November 16

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

Connecticut Courant (November 16, 1774).

“The BEST of BEER.”

In the fall of 1773, Amasa Jones placed advertisements in the Connecticut Courant to alert residents of Hartford and nearby towns that he “HATH just received a large Supply of LONDON PORTER, and BRISTOL BEER.”  Most of his advertisement focused on cultivated relationships with former and prospective customers.  He “Returns his Thanks to those Gentlemen that have been Kind enough to favour him with their Custom,” simultaneously inviting them to purchase beer from him once again.  Jones hoped “they will continue” those “favours” by placing new orders.  He concluded with a note to “All those Gentlemen that are dispos’d to Favour him with their Custom,” whether or not they previously bought beer from Jones, to promise that they “may depend upon having a Bottle of the BEST of BEER.”

That final line sounded much like an advertising slogan that marketing agencies would develop for breweries two centuries later: “the BEST of BEER.”  Had Jones consulted more closely with the printing office, that final line, rather than his name, could have been the headline for his advertisement.  After all, other advertisements in the November 16 edition of the Connecticut Courant had headlines like “Hartford LOTTERY” and “Best ANCHORS.”  Some entrepreneurs did experiment with headlines other than their names.  Although Jones missed that opportunity, he did conclude with an overture for prospective customers to imagine themselves enjoying the “LONDON PORTER” and “BRISTOL BEER” he sold.  He encouraged them to imagine themselves drinking a single bottle of beer, savoring the experience as they imbibed “the BEST of BEER” that they could acquire anywhere in England or the colonies.  Jones certainly wished to sell beer in quantities, but to do so he devised a marketing strategy that emphasized appreciating his “LONDON PORTER” and “BRISTOL BEER” one bottle at a time.  Consumers need to try those beverages to see for themselves if Jones did indeed sell “the BEST of BEER.”

October 25

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

South-Carolina Gazette (October 25, 1773).

Let the Beer justify itself.”

As October 1773 came to a close, Edmund Egan promoted his “CAROLINA BEER” in the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The prospects of this new product hitting the market excited the compositor for the South-Carolina Gazette enough to enclose the headline within a border of decorative type, distinguishing it from all other news and notices in the October 25 edition.  The headline did not receive the same treatment in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, though in both publications it had a prime spot at the top of the column in a section for “New Advertisements.”  Readers could hardly miss it.

To incite demand for the beer, Egan told a story about it.  He began by declaring that the “BREWERY … long laboured under many Disadvantages,” but Egan overcame them and the brewery “is now complete, and amply supplied with a Stock of the best MALT and HOPS.”  In so doing, the brewer crafted a narrative that only briefly focused on resilience in the face of adversity before extolling the factors that made his beer such a quality beverage.  Egan cited his own “unwearied Application” in launching the brewery as well as his experience and his “first Connection in London,” perhaps where he learned “the most regular Principles” of his craft.

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 26, 1773).

All of that led Egan to assert that he would produce a “constant Supply of BEER and ALE … equal to any imported from any other Country.”  He also suggested that consumers should not take his word for it.  Instead, he proclaimed, “Let the Beer justify itself.”  That declaration appeared in italics in both the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, suggesting that Egan did indeed instruct the compositors in both printing offices to give it some sort of special treatment to make it stand out from the copy in the rest of the notice.  The brewer did not need to say anything else about his “CAROLINA BEER.”  He could not say anything else that would be a better recommendation than consumers drinking his beer and ale and experiencing it for themselves.  “Let the Beer justify itself” simultaneously resonated as an affirmation, an invitation, and a challenge.  Egan was confident that customers would not be disappointed.

March 25

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

Boston-Gazette (March 23, 1772).

“Elizabeth Coleman … Continues the Brewing-Business.”

Women who advertised that they provided goods and services usually fell into one of several occupational groups. Female shopkeepers promoted a variety of imported goods, especially textiles and accessories for making clothing. Milliners and seamstresses advertised the hats and garments they made for clients.  Schoolmistresses invited prospective students and their parents to lessons that included reading, writing, and sewing.

On occasion, however, women who pursued other occupations ran advertisements in the public prints.  Elizabeth Coleman, for instance, informed the public that she “Continues the Brewing-Business” in a notice that ran in the March 23, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  She pledged to “serve with Dispatch, the best of double and single Malt and Spruce Beer in as large or small quantities as is wanted.”  No order was too large or too small for Coleman!  Furthermore, she set prices “at as reasonable Rate as good Beer can be afforded.”

Although Coleman operated a “Brewing-Business,” she may have been the proprietor and employer rather a brewer herself.  She indicated that she “now employed a Person brought up to the Business.”  Perhaps that employee’s knowledge, skill, and experience supplemented her own, expanding the number of brewers affiliated with Coleman’s business.  Perhaps as a woman in a predominantly male occupation she sought to downplay her own contributions as brewer in favor by giving credit to an employee “brought up to the Business,” believing that strategy would attract more customers.

Whatever the extent of Coleman’s active participation as a brewer, she was an entrepreneur who ran her own business and sought visibility for it in the public prints.  In addition to selling beers produced by her “Brewing-Business,” she also marketed “the best of Philadelphia and Baltimore Beer” imported from other colonial ports.  Her customers could choose from among a selection of beers to suit their tastes and budgets.  They could even enjoy their beverages, perhaps with some food, at Coleman’s establishment.  She declared that she “keeps good Entertainment for Man and Horses.”  In addition to retailing beer, she ran a tavern with access to a stable as part of her larger operation.  That made her as industrious an entrepreneur as any of the male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who also placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette.

November 20

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1770).


Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, had too much news and advertising to include all of it in a standard four-page issue on November 20, 1770.  Like other printers who found themselves in that position, he distributed a supplement with the surplus content.  Both news and advertising appeared in the standard issue, but the supplement consisted entirely of advertisements.

Taking into account the number of advertisements that did not make it into the standard issue, Wells used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  That decision led to an unusual format for the supplement.  Each page of the standard issue featured four columns, but each page of the supplement had only three columns.  Two of those ran from top to bottom of the page, as usual, but Wells printed the final column perpendicular to the others.

Why such an awkward format?  It saved time while also maximizing the amount of content Wells could squeeze onto the page.  Most of the advertisements ran in previous issues.  The type had already been set.  Wells wished to use it again rather than investing time in resetting type to fit a page of a different size.  The smaller sheet allowed him to insert two columns of the usual width.  With the remaining space, he rotated the advertisements and formed columns that ran perpendicular to the others.  Wells managed to fit three of these perpendicular columns, but that left a small space at the bottom of the page.

Rather than waste that remaining space by leaving it blank, Wells finally opted to set type for a narrower column.  On one side of the page this permitted him to include two more short advertisements, one for beer and ale and the other for candles.  On the other side he inserted a notice from the Charleston Library Society calling on members to return books.  Engaging with these advertisements required active reading and further manipulation of the page by subscribers.

Wells was simultaneously ingenious and frugal in designing the format for the advertising supplement that accompanied the November 20 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  His competitor, Charles Crouch, found himself in a similar position when it came to supplements for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, choosing to eliminate white space between columns in order to make the content fit the page without having to reset the type.  Publishing advertisements generated important revenues for newspaper printers, but they were not so lucrative to prevent printers from carefully managing the additional expenses of producing advertising supplements.

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:




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).


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.