimes loosened them or caused them to fall out, as they focused on images they presented to others.

Another of Daniel’s appeals suggests that the distance between colonial New York and London may not have been all that wide, not even in the eighteenth century. In offering his credentials as an “Operator for the Teeth,” he noted that he had “practised these Operations in London, under Marsh, the Surgeon Dantist, a Man so eminent in this Profession.” Daniel expected colonists in New York to be familiar with the “eminent” Marsh from London, whose reputation was supposed to augment Daniel’s own training, expertise, and experience. Marsh may have achieved transatlantic fame as a surgeon dentist as letters, newspapers, and people crossed the ocean in the 1760s. Alternately, even if Marsh was not a celebrity of sorts, Daniel may have assumed that prospective clients would not admit they were not familiar with his career. After all, such ignorance would reflect on them. Whether Marsh was famous or not, Daniel relied on colonists claiming to know of “the Surgeon Dantist, a Man so eminent in this Profession.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s