September 30

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 30, 1772).

“WILLIAM SMITH, HAS removed his Medicinal Store from Front-street.”

In the fall of 1772, William Smith placed newspaper advertisements to inform the public that he recently moved yet “continues to carry on the Drug Business.”  He invited customers to visit his “Medicinal Store” at his new location, the Rising Sun on Second Street in Philadelphia.  He pledged that he was “determined always to pay particular attention to the quality of his medicines, and hopes by his care and fidelity to render full satisfaction to Practitioners in Physic, and others, who may please to favour him with their custom.”

In an effort to enlarge his share of the market, Smith placed the same advertisement in multiple newspapers.  On Wednesday, September 30, it ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  Later in the week, it also appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on Saturday, October 3.  The advertisements in the three newspapers featured identical copy, though the compositors made different decisions about format, including font sizes and capitalization.

Smith did not choose to place his advertisement in the city’s remaining English-language newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet, on Monday, October 5, nor did he insert it in the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote for the benefit of German-speaking residents in and near Philadelphia.  The printer, had a standing offer in the masthead that “AllADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single, by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis,” but Smith did not avail himself of that service.  Perhaps the apothecary felt that advertising in three newspapers was sufficient.  Perhaps he spent as much as he considered prudent on marketing so opted to forego the other two newspapers.

Whatever the reason, Smith aimed for a greater level of market saturation than advertising in just one publication allowed.  That may have been especially important to him considering that he ran his shop from a new location.  He did not want customers to experience any frustration upon visiting his former location and then decide to visit competitors who continued to do business in familiar locations.  After all, Robert Bass and Townsend Speakman, both prolific advertisers, continued operating their own apothecary shops on Market Street.  Smith did not wish to lose customers to either of them, making his advertisements in three newspapers a sound investment.

September 29

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 29, 1772).

“Sundry NEW ADVERTISEMENTS omitted this Week, in order to Place to the LONDON NEWS, &c. shall have particular Notice taken of them in our next.”

Advertising could appear anywhere in colonial American newspapers, even on the front page.  In fact, some newspapers often devoted the entire front page to the masthead and advertising.  Others placed both news and advertising on the front page.  The distribution of items selected by the printer and paid notices submitted by advertisers varied from week to week in many newspapers.

Such was the case for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, printed by Charles Crouch.  Consider the September 29, 1772, edition.  Like other issues, it consisted of four pages crested by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  The first two pages contained news from London that arrived earlier in the week.  The shipping news from the customs house indicated that the Mermaid from London entered port on September 24.  The New Market, also from London, arrived a day later.  That gave Crouch plenty of time to receive newspapers and letters from both ships, read through them, and choose which items to print before publishing a new weekly edition on September 29.  He reserved advertising for the third and fourth pages, marking some notices with a header for “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS.”

Crouch also inserted a note to alert readers (and advertisers searching for their notices) that “Sundry NEW ADVERTISEMENTS omitted this Week, in order to Place to the LONDON NEWS, &c. shall have particular Notice taken of them in our next.”  What constituted “particular notice” beyond making sure to publish them at all?  No news appeared on the front page of the October 6 edition.  Instead, “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” filled all three columns on both the front page and the final page, two pages printed on the same side of a broadsheet.  Printers often printed those pages first, reserving the second and third pages for news that arrived just before publication.  In addition to the prominent placement of advertising on the front page, almost the entire issue consisted of paid notices.  Only the second page carried anything other than advertising.  News extended throughout the first and second columns.  It overflowed into the third, but more “NEW ADVERTISEMENTS” accounted for half of that column.

The proportion and placement of news and advertising often varied from week to week in colonial newspapers as printers made decisions about providing news for subscribers who (sometimes) paid for their newspapers and disseminating paid notices for advertisers who accounted for an important revenue stream.  As a result, some newspapers sometimes looked like vehicles for delivering advertising without much news content at all.

September 28

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (September 28, 1772).


In their efforts to capture as much of the market as they could, merchants and shopkeepers in cities with multiple newspapers often advertised in more than one publication.  They submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors usually exercised discretion over the appearance of the advertisements in their newspapers.  This resulted in all sorts of variations in capitalization, italics, font sizes, line breaks, and white space.

