April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 16, 1768).

“To be SOLD … tea kettles, skillets, spiders, &c.”

This advertisement probably seems strange to many modern readers, especially the reference to “spiders” for sale. According to Alice Ross, the term “spider” refers to a “three-legged, long-handled frying pan” commonly used during the colonial period and into the nineteenth century.  The Oxford English Dictionary describes a spider as “a kind of frying-pan having legs and a long handle.” Until the kitchen stove came about, all cooking in a home was done on the only source of heat: the fireplace. The spider skillet’s legs allowed the user to place the cookware right on top of a burning fire. Before the cooking stove, cookware often had either legs or special rungs to hang pots over the fire. Given its function, most families with a hearth or fireplace most likely had a spider skillet. Ross notes that an advertisement published in the Pennsylvania Packet in 1790 mentioned spider skillets, but this advertisment demonstrates the use of spider skillets nearly a quarter century earlier. Although “spiders” are now unfamiliar to most consumers, they are still used for outdoor excursions, such as camping.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to spider skillets, Amos Atwell sold “a variety of other articles, of American and European manufacture” at his shop “On the West Side of the Great Bridge, in Providence.”  A blacksmith as well as a retailer, Atwell likely made some of the items listed in his advertisement.

Yet he did not publish his notice solely for the purpose of selling goods.  He also indicated that he wished “to hire a journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Like other artisans who placed employment advertisements, Atwell stressed that he would consider candidates who “can be well recommended for virtue and sobriety,” but he was interested in more than just the credentials and reputation of any journeyman blacksmith that he might welcome into his shop.  Atwell sought assistance “extending this branch of American manufacture,” echoing a common theme from news reports published in the Providence Gazetteand throughout the colonies for the past several months.  Due to an imbalance of trade with Britain, a situation exacerbated by new taxes levied by the Townshend Act, colonists had resolved to import fewer English goods in favor of consuming goods made in the colonies.  Meeting demand, however, required significantly increasing production in the colonies.  As an act of resistance, colonists pledged to promote domestic manufactures.

In hiring a journeyman “capable of extending this branch of American manufacture” Atwell signaled his stance to prospective consumers.  He was not the only advertiser in the April 16, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette who did so. In the same column as his notice, cutlers Joseph Bucklin and Nicholas Clark proclaimed that they recently established their shop with the expectation of receiving “due Countenance from the Well-wishers to American Manufactures” during “a Time when the setting up and extending Manufactures, appear to be the only Means of saving an injured and distressed Country.”  Bucklin and Clark made their argument much more explicitly than Atwell did, perhaps priming readers to recognize the similar, yet more subtle, appeal made by the blacksmith.  Prospective customers should patronize his shop, Atwell implied, because he was heeding the call to increase American production and, in turn, reduce dependence on imported goods.

February 9

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

Feb 9 - 2:9:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 9, 1768).

“Greatful thanks for the encouragement he has had for eighteen years past in Charles-Town.”

Experience matters. That was the central theme James Lingard presented in his advertisement in the February 9, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In the process of announcing that he had moved to a new location at the east end of Queen Street, Lingard expressed his appreciation to his former customers, noting that he had served the residents of Charleston for the past eighteen years. While merchants and shopkeepers occasionally referred to their years of experience in their attempts to entice customers, artisans most commonly made such appeals. Lingard, a blacksmith and farrier, continued a common practice among eighteenth-century artisans who placed newspaper advertisements.

Lingard enhanced his professional reputation by promoting his experience and expressing “his greatful thanks for the encouragement” he had received from those who had previously engaged his services. It would not have been possible for him to operate a shop in the busy port for nearly two decades had it not been for his skills in “the smiths and farriers business, in all its branches.” Still, it did not hurt to inform potential customers that he had honed those skills over the years and now possessed significant experience. For those who had resided in Charleston for quite some time, Lingard’s advertisement served as a reminder that he had been operating his shop for years. For newcomers to the city, however, Lingard seized an opportunity to inform them of his long history working with local customers.

Lingard likely attracted some of his business via word-of-mouth referrals built on his reputation. Turning to print could have been a strategy to prompt more referrals, presenting himself for consideration among members of “the public in general” who had not previously hired him but who might ask others if they had any experiences dealing with Lingard. In such situations, his appeals to skill and experience in his advertisement set the tone for conversations among customers.

December 5

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

Dec 5 - 12:5:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (December 5, 1767).

“All performed in the neatest and best manner.”

Blacksmiths Amos Atwell and Jonathan Ellis inserted an advertisement in the December 5, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform readers in “the Town and Country” that they had established a partnership and were “determined to carry on a large stroke of business.” Atwell and Ellis made a variety of items for use in the home, on the farm, in workshops, and aboard ships, including “broad and narrow axes, drawing knives, carpenters adzes, all sorts of coopers tools, farming tools, … kitchen utensils, and ships iron work of every kind.”

