November 29

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

Newport Mercury (November 29, 1773).


Colonial printers often supplemented the revenues they generated from subscriptions, advertising, and job printing by selling books, stationery, blanks, … and patent medicines.  Hugh Gaine, the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, and James Rivington, the printer of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, competed with each other and with apothecaries to sell “KEYSER’s FAMOUS PILLS,” a cure for syphilis and other maladies, in the fall of 1773.  Rivington also supplied William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, with pills that he imported.  As he perused newspapers printed in Philadelphia, Rivington noticed that Townsend Speakman and Christopher Carter, chemists and druggists in that city, advertised that they sold Keyser’s Pills acquired directly from James Cowper, “Doctor of Physick” and “the only legal proprietor” of that medicine in England.  Rivington sent the Bradfords a letter testifying that he received the pills he forwarded to them directly from the son of the late Keyser, residing in Paris.  The Bradfords promptly published that letter in an advertisement that ran immediately below the one placed by Speakman and Carter.

Rivington was not alone in his efforts to gain as much of the market beyond New York as he could.  Gaine looked to the north, advertising in the Newport Mercury.  His notice appeared at the top of the first column on the first page of the November 29 edition of that newspaper, a place of prominence that likely garnered some attention.  A headline in a larger font than anything else on the page except the title of the newspaper in the masthead also enhanced the visibility of the product that Gaine peddled.  This advertisement replicated the copy of Gaine’s notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury a week earlier, though it did not retain the format.  Gaine’s advertisement in the Newport Mercury lacked a decorative border and the multiple manicules that pointed to each letter in “KEYSER,” though it still featured a representation of a “Seal” at the end of the transcription of the certificate of authenticity sent to Gaine by Keyser’s widow.  Gaine did not list Solomon Southwick, the printer of the Newport Mercury, or any other associates in Newport as local agents who sold Keyser’s Pills on his behalf.  He apparently expected that readers would submit orders to him in New York, an eighteenth-century version of mail order medications.

August 27

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

New-London Gazette (August 27, 1773).

“WATCHES are restored to their pristine vigour.”

A month had passed since Thomas Hilldrup, a “WATCH MAKER from LONDON” who recently relocated to Hartford, inserted an advertisement that originally ran for several weeks in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy as well.  When he did so, he revised the dateline to “July 20, 1773,” but did not otherwise alter his advertising copy.  Near the end of August, he decided that he wished for the same notice to run in the New-London Gazette.  He once again altered the dateline, this time to “Aug. 20, 1773,” but did not make other changes.  Apparently, the watchmaker felt confident in his address to prospective customers as it appeared in the Connecticut Courant for the past two months.

By the time he placed that notice in the New-London Gazette, Hilldrup had been in Connecticut for the better part of a year.  He had been there long enough that it was not the first time that he attempted to extend his share of the market by saturating the newspapers published in the colony with his advertisements.  He initially published an advertisement in the September 15, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant and then revised it a month later.  Over time, he placed the revised advertisement in the Connecticut Journal on January 8, 1773, and in the New-London Gazette three weeks later.  The watchmaker established a pattern of starting with a single newspaper, the one printed in his own town, and then attempting to reach other prospective customers in the region though the same advertisement in other newspapers.

Such industriousness may have caught the attention of John Simnet, a watchmaker in New York, as newspapers published in Connecticut circulated beyond that colony.  Simnet learned his craft in London and had decades of experience working with clients there, a point of pride that he frequently highlighted in his advertisements.  Given his background, Simnet also promoted himself as the only truly skilled watchmaker in the area.  He had a long history of denigrating his competitors in his advertisements.  The cantankerous Simnet may have taken exception to Hilldrup’s arrival on the scene, considering Hartford too close for a competitor who listed similar credentials in his advertisements.  He had not previously placed notices in any of the newspapers printed in Connecticut, but decided to run an advertisement in the January 26, 1773, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  In choosing the newspaper published in Hartford, Hilldrup’s new location and a town more distant from New York than New Haven and New London, Simnet increased the chances that Hilldrup would see his advertisement.

