July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 16, 1768).

“They have set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.”

When Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark opened a new workshop they placed an advertisement to inform prospective customers that they had “set up the CUTLERS Business in Providence.” They called on the residents of the city and its environs to support their new endeavor, explaining the benefits to both consumers and the local economy. The workshop produced “all Sorts of Cutlers Ware used in this Country,” making it unnecessary to rely on imported goods. Indeed, Bucklin and Clark condemned the shoddy cutlery exported to the colonies, a state of affairs that they suggested readers already knew all too well: “When they consider how much this Country hath been abused by bad Wares sent hither for Sale, they are but the more encouraged in their Undertaking.”

In contrast, the workmen who labored in their shop made razors, scissors, knives of various sorts, medical instruments, and “many other Articles” that were “far exceeding in Quality any thing of the Kind imported from Great-Britain.” To that end, they had hired “two Workmen from Europe, who are compleat Masters in the Business” who could “grind and put in Order all the aforementioned Articles, in the best and most expeditiopus Manner.” Bucklin and Clark were so confident of the quality of their wares that they offered a guarantee. The partners pledged that “they will warrant them to be good,” but also promised that if in the instance of any of their products “proving defective” they “will receive them again.”

Bucklin and Clark concluded with an argument simultaneously commercial and political. “It is hoped,” they stated, “that when this Country labours under the greatest Embarrassments and Difficulties, in importing the Manufactures of Great-Britain, their Business will be encouraged, and their Work preferred to such as is imported, as the whole Cost will be saved to the Country.” Bucklin and Clark asserted that the superior quality of their cutlery was only one reason that potential customers should purchase it rather than imported wares. They also declared that consumers had an obligation to make responsible choices that had both commercial and political ramifications. The colonies suffered a trade imbalance with Great Britain; purchasing domestic manufactures helped to remedy that. In addition, passing over imported goods in favor of obtaining locally produced wares made a political statement in the wake of the Townshend Act and other abuses by Parliament. Bucklin and Clark underscored that seemingly mundane decisions about which knives to purchase actually had extensive repercussions.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:15:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 15, 1768).

A large Assortment of BOOKS.

Although eighteenth-century booksellers sometimes issued book catalogs, either as broadsides or pamphlets, they much more often compiled catalogs for publication as newspaper advertisements. Booksellers who also happened to publish newspapers, like Robert Fowle, took advantage of their access to the press when they wished to promote their books, stationery, and other merchandise. Such printer-booksellers exercised the privilege of determining the contents of each issue, sometimes opting to reduce other content in favor of promoting their own wares. Alternately, inserting a book catalog, even an abbreviated list of titles, among the advertisements occasionally helped to fill the pages when printers lacked other content.

Fowle proclaimed that he stocked “A large Assortment of BOOKS” at his shop next door to the printing office in Portsmouth. To demonstrate that was indeed the case, his advertisement in the July 15, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette extended nearly an entire column and enumerated more than one-hundred titles. Such advertisements were part of a reading revolution that occurred in the eighteenth century as colonists transitioned from intensive reading of the Bible and devotional literature to extensive reading across many genres. Fowle’s list also included reference works as well as books meant for instruction. The printer-bookseller offered something for every interest or taste, including “small Books for Children.”

In some instances Fowle also promoted the material qualities of the books he sold. Some titles were “neatly bound & gilt,” making them especially attractive for display as well as reading. He offered “BIBLE of all sizes, some neatly bound and gilt.” Customers could choose whichever looked most appealing to them. If they did not care for the available bindings, they could purchase an unbound copy and have it bound to their specifications. Book catalogs and advertisements offered a variety of choices when it came to the physical aspects of reading materials, not just the contents.

Robert Fowle may have also published book catalogs in the 1760s, but his newspaper advertisements would have achieved far greater distribution. They alerted prospective customers to the “large Assortment” at his shop, introducing them to titles that they might not have previously considered but now wished to own (and perhaps even read) once they became aware of their availability.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 14, 1768).

“Ready Money for clean Linen Rags.”

When John Keating placed an advertisement for the New-York Paper Manufactory in the July 14, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, he did not merely seek customers. Instead, he sought supplies, rags in particular, necessary for the functioning of his enterprise. Throughout the colonies, newspaper readers frequently encountered calls for rags. Printers often inserted brief, generic notices that requested readers submit clean rags that could be made into paper. In the second half of the 1760s, in the wake of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, the calls for rags became lengthier and more elaborate, especially as the proprietors of the New-York Paper Manufactory and its counterparts in other colonies linked economic and political purposes to the formerly mundane process of collecting rags for paper production.

