May 21

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772).

“He will sell … at a very little more than the Sterling Cost.”

In an advertisement in the May 21, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Jolley Allen announced that he adopted “an entire New Plan” for selling the “very LARGE and NEAT Assortment of English and India GOODS” at his shop on Marlborough Street.  He declared that he would sell “HIS WHOLE Stock in Trade…, either by Wholesale or Retail, at a very little more than the Sterling Cost and Charges.”  In other words, he did not mark up the prices significantly over what he paid to his suppliers.  Allen expressed his confidence that “the Advantages that may arise to his Customers, will be equal if not superior to their purchasing at any Wholesale or Retail Shop or Store in Town or Country.”  He was determined to beat his competitors.

The graphic design for Allen’s advertisement may have helped attract attention to his “new Plan” for selling imported goods.  A border comprised of ornamental type enclosed the notice, setting it apart from the news and other advertisements on the page.  That brought this advertisement in line with some that he previously published.  He did not always incorporate a distinctive design element, but he more regularly did so than most advertisers.  Sometimes ornamental type flanked his name in the headline of his advertisement.  On other occasions he opted for borders.  Both strategies appeared in more than one newspaper, suggesting that Allen gave specific instructions to the compositors rather than leaving the format to their discretion.

Curiously, Allen’s advertisement was not the only one in the May 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to feature a border.  Andrew Dexter’s advertisement had the same format, though a different printing ornament formed the border.  This was not a standard format in that newspaper or any other newspaper published in Boston at the time.  So how did two advertisements in the same issue happen to include borders?  Did one advertiser overhear the other giving directions to the compositor when dropping off copy to the printing office?  Or was it a coincidence?  Whatever the explanation, the borders made their advertisements distinctive enough compared to the rest that readers likely took note of both of them.

Slavery Advertisements Published May 21, 1772

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonizers encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonizers who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772).

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Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (May 21, 1772).

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Pennsylvania Journal (May 21, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

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Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 21, 1772).

May 20

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper published 250 years ago this week?

Pennsylvania Packet (May 18, 1772).

“RUN AWAY … a Negro Man, named PETER.”

This advertisement testifies to both the mobility of enslaved people who liberated themselves by fleeing from their enslavers and the efforts of enslavers to capture and return to bondage fugitives seeking freedom.  Peter, “a Negro Man … of a yellow complexion,” escaped from Patrick Simpson’s plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, in the late spring or early summer of 1771.  Nearly a year later, an advertisement describing Peter ran in the Pennsylvania Packet.  The dateline in the advertisement indicated that it had originated in New York, not Charleston.  Hallett and Hazard, merchants who presumably operated on behalf of Simpson, informed readers that they would receive “TEN DOLLARS REWARD” for apprehending Peter and securing him “in any [jail] in Pennsylvania or New-Jersey” and notifying local agents in Philadelphia or Princeton.

What prompted Simpson to believe that Peter might have made it to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or any of the neighboring colonies?  The advertisement described him as a “sensible, plausible fellow” and indicated that he spoke “very proper E[n]glish.”  Peter may have been able to pose as a free man as he made his way north, especially if it was obvious from his speech that he was “country born” rather than “new” from Africa.  When Simpson could not locate Peter in South Carolina, he might have suspected that he made his way to another colony.

In his attempt to capture and once again enslave Peter, Simpson enlisted the aid of both local agents and the general public.  Hallett and Hazard in New York, Peter Wikoff in Philadelphia, and Peter Gordon in Princeton all assisted Simpson, but the advertisement also called on others to engage in surveillance of Black men they encountered to assess if any of them matched the Peter’s description.  That meant observing their physical characteristics, their clothing, and their comportment as well as assessing their speech.  John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, also aided Simpson, earning revenues when he published the advertisement.  Capturing Peter was not simply a local matter, one confined to newspaper notices published in South Carolina and readers in that colony.  Instead, Simpson relied on an extensive apparatus as he sought to once again deny Peter his liberty.

May 19

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

Connecticut Courant (May 19, 1772).

“New, New, New GOODS!”

Less is more.  Caleb Bull, Jr., adopted that theory for his advertisement in the May 19, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Extending only four lines, the advertisement proclaimed, “New, New, New GOODS! AT CALEB BULL jun’s. Store in HARTFORD.”  He did not include any of the standard appeals to price or quality.  He did not attempt to convince genteel customers that he carried fashionable textiles, garments, and housewares.  He did not provide a list of dozens or scores of items to demonstrate the choices available to consumers.  He did not promise exemplary customer service.  In short, he did not deploy most of the marketing strategies that commonly appeared in newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century.

That does not necessarily mean, however, that Bull’s advertisements did not catch the attention of prospective customers.  After all, he composed innovative copy with the repetition of “New, New, New” on the first line.  Most advertisers did not incorporate such repetition as a means of engaging readers, though sometimes their lists of merchandise concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”  In repeating the abbreviation for et cetera, they underscored that they had far too many goods to fit into an advertisement.  Bull relied on a similar principle, but he did not reserve the repetition for the end of his notice.  Instead, “New, New, New” served as his primary marketing strategy, signaling to prospective customers that his inventory had not lingered on the shelves.  Bull challenged readers to visit his store to see these “New, New, New GOODS” for themselves.

