February 6

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 7, 1769).

“Those Persons who are pleased to send their Advertisements to the CHRONICLE.”

When the Pennsylvania Chronicle completed its second year of publication and began its third, William Goddard, the printer, inserted a notice to mark the occasion. Colonial printers often marked such milestones, though the length of the notices varied from newspaper to newspaper.

Goddard used the occasion to express his appreciation to subscribers and advertisers. He offered “his most sincere Thanks to his kind and numerous Customers,” pledging that he would make it “his constant Study” to continue to earn their “Favours” as he tended to “their Amusement and Satisfaction.” To that end, he envisioned making “several Improvements” in the third year of publication, stating that he would do so “when a large and valuable Quantity of Materials arrive.” He did not, however, elaborate on those improvements. All of Goddard’s commentary was designed to retain current customers as well as attract new subscribers and advertisers from among readers who had not yet done business with him.

In his efforts to drum up additional advertising revenue, he emphasized the “extensive Circulation” that made choosing the Pennsylvania Chronicle “very advantageous,” though he did not make any direct comparisons to the circulation of competitors like the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal. To aid advertisers in maximizing the impact of their notices, Goddard requested that they submit their notices “as early as possible,” thus allowing time for the “due Care” necessary to make them “appear in a correct, fair, and conspicuous Manner.” In addition, he edited advertising copy as a free service, noting that “Foreigners, and others” sometimes did not “write in a proper Manner for the Press.” This was a rare instance of an eighteenth-century printer offering to participate in generating advertising copy or suggesting that he possessed particular skills in shaping messages that advertisers wished to disseminate in the public prints.

Early American printers did not frequently comment on the business of advertising or the particular practices they adopted in their printing offices. The annual messages that marked the completion of one volume and the beginning of another, however, sometimes included acknowledgments to advertisers as well as subscribers. On such occasions, printers provided details about how they managed advertising in their newspapers.

February 5

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

New-York Journal (February 2, 1769).

“PETER VIANEY, Fencing and Dancing Master.”

Peter Vianey’s advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for four weeks in late January and early February 1769 was notable for its brevity. The fencing and dancing master announced that he had recovered from an illness that had forced him to decline teaching for three weeks. Now that he was feeling better, he intended to provide lessons once again, both public and private to suit the desires of his clients.

The tone of this notice differed significantly from the one he had placed in the same newspaper just a few months earlier. In September 1768, he composed a lengthier notice to inform readers that he “CONTINUES to teach Music, Fencing and Dancing.” He listed his rates and described his satisfied pupils. Finally, he broached the most important – an uncomfortable – topic that he needed to address in his advertisement, an attack on his reputation. He lamented that he had been “mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago.” He explained that he had not even resided in the colonies that the time the offenses had occurred. Furthermore, he called on “all who know him … to testify that his conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.” Dancing masters were often suspect figures in early America, in part because many tended to be itinerant. That prevented them from establishing reputations based on years of interacting with members of the community. In addition, their occupation required them to come into close physical contact with their pupils, an especially problematic situation when teaching pupils of the opposite sex. Finally, dancing masters taught skills that colonists needed to demonstrate their own status and gentility, yet the instructors were not themselves from among the ranks of the genteel. This slippage often raised suspicions about their character. Even if Vianey had always comported himself with utmost decorum, his previous advertisement demonstrated that he was susceptible to rumors and accusations that could disrupt or even terminate his ability to teach in the local market.

Yet his shorter advertisement indicated that he believed he had rehabilitated his reputation. Except for the short break caused by his illness, he had returned to offering lessons. Perhaps the advertisement defending his honor had been effective. Perhaps friends, acquaintances, and students heeded his call to testify to his good character. Within a few months, he no longer felt much need to do much marketing at all. He merely announced that he would soon return to teaching after a brief hiatus due to an illness: no descriptions of the dance he taught and no commentary on his skills or character. Apparently, Vianey believed all of that had been settled satisfactorily among the public.

