June 27

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

Jun 27 - 6:27:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 27, 1767).

“GOODS, consisting of every article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy advertisements, and many others, not usually imported.”

James Green sold a variety of imported goods at his shop in Providence. For several weeks in the late spring and early summer of 1767 he placed a notice that “he hath just received a large, compleat and fashionable assortment of English and India piece GOODS, consisting of every article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy advertisements, and many others, not usually imported.” This claim caught my attention because it so closely replicated an advertisement placed by Gilbert Deblois in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette at about the same time. Deblois carried “A complete fashionable Assortment of English & India Piece GOODS, consisting of every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements, and many others not usually imported.” Green eliminated the italics that consistently appeared in Deblois’s advertisements in all three Boston newspapers, but he otherwise adopted the same language to make a fairly unique appeal.

Many eighteenth-century advertisements included formulaic phrases, such as “compleat and fashionable assortment,” but appropriation of entire sentences that expressed distinctive marketing efforts was not common. Shopkeepers occasionally stated that they carried too much merchandise to list all of it in an advertisement, but rarely did they claim to carry goods “not usually imported.” Green, whose advertisement first appeared in the Providence Gazette on May 23, apparently lifted copy from Deblois’s notice, probably hoping that it would have the same effect of intriguing potential customers and inciting curiosity about what might be on the shelves in his shop. He may have believed that he could get away with treating this marketing strategy as his own if he was the first and only shopkeeper in Providence to adopt it.

Other scholars have demonstrated that news flowed through networks of printers who liberally borrowed news items from other newspapers, reprinting them word for word, sometimes with attribution and other times without. This advertisement suggests that sometimes advertisers engaged in the same practices, keeping their eyes open for innovative marketing appeals formulated by their counterparts in other cities and adopting them as their own.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:26:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (June 26, 1767).

The Subscribers are desired speedily to send for their Books.”

It took some time for Timothy Green to publish Joseph Fish’s book of nine sermons inspired by Matthew 26:18, but much of the responsibility for the delay belonged to the author. Fish continued to write, revise, and add material to the manuscript “After the Proposals for Printing these Sermons by Subscription, were sent abroad.” Six months before announcing that the book had been “JUST PUBLISH’D,” Green issued an advertisement requesting that those who accepted subscriptions forward their lists to him so he could determine how many copies to print.

In the interim, the book expanded. That, in turn, raised the cost of production and, ultimately, the retail price, even for subscribers. Earlier subscription notices marketed the book for 1 shilling and 10 pence, but the additional material made it necessary to increase the price by 4 pence to a total of 2 shillings and 2 pence if “stitch’d in blue Paper.” Reader who desired a volume “bound in Leather” rather than the basic wrapper could pay an additional shilling. Green catered to different tastes and price points.

He also realized that it was problematic to raise the price of Fish’s Sermons by nearly 20% after customers subscribed at a lower cost. To counter objections, he argued that “even with that Addition they will be uncommonly Cheap, as the Book contains upwards of 200 Pages.” (The reverend Fish might have been dismayed that the printer made an appeal to quantity over the quality of the contents.) In addition, Green reported that many others who had not previously subscribed were so keen on acquiring the book that they stood ready to purchase it at the higher price. The printer gave subscribers an opportunity to opt out by requesting that they send for their books soon. Any not claimed, he warned, would be sold to others who eagerly stood ready to purchase any surplus copies. Rather than apologize for raising the price and breaking the conditions set forth in the subscription notices, Green instead lectured subscribers. Even considering the higher price, they could hardly argue with the value, he admonished. After all, other prospective customers certainly acknowledged that this was a good deal. The original subscribers needed to obtain their copies as quickly possible or else risk losing out as others swooped in and claimed their books.

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 25, 1767).

“I informed you of my Design of establishing a Boarding School in this City.”

As spring gave way to summer in 1767, Mary McCallister published proposals for opening a boarding school for young women in Philadelphia. She addressed her announcement to “the LADIES of PENNSYLVANIA, and the adjacent Provinces.” Although she may have been addressing prospective students, it was equally likely that she also intended for their mothers to peruse her advertisement and contemplate sending their daughters to her boarding school. Notably, she confined her audience exclusively to women, suggesting she believed that if she could convince daughters and wives to choose her school that would be sufficient to sway fathers and husbands concerinf “the many Advantages arising from a Boarding School Education.”

