January 27

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 27, 1773).

“We find them very advantageous … and certainly is preferable to any method ever before invented.”

When Samuel Reynolds invented a machine “for raising Mill-stones, and turning them on their back, fit for dressing or washing in five minutes or less,” he took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to promote his product.  In an advertisement addressed “TO THE MILLERS IN GENERAL” in the January 27, 1773, edition, Reynolds described how millers could safely use his invention with “one hand only” to maneuver millstones for cleaning “without hurting the plaister on burr stones.”  He invited millers who wished to order the machine to contact him in Wilmington, Delaware, or any of three millers “at Brandywine mills,” Daniel Byrnes, Joseph Tatnall, and William Starr.

Rather than ask prospective customers to rely solely on the inventor’s own proclamations about his product, Reynolds included a testimonial from Byrnes, Tatnall, and Starr.  The experienced millers asserted that Reynolds “made each of [us] one of the said Machines, and we find them very advantageous, as the Mill-stone is taken up by them, with great ease and safety.”  In so doing, they reiterated the most important claims made by the inventor.  In addition, they declared that using Reynold’s new machine “certainly is preferable to any method ever before invented.”  Such an assessment bolstered the pitch made by Reynolds.

The inventor also suggested that he received advance orders or at least interest from other millers, though that may have been a marketing ploy rather than fact.  “As there has been a number made for people at a considerable distance, whose names an approbation are difficult to be collected,” he stated, “said Reynolds will be obliged to those that join in sentiment with the above, to favour him with a line for that purpose.”  In other words, he invited millers interested in the new machine to join with many others in showing their support by placing orders to acquire their own.  The savvy Reynolds sought to incite demand by demonstrating that demand already existed among experienced millers familiar with his product.

January 26

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

Connecticut Courant (January 26, 1773).

“WATCHES … every Particular in repairing at HALF PRICE.”

For the past four years the Adverts 250 Project has traced newspaper advertisements placed by watchmaker John Simnet, first in Portsmouth in the New-Hampshire Gazette for a year and a half in 1769 and early 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York.  In both locations, the cantankerous artisan engaged in public feuds with his competitors and sometimes ran notices that mocked and denigrated them.

At the end of January 1773, Simnet decided to insert an advertisement for his shop in New York in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford.  That put him in competition with Thomas Hilldrup, who had been advertising in the Connecticut Courant for months, Enos Doolittle, who had been advertising in that newspaper for six weeks, and other watchmakers in Hartford and other towns in Connecticut.  It was an unusual choice for an artisan in New York to extend their advertising efforts to newspapers in neighboring colonies, especially when they had the option to run notices in multiple newspapers in New York.  Did Simnet believe that he would gain clients in Hartford?  Perhaps he thought his promotions – “every Particular in repairing at HALF PRICE” and “no future Expence, either for cleaning or mending” – would indeed convince faraway readers to send their watches to him when they needed maintenance.

New-York Journal (January 21, 1773).

Even if those offers caught the attention of prospective customers in Connecticut, the final lines of Simnet’s advertisement likely confused them.  The advertisement previously ran in the New-York Journal for eight weeks, starting on December 3, 1772.  In the most recent edition, published on January 21, 1773, Simnet added a short poem that addressed “Rhyming Pivot, of York, / With Head, light as Cork.”  The “Rhyming Pivot” may have been Isaac Heron, a nearby neighbor and competitor, who included short verses in his advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for several weeks, starting on December 24.  At the conclusion of Heron’s notice, he asked “brethren of the Pivot,” fellow watchmakers, to confiscate certain watches that had gone missing from his shop if clients brought them to their shops “for repair or sale.”  Simnet, easily agitated, apparently did not like that another watchmaker dared to try to generate business via notices in the public prints.  He responded with his own poem that described his competitor’s merit as “a Joke or a Song” and declared that he belonged on Grub Street in London, known for authors who often lacked talent and the printers and booksellers who peddled works of dubious quality.

The poem may have resonated with readers of the New-York Journal who were familiar with Heron’s advertisement (and may have also witnessed Simnet’s feud with James Yeoman several months earlier), but readers of the Connecticut Courant had no context for understanding it.  Why did Simnet choose to have his updated advertisement reproduced in its entirety rather than the original version, without the poem, that ran for so many weeks in New York.  The ornery watchmaker was usually very calculated in his decisions about marketing.  What made him decide that advertising in the Connecticut Courant was a good investment?  Even if he considered it worth the costs, why did he include a poem that would have confounded prospective clients?