February 4

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

Providence Gazette (February 4, 1769).

“They CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.”

In their advertisement in the February 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Ebenezer Thompson and Company deployed two of the most popular advertising appeals of the eighteenth century. They promoted price and consumer choice.

The partners informed prospective customers, especially their “COUNTRY FRIENDS” who might not spend enough time in Providence to go from store to store comparison shopping, that “their Goods are always laid in on the very best Terms.” That prompted Thompson and Company to make an extraordinary claim: “they CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.” If that was indeed the case, then there was no need to do any comparison shopping! Advertisers usually wrote the copy but left it to compositors to determine the format of their advertisements, but the assertion that Thompson and Company “CAN, DO, and WILL” sell their goods for prices as low as any to be found in New England suggests that they may have provided some instructions about the appearance of their notice.

In addition to price, Thompson and Company also promised an array of choices for their customers. They stocked a “COMPLEAT and UNIVERSAL Assortment of European and East-India GOODS.” Many advertisers would have considered such language sufficient, but Thompson and Company further elaborated. Their inventory consisted of “a GREAT VARIETY of Articles,” so many that they were “too numerous to be comprized within the Limits of an Advertisement.” That was a clever approach, especially considering that many advertisers did attempt to list as many items as possible in their newspaper advertisements. Some notices included dozens, scores, or even hundreds of items, extending as much as an entire column or, in some cases, filling an entire page. Readers certainly would have been familiar with such advertisements, making it all the more compelling that Thompson and Company proclaimed that even making such an attempt was futile.

Although Thompson and Company selected two of the most common advertising appeals of the era, they added an innovative touch to both. They did not merely reiterate the standard language of price and choice found in so many advertisements in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Instead, they started with strategies that advertisers already considered effective and reworked them to make them even more enticing for prospective customers.

February 3

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

New-London Gazette (February 3, 1769).

“LAST Wednesday morn, at break of day, / From Philadelphia run away, / An Irish man, nam’d John M‘Keoghn, / To fraud and imposition prone.”

The “Poets Corner” was a regular feature in the New-London Gazette in the late 1760s. It frequently ran in the first column on the final page, appearing alongside advertisements and, on occasion, news items. When readers perused the February 3, 1769, edition, they encountered a relatively short poem in the “Poets Corner” and a much lengthier one among the advertisements. This second poem, bearing the title “ADVERTISEMENT,” told the story of John McKeoghn, an Irish indentured servant who ran away from Mary Nelson in Philadelphia on January 10.

The poem told a cautionary tale about how looks and actions could be deceiving. “He oft in conversation chatters, / Of scripture and religious matters, / And fain would to the world impart, / That virtue lodges in his heart; / But take the rogue from stem to stern, / The hypocrite you’ll soon discern, / And find (tho’ his deportment’s civil) / A saint without, within a devil.” Not only had McKeoghn run away, he had also stolen several textiles and garments from Nelson. In addition, he “Can curse and swear as well as lie.” The poem warned colonists to assess inner character rather than rely on outward appearances. Just because McKeoghn possessed goods that testified to a particular status, just because he often comported himself in a particular way, did not mean that he truly belonged among the ranks of the genteel that he so successfully imitated. With sufficient observation, anyone who met him should have been able to recognize him for the fraud he was.

It seems unlikely that Nelson paid to place this advertisement in the New-London Gazette. More likely, Timothy Green, the printer, spotted the poem among the advertisements in the January 16 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle and decided to reprint it as an entertaining piece for his readers. The poem did not mention any suspicions that McKeoghn was headed to Connecticut in particular. If Nelson had intended to place the advertisement in newspapers beyond Philadelphia, she certainly could have chosen others with more extensive circulation and more readers, especially newspapers published in Boston and New York. Although printers did not usually reprint advertisements free of charge, Green may have made an exception in this case, seizing an opportunity to present a curiosity to his readers.

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 16, 1769).

February 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 2, 1769).