For his part, Hilldrup did not respond directly to Simnet in the public prints, but he did follow the other watchmaker’s lead in making veiled references to competitors in an advertisement in the April 27 edition of the Connecticut Courant.  The headline for that advertisement, “WATCHES! only,” seemed to comment on a notice in which Enos Doolittle offered his services repairing clocks and watches in the previous issue.  In addition, Hilldrup included a nota bene that seemingly mocked Doolittle for hiring a journey who completed an apprenticeship in London, proclaiming that “I am capable of going through the business myself without any assistance.”  That nota bene also appeared in the original iteration of Hilldrup’s second advertisement that eventually found its way into multiple newspapers, though he removed it after several weeks in the Connecticut Courant.

As Hilldrup worked to cultivate a clientele that would secure his position in Hartford, he published advertisements in newspapers in several towns.  Achieving that kind of reach with his notices was only part of his marketing strategy.  In addition to engaging prospective customers, those advertisements put Hilldrup in conversation with competitors, directly and indirectly.  Rather than mere announcements that readers might easily dismiss, the watchmaker crafted messages that resonated beyond any single issue of a colonial newspaper.  In an advertisement that eventually appeared in all three newspapers published in Connecticut, he requested “the favour of those gentlemen who are or may be satisfied of his abilities, to assist in recommending” his services to others.

July 24

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

Providence Gazette (July 24, 1773).


For quite some time in 1773, William Hawxhurst “In NEW-YORK” advertised widely, seeking customers for the “Best ANCHORS, Made of Sterling Iron,” among mariners in several colonies.  Consider the notice that appeared in the Providence Gazette on Saturday, July 24.  During the previous week, the same advertisement ran in the Newport Mercury on Monday, July 19, the Connecticut Courant (published in Hartford) on Tuesday, July 20, and the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy and the New-London Gazette on Friday, July 23.  Curiously, Hawxhurst did not place notices in any of the newspapers published in New York.  Perhaps he relied on personal connections and the visibility of the anchors “in a Yard between [Burling’s] Slip and Byvank’s Store, on the Dock,” to market them to prospective customers in that busy port.  The publications he did choose for his advertisements represented every newspaper in Connecticut and every newspaper in Rhode Island, suggesting that he carefully crafted a regional marketing campaign.

In addition to the anchors, Hawxhurst advertised other goods.  Several years earlier, he “erected a Finer and great hammer, for refining the Sterling pig iron, into bar” in New York.  He continued to produce and sell “the best Sterling-refined Iron, warranted good” and “Pig-Iron of the Sterling new Mine, cast in Cinder, warranted good” as well as “Scythe [Iron]” and “Keen’s best Bloomery Iron.”  Hawxhurst also made clear that he was willing to barter, accepting several commodities, including “pickled Cod Fish, Mackarel, Liver-Oil, and New-England Tobacco,” in exchange for anchors and iron.  That list of commodities certainly reflected what mariners operating from ports in Connecticut and Rhode Island could offer as payment.  While he had the attention of readers of several newspapers, Hawxhurst also announced that he sought to hire a “Person well qualified to manufacture Steel from Pig Iron, in the German Way.”  Like many advertisements that appeared in early American newspapers, this one served multiple objectives that defied classification for a single purpose.  It ranged widely in terms of both distribution and the results that the advertiser wished to achieve.

April 13

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

Essex Gazette (April 13, 1773).

“Said Hooks, also Cod-Lines, to be sold by WILLIAM VANS, in Salem.”

In the early 1770s, Abraham Cornish made “New-England Cod & Mackrell FISH-HOOKS … At his Manufactory” in Boston’s North End.  To promote his product, he placed advertisements in the Massachusetts Spy, printed in Boston, and in the Essex Gazette, printed in Salem in March and April 1773, hoping to capture the attention of fishermen in both maritime communities.  He presented his hooks as an alternative to those imported to the colonies, describing them as “the best Cod and Mackrell Hooks,” yet he did not ask prospective buyers to take his word for it.  Instead, he declared that “Fishermen who made Trial of his Hooks last Season, found them to correspond with his former Advertisement” in which he presented his hooks as “much superior to those imported from England.”

