July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 29, 1768).

“RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.”

Calls for rags regularly appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers, sometimes issued by printers and other times issued by proprietors of paper manufactories. Readers did not require any explanation that their used rags would be recycled into paper, perhaps even paper that would become issues of the very newspaper in which they encountered notices encouraging them to collect and contribute their rags.

Although they sometimes expected their fellow colonists to donate rags that had exceeded their usefulness, printers and papermakers often offered a variety of inducements to convince readers to send their rags. Sometimes they offered to pay cash. Other times they played on political sentiments, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, noting that local production of paper decreased dependence on imported paper while simultaneously bolstering the local economy. The success of such endeavors depended not only on readers acting as consumers of that paper but also as providers of the necessary supplies.

In their brief advertisement in the July 29, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, printers Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle took a different approach. They offered to barter: “RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.” The Fowles did not elaborate on which sermons or other pamphlets they traded, but they likely considered this an opportunity to achieve two goals simultaneously. In the process of acquiring a commodity essential in producing paper they could also reduce their surplus stock of pamphlets that had not sold as well as they had hoped. Two weeks earlier Robert Fowle published a lengthy advertisement that listed dozens of books as well as “a very great variety of single Sermons and other Pamphlets.” If the printers could not convince colonists to purchase these wares then they might as well offer them in trade. Operating a printing office required such flexibility.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR:  Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 9, 1768).

“Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment for a considerable Quantity of said Wine.”

Thomas Durham placed this advertisement for “Teneriffe Wine” in the New-York Journal on April 9, 1768. Durham sold a special type of wine from the Canary Islands. However, a more interesting part of the advertisement appeared in a note dedicated to forms of payment:  “Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pipe staves were “hooped together to make a cask.” In simple terms, they were the pieces of wood put together to construct a cask.

Apr 9 - Parts of Barrel
Parts of a Barrel (Courtesy Colonial Sense).

In the colonial period in America there was a system that was put in place of credits and alternatives to paying. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, “A shortage of money was a problem for the American colonies.  …  Without enough money, the colonists had to barter for goods.” This advertisement provides evidence of the barter system. Thomas Durham offered a deal in which a customer could provide staves to count as payment for the wine. This tells of the larger cycle of consumption and production in which customers were allowed to trade or barter items related to what they were trying to obtain. Economic arrangements of this sort show the diversity of ways that colonists conducted business.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Today’s advertisement appeared in a four-page supplement to John Holt’s New-York Journal, a supplement published on Saturday, April 9, 1768.  Holt, however, distributed the standard issues of the New-York Journal on Thursdays, yet he had sufficient content – news, letters to the printer, and advertisements – to justify printing and distributing what amounted to a second issue for that week.

Why this merits notice requires an overview of newspaper publication practices in the colonial period. Printers typically published one issue each week.  Each issue consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  The balance of news items and advertising varied, but among newspapers printed in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia – news comprised about half of each issue and advertising the other half. Printers sometimes found that they had sufficient content to require a supplement, usually two pages bearing the same date as the regular issue and distributed with it.  By the late 1760s the Pennsylvania Gazette so often included a two-page supplement that even though it clearly bore the title “Supplement” many subscribers likely expected to receive a six-page newspaper each Thursday. On occasion, however, printers distributed supplements later in the week, especially if particularly important news arrived that could not wait for the next issue.  When ships entered port with news that Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act, for instance, many printers published supplements to spread the word as quickly as possible.  In general, supplements usually amounted to two pages.

Yet the supplement that carried today’s advertisement consisted of four pages distributed later in the week than the newspaper’s usual publication day.  This happened quite frequently in 1768.  Throughout the year Holt distributed no fewer than eighteen supplements to the New-York Journal on days other than Thursday, in addition to fifty-two regular issues and sometimes additional supplements on Thursdays.  Between politics and the economy, Holt determined that his readers needed access to more information that traditional publication practices allowed. Historians of print culture and journalism often refer to an explosion of print that took place after the American Revolution as citizens of the new nation consumed greater amounts of information, believing that they could safeguard the young republic by becoming as informed as possible.  The number of newspapers expanded.  Many moved to semi-weekly, tri-weekly, and, by the end of the eighteenth century, daily publication.  John Holt’s publication schedule for 1768 serves as a precursor to that expansion of the press, a harbinger during the imperial crisis of the extensive publication and distribution of newspapers after the American Revolution.

March 29

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 29 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“Best GREEN-COFFEE … Choice Bohea TEA.”

In colonial and Revolutionary America, coffee was available, but it was less accessible than tea or alcohol. Unlike tea, coffee had to be ground, which was something most colonists did not have as much time to do. So even though tea was more expensive than coffee, it took more time and labor to make coffee than tea. As a result, many colonists typically did not make coffee at home. Colonists who did make their own coffee showed their wealth when preparing or serving it, showing their privileged status.