The following large assortment of GOODS.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to consumer choice when promoting their merchandise in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. In addition to using words like “assortment” and “variety,” they demonstrated the multitude of choices available to customers by listing their inventory. In so doing, they published catalogs of their wares. Their extensive lists encouraged readers to imagine the array of choices they would encounter upon visiting the shops and stores featured in the public prints each week.

In an advertisement that filled half a column in the February 2, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Philip Wilson adopted that marketing strategy. He listed scores of textiles, accessories, and housewares in stock at his shop. His advertisement, however, paled in comparison to the one inserted by Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow. Their list of the “large assortment of GOODS” on hand at their store at the corner of Arch and Second Streets filled an entire column. Given that the entire issue consisted of four pages with three columns each, their advertisement comprised a significant portion of the content of that issue. They commenced their catalog of goods with “BLUE, green, scarlet, claret, cinnamon, drab and copper coloured middling and low priced broadcloths,” making clear from the start that they did not merely carry some broadcloths. Instead, they offered several choices when it came to both color and price. Elsewhere in the advertisement they deployed the words “assortment” and “variety” to describe the choices associated with other merchandise, such as “a large assortment of common, London and Bristol shalloons” and “a great variety of low-priced striped and plain callimancoes.” Just in case their list of hundreds of items did not sufficiently entice prospective customers, they added “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for “etc. etc. etc.”) to the end. Finally, they previewed the arrival of additional merchandise as a means of informing readers that they would continue to offer choices to suit all tastes and budgets. In a nota bene, they proclaimed that they expected “a very large and compleat assortment of spring and summer GOODS” in vessels that would soon arrive from England.

Even if they did not read the advertisement in its entirety, prospective customers could hardly have missed the appeal to consumer choice made by the Benezets and Bartow. Shoppers did not have to accept whatever may have been on the shelves. Instead, they could examine all sorts of different merchandise and make purchases according to their own tastes and desires.

February 1

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

Georgia Gazette (February 1, 1769).

“TOBLER’s ALMANACKS, for 1769.”

Even as February 1769 arrived, James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, and Messrs. Clay and Habersham, shopkeepers, continued to advertise “TOBLER’s ALMANACKS” for sale. In so doing, they participated in the final stage of advertising almanacs for the new year, a process that would soon cease for several months until it was time to market new almanacs for 1770.

Although some printers announced their plans to publish almanacs as early as July or August, most usually waited until September to place their initial notifications about the titles they intended to print. The earliest advertisements frequently noted that almanacs would soon be going to press, within weeks or a month. Advertisements that ran in November and December, on the other hand, most often reported that almanacs had been printed and were available to purchase from printers, booksellers, and shopkeepers. Those advertisements continued into January, but tapered off as the weeks passed. Relatively few advertisements for almanacs appeared in newspapers in February and March, though some printers did continue their attempts to rid themselves of surplus copies. As time passed, some of the contents became obsolete. By the time Johnston’s advertisement ran in early February, the astronomic calculations for January were outdated.

That being the case, printers and others who advertised almanacs curiously did not pursue marketing innovations that could have aided in selling remaining copies. Unlike modern calendar merchandisers who slash prices, advertisers who continued to sell almanacs in February and March did not offer discounts. Nor did they promote other contents, such as entertaining essays or useful lists of government officials, in an effort to demonstrate that their almanacs contained plenty of valuable information. Many printers and booksellers deployed such strategies earlier in the year, offering reduced rates to customers who bought in bulk and publishing extensive descriptions of the contents, but they did not choose to replicate those methods in the final stage of advertising leftover copies. For whatever reasons, they unevenly applied the strategies they sometimes used to convince customers to purchase their almanacs.

January 31

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

Essex Gazette (January 31, 1769).

“Esteemed by Judges equal in Quality to the best imported from England.”

