July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 31, 1766).

“He is to be spoke with at the London, Coffee-House, at the usual Hours.”

William Smith was a busy businessman. He sold an assortment of goods at his star on the “North Side of Market-street Wharff” and also “acts in the Capacity of a Broker, and will assist any Person in the Purchase or Sale of all Sorts of Merchandise” as well as a variety of other services.

Smith concluded his advertisement by informing potential customers and clients that “He is to be spoke with at the London Coffee-House, at the usual Hours, or at his Store aforesaid.” Rather than conduct business exclusively at his store, Smith spent time at the London Coffee House, an establishment where merchants and others gathered to make deals and settle accounts. Auctions of all kinds of merchandise (including slaves) took place just outside the coffeehouse. The proprietors provided newspapers printed in Philadelphia and other cities for patrons to keep up on political events and follow the shipping news. Men gathered at the London Coffee House to do business, talk politics, and gossip. It was Philadelphia’s exchange.

Philadelphia’s entrepreneurs so regularly gathered at the London Coffee House that Smith did not need to specify when he would be present beyond stating “at the usual Hours.” A dozen years after William Bradford first opened it in 1754, the London Coffee House was an integral part of the commercial landscape in colonial Philadelphia. More than two hundred merchants had contributed funds toward its construction, but an even greater number of people gathered there regularly over the next several decades. Smith did not need to specify that the London Coffee House was the corner of Front and High (present-day Market) Streets. Everybody in Philadelphia knew where it was, and visitors to the city could easily locate it by asking any local they encountered.

Jul 31 - London Coffee House
London Coffee House (lithograph by W.L. Breton:  Philadelphia, 1830).  Library Company of Philadelphia.

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