January 7

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 7, 1771).

“Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”

In addition to publishing the Boston Evening-Post, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet sold a variety of books at their shop at the Sign of the Heart and Crown.  Throughout the colonies, printers commonly augmented their incomes by selling books and pamphlets, mostly items that they either imported or acquired from associates in other towns alongside a few titles they produced on their own.

Such was the case in the advertisement the Fleets inserted in their own newspaper on January 7, 1771.  They concluded the notice with Jeremiah Dummer’s Defence of the New-England Charters, a pamphlet they reprinted in 1765, but they first listed titles published by others.  The Fleets devoted half of the notice to a pamphlet printed by William Goddard.  In The Partnership, Goddard detailed his disputes with “Joseph Galloway, Esq; Speaker of the Honorable House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania, Mr. Thomas Wharton, sen.,” a prominent merchant, “and their Man Benjamin Towne,” a journeyman printer.  The four men had formerly been partners in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, but their disagreements led to a dissolution of the partnership in the summer of 1770 and a war of words in newspapers, handbills, and pamphlets.

The other titles available at the Heart and Crown included “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD.”  George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  In the wake of his death, printers and others produced, marketed, and sold a variety of commemorative items, including funeral sermons preached in memory of the minister.  For several months, advertisements for those items appeared alongside reports about reactions to the news in towns throughout the colonies and poetry composed for the occasion.  The Fleets’ advertisement, listing the funeral sermon third among four titles, marked a transition in the marketing of items commemorating Whitefield.  No longer was Whitefield the sole or even primary focus of the advertisement.  As time passed and the minister’s death became more distant in the memories of prospective buyers, the Fleets recognized that demand for such commemorative items waned.  Funeral sermons no longer had the same immediacy as when the news was fresh.  As a result, they became one item among several in booksellers’ inventories rather than items that merited advertisements of their own in the public prints.

After several months of Whitefield fervor, especially in newspapers published in New England, printers and booksellers like the Fleets recalibrated their advertising efforts.  In this case, a spirited account of a bitter feud among printers and politicians in Pennsylvania received top billing over a sermon in memory Whitefield.

January 6

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 3, 1771).

“Said EVITT prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”

At first glance, many readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that William Evitt’s notice in the January 3, 1771, edition was yet another advertisement for an almanac.  Such advertisements were common at the turn of the new year as printers attempted to sell surplus copies not purchased before the new year began.  David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of both the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, inserted their own advertisement on the previous page.  The prologue to Evitt’s advertisement suggested that he would devote the entire notice to describing the contents of “THE UNIVERSAL and POOR ROBIN’S ALMANACKS, for the year 1771.”  Although he did promote those two publications, as well as “The GENTLEMAN and CITIZEN’S POCKET ALMANACK” with its “greater variety of useful lists, tables, &c. &c. &c. than any other almanack printed in America,” Evitt addressed a variety of other endeavors in the second half of his advertisement.  He informed customers that he sold books, stationery, and patent medicines, like many other printers, but he also carried other merchandise, including stockings, handkerchiefs, sieves, brushes, soap, and common grocery items.

Near the conclusion of his advertisement, Evitt returned to goods and services more closely associated with printers.  He advised prospective clients that he “prints advertisements, &c. at two hours notice.”  In other words, he did job printing.  Jobs included advertisements, broadsides (today known as posters), circular letters, and a vast array of printed blanks (or forms).  Clients submitted copy or, in the case of blanks, chose from among popular options, then Evitt set the type and produced the specified number of copies.  Evitt did not elaborate on the forms of advertising he printed, but they likely included handbills, catalogs, trade cards, bill heads, broadsides, and circular letters.  He produced them quickly, though the process of manually operating the press meant that he could produce only a limited quantity in that time.  Still, most orders were likely relatively small, in the range of a couple hundred copies.  Evitt considered job printing, especially advertisements, lucrative enough and potentially steady enough to merit mentioning alongside his other enterprises.  In emphasizing the speed of production, he suggested that he competed to provide a service already in demand.  It is quite likely that handbills, broadsides, and other advertisements that came off his press have been lost over time.  Evitt’s newspaper advertisement testifies to a more extensive circulation of other forms of advertising, each of them more ephemeral than newspapers systematically collected and preserved since the eighteenth century.  While newspaper advertising was by far the most common form of marketing in early America, colonists likely encountered other formats more regularly than the numbers of those that survive in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest on their own.

