What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To the LADIES of New-York.”
Although newspaper editorials depicted women as consumers who gave into luxury, relatively few colonial merchants and shopkeepers addressed women directly in their advertisements. Instead, most presented their merchandise for the consideration of both men and women, encouraging prospective customers of both sexes to participate in the consumer revolution.
Jane Willson did target women in her advertisement in the August 31, 1772, edition of the News-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. The first line of her notice requested attention from “the LADIES of New-York” before launching into a description of “A GREAT VARIETY OF BEAUTIFUL japan’d goods, with cream colour’d grounds, and other colours of the newest taste.” Willson referred to items decorated in imitation of East Asian lacquerware, a popular style in England and its American colonies in the eighteenth century. She imported “tea trays and waiters, tea chests completed with canisters, tea kitchens, and compleat tea tables” decorated with “well painted landskips [landscapes], human figures, fruit and flowers.” Willson underscored that she carried new designs, “some of them only finished last May, at Birmingham, and imported to New-York” on the Hope earlier that month. Consumers could not obtain any similar items of newer design. Willson offered “the LADIES of New-York” cutting-edge fashion when it came to japanned ware.
Although most of her advertisement focused on those items, Willson did not seek female customers exclusively. She also carried “some holster pistols, and a few oil’d hat covers for gentlemen’s use,” likely anticipating that once men entered her shop they might browse and purchase the japanned items or other items that she stocked. Even if some male customers did not wish to seem too eager to examine tea tables and tea chests, the pistols and hat covers gave them plausible reasons for their initial visits to Willson’s shop. Even an advertisement addressed “To the LADIES of New-York” presented possibilities for men to enjoy the pleasures of shopping and acquiring decorative wares for their homes.