January 25

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (January 25, 1773).

“A LAWYER … lent the fourth volume of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES … to some gentleman whose name he hath forgot.”

A curious story appeared among the advertisements in the supplement that accompanied the January 25, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, a story that may have been a complete fiction designed to incite interest in the forthcoming publication of “the FOURTH VOLUME of the AMERICAN EDITION of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND.”  The story concerned an unnamed lawyer seeking the return of a London edition that he lent “to some gentleman whose name he hath forgot,” but that lawyer and the missing book may very well have been creations of Robert Bell, a bookseller and publisher known for his innovative marketing strategies and flamboyant personality.  During the final third of the eighteenth century, Bell became one of the most vocal proponents of creating an American literary market, launching inventive advertising campaigns.

This particular advertisement described a lawyer who loaned the book and asked that the borrower “return it as soon as possible to ROBERT BELL, Bookseller, at the late Union Library in Third-street.”  The narrator of the advertisement, which may have been either Bell or the lawyer, stated that there was “reason to surmise the said fourth volume hath been lent to several persons since it left the proprietor’s library.”  Focus then shifted to anyone who had consulted the loaned-but-not-returned copy of the book.  “All the world assert it is a pity,” the narrator lamented, “that generosity should suffer; therefore it is hoped, even the second, third or fourth borrower possesseth integrity enough” to alert Bell about the whereabouts of the missing book.  Contending that so many readers consulted that copy of the book suggested both its utility and popularity.

That set the stage for the nota bene that appeared at the end of the advertisement.  The narrator announced that “Sometime in February” the fourth volume of the American edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries “will be ready for the subscribers.”  Bell just happened to be the publisher of that project, having advertised and distributed the first three volumes in 1771 and 1772.  (The title page for the fourth volume says 1772, but this advertisement suggests that may have been an error and that Bell actually released the fourth volume in early 1773.)  Although an extensive list of subscribers appeared before the title page of the fourth volume, Bell may have anticipated printing surplus copies to sell to customers who had not subscribed in advance.  Whether or not there was any truth to the story of the lawyer who loaned out a London edition of the book, Bell seems to have tried to generate even more interest in the forthcoming publication of his American edition.

January 24

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

Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (January 21, 1773).
“He likewise makes Head Dresses for Ladies, so natural as not to be distinguished by the most curious Eye.”

George Lafong described himself as a “Hair Cutter and Dresser” in an advertisement he placed in the January 21, 1773, edition of the Virginia Gazette.  He aimed to generate business by suggesting that he already served a satisfied clientele, extending his “humble Thanks to such Ladies and Gentlemen as have been pleased to honour him with their Commands.”  In addition, he invited new clients to engage his services.

Lafong deployed several appeals in his efforts to convince residents of Williamsburg and nearby towns to hire him.  For instance, he did not require that clients visit his shop.  Instead, they could schedule appointments in advance “by giving timely Notice” and the hairdresser traveled to their homes and “waited upon [them] at any Distance from Town.”  He did not charge exorbitant prices, but instead set “very reasonable Terms” for such excursions.

In addition, Lafong promoted an associate that he recently hired, reporting that he “has engaged a Man from London who dresses in the newest and most elegant Taste.”  That gave Lafong an advantage over other hairdressers who relied on correspondence to learn about the latest trends in the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  His associate had firsthand knowledge and experience with the latest styles in London.  That advantage transferred to clients; not only did their appearance testify to making good choices in selecting a hairdresser but they could also boast about that hairdresser to friends and acquaintances.

In case that was not enough to convince prospective clients, Lafong also indicated that someone in his shop, either his new associate or Lafong himself, “makes Head Dresses for Ladies, so natural as not to be distinguished by the most curious eye.”  In other words, he created wigs and extensions, such as the popular high roll, that withstood close scrutiny.  Observers would not be able to tell which portions, if any, of his client’s hairstyle was not her actual hair.  Such authenticity helped in projecting grace, elegance, and other genteel attributes.