January 5

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

Providence Gazette (January 5, 1771).

“A variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”

Shopkeepers Ebenezer Thompson and James Arnold placed a lengthy advertisement for a “GOOD assortment of English and India Goods” in the January 5, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The partners deployed a familiar format, a prologue that gave general information about their enterprise followed by an extensive inventory of their merchandise. The prologue listed their names and location, identified which ship had recently delivered their wares, and promised “the very lowest Rates” or prices for their customers.

Some advertisers, like Nicholas Brown and Company, Joseph and William Russell, and Thurber and Cahoon limited their advertisements to the information in the prologue, but Thompson and Arnold reasoned that if they demonstrated the range of choices available to consumers that they would attract more customers.  As a result, their advertisement filled half a column, enumerating dozens of textiles as well as everything from “womens black worsted gloves and mitts” to “horn and ivory combs” to “temple and common spectacles” to “leather bellows.”  Thompson and Arnold focused primarily on garments and trimmings, but also indicated that they stocked housewares and hardware.

After cataloging so many items, the shopkeepers concluded with a note that they carried “a variety of other articles too tedious to mention.”  Like the lengthy list, that was also a marketing strategy frequently employed by advertisers who wished to suggest that they provided such a vast array of choices that it was not possible to name all of them.  This enhanced the invitation for consumers to visit their shops by providing both certainty about some of the merchandise and opportunities for further discovery.  Thompson and Arnold demonstrated that they carried an assortment of goods to satisfy customers, but also allowed for some surprises that could make the experience of shopping even more pleasurable for prospective customers who took the time to examine their wares.

Thompson and Arnold certainly paid more for their advertisement than their competitors did for their notices.  Five that consisted solely of the material from the prologue filled the same amount of space as Thompson and Arnold’s advertisement on its own.  Yet the more extensive advertisement may very well have been worth the investment.  Not only did it give consumers a better sense of the goods that Thompson and Arnold carried, its length made it more visible on the page and suggested the prosperity and competence of the shopkeepers.

January 4

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

Connecticut Journal (January 4, 1770).

“Stop the Felons!”

Although colonial newspapers carried stories about a variety of events, much of the crime reporting appeared among the advertisements.  Rather than printers, editors, and others affiliated with newspapers writing those accounts or selecting them to reprint from publication to another, the victims of crimes composed the narratives and paid to insert them in the public prints.  This was especially true in instances of theft.

Consider a burglary that took place in late December in 1770.  Joseph Hopkins, a goldsmith, placed an advertisement in the January 4, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  The dramatic headline proclaimed, “Stop the Felons!”  Hopkins explained that his shop “was broke up” sometime during the night of December 27.  The “Felons” stole “sundry Pair of Stone Ear Rings, one Pair Stone Buttons, one Pair Gold [Buttons], and one Gold Ring.”  The thieves also took some cash and “likely some other Articles of Goldsmith’s Ware.”  Hopkins identified a suspect, Richard Steele, though he did not venture a guess about Steele’s partner.  The goldsmith imagined that Steele was the culprit because he had been “lately punished for breaking open Mr. Marks’s House in Derby.”  According to Hopkins, Steele bore the marks of having been punished for that crime and possibly others.  He had “both Ears crop’d” in addition to being “branded twice in the Forehead.”  The goldsmith offered a reward for apprehending either Steele or his accomplice.

The same day that Hopkins advertisement first ran in the Connecticut Journal, another advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette also reported a crime.  “THIEVES,” the headline alerted readers, before listing a variety of items stolen from Isaac Hill’s shop in Dover on December 14.  Hill did not name any suspects, but he did offer a reward to “Whoever will discover” them “so that they may be brought to Justice.”  Not every issue of every colonial newspaper carried similar advertisements, but they were so common that they did not seem out of place when readers encountered them.  The victims of crimes, especially thefts, played an important role in producing newspaper coverage.  As a result, their advertisements often reported news, supplementing the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in newspapers.

January 3

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

New-York Journal (January 3, 1770).

“The promotion of which vivifieth individuals, and tendeth towards the elevation and enriching of THE LAND WE LIVE IN.”

