February 26

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

Boston Evening-Post (February 20, 1769).

“Two Tierces of SUGAR of the first Quality.”

Sugar was a sought-after consumer good, closely associated with tea in the eighteenth century. Drinking tea with sugar was popular in colonial America, especially since the rituals resembled the lifestyle of Britons on the other side of the Atlantic. Everyone loved tea with sugar, but it is essential to look at where all the sugar came from.

The production of sugarcane, mostly by slaves in the Caribbean, increased throughout the eighteenth century. During this time, there was a shift from tobacco to sugar, according to B.W. Higman. In “The Sugar Revolution,” Higman states, “The six central elements of the sugar revolution are commonly regarded as a swift shift from diversified agriculture to sugar monoculture, from production on small farms to large plantations, from free to slave labour, from sparse to dense settlement, from white to black populations, and from low to high value per caput output.”[1] As part of the “sugar revolution,” the exportation of sugar from the Caribbean to mainland North America allowed colonists to live a life resembling the mother country. Slaves, the hands behind production, played a significant part in the expansion of colonial consumer culture. With high demand for sugar, slaves put in long hours on plantations to meet the needs of mass production. Enslaved labor boosted production to large-scale enterprises. It is safe to say slavery was a driving force in the success of the sugar industry. It is interesting how colonists set high demands for a good, such as sugar, to enhance their identity as British while allowing enslaved workers to be the means behind it. It shows how slavery was part of consumer culture even for colonists kept their hands clean by not owning slaves.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell advertised the “SUGAR of the first Quality” that prompted Chloe to consider the connections between slavery and consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Russell, however, was neither a shopkeeper nor a merchant. Instead, he was an auctioneer who regularly advertised the various goods coming up for bids at his “Auction Room, in Queen-street.” In addition to the sugar slated to be sold “by PUBLIC VENDUE” (or auction), he also advertised “a variety of English GOODS.” Russell was not alone in his efforts to steer consumers to auctions rather than patronizing the many shops in Boston. Immediately above his advertisement, another notice, this one placed by John Gerrish, informed readers of an upcoming auction of “A fresh Assortment of GOODS” at “the Public Vendue-Office, North End.” Beyond Boston, other auctioneers also published newspaper advertisements to promote their establishments. Four of them – “Abeel & Neil’s VENDUE,” “M‘DAVITT’s Vendue House,” “MOORE & LYNSEN’s AUCTION-ROOM,” and “Nich. W. Stuyvesant, & Co’s. Vendue-House” – inserted notices in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on the same day that Russell’s advertisement ran in the Boston Evening-Post.

Auctions presented additional opportunities for colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Rather from visit shops or warehouses where they would have to haggle with shopkeepers and merchants in hopes of gaining the lowest prices, they could instead seek bargains at auctions. Auctioneers advertised in hopes of drawing crowds, hoping that would increase bids, but colonists knew that they could acquire goods below market value if bidding lagged. Gerrish’s advertisement indicated that his next auction consisted of “a great Variety of ARTICLES, both New, and Second hand.” For those who could not afford to purchase certain kinds of clothing, housewares, and other merchandise from merchants and shopkeepers, auctions allowed them to acquire secondhand items at reduced prices. Gerrish announced that the “Goods may be viewed before the Sale,” thus allowing prospective bidders to examine used items for wear, defects, and cleanliness in advance rather than forcing them to make decisions on the spot during the auction.

Russell’s auction of “a variety of English GOODS” likely included many items similar to those listed in Thomas Knight’s advertisement on the same page of the Boston Evening-Post. While Knight proclaimed that he was “determined to sell at the very lowest” prices, savvy consumers knew that they might get even better deals at an auction.

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[1] B.W. Higman, “The Sugar Revolution,” Economic History Review 53, no. 2 (May 200): 213

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:24:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 24, 1768).

“A CARGO of DRY GOODS … never yet exposed to SALE.”

In the spring of 1768 Samuel Prioleau, Jr., and Company placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that announced their plans to auction “A CARGO of DRY GOODS” just imported from Liverpool. They provided a short list highlighting some of the merchandise, including “cotton and silk hollands,” “Scotch osnaburgs,” and “Drogheda linen,” but also promised “sundry other articles” too numerous to name in their notice.

