January 31

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

Jan 31 - 1:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 28, 1768).

Printed CATALOGUES of the Library of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq; will be delivered Gratis at the Auction Room.”

In January 1768 auctioneer Joseph Russell deployed multiple media in his efforts to promote a sale devoted to “The LIBRARY of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq.” He first placed notices in most of the local newspapers, including advertisements that ran in the Massachusetts Gazette on January 21 and in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy on January 25. (He did not place a similar advertisement in the Boston Chronicle. That newspaper had commenced publication only a few months earlier. It featured very few advertisements, an indication that it had not yet attracted significant distribution or readership. Russell may not have considered advertising in that newspaper likely to produce a return on his investment.) Each of these advertisements informed residents of Boston and its environs that Gridley’s library consisting of books on “LAW, HISTORY, DIVINITY, &c.” would be sold “by PUBLIC VENDUE, at the Auction Room in Queen-Street” on the morning of Tuesday, February 2. Notices appeared in multiple newspapers early enough for interested parties to plan to attend the auction.

Russell’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette once again on January 28, but this time a second notice on another page supplemented it. That advertisement announced that “printed CATALOGUES of the Library of the late Jeremy Gridley, Esq; will be delivered Gratis at the Action Room” on the day before the auction. The February 1 editions of the other newspapers that carried Russell’s advertisement each updated Russell’s earlier advertisement with some variation that noted readers could obtain an auction catalog for free. The notice in the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, featured at manicule directing attention to “Printed Catalogues may be had at the Auction-Room, gratis.” Russell used one medium to incite interest not only in the books for sale but also to incite interest in another medium marketing those books.

Newspaper notices and auction catalogs may not have been the only advertising media Russell used to garner attention for an upcoming auction. He may have also distributed handbills or posted broadsides around town. Evidence of the auction catalogs appears in his newspaper advertisements even if none of the catalogs survived, but other ephemeral marketing materials may have simply disappeared after the auction. At the very least, Russell’s original and updated advertisements in four newspapers in combination with his auction catalog suggest a coordinated and extensive effort to attract attention and, ultimately, bidders at the sale of Gridley’s library.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

Isaiah Thomas, patriot printer and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, was born on January 30 (January 19 Old Style) in 1749.  It’s quite an historical coincidence that the three most significant printers in eighteenth-century America — Benjamin Franklin, Isaiah Thomas, and Mathew Carey — were all born in January.

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Isaiah Thomas (January 30, 1739 – April 4, 1831). American Antiquarian Society.

The Adverts 250 Project is possible in large part due to Thomas’s efforts to collect as much early American printed material as he could, originally to write his monumental History of Printing in America.  The newspapers, broadsides, books, almanacs, pamphlets, and other items he gathered in the process eventually became the initial collections of the American Antiquarian Society.  That institution’s ongoing mission to acquire at least one copy of every American imprint through 1876 has yielded an impressive collection of eighteenth-century advertising materials, including newspapers, magazine wrappers, trade cards, billheads, watch papers, book catalogs, subscription notices, broadsides, and a variety of other items.  Exploring the history of advertising in early America — indeed, exploring any topic related to the history, culture, and literature of early America at all — has been facilitated for more than two centuries by the vision of Isaiah Thomas and the dedication of the curators and other specialists at the American Antiquarian Society over the years.

Thomas’s connections to early American advertising were not limited to collecting and preserving the items created on American presses during the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods.  Like Mathew Carey, he was at the hub of a network he cultivated for distributing newspapers, books, and other printed goods — including advertising to stimulate demand for those items.  Sometimes this advertising was intended for dissemination to the general public (such as book catalogs and subscription notices), but other times it amounted to trade advertising (such as circular letters and exchange catalogs intended only for fellow printers, publishers, and booksellers).

Thomas also experimented with advertising on wrappers that accompanied his Worcester Magazine, though he acknowledged to subscribers that these wrappers were ancillary to the publication:  “The two outer leaves of each number are only a cover to the others, and when the volume is bound may be thrown aside, as not being a part of the Work.”[1]

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Detail of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Second Week of April, 1786).