Fashion found its way to places far removed from London as colonizers participated in a transatlantic consumer revolution in the eighteenth century.  Hairdressers offered their services in major urban ports, like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, while also seeking to generate demand among prospective clients in the countryside “any Distance from Town.”  Fashion, both as a practice and as a motivation, was not confined to early American cities.

January 23

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

Providence Gazette (January 23, 1773).

“Opposite the East End of the Great Bridge.”

American cities and towns did not have standardized street numbers before the American Revolution.  Some of the largest cities began assigning street numbers in the late 1780s and 1790s, but prior to that residents and visitors relied on combinations of shop signs, landmarks, and directions of varying lengths to specify the locations of homes and businesses.

Consider how some advertisers directed prospective customers to their shops in advertisements that ran in the January 23, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Joseph fuller made and sold tools “At his Shop in Broad-street, on the West Side of the Great Bridge, next Door to Samuel Nightingale, Esq.”  Thomas Stoddard and Benjamin Clap established a smithy “on the East Side of the Great Bridge, opposite Dr, Sterling’s.”  Daniel Spencer, a cabinet- and chairmaker, had a workshop “Opposite the East End of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  Not all advertisers listed their locations in relation to the Great Bridge, but enough did so to demonstrate that it was a major landmark in the city.

The Great Bridge connected the portions of Providence located on opposite sides of the basin created by the confluence of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers.  A map of the “BAY of NARRAGANSET in the Province of NEW-ENGLAND,” published in London in 1777, shows the larger part of the city on the eastern side of the basin, the smaller part on the western side, and a bridge connecting the two.  According to an account of the Providence Great-Bridge Lottery of 1790, the bridge measured twelve feet wide when constructed in 1711 and eighteen feet wide following alterations in 1744.  Following the lottery, the bridge was widened to fifty-six feet in the early 1790s.  Although it was not as “great” in terms of width in 1773 as it would become by the end of the century, the Great Bridge served as an important landmark that artisans and other entrepreneurs noted when directing prospective customers to their businesses.

January 22

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

Connecticut Journal (January 22, 1773).

“By Reason of an ill State of Health, and other Misfortunes, he has been for some Time unable to attend his Business.”

Joseph Hopkins, a goldsmith and jeweler in Waterbury, took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy to raise interest in his business in January 1773. He pledged that he “will supply those who may want any Articles in either the Goldsmith or Jewelry Way, on the most reasonable Terms.”  Such appeals, however, were not the primary focus of his advertisement.

Instead, Hopkins sought to generate sympathy among prospective customers.  He reported that he reopened his shop after having been closed, stating that “by Reason of an ill State of Health, and other Misfortunes, he has been for some Time unable to attend his Business.”  The goldsmith did not go into detail about any of those “Misfortunes,” though some readers may have already been familiar with his situation.  He did declare that he “has of late, in some good Measure recovered his Health” and was ready to serve clients once again.

Hopkins offered other news to entice readers into his shop.  He announced that he “engaged an approved Workman,” presumably someone with training and experience as either a goldsmith or jeweler, to provide assistance.  He likely hoped that employing an associate would help alleviate any concerns about what kinds of service customers would experience now that his shop opened again.  Yet Hopkins did not want the public to have the mistaken impression that he merely entrusted orders to his new assistance.  He asserted that he gave “constant Attendance himself.”

In his efforts to attract customers to his shop, Hopkins balanced pleas for sympathy with assurances of competence.  He hoped that recovering from poor health and other unspecified “Misfortunes” would prompt prospective customers to give him their business, but he also realized that sympathy alone might not win them over.  Accordingly, he maintained that both he and his new assistant were qualified to produce “any Articles in either the Goldsmith or Jewelry Way” for customers who gave his shop a chance.

January 21

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 21, 1773).

“The SECOND EDITION.”

