December 3

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

Essex Gazette (December 3, 1771).

“The Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”

John Cabot and Andrew Cabot operated a shop in Beverly, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  They took to the pages of Essex Gazette in December 1771 to promote an “Elegant Assortment of English and India GOODs.”  They boldly proclaimed that they offered the best prices in the region, “determined … to give undoubted Satisfaction to every Purchaser, and at as low a Rate, if not lower, than at any Store in BOSTON or SALEM, notwithstanding the Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”  The Cabots critiqued their competitors as they made their own “pompous” claim about their prices.

Such commentary may have captured the attention of prospective customers, but it was like the format of the advertisement that drew their attention in the first place.  The copy ran upward diagonally, forming a diamond that filled the traditional square of space that advertisers purchased.  One or two words appeared on the first lines.  The number of words and length of each line increased with each line until the line that extended from the lower left corner of the advertisement to the upper right corner, then decreased with each line.

The format was novel in the Essex Gazette, but that does not mean that it was unfamiliar to readers or to the Cabots.  Two months earlier, Gilbert Deblois, a shopkeeper in Boston, similarly experimented with the design of his advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The Cabots likely saw Deblois’s advertisement.  After all, they commented on the content of advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers in both Boston and Salem.  Perhaps they even clipped the advertisement or submitted an issue of the Boston Evening-Post with their copy and instructions for the compositor to replicate the format of Deblois’s unique notice.  They likely had to pay more than the three shillings that Samuel Hall usually charged for advertisements “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” but they may have considered it well worth the investment to create an advertisement practically guaranteed to attract notice from prospective customers.

December 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Peterson

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

Boston-Gazette (December 2, 1771).

“POTASH Kettles.”

Smith and Atkinson advertised “POTASH KETTLES” and “EUROPEAN and INDIA GOODS” in the Boston Gazetteon December 2, 1771. The combination of potash kettles and imported goods in their advertisement give insight about life during this time. Potash, a chemical compound made from burning trees, was an important commodity produced in colonial America. As William I. Roberts III explains, “Potash, or pot-ashes, as contemporaries called it, was the principal industrial chemical of the eighteenth century, being essential in the production of crown or flint glass, soft soap, various drugs and dyes, and saltpetre.”[1] As Roberts suggests, potash was a very important chemical during this era, one used in many different everyday items.  Colonists produced and exported this commodity. Potash helped colonists make money.  In turn, producing potash helped them participate in the consumer revolution. Colonists used the money they earned from selling a material used to make other goods, like glass and soap, to purchase the imported goods that Smith and Atkinson advertised.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

When selecting an advertisement about potash kettles, Lizzie had several options.  She ultimately chose the advertisement that best illuminated themes from readings and discussions about commerce and consumption in early America in our Research Methods class at Assumption University in Spring 2021.  Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement does indeed demonstrate both production and consumption in eighteenth-century America, distinguishing it from other advertisements about potash kettles that ran in the same issue of the Boston-Gazette.

Note that Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement was nestled between and advertisement for “Pot-Ash Kettles” placed by Benjamin Andrews, Jr., and another for “POT-ASH KETTLES” by Joseph Webb.  Those three notices accounted for most of the middle column on the front page of the December 2, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazette, prominently placed where readers would likely notice them.  Each advertisement encouraged American industry, noting that the kettles had been cast at forges in several towns in New England.  In turn, buyers would use the kettles to produce potash to export.  As Lizzie notes, they could use the proceeds to participate in the consumer revolution, purchasing the “EUROPEAN and INDIA GOODS” that Smith and Atkinson so prominently promoted in their advertisement.  Andrews also mentioned “a small assortment of English Goods” on hand at his shop, but Smith and Atkinson’s advertisement most visibly establishes the relationship between production and consumption in early America.

Colonists encountered the same advertisement in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on the same day it ran in the Boston-Gazette.  All three newspapers ran other advertisements by merchants and shopkeepers who listed an array of merchandise – textiles, housewares, hardware – that they imported and sold.  Colonists who acquired their potash kettles from Smith and Atkinson had many other options beyond the “large and general assortment of EUROPEAN and INDIA GOODS” stocked by Smith and Atkinson.  The widespread encouragement to consume imported goods that appeared in advertisements in all three newspapers buttressed Smith and Atkinson’s notice that balanced production and consumption.

**********

[1] William I. Roberts III, “American Potash Manufacture before the American Revolution,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 116, no. 5 (October 1972): 383.

 

December 1

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

New-York Journal (November 28, 1771).

Several Advertisements which came to late, will be inserted in our next.”