When Henry Lloyd of Boston placed his advertisement for “CHOICE American manufactured COD and MACKAREL LINES” in the January 31, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette he participated in the development of the first generation of “Buy American” advertisements. Although brief, his notice favorably compared his product to imported counterparts, asserting that they had been “esteemed by Judges equal in Quality to the best imported from England.” In addition, he sold them “At a reasonable Price.” After taking quality and price into consideration, there was no reason for colonists in the market for these items not to purchase the “American manufactured” version. Implicitly, Lloyd invoked the ongoing dispute between the colonies and Parliament over the Townshend Act and other attempts to regulate colonial commerce and raises revenues through taxes on imported goods. In response to such abuses, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others in Boston and beyond had pledged to encourage “domestic manufactures” over imported goods. In turn, they both the press and purveyors of goods stressed the virtues of supporting the local economy. Doing so, they argued, was an inherently political act.

Lloyd did not need to rehearse this recent history in his advertisement. He could depend on readers and prospective customers already being aware of the political meaning associated with acts of purchasing “American manufactured” goods of any sort. The placement of his advertisement on the page only enhanced the connections between politics and commerce. Lloyd’s notice appeared in a column to the right of one that featured news content. That column had a header that proclaimed it contained “Extraordinary Intelligence,” including an “Extract of a letter from London, November 19th, 1768.” The portion of that letter immediately to the left of Lloyd’s advertisement read, in part, “We do not imagine that the parliament will enter into a refutation of all your letters and petitions … but will give the several agents and some of the principal men of your province, and opportunity of explaining and defending their rights.” From there, it continued with rumors “that your town meetings will be abolished,” depriving colonists in Massachusetts of their traditional means of participating in their own governance. Oversight from England looked like it might veer beyond just commerce. It was amid such conversations that Lloyd placed his advertisement. Deceptively simple, it invoked a much more extensive conversation about imperial politics in service of selling “American manufactured COD and MACKAREL LINES.”

January 30

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

“We can turn it out in our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America.”

Of the various appeals that artisans advanced in eighteenth-century newspapers, promoting their skill was perhaps the most significant. Skill testified to quality. Price hardly mattered if their work was not undertaken with skill. Neither did dispatch, the speed of serving customers. Skill was a necessary part of producing the goods and providing the services that colonial consumers desired from artisans.

Casey and Mathies, “SILK-dyers and scowerers, from London,” certainly considered that to be the case in the advertisement they inserted in the supplement to the January 30, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Skill was the centerpiece of their notice. They informed prospective clients that they could “scour, dye, and dress” silks and satins as well as clean brocades so skillfully that the colors would “look as well as when new.” Similarly, they cared for men’s garment “in the neatest manner … without any detriment to the cloth.” Furthermore, they also worked on cloaks of all sizes and colors, cleaning and dyeing them “to the utmost perfection.” This was a tricky business that demanded skill to undertake successfully.

So confident were Casey and Mathies in their skill that they made a bold pronouncement near the conclusion of their advertisement. They invited merchants with “any pieces of cloths to dye any colour” to bring them to their shop “at the sign of the Blue-Hand and Brush.” There they would “turn it out of our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America, or as well as in London.” Casey and Mathies did not merely make a claim about their own skill; they ranked it relative to their competitors in New York, throughout the region, and the throughout the colonies. They asserted that prospective clients could not find silk dyers and scourers with greater skill on that side of the Atlantic. In addition, their work equaled any done in London, the center of the empire where the most skilled artisans of all sorts plied their trades.

For Casey and Mathies, nothing mattered more than skill, but their advertisement suggests that colonial consumers shared that view when it came to silk dyers and scourers. Casey and Mathies expected that message would resonate with prospective clients; otherwise, they would not have built their entire advertisement around it.

January 29

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

Boston Weekly News-Letter (January 26, 1769).

“Sundry stolen Goods.”

News did not appear solely among the news items in eighteenth-century newspapers. Instead, several sorts of advertisements, including legal notices and estate notices, frequently covered the news, making readers aware of recent events in their communities and beyond. Advertisements concerning stolen goods also relayed news to readers. The last two advertisements in the January 26, 1769, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter did just that.

