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 26

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

May 26 - 5:26:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 26, 1768).

“FAULKNER’S BOTTLED ALE.”

William Faulkner, a brewer, incorporated several marketing strategies into the advertisement he placed in the May 26, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal. Like other colonists who peddled goods and services, he made appeals to price and quality. However, he did not merely resort to the formulaic language that appeared in countless newspaper advertisements. Instead, he offered additional commentary to convince prospective customers to purchase his product.

Faulkner could have simply stated that “he continues to supply the public with the best of liquor on the most reasonable terms.” Such appeals to price and quality, however, were not sufficient for promoting his “country brew’d ALE” that was only recently ready for the marketplace. Not only was his ale “now fit for use,” but “in the opinion of good judges, equal in quality to any imported.” Faulkner did not reveal the identities of these “good judges,” but he did suggest to potential customers that others had indeed endorsed his product. For those still skeptical, he advanced another strategy for encouraging them to take a chance on his “country brew’d ALE.” He stated that the public had already expressed desire “for bottled Beer of this sort” and then invoked “the laudable encouragement given to our own manufactures at this period.” Faulkner did not rehearse the ongoing dispute between Parliament and the colonies. He did not need to do so. Prospective customers were already well aware of the Townshend Act that went into effect six months earlier as well as the calls for increased production and consumption of goods in the colonies as a means of decreasing dependence on imports. With a single turn of phrase, Faulkner imbued purchasing his ale with political meaning.

He also offered a discount of sorts to return customers, pricing his ale at “10s. per dozen” but noting “3s. per dozen allowed to those who return the bottles.” In other words, customers who brought back their empty bottles paid only seven shillings for a dozen full bottles. Faulkner kept his own production costs down through this design. Of the many choices available to them, the brewer encouraged colonists to enjoy “FAULKNER’S BOTTLED ALE” over any alternatives, especially imported ales. He offered assurances about quality in addition to providing pricing and political considerations to persuade consumers to choose his ale.

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.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:23:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 23, 1767).

“Will also sell … a Negro Man that understands Brewing and Distilling.”

As he prepared to leave Boston for Nova Scotia, Robert Whatley had the eighteenth-century version of a moving sale. He scheduled a “Public Vendue” (or auction) to sell many of his personal belongings, including beds, tables, chairs, and even a “fine large Canoe with Sails.” Whatley, a brewer by trade, also wished to sell his equipment, including “a Copper Boiler with a brass Cock to it, fit for a Coffee-House or Tavern” and his “Brewing Utensils with all Things necessary for that Business.”

In addition to his household furniture and the tools of his trade, Whatley also offered to sell “a Negro Man that understand Brewing and Distilling.” The Adverts 250 Project recently examined an advertisement that included enslaved artisans, including carpenters and coopers, exploited for their expertise and specialized skills in addition to their labor. Whatley’s advertisement further demonstrates the range of occupations and crafts enslaved men and women pursued in the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

Both the copy and the layout of Whatley’s notice suggest that colonists would not have considered it in any way extraordinary that “a Negro Man that understands Brewing and Distilling” played a role in operating the business. Readers who skimmed the advertisements in the Massachusetts Gazette might even have missed the portion of Whatley’s advertisement that mentioned the enslaved brewer; that sentence was nestled in the middle of two dense paragraphs. In some respects, Whatley’s attempt to sell his slave was hidden in plain sight. It was part of his advertisement, but not its main purpose.

As my students and I have pursued the Slavery Adverts 250 Project for the past seven months, the frequency of advertisements like this one has been a striking feature. We expected to encounter advertisements exclusively devoted to slavery, especially those that offered one or more slaves for sale and others concerning runaway slaves. We have been a bit more surprised by how often slaves for sale incidentally appeared in advertisements, listed alongside consumer goods and real estate. The practice of slavery – the presence of slavery in everyday life and commerce – pervaded early American print culture, especially advertising, more subtly and to a much greater extent than we initially expected.

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.”

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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.