What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“GEORGE NORMAN, PERUKE-MAKER and HAIR-DRESSER … has opened a shop.”
When he opened a new shop in Savannah in 1767, George Norman placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to offer his services as a “PERUKE-MAKER and HAIR-DRESSER” to readers in town and throughout the countryside. Although the term “peruke” has fallen into disuse today, colonists knew that it referred to wigs.
In their examination of “Wigmaking in Colonial America,” Thomas K. Bullock and Maurice B. Tonkin, Jr., summarize the activities of Norman and his counterparts in cities and towns throughout the colonies: “The work of the wigmaking craft in Colonial America consisted primarily of three types of activities; making and selling wigs and false hair pieces for men and women, cutting and dressing ladies’ and gentlemen’s hair, and shaving men.” Individual wigmakers engaged in each of these activities to varying extents. Although Norman did not mention shaving in his advertisement, it may have been an ancillary service he provided for male clients who visited his shop.
The presence of Norman’s advertisement in the Georgia Gazette testifies to the growth of Savannah in the second half of the eighteenth century. According to Bullock and Tonkin, the “wig custom … was primarily an urban practice” in colonial America. Although small in comparison to busy urban ports like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, the largest town in Georgia achieved a sufficient “concentration of people and wealth [to create] a society in which the wig was considered a social or economic asset.” Whether they resided in town or country, planters, merchants, and clergy commonly wore wigs, but the practice was not always limited to elites. Bullock and Tonkin indicate that “certain craftsmen, small shopkeepers, and other skilled workers and artisans, whose jobs brought them in contact with the public, found it advantageous to wear wigs.” More than a mere fashion accessory, wearing a wig served as a symbol of respectability in colonial society.
Bullock and Tonkin also comment on the significance of newspaper advertisements in examining the production and sale of wigs in colonial America: “There is a general scarcity of material relating to the practice of the wigmaking craft in America. Newspaper advertisements constitute the bulk of available information, and it is on this we must rely for an insight into the conduct of the craft.” For more on the tools, methods, and processes involved, consult Colonial Williamsburg’s “Wigmaking in Colonial America.”
 Thomas K. Bullock and Maurice B. Tonkin, Jr., “Wigmaking in Colonial America,” (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, 1957), 11.
 Bullock and Tonkin, “Wigmaking,” 9.
 Bullock and Tonkin, “Wigmaking,” 10.