June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:15:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 15, 1769).

Half a Dollar per Dozen, it being the lowest that I can get them to yet.”

Two advertisers offered lemons for sale in the June 15, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. One advertisement simply stated: “JUST IMPORTED, and to be Sold by Jonathan Snelling, At his Store on Treat’s Wharf, A few Boxes of choice Lisbon Lemons.” The other advertisement was more elaborate. Opening with a headline that proclaimed “Fresh Lisbon LEMMONS,” John Crosby then went into detail about the low prices that he managed to finagle for his customers in Boston and its environs.

Even before publishing this advertisement, Crosby was familiar in the local marketplace. He advertised frequently, not only in the Boston Weekly News-Letter (co-published with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) but also in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (co-published with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette). Usually short, his advertisements always advised potential customers to seek him out “At the Basket of Lemmons” (his preferred spelling) in the South End. Between his easily recognizable shop sign and regularly placing advertisements in multiple newspapers, Crosby made sure that residents of the busy port were aware of his citrus venture.

Yet he further enhanced the visibility of his business by emphasizing the prices of his fruit. Shopkeepers and other purveyors of goods infrequently listed prices in their advertisements in the 1760s, making it all the more notable that Crosby set the price for lemons at “Half a Dollar per Dozen.” Underscoring that this was a particular bargain, he informed readers that was “the lowest I can get them to yet.” He also had “Very good China Oranges at 24 Shillings per Dozen.” This was not the extent of his attention to prices. He also pledged to continue inserting “a Weekly Account in this Paper as usual, of the lowest Price I can Sell [lemons] for.” His marketing strategy depended not only on constantly presenting his name and the “Basket of Lemmons” to potential customers but also providing regular updates about prices so consumers could assess deals and bargains for themselves.

Comparing the advertisements for lemons placed by Snelling and Crosby demonstrates that not all eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements for consumer goods were alike. While it might be tempting to dismiss them as mere announcements, their variations testify to the efforts advertisers made to incite demand and the innovations they adopted to distinguish their businesses from their competitors. Although brief, Snelling’s advertisement did make appeals to freshness and quality, noting that his “choice” lemons had been “JUST IMPORTED.” Crosby much more elaborately leveraged price as he endeavored to sell his lemons. He achieved impressive visibility for his business with his weekly account of prices in his advertisements.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:14:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 14, 1769).

“Gentlemen and others … may depend on the greatest punctuality.”

As spring turned to summer in 1769, Robert Gray launched a new business in Savannah. The wigmaker and hairdresser marked the occasion by placing an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to inform the public that “he intends carrying on his business in this town.” Prospective clients could find him on Broughton Street, “Next door to Mr. Johnston’s.” He was conveniently located next door to the printing office operated by James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. Yet Gray did not expect clients to visit his shop; instead, he offered to serve them “either at their lodgings or his shop,” catering to their convenience.

Gray used his advertisement to inform “the publick” of his new enterprise, but he also addressed “Gentlemen and others” when he pledged his “greatest punctuality” in serving his clients. This was a curious phrase, one that also appeared elsewhere on the same page in an advertisement placed by John Beaty, a tailor from London. Beaty proclaimed, “All gentlemen and others who may favour him with their commands shall be waited upon, and have their orders strictly obeyed.” Gray and Beaty attempted to peddle in exclusivity, but they also wanted to have it both ways. They encouraged prospective clients to think of themselves as genteel “gentlemen,” yet they did not want to position themselves as serving only the most elite residents of Savannah. In a small port with relatively few potential patrons compared to larger cities that may have been a practical strategy. The hairdresser and the tailor might have built their businesses around greater exclusivity in Charleston, New York, or Philadelphia, but they had to operate according to the realities of the market in Savannah. Gray and Beaty also implied that they recognized the distinctions between “gentlemen and others,” though neither would have given voice to clients that they considered them in one category or the other. As the consumer revolution gave colonists of various backgrounds greater access to goods and services previously reserved for the upper ranks, hairdressers, tailors, and others carefully presented their services to both the genteel and aspirants to gentility. The “others” might, over time, improve their social standing and become “gentlemen” if they used the services of hairdressers and tailors to their best advantage.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:13:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 13, 1769).

