February 9

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

feb-9-291767-pennsylvania-chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

“A neat Assortment of DRY GOODS, which he will sell cheap.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features its first advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and Universal Advertiser. Likewise, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project includes its first advertisement from that newspaper. William Goddard had been publishing proposals for the Pennsylvania Chronicle in Philadelphia’s newspapers (and even the Providence Gazette) for weeks before it commenced publication on January 26, 1767. The third issue, published February 9, 1767, is the first included in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database, though copies of the first two issues are extant in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.(*)

Goddard’s proposal included a call for advertisers to submit notices they wished to appear in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. In addition, the colophon advised readers that Goddard “gratefully received” all sorts of submissions for his newspaper, including advertisements, articles, and letters of intelligence. He achieved early successes attracting advertisers, devoting nearly half (seven of sixteen columns) of the third issue to thirty-five paid notices of varying lengths. Most promoted consumer goods and services, but some offered real estate for sale or called on debtors to settle accounts. One even offered a reward upon the return of “a young DOG of the Spaniel Breed” that had strayed from its master.

Compared to newspapers published in some smaller towns, the new Pennsylvania Chronicle overflowed with advertising, especially advertisements for consumer goods and services. The third issue even included advertisements from two entrepreneurs who branded their businesses with woodcuts that presumably replicated the shop signs that marked their locations: saddler John Young, Jr., “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE” and druggist Nathaniel Tweedy “At the GOLDEN-EAGLE.”

feb-9-291767-tweedy-detail-pennsylvania-chronicle
Detail of Nathaniel Tweedy’s advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

This stands in stark contrast to other newspapers, such as the Providence Gazette that seemed to struggle to attract advertisers in late 1766 and early 1767. Goddard appears to have experienced no difficulty generating advertising from entrepreneurs in the busy urban port of Philadelphia. The third issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle offered dozens of advertisements to its readers. A quarter of a millennium later, I am simultaneously excited by the range of advertisements that could potentially be incorporated into the Adverts 250 Project and disappointed to choose only one at a time.

I am also frustrated to skip over so many interesting and significant advertisements, though I continue to affirm the methodology that requires doing so. Part of this disappointment stems from the dearth of advertisements available at other times during the week. For instance, since the Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published on Saturdays in 1767 and no newspapers were published on Sundays, each week the Adverts 250 Project gives disproportionate attention to advertisements from the Providence Gazette in the process of featuring advertisements published exactly 250 years ago that day or as close to that day as possible. As a result, the Providence Gazette is overrepresented and other newspapers with much more advertising remain underrepresented. On the other hand, this means that marketing efforts in at least one smaller city are subject to examination alongside the copious newspaper advertisements published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Again, I stand by the project’s methodology, but recognize that both researchers and readers must take into account both its strengths and limitations.

**********

(*) Although this project relies primarily on digitized primary sources, I also examined original copies of the first two issues of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. From the very first issue William Goddard managed to attract advertisers.  A total of twenty-two advertisements spread over five (out of sixteen) columns appeared in the first issue (January 26, 1767), including an advertisement by Nathaniel Tweedy (without the woodcut).  The second issue (February 2, 1767) included thirty-three advertisements amounting to nearly seven columns, including advertisements by John Young, Jr., and Nathaniel Tweedy (both with woodcuts).

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