Shopkeepers in Providence and other colonial cities and towns frequently advertised a similar array of hardware, though they often indicated that they had imported their inventory from London and other English cities. In the face of assumptions that such goods might have been superior in quality to any produced locally, Atwell and Ellis concluded their advertisement with assurances that the items they sold had been made “in the neatest and best manner.” In so doing, they adopted a marketing strategy often deployed by colonial artisans. Advertisers of all sorts made appeals to the price and quality of their merchandise, but artisans – who produced the goods they sold – supplemented those common appeals with commentary about their own skill and expertise. Those attributes associated with individual artisans, not just the features of the goods they sold, played an important role in efforts to convince potential customers to purchase their wares.

Atwell and Ellis also promised to serve their patrons “with fidelity and dispatch,” but invoking those qualities fell into the realm of customer service rather than artisanal skill and expertise. Merchants and shopkeepers also played on personal characteristics of “fidelity and dispatch” when describing how they interacted with customers, but rarely did they express the sort of intrinsic responsibility for the quality of their merchandise that artisans made part of their testament to potential patrons.

December 24

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

dec-24-12241766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 24, 1766).

“As he is a young beginner, he hopes by close application to his business to give entire satisfaction.”

John Richards, a blacksmith, could tackle any sort of job customers brought to him: “Ship, Plantation, and Gun Work, and all Work necessary to be done about a House.” He pledged that he would complete any task “in the best manner, on the most reasonable terms, and with the quickest dispatch.” In so doing, he reiterated many of the appeals commonly made by other artisans in their advertisements: quality, price, and efficiency.

Many artisans also emphasized their years of experience, suggesting that quality and efficiency in particular derived from years pursuing their trade. Richards was not in a position to make such a claim, so he took a different tack. Describing himself as “a young beginner,” he promised to devote “close application to his business.” He acknowledged that he had not yet worked in the forge for years, but he turned that into a virtue. He had not yet established a reputation for the quality of his work among the resident of Savannah, but that meant that he would only try harder by carefully attending to his business. Realizing that sincere effort alone would not produce products customers approved, he guaranteed “entire satisfaction to all who may be pleased to favour him with their custom.” Richards encouraged potential customers to take a chance on “a young beginner” through his assurances that he would labor to conscientiously fulfill their orders until they were pleased with his work.

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin identified thirteen virtues that he cultivated in order to become a successful artisan and, more generally, a better person. Franklin listed Industry as his sixth virtue: “Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.” Franklin’s autobiography had not yet been published at the time Richards composed his advertisement, but the young blacksmith did not need a luminary to point out the value of industriousness. Richard already understood its importance and expected that potential customers who read his advertisement understood it as well.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 9, 1766).

“A penny in the pound cheaper than done in Savannah.”

In an advertisement published in the Georgia Gazette, John Hyatt, a blacksmith from Pennsylvania, announced that he had set up shop on the plantation belonging to George Cuthbert. (Presumably this address was sufficient for potential customers to know where to find Hyatt.) Colonists were accustomed to high rates of mobility in the 1760s. New settlers were arriving from England and other parts of Europe at increasing rates after the Seven Years War ended. People who already lived in the colonies moved around, from town to town or from colony to colony, in search of new opportunities. Georgia was a long way from Pennsylvania. Hyatt was just one of many colonists who participated in internal migration within Britain’s colonies in mainland North America.

Relatively new to Georgia, Hyatt used his advertisement to promote his occupation and convince potential customers to patronize him rather than his competitors. He made many of the usual claims, promising to fulfill orders “in the neatest and best manner, with the greatest dispatch.” He also listed a variety of different kinds of work he could do – “mill work, ship work, edge tools of any kind, northward plough irons of different sorts” – and made a blanket statement about being able to complete “any other branch of country work whatsoever.” No matter the job, Hyatt wanted potential customers to know that he could handle it.

His most original appeal, however, appeared in the final line of his advertisement. He pledged that the tools, ploughs, and other goods made in his shop were “as penny in the pound cheaper than done in Savannah.” Appeals to price were common, but offering to beat competitors’ prices (and by how much) was not a standard part of advertisements in the 1760s. Potential customers might have dismissed the first series of appeals as formulaic, but Hyatt’s final appeal to specific lower prices may have convinced them to give the newcomer a chance.

January 15

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

Jan 15 - 1:13:1766 Boston- Gazette
Boston-Gazette (January 13, 1766)

“He will engage to make and mend Anvils, as good and as well as any imported.”

In the 1760s advertisers regularly indicated that they stocked and sold imported goods.  Many advertisements deployed formulaic language or structure that included references to the origins of merchandise and explicitly used the word “imported.”  Colonial artisans found themselves in competition with shopkeepers who peddled imported wares that were often superior in quality and craftsmanship to what was produced on this side of the Atlantic.

James McElroy seems to have realized that other colonists could be skeptical about such goods.  In response, he offered a variation on the first “Buy American” campaigns that emerged during the Stamp Act protests when he assured potential customers that he could “make and mend Anvils, as good and as well as any imported.”  In addition, he forged “Goldsmiths and Braziers Tools of all Sorts” and offered a guarantee (“which he will warrant”) of their quality.