“Bengalls, Chints, striped Ginghams, and red & white striped Holland.”

Samuel Cottman advertised “a Variety of English Goods” in the June 13, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. To whet prospective customers’ appetite, he listed some of the items available at his shop, though his litany of goods was nowhere near as extensive as what appeared in George Deblois’s advertisement on the same page. That advertisement extended half a column, while Cottman’s filled a single square of text (the standard unit for purchasing advertising space in eighteenth-century newspapers). Still, Cottman named about a dozen kinds of textiles that customers would find among his merchandise. In the process, he engaged readers in a conversation about consumer culture that relied on specialized knowledge of the goods presented for their consideration.

Cottman offered several fabrics that customers could use to make “Men’s Waistcoats,” including “Bengalls,” “Chints,” “Ginghams,” and “Holland.” He also supplied “Gauze” for aprons and “Persians” for other uses. While some of these patterns remain familiar in the twenty-first century, most are not as widely recognized as they were in the eighteenth century … and they were certainly recognized by average readers and consumers. Cottman, Deblois, and others who advertised in the Essex Gazette and other newspapers throughout the colonies knew that their fellow customers spoke the language of consumer culture, especially when it came to textiles. They knew that prospective customers could distinguish among the several fabrics listed in Cottman’s advertisement as well as nearly a dozen others that Deblois included in his lengthier notice. Even if they could not afford certain fabrics or declined to purchase them because the patterns did not suit their tastes, readers knew the differences among the options presented to them and could easily envision them.

By modern standards, Cottman’s advertisement seems dull. It looks like a dense block of text that would have incited little interest in the goods he attempted to sell. Yet it must be considered according to how readers in the eighteenth-century would have read it. Few advertisements included any sort of visual images. Those that did usually did not feature depictions of the particular merchandise offered for sale; instead, crude woodcuts replicated shop signs or showed generic representations of commonly purchased items. No newspaper advertisement provided color images of fabrics or other goods. Instead, advertisers relied on the imaginations of readers. They deployed the expansive language of consumer culture as a means of invoking images that printing technologies of the time allowed them to deliver only through text. Eighteenth-century readers, well versed in the language of consumption, would have derived far more from Cottman’s advertisement than just the words on the page. It would have evoked vivid images of the many sorts of fabrics in his inventory.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:12:1769 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (June 12, 1769).

“UMBRILLOES.”

Oliver Greenleaf and Isaac Greenwood placed competing advertisements for “UMBRILLOES” in the June 12, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. They relied on different marketing strategies, but both presented umbrellas as accessories perfectly appropriate for colonists, especially women, to acquire and use. Kate Haulman explains that umbrellas were a source of debate in the era of the American Revolution. They had only recently appeared in England and its colonies in North America. “Though large and clumsy by modern standards,” Haulman explains, “the umbrellas of the late eighteenth century were brightly colored items of fashion made of oiled silk, stylistic spoils of empire hailing from India.” Yet some colonists were uncertain that they should adopt this fashion. Beyond the space devoted to advertising, debates about umbrellas appeared elsewhere in colonial newspaper, “the forum best suited to prescribe or proscribe certain styles and behaviors for a wide audience of readers.” Some colonists considered umbrellas “ridiculous and frivolous, serving no purpose that a good hat could not supply.” Others allowed for their use, but only by women. In the eighteenth-century, many considered the umbrella a feminine accessory.[1]

Other colonists, however, defended umbrellas. Greenleaf and Greenwood addressed them, though they likely hoped to win new converts with their advertisements as well. Greenleaf did not acknowledge the debate over umbrellas. Instead, he positioned his umbrellas and the “great Variety of English GOODS” available at his shop within another debate about consumer culture. He proclaimed that his umbrellas and other goods were “NOT Lately Imported.” Usually merchants and shopkeepers emphasized that they carried the latest fashions that only recently arrived via ships from English ports, but in 1769 the vast majority in Boston participated in a nonimportation pact in protest of the duties on certain goods imposed by the Townshend Acts. A committee of merchants and traders monitored adherence and published reports in the city’s newspapers. Greenleaf’s livelihood and his reputation both depended on assuring the public that he did not peddle goods that violated the nonimportation agreement, hence his assertion that his merchandise was “NOT Lately Imported.”