Consider, for instance, an advertisement that Jonathan Williams, Jr., placed in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy on September 28, 1772.  The two notices had identical copy, but what appeared as “Fall and Winter GOODS / of all Kinds,—and excellent / BROAD CLOTHS” on three lines in the Gazette ran as “FALL and WINTER / GOODS / OF ALL KINDS, / AND EXCELLENT / BROAD CLOTHS” over five lines in the Post-Boy.  Similar variations occurred throughout the remainder of the advertisements.  The version in the Post-Boy also occupied more space relative to other advertisements than the one in the Gazette.  Longer than it was wide, Williams’s advertisement in the Post-Boy filled nearly two “squares” of space.  In contrast, his advertisement in the Gazette was wider than it was long, filling a little less than one square.

Boston-Gazette (September 28, 1772).

Despite the differences in size and format, both advertisements featured borders made of decorative type that distinguished them from other notices.  It hardly seems likely that this happened by chance, that compositors working independently in two printing offices just happened to create borders for Williams’s notice.  This suggests that the advertiser played some role in designing those advertisements.  That may have involved brief conversations with the printers or compositors, but more likely resulted from submitting written instructions.

Williams certainly did not invent this strategy of making his advertisements distinctive compared to others that did not incorporate borders or other decorative type.  In July 1766, Jolley Allen placed the same advertisement in four newspapers published in Boston.  They had identical copy but different formats.  Borders enclosed all of them, though the compositors made different decisions about what kind of decorative type formed those borders.  Other advertisers occasionally adopted a similar strategy, hoping the borders would help draw attention to their advertisements across multiple newspapers.

September 27

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 21, 1772).

“As yet there has not appeared an American Edition of this valuable Piece, what few came over were soon snatch’d up.”

Thomas Nixon sold several books at “his Shop at the Fly-Market” in New York in the fall of 1772.  In an advertisement in the September 21, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury he promoted “THE celebrated Lecture on HEADS, by George Alexander Stevens” and “the Devil upon Crutches in England, or the Night Scenes in London, a satirical Work, written upon the Plan of the celebrated Diable Boiteua of Monsieur La Sage, by a Gentleman of Oxford.”  Both books had been published in Philadelphia, The Celebrated Lecture on Heads by Samuel Dellap, whose name appeared just as prominently in the advertisement as Nixon’s own, and The Devil upon Crutches by William Evitt. According to Isaiah Thomas, Dellap traveled frequently between Philadelphia and New York, transporting books from each location for sale in the other.

Nixon composed an advertisement that deployed the popularity of those works to market them to consumers in New York.  To entice readers to purchase Stevens’s satire on fashion and physiognomy, Nixon proclaimed, “These Lectures have been exhibited in London upwards of One Hundred successive Nights, to crowded Audiences, and met with the most universal Applause.”  Consumers could experience that sensation themselves, though tangentially, by acquiring their own copies of the “celebrated Lecture.”  The advertisement went into even greater detail about audience reception of The Devil upon Crutches.  “This Satyre,” Nixon explained, “is universally approved of by all Ranks of People in Europe, and all those Parts of America where it has made its Appearance.”  The bookseller attempted to use the strength of sales elsewhere to influence local consumers, reporting that “six large Impressions were struck off in London in one Year, besides several other Impressions printed in Dublin and Edinburgh.” A few copies found their way to the colonies, met with such demand that they “were soon snatch’d up, tho’ sold at no less Price than 5s.”  Rather than five shillings, Nixon offered the first American edition of only two shillings, surely a bargain for readers who wanted to partake in the phenomenon of The Devil upon Crutches.

Today, publishers regularly cite bestseller lists and the number of copies sold in their efforts to convince consumers to purchase books that have already achieved widespread popularity.  Nixon devised a version of that strategy when he marketed The Celebrated Lecture on Heads and The Devil upon Crutches in New York during the era of the American Revolution.

September 26

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 26, 1772).

Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE, At the sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD.”