Robert Bell was one of the most innovative, industrious, and influential booksellers in eighteenth-century America, known for the larger-than-life personality he cultivated and the entertainment he provided at auctions.  Bell’s auctions were events, public spectacles that amused those in attendance.  The bookseller was also known for his work in creating and promoting a distinctly American market for books, especially after the revolution.  He got started on that enterprise, however, several years before the colonies declared independence from Britain.

In the first issue of the New-York Journal published in 1771, Bell launched a new advertising campaign that announced book auctions on Friday and Saturday evenings.  In addition to giving information about the auctions, he devoted half of the advertisement to a nota bene about the “American Edition of Robertson’s Charles the Fifth.”  Rather than purchase imported alternatives, Bell asserted that the “real friends to the progress of Literary entertainment, and to the extension of useful Manufactures in a young country” would acquire the edition produced in the colonies.  Over the course of his career, Bell became known for the verbose and convoluted prose he deployed in his marketing materials.  He used labyrinthine language even by eighteenth-century standards, including in this advertisement for an American edition.  Consumers were already familiar with arguments in favor of domestic manufactures in the wake of boycotting imported goods, but Bell approached the endeavor with more verve than proponents when he trumped that “the promotion” of American products “vivifieth individuals, and tendeth towards the elevation and enriching of THE LAND WE LIVE IN.”  The bookseller advocated on behalf of American commerce and American culture simultaneously, arguing that consumers could enhance both through the decisions they made when buying books.

Bell did not merely present customers with options for reading “Divinity, History, Novels, and Entertainment.”  Instead, he challenged them to think about how their participation in the marketplace could aid the American cause and contribute to the formation of a distinctly American identity.  He intensified those arguments as his career continued, building on marketing strategies from the early 1770s.

January 2

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 1, 1771)

“WANTED on Purchase, or Hire by the Year, A Honest, handy, young Negro Fellow.”

Thomas Green and Ebenezer Watson, the printers of the Connecticut Courant, extended best wishes to their subscribers and advertisers on January 1, 1771.  In a brief note, they proclaimed, “We wish our Customers a happy NEW-YEAR!”  On the same day, the “LAD who carried The MASSACHUSETTS SPY” delivered to subscribers a supplementary broadsheet to wish “all his kind Customers A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!”  Throughout the week, other newspapers marked the end of 1770 and the arrival of 1771.  At the request of a reader, John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted “PSALM LVX. 2. For NEW-YEAR’s Day,” the verses having been “adapted to the Season,” in that newspaper’s final issue for 1770.  James Rivington advertised an assortment of goods as “NEW-YEARS PRESENTS” in the last issue of the New-York Journal of the year.  Every newspaper from New Hampshire to South Carolina carried at least one advertisement for almanacs for the new year.

Yet the arrival of a new year was not a cause of celebration for everyone in the colonies.  For many enslaved men and women, the new year marked the first day of hiring out, a system in which enslavers leased the labor of those they held in bondage.  Enslaved men and women who hired out earned wages, but they went directly to those who purported to be their masters.  Enslavers who thought themselves magnanimous sometimes allowed enslaved men and women to keep a portion of these earnings, but even in those instances the system perpetuated the exploitation of enslaved people.

When they hired out, enslaved men and women faced other hardships beyond the confiscation of their wages.  They usually moved to new households, sometimes in distant towns, leaving behind spouses, children, parents, siblings, other relations, and friends.  Hiring out disrupted their communities and strained their relationships, yet another reverberation of the widespread abuse and exploitation that was so common that advertisements for hiring out appeared in newspapers alongside mundane details of everyday life in eighteenth-century America.  The front page of the January 1, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, for instance, carried an advertisement for a young enslaved man “WANTED on Purchase, or Hire by the Year.”  The advertiser remained anonymous, instructing anyone seeking to sell or hire out “A Honest, handy, young Negro Fellow” to “apply to the Printer.”  The identity of the advertiser, however, is not the most significant detail glossed over in this advertisement.  The notice, like so many others that ran in early American newspapers, testifies to a much more complicated story about the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children in early America when considered not from the perspective of the advertiser but instead from the perspective of the subject of the advertisement and the perspectives of his family, friends, and community.  The hiring out system meant that the new year often meant anxiety, disruption. and separation, rather than celebration, for enslaved people.

January 1

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 1, 1771).

“A Happy New Year!”

