September 25

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

Massachusetts Gazette (September 25, 1766).

“Woolens and other Articles suitable for the approaching Season.”

By beginning with the location of his shop, William Palfrey’s advertisement for his “Assortment of Goods” was able to attract fresh clientele that were unfamiliar with his establishment. He made a point to put the location directly following his name, and, interestingly enough, what his shop was next to: “next Door North of the Heart & Crown a well known emblem for the print shop where the Boston Evening-Post was printed.

Also, consider the significance of including where the goods had originated — in this case, London — alluding to the fact that many of these goods were not manufactured in the colonies at this time. According to T.H. Breen, “British goods flooded English colonies,” starting in the 1740s.[1] Palfrey adds that the varieties of “Broad-Cloths,” “Duffils,” and “other Woolens” would be very suitable for the upcoming changing of the seasons. Nearly every New England advertisement I examined mentioned the changing seasons, suggesting that the colonists adjusted their purchases to the varying conditions of the local climate. The changing weather conditions may not have been as extreme in the southern colonies, where the seasonal adjustments were not as significant. The advertisement prompted consumers to prepare for the upcoming change to a chillier fall and a cold winter.



Nick identifies an important aspect of William Palfrey’s advertisement in his examination of the section that promoted “many other Woolens and other Articles suitable for the approaching Season.” The autumnal equinox occurred just a few days before this advertisement was published. Fall had arrived. Colonists in Boston certainly would have been aware that seasons were changing, but Palfrey used his advertisement to draw potential customers into his shop by reminding them that they would soon need different sorts of clothing and other goods. Some readers would have stored fall and winter apparel during the spring and summer seasons, but Palfrey realized there was a good chance that even those who were most prepared likely needed replacements and supplements.

Nick raises a question about regional differences in advertising, noting that many advertisements that appeared in New England newspapers deployed appeals that stressed the goods for sale were appropriate for the season. This was also true of advertisements published in Philadelphia, a city that also experienced significant changes in weather throughout the year. Advertisements published there often used the phrase “suitable for the season” to describe the merchandise. Was that an appeal commonly used in other regions, especially the Chesapeake and the Lower South? I’m not certain. This project originated as a case study of advertising in Philadelphia, the largest city in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution and one of the centers of printing. I have not yet examined newspaper advertisements from southern colonies in the same depth. In his analysis of today’s advertisement, Nick has presented a question that merits further research as this project continues.


[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 486.

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