Just a week after the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy carried advertisements announcing that An Oration on the Beauties of Liberty or the Essential Rights of the Americans was “Now in the press, and will be published in a few days” on January 14, 1773, both newspapers carried notices about the publication of a second edition.  John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark identify the author, “A British Bostonian,” as John Allen, a Baptist minister who migrated to New England in the early 1770s.  They consider the Oration “one of the best-selling pamphlets of the pre-Revolutionary crisis, passing through seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775.”[1]

The Oration very quickly went to a second edition.  Was that because the first edition sold out so quickly?  Or did other factors play a role.  The advertisement in the January 21 edition of the Massachusetts Spy implied that it was the former, that the popularity of the pamphlet prompted the printers, David Kneeland and Nathaniel Davis, to publish “The SECOND EDITION.”  In addition to the advertisements that ran on January 14, another advertisement appeared in the Boston-Gazette on January 18, helping to incite interest and demand in a pamphlet drawn from an address that many Bostonians heard several weeks earlier.  Word-of-mouth chatter about the Oration likely supplement newspaper advertisements in promoting the pamphlet.

The advertisement in the January 21 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter provided additional details. It featured two revisions to the original notice.  The headline now read “This Day Published” instead of “To-Morrow will be Published.”  In addition, a new line at the end of the notice advised prospective customers that they could purchase “The SECOND EDITION corrected.”  Did Kneeland and Davis sell out of the first edition?  Or did they take advantage of producing a second edition that corrected errors to suggest that such the first edition met with such success that it made the immediate publication of a second edition necessary?  Either way, the reception of the first two editions apparently convinced other printers in Boston, Hartford and New London in Connecticut, and Wilmington in Delaware, that they could generate revenues by publishing their own editions.  In so doing, they assisted in disseminating arguments that encouraged colonizers to move from resistance to revolution during the era of the imperial crisis that culminated in thirteen colonies declaring independence from Great Britain.

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[1] John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark, “New England’s Tom Paine: John Allen and the Spirit of Liberty,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 21, no. 4 (October 1964): 561.

January 20

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 20, 1773).

“I accused her wrongfully, and beg her pardon for the same.”

Newspaper advertisements delivered many kinds of information in eighteenth-century America.  Some described consumer goods and services offered by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans.  Legal notices and estate notices supplemented news articles about local events.  Advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers and indentured servants who ran away before their contracts ended provided descriptions and promised rewards for their capture and return.  Notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands and, as a result, no longer had access to credit kept readers informed about some of the gossip in their community.

Other advertisements carried other kinds of gossip.  In the January 20, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, for instance, Mary Doyle inserted a notice in which she confessed that she mistakenly accused an acquaintance of stealing her pocketbook, realized her error, and asked for forgiveness.  “I MARY DOYLE,” she stated, “having mislaid my Pocket-Book, and missing it in the Market place, most injustly charged Mrs. Mary M’Clean, (wife of Hugh M’Clean, Stone-cutter,) with taking the same.”  Doyle apparently found her missing pocketbook and realized her error, prompting her to published the advertisement.  “I therefore think myself bound to inform the public,” she continued, “that I accused her wrongfully, and beg ger pardon for the same.”

Like most advertisements about recalcitrant wives who vexed their husbands, this advertisement did not include all the juicy details about what happened at the market.  Readers could imagine the scene that unfolded.  Some may have already been aware of what transpired, having witnessed it themselves.  Others may have already heard gossip about an altercation between the two women.  Those learning about the confrontation for the first time may have wanted to learn more and decided to ask their friends and acquaintances about what occurred.  Rather than quiet the gossip about Doyle’s missing pocketbook and the accusations she made against McClean, the advertisement may have helped in inciting more gossip.  New chatter, however, had a conclusion in which Doyle set the record straight by restoring McClean’s reputation.  She shifted the story away from a possible theft to her own mistake in making an erroneous accusation.  Doyle sought to repair her relationship with McClean, though publishing a newspaper advertisement also facilitated gossip about a recent argument in the market.

January 19

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (January 19, 1773).

“WILLIAM BOWER … continues to carry on the CLOCK and WATCH-MAKING BUSINESS.”

“KATHARINE BOWER … carries on the MILLINARY BUSINESS.”

