September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 15, 1769).

Some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Christopher Smieller took to the pages of New-London Gazette to defend his reputation and mitigate damage already done to his business. The baker had become aware of a vicious rumor about his bread. In a lengthy nota bene at the conclusion of even lengthier advertisement, he expressed his outrage that “some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.” Smellier could not let this slander pass unremarked. Instead, he offered “a Reward of Two Dollars to any Person who will inform me of such Defamers that they may be prosecuted according to law.” In order to rehabilitate his standing in the community, he also made provision for witnesses to observe him as he went about his business: “I will permit any two or three honest Men to stay with me 24 Hours, who may inspect every Article put into my Bread.”

Combatting gossip circulating about unsavory additions to his bread may have prompted Smieller to insert other aspects of his lengthy advertisement. It opened like many other advertisements for consumer goods, listing his wares. Smieller also advanced an appeal to price, stating that he sold loaf and ship bread, gingerbread, cakes, and pies “as cheap as in any of the neighbouring Governments.” In other words, his prices in New London were as good as prospective customers could find in Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island. He doubled down on this assertion later in the advertisement, proclaiming the he baked ship bread “as good and as cheap as in any Part of America.”

Smieller tied the prices he charged for bread to the prevailing prices for flour. He made allusion to “sundry Persons who call themselves Bakers” who had been overcharging the residents of New London and making it unaffordable for them to buy bread. To demonstrate that he charged fair prices, Smieller specified how much a loaf of bread weighed and the corresponding price at the current price for flour. He explained that he would adjust the price per loaf as his own costs for flour fluctuated, but that he would hold his profit consistent. He hoped current and prospective customers would patronize his business out of appreciation for his commitment to keeping prices low by earning “so very small” profits on his bread. Smieller might not otherwise have outlined the expenditures and profits for his business, but defending himself against the rumor that he put soap and potash in his bread may have motivated him to devise other methods of convincing the people of New London to purchase from him.

December 28

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

Georgia Gazette (December 28, 1768).

“Proposes carrying on the BAKING BUSINESS.”

When Elizabeth Anderson went into business in December 1768, she placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette. In a short notice she informed the residents of Savannah that she now occupied “the house where the late Mrs. Pagey lived” and “proposes carrying on the BAKING BUSINESS.” Although the enterprise was a new one for Anderson, she aimed to benefit from depicting it as a continuation of the services previously offered by Pagey. She encouraged “the customers of Mrs. Pagey to continue their favours” at the same location but with a new baker. In addition to attracting new customers, she hoped that the clientele already cultivated by Pagey would seamlessly transfer their business to her.

Anderson did not provide further details about her venture. Perhaps she intended to replicate Pagey’s hours and services as closely as possible. Sticking to a system successfully deployed by the late baker increased the likelihood of maintaining her former customer base. She certainly expected that readers of the Georgia Gazette, whether or not they had been “customers of Mrs. Pagey,” were familiar with the house where the baker had resided before her death.

In each of the issues that carried her advertisement, Anderson was the lone woman who promoted consumer goods and services. She was not the only woman to place a notice in the Georgia Gazette that month. “REBECCA FAUL, Executrix,” ran her short advertisement calling on “ALL persons indebted to the ESTATE of GEORGE FAUL, blacksmith, … to make immediate payment” for the final time in the December 14 issue. In the December 21 and 28 editions, “AVE MARIA GARDNER, Administratrix,” ran a similar notice directed to “THE creditors of George Gardner, deceased.” Enslaved women were the subjects of several other advertisements, though they did not place those notices themselves.

Women were more likely to appear in the advertisements than anywhere else in colonial newspapers. Among the advertisements they placed, white women most often appeared in their capacity as executors when husbands or other male relations died. Yet other women did sometimes insert their names in the public prints for other reasons. Entrepreneurs like Elizabeth Anderson did not rely solely on personal relationships and word-of-mouth to promote their businesses. Instead, they used advertising as a means of expanding their participation in the market as providers of goods and services, not merely as consumers.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 31, 1767).

“Intending to carry on my former Business …”

Charles Jeffery had been away from New London for a while, having left “to settle sundry Accounts of long standing,” but, “having almost compleated the same,” he was back and ready to resume the business he had allowed to lapse during his absence. To make sure that “all good old Customers” knew of his return, he placed an advertisement in the New-London Gazette.

Jeffery reminded readers of the various branches of the business he formerly pursued: “Butchery,—Baking Loaf and Ship Bread,—Butter Bisket, Tallow-Chandling;—Also brewing SHIP BEER, &c. &c. &c.” He did not elaborate on the goods he offered for sale, neglecting to make any of the common appeals to price or quality. He did, however, make a nod toward the sort of customer service that readers could expect; they could “depend on being used in the neatest and best manner, by their humble Servant.” He aimed this promise directly at “all good old Customers.”

Despite the hiatus in his business, Jeffery anticipated that readers of the New-London Gazette were sufficiently familiar with him and the commodities he sold that he did not need to do much by way of attempting to convince them to resume trading with him. In that regard, his advertisement resorted more to announcing his enterprise instead of marketing it. He did not even seem particularly interested in attracting new customers but rather desired to revive relationships with former associates, those “good old Customers” who made purchases from him in the past.