On January 1, 1771, subscribers to the Massachusetts Spy received a bonus sheet, not from the printer but instead from “The LAD who carries The MASSACHUSETTS SPY.”  Unlike other supplements, this one did not carry additional news or advertising, though it could be considered a piece of marketing ephemera in its own right.  The purpose of this bonus sheet was to wish “kind Customers A Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year” on behalf of the boy who delivered the newspaper.  A woodcut depicting an angel cradling the globe adorned the top of the sheet.

The bulk of the message consisted of three stanzas, each with an AABCCB rhyming scheme.  The first focused on good wishes for the new year: “MAY grateful omens now appear, / To make the New a happy Year, / And bless th’ ensuing days: / May future peace in every mind, / Like odours wasted by the wind, / Its sweetest incense raise.”  The second celebrated the monarch and the strength of the British Empire, both points of pride for most colonists despite disputes with Parliament about attempts to regulate commerce and other aspects of imperial administration.  “May GEORGE in his extensive reign, / Subdue the pride of haughty SPAIN / Submissive to his feet. / Thy princely smiles our ills appease; / Then grant that harmony and peace / The dawning year may greet.”  The third stanza requested a boon for the carrier on the occasion of the Christmas season and the new year: “Kind Sirs! your gen’rous bounty show, / Few shillings on your Lad bestow, / Which will reward his pains. / Who piercing Winter’s cold endures, / And to your hands the SPY secures, / And still his task main[t]ains.”  In other words, the bonus sheet both extended greetings to subscribers and asked them to give holiday tips to the boys who diligently delivered their newspapers throughout the year, especially in harsh winter weather.  The Massachusetts Spy was not the only newspaper to produce and distribute such bonus sheets to subscribers.  They were a traditional part of marking the new year among newspaper printers, carriers, and subscribers in eighteenth-century America.

As the Adverts 250 Project concludes its fifth year and embarks on exploring advertising from 1771 throughout 2021, we wish our readers a Happy New Year with many grateful omens.  Thank you for supporting this project over the past five years.  Please continue to visit in the coming year.  No tips necessary!

 

December 31

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 31, 1770).

“Exhibiting his Art of Dexterity of Hand.”

As 1770 came to an end and 1771 began, William Patridge, an itinerant performer, took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to inform residents of the busy urban port that he provided entertainments for “every admirer of REAL CURIOSITIES.”  Patridge rented “a large and commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner” for giving performances on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

His show consisted of several acts, including “Dexterity of Hand,” “Mr. Punch and his merry Family,” and an “Italian Shade.”  Patridge included additional details about each in his efforts to entice audiences to attend his performances.  He described his “Italian Shade,” mostly likely some sort of illumination, as “so much admired in Europe.”  Audiences on the other side of the Atlantic had been impressed and delighted by this portion of his show, Patridge seemed to suggest, so residents of New York would not want to miss such an acclaimed exhibition.  The portion of the evening devoted to “Mr. Punch and his merry Family” presumably involved a puppet show.  Patridge incorporated “new Alterations every Evening,” making each performance different from any other.  Members of the audience who attended more than one performance would experience something new each time.  When it came to the “Art of Dexterity of Hand,” Patridge declared that he practiced “a new Method different from other Performers.”  Even if readers had seen Hymen Saunders perform when he spent several weeks in New York in November, they supposedly had not seen anything like Patridge’s sleight of hand.

Patridge also saw to the comfort of his audience.  In addition. To selecting a “commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner,” he also pledged that he had “taken proper Care to have the Room well aired” for those who saw his show.  He offered “all Accommodations,” though he did not go into greater detail.  He likely expected that residents of the city would already be familiar with “Mr. Mc. Dougall’s” establishment “at the sign of Lord John Murray, in Orange-street, Golden-Hill.”  For those “Gentlemen and Ladies” who did not wish to mix with crowd at one of Patridge’s performances at that location, he also gave private performances in their homes, provided that they gave “timely Notice.”  Patridge hinted at a higher level of refinement and status; rather than attending a performance, those “Gentlemen and Ladies” could have a performer attend on them.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements reveal a variety of entertainments and amusements available to colonial consumers, a range of popular culture options available to them.  Itinerant performers depended on those advertisements to make the public aware when they arrived in town and what kinds of diversions they offered.  Although Patridge did not do so, many also declared that they would be in town for only a short time, attempting to incite greater demand by making their performances scarce commodities.  Still, Patridge did not merely announce his presence in New York.  Instead, he resorted to other kinds of appeals to attract audiences for his shows.

