May 15

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

May 15 - 5:15:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 15, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD … At his Shop in Queen-street, New-London.”

Throughout the winter and early spring in 1767 very few advertisements for consumer goods appeared in the New-London Gazette. When May arrived, the newspaper experienced a resurgence in that category of advertising, though it must be noted that this amounted to a fairly small number of paid notices compared to newspapers printed in larger cities. Still, the publication took on a slightly different tone as retailers turned to its pages to promote their wares to prospective customers.

While small in number, advertisements for consumer goods in the May 15 issue covered a wide variety of products. Richard Ransom announced that he made and sold spinning wheels and various sorts of furniture “in the neatest and best Manner.” Robert Douglass, Jr., advertised that he “MAKES and Sells Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Work.” Benjamin Chapin hawked “ A FRESH Assortment of Drugs and Medicines, chymical and galenical.” For his part, Christopher Lessingwell had recently imported “A GENERAL assortment of English Goods, which he will Sell cheap.” Ebenezer Coburn specialized in “Iron-Mongery, and Cutlery Ware.”

Although this selection of advertisements may not seem particularly impressive compared to the volume that appeared in newspapers – and special advertising supplements! – in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, regular readers of the New-London Gazette would have noticed a striking increase in advertising aimed at consumers. That several appeared in the pages of the New-London Gazette simultaneously may have directed greater attention to all of them collectively. One may have been fairly easy to overlook, but multiple advertisements promoting consumer culture had the effect of reinforcing each other, even if that had not been the intention of the advertisers themselves.

What accounted for advertisements for consumer goods once again appearing alongside paid legal notices and advertisements for runaway servants, horses “to cover,” and real estate for sale? Was it merely a change in seasons? To what extent did shopkeepers and artisans continue to promote their wares in the New-London Gazette? Did the diversity of advertisements in the May 15 issue prompt others to insert their own marketing appeals? How did advertising practices in smaller towns compare to those in bustling urban ports? These are some of the questions I would like to address as I continue to track how advertising functioned in New London and its newspaper.