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.”

July 20

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

Jul 20 - 7:18:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (July 18, 1766).

“ALL the PERSONAL ESTATE of the said Dr. Alexander Jameson.”

Today’s advertisement, a notice for an estate sale, features two focal points, the “A” in “ALL” set inside a decorative border near the beginning of the notice and the word “NEGROES” in capital letters and larger type dividing the notice in half. Arguably, “NEGROES” is the primary focal point.

I’ve previously argued that, generally, advertisers wrote their own copy but printers assumed responsibility for design and format. In examining some advertisements, especially when comparing them to the “standard” format established in others printed throughout an issue or multiple issues of the same newspaper, it’s possible to discern examples in which advertisers likely made special requests or gave specific instructions concerning design and visual aspects. It seems likely that this was such an advertisement. While it may have been standard for the printer to capitalize general categories of commodities to be sold at estate sales (“HOUSEHOLD and KITCHEN FURNITURE, HORSES, CATTLE, MEDICINES, … INSTRUMENTS, … BOOKS”), it appears to have been a calculated decision to make the word “NEGROES” into a single line of text with type significantly larger than any found elsewhere in the advertisement. Thomas Yuille, the executor of the Dr. Alexander Jameson’s estate, likely provided some direction on this count.

Why? Why emphasize “NEGROES” over any of the other commodities that comprised the estate? Possibly their collective value amounted to the most significant assets within the estate. Given the real estate, property, and personal items listed in the notice, Jameson appears to have been fairly affluent, with perhaps the bulk of his personal finances tied up in the bodies of the slaves he owned.

On several occasions I have commented on the stories only partially revealed in eighteenth-century advertisements. Here, again, we see only part of a story, but we can imagine others. This was certainly a time of mourning for the family and friends of Dr.. Alexander Jameson, but it was also a time of mourning for the slaves he possessed. Their futures were uncertain. They stood to be separated and sold away from spouses, children, and parents. The death of Jameson marked a time of transition for his family, neighbors, and others in the community, but his slaves were likely to be among the most significantly affected.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:18:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 18, 1766).

“If not sold, which the publick will have notice of in the Gazette of that date, it will be sold at publick sale.”

Many of the newspapers that modern researchers consult have been preserved not as individual issues but instead in bound volumes that have drawn together weeks, months, or years of a single publication, arranged chronologically. The original subscribers might have bound those or archivists may have bound them for preservation at a later time. Either way, each bound volume often represents a collection of newspapers that belonged to an individual or a family.

That certainly seems to be the case with the copies of the Virginia Gazette from 1766 made available for public consultation by the Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library. Each issue has a fair amount of marginalia among the advertisements, a variety of marks and manuscript notes added after the newspaper was printed. Who made these notes? As I continue to work with (the digital surrogates of) these newspapers, it seems increasingly clear that the printers made these notes for their own purposes of bookkeeping and, as today’s advertisement suggests, editing.

First, consider the “3” next to the advertisement. This most likely suggests that it was the third time the advertisement appeared. Indeed, two weeks earlier it ran for the first time (with an “x” in manuscript added next to it) and for a second time in the previous week’s issue (with a “2” in manuscript added later). The same advertisement, with modifications to be discussed in a moment, ran the following three weeks (with a “4,” “5,” and “x” in manuscript added later in the corresponding weeks). Its appearance in a sixth consecutively published issue on August 8, 1766, was the last time it was inserted in the Virginia Gazette. These markings likely aided the printer in determining when it was time to discontinue the notice based on the advertiser’s orders.

The first version of the advertisement included a nota bene stating that if the plantation offered for sale was not purchased before July 18 that it would go up for “publick sale” (auction) at a later date, which would be announced “in the Gazette.” Today’s iteration of the advertisement appeared on that deadline, July 18. Apparently John Hollowell did not manage to sell the plantation “at private sale” because the advertisement appeared three more times.

The marks on today’s iteration of Hollowell’s advertisement indicate the revisions made for its subsequent appearances. The nota bene was dropped completely. A new headline appeared (announcing that the auction would take place on August 5, three days before the advertisement made its final appearance). The last two lines were slightly revised to incorporate a portion of the original nota bene. Otherwise none of the other type was reset. The remainder of the advertisement appeared just as it had originally.

