November 24

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 24, 1773).

“THE extraordinary quality of this Oil will (he presumes) recommend it to all, who please to make trial of it.”

As November came to an end and the days continued getting shorter, Richard Wells took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal to advertise the “Fine Spermaceti LAMP OIL” that he “MANUFACTURED and SOLD … At his SPERMACETI WORKS” on Arch Street in Philadelphia.  His short advertisement gave his location and declared that the “extraordinary quality of this Oil will (he presumes) recommend it to all, who please to make trial of it.”  Customers who purchased a small quantity, Wells suggested, would be so satisfied that they would buy more.

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 24, 1773).

Wells did not go into great detail about the “extraordinary quality” of his lamp oil, nor did he arrange for any sort of distinctive typography to call attention to his advertisement.  In both newspapers, the format for the copy Wells submitted to the printing office followed the choices often made by the compositors when they set the type for advertisements.  As a result, the version in the Pennsylvania Journal featured more variation in capitalization, font sizes, and white space, but nothing that suggested Wells made any special requests or gave specific instructions.  His advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal also benefited from appearing at the bottom of the first column on the first page, giving it greater visibility than notices that ran on the third and fourth pages, but most likely that resulted from a choice made by a compositor who needed to complete a column rather than from any arrangements made by Wells.

For the most part, Wells took a conservative approach to advertising.  He did realize that placing notices in two newspapers rather than just one would place his product before the eyes of a greater number of prospective customers.  He did not, however, opt to run his advertisement in every newspaper in other local newspapers, such as the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet.  Perhaps he found the cost of doing so prohibitive.  Perhaps he wished to see what kind of response these advertisements received before making final determinations about inserting them in other publications.  His advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and Pennsylvania Journal included notations (intended for the compositors) that they should remain until Wells discontinued them rather than for a set period (like “6W” for six weeks).  It could have been Wells’s intention to assess their effectiveness, determining the value his business derived from those notices in order to make further decisions about his marketing efforts.

September 22

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 22, 1773).

“They have lately erected a commodious Elaboratory for the preparing Chemical and Galenical Medicines.”

In the fall of 1773, Speakman and Carter, “CHEMISTS and DRUGGISTS” in Philadelphia, advertised widely in their efforts to capture their share of the market for the “freshest DRUGS and genuine Patent MEDICINES, Surgeons INSTRUMENTS[,] Shop Furniture,” and other merchandise sold by apothecaries in the city.  They competed with other apothecaries, including several who ran their own notices in newspapers published in the city.  Robert Bass advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  William Smith inserted notices in both the Pennsylvania Journal and the Pennsylvania Packet.  John Watson, “DOCTOR, SURGEON, and APOTHECARY, at NEWCASTLE on Delaware,” competed for customers outside Philadelphia with an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

Speakman and Carter sought customers in the Philadelphia as well as “Orders from the country,” including New Castle and the surrounding area, and welcomed both wholesale and retail sales.  On September 22, they ran advertisements with identical copy (but variations in format) in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  In addition to hawking the drugs and patent medicines they recently imported from London, Speakman and Carter advised “Wholesale Dealers and Practitioners in Medicine” that they “erected a commodious Elaboratory for the preparing Chemical and Galenical Medicines in large quantities.”  The apothecaries asserted that they could compound medicines “in large quantities” of the same quality “on as low terms [or prices] as they can be imported from England.”

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 20, 1773).

The industrious apothecaries simultaneously ran a more elaborate advertisement in the September 20 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  It included all of the material that appeared in the advertisements in the other two newspapers as well as a list of some of their inventory.  Divided into two columns with one item per line, that list included “Jesuits bark,” “Purging salts,” “Lancets single or in cases,” “Neat mahogany medicine chests for gentlemen’s families,” and “Keyser’s pills, warranted genuine from the only importer in London.”  In addition, Speakman and Carter inserted an abbreviated version of the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet on the same day.  It featured just a small portion of the notices that appeared in the other newspapers, promoting “A LARGE assortment of the freshest Drugs and Patent Medicines, the most saleable articles in large quantities, which will be sold on reasonable terms.”  Though relatively brief compared to the others, publishing that advertisement meant that Speakman and Carter placed notices in all four English-language newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  (They did not pursue Henry Miller’s standing offer to translate any and all advertisements for the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote.)  The apothecaries apparently considered it worth the investment to achieve market saturation with advertisements in so many newspapers.

September 2

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

“An assortment of goods suitable to the season.”

