May 20

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

May 20 - 5:20:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (May 20, 1768).

“JOHN DURAND, Portrait Painter, INTENDS to Stay in this Town part of the warm Season.”

Advertising in local newspapers was imperative for John Durand, an itinerant portrait painter. Since he regularly moved from town to town he did not build up a clientele in a community that considered him one of its own.  Instead, Durand earned his living by traveling from place to place, setting up temporary studios where he served “any Gentlemen or Ladies” who “choose to have their Pictures Drawn.”  When he arrived in New Haven late in the spring of 1768, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal to inform the community that he “INTENDS to Stay in this Town part of the warm Season.”  He would engage as many clients as possible but then move along to another town once he determined that the local market had been satisfied.

To convince potential clients to commission his services, Durand invited them to visit “Captain Camp’s House, where several of his Performances may be seen.”  Before sitting for their own portrait or drawing, “any Gentlemen or Ladies” could examine Durand’s portfolio and determine for themselves whether they appreciated his style or considered his abilities sufficient to merit the time and expense of sitting for a portrait. In addition, the artist made an appeal to price, noting that he would create their likenesses “a good deal cheaper than has yet been seen.”  As he moved from town to town, he may have inquired about prices charged by his rivals. Even if he did not offer the best bargain possible, he likely did not set rates so high that prospective clients would choose to wait for the next itinerant portrait painter to pass through town.  He also invited clients to dictate some of the terms of service.  They could visit his temporary studio in his lodgings “at Captain Camp’s House” or summon him to their own residences, asserting their own social standing in the process.

Unlike artisans who worked in one location for years or decades, this artist could not rely on the familiarity of friends and associates for word-of-mouth recommendations that enhanced his reputation over time and, as a result, attracted new customers to an established studio.  As much as he may have wished to stay in one place and accrue such advantages, the market for portraits and drawings in colonial America did not afford him that opportunity.

August 17

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

Aug 17 - 8:15:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (August 15, 1766).

“Some excellent pieces of sculpture in relieve of Lord CAMDEN and Mr. PITT.”

In the wake of the American Revolution, a variety of artists created and marketed items that commemorated American statesmen and military heroes and depicted significant events. In so doing, they participated in creating a national culture that celebrated the new republic while uniting geographically dispersed citizens in common acts of consumption and veneration. They helped to cultivate a sense of patriotism rooted in a distinct American identity.

Prior to the Revolution, artists also produced and sold items that shaped national identity and allegiance. In the summer of 1766, colonists in Virginia could purchase “some excellent pieces of sculpture in relieve of Lord CAMDEN and Mr. PITT” created by a “Celebrated artist in London.” Camden and Pitt were British politicians who had gained popularity in the colonies due to their opposition to the Stamp Act, arguing that it was not constitutional to impose taxes on the colonies without their consent and that consent was only possible with representation. Camden was one of the few who opposed the Declaratory Act as well. From the perspective of Americans who opposed the Stamp Act, Camden and Pitt truly understood the appropriate and just relationship between Great Britain and the colonies. The advertisement for the sculpture in relieve pieces described them as “names which will be ever dear to AMERICA,” but offered no further explanation. None was needed. Any colonists who read the newspaper or listened to discussions taking place in public places already knew of the accomplishments of Camden and Pitt.

This advertisement and the works it marketed envisioned American political and cultural identity in complicated ways. Americans still thought of themselves as Britons in 1766. At the time, few wanted to sever ties; instead, they sought to benefit from all the protections and advantages that were supposed to be inherent in being part of the British Empire. By purchasing sculpture in relievo pieces of Camden and Pitt and displaying them in their homes, colonists could confirm their allegiance to Britain and the ideals of its political system while simultaneously affirming their particular concerns as Americans. They did not need to prioritize one over the other. The two found themselves in balance rather than opposition to each other, a situation that would change dramatically over the course of the next two decades.