Prioleau and Company proclaimed that their wares had “never yet been exposed to SALE.” In so doing, they assured potential buyers – retailers and end-use consumers alike – that this was not merely a cargo of castoffs that merchants and shopkeepers on the other side of the Atlantic had been unable to sell and then attempted to pawn off on distant colonists who did not have easy access to the newest and most fashionable goods. Colonial consumers sometimes complained that they were expected to be content with just such merchandise, which explains why so many eighteenth-century advertisers made a point of stressing that they stocked the newest fashions. This was not necessary for the “Irish linen” or “Scotch osnaburgs,” a coarse fabric often used to clothe slaves, but likely made a difference for “men and boys hats” and some of the higher end textiles that Prioleau and Company listed. They also indicated that this cargo had been “Just imported in the Ship Nanny, David Perry, Master, from Liverpool,” signaling to prospective customers that the textiles had not first been offered for sale in local warehouses or shops. According to the shipping news in the South-Carolina Gazette published the previous day, the Nanny was still in port. To underscore that these goods had “never yet been exposed to SALE,” the advertisers concluded by stating that they were “all bought at the manufactory.” Coming directly from the place of production, these items had not previously sat on shelves where they had been pawed and passed over by other prospective customers. Instead, colonists in Charleston had first shot at acquiring this assortment of fabrics.

January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 21, 1768).

“PUBLIC VENDUE, At the NORTH END Vendue OFFICE.”

Auctioneer John Gerrish inserted advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette to encourage residents of Boston and its environs to buy and sell at his “Public Vendue-Office” in the North End. His upcoming auctions included “A great Variety of Articles, — lately imported,” including “Mens Apparel,” a “Variety of Callimancoes,” and “a Parcel of well-made, exceeding stout P. JACKETS and Breeches, very suitable in the present Season for Fishermen.” In addition to new merchandise, he also auctioned “Second hand Articles.” This selection matched the inventories listed in advertisements for shops and other auction houses in local newspapers.

To convince both buyers and sellers to do business at his establishment, Gerrish asserted that the experience would compare favorably to commercial transactions conducted elsewhere in the urban port. “All Sorts of Goods sell full as well at the North End,” he proclaimed, “as in King-Street, Queen-Street, or any other Street, or Auction Room in Boston.” In a bustling city, readers had many choices when it came to venues for buying and selling consumer goods. Gerrish did not want them to dismiss the North End out of hand.

The “Public Vendue Master” also underscored that buyers and sellers could depend on fairness when they made their transactions at the “NORTH END Vendue OFFICE.” Realizing that some readers might indeed have preferences for familiar shops and auction houses elsewhere in the city, he strove to bolster his reputation by assuring potential clients and customers that they had nothing to lose if they instead chose his vendue office. Those who decided to “Employ the Master of said Vendue Office” could “depend upon His Fidelity,” trusting that he made every effort to market their merchandise prior to the auction and encourage the highest possible returns during the bidding. Invoking his “Fidelity” also suggested that he kept accurate books and did not attempt to cheat sellers, especially those who could not be present at an auction to witness the bidding. Yet he also served those looking to make purchases, stressing that “all BUYERS may depend upon never being IMPOSED upon in said Vendue Office.” Gerrish pledged not to unduly pressure prospective customers who attended his auctions. Even as he worked as an intermediary who executed exchanges between buyers and sellers, he wanted each to feel as though they ultimately remained in charge of their commercial transactions rather than relinquishing control to potential manipulation on his part.

John Gerrish, Public Vendue Master, did more than merely announce that he conducted auctions in Boston’s North End. He encouraged both buyers and sellers to participate by instilling confidence in the process, promising that he faithfully served them. Colonists had many choices when it came to acquiring and selling consumer goods. Gerrish used his advertisement to assure them that doing business at his auction house was an option well worth their consideration.

December 17

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

Dec 17 - 12:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 17, 1767).

“He intends to keep an Auction of BOOKS and JEWELLERY.”

Shopkeepers who advertised merchandise for retail sale in colonial newspapers competed with vendue masters (or auctioneers) who provided a popular alternative means of acquiring consumer goods, both new and secondhand. Announcements for vendue sales, often accompanied by lists of items up for auction, appeared in some eighteenth-century newspapers nearly as frequently as advertisements placed by shopkeepers. Compared to retailers, however, many vendue masters did not devote as much effort to marketing goods soon to go up for bidding, perhaps because one of the most common appeals deployed by shopkeepers – low prices – was an inherent part of auction sales. Vendue masters could not guarantee bargains, but each and every sale promised the possibility of a great deal that could not be beat by haggling with shopkeepers. Although their advertisements did not go into as much detail as those placed by retailers, auctioneers also incorporated other popular appeals to attract potential customers, including quality, fashion, and consumer choice. Shopkeepers may have refined these strategies and created other innovative methods of marketing their wares as a means of competing with the deep discounts made possible by selling goods to the highest bidders.