Keating made the stakes clear when he addressed “All those who have the Welfare of the Country at Heart.” Rather than think of linen rags as useless or contemplate the small sums they might yield in trade, he insisted that readers consider “the Benefit which will accrue to the Public in general if the Manufactory is supplied with Rags.” Increasing the volume of paper produced locally would reduce dependence on imports. Turning over rags to Keating and the New-York Paper Manufactory would “enable us to make a sufficient Quantity of Paper for our own Consumption, and by this Means keep in the Province the Sums of Money, which is annually remitted for this single Commodity.” In other words, colonists sent too much of their money to England, never to see it again due to an imbalance in trade, when they purchased paper that could otherwise be produced locally. In addition, the New-York Paper Manufactory created jobs: “by manufacturing of it here, Numbers of poor People are daily employ’d.” Overall, supporting the New-York Paper Manufactory amounted to an expression “of public Utility.”

John Keating was part of an incipient “Buy American” campaign that emerged in the 1760s and increasingly found expression in newspaper advertisements as the imperial crisis intensified. Just as consumption practices took on political valences, so too did some of the most mundane of daily activities, such as the decision to save rags for “the Welfare of the Country” rather than discard them.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 13, 1768).

“A negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY … have not been seen or heard of.”

James Bulloch, a slaveholder, regretted trusting “a negroe fellow called CATO … and his wife JUDY.” The two took advantage of that trust, at least from Bulloch’s perspective, when they decided to run away after he had issued them a pass to go to Savannah. Cato and Judy, for their part, likely had little sympathy when it came to betraying the trust of a man who held them in bondage. Bulloch briefly told their story in an advertisement he inserted in the July 13, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette.

Cato and Judy were both skilled workers. Bulloch described Cato as “a cooper by trade” and Judy as “a washer-woman.” Cato had apparently practiced his trade in the colony’s largest port town; Bulloch indicated that he was “well known in Savannah.” That being the case, it may not have been difficult for Cato to find work when he wished, providing that Bulloch allowed him to participate in the hiring out system. Judy also possessed a skill often in demand, especially in ports. Hiring out his slaves accrued certain benefits for Bulloch, especially if he did not have sufficient work to keep them occupied. By hiring out the cooper and laundress, allowing them to seek their own employment for a specified period, Bulloch reduced his responsibilities for providing food and shelter. He also generated additional income since their wages belonged to him. Slaveholders who thought of themselves as generous sometimes gifted a small portion of the wages to the enslaved men and women who earned them, but usually little more than a token.

Bulloch apparently had no misgivings about this system, at least not as far as Cato and Judy were concerned. Perhaps they had cultivated his trust over time, anticipating when they might have an opportunity to make their escape. Bulloch issued he couple “a written license … to come to town, and thee to work for a month from the 13th day of June last.” He expected them to return after a month, with their wages to hand over to him. To Bulloch’s dismay, however, Cato and Judy “have not been seen or heard of since.” Apparently the couple did not make any pretense of arriving in Savannah and seeking work. Instead, they fled at the earliest opportunity in order for their disappearance to go unnoticed as long as possible, increasing their chances for making good on their escape. Bulloch eventually discovered the subterfuge and offered a reward for their capture and return.

Although filtered through the perspective of slaveholders, advertisements for runaway slaves present striking stories of survival and resistance by enslaved men and women. The same issue of the Georgia Gazette that first provided an account of Cato and Judy’s escape also included three other advertisements for runaway slaves: Pedro “of the Angola country,” who “has the upper part of his right ear cut off,” possibly as a disciplinary measure; Chloe, who “has her country marks on both her cheeks” and spoke little English; and Ben, who “has been for some time sickly.” The advertisements do not provide as much information about any of these fugitives, making it more difficult to reconstruct their stories. Still, these advertisements demonstrate that enslaved men and women did not meekly accept their fate but instead sought to change their condition.

July 12

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

Jul 12 - 7:12:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 12, 1768).

“At WEYMAN’s Looking-Glass Shop.”

Edward Weyman’s advertisements for his “Looking-Glass Shop in Church-street” in Charleston were easily recognizable when they appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In addition to using to his surname as a headline, Weyman included an image of a looking glass mounted in an elaborately carved frame. While Weyman’s woodcut certainly was not a sophisticated engraving, the processes of remediating the image over the years – photography and digitization – likely make it appear more crude than it looked to colonists who read the newspaper when it was first published or even to modern researchers who consult original copies in libraries and archives rather than the digital surrogates more widely accessible in the twenty-first century. This process is compounded when printing images from the digital ones, a process that tends to create even darker and denser images. In other words, Weyman’s woodcut may look like a dark mass to modern eyes, but that is contingent in part on the format in which it is presented for our consumption. Eighteenth-century viewers would have seen a crisper image. They would have more easily noticed the lines and details that do not translate well via subsequent remediation. It remains important not to overstate the quality of this and other woodcuts, but at the same time we should avoid denigrating them as excessively crude unnecessarily.