A little more than four months after James Rivington commenced publication of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, many of the advertisements in that newspaper had a notable feature intended to attract readers’ attention.  Borders composed of decorative type enclosed five of the advertisements in the September 2, 1773, edition.  That gave the section devoted to advertising a distinctive look compared to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal.  During that week, the latter did not carry any advertisements with borders.  The former carried one with a border, a short notice about “KEYSER’s PILLS” placed by Hugh Gaine.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

Gaine happened to be the printer of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Although he adorned one of his own advertisements with a border, he also appeared to reserve that format for his exclusive use.  S. Sp. Skinner, a distiller, ran advertisements for “the best of RUM” with identical copy in both publications, with a border in Rivington’s newspaper and without a border in Gaine’s newspaper.  The distiller also advertised, without a border, in the New-York Journal.  Rivington or a compositor in his printing office experimented with a format that enhanced the visual appeal of advertisements.  They either offered borders to advertisers or some advertisers learned that Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer would accommodate such requests.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

Other advertisements with identical copy in multiple newspapers demonstrate that Rivington incorporated a visual element not available in other printing offices in New York.  Robert Murray and John Murray ran an announcement that they dissolved their partnership and requested that “Persons Indebted to them” settle their accounts or face legal action.  Their advertisement had a border in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, but not in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Mercury or the New-York Journal.  Similarly, T.B. Atwood placed an advertisement for his “Medicinal Store” in all three newspapers.  It featured side-by-side columns listing patent medicines and other merchandise in each of them, apparently a format specified by the advertiser, but only Rivington’s newspaper enclosed Atwood’s notice within a decorative border.  Not only did the advertisement have a border, that border consisted of decorative type different from any that surrounded other advertisements or separated news accounts in that issue.  Taking the service to a higher level, the compositor chose printing ornaments that made the borders for each advertisement unique.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (September 2, 1773).

Vincent Pearse Ashfield’s advertisement for coffee, tea, wine, and spirits also appeared in two newspapers, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, but embellished with a border in only one.  All of the advertisers whose notices had borders in Rivington’s newspaper – Ashfield, Atwood, the Murrays, and Skinner – simultaneously placed the same advertisement in at least one other newspaper.  Despite the identical copy, only the notices in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer incorporated borders, suggesting that Rivington’s printing office worked with advertisers to offer an option not available in other newspapers.  In addition to drawing attention to those advertisements, that made the pages of Rivington’s new newspaper easy to recognize and perhaps more interesting for readers.

August 15

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 12, 1773).

“On Account of the present Vacation at Cambridge … he can be absent without an Injury to his Pupils.”

Mr. Delile, “Professor of the French Language in Boston and Cambridge,” spent August, September, and October in Providence and Newport in 1773.  He used newspaper advertisements in each location to advise current pupils of his departure and plans to return or his arrival and plans to offer lessons for a limited time only.

On August 7, he advised readers of the Providence Gazette that “several Gentlemen of this Town and Newport” invited him to spend three months in Rhode Island “for the Purpose of teaching said Languages in those Places.”  Rather than establish a school or academy where he would teach multiple students simultaneously, Delile confined his efforts to private lessons.  He underscored that “Gentlemen or Ladies who please to employ him” needed to do so quickly because he “is under absolute Engagements to return to Boston by the last of October.”  On August 16, he inserted a similar advertisement in the Newport Mercury, having arrived in that town.  In a slight variation, he stated that he hoped that me met with “encouragement equal to that he had in Boston for 16 months past.”

Before he left Boston and Cambridge, Delile arranged for an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  He relayed the same story, that he had been “invited by several Gentlemen at Providence and Newport, to teach the French Language in those Places” for three months.  He also explained that “on Account of the present Vacation at Cambridge,” referring to Harvard College, “and the Season of the Year,” he believed that he “can be absent without an Injury to his Pupils.”  The French tutor vowed to return, hoping that his students would be “in the best Dispositions to pursue their Studies” when he did.

Delile’s advertisement first appeared on August 5 and repeated a week later.  He did not insert it any of the other newspapers published in Boston at the time.  With notices running in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Providence Gazette, and the Newport Mercury, he incurred significant expense, perhaps as much as he dared risk on a stay in Rhode Island that would last only three months.  Delile may have believed that a notice in just one newspaper in Boston was sufficient to alert some of his pupils and then the news would spread to others in the course of everyday conversations.  He likely also informed many or most of his pupils before he departed, placing the newspaper advertisement as a means of informing the general public and prompting prospective students to consider engaging his services when he returned in the fall.

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.

July 1

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (July 1, 1773).

“Advice to the cautious, who are about to buy, swop, and little jobs to the wise for nothing.”

On July 1, 1773, watchmaker John Simnet placed a new advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  On that day, another of his advertisements appeared in the New-York Journal for the tenth time.  While not uncommon for merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans to advertise in more than one newspaper simultaneously, they usually submitted identical notices to each printing office.  Prospective customers usually encountered the same advertisement no matter which publication they happened to read.

Simnet’s advertisements in the two newspapers were not that much different.  In each, he informed the public that he recently “removed” to a new location.  He also proclaimed that he charged “half the price” of his competitors when it came to cleaning and repairing watches, in addition to offering a service plan in which he would “keep them in order at his own trouble, without expence (except abused).”  In other words, as long as clients treated their watches well, Simnet provided small repairs free of charge.  The watchmaker, a frequent advertiser, had been promoting these aspects of his business for quite some time, even before one of his current advertisements first ran in the New-York Journal on April 29.

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (July 1, 1773).