John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, devoted more space to advertising than to news in the November 28, 1771, edition.  In addition to the standard issue that consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half, Holt also distributed a two-page insert.  Of the eighteen columns spread over six pages, ten consisted of paid notices.  Yet Holt did not publish all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office.

In a brief note, the printer advised that “Several Advertisements which came to late, will be inserted in our next.”  Like other printers, Holt depended on advertising revenue to make publishing his newspaper a viable enterprise.  At the end of each issue, he listed the fees in the colophon:  “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”  The notices that did appear in the November 28 edition represented significant revenue, but Holt did not want to risk alienating others who sent advertisements with the expectation they would run that week.  Some printers required advertisers to pay for their notices in advance, extending credit to subscribers but not to advertisers.  Holt did not include that provision in the colophon, but advertisers might have known of such a policy through other means, especially those who previously placed notices in the New-York Journal.  If payment arrived with advertisements received too late for publication in the current issue, then Holt certainly wanted to reassure those customers that they would indeed see their notices in print at the earliest possible opportunity.

The printer may have expected his notice to resonate with prospective advertisers as well.  He demonstrated that he published advertisements in a timely manner, but encouraged them to submit items as early as possible in order to increase the chances that they would appear in the issue currently in production.  Establishing such expectations helped in preventing frustration or misunderstandings, cultivating positive relationships with customers who might otherwise choose to place their notices in another newspaper published in New York.

November 30

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

Providence Gazette (November 30, 1771).

“(T. b. c.)”

For eight weeks in the fall of 1771, George Olney ran an advertisement for a “compleat Assortment of English and India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette.  His advertising campaign commenced on October 12 and concluded on November 30.  From week to week, an identical notice appeared in the public prints, with one exception.  The last four insertions included an additional line with a notation, “(T. b. c.),” that was not part of the original advertisement.  Readers likely passed over that notation, realizing that it was intended for the compositor and other workers in John Carter’s printing office.

Similar notations appeared at the end of advertisements in many colonial newspapers, many of them listing issue numbers that corresponded to the first and last appearance so compositors could easily determine whether to include advertisements when preparing the next edition.  Other notations require more systematic attention to multiple advertisements published over the course of weeks or months to decode.  What did “(T. b. c.)” mean?  Perhaps it meant “to be continued” until the advertiser decided to discontinue the notice.  In that case, Olney likely initially paid to have his advertisement run for four weeks and then requested that it continue until he instructed otherwise.  That, however, would have run contrary to the policy that Carter stated in the colophon: “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”  Carter did not seem inclined to extend credit to advertisers, but the notation on Olney’s advertisement suggests that the printer may have exercised some discretion for those who paid for an initial run.

Consulting ledgers and account books might reveal practices in the printing office that deviated from the policy in the colophon, but in their absence an examination of other advertisement with the same notation might establish a pattern.  Other advertisements in the Providence Gazette bore the “(T. b. c.)” notation.  Next week, the Adverts 250 Project will examine another of those advertisements to determine when in its run it acquired the notation.  That may help to outline some of the likely business practices adopted by Carter as he managed advertising in his newspaper.

November 29

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

New-London Gazette (November 29, 1771).

“He has lately employed a Workman from England.”

As winter approached in 1771, William Hill, a clothier who operated a fulling mill, took to the pages of the New-London Gazette to promote new services available at his shop.  Hill informed readers that he recently hired “a Workman from England” who provided assistance maintaining garments of various sorts.  According to the clothier, his employee “revives scarlets and other Colours when defaced,” restoring textiles after they experienced fading or other damage.  The workman also “takes Spots out of all Kinds of Silks” to make them presentable once again.  In addition, he “colours and presses Silk Gowns, as also all Kinds of Men’s Apparel in the best Manner.”  Hill was not content solely with treating fabrics in advance of making them into clothing; he also sought to generate revenues by offering them options for caring for their garments.  He did not possess the skills to deliver those ancillary services on his own, so he hired someone to work in his shop.

Whether artisans or shopkeepers, most advertisers did not mention those who labored in their shops, though wives, sons, daughters, apprentices, assistants, employees, and enslaved men and women made many and various contributions in all sorts of workplaces in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisements depicted bustling sites of production and commerce, but only testified to a fraction of the workers who interacted with customers or labored behind the scenes.  In most cases, newspaper notices mentioned only the proprietor, often in a larger font that served as a headline.  Such was the case for Joseph Gale, whose advertisement listed an assortment of textiles, housewares, and hardware in stock at his shop in Norwich, but did not mention any family members, employees, or others who served customers.  Those advertisers who did acknowledge others who worked in their shops usually sought to enhance their reputations by calling attention to supplementary services as they expanded their businesses.  Hill made sure that the public knew about the various skills his new employee possessed, but did not mention the contributions of anyone else who might have worked in his clothier’s shop.