Jul 19 - 7:25:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 25, 1766).

The advertisement certainly tells us about real estate transactions in early America, but today I focused on the marginalia in a particular collection of the Virginia Gazette as a means of exploring how certain colonists (in this case, printers) used newspapers and advertisements beyond announcing sales and inciting demand. This offered a glimpse of some of the business practices of the printers of the Virginia Gazette.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 18, 1766).

“He leaves Shopkeeping soon.”

Richard Wescott was having a “going out of business” sale, though he did not announce it with the same fanfare as modern advertisers. Indeed, he only mentioned this information at the very end of his notice, followed only by a nota bene about a particular kind of handkerchiefs he stocked. Even though much of the advertisement was understated in the appeals it made, Wescott did mobilize several methods of attracting potential customers.

In contrast to many shopkeepers who promoted extensive consumer choices inherent in their lengthy lists of merchandise, Wescott instead stated that he carried “a small Assortment of Summer Goods” at the beginning of the advertisement. This worked well with his note that all of his merchandise would be “Sold very Cheap for Cash, as he leaves Shopkeeping soon” at the conclusion. In combination, this gave the impression of scarcity (get them while they last!) and a willingness to charge lower prices in order to reduce his investment tied up in inventory (rock bottom prices!). He quietly made the appeals that advertisers two centuries later would pronounce as loudly as possible.

In addition, Wescott made limited appeals to the quality of his goods, particular when he described his “blew and green Shalloons” as “Best.” He also specified a particular price for his “Womens English Shoes.” Shopkeepers rarely indicated prices in their advertisements. Wescott may have been willing to part with these shoes at such a discount that he expected that listing this price would incite demand.

From a modern perspective, Wescott’s advertisement appears dense and drab. Upon closer examination, however, we see that it featured nascent innovations in advertising methods that subsequent advertisers further developed and made ubiquitous.

July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 17, 1766).

Mary Biddle sold “MAPS of the Province of Pennsylvania and PLANS and PROSPECTS of the CITY of PHILADELPHIA” at “the House of Capt. M’Funn, in Third street, above Arch street.” Her advertisement did not provide much additional information, leaving the impression that she might have been a mere retailer of these items. She offered very little detail about the maps, a bit of a surprise considering the labor and expertise that went into creating and producing maps in the eighteenth century. What was Mary Biddle’s connection to the maps she advertised?

Jul 17 - 10:7:1762 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 7, 1762).

Many readers may have already been aware of some of the particulars of the map Biddle sold. Nearly four years earlier she (and others) had published a subscription notice in advance of producing the map. By seeking subscribers, Biddle and her partners were able to gauge interest in their project in order to determine if it would be profitable. The subscription notice also served to incite interest in the project, increasing the chances that it would be successful and turn a profit.

That subscription notice included more information about Biddle’s role in making the map available to the public. She was listed as an editor, along with Matthew Clarkson. Despite the impression created by her later advertisement, Biddle was not merely a retailer. She was a cartographer in her own right!

The Library of Congress provides some biographical information that tells more of Biddle’s story. She was the daughter of Nicholas Scull and Abigail Heap. Scull was a prominent surveyor and cartographer who served as Surveyor General of Pennsylvania from 1748 until his death in 1761. All three of Scull’s sons went on to become surveyors, but it appears that the elder Scull passed along his knowledge to his daughter as well.

Jul 17 - Map of Philadelphia
Nicholas Scull, Matthew Clarkson, and Mary Biddle, To the Mayor, Recorder, Aldermen, Common Council of Freemen of Philadelphia this Plan of the Improved Part of the City (Philadelphia:  Sold by the Editors, Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle, 1762).  Library of Congress.  For more detail, zoom in on the map via the Library of Congress.

When Mary Biddle and her husband fell on hard times, she contributed to the family by editing this map, which had been “surveyed and laid down by the late Nicholas Scull.” The map itself included an advertisement in the lower right corner: “Sold by the Editors Matthew Clarkson and Mary Biddle in PHILADELPHIA.” This map was eventually republished many times, but the 1762 edition was the only one that acknowledged Biddle’s contribution.

