October 9

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-9-1091766-boston-news-letter
Massachusetts Gazette (October 9, 1766).

“A large and general Assortment of silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.”

This advertisement caught my eye because Jolley Allen ran a store in Boston. I live nearby in Medway, Massachusetts. Allen probably thought the items he sold would be bought mostly by women. His advertisement lists many items that women would want to look more fashionable, including “silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.” As Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, explains, “Like us, eighteenth-century people needed clothing for warmth and comfort, but they quickly abandoned those needs if fashion or the occasion dictated.”

Another reason Allen directed his advertisement towards women was because “the exercise of choice in the marketplace may have been a liberating experience” for women.[1] The choice of where to shop and what to purchase allowed women to bring business where they wanted. Jolley Allen probably knew this was the case and listed so many items to attract women to his store.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

This advertisement may look familiar to readers who visit the Adverts 250 Project regularly. Guest curator Nicholas Commesso selected an advertisement by Jolley Allen to feature and analyze on September 29, less than two weeks ago. Doesn’t this advertisement deviate from the methodology established for the project, a commitment to feature a new advertisement every day? Why did I allow Jordan to choose this advertisement instead of sending her back to the Massachusetts Gazette or either of the other two newspapers printed in colonial America on October 9, 1766?

I could justify that decision by noting that Allen’s extensive advertisement merits attention more than once. It possessed features commonly found across advertisements during the colonial period, such as the implicit emphasis on female consumers that Jordan examined today. Allen also incorporated a variety of distinctive features into his advertisement, such as the money-back guarantee that Nick examined or the unique decorative border that was the focus of my analysis. This single advertisement included a multitude of significant aspects that tell us about colonial culture and commerce and the development of marketing techniques in eighteenth-century America. Considering how much was “going on” in Allen’s advertisement, no short analysis by a guest curator (nor my own slightly extended additional commentary) could do this advertisement justice.

Still, that was not the deciding factor when Jordan submitted this advertisement for my consideration and I approved it and told her to move forward with research and writing. After all, I did not know at that time that she would take a different approach than Nick did in his analysis. Although this advertisement looks familiar, it is actually a different advertisement than the one Nick examined on September 29. The copy was almost identical, though today’s version added an additional sentence after the nota bene. In addition, careful analysis reveals that the type was set differently, both for the body of the advertisement and the decorative border, which should come as no surprise considering that today’s advertisement was printed in the Boston News-Letter, but Allen’s advertisement featured on September 29 came from the Boston Evening-Post. While this might seem like a technicality (after all, Allen composed only one advertisement but submitted it to multiple newspapers), that the “same” advertisement appeared in more than one publication tells us something interesting about colonial entrepreneurs attempting to maximize exposure for their advertisements, as guest curator Elizabeth Curley demonstrated with John Taylor’s advertisements last week.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 489.

 

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