That their newspaper notices differed from shopkeepers’ advertisements does not mean, however, that vendue masters were indifferent marketers. They invested their energy in other means of inciting demand and enticing potential customers to visit their action rooms. In December 1767, for instance, the “PUBLIC VENDUE MASTER” in Philadelphia announced that he “intends to keep an Auction of BOOKS and JEWELLERY.” He called on colonists “who have any to dispose of” to contact him with a list of items they wished to include in the auction. He requested that sellers contact him by the end of the month so their items “may be inserted in the first Catalogue.” In compiling and distributing auction catalogs, vendue masters added another genre to the extensive array of eighteenth-century printed advertising media that included broadsides, trade cards, billheads, furniture labels, magazine wrappers, and newspaper notices. Auction catalogs served many purposes. In contrast to relatively short advertisements in newspapers, they much more effectively invoked consumer choice by elaborating on the goods going up for bidding. Catalogs prompted potential customers to imagine possessing the items listed and to anticipate participating in the vendue. In addition to making purchases, that participation could include socializing with others who gathered for the sale before, during, and after the auction. Catalogs also guided consumers through vendues, operating as programs that they could follow or even annotate.

Philadelphia’s public vendue master alerted potential customers about an upcoming auction for books and jewelry, but publication and dissemination of an auction catalog allowed for targeted marketing of colonists most likely to participate in this sale. To that end, catalogs offered certain advantages over newspaper advertisements.

April 13

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 13 - 4:13:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (April 13, 1767).

“To be sold by Public Vendue by Elias Dupee”

Auction! This advertisement features a “PUBLIC VENDUE” or auction as the way of purchasing goods. This intrigued me because when I think of auctions I think of auctioneers speaking very quickly, running through prices, and then addressing the person who was the highest bidder. How did this work in the 1760s? What was the purpose of auctions during that time?

T.H Breen provides information regarding auctions during the eighteenth century. He states, “By 1750, they functioned as a major outlet in the great chain of acquisitions.”[1] These auctions, also referred to as vendue sales, provided another method for both consumers and businessmen. They allowed consumers to buy goods that might have been harder to find as well as potentially do so at a lower rate.

Breen also discusses the controversy that lay around auctions. “Defenders insisted that the public auctions represented a marvelous innovation that served the interests of everyone involved.”[2] Opponents, however, argued that, “although the large public auction supplied some small retailers with British imports at lower rates, the properties of larger stores complained about unfair competition.”[3] Auctions provided consumers another means of purchasing goods, some of which were purchased at more reasonabe prices. They also added a different spin on consumerism and business during the eighteenth century.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Shannon explains, vendue sales were a popular method for buying and selling merchandise in eighteenth-century America. In addition to Elias Dupee’s notice about sales by “PUBLIC VENDUE” scheduled to take place in his “New-Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” on three afternoons later in the week, readers of the Boston-Post Boy encountered several other advertisements for auctions in the April 13, 1767, issue.

“J. Russell, Auctioneer” inserted multiple notices announcing that he sold various consumer goods “by PUBLIC VENDUE, at the Auction-Room in Queen-Street.” Some of the items up for bid, including “A Variety of House Furniture,” seemed to be secondhand goods. This combination of factors did indeed make a greater variety of goods accessible to greater numbers of consumers: used goods already sold for reduced prices compared to new ones and the variable winning bids at vendue sales sometimes drove those prices even lower. Auctions also reduced prices of popular commodities sold by retailers. One of Russell’s advertisements promoted “A quantity of very good Brown SUGARS, suitable for Shop-keepers or private Families.” Even if consumers did not have a chance to cut out the middleman (or middlewoman, given the number of female shopkeepers in port cities) by attending this auction, they stood to benefit when retailers passed on the savings.

In addition to facilitating commercial transactions, vendue sales were also social events. In an earlier draft, Shannon imagined residents of Boston gathering to bid on items of interest and interacting with each other in the process. This created a very different atmosphere for shopping than the customers of Frederick William Geyer, John Gillespie, and Susanna Renken – all of whom advertised their shops in the same issue of the Boston Post-Boy – experienced in one-on-one transactions with shopkeepers. Earlier this week Shannon argued that the consumer revolution was fueled in part by competition among colonists. Displaying possessions, she asserted, made consumption a public practice. Participating in auctions also became a social ritual, one that made the process of buying and selling a communal, rather than private, experience.