Cornish did not address solely the fisherman who would use his hooks.  He also called on those who supplied them to stock his hooks made in Boston in addition to those they acquired from England.  He set prices “as cheap by Wholesale for Cash on delivery” as imported hooks, hoping that the combination of price and quality would prompt retailers to add them to their inventory.  Cornish believed that various members of the community should demonstrate their interest in supporting the production of fish hooks in Boston, calling on “all Importers, and those concerned in the Fishery” to purchase his product.  To cultivate brand recognition, he noted that his hooks “are all marked A.C. on the Flat of the Stem of each Hook.”  In an earlier advertisement, he also noted that he packaged them in “paper … marked ABRHAM CORNISH” and called attention to his initials on each hook in order to “prevent deception” or counterfeit products.

To aid in distributing his wares, Cornish recruited a local agent in Salem.  His advertisement in the Essex Gazette stated that William Vans, a merchant who frequently placed his own advertisements, sold “Said Hooks.”  Vans, however, did not generate the copy for the notice about Cornish’s hooks.  The text replicated what appeared in the advertisement in the Massachusetts Spy, with the addition of a nota bene about the marks on each hook and an additional sentence identifying Vans as the local distributor.  The version in the Essex Gazette lacked the characteristic woodcut depicting a fish that adorned Cornish’s advertisements in the Massachusetts Spy.  Like most other advertisers who incorporated visuals images, Cornish apparently invested in only one woodcut.  He depended on the strength of the advertising copy when hawking his hooks in a second market.

March 23

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

Connecticut Courant (March 23, 1773).

“A motive to Gentlemen in Business to give orders for the Papers.”

As he prepared to launch a new newspaper, “RIVINGTON’s NEW-YORK GAZETTEER; OR THE CONNECTICUT, NEW-JERSEY, HUDSON’s-RIVER, AND QUEBEC WEEKLY ADVERTISER,” James Rivington continued to expand his advertising campaign in newspapers in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania.  He placed a notice in the Connecticut Courant on March 23, 1773, a full month after his first notices appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 22.  Except for the brief advertisement in the Newport Mercury, the much more extensive subscription proposals in the other newspapers all provided an overview about how Rivington envisioned that his newspaper would include content that distinguished it from others.  In many ways, he proposed a hybrid of a newspaper and a magazine, a publication that “will communicate the most important Events, Foreign and Domestic” as well as the “State of Learning” with the “best modern Essays,” a “Review of New Books,” and coverage of “new Inventions in Arts and Sciences, Mechanics and Manufactories.”

For readers of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, Rivington also attempted to incite interest through noting that “the Merchants and Traders of New-York, have universally patronized this Design, and their Advertisements will constantly appear in the Gazetteer.”  Given New Haven’s proximity to New York, Rivington apparently believed that consumers and retailers there would find such advertisements by merchants and shopkeepers in the bustling port as interesting and as useful as the rest of the content.  He made a similar pitch to residents of Hartford in his notice in the Connecticut Courant.  Following the paragraph describing the news and essays he planned to include in the newspaper, the printer expressed his hope that the “general support and promise of Mr. Rivington’s Friends, to Advertise in his Gazetteer … may be a motive to Gentlemen in Business to give orders for the Papers, which will be very regularly sent to the Subscribers.”  Rivington envisioned that advertising, in addition to coverage of “the Mercantile Interest in America, Departures and Prices Current, at Home and Abroad,” would facilitate commerce between New York and smaller towns in neighboring Connecticut.  He suggested to prospective subscribers in Hartford and New Haven that they consider advertisements placed by “Merchants and Traders” in New York as valuable sources of information, as newsworthy and practical in their own right as reports about current events.

March 21

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (March 18, 1773).

“PROPOSES to publish a Weekly NEWS-PAPER.”