November 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 28, 1771).

“My boy JOHN COFFE ran away.”

Advertisements for runaway indentured servants and apprentices as well as enslaved people who liberated themselves by fleeing from their enslavers regularly appeared in colonial newspapers.  The November 28, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, carried several.  Peter Care informed readers that “a Dutch servant man, named George Foell” absconded a month earlier, described the runaway’s appearance and clothing, and offered a reward to whoever “apprehends and secures the said servant, so that his master may have him again.”  In another advertisement, John Anderson, the jailkeeper in Newtown in Bucks County, reported that he had in custody “a likely NEGROE man” suspected of liberating himself from George Adam Widner of Reading.  “His master,” Anderson instructed, “is desired to come and pay charges, and take him away.”

Among the many runaway advertisements that competed for the attention of readers, Andrew Moore sought to distinguish his notice by resorting to verse.  “THE ’leventh month, the sixteenth day, / My boy JOHN COFFE ran away,” the poem began.  Moore described Coffe’s age and appearance, but did so in rhyming couplets in hopes of keeping readers interested.  “His age uncertain, yet appears / To be at least full fifteen years,” Moore asserted, before providing an extensive description of Coffe’s clothing.  “A good wool hat he took away, / Quite new, just bought the other day … His jacket was, as I am told, / Too big for him, and something old.”  He commented on the fit of another garment as well.  “Old buckskin breeches too he had, / Too big I’m sure for such a lad.”  Moore may have intended this attention to the size of Coffe’s clothing to allude to his lack of experience and maturity.  As with most advertisements about runaway servants and apprentices, this one concluded with an overview of the reward.  “Whoever takes him, pray don’t fail / To lay him fast in any jail, / And then, to you I’ll freely give / Full Thirty Shillings if I live.”

Moore frequently forced the rhymes to make his poem about Coffe work, but his intention was not to write a work of literature but instead to create an advertisement that took a familiar theme and made it fresh and memorable.  Rather than a dense paragraph of text, he gave readers a breezy poem that entertained as well as informed.  It certainly took more effort to compose than typical runaway advertisements, but Moore likely that a worthy investment that would aid in recovering the recalcitrant Coffe.

November 27

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 25, 1771).

“Every other article that fashion produces in the millenary business.”

The appropriately named Susannah Faircloth sold a variety of textiles and adornments at her shop in New York in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the November 25, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, she listed “a variety of sattens and peelongs, figured and plain muslins, lawns, cambricks and taffeties” and “figured and plain gauze,” naming an array of fabrics familiar to discerning eighteenth-century consumers.  She acquired her wares from England, having imported them “in the Britannia, Capt. Thomas Miller, and the last vessels from London.”

Faircloth and other advertisers reported such connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire as a means of convincing prospective customers that they carried the latest fashions.  Elsewhere in the same issue, for instance, the partnership of Leigh and Price promoted goods “imported by the Britannia, Capt. Miller, and by the late Vessels from London.”  Several artisans who set up shop in New York indicated that they formerly practiced their trades in London, including Bennett and Dixon, “Jewellers, Goldsmiths, and Lapidaries, from LONDON,” James Yeoman, “WATCH and CLOCK-MAKER, from LONDON,” and Thomas Brown, “Marble Cutter, FROM LONDON.”  With so many artisans hailing from London and so many merchants and shopkeepers outfitting customers in garments and goods from London, the advertisements in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury suggested to customers that they had full access to the styles of the fashionable metropolis.

Faircloth also invoked the latest tastes more explicitly.  Among her inventory, she carried “a quantity of the most fashionable ribbons.”  She concluded her advertisement with a proclamation that she also sold “every other article that the fashion produces in the millenary business.”  Prospective customers could depend on her to offer more than just goods shipped from London.  She also provided knowledge of the latest trends, a valuable resource for consumers.

November 26

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

Connecticut Courant (November 26, 1771).

“WE also return out sincere thanks to all our good customers.”

In the fall of 1771, Thomas Converse placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant to inform prospective customers that he stocked a “Neat Assortment of English and India GOODS” at his store in Hartford.  In addition, he and a partner continued to make breeches at the same location, conveniently marked by the “sign of the Leather Breeches.”  Converse and Stone had on hand “a number of breeches already made” as well as “leather of the neatest kind,” both options sure to suit the “gentlemen” of the town.