Prospective customers interested in making purchases from Greenwood, on the other hand, did not need to worry about when he had acquired his umbrellas because he made them at his shop in the North End of Boston. Along with the nonimportation agreement, merchants, shopkeepers, and other colonists emphasized the importance of local production, what they termed domestic manufactures, coupled with virtuous consumption of goods produced in the colonies. This required the commitment of both suppliers and consumers. As a producer, Greenwood fulfilled the first part; he depended on consumers to do their part by choosing his umbrellas over those imported by Greenleaf, regardless of when they might have been transported across the Atlantic. He did imply that women might be more interested in umbrellas than men when he addressed “Ladies whose Ingenuity, Leisure and Oeconomy leads them to make their own.” They could save some money and demonstrate their own industry by purchasing the materials – fabrics and “Sticks or Frames” – from Greenwood and then putting together the umbrellas on their own. Although Greenleaf more explicitly commented on the nonimportation agreement then in effect, Greenwood more effectively placed his umbrellas within the discourse of local production.

Umbrellas were the subject of several debates and controversies in the decade before the American Revolution. Some colonists questioned their use at all, depicting them as unnecessary luxuries and frivolous feminine accessories. Others advocated for umbrellas, but only those that did not violate the terms of the nonimportation agreements. Those produced in local workshops possessed even greater cachet. In that regard, umbrellas became imbued with political as well as cultural meaning.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 632.

June 11

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

Jun 11 - 6:8:1769 New-York Chronicle
New-York Chronicle (June 8, 1769).

“Numbers of Disorders have been cured by them.”

When John Priestly and Charles Besronett advertised the “convenient Bath and House” they constructed at Chalybeat Springs in Bristol, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1769, they emphasized the medicinal qualities of the waters rather than promoting their establishment as a destination for tourists. Even though they claimed it was “needless to publish the Uses of these Waters,” Priestly and Besronett went into great detail about the benefits of partaking in a trip to Chalybeat Springs. The name itself came from the word “chalybeate” associated with mineral springs and medicines that contained salts of iron.

They proclaimed that “Numbers of Disorders … that had eluded the most powerful Medicines” had been cured as a result of visiting. Yet they did not ask prospective clients merely to take their word for it. To ward off suspicions of quackery, they reported that members of the Philosophical Society in Philadelphia (known today as the American Philosophical Society, one of the oldest learned societies in the nation) had conducted experiments and published the results the previous year. That “Analysis of these Waters” revealed that they contained “a Portion of Iron dissolved and suspended by a vitriolick Acid in Water, perhaps as pure as any hitherto discovered in any Part of the World.” Even if prospective clients did not understand all of the scientific terminology, the advertisers expected terms like “pure” to resonate. Priestly and Besronett directed prospective clients to consult with their own physicians who were more qualified to examine the analysis published by the Philosophical Society. Still, they presented opportunities for readers to reach their own preliminary conclusions. They anticipated that prospective clients would recognize, or at least be impressed by, allusions to “the celebrated GERMAN SPAW.”

In addition, Priestly and Besronett signaled that analysis of the beneficial results of taking the waters continued. “In Order more fully to ascertain the Virtue of these Waters,” they announced, “an exact Register is intended to be kept.” That register would included the names of clients, the maladies they sought to alleviate, and the effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs. Rather than entrust compilation of this register solely to patrons, Priestly and Besronett requested that they bring “a short Account of their Case, drawn up by the Doctor attending them.” Descriptions by physicians, especially when they invoked the specialized language of the profession, would imbue the register with greater authority, exactly the sort of legitimacy that Priestly and Besronett already demonstrated they valued when they trumpeted the analysis undertaken by the Philosophical Society.