Today’s short advertisement belies the significant role that Mary Biddle played in the creation, production, and distribution of this important map. In that regard it was similar to many other advertisements placed by men for the businesses they operated that did not acknowledge the labor, skill, expertise, or other contributions their wives and other female relatives contributed to their enterprises.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 16, 1766).

“He will be ready to execute any commands in the branch of factorage business.”

William Moore facilitated the buying and selling of goods in colonial America. As a participant in the “factorage business” he played an integral part in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century by coordinating transportation, delivery, and dissemination of goods via the wharf and storehouses he operated in Savannah. That terminology – consumer revolution – often places primary emphasis on the people who bought and used goods, incorporating them into their everyday lives, but it sometimes overlooks or does not place sufficient emphasis on others who participated in a transatlantic (and even global) historical process. The study of consumer culture does not always sufficiently recognize that the exchanges that put a variety of goods (textiles, hardware, housewares, books, foodstuffs, to name a few major categories frequently advertised) into the possession of colonists was balanced on the other side by retailers, producers, and suppliers. Even the recognition that consumers interacted with merchants or shopkeepers does not necessarily acknowledge other intermediaries who played a part in moving goods from their place of initial production to their place of ultimate consumption.

William Moore may not have sold directly to end-user consumers. Based on this advertisement, it appears that he operated as a wholesaler, dealing in bulk when he sold imported goods like rum, sugar, coffee, and fish. In addition, an important part of his enterprise consisted of providing a place for merchants to land their goods and store them until they could be distributed to shopkeepers and others who would sell them to consumers. Moore assisted in connecting merchants (or their representatives) and retailers, “charging low commissions for any thing committed to his charge.” In the process, he also facilitated the movement of locally produced goods out of the colony, storing “country produce” until it could be loaded on a ship for export. Understanding that time was money, he also promised that any merchants or captains of vessels who chose his wharf would “have good attendance and quick dispatch.” In other words, goods would unloaded and loaded quickly so ships could move on to their next port and continue trading.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:14:1766 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 14, 1766).

“A large Assortment of English and India GOODS, consisting of the the following Articles.”

The July 14, 1766, issues of the Boston-Gazette overflowed with advertising, in part because several merchants and shopkeepers inserted extensive list advertisements. Several of them were of a moderate length, extending two or three times the number of column inches occupied by those that were the standard “squares” that served as the basic unit for selling advertising in many colonial newspapers. William Palfrey’s advertisement on the first page took up most the third and final column, running from just below the masthead almost to the bottom of the page. It left just enough room to squeeze in a four-line advertisement for loaf sugar available at “John and William Powell’s Warehouse.”

Samuel Eliot’s advertisement was by far the longest. It took up the entire first column on the third page. What could have been a dense and impenetrable block of text, however, had some visual variation thanks to the decision to divide the list of merchandise into two columns and list only one or two items per line. This created sufficient white space to make the advertisement a bit more navigable.

Only three of the list advertisements in this issue of the Boston-Gazette were divided into columns. They happened to be the three longest advertisements, which may not have been a coincidence. The printer may have decided that some means of dividing the page was necessary. In addition to the advertisements placed by Eliot and Palfrey, Jolley Allen’s advertisement (with its distinctive decorative border) was divided into columns. Recall that Allen placed the same advertisement, complete with a distinctive border, in all four of Boston’s newspapers, but the Boston-Gazette was the only one in which it was divided into two columns.

It seems quite possible that the printer experimented with the design of the longer advertisements in order to create a more visually appealing publication and to make the advertisements easier to navigate. This strategy replicated the “LIST of LETTERS remaining in the Post-Office” that covered the entire first column and half of the second on the first page of this issue of the Boston-Gazette. In general, this provides further evidence, though certainly not definitive, that printers took the lead in determining the format of newspaper advertisements while their clients supplied the copy.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (July 14, 1766).