Those who were not even able to afford tea turned to coffee substitutes. According to Christina Regelski, slaves made their own substitute coffee using ingredients from gardens such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Tea also played an important role in the American Revolution. After Britain put stricter laws on imports, tea was taxed. Many colonists decided to boycott tea and give up one of the “luxuries that they had come to treasure.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

George Turner sold “A fine Assortment of English GOODS” as well as “Groceries of all Kinds” – including the coffee and tea examined by Evan – at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. To attract customers, Turner launched some of the most common appeals used by eighteenth-century advertisers, especially appeals to price and quality, but he supplemented them with several others that found their ways into advertisements less often.

For instance, he advised “Town or Country Customers” that they could “depend upon being used as well by sending their Servants, as if present themselves.” Shopkeepers in port cities regularly indicated that they received and faithfully filled orders from customers in the countryside, an eighteenth-century version of mail order shopping. Turner put a bit of a twist on that means of selling his wares. In this case, he acknowledged that customers might send others – their servants – to shop on their behalf. Doing so potentially put customers at a disadvantage in commercial transactions, but Turner assured readers that he would treat fairly with their representatives in their absence. Potential customers need not worry about being fleeced by the shopkeeper when they sent surrogates to make purchases at his store. That he listed prices for several commodities (rum, sugar, coffee, “COTTON-WOOL”), a fairly uncommon practice in eighteenth-century advertisements, left less room for haggling or surprises at the moment of purchase. In a sense, this mechanized transactions by making it irrelevant who was actually present at the exchange.

In addition, Turner also pledged to barter provisions in exchange for “any of the above mention’d ARTICLES, at a Price proportionate to the aforesaid Prices,” even though he previously announced that he sold his wares “Cheap for CASH.” Although hesitant to extend credit, the shopkeeper did not rigidly insist that every transaction required cash. Instead, he provided potential customers an alternative.

Finally, Turner put a unique spin on his appeal to price: “It is needless to say said TURNER will Sell Cheaper than others, as that would be only questioning the Judgment of the Purchaser.” Apparently it was necessary to make this statement, but in doing so Turner turned it into a self-evident statement of fact. He also absolved himself from any possible accusations of wringing inflated prices out of customers by placing the onus on them. If they bought his wares at higher prices than those charged by his competitors, that was the result of their own poor judgment. Any attempt to question Turner’s fairness became an indictment of a customer’s own competence as a savvy consumer.

George Turner created a lively advertisement that merged some standard appeals with several uncommon arguments in favor of making purchases at his shop. At a glance, his advertisement looks similar to countless others printed in eighteenth-century newspapers, but on closer examination it reveals some of the innovative playfulness possible in advertising during the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

September 28

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-28-9271766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (September 27, 1766).

“Said Greene, wants … Flax-Seed, for which he will pay Cash, or any of the above Goods.”

Caleb Greene posted not only what items he had to sell, but also certain commodities he wanted to acquire. This stood out to me because most of the advertisements I have examined simply listed the various goods offered at a certain shop, most of them having just been imported. However, Greene’s advertisement showed his role as a consumer; he hoped to barter for “a Quantity of good and well-cleaned Flax-Seed.” As we have seen in many other advertisements, many shopkeepers only dealt with cash, but Greene noted that he was willing to trade his freshly imported goods.

This process was widely known as barter. Although it was common, the practice of barter was often much more difficult and sometimes more costly. According to David T. Flynn in “Credit in the Colonial American Economy,” what made bartering so much more complicated was a need for a “double coincidence of wants,” which was essential for the barter to take place. In other words, “For exchange to occur in a barter situation each party must have the good desired by its trading partner.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Colonists resorted to a variety of mechanisms for payment in their financial transactions. Sometimes they paid in cash, other times they relied on credit, and on many occasions they bartered one sort of goods for another. The first two types of transactions appeared most often in newspapers advertisements during the eighteenth century. Many shopkeepers and others who provided goods and services specified that they sold their wares “for ready Money,” as Caleb Greene did in the advertisement Nick selected for today. Sometimes they specified that they accepted cash only, signaling to potential customers that credit was not an option. The consumer revolution, however, occurred in part because merchants, shopkeepers, and customers became enmeshed in networks of credit that often originated in England and crossed the Atlantic to the colonies, extending to urban ports, towns and villages, and the colonial frontier. Advertisements sometimes specified that potential customers could purchase goods “on short credit” or offered the options of cash or credit.

