May 25

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

May 25 - 5:25:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

“Very handsome Ivory Paddle Fans,

Bone Stick and Ebony Ditto,

Womens silk Mitts and Gloves.”

The layout of William Palfrey’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of English Piece Goods” distinguished it from most other commercial notices published in the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers in the 1760s. The shopkeeper listed much of his merchandise, but he did not resort to a paragraph of dense text or dividing the advertisement into two columns with one or two items on each line. Instead, he chose a couple of items for each line, specifying that every line be centered. This created quite a different visual effect in contrast to other advertisements that were crisply justified on the left and quite often on the right as well. Compare Palfrey’s advertisement to Daniel McCarthy’s advertisement, which appeared immediately to the left. Readers likely found Palfrey’s layout disorienting in comparison, especially since every advertisement on the page followed the style adopted by McCarthy. Palfrey’s disorienting layout thus made his advertisement the most noticeable advertisement on the page, giving him an edge over ten other shopkeepers.

May 25 - 5:25:1767 McCarthy in Boston Post-Boy
Boston Evening-Post (May 25, 1767).

Although advertisers usually generated copy and printers determined layout, it seems clear that Palfrey had a hand in designing the unique visual aspects of his advertisement. He placed the same notice in the Boston-Gazette on May 25, 1767. It featured almost identical format and layout. All of the same words appeared in capitals or italics. Certain lines appeared in larger font: not just “William Palfrey” and the first line of the list of goods (both of which would have been standard in any advertisement in any newspaper) but also “Tippets and Turbans,” items that the shopkeeper apparently wanted to emphatically bring to the attention of potential customers. A manicule directs readers to Palfrey’s promise to sell “very low for CASH” at the conclusion of the advertisement in both newspapers.

Very few advertisements for consumer goods and services included visual images in the eighteenth century, but that did not prevent some advertisers from attempting to distinguish their notices from those placed by their competitors. Although Palfrey advanced many of the same appeals, he devised another sort of innovation in marketing his wares.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:21:1767 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 21, 1767).

“SUPPEMENT to the NEW-YORK JOURNAL.”

John Holt printed a four-page supplement to accompany the May 21, 1767, issue of the New-York Journal. It included one page of “ARTICLES left out last Week, for Want of Room,” but the remainder of the supplement consisted primarily of advertisements. Almost every issue of the New-York Journal published in April, May, June, and July that year had a corresponding supplement, but the length, size, and purpose of the supplements varied. Sometimes they were mechanisms for delivering advertisements, but on other occasions few, if any, advertisements appeared. In an era when the standard issue for any American newspaper was four pages (created by folding a broadsheet in half) with only occasional supplements, Holt regularly adjusted his publication according to the amount of news and advertising of the week. In so doing, he was responsive to the needs of both readers and advertisers.

The May 21 supplement first caught my eye because of its strange format: two regular columns (as opposed to the usual three) with four short columns that ran perpendicular to the other two. Since I was working with a digitized copy, the size of the sheet was not readily apparent, but, having encountered something similar previously, I suspected that the supplement had been printed on a different size sheet than the regular issues. Consulting an original issue at the American Antiquarian Society confirmed that was indeed the case. The regular issue had been printed on a 9 ½ x 15 ½ sheet with three columns, the supplement on an 8 ¼ x 13 ½ sheet in the configuration described above. All columns measured 2 ¾ inches across. Holt rotated type that had already been set to create the four short columns that ran perpendicular to the rest of the content. For instance, shopkeeper Ennis Graham’s dense and lengthy list-style advertisement was divided into four columns. The printer maximized the amount of content he provided when printing on a smaller sheet.

May 24 - Graham 5:21:1767 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 21, 1767).

When I have encountered this trick of the trade in the past, most often it resulted from the printer not having access consistently to paper of the size usually used to publish the newspaper. That does not seem to have been the case in this instance. Sometimes Holt printed the supplement on the smaller sheet, but other times on a sheet the same size as the regular issue. The regular issue always appeared on the larger sheet. Whether on a smaller or larger sheet, sometimes Holt issued a half sheet (two-page) supplement and other times a full sheet (four-page) supplement. Usually the supplement included advertising, but not always. News from England and elsewhere merited immediate publication rather than waiting until the following week.

The supplements that accompanied the New-York Journal in 1767 sometimes had a strange layout because the printer carefully calculated the size of the sheet needed to deliver the content for the week, not because shortages of paper made peculiar layouts necessary. When other newspapers pledged that advertisement omitted would be printed in the next issue, Holt resorted to supplements to disseminate both advertising and the most current news as quickly as possible.