Converse and Stone devoted a significant portion of the advertisement to expressions of gratitude directed at both current and prospective customers.  “WE also return our thanks,” the partners declared “to all our good customers for past favours, and doubt not but our continuance to do our work well … will insure their further favours.”  In addition, Converse and Stone emphasized customer service, stating that they provided “courteous and kind treatment.”  Eighteenth-century advertisers, especially artisans who produced the goods they sold, regularly acknowledged their customers in their advertisements.  Doing so suggested to those who had not yet availed themselves of the goods and services being offered that an advertiser already had an established clientele.  In the case of Converse and Stone, prospective customers may have felt more confident engaging their services if they believed that their “good customers” were also satisfied customers.  This served as an invitation to join a community of consumers that the breeches makers already cultivated.  Extending “sincere thanks” in print also contributed to the customer service that Converse and Stone purported to practice at the “sign of the Leather Breeches,” demonstrating to current and prospective customers that their attention to their patrons continued after they departed their store.  Converse and Stone sought to be “the public’s humble servants” if customers would give them the opportunity.

November 25

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (November 25, 1771).

“Last Saturday was published … The CENSOR, No. 1.”

Ezekiel Russell distributed the first issue of The Censor on November 23, 1771.  Two days later, he promoted his new publication in an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.  Russell announced that he published the inaugural issue “Last Saturday” and invited prospective subscribers to reserve their copies.  “The Receiption this Paper has already met with,” he confided, “gives the Publisher Encouragement to hope for a large Subscription for the same, and that he shall be enabled to continue it on Saturday next.”

Russell apparently had some doubts about whether The Censor would achieve a second issue.  It did, but publication lasted less than six months.  Russell distributed the last known issue on May 2, 1772.  In his monumental History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, Clarence Brigham describes The Censor as “a political magazine rather than a newspaper, somewhat in the style of the ‘Tatler’ or ‘Spectator.’”  Frank Luther Mott indicates that it was one of only three American magazines founded between 1760 and 1774, but otherwise gives The Censor little attention beyond including it in a chronological list of magazines in an appendix.  “The political state of the Colonies was unfavorable to literature,” Mott intones.[1]  Brigham present a more sanguine view of The Censor, especially “its occasional ‘Postscripts’ [which] bore every appearance of being newspapers and contained certain local news and a large number of advertisements.”[2]

If such a Postscript accompanied the first issue, it has not survived.  Unlike printers who launched newspapers during the period, including Richard Draper and the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771, Russell did not seek advertisers in his notice.  Instead, he focused on attracting subscribers, expressing his desire that “every Subscriber will deposit something on subscribing” in order to defray the “great Expence” associated with the publication and “setting up a new Office.”  As Brigham notes, advertising supplements accompanied certain subsequent issues.  In the coming months, the Adverts 250 Project will examine some of those Postscripts to the Censor.

**********

[1] Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1939), 26, 788.

[2] Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (Worcester: Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 1947), 275.

November 24

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (November 22, 1771).

“Proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”

Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly placed advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter as well as the other newspaper published in Boston in the early 1770s.  While the shopkeepers aimed their notices at consumers, some merchants address both retailers and consumers.  William Bant, for instance, stocked a “large and general Assortment of GOODS … to sell by Wholesale and Retail.”  Not every advertiser identified their intended customers so explicitly; some instead made more specific appeals that invited both retailers and consumers to purchase their merchandise.

John Adams and Company advertised a “complete Assortment of Cream-colour’d China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” as well as groceries and a “small Assortment of English Goods” available at their shop near the Old South Meeting House.  Adams and Company informed prospective buyers that they sold their wares “very low for Cash – with proper Allowances made to those that sell again.”  In other words, retailers who bought in volume received discounts.  Similarly, William Bant concluded his extensive advertisement that listed dozens of items with a nota bene that alerted “Traders and Shopkeepers” that they “may be supplied with Assortments of the foregoing Articles, upon as good Terms, as at any Store in Town.”  Bant hoped to entice retailers by offering to match the prices set by his competitors.

In another advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, Smith and Atkinson made it clear that they intended to deal with retailers exclusively.  They acquired a “Large and General Assortment of European and India Goods … on the very best Terms,” allowing them to sell their merchandise “(by Wholesale only) at such Prices as shall give full Satisfaction to those in Town and Country who purchase their Assortments here.”  In addition, they encouraged retailers who imported goods on their own to supplement their inventories and “compleat their Assortments” by selecting from among the items Smith and Atkinson had on hand.

Readers encountered numerous advertisements for consumer goods in just about every issue of newspapers published in Boston in the early 1770s.  Merchants and shopkeepers hoping to sell directly to consumers placed the majority of those advertisements, but not all of them.  William Bant, John Adams and Company, and Smith and Atkinson were among the many merchants who sold imported goods wholesale, designing marketing materials aimed at retailers rather than consumers.