What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He proposes to carry on Wig-making and Hair-Dressing.”
Fashion helped to fuel the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Consumers devoted great attention to changing styles and purchased garments, accessories, and accouterments to match trends as they changed. Colonists in the largest port cities looked to London for guidance, while colonists in smaller towns looked to both London and urban ports like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Fixations on fashion were not confined to the better sort in urban centers. Middling folk and others in towns from New England to Georgia also participated in the rituals and display that made the consumer revolution a very visible aspect of life in the colonies.
Like others who earned their livelihoods by providing goods and services to consumers, Alexander Cambell realized that markets extended into the countryside. In late August 1769, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to announce that he had just opened a shop in Marblehead where he “carr[ied] on Wig-making and Hair-Dressing” for the ladies and gentlemen of that town. Cambell did not elaborate extensively on the services he provided, but he did promise that prospective clients “may depend upon the best Attendance” when they employed him.
Cambell’s wigs were embedded in networks of exchange. Colonists glimpsed those extensive webs of commerce that played such a significant role in the consumer revolution when they read the Essex Gazette and saw Cambell’s advertisement nestled in the middle of a column that began with the shipping news from the customs house for the port of Salem and Marblehead and ended with the shipping news from the customs house in Boston. Cambell’s work as wigmaker and hairdresser did not occur in isolation in Marblehead; instead, his shop was a local manifestation of a consumer revolution that was taking place throughout the British Atlantic world and beyond. The vessels listed in the shipping news carried finished goods or the materials for producing them, but they also carried news and information, including updates about changing fashions. Widespread circulation of these updates cultivated interest in changing trends and other aspects of the consumer revolution in even the smallest towns. As part of that process, Cambell identified a potential market for making and selling wigs and dressing hair in Marblehead; he published an advertisement to offer his services and to incite even greater demand in the summer of 1769.