Thomas’s patriotic commitment to freedom of the press played a significant role in his decision to develop advertising wrappers.  As Thomas relays in his History of Printing in America, he discontinued printing his newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, after the state legislature passed a law that “laid a duty of two-thirds of a penny on newspapers, and a penny on almanacs, which were to be stamped.”  Such a move met with strong protest since it was too reminiscent of the Stamp Act imposed by the British two decades earlier, prompting the legislature to repeal it before it went into effect.  On its heels, however, “another act was passed, which imposed a duty on all advertisements inserted in the newspapers” printed in Massachusetts.  Thomas vehemently rejected this law as “an improper restraint on the press. He, therefore, discontinued the Spy during the period that this act was in force, which was two years. But he published as a substitute a periodical work, entitled ‘The Worcester Weekly Magazine,’ in octavo.”[2] This weekly magazine lasted for two years; Thomas discontinued it and once again began printing the Spy after the legislature repealed the objectionable act.

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Third Page of Advertising Wrapper, Worcester Magazine (Fourth Week of May, 1786).

Isaiah Thomas was not interested in advertising for its own sake to the same extent as Mathew Carey, but his political concerns did help to shape the landscape of early American advertising.  Furthermore, his vision for collecting American printed material preserved a variety of advertising media for later generations to admire, analyze, ponder, and enjoy.  Happy 269th birthday, Isaiah Thomas!

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, “To the CUSTOMERS for the WORCESTER MAGAZINE,” Worcester Magazine, wrapper, second week of April, 1786.

[2] Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers, and an Account of Newspapers, vol. 2 (Worcester, MA: Isaac Sturtevant, 1810), 267-268.

January 30

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

Jan 30 - 1:30:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 30, 1768).

“JUST OPENED, and to be Sold by Nathl. Greene.”

To modern readers it may appear that Nathaniel Greene had just launched a new venture when he placed his advertisement in the January 30, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. After all, the first line announced in capital letters that he had “JUST OPENED” his shop at “the West End of the Great Bridge.” Residents of Providence in the late 1760s, however, would have understood this advertisement rather differently. Even if they had never visited, a great many would have been aware of his shop already. Readers of the Providence Gazette would have been exposed to Greene’s advertisements fairly regularly for more than a year. For instance, in August 1766 he had placed an advertisement that included the same location for “his Shop, on the West Side of the Great Bridge, Providence.”

So what did Greene mean when he proclaimed that he had “JUST OPENED” in late January 1768? This phrase described his merchandise rather than his location. His advertisement informed potential customers that he had updated his inventory and now offered a “neat Assortment of English and India GOODS, of all Kinds” that he had not previously made available. He attempted to entice consumers to examine his wares by presenting those goods as new rather than leftovers that had been lingering on the shelves.

That appeal may have lost some of its initial power to persuade by the end of January. Greene’s advertisement first ran in the January 2 issue, the promise of new merchandise coinciding with the new year. It then ran in five consecutive weekly issues, becoming as familiar to readers as the location of Greene’s shop, before being discontinued in the first issue published in February.

When it first appeared, however, the headline “JUST OPENED” distinguished Greene’s goods from those carried by his competitors – Joseph and William Russell, John Mathewson, Benoni Pearce, Thompson and Arnold, Jonathan Russell, and Darius Sessions – who had been advertising in late December and continued in January. Many of those competitors composed longer advertisements and purchased more space in the Providence Gazette. Only one, however, utilized a headline that promoted some aspect of their goods: Thompson and Arnold underscored they set “Very CHEAP” prices. In response, Greene chose an alternate appeal to emphasize in his headline. In the body of his notice he did pledge “to sell as low as any that are sold in this Town,” but only after demanding prospective customers’ attention with his “JUST OPENED” headline.

January 29

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

Jan 29 - 1:29:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 29, 1768).

“Choice GENEVA.”

John Armbruester placed an advertisement in the January 29, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette to inform residents of Norwich and the surrounding area that he distilled and sold Geneva. Advertisers regularly promoted Geneva in eighteenth-century newspapers, either on its own, as Armbruester did, or along with an array of other spirits. Colonists certainly knew what they were being offered, but the name Geneva has largely fallen out of use today. What was Geneva?

The Oxford English Dictionary provides some clarification in its entries for gin and genever. Dutch distillers first produced a variation of gin in the late sixteenth century. This aromatic drink, flavored with juniper berries and a variety of herbs and spices, was known in Dutch as genever, but in English as Dutch gin or Hollands gin (shortened from Hollands geneva). In the middle of the eighteenth century, distillers in London produced a “less coarse, more subtly flavoured gin” that became known as London gin. That variation became the most usual form of the drink. Today consumers enjoy (London) gin in mixed drinks and cocktails, whereas genever (or jenever) is usually drunk neat.

