What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“MARY GRIFFITH also begs to acquaint the Ladies, that she cleans blonds and gauses.”
Thomas Griffith received top billing in an advertisement addressed “TO THE LADIES” in the August 4, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, though Mary Griffith also provided services for “the Ladies … at their house … in Christian-street” in Philadelphia.” Thomas’s name served as a secondary headline, making him as visible in his notice as “JOSEPH CRUKSHANK, PRINTER,” “JOHN LAUGEAY,” “SAMUEL SMITH, & SONS,” and other male advertisers were in their own notices. Although Mary’s name did appear in capital letters, it did not appear in a larger font or centered and extended across the column. Instead, “MARY GRIFFITH” ran in the same size font as the rest of the paragraph that described her contributions to the family business.
Thomas introduced himself as a “Fan-Maker from London, but last from Charlestown,” establishing that he had experience serving genteel ladies in both the most cosmopolitan city in the empire and one of largest ports in the colonies. He stocked “every material belonging to the fan-trade” imported from London, including “a new assortment of FAN-MOUNTS of beautiful paintings, and of various coloured grounds, some curiously sprigged and bordered with silver” and “a few cut carved and painted ivory fan-sticks.” That inventory made it possible for customers to create unique fans that reflected their personalities, according to their own tastes and budgets. Thomas invited ladies to find or select “their own sticks” and choose a mount (as well as bindings, rivets, and buttons) that he would then use to construct a new fan “in a few hours … in as compleat a manner as any in London.” His customers could confidently display their fans, knowing that no friends or acquaintances possessed any duplicates. For her part, Mary “cleans blonds and gauses by a new method to look like new.” Prospective customers knew that “blonds” referred to silk lace made of two threads twisted and formed in hexagonal meshes and “gauses” (or “gauzes”) were a very thin, transparent fabric made of silk. Mary advised that ladies could view a specimen of her work, a clever way of enticing them to visit the shop that she shared with Thomas. In addition, she made “all foreign and minionet [or mignonette] laces to the greatest of perfection.”
Between them, Mary and Thomas supplied various kinds of accessories that helped genteel ladies enhance their appearance and distinguish themselves from others in a society enmeshed in consumer culture and conscious of the latest fashions on both sides of the Atlantic. Thomas achieved greater visibility in their shared newspaper advertisement, but Mary likely assisted in cultivating rapport with his customers seeking fans in addition to other customers interested in her laces. The format of the advertisement in the public prints did not necessarily reflect the extent of the partnership in their shop.