The typography made his advertisement notable, most of the content in larger fonts than appeared in other advertisements on the same page.  Other notices featured dense paragraphs in smaller fonts.  Readers likely absorbed Bull’s advertisement at a glance, even if they casually skimmed the advertisements, but other notices required greater effort to read.  As a result, “New New, New GOODS” may have been enough to make Bull’s advertisement memorable and effective,

Slavery Advertisements Published May 19, 1772

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonizers encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonizers who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Essex Gazette (May 19, 1772).

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Essex Gazette (May 19, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

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Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1772).

May 18

GUEST CURATOR:  Alex Ruston

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 18, 1772).

“UMBRILLOES.”

This advertisement features an item that many of us probably take for granted in the twenty-first century.  Umbrellas first appeared in England in the 1760s.  In the eighteenth-century, the umbrella stirred up a lot of social attention.  According to Kate Haulman, “Though large and clumsy by modern standards, the umbrellas of the late eighteenth century were brightly colored items of fashion made of oiled silk, stylistic spoils of empire hailing from India.”  Umbrellas were popular for the upper class, especially women, leading to a lot of controversy surrounding their use.  “Some regarded umbrellas as ridiculous and frivolous, serving no purpose that a good hat could not supply. Others called them effeminate, appropriate only for use by women.”  In this advertisement, Isaac Greenwood of Boston emphasized women and girls as customers for his “UMBRILLOES.”  When umbrellas debuted in colonial America they were a controversial and uncommon accessory that “received positive and negative attention.”[1]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

By the time this advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette in the spring of 1772, Isaac Greenwood was already familiar to many of the residents of Boston.  They may have spotted women and girls carrying his umbrellas as they traversed the streets of the city.  Readers of the Boston-Gazette saw his advertisements, many of them featuring a distinctive woodcut that depicted a woman carrying an umbrella.  Greenwood first included that image in an advertisement that ran in the May 20, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  Over the course of the next year, he periodically ran additional advertisements that featured the woman with the umbrella.

In that time, he sought to expand his clientele by offering even smaller umbrellas for young girls.  In May 1771, he declared that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 6 or 7 Years of Age.”  A year later, he revised the copy to state that “Ladies may be supplied with all Sizes, so small as to suit Misses of 4 or 5 Years of Age.”  Eager to sell his product, Greenwood took a position in the debates about umbrellas.  They were appropriate for women and even young girls.

Greenwood was not the only artisan in Boston who advertised that he made and sold “UMBRILLOES.”  In the June 12, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette, his advertisement appeared next to one placed by Oliver Greenleaf.  Greenwood gave his customers the option of buying finished products or the supplies to construct their own umbrellas, informing “Those Ladies whose Ingenuity, Leisure and Oeconomy leads them to make their own, [that they] may have them cut out by buying the Sticks or Frames of him.”  In extending that offer, he suggested that umbrellas were not as frivolous as some of the critics claimed.  Rather than luxury items that merely testified to conspicuous consumption, umbrellas made by female consumers had the potential to demonstrate some of the virtues that women possessed.  Since any umbrella could have been made through the “Ingenuity” and “Oeconomy” of the woman who carried it, Greenwood might have intended to reduce critiques of all ladies with umbrellas in an effort to increase sales by making his product less controversial.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 632.

Welcome, Guest Curator Alex Ruston

Alex Ruston is a junior pursuing a double major in History and Theology at Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts.  He is originally from Syracuse, New York, where he attended Liverpool High School.  On campus Alex is actively involved in many organizations.  He is a resident assistant, a member of the club basketball team, and very involved in campus ministry.  Alex works closely with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) where he serves as a student leader on campus, leads a bible study, and helps with high school confirmation retreats.  His greatest passion is his Catholic faith as he strives to make a difference in a hurting world by bringing to all the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.  Alex made his contributions to the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project while enrolled in HIS 359 Revolutionary America, 1763-1815, in Fall 2021.

Welcome, guest curator Alex Ruston!

Slavery Advertisements Published May 18, 1772

The Slavery Adverts 250 Project chronicles the role of newspaper advertising in perpetuating slavery in the era of the American Revolution. The project seeks to reveal the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century life from New England to Georgia by republishing advertisements about enslaved people – for sale as individuals or in groups, wanted to purchase or for hire for short periods, runaways who liberated themselves, and those who were subsequently captured and confined in jails and workhouses – in daily digests on this site as well as in real time via the @SlaveAdverts250 Twitter feed, utilizing twenty-first-century media to stand in for the print media of the eighteenth century.