The first reported that on January 6 “sundry stolen Goods, the Property of Joshua Winslow & Son and John Rowe,” had been found concealed in the home of Thomas Vickers. In the wake of that discovery, Vickers had fled. The remainder of the advertisement, placed by Rowe, offered a description of his physical appearance and clothing. Rowe suggested that Vickers might try to escape Boston “on board some foreign bound Vessel,” alerting mariners and others to keep their eyes open for him on the docks. Rowe offered a reward to anyone who apprehended Vickers and presented him to Edmund Quincy, “Justice of Peace in Boston.”

The second advertisement also told the story of a theft, but this one perpetrated “by some evil-minded Person or Persons yet unknown.” Rather than a description of the thief, it provided descriptions of the items stolen from onboard the sloop “Wilkes, William Campbell, Master,” on January 9. The stolen goods included “One Piece check Linnen narrow strip’d, 32 Yards,” “Three Dozen Pair dark speckled Hose,” and “A Suit blue Broad-Cloth Cloaths, Waistcoast and Breeches.” Campbell hoped that descriptions of the goods would aid in capturing the thief as well as recovering the property he had lost.

These two advertisements appeared immediately below others placed by John Gerrish, Richard Smith, and William Jackson. Gerrish advertised an auction scheduled to take place the following day. Smith and Jackson both listed merchandise available at their stores. All three named wares that corresponded closely to the kinds of items stolen from aboard the Wilkes and presumably those discovered in Vickers’s house. In their efforts to participate in the consumer revolution, not all colonists acquired goods from merchants, shopkeepers, and auctioneers. Some stole them and other purchased items either knowing that they had been pilfered or not inquiring too carefully about their origins. A single column of advertisements in the Boston Weekly-Mercury reveals the spectrum of choices available to colonists when it came to acquiring consumer goods.

January 28

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

Providence Gazette (January 28, 1769).

“He determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.”

Thomas Greene’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on January 28, 1769. In it, he listed twenty different kinds of textiles, including “kerseys, serges, cotton velvets, Scotch plaid, Irish linens, garlix, dowlas and checks.” He also carried stockings, handkerchiefs, and shoes as well as “a great number of other articles in the dry-good way.” Greene supplemented this merchandise with imported grocery items, including “tea, chocolate, raisins, … rum, sugar and melasses.” While not as extensive as other advertisements that sometimes appeared in the Providence Gazette, Greene’s notice enumerated sufficient items to suggest to customers that they could choose from among an array of merchandise at his store “just below the Great Bridge.”

In addition to consumer choice, Greene also made an appeal to price. When he concluded his list of wares, he proclaimed that “he determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.” In so doing, he indicated his willingness to participate in a price war with other purveyors of dry goods located in the city. Although not unknown, such forceful language was not as common as more general invocations of low prices. Samuel Chace’s advertisement for “A NEW and general Assortment of English and Indi GOODS” in the same issue, for instance, stated that he would “sell cheap,” but did not make any implicit comparisons to the prices charged by any of his competitors. Samuel Chace’s advertisement had been running in the Providence Gazette for three months; William Chace, on the other hand, had inserted a new advertisement the previous week. In it, he declared that “he is determined to sell” his “good Assortment of DRY GOODS” for prices “as cheap, if not cheaper, than any of their Kind are to be sold in Providence.” Furthermore, he assured prospective customers that he “doubts not but they may lay out their Money to their Satisfaction” as his shop, also located “Just below the Great Bridge.”

Greene and Chace were nearby neighbors and competitors. Only a week after Chace launched an advertisement that made exceptional claims about the prices he charged, Greene published his own advertisement to inform prospective customers that they were just as likely to enjoy the same bargains at his store. Their notices appeared in the same column, with two short advertisements appearing between them, making it easy for readers to compare their appeals and place them in conversation with each other. Savvy consumers already sought out the best prices, but these competing advertisements further encouraged comparison shopping.