What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Care will be taken to have all the English and American News Papers, Magazines, and political Pamphlets.”
In the fall of 1767 Robert Calder informed residents of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and its environs that “he has open’d a COFFEE HOUSE, opposite the South Side of the Reverend Mr. HAVEN’s Meeting House.” He catered to his clients, promising that he served the most popular beverages – coffee, tea, and chocolate – “in the best and most agreeable Manner.” Calder, “LATE FROM LONDON,” paid special attention to cultivating an ambiance of sophistication for his patrons. In his other line of work as a hairdresser for both ladies and gentlemen, he adhered to the “genteelest Fashions.” Those who visited his coffeehouse could expect the same atmosphere as they sipped their drinks and conversed with friends and acquaintances. After all, the proprietor promised that “every other Means [would be] assiduously pursued to give Satisfaction.”
Yet Calder’s coffeehouse was more than just a place to gather for pleasant conversation over a pot of a hot beverage on a brisk fall day. It was also a place where the public could keep themselves informed about events taking place in the colony and, especially, other colonies and other places throughout the Atlantic world and beyond. Calder announced, “Care will be taken to have all the English and American News Papers, Magazines, and political Pamphlets, as early as possible.” Even though the issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette that carried this advertisement included news from Boston, Newport, New York, London, and Algiers, publishers Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle did not have sufficient space to reprint all the news from faraway places. The variety of newspapers available at Calder’s coffeehouse would allow colonists to keep up to date on current events, a prospect that likely loomed large considering that the Townshend Act was scheduled to go into effect in just two weeks. Realizing that prospective patrons wanted to keep informed, Calder provided magazines and political pamphlets as well. At his coffeehouse the public had access to printed materials that many colonists might not otherwise have had the means or the money to procure on their own.
In eighteenth-century America, coffeehouses were an important counterpart to printing shops that doubled as post offices. Both were places for disseminating and obtaining information via multiple media. Printers published and distributed the news, but coffeehouse proprietors facilitated delivering the news to even broader audiences. They offered an important service that benefited the civic life of their communities.