February 28

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

Feb 28 - 2:29:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 29, 1768).

“The said Geyer, has thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum.”

In the months after the Townshend Act went into effect and colonists enacted nonimportation agreements in response, some advertisers incorporated implicitly political appeals into their commercial notices. In the February 29, 1768, editions of both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston-Gazette, for instance, Samuel A. Otis advertised “A variety of Flannels and Hose, fabricated by some of the best Manufacturers in the Province.” When town meetings throughout New England voted to boycott imported goods they simultaneously declared their intentions to encourage “domestic manufactures.” Otis sought to tap into this enthusiasm for goods produced locally, but the conversation was so familiar that he did not need to offer further elaboration.

Henry Christian Geyer, on the other hand, adopted a different strategy. On the same day he inserted an advertisement in the Boston Post-Boy. In it, he rehearsed the recent history of decisions made at town meetings, explaining that he launched a new branch of his business because “not only this Town, but the whole Country, have voted and agreed to encourage all Arts and Manufactures of all sorts and kinds, in order to prevent the great and unnecessary Importations in North-America, and keep what little Money we have among us, without sending the same abroad.” Due to those circumstances, Geyer “thought it necessary to erect the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum, or the making of all sorts of Images, Birds, Cats, Dogs, & all other sorts of curious Animals, all of Plaster of Paris.” Collectors now refer to such ornaments as chalkware.

Colonists did not need these decorative objects in the same whey they needed the textiles and garments advertised by Otis, yet Geyer attempted to incite demand for all sorts of consumer goods, not just the basic necessities. He emphasized that colonists needed to support “all Arts and Manufacturers of all sorts and kinds,” not just those related to food, clothing, and shelter. Nobody needed to refrain from obtaining trinkets to decorate their homes just because they had resolved not to purchase goods imported from England. Instead, Geyer offered an option for continuing to engage in conspicuous consumption and ostentatious displays within the home while simultaneously supporting the economic and political interests of the colonies. Prospective customers must have found his appeals convincing. For the next several years Geyer continued to advertise that he practiced “the Art of Fuser Simulacrorum” and produced all sorts of images and animals to decorate colonial homes.  Click here to examine examples of these images, a pair of portrait medallions of George III and Charlotte.

Note that Geyer also listed his location as “near Liberty-Tree, South-End, Boston.” Even in telling readers where to find him, he injected politics into his advertisement.

Slavery Advertisements Published February 29, 1768

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

Feb 29 - Connecticut Courant Slavery 1
Connecticut Courant (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Slavery 1
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury Supplement Slavery 3
Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - Newport Mercury Slavery 1
Newport Mercury (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - Newport Mercury Slavery 2
Newport Mercury (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - Newport Mercury Slavery 3
Newport Mercury (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 1
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 2
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 3
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 4
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 5
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 6
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 7
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 8
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 9
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Slavery 10
South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Supplement Slavery 1
Supplement to the South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Supplement Slavery 2
Supplement to South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

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Feb 29 - South Carolina Gazette Supplement Slavery 3
Supplement to South Carolina Gazette (February 29, 1768).

February 27

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

Feb 27 - 2:27:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (February 27, 1768).

“At the Sign of the Brazen Lion.”

Its length alone would have made Edward Thurber’s advertisement in the February 27, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette difficult to miss. Listing dozens of items he offered for sale, it extended for nearly an entire column. Yet Thurber did not rely solely on the amount of space the advertisement occupied to attract the attention of potential customers. He incorporated a bit of visual flair by inserting a woodcut.

For quite some time he had been advertising in the Providence Gazette, but usually in conjunction with Benjamin Thurber. Their shared notices informed readers that they operated separate shops even though they worked together to acquire merchandise. Benjamin could be found at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes and Edward at the Sign of the Brazen Lion. They did not insert any images in their joint advertisements, but when Edward commenced advertising on his own he commissioned a woodcut that depicted his Sign of the Brazen Lion. Perhaps he had more creative freedom on his own. Maybe Benjamin had not wished to invest in a corresponding woodcut of the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes. Maybe the partners thought that two woodcuts in a single advertisement would have appeared too crowded or too confusing. Maybe they mutually determined that when they bought space in the local newspaper that they wanted to fill it with copy rather than woodcuts. Whatever their reasons, the Thurbers did not experiment with visual images in their joint advertisements. That changed when Edward advertised separately.