Some advertisements from the period testify to a nascent hospitality and travel industry in early America, but Priestly and Besronett eschewed marketing strategies often adopted by advertisers who provided lodging, transportation, and entertainment. Instead, they focused almost exclusively on the efficacious effects of visiting Chalybeat Springs as a remedy for medical disorders.  In that regard, their advertisement adopted an approach similar to the one in advertisements for “Jackson‘s Mineral Well” in the Boston Evening-Post a couple of years earlier. They could have also promoted a trip to the springs as an enjoyable leisure activity, but they instead privileged their attention to scientific inquiry as the primary means of persuading prospective clients to experience Chalybeat Springs for themselves.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 10, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD, (At a Distance from the Town of Providence only).”

Among the advertisements in the June 10, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, an unnamed colonist offered to sell an enslaved youth. The advertisement did not provide many details except that the “young NEGROE WOMAN” was approximately fifteen years old and had been “born in the Country” rather than surviving the middle passage from Africa. The advertiser claimed that the enslaved youth was “capable of any Work suited to her Age,” but did not specify any particular skills that she possessed. Interested parties were instructed to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.

None of that deviated from typical advertisements that offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale in the 1760s. The advertisement, however, did include one unusual element. It specified an exception concerning the terms of sale, stating that the seller intended to deal with buyers “At a Distance from the Town of Providence only.” The advertisement did not elaborate on the reason. This suggested a deliberate effort to separate the young woman from someone else. It hints at a story that most likely will never be recovered.

“Enquire of the Printer” advertisements truncated the information provided to readers, but they also truncated the miniature biographies of enslaved men, women, and children contained in those advertisements. Filtered through the perspective of a slaveholder, the advertisement obscures what may have been one of the most significant relationships in the young woman’s life at the time. Perhaps the advertiser considered it necessary to sell her “At a Distance” in order to effectively separate her from family members who exercised too much influence over her. Perhaps friends encouraged her to engage in acts of resistance and the seller hoped that sending her away would correct such insubordination. Perhaps she had embarked on a new romance that made her difficult to manage. Perhaps she frequently participated in altercations with the advertiser or a member of the advertiser’s family. Perhaps she had been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted by a member of the household and selling her “At a Distance” was a strategy intended to make it easier for members of the household to overcome the rifts in their relationships with each other that had resulted. What might this young woman have recorded had she written her own narrative rather than having her experiences voiced, mostly in the formulaic language of advertisements of the period, by an unnamed slaveholder? The advertisement insinuates so much more while denying the young woman her own voice and concealing her story from readers past and present.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 9, 1769).

“A very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, experienced a disruption in their paper supply for two months in the late spring and early summer of 1769. As a result, they temporarily published the newspaper on slightly larger broadsheets, expanding the number of columns to four rather than three while reducing the length of most issues to two pages instead of four. This meant that overall they published eight columns of content in each issue (compared to the usual twelve) during the time they resorted to larger sheets. On June 9, however, the Fowles distributed a four-page edition that consisted of sixteen columns, one-third more content than a standard issue printed on slightly smaller broadsheets.

William Appleton’s advertisement for “a very large and compleat Assortment of BOOKS” accounted for three of those columns. In the headline, Appleton identified several genres to entice prospective customers: “Law, Physic, History, Anatomy, Novelty, Surgery, Navigation, Divinity, Husbandry, and Mathematicks.” He then listed more than two hundred titles available at his store in Portsmouth. As many booksellers did in their notices, he concluded with a short list of stationery and writing supplies. Had it appeared on a broadside rather than in a newspaper, this advertisement would have been considered a book catalog in its own right. Indeed, many newspaper advertisements placed by booksellers in eighteenth-century America amounted to book catalogs that were not published separately but instead integrated into other media.

The amount of space that Appleton’s advertisement occupied in the New-Hampshire Gazette was impressive. Had it been included in an issue printed on a broadsheet of the usual size, it would have filled an entire page on its own. Although rare, full-page advertisements were not unknown in eighteenth-century newspapers. John Mein, bookseller and printer of the Boston Chronicle, regularly inserted full-page advertisements (and some that even overflowed onto a second page) in his newspaper in the late 1760s. Other booksellers who were not printers as well as merchants and shopkeepers also published full-page advertisements, though not nearly as often as Mein since they did not have immediate access to the press or need to generate content for publication.