In the fall of 12772, George Bartram advertised a “very large assortment of MERCHANDIZE” recently imported via “the last vessels from Britain and Ireland.”  To entice prospective customers, he provided a list that included “Dark & light drabs or cloth colours, suitable for women’s cloaks,” “Cinnamon, chocolate and snuff colours, with a variety of mixed elegant coloured cloths,” “Scotch plaid, suitable for littler boys short cloths, gentlemen’s morning gowns,” “A COMPLETE assortment of man’s wove and knit silk, silk and worsted, worsted, cotton and thread HOSE,” and “Men & women’s silk, thread and worsted gloves.”  The extensive list, however, did not exhaust Bartram’s inventory.  He proclaimed that he carried “a great variety of other articles in the woollen and linen drapery, and hardware branches.”

With such an array of goods, Bartram did not purport to run a mere shop.  Instead, he promoted his business as a “Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE, At the sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD” on Second Street in Philadelphia.  The header for his advertisement in the September 26, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle had the appearance of a sign, with Bartram’s name and address within a border of decorative type.  The merchant already had a record of using visual devices to draw attention to the name he associated with his store.  In the January 22, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, for instance, the words “GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE” flanked a woodcut depicting a “GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD.”  He previously kept shop “at the Sign of the Naked Boy.”  Newspaper advertisements Bartram placed between 1767 and 1770 featured a woodcut of a shop sign with a naked boy holding a length of cloth in a cartouche in the center, rolls of textiles on either side, and “GEORGE” and “BARTRAM” flanking the bottom of the cartouche.

Many merchants and shopkeepers published lists of their merchandise.  Bartram enhanced such marketing efforts by associating a distinctive device, first the Naked boy and then the Golden Fleece’s Head, with his business, giving his shop an elaborate and memorable name, and using visual images, both woodcuts and decorative type, to distinguish his advertisements from others.  He did not merely announce goods for sale.  Instead, he experimented with marketing strategies.

September 25

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

New-London Gazette (September 25, 1772).

“Sold … by Samuel Loudon, in New-York.”

In his efforts to attract customers for the “Ship-Chandlery, Books, and Stationary” he stocked at his shop in New York, Samuel Loudon placed advertisements in the New-London Gazette in the fall of 1772.  For each category of merchandise, he provided a short list, concluding each with one or more “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate even more choices.  He also stated that he carried “a great Variety of other Books, Divinity[, and] History” beyond the titles in his list.

Although Loudon may have welcomed retail customers for his wares, he most likely intended for his advertisement to capture the attention of masters of vessels who needed to outfit their ships and shopkeepers in New London and other towns in Connecticut interested in augmenting their inventory.  In a note near the end of the advertisement, Loudon stated that “Country Stores are supplied at the lowest Prices with Bibles, Testaments, Common Prayer Books, Spelling-Books, Entick’s Dictionary, Primmers, Bed Cords, Trace Rope, Gunpowder, Brimstone, &c.”  Loudon promised bargains to shopkeepers when they bought popular books and other items usually purchased in quantity.

Loudon could have confined his advertising to any of the three newspapers published in New York at the time.  After all, each of those publications enjoyed circulations far beyond the busy port.  Doing so, however, would have kept him in competition with others who also advertised in those newspapers.  Instead, Loudon sought to expand the market in which he operated by placing advertisements in the nearest newspaper published outside New York.  Although circulation of the New-London Gazette and New York’s newspapers overlapped, this strategy introduced him to new prospective customers.  It also gave his advertisements greater prominence.  All of the newspapers published in New York overflowed with advertising.  The New-London Gazette, a more modest publication, featured significantly less advertising.  It contained much less advertising, giving Loudon’s notice greater visibility.  Even if country shopkeepers in Connecticut perused any of the New York newspapers, they were much more likely to spot Loudon’s advertisement in the New-London Gazette.  Loudon apparently decided that advertising in large newspapers in his own city did not offer the only or even the best route to success.  Advertising in a smaller newspaper in a neighboring colony had its own advantages he considered worth the investment.

September 24

Who were the subjects of advertisements in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Journal (September 24, 1772).

THE Publick are hereby requested not to trust Susannah Crane the Wife of me the Subscriber.”

THIS is to inform the Publick, that I have been compelled to leave my Husband’s House.”