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[1] T.H. Breen, The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 140.

[2] Breen, Marketplace of Revolution, 141.

[3] Breen, Marketplace of Revolution, 142.

March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1767).

“Coarse & fine Broad Cloths, Bearskins, … German Serges, … Shalloons, … Checks, … Paper for Rooms.”

Elias Dupee planned to sell a variety of goods to the highest bidders at the “New Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” in Boston. A dozen or so different kinds of textiles accounted for half of the items he listed in his advertisement, but he also had everything from footwear to furniture on offer for curious consumers, including “Paper for Rooms.” What did Dupee mean by this strange entry? He promoted an item that we now know as wallpaper.

Imported “Paper for Rooms” (or paper hangings, as they were also known in the colonial and Revolutionary eras) entered the American marketplace in the seventeenth century, but wallpaper became increasingly popular during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. In many ways it was quite appropriate for Dupee to sell “Paper for Rooms” alongside an assortment of textiles, especially given that the production of textiles and wallpaper were closely linked. In Wallpaper in America, Catherine Lynn states, “By the early eighteenth century, specialists in block-printing, many of whom had learned their craft decorating textiles, took over wallpaper production from book printers, and textile patterning came to dominate wallpaper design.”[1] An emerging wallpaper trade drew on the expertise of textile designers who had mastered techniques for repeating elements in their patterns. Further facilitating this development, “the same blocks could be used to print on papers as well as on woven fabrics.”[2]

Like the textiles in Dupee’s advertisements, the “Papers for Rooms” would have been imported. Lynn notes that “English styles … dominated the pre-revolutionary wallpaper market in America.”[3] Although the Acts of Trade and Navigation played a role, they probably were not the final or most important factor. English paper hangings were better quality than those produced elsewhere in Europe. Not until the late eighteenth century did French wallpaper equal those produced in England. In the 1780s and 1790s, American advertisers disputed the relative merits of English and French paper hangings compared to those produced in the fledgling United States. For Dupee’s customers in 1767, however, fashion and quality dictated purchasing “Papers for Rooms” produced in England.

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[1] Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America: From the Seventeenth Century to World War I (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), 30.

[2] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 30.

[3] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 25

December 1

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

dec-1-1211766-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

“A Parcel of choice JAMAICA SUGARS.”

Since this advertisement from the December 1, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post advertised Jamaican sugar I decided to focus on the plantations the English established in the Caribbean. England was in the race to become the most important economic power in Europe. In order to do that England needed colonies, including Jamaica (taken from the Spanish in 1655), to produce of one of the most popular staple crops.

For this goal plantations needed a large labor force. At first the Spanish utilized natives of the area and African slaves. European diseases became a problem for plantation owners as Indian populations dwindled. Later, English planters also found it difficult to persuade indentured servants to work in the harsh environment so by the end of the seventeenth century they focused on primarily using enslaved Africans because they were able to acquire more of them. The demand for African laborers also rose because they too were dying from diseases and the conditions they worked under. According to the British National Archives, between 1702 and 1808 around “840,000 Africans were shipped to Jamaica and a further 100,000 imported into Virginia and Chesapeake.” Overall, around “four million slaves were brought to the Caribbean, and almost all ended up on the sugar plantations.”

The constant demand for sugar in the colonies as well as England itself drove up the need for African slaves in the Caribbean. Since the cost for slaves was low, planters were able to produce more sugar, which in turn drove down the cost. Boston did not have as many slaves as other parts of the colonies, but readers of the Boston Evening-Post who purchased “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” were part of an economy that depended on slavery.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph Russell was a busy auctioneer. He was also a busy advertiser. Nick has selected one of three advertisements Russell placed in the December 1, 1766, issue of the Boston Evening-Post. The printers grouped the three advertisements together at the top of the third and final column on the third page.

dec-1-1211766-consecutive-adverts-boston-evening-post
Boston Evening-Post (December 1, 1766).