Gin was just gaining in popularity in England at the time Armbruester distilled and sold his Geneva in Connecticut. Either he had not yet learned the process for making gin rather than genever or the demand for gin had not yet increased so significantly that he determined producing it would yield greater revenues. Whatever his reasons, the advertisement made it clear that he did indeed distill genever rather than gin. He favorably compared his “Choice GENEVA” to “that brought from Holland” rather than any produced in London, noting that “This GENEVA is esteemed by good Judges, to be equal.” In his competition with transatlantic rivals, Armbruester assured local consumers that his product was not inferior to any genever they could import from the region where it had originally been distilled two centuries earlier.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 29, 1768

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter: @SlaveAdverts250.

Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 1
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 2
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 3
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 4
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 5
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 6
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 7
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 8
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 9
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 10
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 11
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 12
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 13
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 14
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 15
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

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Jan 29 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 16
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 29, 1768).

Happy Birthday, Mathew Carey!

Though Benjamin Franklin is often considered the patron saint of American advertising in the popular press, I believe that his efforts pale in comparison to the contributions made by Mathew Carey (1760-1839) in the final decades of the eighteenth century. Franklin is rightly credited with experimenting with the appearance of newspaper advertising, mixing font styles and sizes in the advertisements that helped to make him a prosperous printer, but Mathew Carey introduced and popularized an even broader assortment of advertising innovations, ranging from inventive appeals that targeted potential consumers to a variety of new media to networks for effectively distributing advertising materials. In the process, his efforts played an important role in the development of American capitalism by enlarging markets for the materials sold by printers, booksellers, and publishers as well as a host of other goods marketed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who eventually adopted many of Carey’s innovative advertising methods. Mathew Carey will probably never displace Benjamin Franklin as the founder of American advertising in the popular imagination, but scholars of early American history and culture should recognize his role as the most important leader in eighteenth-century advertising among the many other activities and accomplishments of his long career in business and public life.

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Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839). Portrait by John Neagle, 1825. Library Company of Philadelphia.

Carey’s efforts as an advertiser were enmeshed within transatlantic networks of print and commerce. Though he did not invent the advertising wrapper printed on blue paper that accompanied magazines in the eighteenth century, he effectively utilized this medium to an extent not previously seen in America, Ireland, or the English provinces outside of London. The wrappers distributed with his American Museum (1787-1792) comprised the most extensive collection of advertising associated with any magazine published in North America in the eighteenth century, both in terms of the numbers of advertisements and the diversity of occupations represented in those advertisements. In Carey’s hands, the American Museum became a vehicle for distributing advertising media: inserts that included trade cards, subscription notices, testimonials, and book catalogues in addition to the wrappers themselves.

Located at the hub of a network of printers and booksellers, Carey advocated the use of a variety of advertising materials, some for consumption by the general public and others for use exclusively within the book trade. Subscription notices and book catalogues, for instance, could stimulate demand among potential customers, but exchange catalogues were intended for printers and booksellers to manage their inventory and enlarge their markets by trading surplus copies of books, pamphlets, and other printed goods. Working with members of this network also facilitated placing advertisements for new publications in the most popular newspapers published in distant towns and cities.

Carey also participated in the development of advertising appeals designed to stimulate demand among consumers in eighteenth-century America. He targeted specific readers by stressing the refinement associated with some of his publications, while simultaneously speaking to general audiences by emphasizing the patriotism and virtue associated with purchasing either books about American history, especially the events of the Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution, or books published in America. In his advertising, Carey invoked a patriotic politics of consumption that suggested that the success of the republican experiment depended not only on virtuous activity in the realm of politics but also on the decisions consumers made in the marketplace.

For my money, Carey is indeed the father of American advertising.  Happy 258th birthday, Mathew Carey!

January 28

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

Jan 28 - 1:28:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 28, 1768).

“Committed as a Runaway … 8 11.”

In most instances it is impossible to determine what happened as the result of advertisements for runaway slaves or captured fugitives. Some runaways likely made good on their escapes, but the odds were stacked against them. Many slaveholders likely reclaimed their human property after seeing notices that they had been committed to jail or the workhouse, though the dates in those advertisements sometimes indicated that inmates remained for weeks or months without an owner collecting them.