May 23

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

May 23 - 5:23:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 23, 1767).

“WILLIAM ROGERS, Of Newport, Rhode-Island … has newly furnished his Shop with a neat Assortment of GOODS.”

In general, eighteenth-century advertisers tended to place notices only in their local newspapers, though members of the book trades sometimes accounted for exceptions as they cooperated with colleagues to create larger markets for promoting and distributing reading materials. What qualified as a local newspaper depended on the perspective of readers and advertisers since newspapers were printed only in slightly more than a dozen cities and towns in 1767. Most publications thus served an extensive hinterland, often an entire colony and sometimes a region that included portions of other colonies as well. The Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, had subscribers throughout the colony as well as Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. In the absence of local newspapers to carry their marketing messages, shopkeepers and others in those colonies sometimes advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia but distributed widely.

William Rogers “Of Newport, Rhode-Island, on the Parade opposite the Custom-House” did not want for a local newspaper to carry his advertisements. Samuel Hall published the Newport Mercury from his printing shop on Thames Street. The Mercury was Newport’s only newspaper. This did not, however, prevent Rogers from advertising in multiple publications. He took the rather extraordinary action of injecting himself into the Providence market when he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette. Several shopkeepers who advertised regularly in the Gazette (including Thompson and Arnold, Joseph and William Russell, Benjamin and Edward Thurber, and James Green) already competed with each other to gain both attention in the public prints and customers in their shops. Rogers presented the “neat Assortment of GOODS” in his shop as a viable alternative, especially since “he intends to sell as cheap as can be bought at any Shop in PROVIDENCE.” In the course of the week, Rogers’ advertisement appeared in both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury.

Rogers may not have expected to garner many customers from Providence, but he almost certainly aimed to attract readers of the Providence Gazette elsewhere in Rhode Island, especially those who lived between Providence and Newport. Shopkeepers in Providence served the city’s hinterland as well as their neighbors in the city. William Rogers wanted some of that business for himself.

May 22

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

May 22 - 5:22:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 22, 1767).

Fraught with Entertainment.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, also sold books that they imported from England or exchanged with other printers in the colonies. Their advertisement filled an entire column and nearly half of another on the final page of the May 22, 1767, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Such lengthy advertisements were not uncommon for printers and booksellers, but the length of this one resulted from an innovative format not featured in most newspaper notices. Printers and booksellers usually followed one of two standard practices when advertising books. Either they provided a list of titles for sale, a catalog of sorts, or they marketed a single volume via lengthy explications of the contents and their practical usefulness for readers.

The Fowles did a little bit of each but more in this advertisement. They included a short list of additional titles at the conclusion, but first they described several books in chatty blurbs that took a very different tone than most advertisements for books inserted in newspapers in the 1760s. The Fowles aimed to entertain readers rather than strictly instruct them (though a heavy dose of instruction was still embedded in their marketing), offering an alternate rationale for why consumers should purchase their wares.

Consider, for example, the description of “The Clandestine Marriage, A COMEDY: As it is acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.” According to the blurb, the play was “fraught with Entertainment. Some of the Scenes are truly comic, others inculcate the strictest Morality.” It also included a description of the characters, including “the conceited, infirm, and antiquated yet generous Lord Ogleby – the vulgar, money loving Sterling – the sensible Lovewell – the sycophant Canton – the impudent Brush – Mrs. Heidelberg the Dutch Widow, an ignorant Pretender to Quality Mannersthe pert, spiteful Miss Sterling, displaying in reality the modern fine Lady, and the amiable, gentle, and delicate Miss Fanny – who altogether form a Group that must afford greta [sic] Entertainment to every Reader.” In addition, the Epilogue, in particular, was “very remarkable for its Singularity and Humour.”

This shift in tone, telling readers that they would be entertained as well as receive moral instruction, made sense as part of the reading revolution that took place in the eighteenth century. Reading habits experienced a transition from intensive reading of the bible and devotional literature to more extensive reading of works of all sorts for entertainment. The Fowles demonstrate that one mode of reading did not simply replace the other. Instead, they framed several of their books to appeal to whichever purpose their customers wished to achieve in their reading habits.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (May 21, 1767).

“Such Work as is not executed in the best Manner, he does not expect to be taken.”