The first announced an auction to be held “TO-MORROW,” December 2. Given how soon that auction was slated to take place, “TO-MORROW” appeared in a larger font than anything else in any of Russell’s advertisements. Only one other advertisement on the same and the facing page included font that large: shopkeeper Richard Salter’s name in his advertisement for imported goods. As a result, Russell’s advertisement likely caught readers’ eyes and demanded their attention. The large font gave his impending auction the sense of urgency required to attract prospective bidders in the final hours before the vendue began. The advertisement named a series of goods nearly identical to those listed in Russell’s advertisement that appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette three days earlier (featured earlier this week). It repeated ancillary material verbatim, including a nota bene announcing that “Goods are daily selling off at private Sale at the above Auction-Room, VERY CHEAP.”

Russell’s second advertisement promoted the auction of “choice JAMAICA SUGARS” to take place “On THURSDAY next 4th of December,” the advertisement that Nick selected to examine today. Russell’s final advertisement previewed an auction scheduled to take place a week after that, “On THURSDAY the 11th Instant.” At that time, Russell planned to sell different sorts of merchandise than what appeared in either of the other two advertisements: “A great Variety of genteel House Furniture” and “Glass and China Ware.”

In these advertisements Russell used time to his advantage in three different ways. In the first, he created a sense of urgency. The auction was imminent. Readers needed to make plans to attend or risk being shut out of the deals. However, those unable to make it to that auction could still shop at their leisure, as the nota bene about goods “daily selling off at private Sale” made clear. In the latter two advertisements, he advised the public of upcoming auctions with sufficient time to generate interest. Potential buyers had plenty of time to envision bidding on “Mahogany Tables, Looking Glasses,” and other furnishings, perhaps imagining the deals they might get at auction. Depending on their personalities, readers would have reacted to each use of time in different ways. Some would have been more susceptible to the excitement of an impending auction. Others would have responded better to planning for a vendue more than a week away or shopping at their convenience in “the Auction Room in Queen-Street.” Russell creatively deployed all three strategies to attract as many potential consumers as possible.

November 28

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

nov-28-11281766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (November 28, 1766).

“Scotch Snuff.”

This advertisement showcased a public vendue held at an “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. J. Russell, the auctioneer, sold mainly clothing and household items, but what I found interesting was the “Scotch Snuff.” I know that tobacco was a major cash crop in the colonies, along with sugar, rice, and indigo, but I figured that tobacco was only smoked during this time.

As I researched this product I realized that there was an interesting history behind it. With the amount of trade that was flowing throughout the Atlantic, snuff thrived in the colonies and Europe. According to an exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American history, the labels on snuff packages even “reflected the trade links between Virginia and England.” Plantation owners who sold tobacco to be made into snuff prospered from this product. Since it became so popular in the colonies, by 1750 tobacconists changed the way it was produced. According to Edwin Tunis, author of Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry, initially tobacco was grounded into snuff by using had mortars by hand and was produced it small quantities. Later, tobacconists began “grinding it with water power, either between ordinary milestones, like flour, or in large mortars.”[1] Tobacco was a commodity that was high in demand in the colonies so it is no surprise that snuff also became popular.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Most advertisers of consumer goods and services extended open invitations for potential customers to visit their shops, examine their merchandise, and make purchases whenever they wished. Public vendues (or auctions) operated differently. In her recent work on auctions in early America, Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor underscores the importance of setting a specific time for public vendues and, as a result, gathering colonists together to socialize and be entertained during the sale. Purchasing consumer goods, Hartigan-O’Connor argues, did not occur solely in transactions between shopkeeper and customer. Instead, some purchases were on display as part of larger events.

By necessity, advertisements for auctions specified a time that the sale would be held. Such information was as critical as the location or the list of goods up for bid. When they advertised in newspapers, most colonists selling goods at auction ran their advertisements at least a week in advance and often much earlier. A successful sale depended on attracting as many potential customers as possible. Letting others know when an auction would occur was especially critical if it was a one-time-only or irregularly scheduled event.

Russell, however, regularly held public vendues in his “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. His frequent advertisements alerted readers to at least one auction a week. In the advertisement that Nicholas selected for today, the time of the auction received first billing. “THIS DAY” appeared in a larger font than anything else in the advertisement, signaling that the rest of the content merited attention immediately because it was so time-sensitive. The notice continued by specifying that the auction would take place “At ELEVEN o’Clock in the Morning, AND At THREE o’Clock Afternoon.” In addition to placing this advertisement, Russell may have displayed a red flag outside his “Auction-Room,” another method of announcing a sale would take place that day (but one that did not rely on print or the distribution of newspapers or other advertising media).