December 30

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

Maryland Gazette (December 27, 1770).

“Catalogues may be had at Mr. Thomas Williams and Company’s Store in Annapolis.”

Newspaper advertisements were the most common form of marketing media in eighteenth-century America, but they were not the only means of advertising.  Entrepreneurs also produced and distributed broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, furniture labels, subscription papers, circular letters, and catalogs.  Given the ephemeral quality of those genres, they have not survived in the same numbers as newspaper advertisements, but those that have been identified in research libraries, historical societies, and private collections suggest that various forms of advertising circulated widely.

Sometimes newspaper advertisements from the period made reference to other advertising materials that consumers discarded after the served their purpose, especially subscription papers for books and other publications, auction catalogs for an array of goods, and book catalogs that often also included stationery wares.  Such was the case in an advertisement for “LAW BOOKS” in the December 27, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Thomas Brereton advertised that he sold law books in Baltimore.  Seeking to serve prospective customers beyond that town, he advised readers that they could acquire catalogs “at Mr. Thomas Williams and Company’s Store in Annapolis.”  Consumers could shop from the catalog and place orders via the post, the eighteenth-century version of mail order.

Brereton likely recognized benefits of simultaneously distributing two forms of marketing.  The newspaper advertisements went into widespread circulation throughout the colony and beyond, enlarging his market beyond Baltimore.  Yet the rates for publishing lengthy newspaper advertisements, such as a list of titles from a book catalog, may have been prohibitively expensive.  Instead, resorting to job printing for a specified number of catalogs may have been the more economical choice.  In addition, doing so created an item devoted exclusively to the sale of Brereton’s law books without extraneous materials.  Interested parties who encountered Brereton’s advertisement in newspapers they read in coffeehouse or taverns or borrowed from friends or acquaintances could request their own copies of the catalog to carry with them, mark up, and otherwise treat as they pleased.

Compared to the frequency that newspapers advertisements promoted book catalogs as ancillary marketing materials, relatively few have survived.  Some historians suspect that advertisers did not produce all of the catalogs they mentioned in their newspaper notices, especially those that advertisers promised would soon become available.  Despite that possibility, it did not serve Brereton to direct prospective customers to a catalog that did not exist.  In this instance, he noted that the catalogs were already available, increasing the likelihood that he did indeed produce and circulate them.

December 29

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

Providence Gazette (December 29, 1770).

“A LIST of the fortunate Numbers in the First Class of CUMBERLAND BRIDGE Lottery.”

In order to raise funds for “the Purpose of repairing and rebuilding the Bridge over Pawtucket River, called Whipple’s Bridge,” a committee composed of residents of Cumberland received permission from the Rhode Island assembly to conduct a series of lotteries in 1770.  The committee began advertising in late November, advising the public that they would sponsor a series of four lotteries intended to yield one hundred dollars each.  They published the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” in the Providence Gazette, stating that they planned to “draw the First Class in a very short Time” and pledging to publish the winning tickets in the Providence Gazette.

That notice appeared in the December 29 edition.  A heading informed readers that it was “A LIST of the fortunate Numbers in the First Class of CUMBERLAND BRIDGE Lottery.”  The remainder of the advertisement consisted entirely of five pairs of columns that gave the winning ticket numbers and the dollar value of the corresponding prizes.  According to the original notice that recruited participants, the winners had six months to claim their prizes.  Any prize money not claimed in that interval “will be deemed generously given to the Public, for the future repairing of said Bridge.”  The committee did not, however, remind winners of that stipulation when publishing the winning numbers in the newspaper.  Still, the new notice apprised both participants and the general public that the enterprise moved forward.

It also buttressed another notice in the same edition.  In that one, the “Managers of the Cumberland Bridge Lottery hereby give Notice, That the Third Class of said Lottery will be drawn on the 11th of January, at the House of the Widow Martha Whipple, in Cumberland aforesaid.”  The announcement of prizes from the first class likely helped to advertise the later lotteries by demonstrating that some participants already enjoyed the benefits of their “fortunate Numbers” being drawn.  Considered together, the two notices indicated that the committee made good progress on raising the necessary funds to repair the bridge.