Jeffery may have felt little need to engage in much marketing, perhaps assuming that he had already achieved prominence and a positive reputation among residents of New London and its hinterland. In addition, he likely faced less competition than his counterparts in larger port cities, like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Had he temporarily suspended business in any of those locales, he may very well have posted a rather different sort of advertisement when he sought to return to the marketplace.

June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 29, 1767).

“Those Persons who will send their Victuals, ready prepared, may depend upon being well served.”

John Jent, a baker in Newport, sold pies that he made, but that was not the primary purpose of the advertisement he placed in the Newport Mercury in June 1767. Jent informed local residents that he had a “good Oven” for baking “any Sort of Victuals” delivered to him “ready prepared.” The baker heated his oven twice daily to accommodate midday and evening meals.

Like many other advertisers, Jent promised good service and low prices, but that was not the extent of the benefits he afforded his customers. He also provided convenience, though he did not elaborate on that quality of his business. In the 1760s various advertisers played with the idea of convenience without fully developing the concept. They hinted at it, anticipating larger scale articulations that emerged as marketing evolved.

Some shopkeepers, for instance, published lengthy lists of merchandise. Most emphasized consumer choice, but a few began to suggest that large inventories meant customers could enjoy one-stop shopping rather than traipsing from one shop to another. To that end, Thompson and Arnold asserted that “they have been at great Cost and Pains to supply themselves with as great a Variety of articles as can be found in any one Store in New-England.” Lest potential customers miss their meaning, the partners explicitly stated, “As their Assortment is so large they hope to save their Customers the Trouble of going through the Town to supply themselves with the Necessaries they may want.” Others emphasized the locations of their shops, noting that patrons could visit them more easily and expend less time and energy than traveling to other shops. Such was the case when James Brown and Benoni Pearce informed readers of the Providence Gazette that “Customers coming form the Westward may save both Time and Shoe-Leather by calling at their aforesaid Shops” rather than crossing the Great Bridge to the other side of the city. Some advertisers invited customers to send orders by mail. Peter Roberts, who sold imported “Drugs & Medicines,” advertised in the Boston-Gazette that “Orders by Letters from Practitioners and others, in Town or Country, will be as faithfully complied with as if they were present.”

John Jent provided another form of convenience to customers, sparing them the time and resources necessary to bake “Pies, Puddings, &c.” on their own. Instead, they could go about the rest of their daily business and pick up meals ready to eat at times that fit their own schedules.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:18:1767 Massachusetts Gazette.jpg
Massachusetts Gazette (June 18, 1767).

“At the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves.”

According to his advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette, William Hill, a baker in Boston, made and sold “Ship Bread,” biscuits, and gingerbread at “the Bake House” appropriately marked with “the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves.” In an era before standardized street numbers organized the streets of towns and cities, shop signs helped both entrepreneurs and customers identify and locate businesses of all sorts. Some shopkeepers and artisans also used the devices depicted on their signs as rudimentary brands, sometimes adopting similar visual images in newspaper advertisements as well as on magazine wrappers, trade cards, and billheads.

Not every advertiser had his or her own shop sign, but that did not prevent them from using the signs of others who ran businesses nearby as landmarks to guide potential customers to their own shops. In the same issue that Hill promoted the breads he sold “at the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves,” Nathaniel Cudworth reported that he kept shop “in KING-STREET, opposite the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” Similarly, Joseph Domett gave the location of his store as “nearly opposite the GOLDEN BALL.” That Domett gave no other directions, not even a street name, suggests the Golden Ball was widely recognized by residents of Boston. The shopkeeper expected potential customers to already be familiar with that landmark, a common point of reference for advertiser and reader alike.

Even without woodcuts depicting the Sign of the Two Wheat-Sheaves, the Golden Ball, or the Sign of Admiral Vernon, the advertisements reveal some of the visual culture of eighteenth-century streets. Advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette and other newspapers published in Boston named dozens of signs present in the city in 1767, a vibrant display that served several purposes but now can only be imagined. Sighting various signs aided colonists as they navigated through cities. Signs also enticed colonists to become customers as they encountered them because marketing efforts encouraged consumers to associate certain signs with particular businesses and the men and women who ran them.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 4, 1766).

“He will also bake every day … any thing for dinner that may be sent to him.”

Joseph Williams promoted the bread and biscuits he baked “at his house opposite to the Dutch church,” a landmark so familiar that no other directions were necessary in Savannah in 1766. In addition to the bread and other baked goods he made each day, Williams announced that he provided an additional service: “He will also bake every day between 11 and 1 o’clock any thing for dinner that may be sent to him.” What exactly did Williams mean “any thing for dinner that may be sent to him”? Did he anticipate that patrons would send him orders that he would fulfill? Or did he envision that customers would drop off items that they had prepared but wished for him to bake in his ovens? Whatever the answer, Williams peddled more than bread and biscuits. He sold convenience to readers in Savannah, aiding them in preparing that day’s dinner, and provided a service that would have been attractive to a variety of customers, from single laborers to wives burdened with a myriad other domestic chores. Williams offered an eighteenth-century version of take-out food. In so doing, he commodified convenience.