Joseph Beck made “all Kinds of Stays for Ladies and Misses” at his shop on Queen Street in New York. In marketing his corsets one of the city’s newspapers, he utilized several of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services. He claimed that his stays were fashionable (“in the newest Taste”) and that potential customers could not find a better deal (“at the lowest Prices”). Like many others in the clothing trades, he also underscored that he had migrated “from LONDON,” establishing a connection to the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

To distinguish his advertisements from others, Beck added one more element: a guarantee, of sorts, concerning the quality of the stays he made. This testified to the staymaker’s confidence in his own skills and the value of the goods he produced for the market. In a separate nota bene, he advised prospective clients that “Such Work as is not executed in the best Manner, he does not expect to be taken.” Customers not satisfied with the quality of his work had the option from the very start to reject it. Refusing to accept work deemed inferior may not have seemed especially novel to most readers. After all, customers and those who provided services haggled all the time in the regular course of their interactions and transactions. Yet this sort of guarantee was not yet widely stated in advertisements. By including it, Beck further transformed what some might consider a mere announcement into a notice that actively marketed Beck’s services. This advertisement did not simply inform the residents of New York that Beck made and sold women’s stays. Instead, it worked to incite demand along multiple trajectories: fashion, price, connections to London, and, especially, an explicit promise about the quality of the work. Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, Beck sought to incite demand rather than just reacting to pre-existing consumer desires.

May 20

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

May 20 - 5:20:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 20, 1767).

“RUN AWAY … a MUSTEE WENCH.”

Jenny, an enslaved woman, made her escape, prompting Archibald Bulloch to place an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette. He offered a reward to “Whoever apprehends and delivers the said wench to me in Savannah.” To help readers identify Jenny, Bulloch described her as a “MUSTEE WENCH,” mobilizing one of the many categories for describing both the physical appearance and heritage of mixed race men, women, and children in the early modern Atlantic world.

Mustee, now chiefly an historical term according to the Oxford English Dictionary, specifically means “a person with one white-skinned parent and the other one-quarter black.” In other words, Jenny may have been one-eighth black, presumably fairly light-skinned, as the result of having one African great-grandparent. However, the OED also indicates that mustee sometimes also referred to “a person of mixed European and African descent” and, even more generally, “a person of mixed racial descent” (including indigenous Americans as well as Africans). Mustee was likely a shortened form of mestizo arising from non-standardized spellings. That being the case, Bulloch may not have intended to be any more descriptive than simply indicating that Jenny had a mixed racial heritage.

Whatever the case, Bulloch mobilized print culture to put black bodies on display. By advertising Jenny and describing her as a “MUSTEE WENCH,” he encouraged readers to engage in surveillance of all black women they encountered, to carefully examine their physical characteristics to assess whether they might be the runaway. This advertisement called attention not only to Jenny; it cast suspicion on all black women, the reward offering added incentive to take note of their bodies.

Research note: I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary for an authoritative definition and etymology of mustee. Among its historical sources, the OED included a runaway slave advertisement published in the South Carolina Gazette in 1732.

May 20 - 11:4:1732 South Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (November 4, 1732).

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1767).

“He served his apprenticeship in London, of which city he is a freeman.”

As a standard part of their advertisements, merchants and shopkeepers noted that they sold goods imported from faraway places, especially London. In so doing, they established themselves as conduits who connected their customers to both the quality and fashions associated with goods produced and popularly consumed in the largest city in the British empire. Artisans who made the items they sold in local workshops, however, could not make quite the same claim. Instead, those who had migrated across the Atlantic proudly proclaimed their origins, announcing that they were “FROM LONDON,” as Whiting the saddler did in today’s advertisement.

On occasion, artisans elaborated on the training they had received in workshops in London, demonstrating to potential customers why they should take notice of their origins. Whiting asserted that he was capable of “execut[ing] all the branches of that business in the compleatest manner” precisely because “he served his apprenticeship in London, of which city he is a freeman.” This meant that Whiting belonged to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, one of the city’s livery companies that originated as trade guilds. These companies oversaw members who practiced their trade; they kept standards high, an early modern version of quality control. To become a member, known as a freeman, an artisan had to serve an apprenticeship under a master of the trade who was already a freeman. Alternately, some joined by patrimony if a parent ad been a freeman or by redemption upon paying a fee. Working within the walls of the City of London required achieving freeman status. This conferred some level of prestige on the artisans, a certain cachet that Whiting suggested could be transferred to those who hired him. Whiting wanted prospective customers to know that he had earned the rank of freeman via servitude rather than patrimony or redemption, that he had honed his skills through an apprenticeship to a master saddler.

Although he was an ocean away from the livery companies that oversaw artisans in the City of London, Whiting called on their privileged position and his membership in their order to advance his own workshop in Charleston. He expected that this would resonate with local residents.