In the case of “a well set Negro Man, who calls himself James Gale” who had been thrown in jail in Orange County on suspicion that he was a runaway, however, the notations inserted into the advertisement by the compositor suggest that the notice had its intended effect. Gale’s master likely claimed him shortly after the advertisement first appeared in the New-York Journal on January 28, 1768.

Consider the notation at the conclusion of the advertisement: “8 11.” These numbers appear unrelated to the content of the advertisement. Instead, they indicate which issues of the newspaper needed to include the advertisements. The “8” referred to the first issue that contained the advertisement, “NUMB. 1308,” published on January 28, 1768. The “11” referred to when the compositor should discontinue the advertisement, removing it from “NUMB. 1311” scheduled for publication on February 18. The notation indicates that it was slated to run in three issues, numbers 1308, 1309, and 1310.

Examination of other advertisements from the January 28 issue suggests that this was indeed the case. Mark Feely, an attorney, placed an advertisement for his legal “WRITINGS” that also featured the notation “7 10.” This advertisement originated in number 1307 and ran in the next two issues, but did not reappear in number 1310. Similarly, an advertisement announcing the auction of a “Corner House and Lot of Ground” had a notation that read “8 12” on the final line. As expected, it first ran in number 1308, continued for the next several issues, but disappeared with the publication of number 1312.

That being the case, the advertisement concerning the suspected runaway being held in jail in Orange County should have been in the three issues indicated by the notation “8 11.” However, it only ran for two weeks. Why? James Gale’s owner most likely became aware of the advertisement and made arrangements for the fugitive’s return quickly enough that John Hudson, the sheriff who placed the notice, requested that the printer discontinue it. This unfortunate conclusion demonstrates the power that print played in policing black men and women in eighteenth-century America.

Slavery Advertisements Published January 28, 1768

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.  Daily updates also available on Twitter: @SlaveAdverts250.

Jan 28 - Massachusetts Gazette Slavery 1
Massachusetts Gazette (January 28, 1768).

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Jan 28 - New-York Journal Slavery 1
New-York Journal (January 28, 1768).

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Jan 28 - New-York Journal Slavery 2
New-York Journal (January 28, 1768).

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Jan 28 - New-York Journal Slavery 3
New-York Journal (January 28, 1768).

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Jan 28 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 1
Virginia Gazette (January 28, 1768).

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Jan 28 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 2
Virginia Gazette (January 28, 1768).

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Jan 28 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 3
Virginia Gazette (January 28, 1768).

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Jan 28 - Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon Slavery 4
Virginia Gazette (January 28, 1768).

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 27, 1768).

To be sold … ALL the PERSONAL ESTATE of said BENJAMIN GOLDWIRE.”

Some colonial newspapers seemed to overflow with advertisements places by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans seeking to sell consumer goods. This was especially true of newspapers published in the largest urban ports, including Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Many newspapers from those cities frequently issued supplements devoted entirely to advertising. Other newspapers, however, featured far fewer advertisements for the wholesale or retail sale of consumer goods. Such was the case for the Georgia Gazette, published in Savannah by James Johnston. Even given the smaller population of the colony, shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. Perhaps the smaller population and fewer shops meant that the proprietors had less need to resort to the public prints rather than worrying about familiarity and word of mouth to promote their businesses.

The January 27, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, did not include any advertisements placed by shopkeepers. That did not mean, however, that it lacked evidence of participation in the vibrant consumer culture of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Several advertisements encouraged colonists to acquire goods at venues other than shops and warehouses in Savannah. Instead of purchasing new items at those locations, consumers could get similar items at bargain rates at estate sales and auctions. In four of the thirty-one advertisements in that issue, executors announced such sales. Each of them included either “Household Furniture” or “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” in addition to slaves and livestock. Unlike advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers, these notices did not incorporate any of the most popular marketing strategies, although the appeal to price was implicit when it came to the possibility of low bids at auctions. In the absence of appeals to quality, fashion, or consumer choice, advertisements for estate sales and auctions stimulated the market for secondhand goods, expanding the realm of consumer culture for greater numbers of colonists who may not have had the means to acquire solely new goods from merchants and shopkeepers.