The project aims to provide modern audiences with a sense of just how often colonizers encountered these advertisements in their daily lives. Enslaved men, women, and children appeared in print somewhere in the colonies almost every single day. Those advertisements served as a constant backdrop for social, cultural, economic, and political life in colonial and revolutionary America. Colonizers who did not purport to own enslaved people were still confronted with slavery as well as invited to maintain the system by purchasing enslaved men, women, and children or assisting in the capture of so-called “runaways” who sought to free themselves from bondage. The frequency of these newspaper advertisements suggests just how embedded slavery was in colonial and revolutionary American culture in everyday interactions beyond the printed page.

These advertisements also testify to the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, though readers must consider that those experiences have been remediated through descriptions offered by enslavers rather than enslaved people themselves. Often unnamed in the advertisements, enslaved men, women, and children were not invisible or unimportant in early America.

These advertisements appeared in colonial American newspapers 250 years ago today.

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (May 18, 1772).

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Newport Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 18, 1772).

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Pennsylvania Packet (May 18, 1772).

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Pennsylvania Packet (May 18, 1772).

May 17

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

Pennsylvania Packet (May 14, 1772).

“Enquire only for Dr Hill’s American Balsam.”

Advertisements for patent medicines frequently appeared in early American newspapers.  In the spring of 1772, William Young took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Journal to promote “Dr. HILL’s AMERICAN BALSAM, LATELY imported from London.”  For those unfamiliar with this remedy, Young explained that “Experience has fully testified, that by the proper use of this excellent medicine, great numbers of people in America have been relieved in the consumption, gravel [or kidney stones] and rheumatic pains.”  In addition, it helped with colds, coughs, and “swimmings in the head.”

Many consumers may have been more familiar with popular patent medicines commonly sold by apothecaries, merchants, shopkeepers, and even printers and booksellers.  Newspaper advertisements suggest that colonizers could easily acquire Bateman’s Drops, Godfrey’s Cordial, Hooper’s Pills, Turlington’s Balsam, and a variety of other patent medicines in shops from New England to Georgia.  Hill’s American Balsam, in contrast, was not as readily available.  Instead, a small number of sellers in the colonies exclusively handled the distribution, including merchants in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, North Carolina; shopkeepers in New York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania; a printer in Germantown, Pennsylvania; and a goldsmith in Wilmington, Delaware.  Young proclaimed that consumers would find this patent medicine “no where else.”

Such exclusivity had the potential to lead to confusion or even counterfeits.  In a nota bene, Young warned that “People, in buying this so highly esteemed medicine, should be careful not to get a wrong one and be deceived.”  To prevent that from happening, he gave instructions “to enquire only for Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.”  Consumers could confirm that they obtained the correct product by looking for Hill’s “direction wraped about each bottle.”  Printed materials played an important role in marketing this patent medicine, via the advertisements that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and via the ancillary materials that accompanied each bottle of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.

May 16

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

Providence Gazette (May 16, 1772).

“They will sell at as cheap a Raste as any Goods … can be purchased in this Town.”

Nathaniel Jacobs advised prospective customers that he stocked a “compleat Assortment of European and East-India GOODS” that he “sold at the lowest Prices” at his shop on the west side of the Great Bridge in Providence.  Other merchants and shopkeepers who also placed notices in the May 16, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette placed even greater emphasis on the bargains they offered.

At their shop at the Sign of the Elephant, for instance, Tillinghast and Holroyd stocked a “Variety [of] ARTICLES … which they will sell at as cheap a Rate as any Goods, of the same Quality, can be purchased in this Town.”  In other words, their competitors did not have lower prices.  To underscore the point, they made an additional appeal to female consumers.  “The Ladies are especially informed,” Tillinghast and Holroyd declared, “that a Part of their Assortment consists of Silks for Gowns, Cloaks, &c. Gauzes, Lawns, &c. for Aprons, &c. which will be sold at the lowest Prices.”  According to the advertisement, women could acquire these goods without paying extravagant prices.

Jones and Allen also emphasized low prices in their lengthy notice that listed scores of “ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” recently imported.  The headline for their advertisement proclaimed, “The greatest Pennyworths,” alerting prospective customers to bargain prices.  Not considering that sufficient to entice customers into their shop at the Sign of the Golden Ball, they concluded with a note that they “think it needless to say any thing more to the public, than that they deal for ready money, and are determined to be undersold by no retailer in Providence.”  Jones and Allen encouraged comparison shopping, confident that customers would ultimately buy their goods.

Thurber and Cahoon made similar promises concerning their “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS” at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes.  They suggested that they already had a reputation for good deals at their store, stating that they were “determined to sell at their usual low Prices.”  In addition, they challenged consumers to make their own assessments, confiding that they “doubt not but all, who will call and examine for themselves, will be convinced [their prices] are as low, if not lower, than are sold by any Person, or Persons, whatever.”  Their advertisement advanced yet another claim to setting the best prices in town.

Tillinghast and Holroyd, Jones and Allen, and Thurber and Cahoon did not merely tell prospective customers that they offered low prices.  They did not make offhand appeals to price.  Instead, they crafted short narratives about the bargains at their shops, pledging consumers would not find better deals elsewhere.  They believed that such narratives would entice customers to visit their shops even if they encountered low prices in other stores.