Besides, Weyman’s woodcut served its purpose. Other than the masthead, only three images appeared in the July 12, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Two of them were stock images that belonged to the printer: a woodcut of a house that accompanied a real estate advertisement and a woodcut of a slave that accompanied a fugitive advertisement. Weyman’s woodcut of a looking glass was the only one commissioned by the advertiser, the only one used exclusively by a particular advertiser rather than interchangeably in advertisements of the corresponding genre. Weyman advertised frequently, making his woodcut a familiar image to regular readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In effect, it created a logo or a brand that readers could immediately identify. Its mere repetition over weeks and months, especially as an especially distinctive visual element, likely secured a place for Weyman in the minds of readers. Even if they did not need or want looking glasses when they glimpsed his advertisements, they were likely to remember his workshop when they were in the market to make such purchases.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 11, 1768).

“To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious.”

When Nathaniel Bird opened a new store on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1768, he stocked it with “a very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS, suitable for the Season.” Unlike many of his competitors in Newport and counterparts in other colonial cities and towns, Bird did not insert a list of merchandise in his advertisement as a demonstration of the vast choices available to prospective customers. Instead, he adopted a different strategy, one that was less common though not unknown. He advised readers that “To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious, and of Course Impertinent with the Publick.” He critiqued one of the standard practices of eighteenth-century advertising for consumer goods, the litany of items offered for sale. Depriving readers and potential customers of an extensive list, he argued, was actually a virtue. His advertisement did not intrude in the public prints any more than necessary to advise the residents of Newport and the surrounding area that he stocked an assortment of imported goods. This method also had the advantage of prompting readers to imagine how long the list might have been if Bird had instead chosen to publish it, an exercise that perhaps conjured consumer choice better than explicitly naming specific articles.

In the absence of a litany of goods, Bird developed other strategies for marketing his wares. He informed prospective customers that he “imports all his Goods direct from the Manufactories.” Some readers may have been skeptical about his ability to acquire everything in his “very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” directly from the producers, but others likely focused on the purpose of this pronouncement. Bird claimed that he eliminated English merchants and other middlemen who drove up prices. This was one factor that allowed him to sell his merchandise “very low, or as cheap as at Boston, or any of the other Governments.” Comparing prices in Newport to those in Boston was a particular concern of the smaller port’s merchants and shopkeepers at the time. Two columns over from Bird’s advertisement, Stephen Deblois, Jr., asserted that he sold similar goods “on as low Terms as they can be had at any Shop or Store in Boston.” Deblois also refrained from publishing a list that enumerated his inventory, but he did not offer any commentary of the sort Bird espoused concerning that decision.

Bird’s critique of list-style advertisements may have garnered additional attention for his own notice. Did consumers consider it an effective appeal? That cannot be determined from the advertisement alone, but Bird’s boldness in making the statement suggests an interest in playing with the accepted forms as a means of engaging prospective customers who might otherwise pass over advertisements that did not seem to offer any content out of the ordinary. Bird’s terse comments made his advertisement memorable, if nothing else.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“MARY PHILIPS, Has just imported … A Large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY.”

Mary Philips was certainly not the only female shopkeeper in New York in 1768, but she was the only woman who advertised consumer goods in the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal and its two-page supplement. Numerous male merchants and shopkeepers advertised imported goods, including Henry C. Bogart, Isaac Noble, Thomas Charles Willet, John Morton, Isaac Low, William Seton, and John Hawkins. Even when taking into consideration that male shopkeepers outnumbered female shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America, women who sold consumer goods were still disproportionately underrepresented in newspaper advertisements in the largest urban ports, especially New York and Philadelphia. Women comprised a significant minority of shopkeepers in those cities, as much as one-quarter to one-third or more, yet even though they participated in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers they opted not to promote such enterprises in the public prints.

That is not to say that women did not advertise at all. Many women did – and did so quite extensively, with advertisements that usually resembled those placed by their male counterparts or, on occasion, exceeded their efforts. Mary Philips’s advertisement fell into the first category. She incorporated several popular appeals into her advertisement for “A large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY and new fancied Goods to the newest Fashion and genteelest Taste.” With a few well-chosen phrases, she made appeals to fashion and consumer choice. Unlike her male counterparts who inserted advertisements in the July 7 issue, she did not list any of her merchandise. Instead, she advised that her inventory was “too tedious to mention.” Shopkeepers of both sexes sometimes resorted to this strategy. This method also evoked consumer choice and challenged prospective customers to imagine what might be available, but also required less investment in advertising fees since such notices occupied less space on the page. While Philips’s choices for her advertisement replicated those sometimes made by her male counterparts, they still seem striking when compared to the other advertisements for consumer goods in the same issue of the New-York Journal. She was the only shopkeeper who opted not to provide even a short list, making her advertisement even less visible than those of her male counterparts.

Other women did place advertisements in that issue, though they advertised services rather than goods. Mrs. Hogan and Mrs. Gray announced plans “to open a School for the general Education of young Ladies” and Mrs. Johnston advised readers that she now operated “a Publick House of Entertainment” at “the Sign of the Duke of Rutland, in Elizabeth-Town.” Other advertisements concerned women, including two for runaway wives and one selling an indentured servant. Still, the pages of the newspaper disguised the extent that women like Mary Philips participated in the colonial marketplace as retailers rather than merely as consumers.