That Russell scheduled his auction for “THIS DAY” caught my attention because R. & S. Draper usually published the Massachusetts Gazette on Thursdays in 1766, but for some reason this issue was delayed and appeared on Friday, November 28, 1766, rather than Thursday, November 27. Considering the news items and dozens of advertisements, had the Drapers remembered to adjust the date accordingly from “TOMORROW” (what should have appeared if the newspaper had been published on the 27th, just as it appeared in Russell’s advertisement printed in the issue from the 20th) to “THIS DAY” instead? Did this advertisement actually appear the day after the announced sale took place?

Given how often Russell advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette, constantly updating his copy to reflect auction dates and times as well as merchandise, it seems likely that the Drapers would have given special attention to his advertisement for that week, realizing that it needed to be revised accordingly to fit the schedule of their newspaper’s delayed publication. Not inconsequentially, Russell’s advertisement appeared immediately below a notice that read, in its entirety, “New Advertisements. THE Committee of the House of Representatives, to consider the Difficulties of the Trade of the Province, will meet again this Afternoon at 3 o’Clock, at the Representatives Room.” Russell had some competition for his auction “At THREE o”Clock Afternoon” that day, but the proximity of the two advertisements suggests that the Drapers made any necessary adjustments to the copy when they decided to distribute the issue a day later than usual.

That Russell’s advertisement announced a sale to be held “At ELEVEN o’CLOCK in the Morning” on “THIS DAY” brings up an issue for consideration another time. How early in the day did the Massachusetts Gazette need to be distributed in order for this to be an effective advertisement? Even with delayed publication, it was not the first time that Russell placed a “THIS DAY” advertisement. He apparently believed the newspaper circulated with sufficient time for potential customers to read it or else he would not have invested in the advertisement.

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[1] Edwin Tunis, Colonial Craftsman: And the Beginnings of American Industry (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1957), 52.

October 29

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-29-10291766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 29, 1766).

“A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.”

I chose this advertisement because it dealt with a material whose impact on society I did not know a lot about overall: leather. This short advertisement attempted to sell “A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” I did realize that throughout history leather played a role, but did not fully understand its importance in the colonial world. Obviously there was demand for it. But why was leather in demand? I engaged in some research to find out more about it. According to Colonial Williamsburg, leather was used for myriad of items: equestrian equipment, fashion items and storage products. It even was used for luxury items like “ fur and leather hand muffs” and “razor cases.”

The importance of equipment used in harnessing horses cannot be overstated. During the colonial period the primary mode of travel, other than walking, was horseback or a horse drawn vehicle. There would have been thousands of colonists using horses to travel across towns or colonies. None of that travel would have been possible without bridles, saddles, harnesses, and other leather goods. That is one of the main reasons leather was a commodity that was worth selling. It was a necessary component of colonial travel, as well as a resource used in fashion. A colonist reading this advertisement would have recognized the value of leather goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Megan has selected an advertisement that differs from many other advertisements for consumer goods and services in one significant aspect: “MATT. ROCHE, Prov. Mar.” signed this notice. Roche was not a producer, supplier, or retailer. Instead, he was a local official, a provost marshal (a law enforcement officer roughly equivalent to a sheriff). As part of their own institutional history, the U.S. Marshals Service states that “as soon as the colony of Georgia was founded in 1733, the office of provost marshal was established.” Other colonies, including Virginia, also had provost marshals. Their duties included collecting fines, apprehending and transporting criminals, and, most significantly for the purposes of understanding this advertisement, “taking inventory of a deceased person’s estate.”

Roche did not seek to sell his own goods or make a profit from transactions with customers. That was not his way of earning a living. Instead, in his official capacity he participated in settling the estate of “the late Mr. William Smith.” Note that Roche did not have his own shop, auction house, or warehouse for dispersing the “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” Instead, those interested in purchasing this commodity needed to seek it out at “Joseph Pruniere’s store adjoining his house.” Notice as well that Roche did not announce an ongoing sale. The “PARCEL” had been divided into lots that were to be sold on a specific date (“Tuesday the 4th of November, 1766”) at a specific place. This was an auction intended to quickly and efficiently liquidate the deceased Smith’s inventory of sole leather in order to move forward with settling his estate. Roche inserted an announcement of the sale in the Georgia Gazette, but he did not attempt to incite demand by resorting to any particular appeals to entice buyers, unlike shopkeepers whose livelihoods depended on attracting customers.

Most likely many colonists eventually wore shoes constructed from this “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER,” but the path from producer to consumer took unanticipated turns along the way.