October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:6:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 6, 1768).

“Strong and Small Malt Beer and Spruce, by the Barrel.”

In the fall of 1768 John Coleman advertised the several varieties of beer he sold at “his Brew House [at] the sign of the Green Dragon and Free Masons Arms, near the Mill Bridge” in Boston. He advised “Gentlem[e]n, Masters of Vessels, House keepers” and others that he brewed spruce beer and two sorts of malt beer, strong and small. His spruce beer may or may not have contained alcohol. Many consumers, including “Masters of Vessels,” purchased it as a means of warding off scurvy. His small beer contained less alcohol than strong beer. A safer alternative to water, some customers likely served small beer to children, servants, and other members of their households. Coleman marketed his beers in several quantities – “by the Barrel, half Barrel, Ten Gallons or Six” – and allowed his customers to choose according to their needs.

The brewer made many of the most common appeals that appeared in advertisements throughout the eighteenth century. He made an appeal to price, stating that he sold his beer “at the lowest Prices.” He also made an appeal to quality, stating that he brewed “as good Beer of both Kinds as the Country affords.” His beer was equal to any other produced in the colonies. In another regard, however, Coleman deviated from the marketing strategies deployed in most other advertisements of the era. For the convenience of his customers, he provided delivery service. He concluded with these instructions: “By leaving a Line mentioning the Kind, Quantity and where to be delivered” customers will have their beer “conveyed with the greatest Care and Speed.” Coleman provided an alternate address for placing such orders, “the sign of General Wolfe, the North Side of Faneuil Hall” rather than at “his Brew House.” Presumably customers could have also submitted orders at the latter as well; the additional location compounded the conveniences offered to them.

Coleman had previously advertised in the Boston Weekly News-Letter.   Just two months earlier he announced that his former partner, Benjamin Leigh, was so busy with his new enterprise running an “Intelligence Office” that Coleman now operated the brewery on his own. He called on prior customers to settle accounts and briefly mentioned the price of a barrel of beer. In this subsequent advertisement, however, he incorporated several new appeals intended to market his beer more effectively. Having assumed sole responsibility for the business, he may have determined that attracting customers demanded greater innovation.

May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 19, 1768).

“The Cork of each Bottle will be stamped.”

Timothy Matlack promoted his “Philadelphia brewed BOTTLED BEER” in an advertisement in the May 19, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The brewer encouraged “Masters of Vessels, and others” to purchase his beer, describing it as “remarkably pale, and very good.” His advertisement also revealed that he engaged in a practice that amounted to branding his beer, marking his product in such a way that made it easy for consumers to recognize and associate it with a particular brewer. He informed prospective customers that “[t]he Cork of each Bottle will be stamped” with his name and an abbreviation for Philadelphia.

Matlack had been marking the corks that stoppered bottles containing his beer for quite some time. Two years earlier, in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, he reported that his beer “will be stamped on the cork with black letters.” (For more biographical information about Matlack, including his famous connection to the Declaration of Independence, see the entry that examined that previous advertisement.) His advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, however, featured an innovation. With increased attention to typography, this advertisement more accurately depicted the likely appearance of the stamp. It arranged the three words that identified the beer on three lines, centering them just as they would appear on the cork:

TIM

MATLACK

PHILAD.

No matter where throughout the Atlantic world “Masters of Vessels” happened to transport Matlack’s beer, those who consumed it would always be able to identify its origins and its brewer. Matack planned ahead in anticipation that those who drank his beer would appreciate its taste or quality, especially after being stored and shipped long distances. He made sure they encountered tangible reminders of where to obtain more the next time they needed to provision their ships or make purchases for other sorts of consumption. While he certainly did not achieve the name recognition associated with modern breweries, Matlack made efforts – in print and on the packaging of his product – to induce customers to associate his name with a beverage that might otherwise have seemed generic.

May 3

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

May 3 - 5:2:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 2, 1766).

“To be SOLD, at the MARLBOROUGH BREWERY.”

Brewer John Mercer took an interesting approach in his advertisement for “STRONG BEER and PORTER … and ALE” available from the Marlborough Brewery: quite frankly, he confessed, it was not as good as beer from England.

Actually, Mercer presented a mixed message in his lengthy advertisement. He initially stated that his beer was “equal in goodness to any that can be imported from any part of the world, as nothing but the genuine best MALT and HOPS will be used, without any mixture of substitute whatsoever.” Mercer seems to have been a stickler for quality control! He also made an increasingly common appeal. In the 1760s many American artisans asserted that their goods were equal or superior to imports.

Later in the advertisement, however, he acknowledged “I should not be able to come up to the English standard” despite his constant efforts. Still, since “goodness of every commodity is its best recommendation,” Mercer “principally rel[ied] upon that for my success.” In effect, Mercer seemed to be saying, “You’ll like my beer if you try it. Sure, it may not be as good as English beer, but it’s more than good enough and you’re sure to enjoy it. Buy some and prove it for yourself.”

That seems like a curious and daring appeal to make, but consider the other context he provided to promote his brewery: “The severe treatment we have lately received from our Mother Country, would, I should think, be sufficient to recommend my undertaking.” Once again we see how politics and commerce converged in the wake of the Stamp Act, its repeal, and the promulgation of the Declaratory Act. Even if his beer did not “come up to the English standard,” quality was not the only – or event the primary – concern that potential customers should consider. Thanks to the strained relationship between the colonies and “our Mother Country,” imported beer, porter, and ale was bound to leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. They were better off trusting Mercer to supply their beverages, brewed from the “best MALT and HOPS.”

**********

I have included the image available via Readex’s Early American Newspaper database.  Colonial Williamsburg’s online resources include the same issue of the Virginia Gazette.  You may find portions of the advertisement more legible via that resource.  I worked back and forth between the two in order to read the entire advertisement.