The curriculum she outlined in her advertisement likely played a role in excluding men from McCallister’s efforts to market her academy. It differed significantly from the course of study described in notices about boarding schools for male scholars. McCallister supplemented instruction in “the English and French Languages” with “Needle Work in Silks, Worsted and Linens.” Her pupils could expect to become proficient in embroidery on several fabrics. Once a week, McCallister also assisted her students to cultivate their baking skills, focusing on “Pastry” in particular. In addition, she planned to rotate through lessons “in the Arts of Painting on Glass, Japanning with Prints, [and] Wax and Shell Work, in the newest and most elegant Taste.” McCallister taught all of these subjects herself, but she indicated that the curriculum could be supplemented with “Writing, Arithmetic, Music, or Dancing,” taught by “proper Masters” who would visit the boarding school at appointed times.

McCallister envisioned a school for the local gentry and middling sorts who aspired to join their ranks. Accordingly, this was not a school devoted to general education in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic with some sewing thrown in for good measure. Instead, it was an academy for young ladies of a certain status to learn skills in the decorative arts and other genteel pursuits that would allow them to demonstrate their affluence, leisure, and, especially, refinement to other colonists.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:24:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 24, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD, A YOUNG, HEALTHY, and HANDY, NEGROE WENCH.”

Nine advertisements about enslaved men and women appeared in the June 24, 1767, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Four of them offered slaves for sale. Another sought not to sell an enslaved woman outright but instead to hire her out by the month. Readers could rent her services – washing and ironing – for less than purchasing a slave. The slaveholder continued to generate a return on an investment in human property. Three other advertisements warned against runaways and offered rewards for their capture and return. The final advertisement identified two runaways that had been captured and “Brought to the Work-house, ” where they were being held until their masters collected them.

As the image above demonstrates, seven of those advertisements ran on the final page of the issue. They accounted for approximately half of the content printed on the page. The other two notices similarly accounted for half of the space allotted to advertising elsewhere in the issue. This underscores that advertisements concerning slaves provided a firm foundation for other sorts of advertising in the Georgia Gazette. Revenues from these advertisements contributed to the continuation of the newspaper.

Most of these advertisements focused exclusively on slaves, especially those for runaways and captured fugitives. On the other hand, some that advertised slaves for sale did so in the midst of attempting to make other sales as well. For instance, one notice for an estate sale listed “HOUSEHOLD and KITCHEN FURNITURE” and “a SMALL STOCK of CATTLE, a GUN, a PAIR of PISTOLS, a SMALLSWORD, TWO WATCHES, a NEGROE BOY, a MAN’s SADDLE, &c.” The same advertisement also listed “TWO NEGROE FELLOWS, a PARCEL of BOOKS, and sundry other articles.” Undifferentiated from other possessions, the presence of slaves among an estate inventory soon to be auctioned further demonstrates that eighteenth-century consumer culture (and the print culture that bolstered it) operated firmly within a system that relied on the productive labor of enslaved men, women, and children and the ability to buy and sell them as easily as any other commodities.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 23, 1767).

“Returns his hearty thanks to those gentlemen and ladies who have favoured him with their custom.”

Richard Fowler, an upholsterer and paperhanger, assisted residents of Charleston in adorning their homes. He sold a variety of decorative arts, including hardware to decorate chests and desk drawers as well as paper hangings (today known as wallpaper), both patterned or with landscape scenes. At the same time that shopkeepers marketed all sorts of housewares for colonists to decorate their personal spaces, Fowler provided means for transforming those spaces by updating the appearances of walls and furniture. Upholstery and paper hangings garnered immediate attention, while the “baubles of Britain” might more easily be overlooked or have less impact.

Acquiring paper hangings and upholstery thus represented both an important choice and a significant investment. Visually, both drew the eye, setting the tone for any room and creating a first impression that testified to the tastes of the residents. Prospective customers wanted to create settings where they felt comfortable, but they also wished to impress visitors and communicate their own style and awareness of current fashions.