While not technically a full-page advertisement, Appleton’s catalog of books in the June 9, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been if it had been published during almost any other month that year. Still, it dominated the page and demonstrated that advertisers recognized the value in purchasing significant amount of space in newspapers as part of their efforts to attract customers.

June 8

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

Jun 8 - 6:8:1769 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 8, 1769).

“He will take second-hand Chaises in Pay for new.”

Adino Paddock offered several methods for consumers to acquire carriages of very sorts when he advertised in the Boston Weekly News-Letter in June 1769. In an advertisement that ran along the outer margin of the second page of the June 8 edition, the coachmaker proclaimed that he “has to sell a second-hand Post-Chaise, a very light Phaeton, and a Variety of Chaises, some of them genteel, and very little wore.” To facilitate purchases, he suggested that he “will take second-hand Chaises in part pay for new.” He also noted that he carried “Wilton Carpeting for Chaises.” In a rather brief advertisement, this eighteenth-century coachmaker invoked several marketing strategies that became common practices for the automobile industry in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

First, Paddock offered several models to meet the diverse needs, tastes, and budgets of prospective customers: a post-chaise, a phaeton, and a “variety” of chaises. He also realized that some buyers might not have the means to afford a new carriage but would be willing to purchase a used one, provided that it was in good condition. The “second-hand Post-Chaise” was the eighteenth-century equivalent of a used car. Yet “second-hand” did not have to mean inferior. Paddock stressed that his used carriages “were very little wore,” their quality and durability hardly reduced by having been driven by previous owners. In addition, they some of them were quite fashionable or “genteel.” To aid buyers who aimed to purchase new carriages, Paddock encouraged trade-ins, not unlike the modern automobile industry. In response to his offer to “take second-hand Chaises in part Pay for new,” prospective customers could expect to negotiate for the value of their used carriages that would be applied to the purchase price of new ones. Finally, Paddock acknowledged the benefits of a comfortable and luxurious interior, stressing that he installed “Wilton Carpeting for Chaises.” A carriage was not merely a means of transportation but also a status symbol that incorporated various accessories that contributed to both appearances and comfort.

More than a century before anyone even conceived of producing and selling automobiles, coachmaker Adino Paddock deployed marketing strategies for selling carriages that eventually became staples of the modern automobile industry. An array of models, used carriages, trade-ins, and accessories all played a role in selling vehicles for personal transportation in the eighteenth century, just as they would continue to do when invention and technology made more advanced products available to consumers in subsequent centuries.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:7:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 7, 1769).

SOLOMON SOLOMONS … A fmall Affortment of JEWELERY.”

Earlier this week NPR commentator Cokie Roberts caused quite a hullabaloo when she suggested that historians had significantly inflated the frequency of advertisements for abortion providers that appeared in nineteenth-century newspapers. Roberts stated, “There are many articles by abortion rights proponents who claim the procedure was so common that newspapers advertised providers. Look, I did a search of nineteenth-century newspapers and couldn’t find them.”[1] Historians quickly responded via Twitter, with Dr. Lauren MacIvor Thompson, a specialist in the history of medicine, public health, and the law, in the forefront with a tweet thread that corrected the record.

In addition to addressing content, historians representing various other fields within the discipline addressed the flaws in Roberts’s methodology. Roberts, a pundit rather than a trained historian, apparently did not realize that the absence of results generated by keyword searches does not mean that the historical evidence was not there. Like many of my colleagues, I pointed out two relevant issues. Both are so fundamental that I discuss them with undergraduate students in introductory and upper-level history courses on the first day that we begin working with databases of historical newspapers.

First, keyword searches have many shortcomings, especially because OCR (optical character recognition) is so imperfect. I explain to my students that computers are often, for lack of a better word, stupid. They do not always recognize or make sense of visual images (photographs or digital scans of historical sources) as effectively as people do. Computer software lacks the necessary creativity and flexibility. This is especially true when working with eighteenth-century printed sources that use the long “s” that looks like an “f” to twenty-first-century eyes. What human readers recognize as “Assortment,” for instance, looks like “Affortment” via OCR. (See Solomon Solomons’s advertisement from the June 7, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette.) Yet the long “s” is not the only pitfall for OCR. If the original printed words were not clear or subsequent remediation (photographs, microfilm, digital scans) was poorly done, then OCR has no chance of decoding the words on the page.