Although it did inject a visual element into his advertisement, Edward’s woodcut was rather primitive compared to some that accompanied advertisements in newspapers published in larger cities, especially New York and Philadelphia. His woodcut quite literally depicted a signpost with a crudely carved lion suspended from it. While not the most impressive woodcut, it does testify to a sight that colonists would have glimpsed as they traversed the streets of Providence. Apparently Edward Thurber’s sign was not a board painted with the image of a lion but rather a piece of wood carved into either a two- or three-dimensional lion. In and of itself, such a sign would have been a significant investment, but well worth the price as it became a brand consistently used on the exterior of the shop and in newspaper advertisements. Edward Thurber further advanced his use of this brand in his advertising by including a woodcut that visually reiterated the copy that directed potential customers to “the Sign of the Brazen Lion.”

February 26

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

Feb 26 - 2:26:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (February 26, 1768).

I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”

Nathaniel Backus, Jr., listed several commodities and their prices in an advertisement he inserted in the February 26, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette. In addition, he offered “a good Assortment of European Goods, which I will Sell as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.” Backus listed his location as Norwich Landing. The New-London Gazette served a region that extended far beyond the port town for which it was named.

Note that Backus did not compare his prices to those in other cities and towns in New England. He confined his comparison to the local marketplace, seeking to assure potential customers that they could not do any better dealing with other local shopkeepers. Few, if any, of his wares – “BEST London Pewter,” “German Serge,” “Barbados Rum,” and “Bohea Tea,” to name just a few of the commodities he listed – had arrived directly at Norwich. Instead, they had likely been shipped first to Boston or New York. Even if they had been transported via a more direct route, this “good Assortment of European Goods” would have passed through the port of New London and its customs house before continuing up the Thames River to Norwich. These additional legs required in shipping the goods to the small town of Norwich likely made them slightly more expensive for retailers to obtain them, affecting the prices Backus and others charged their customers. Shopkeepers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, sometimes favorably compared their prices to those in Boston, New York, or all of New England. Retailers located inland, like Backus in Norwich, however, did not make such appeals at the same rate.

Backus guaranteed the prices he listed in his advertisement: “those that favour me with their Custom, may depend on being served through the Season, at the above Prices.” This allowed for consumers to do some comparison shopping even before visiting his shop. If potential customers considered the prices he listed for select items to be reasonable then they might have been more willing to accept Backus’s assertion that he sold his merchandise “as Cheap as any Man in Norwich.”

Slavery Advertisements Published February 26, 1768

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

Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 1
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 2
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 3
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 4
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 5
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 6
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 7
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 8
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 9
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

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Feb 26 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Slavery 10
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 26, 1768).

February 25

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

Feb 25 - 2:25:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (February 25, 1768).

“Lucerne and Burnett seed, warranted to be of last year’s growth.”

Spring was coming. In late February 1768 colonists in Boston could tell that spring was on its way by looking for certain signs. While watching for changes in the weather and landscape provided clues about the passage of the seasons, colonists also witnessed other indications. The appearance of Susanna Renken’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette testified that spring was indeed on its way. It was the first to promote a variety of seeds that colonists would need to purchase soon so they could plant their gardens.

Renken participated in an annual ritual, one that transformed the pages of newspapers printed in Boston for a few months. She had previously advertised seeds in 1766 and 1767, but she had not been alone. Other women had placed their own advertisements, presenting local customers with many choices for obtaining the seeds they needed. Readers of the newspapers published in Boston knew that in the coming weeks several other female shopkeepers would join Renken, each inserting their own advertisements for seeds. If the past was any indication, they could expect to see these advertisements printed one after the other, sometimes filling entire columns in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette. Renken and her competitors usually inserted their notices in multiple publications.

For now, however, Renken advertised alone. She was the first seed seller to take to the pages of the public prints in 1768, heralding the proliferation of advertisements that would soon appear, bloom for a couple of months, and recede until the next year. Colonists in Boston and its hinterlands observed this annual cycle unfold in their newspapers in the late winter and early spring, just as they saw advertisements for almanacs make their first appearances in the fall, intensify in number and frequency over several months, and taper off after the new year.

Susanna Renken was the first to advertise seeds in 1768, but soon she would not be alone. At the same time colonists noticed certain birds returning to New England as part of their seasonal migration, they also saw advertisements for seeds once again in the pages of their newspapers. The print culture of marketing had its own rhythms that colonists could associate with the changing seasons.