For four weeks in August and September 1772, Jeremiah Crane ran a “runaway wife” advertisement in the New-York Journal to inform the public “not to trust” his wife, Susanna, “on my Account … for I am determined to pay no Debts of her contracting.”  He complained that “she has already run me very considerably in Debt,” forcing him to place the notice “to prevent my entire Ruin.”  Similar advertisements frequently appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies, often deploying formulaic language as they described marital discord in full view of the public.  Jeremiah took a harsher tone in his advertisement, not only accusing Susanna of “living and behaving herself in so scandalous and notorious a Manner” to justify a “publick Notice” but also accusing her of leading “the Life of a common Prostitute.”  Even when they made insinuations about infidelity, husbands who placed “runaway wife” advertisements rarely leveled such accusations so explicitly.  That Jeremiah took that approach testified to the tumult in the Crane household.

In most instance, frustrated husbands set the narrative, at least in the public prints.  Wives could share their version of events via conversations and gossip, but usually lacked the resources to place their own notices in newspapers.  Susanna, however, did run her own notice, declaring that she had been “compelled to leave my Husband’s House, in which I had long received the basest and most unmanly Usage.”  She described a “Disposition naturally jealous, and often inflamed with Liquor,” suggesting that the problems in the Crane household did not originate with her.  Without naming names, Susanna addressed the allegations made by her husband, stating that “he was excited by the Insinuations and base Aspersions of a Person at whose House he spends the best Part of his Time and Substance.”  Jeremiah spent so much time away from his own home that he neglected his wife and her “poor Babes” by not providing “the most scanty Maintenance at Home.”  According to Susanna, the problem was not her comportment, falsely represented by an acquaintance, but rather her husband spending too much time drinking and partaking in tales told by that acquaintance.

In those relatively few instances when wives did place their own advertisements, they almost always appeared in response to notices placed their husbands.  Susanna, however, managed to publish her notice in the same issue in which Jeremiah’s advertisement first appeared.  The compositor chose to place those notices together, perhaps to aid readers with a more complete story or perhaps in sympathy with Susanna.  Either way, readers saw her rebuttal immediately following Jeremiah’s notice.  In most instances when wives responded, their advertisements appeared separately, often on another page completely.  That increased the likelihood that some readers perused only a husband’s side of the story.  The placement of Susanna’s notice aided her in using the power of the press to defend her reputation against Jeremiah’s “churlish Disposition.”

September 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 23, 1772).

“He hereby recommends to them, as a person qualified to serve them on the best terms.”

As fall arrived in 1772, Richard Humphreys took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to inform prospective customers that he “now carries on the GOLDSMITH’s Business, in all its branches” at “the house in which PHILIP SYNG lately dwelt” near the London Coffee House in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the September 23 edition, he made appeals similar to those advanced by other artisans who placed notices in the public prints.  He emphasized the choices that he offered to consumers, asserting that he stocked a “NEAT and GENERAL ASSORTMENT of GOLD and SILVER WARE.”  Humphreys also highlighted his own skills, promising that customers “may be assured of his utmost ability to give satisfaction, both in the quality and workmanship” of the items he made, sold, and mended.

In addition to those standard appeals, Humphreys published an endorsement from another goldsmith, Philip Syng!  Syng reported that he recently relocated to Upper Merion.  In the wake of his departure from Philadelphia, he “informs his friends and former customers, that they may be supplied as usual, at his late dwelling, by the above-named RICHARD HUMPHREYS.”  Syng did not merely pass along the business to Humphreys.  He also stated that he recommended him “as a person qualified to serve” his former customers “on the best terms, and whose fidelity” in the goldsmith’s business “will engage their future confidence and regard.”  With this endorsement, Humphreys did more than set up shop in Syng’s former location.  He became Syng’s successor.  In that role, he hoped to acquire the clientele that Syng previously cultivated.  Syng’s endorsement also enhanced his reputation among prospective customers.

Artisans frequently stressed their skill and experience in their advertisements.  Some detailed their training or their previous employment to assure prospective customers of their abilities and competence.  Such appeals required readers to trust the claims made by the advertisers.  Endorsements also required trust, but they did not rely solely on the word of the advertisers themselves.  In this instance, another goldsmith, one known to “friends and former customers” in Philadelphia, verified the claims that Humphreys made in his advertisement.  Syng staked his own reputation by endorsing Humphreys, a marketing strategy intended to give prospective customers greater confidence in the goldsmith who now ran the shop near the London Coffee House.