James Rivington continued to expand his marketing campaign to gain subscribers for his new newspaper, “RIVINGTON’s NEW-YORK GAZETTEER; OR THE CONNECTICUT, NEW-JERSEY, HUDSON’s-RIVER, AND QUEBEC WEEKLY ADVERTISER,” with an advertisement in the March 18, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury.  Nearly a month earlier, he commenced advertising in newspapers with a brief notice in the Newport Mercury on February 22.  That same day, he placed a longer notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  That version became the standard that Rivington published, with minor variations, in other newspapers, including the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on February 24, the Connecticut Journal on February 26, and the Pennsylvania Packet on March 1.  On March 8, he informed readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that the “first Number” of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “shall make its Appearance in the month of April” and requested that “Gentlemen who may be inclined to promote the Establishment of this Undertaking” send their names “as soon as convenient, which will determine the Number he shall print of the first Paper.”

For prospective subscribers in Massachusetts, Rivington provided directions for contacting local agents.  “Subscriptions taken,” he declared, “by Messrs. Cox and Berry and Dr. M.B. Goldthwait, at Boston.”  Otherwise, the proposal in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly Mercury replicated those that ran in the newspapers published in Philadelphia.  For some reason, that initial notice in the Newport Mercury differed significantly from those that ran in half a dozen other newspapers in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  The overall consistency of those subscription proposals amounted to a regional advertising campaign that delivered the same content to prospective subscribers in several colonies.  Members of the book trade – printers, booksellers, and publishers – devised the vast majority of advertising campaigns that extended beyond a single town in the eighteenth century.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements in multiple newspapers published in their town; the purveyors of goods, rather than the products they sold, defined the geographic scope of their markets since most producers did not advertise the items they made.  Even when merchants and shopkeepers in several towns sold the same items, such as patent medicines, they did not participate in centralized advertising campaigns coordinated by the producers of those items.  Markets confined to colonial cities and their hinterlands, however, often could not support printed items, such as books and pamphlets, so printers, booksellers, and publishers developed advertising campaigns that placed the same notices in newspapers throughout a region or even throughout the colonies.  Rivington adopted that model in marketing a newspaper that he also intended would serve readers far beyond his printing office in New York.

March 1

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 1, 1773).

“Every particular that may contribute to the improvement, information, and entertainment of the public, shall be constantly conveyed through the channel of the NEW-YORK GAZETTEER.”

A week after James Rivington’s proposal for publishing a newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, first appeared in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle, it ran in the Pennsylvania Packet.  During that week, Rivington also inserted the proposal, with variations, in the Connecticut Journal, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  In advance of publishing a newspaper intended to serve an expansive region, the bookseller, printer, and stationer launched an advertising campaign in multiple newspapers throughout that region.  Once his notice appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet on March 1, 1773, all four English-language newspapers in Philadelphia carried it to readers dispersed far beyond that busy urban port.

These advertisements likely helped Rivington attract subscribers.  In his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas notes that Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “was patronized in all the principal towns by the advocates of the British administration who approved the measures adopted toward the colonies” and “obtained an extensive circulation.”  Furthermore, the newspaper “undoubtedly had some support from ‘his Majesty’s government.’”  Patriots found Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer “obnoxious.”  On November 27, 1775, “a number of armed men from Connecticut entered the city, on horseback, and beset his habitation, broke into his printing house, destroyed his press, threw his types into heaps, and carried away a large quantity of them, which they melted and formed into bullets.”  Rivington departed for England soon after that encounter, but he returned to New York once the British occupied the city.  In October 1777, he began publishing Rivington’s New-York Gazette; or the Connecticut, Hudson’s River, New-Jersey, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser once again.  That title lasted for two issues before he changed it to Rivington’s New-York Loyal Gazette and, not long after that, the Royal Gazette.[1]

Although Thomas did not care for Rivington’s politics, he did give him credit for his skills as an editor, a printer, and an entrepreneur who disseminated his newspaper widely.  Thomas acknowledged that “for some time Rivington conducted his paper with as much impartiality as most of the editors of that period; and it may be added, that no newspaper in the colonies was better printed, or was more copiously furnished with foreign intelligence.”  In addition, Thomas reported that Rivington claimed that “each impression of his week Gazetteer, amounted to 3,600 copies” in October 1773.[2]  For the period, that was an extensive circulation indeed.


[1] Isaiah Thomas, History of Printing in America: With a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 508-9.

