July 25

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 25, 1772).

“The BEST of AMERICAN HAIR-POWDER.”

In the summer of 1772, William Trautwine, a barber who ran a shop “at the sign of the Bleeding Lady and Barber’s Pole” in Philadelphia, took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertise the “BEST of AMERICAN HAIR-POWDER.”  In an age when many entrepreneurs promoted domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, as alternatives to imported items, hairdressers and barbers frequently joined the chorus.  For his part, Trautwine encouraged “those gentlemen and ladies who are wellwishers to their country” to “favour him with their custom.”  Such “wellwishers” might have had the commercial and economic interests of the colonies in mind, yet such appeals usually had a political valence as well.  Especially when colonizers enacted nonimportation agreements in protest of new regulations and taxes passed by Parliament, advertisers editorialists, and others encouraged colonizers to participate in both the production and consumption of domestic manufactures.  Such appeals continued during periods of relative calm.  Trautwine’s reference to “wellwishers to their country” would not have seemed out of place to readers in July 1772.

Like others who promoted goods produced in the colonies, the barber believed that he needed to convince prospective customers that his product was as good as any they might acquire from merchants and shopkeepers who imported their goods.  Consumers did not need to sacrifice quality when they supported domestic manufactures.  The barber made his hair powder from “the very best of materials.”  Trautwine also proclaimed that his customers “may depend on being supplied with Hair-Powder in quality not inferior to the best which is imported from Europe.”  Indeed, it was Trautwine himself who made sacrifices to supply consumers with the “BEST of AMERICAN HAIR-POWDER,” assuming “considerable expence, in providing himself with a mill for that purpose.”  He suggested that his investment in support of the political and economic interests of the colonies merited the patronage of consumers in Philadelphia and other readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Trautwine acted on his civic duty when he produced an American alternative to an imported item.  In turn, he suggested, consumers had an obligation to do the same by purchasing his product.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:19:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 19, 1768).

“The BARBER’s BUSINESS is carried on as usual.”

Elizabeth Butler’s advertisement in the July 19, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal demonstrates that women pursued a wide range of occupations in colonial America. Divided into two parts, Butler’s advertisement promoted two different services she provided. In the first portion, she announced that she had “good Accommodations for Boarders” who could “depend on being faithfully served, and meeting with the genteelest Treatment.” Women throughout the colonies provided such services. In that regard, Butler did not describe anything out of the ordinary. In the second portion of her advertisement, however, Butler indicated that she practiced an occupation usually reserved for men: shaving and trimming beards as well as cutting and dressing hair. “The BARBER’s BUSINESS is carried on as usual,” Butler informed prospective clients, apparently reminding many readers of the services that she apparently had already provided for some time.

When women placed newspaper advertisements for the services they provided they also indicated what was probable and what was possible for members of their sex in the marketplace. Most advertisements fell in the category of what was probable, such as those placed by milliners, schoolmistresses, and women who took in boarders. A significantly smaller number of advertisements, on the other hand, belonged to the category of what was possible. Women sometimes practiced trades considered the domain of men, such as barbering. Butler’s advertisement testifies to the flexibility sometimes exhibited in the gendering of occupations in colonial America. While women did not enter most trades in large numbers, a few did manage to carve out space for themselves without being too disruptive of social norms. They did so by remaining exceptions to expectations rather than seeking to transform generally accepted ideas about who should work in particular occupations. That Butler simultaneously pursued an occupation considered appropriate for women – operating a boardinghouse – may have reassured residents of Charleston that she sought only to stretch rather than shatter the gendered boundaries associated with barbering.