Second, when doing historical research it is necessary to think like the people from the period, especially to use the words they would have used rather than impose modern terminology. Context matters. Roberts, lacking an historian’s understanding of the period she investigated, apparently did not choose her keywords carefully or appropriately. When I train my undergraduate students to serve as guest curators for the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, I underscore that they must look for words beyond just “slave” (and that they have to examine every advertisement because keyword searches will exclude MANY advertisements that belong in the project). In addition to “slave,” they must also keep their eyes open for “negro,” “mulatto,” and “wench,” some of the words most often used to describe enslaved men, women, and children even when the word “slave” did not appear in an advertisement.

To demonstrate the shortcomings of keyword searches, I like to provide a practical example of an advertisement that I know exists yet a keyword search will not produce. Consider an advertisement from the June 7, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. I previously downloaded the entire issue via Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database. I know that it contains an advertisement for jewelry placed by Solomon Solomons. Say that I want to know the extent of Solomons’s advertising campaign in 1769. Doing a keyword search with his last name would be a good place to start. To make the search as efficient as possible, I set several parameters. I limit the date under consideration to 1769. I restrict the newspapers to be searched to the Georgia Gazette. Then I enter “Solomons” as the keyword. This yields only two results: Solomons’s advertisement when it appeared in the May 24 and May 31 editions, but not the June 7 edition. This certainly tells me more about the frequency that Solomons advertised, but it did not yield an advertisement that I already knew existed! The digitized image of the advertisement is fairly clear (especially compared to many others), yet it appears that just enough ink bled through from the other side of the page to trick the OCR into overlooking this advertisement when doing a keyword search for “Solomons.”

This particular instance is not as “fraught,” to invoke Roberts’s term, as advertisements placed by abortion providers in the nineteenth century, but it is a practical example of how technology cannot substitute for historical expertise and appropriate methodologies for conducting research with primary sources. As many other historians have done in recent days, I encourage reporters and pundits to call on trained historians rather than make misleading assertions based on incomplete understandings of the past and shoddy research methods.

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[1] This quotation comes from Thompson’s tweet thread. NPR has updated the original audio and transcript to excise Robert’s incorrect and misleading assertions.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 6, 1769).

Goldsmith and Jeweller, AT the Sign of the Gold Cup.”

Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, John Andrew noted the proximity of a landmark to his shop when directing prospective customers to his location. In an advertisement that ran in the Essex Gazette on June 6, 1769, Andrew informed readers that they could find his shop “near the Long-Wharf-Lane” in Salem. Yet he did not rely solely on landmarks and street names to identify his business. Andrew also declared that customers could seek him out at “the Sign of the Gold Cup.” A goldsmith and jeweler, Andrew selected a device that resonated with his occupation to mark his location.

Andrew’s advertisement testifies to an element of the visual landscape that residents and visitors alike encountered in Salem and other towns on the eve of the American Revolution. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others posted signs to identify where they did business. Often these signs featured images that became associated with both entrepreneurs and locations. In Andrew’s case, the “Sign of the Gold Cup” was appropriate for an artisan who “makes all Sorts of Goldsmith’s and Jewellery Ware,” yet others who followed different occupations most likely also made reference to that sign when giving directions. Advertisements from newspapers published in several cities reveal that even when they did not invest in signs themselves, colonists made use of signs posted by others to give directions. In addition to marking the locations of particular businesses, shop signs served as landmarks for navigating the vicinity. Just as Andrew stated that his shop was near Long Wharf Lane, advertisers sometimes invoked nearby signs erected by others as features that would aid prospective customers in finding their shops. Given the frequency that this occurred in newspaper advertisements, colonists likely adopted such strategies in conversation just as regularly. Useful not only for commerce, shop signs aided everyday navigation of the lanes, streets, and alleys in colonial cities and towns.