[2] Thomas, History of Printing, 511.

February 26

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

Connecticut Journal (February 26, 1773).

“Their Advertisements will constantly appear in the Gazetteer.”

Four days after James Rivington first published advertisements promoting a new newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, a new notice appeared in yet another newspaper.  The bookseller, printer, and stationer commenced advertising in the Newport Mercury and the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 22, 1773.  Two days later, he inserted advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  His next notice ran in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy on February 26.

That advertisement replicated, for the most part, the notices that ran in the Philadelphia newspapers.  Rivington included lengthy copy explaining how his newspaper differed “in its Plan from most others now extant,” describing how the “State of Learning shall be constantly reported” in addition to “the most important Events, Foreign and Domestic, the Mercantile Interest in Arrivals, Departures and Prices Current, at Home and Abroad.”  He also included a list of three local agents who accepted subscriptions in New Haven.  As he had in most other notices, Rivington stated that the “first Number shall make its Appearance when the Season will permit the several Post-Riders to perform their Stages regularly.”  The printer wanted subscribers to know when they could expect to receive the first issue.

Rivington added one short paragraph to his advertisement in the Connecticut Journal that did not appear in any of the other newspapers.  “The Gentlemen, the Merchants and Traders of New-York,” he asserted, “have universally patronized this Design, and their Advertisements will constantly appear in the Gazetteer.”  That reiterated what he said elsewhere in the advertisement about receiving “Encouragement from the first Personages in this Country” to publish the newspaper, but it also added a detail about the advertisements the newspaper would carry.  Rivington expected that readers in New Haven and nearby towns would be interested in advertisements for consumer goods as well as legal notices concerning New York, more interested than readers in Newport and Philadelphia.  That made sense since New Haven was much more within the commercial orbit of New York than the other two towns where he previously promoted his newspaper.  After all, Newport and Philadelphia were both thriving ports.  Residents of New Haven, on the other hand, had closer connections to New York, especially given the proximity.  Advertisements relevant to New York and nearby towns may not have been of much interest to most prospective subscribers in Newport and Philadelphia, but Rivington considered them a selling point when marketing his newspaper to readers in New Haven.

January 29

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

New-London Gazette (January 29, 1773).

Difficult jobbs performed for those who pretend to the business.”

At the end of January 1773, watchmaker Thomas Hilldrup continued expanding his advertising campaign.  When he arrived in Hartford in the fall of 1772, he inserted notices in the local newspaper, the Connecticut Courant, starting on September 15.  His advertisement ran almost every week throughout the remainder of the year and continued into the new year.  Early in 1773, he decided to increase the reach of his marketing by placing the same advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Not much time passed before he ran that notice in the New-London Gazette as well.  With that publication, Hilldrup advertised in all of the newspapers printed in the colony at the time, making his efforts a regional campaign.

Hilldrup made a variety of appeals intended to attract attention from prospective clients who may not have otherwise considered seeking the services of a watchmaker in Hartford rather than one in their own town.  When he asked “the candid public to make a tryal of his abilities” in repairing several different kinds of watches, he emphasized his training and experience in the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  The watchmaker declared that he “was regularly bread to the finishing business in London,” implying that, as a result, he possessed greater skill than watchmakers who learned the trade in the colonies.  To underscore that point, he proclaimed that he did “difficult jobbs … for those who pretend to the business.”  In other words, he informed fellow watchmakers who did not possess the same level of skill that they could bring repairs beyond their abilities to him to complete.  Such an offer planted a seed of doubt about his competitors and prompted readers to question their capabilities.  Hilldrup also attempted to cultivate a clientele by offering free services, pledging “any other jobbs that take up but little time [done] gratis.”  That allowed him to meet new clients while also creating a sense of obligation that they would eventually purchase accessories, like chains and keys, at his shop or hire him when their watches needed more extensive repairs.

The newcomer made his presence known in the colony, first by advertising repeatedly in the Connecticut Courant and then by advertising widely in the other newspapers published in the colony.  He promoted credentials that he believed eclipsed many of his competitors and offered services intended to incite interest among prospective clients near and far.

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?