What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Now selling at prime coast, at the house of the late Mrs. MARY SYMONDS, deceased.”
In June 1773, James Reynolds, the executor of the estate, ran a newspaper notice concerning the sale of a “LARGE and general assortment of MILLINERY and other GOODS” at “the house of the late Mrs. MARY SYMONDS, deceased,” in Philadelphia. While many female shopkeepers, milliners, seamstresses, and other entrepreneurs did not promote their businesses in the public prints in the eighteenth century, Symonds was an exception who regularly advertised her wares. Compared to the brief estate notice that listed about a dozen items and summarized the rest of her inventory as “a great variety of other genteel articles,” Symonds published extensive advertisements that rivaled in length those of her male competitors. In March 1766 and May 1768, she inserted advertisements that each included an extensive catalog of her merchandise in the Pennsylvania Gazette.
Symonds did not limit her marketing efforts to newspaper notices. She also distributed an engraved trade card, one of the finest known example of this format belonging to a woman who ran her own business in eighteenth-century America. In Boston, Jane Eustis also provided her customers with engraved trade cards. The only known copy of Symonds’s trade card survives among the Cadwalader Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania because Symonds used the reverse to write a receipted bill for purchases made by Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader in October and November 1770. Based on those manuscript additions, Symonds’s trade card has been dated to circa 1770. The text so closely replicated her advertisements that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1768 (or perhaps the text of the newspaper advertisement closely replicated the trade card) that it seems almost certain that Symonds commissioned the trade card by the late 1760s and distributed it to customers for several years. In so doing, she joined the ranks of other entrepreneurs, most of them men, who demonstrated the elegance and sophistication of their goods and services with marketing materials – engraved trade cards and billheads – that resembled those that commonly circulated in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. The notice about the estate sale that her executor placed in the Pennsylvania Gazettedid not do justice to Symonds’s acumen as a marketer responsible for promoting her own business during her lifetime.