“Cheap for Cash, Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

Many eighteenth-century consumers bought a variety of goods – including sugar, shoes, tobacco, and handkerchiefs – on credit. Ebenezer Hazard, however, did not seem inclined to extend credit to potential customers. At least, he did not raise that as a possibility in his advertisement in the Connecticut Courant. Instead, he offered to sell this diverse assortment of goods either “for Cash” or in exchange for “Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

All sorts of colonists participated in the transatlantic consumption of goods in the eighteenth century, so many that English visitors to the colonies frequently expressed dismay over how many things, the so-called “baubles of Britain,” that were present in even the most humble households in rural villages and on the frontier. Colonists of modest means found a variety of ways to get their hands on some of the same items as the elites, though perhaps not always in the same quantity or of the same quality.

Barter was one of those means. When merchants and shopkeepers like Ebenezer Barnard offered to trade the “BEST Sort of double refin’d Loaf Sugar, Calimanco Shoes, best Kippen’s Snuff, [or] Barcelona Hankerchiefs, of different Colours,” they opened the marketplace to colonists who might not otherwise have had the means to participate. Such consumers came into possession of products produced in far away places (like sugar from colonies in the Caribbean or textiles from Europe) by trading the raw materials and supplies that they produced on their own farms and in their own communities. Barnard sought to incite even greater demand by making it possible for potential customers to imagine the possibilities they might experience as a result of alternate forms of payment beyond cash and credit.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:11:1766 Advert 2 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 11, 1766).

“The Portsmouth PACKET sails for Boston next Monday.”

This advertisement caught my eye thanks to its fairly unique format. It ran across the bottom of the three columns on the second page of the July 11, 1766, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. It briefly announced that “The Portsmouth PACKET sails for Boston next Monday. Those who incline to go to Commencement may have a Passage, &c.” While it was short on details, the advertisers assumed that readers had sufficient background knowledge to fill in the gaps on their own.

For readers who read or examined this newspaper long after it was published, another advertisement at the bottom of the third column on the facing page told more of the story.

Jul 13 - 7:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 11, 1766).

(As an aside, I note that the third page is not the facing page when accessing this issue digitally since only one page at a time can be accessed and viewed. This creates yet another distinction between the manner in which eighteenth-century readers consumed newspapers and modern readers experience their digital surrogates. Researchers working with original newspapers, however, benefit from a better impression of the visual composition of multiple pages in relation to each other.)

This second advertisement revised the schedule for the stagecoach that regularly traveled between Portsmouth and Boston. Instead of leaving on the following Tuesday, it was instead scheduled to depart on Monday “for the better Convenience of those who may incline to go to the ensuing Commencement at Cambridge, on Wednesday next.”

The Commencement ceremony at Harvard College was a significant enough event that the providers of multiple forms of transportation in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, placed advertisements intended to facilitate travel to it and attract passengers. Their advertisements on facing pages created competition between two modes of transportation, a stagecoach by land or a ship by sea.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:11:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 12, 1766).

“WANTED, A YOUNG man qualified to act as BAR-KEEPER.”

Today we rely on a variety of media to connect employers and prospective employees. Many jobseekers identify potential positions via announcements or listings in online forums. Increasingly, they submit all or most of their application materials electronically. Qualified candidates may be invited for in-person interviews or those conversations might take place over the telephone or internet. The job search apparatus has changed significantly within living memory.

Today’s advertisement provides a glimpse of how some positions were filled in eighteenth-century America. When Joseph Pullett needed to hire a barkeeper, he placed a notice in the Virginia Gazette. His announcement included a series of qualifications, not unlike today’s employment listings.

Pullett expected candidates to have at least minimal education, but probably assumed that they would learn experience as well. For instance, he suggested that applicants should understand “something of accounts.” In other words, it was not necessary to know all the ins and outs of advanced bookkeeping, but Pullett wanted a barkeeper familiar enough with ledgers that (with a little eighteenth-century on-the-job training) he could assist with those responsibilities. To that end, he also needed to be able to write “a tolerable good hand” in order to effectively keep the accounts.

Reputation and recommendations also played a role in successful job searches in the eighteenth century. It was not enough to demonstrate that he possessed these skills and knowledge; any young many that applied needed recommendations testifying to his skill and his character. Many employment advertisements sought “sober” applicants, though this most likely referred to an appropriate temperament and comportment rather than abstaining from alcohol.

Although some of the methods for filling jobs have changed in the past two centuries other aspects continue to look very familiar.