To what extent did proposals to barter appear in eighteenth-century advertisements? Shopkeepers and other suggested barter less often than cash or credit, but not so infrequently that barter would have been considered uncommon or extraordinary.  (See advertisements previously featured on February 7, February 22, March 1, May 19July 14, and August 4.) Financial ledgers from the period, as well as household accounts, also suggest that many colonists continued to resort to bartering throughout much of the eighteenth century, even given the advantages offered by both cash and credit. Nick has already indicated that bartering required a “double coincidence of wants” that would have made such exchanges less attractive than cash or credit. In this advertisement, for instance, Greene did not offer to barter for just any commodities. He offered to trade “any of the above Goods” specifically for “a Quantity of good and well-cleaned Flax-Seed.” Only prospective customers in possession of that commodity were invited to barter with Greene. Despite that obstacle, placing an advertisement in the Providence Gazette increased the likelihood that Greene would indeed encounter a bartering partner who possessed the commodity he desired. Although Greene’s primary purpose in placing his advertisement was to sell a variety of goods, it may have also resulted in obtaining the “Flax-Seed” he wanted thanks to a successful bartering transaction.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1766).

“All those who owe small trifling Debts, must discharge them before the End of August.”

Thomas Davidson wanted to settle accounts and catch up on his bookkeeping. To those ends he published an advertisement with a timetable for customers to pay their debts. Those with “small trifling Debts” had four weeks (“before the End of August”) to pay up, while others who owed more substantial amounts had nearly twice as long (“before the latter End of September next”). Davisdon warned that customers in both categories needed to be punctual or else he would take a step he considered “very disagreeable.” He threatened to sue those who did not heed his call to pay what they owed.

Davidson preferred cash, but he was more interested in settling accounts. If necessary, he was willing to accept a variety of goods that his customers presumably produced on their own farms: “Wheat, Rye, Indian-Corn or Pork.” Cash, credit, and barter all served as modes of exchange in the economy of colonial Connecticut as buyers and sellers negotiated final reckonings for their exchanges.

Although the primary purpose of Davidson’s advertisement seems to have been settling accounts, he also sought to generate more business. After warning customers with outstanding debts that he would sue them “without further Notice,” he announced that he sold “WEST-INDIA RUM, by the Hogshead, or smaller Quantity.” Apparently he did not want to find himself in a similar situation with prospective sales. He declared that he sold the rum “for Cash only.” Such was the tradeoff for purchasing the rum “very cheap.” Customers had to pay in cash.

Eighteenth-century account books, ledgers, and letters are the best sources for revealing business practices of merchants and shopkeepers, but advertisements often provide useful supplements that also demonstrate the public face that entrepreneurs presented to customers and their communities.

July 14

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

Jul 14 - 7:14:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (July 14, 1766).

“Cheap for Cash, Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

Many eighteenth-century consumers bought a variety of goods – including sugar, shoes, tobacco, and handkerchiefs – on credit. Ebenezer Hazard, however, did not seem inclined to extend credit to potential customers. At least, he did not raise that as a possibility in his advertisement in the Connecticut Courant. Instead, he offered to sell this diverse assortment of goods either “for Cash” or in exchange for “Wheat, Rye or Indian Corn.”

All sorts of colonists participated in the transatlantic consumption of goods in the eighteenth century, so many that English visitors to the colonies frequently expressed dismay over how many things, the so-called “baubles of Britain,” that were present in even the most humble households in rural villages and on the frontier. Colonists of modest means found a variety of ways to get their hands on some of the same items as the elites, though perhaps not always in the same quantity or of the same quality.

Barter was one of those means. When merchants and shopkeepers like Ebenezer Barnard offered to trade the “BEST Sort of double refin’d Loaf Sugar, Calimanco Shoes, best Kippen’s Snuff, [or] Barcelona Hankerchiefs, of different Colours,” they opened the marketplace to colonists who might not otherwise have had the means to participate. Such consumers came into possession of products produced in far away places (like sugar from colonies in the Caribbean or textiles from Europe) by trading the raw materials and supplies that they produced on their own farms and in their own communities. Barnard sought to incite even greater demand by making it possible for potential customers to imagine the possibilities they might experience as a result of alternate forms of payment beyond cash and credit.

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (May 19, 1766).

“Sundry Sett of the largest and best Size of POTT ASH Kittles and Coolers.”

By 1760, “potash was an important farm and home industry. … It was worth silver in the foreign markets, where the textile industry desired tons and tons of it to make the scouring and bleaching agents they needed. … There were entrepreneurial storekeepers accepting ashes in payment for their goods, and operating an ashery in conjunction with their stores,” according to Ralmon Jon Black, author of Colonial Asheries: Potash, an Eighteenth-Century Industry.

Black contends that nearly every family that settled the New England frontier in the second half of the eighteenth century participated in the potash industry to some extent, “even if only to save the ashes from the fireplace to pay their taxes.” He depicts an economy in which bartering was a standard practice and potash sometimes substituted for currency.

This advertisement helps to illustrate those circumstances. John-Pantry Jones, Oliver Pomroy, and Benjamin Henshaw sold sets of potash kettles (thick-walled iron pots used in the small-scale manufacture of potash) and coolers. They accepted cash or bartered for “Pot-Ash, or Country Produce.” Henshaw also sold a variety of imported goods. He may or may not have operated an ashery of his own as part of his commercial venture, but he certainly incorporated potash production into his business enterprise.