He made additional appeals in his new advertisement in Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  In particular, he offered “advice to the cautious, who are about to buy, swop, and little jobs to the wise for nothing.”  With the exception of small jobs undertaken gratis, these services had not previously been part of Simnet’s marketing efforts in the public prints.  The description he deployed closely replicated the language that Thomas Hilldrup, a watchmaker in Hartford, used in advertisements that ran in all three newspapers published in Connecticut.  In those notices, Hilldrup declared that he offered “advice to those who are about to buy, sell or exchange, and any other jobbs that take up but little time gratis.” Simnet almost certainly saw those advertisements, especially considering that he advertised in the Connecticut Courant for the first time in January 1773.  He had been active in the greater New York market for more than two years, after relocating from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but had not considered it necessary to advertise in any of the newspapers published in Connecticut until Hilldrup arrived in the colony in the fall of 1772 and then devised an extensive advertising campaign over the next several months.

One other aspect of Simnet’s new notice merits attention, especially considering that he placed it in a newspaper that served Connecticut, New Jersey, the Hudson River, and Quebec.  Simnet asserted that he was the “ONLY regular Watchmaker here, of the London Company,” a claim that he frequently made in other advertisements as a means of denigrating his competitors.  In addition, he had a long history of picking fights and engaging in public feuds in his newspaper advertisements, first in Portsmouth and then in New York.  It comes as little surprise that he would appropriate the marketing strategies of a competitor while simultaneously contending that he possessed superior skill and training, especially in a newspaper that he anticipated that competitor was likely to read.  The cantankerous watchmaker often seemed as interested in taunting his competitors as attracting clients to his shop.

June 26

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

Connecticut Journal (June 26, 1772).

“The Hartford Stage-Coach, will be in New-Haven … on its Way to New York.”

In the early 1770s, Jonathan Brown and Nicholas Brown envisioned a stagecoach route that connected New York and Boston.  They placed advertisements seeking investors in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, and the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven.  Such an enterprise, they argued, would benefit residents and entrepreneurs in a colony that travelers often bypassed when they chose to sail between New York and Providence and then continue to Boston via stage.  In the summer of 1772, the Browns inserted an advertisement in the New-York Journal to announce a trial run for their service between New York and Boston.

At the same time that they sought passengers from New York and its hinterlands, the Browns placed new notices in the Connecticut Courant and the Connecticut Journal.  For instance, Jonathan advertised that the “Hartford Stage-Coach, will be in New-Haven … on its Way to New York” in the June 26, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  He stated that “any Gentlemen or Ladies that may want a Conveyance there, or to any Place on the Road, between this Town and that City, may be accommodated in said Coach.”  In an advertisement that appeared in the Connecticut Courant on June 16, Jonathan declared that he “furnished himself with a convenient Coach and suitable horses” to provide service between Hartford and New York.”  In the same issue, Nicholas declared that he “purposes to have a Stage Coach going from this Place to Boston every Fortnight during the Summer.”  The success of the larger venture depended not only on passengers who made the journey between Boston and New York but also on other customers who paid fares to travel shorter distances.  In their efforts to attract those customers, the Browns marketed their service in several newspapers that circulated in Connecticut even as they sought passengers from beyond New England via notices in the New-York Journal.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post- Boy (June 6, 1768).

“His House is very well calculated for an Inn.”

When Josiah F. Davenport opened an inn on Third Street in Philadelphia, he advertised in newspapers published in both Philadelphia and New York. Doing so made sense since he billed “the Bunch of Grapes” as “a genteel House of Entertainment, for Travellers and others, who may depend on the best Fare and civilest Treatment.” Davenport positioned his tavern and inn as a destination not only for visitors to the city but also for local residents “who may have Occasion to meet on Business or Recreation.” In addition to the “best Liquors” and the “elegant and spacious” accommodations for guests, Davenport also promoted the location. He proclaimed that Third Street “is becoming one of the grandest Avenues into this City.” The Bunch of Grapes “stands in the Neighbourhood of many principal Merchants and capital Stores.” Furthermore, it was also located “very near the Market.” Visitors traveling to Philadelphia on business could lodge in an establishment close to their associates, one that also happened to be in a swank neighborhood. Local patrons could also take advantage of the convenient location for conducting business or enjoying the various entertainments at the Bunch of Grapes.

Jun 6 - 6:6:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 6, 1768).

Davenport submitted identical copy to the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the Pennsylvania Chronicle (but the compositors for each made their own decisions about capitalization and italics throughout the advertisement). He also adorned the notice in the Chronicle with a woodcut depicting the sign that marked his establishment, a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. He acknowledged that the “large and commodious Inn” he now operated had been “for some time known by the Name of the Bull’s Head.” However, it was now known as the Bunch of Grapes under the management of the new proprietor. The new sign and an image in one of the city’s newspapers helped to cement the switch in branding for the inn. This was especially important considering that the Bull’s Head had established its own reputation for operating at that location.

Davenport realized that the success of the Bunch of Grapes depended on attracting a mixture of customers, both residents of Philadelphia who patronized his “House of Entertainment” for an afternoon or evening and visitors from other places who spent one or more nights. Accordingly, he highlighted a variety of amenities and, especially, the location of the inn in newspapers published in more than one city. Through his marketing efforts, he encouraged travelers to think of the Bunch of Grapes, rather than Philadelphia, as their destination.