To that end, Fowler did not merely supply and install upholstery and paper hangings. Instead, he also took on some of the duties of an eighteenth-century interior decorator, assisting clients in choosing upholstery and paper hangings that best suited them. Note that he described both patterned and landscape paper hangings as “genteel.” Exercising such responsibility required some amount of trust. To gain new patrons, Fowler needed to demonstrate that previous customers had indeed entrusted him to provide such services. He did so by extending “his hearty thanks to those gentlemen and ladies who have favoured him with their custom” and pledged to “merit it by his care and assiduity.” Through extending this invitation to former customers, Fowler implied that he had an active clientele. Regardless of whether previous customers engaged his services again, his advertisement suggested to prospective new customers that Fowler’s services were popular among local “gentlemen and ladies” because he delivered both quality and refinement.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 22, 1767).

“She undertakes to make and mend Men’s Leather Shoes.”

Elizabeth Shaw, “Shoe-Maker, from Europe,” was not the only woman who placed a newspaper advertisement for consumer goods and services in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today. Mary Hill also inserted a commercial notice in the Boston Post-Boy, informing potential customers that she sold a “Variety of Millinary.” Priscilla Manning informed readers of the Boston Evening-Post that she carried a “Variety of English & India GOODS” at her shop. In other colonies, Mary Maylem’s advertisement for a “neat Assortment of fashionable GOODS” appeared in the Newport Mercury. The Widow Hays hawked “ALL Sorts of PICKLES … with several Sorts of SWEET MEATS” in the New-York Gazette while Margaret Collins and Elizabeth Bevan each placed her own advertisement for “Gentlemen Lodgers” in the New-York Mercury. Mrs. Adams did not place a separate advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette, but writing master William Adams indicated near the end of his notice that “Mrs. Adams will teach young ladies to sew” and planned to acquire “a compleat assortment of millinary” to retail on her own.

Shaw joined the ranks of other women who entered the marketplace by inserting an advertisement in the public prints, but the nature of her business differed from the other women who advertised on the same day. Among those who sold goods, Manning and Maylem operated shops where they sold all kinds of imported goods, but especially textiles and housewares. Hill specialized in selling millinery and also made her own hats to sell to other women. Hays provided food to her customers. Collins, Bevan, and Adams extended their domestic responsibilities into business endeavors, the first two taking in boarders and Adams teaching girls to sew. Although they all entered the marketplace, these women followed occupations deemed appropriate to their gender. Shaw, on the other hand, practiced a trade more often associated with men, though not their exclusive domain. She did not limit herself to predominantly female clients, but instead made and repaired “Men’s Leather Shoes” as well. The other female advertisers demonstrated what was probable when it came to women’s occupations in colonial America, but Shaw’s advertisement testified to what was possible.

June 21

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

Jun 21 - 6:19:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (June 19, 1767).

“Will be sold 10 per cent. under the common advance.”

John Davies paid attention to quality and, especially, price in his advertisement for imported Irish linens and other textiles in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He encouraged customers to buy in volume as a means of lowering prices as he targeted retailers who needed “to supply themselves … to sell again.” Although he did not specify specific rates for most of his goods, he did offer some numbers that would have been attractive to potential customers looking to acquire inventory and turn a profit themselves.

For instance, he stated that he “sold 10 per cent. under the common advance.” He assumed that potential customers already had a general sense of the going rates for the various sorts of textiles he sold, enticing them with the savings he offered compared to what they otherwise expected to pay. To sweeten the deal, he also promoted “the advantage of 5 per cent. being allowed in the purchase of them for prompt payment.” In other words, as he stated later in the advertisement, those “who purchase with cash” rather than credit stood to enjoy an additional discount that made his prices even more competitive. Davies implied further discounts for buying in bulk – “still greater allowance that will be made in taking a quantity” – although he did not offer specifics. The size of the subsequent discount may have been tied to the quantity purchased, subject to negotiations between Davies and his customers at the time of sale.

How was Davies able to offer low prices and significant discounts? He had cultivated relationships directly with the manufacturers, sidestepping English merchants who usually supplied American wholesalers and retailers. There had been “no charge of commissions” to other parties to drive up Davies’s prices. He also kept costs down by making his own purchases in cash rather than credit that accumulated interest. He passed his savings on to his customers in Charleston.