August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 4, 1769).

“Good Work … equal to any in Boston.”

The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century extended far beyond major metropolitan centers like London and into the provinces, both the English provinces and the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. For colonists, participating in consumer culture became part of their identity and a marker of their membership in the vast British Empire. For many, acquiring goods also testified to their status. This sometimes prompted both anxiety and competition among consumers … and advertisers cultivated both for their own purposes. Some deployed an eighteenth-century version of “keeping up with the Joneses” to stimulate demand in their goods and services.

Consider the advertisement John Smith and Company placed in the August 4, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Smith and Company introduced themselves as “Peruke-Makers and Hair-Dressers for Gentlemen and Ladies,” but before they specified their occupation they first proclaimed that they were “From BOSTON.” This inverted the usual order of information that commonly appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements. Most advertisers listed their occupation first and their place of origin or site of significant employment second, but Smith and Company made certain that their affiliation with Boston, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New England, foregrounded everything else in their advertisement.

Smith and Company had recently opened a new shop at Norwich Landing, a much smaller town than the busy port of Boston. Despite the relatively bucolic setting, Smith and Company’s prospective clients could depend on “having good Work … equal to any in Boston.” This “good Work” presumably applied not only to the quality of the goods and services available from Smith and Company but also to the assistance they provided clients in demonstrating taste through adopting the latest styles, an important aspect of making wigs and dressing hair. Smith and Company encouraged readers of the New-London Gazette to consider current fashions and the services provided by wigmakers and hairdressers in Boston even though they lived at a distance from that busy port, much the same way that their counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia urged their prospective customers to look to London or Paris and promised to deliver the current styles from those places. No matter where consumers resided, according to advertisements in colonial newspapers, purveyors of goods and services could help them achieve the fashions currently en vogue in places they considered one rung up the cosmopolitan ladder.

September 8

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

Sep 8 - 9:8:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (September 8, 1768).
“WHEREAS many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their fore Teeth … they may have them replaced with false Ones … by PAUL REVERE.”

Although Paul Revere is primarily remembered as an engraver and silversmith who actively supported the Patriot cause throughout the era of the American Revolution, newspaper advertisements from the period demonstrate that he also tried his hand at dentistry. As summer turned to fall in 1768, Revere placed advertisements in both the Boston Evening-Post and Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette to encourage prospective clients to hire him if they needed false teeth made or adjusted.

Like many others who marketed consumer goods and services in the public prints, Revere stoked anxieties as a means of convincing readers to avail themselves of his services. He proclaimed that “many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their fore Teeth … to their Detriment, not only in looks, but speaking both in Public and Private.” Revere raised the insecurities that prospective clients likely already felt, but then presented a solution. Colonists who had lost their front teeth “may have them replaced with false Ones, that looks as well as the Natural, and answers the End of Speaking to all intents.” He assured prospective clients that they would no longer need to worry about their appearance or speech once they sought his assistance.

Revere also attempted to generate business from among the clientele of John Baker, an itinerant “Surgeon-Dentist” who had provided his services in Boston before moving along to Newport and New York and other cities. Baker was well known to the residents of Boston and its environs. In an advertisement in the New-York Journal he claimed to have provided his services to “upwards of two thousand persons in the town of Boston.” Even if that was an inflated estimate, it still indicated that Baker had served a significant number of clients there. Revere confirmed that was the case when he used a portion of his advertisement to address those clients. He claimed that he had “learnt the Method of fixing” false teeth that had come loose from Baker during the surgeon-dentist’s time in Boston.

Thanks to the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Paul Revere is most famous for his “midnight ride” on the eve of the battles at Lexington and Concord. He also encouraged resistance to the British through his engravings, including “The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street, Boston.” In addition, Revere is remembered as an artisan who crafted fashionable silver teapots, buckles, and other items. This advertisement shows another facet of Revere’s attempts to earn his livelihood in Boston in the late colonial period, dabbling in dentistry as an extension of practicing his trade as a silversmith.

August 19

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

Aug 19 - 8:18:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (August 18, 1766).

“DANCING IS Taught by the Subscriber, in a genteel and easy Method.”

John Trotter and other dancing masters regularly advertised their services in colonial America’s largest urban ports in the decade before the Revolution, hoping to catch the attention of the elite as well as middling folks aspiring to join the ranks of the better sorts. Their prospective pupils may have resided in distant outposts of the British Empire like New York and Philadelphia, but those colonists strived to achieve the same cosmopolitanism as metropolitan London. Learning to dance or to speak French or (for men) to fence were considered marks of gentility, evidence that the colonial elite understood and achieved sophistication in their own right despite the distance that separated them from the centers of fashion, culture, and commerce in the Europe.

Trotter’s advertisement was relatively spared compared to the details included in notices placed by other dancing masters. He did not explicitly play on the anxieties of his potential customers in the same manner as some of his competitors (warning, for instance, that if readers did not learn the newest and most fashionable steps that they would be publicly embarrassed at social gatherings), but he may not have considered it necessary to be quite so heavy-handed. He may have assumed from the discourses surrounding him, both in conversation and in print, that the customers he wished to attract already experienced the sort of anxiety about their social position and identity that would prompt them to engage the services of a dancing master.

Trotter did offer his services to both “Gentlemen and Ladies.” He did so at two locations, “his House in Chaple-Street, next Door to the Play-House, and at Mrs. Demot’s on Flatten-Barrack-Hill.” Being able to take lessons at Mrs. Demot’s may have been especially important for female pupils. Dancing involved close contact, a certain level of intimacy that could be misconstrued or the cause of gossip that could call into question someone’s character as well as damage reputations, especially if those lessons took place within the privacy of Trotter’s house. Male students might be willing to meet him there, but it’s likely that women preferred to have their lessons at Mrs. Demot’s where they would have a female chaperone. Given the necessity of a reputation for good character required to pursue his occupation, Trotter may also have preferred that female students had their lessons at “Mrs. Demot’s on Flatten-Barrack-Hill.”