September 22

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

Essex Gazette (September 22, 1772).

“Mr. SPARHAWK Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country.”

Although editorials elsewhere in colonial newspapers frequently criticized women for indulging in consumer culture too eagerly, most advertisements for goods and services did not single out female consumers are their intended audience.  Instead, shopkeepers usually presented their wares to all prospective customers, realizing that men participated in the consumer revolution and kept up with news fashions just as enthusiastically as women.

On occasion, however, some advertisers did make special appeals to women.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., pursued both strategies.  In most instances, he did not target consumers of either sex, but in an advertisement in the September 22, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette he “Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country” and “acquaints them he has a most beautiful Assortment of almost every Kind of SILKS for Capuchins [or hooded cloaks], that are of the newest Fashion.”  Sparhawk presented shopping as a pleasure for women, though he did not depict it as an excessive or luxurious vice like critics in the editorials.  He asserted that he “doubts not he shall be able to please almost every Fancy, if the Ladies will be so obliging … just to call and take a View of them.”  He mentioned his location “nearly opposite the Printing-Office,” suggesting that “the Ladies” could visit as they were walking through town and “passing his Store.”  Sparhawk portrayed shopping as an experience, recognizing that each trip to his shop would not necessarily result in a sale.  “Should he be so unhappy as to fail of pleasing any who may call upon him,” he stated, “he shall hold himself much indebted for the Visit.”  Good customer service cultivated and strengthened relationships even when “the Ladies” did not make purchases.

To further entice female customers (and their male counterparts as well), Sparhawk declared that “At the same Store may be seen as great a Variety of English and India GOODS as any in Salem.”  He set low prices for cash or “short Credit,” pledging “not to be undersold by any.”  In addition, he announced that he had just received word of the “arrival of his Fall Goods at Boston.”  Within the next week, he would have new inventory for all of his customers to examine.  The first portion of his advertisement made clear that he wanted women to browse his wares, yet he shifted to more general appeals to engage all prospective customers, both men and women, in the second half of his advertisement.  Sparhawk apparently believed that targeting female customers exclusively had its limits.

September 21

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

Boston-Gazette (September 21, 1772).

“The great Encouragement he has had beyond Expectation from his former Advertisements.”

John Thompson described himself to current and prospective customers as a “Tinman and Brazier from LONDON.”  In an advertisement in the September 21, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette, he declared that he “Makes various Articles in Tin and Copper too tedious to enumerate.”  Other artisans and purveyors of goods published lengthy lists of their merchandise to entice consumers, but Thompson opted instead to focus on a few select items.  He proclaimed that he made “all Sorts of Polish’d Tin Ware like Silver, never before manufactured in Boston,” underscoring the value of purchasing from an artisan “from LONDON.”  In addition, he carried “all Sorts of Come Tin Ware” as well as “Brass and Copper Vessels Tin’d with pure Grain Tin in the London Fashion.”

In his effort to secure his reputation and attract even more customers, Thompson expressed his gratitude to existing customers.  Doing so suggested to prospective customers that he already established a clientele at his shop.  He stated that he “is much oblig’d to all his Customers in General, and to the good People of Boston in Particular, for the great Encouragement he has had beyond Expectation from his former Advertisements.”  Furthermore, his previous success “imboldens him again to advertise, hoping for a Continuance of Favours” from customers in Boston.  Thompson offered rare commentary from an advertiser on the effectiveness of advertising in colonial America.  He asserted that his advertising had indeed produced positive results even “beyond Expectation.”  That certainly supported his allusions to an existing clientele, but that does not necessarily mean that it was mere puffery.  After all, Thompson chose to place a new advertisement following his “former Advertisements.”  He apparently believed that his earlier advertising had been successful, even if he exaggerated its effects in his new notice, or at least considered one more advertisement worth the investment.  Some advertisers testified to the effectiveness of advertising by repeatedly placing notices in the public prints.  Relatively few, however, made such explicit comments on the effectiveness of their marketing.