When clock- and watch-maker William Bower moved to a new location, he placed an advertisement in the January 19, 1773, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform current and prospective customers.  Now located “next door to The Great Stationary and Book Store,” he continued to offer the same services “as cheap and expeditiously done, as by any [other clock- and watchmaker] in the province.”  Katharine Bower, a milliner, also advised the public that she moved to a new location “where she carries on the MILLINARY BUSINESS in all its branches, and will be much obliged to her friends for a continuance of their favours.”  William and Katharine, presumably husband and wife, but possibly otherwise related, now ran businesses from the same location at “the store the fourth corner of Tradd-street and the Bay, lately possessed by Messrs. Mackenzie & Tunno.”  Previously, William had a workshop on Broad Street, while Katharine kept shop on Church Street.

In addition to sharing a store at the corner of Tradd Street and the Bay, William and Katharine also advertised together, purchasing a “square” of space in one of the local newspapers.  Husbands and wives (and other male and female relatives) who pursued separate occupations sometimes did so, especially in newspapers published in Charleston.  Those advertisements tended to adhere to certain patterns.  The husband or other male relative usually appeared first, followed by his wife or other female relative.  In some instances, the female entrepreneur appeared only in a brief note at the end of the advertisement.  In this case, however, both William and Katharine had headlines in larger fonts that made their names visible to readers.  William had a secondary headline that gave his occupation, “CLOCK and WATCH MAKER,” while Katharine did not.  Even when female entrepreneurs were not relegated to a short note, the amount of space devoted to promoting the husband’s business usually exceeded that amount of space for the wife’s business.  At a glance, that looked like the case in the Bowers’ advertisement.  However, much of the additional space in William’s portion of the notice gave extensive directions to the new shop, directions that Katharine did not need to repeat.  Katharine did not make as elaborate appeals about price and customer service as William, but she did encourage existing customers to visit her at her new location.

The Bowers pooled their resources to insert an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  Their notice gave preference to William by listing his business first and including a secondary headline that listed his occupation, but this did not overshadow Katharine’s enterprise as much as some other advertisements placed jointly by men and women.  Katharine’s name appeared as a headline in the same size font as William’s name and, aside from the directions to the new location, the details about her business occupied a similar amount of space.  In general, the notice communicated that both William and Katharine were competent entrepreneurs responsible for their own participation in the marketplace.

January 18

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 18, 1773).

“AN ADDRESS TO THE INHABITANTS OF THE BRITISH SETTLEMENTS IN AMERICA, UPON SLAVE-KEEPING.”

In January 1773, John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, announced that An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping, a work attributed to Benjamin Rush, was “Just published” and available for sale.  Dunlap leveraged his access to the press to give the announcement special prominence in his newspaper, treating it as an editorial rather than an advertisement.

Consider how Dunlap organized the contents of the January 18, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and the supplement that accompanied it.  In the standard issue, news items and editorials appeared on the first two pages, followed by advertising on the last two pages.  Similarly, the two-page supplement began with two columns of news and the remainder of the content consisted of advertising.  Dunlap’s announcement masqueraded as an editorial that ran in the first column of the second page and overflowed into the next column, followed by news from London, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia.  The printer inserted an excerpt from the pamphlet, hoping to entice readers to want more and purchase their own copies.  In giving prospective customers an overview of the essay, Dunlap noted that the “Author of the above Address after having showed the inconsistency of Slave-keeping with the principles of humanity – justice – good policy and religion; concludes as follows.”  After reading that conclusion, prospective customers could acquire the pamphlet and examine the various arguments about humanity, justice, good policy, and religion for themselves.  In treating this announcement as an editorial or news item, Dunlap adopted a strategy sometimes deployed by other printers to promote books and pamphlets they published.

Whatever the conclusions reached in the Address … upon Slave-Keeping, Dunlap apparently did not find them sufficiently convincing to alter his policies concerning the kinds of advertising that he printed in the Pennsylvania Packet.  Two advertisements about enslaved people appeared on the facing page, one offering a “HEALTHY country bred NEGRO LAD” for sale and the other seeking to hire a “SMART, active WHITE or NEGRO BOY … to wait on table and go on errands.”  Candidates for that position included enslaved youths who did the work while their enslavers received the wages.  An advertisement in the supplement described a “Negro Fellow named LONDON” who liberated himself by running away from his enslaver in Baltimore and offered a reward for his capture and return.  Even as Dunlap treated the conclusion of the Address … upon Slave-Keeping as an editorial intended to arouse interest in a pamphlet he sold, he generated revenue by printing and disseminating advertisements that perpetuated slavery.