June 14

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (June 14, 1773).

“A Variety of Cabinet-Work … of the newest Fashion and neatest Construction, such as were never offered for Sale in this Province before.”

Richard Magrath’s upcoming furniture sale was going to be an event, at least according to the advertisement that appeared in the supplement that accompanied the June 14, 1773, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  The venue, “Mr. PIKE’s LONG ROOM,” where the dancing master gave lessons and hosted balls, set the tone for the sale of a “Variety of Cabinet-Work” that included “SOPHAS, French Chairs, Conversation Stools, and Easy-Chairs, of the newest Fashion and neatest Construction.”

Magrath aimed to generate excitement and interest by creating a buzz about the sale.  He proclaimed that “the Gentry may be assured, that it will be the greatest Sale of neat Cabinet-Work ever known in this Place,” a spectacle not to be missed because furniture of such elegance and quality had “never [been] offered for Sale in this Province before.”  Magrath included an eighteenth-century version of humblebragging to entice prospective customers to attend the sale.  “The Subscriber omits giving any further Encomiums on the Construction and Neatness of the different Articles,” he proclaimed, “as he doubts not of meeting with general Approbation, from the great Encouragement and repeated Favours he has already received from most of the First Families in the Province.”  In other words, Magrath declared that he had already earned a reputation among “the Gentry” for providing them with furniture of the highest quality and the most current tastes.  He also suggested that prospective customers could enhance their status by acquiring furniture at his sale, thus joining the “First Families” or most genteel and elite colonizers in South Carolina.

Magrath also laid the groundwork for future sales, confiding that he “intends to have a Sale of neat Cabinent-Work annually.”  He demanded that readers to take note, pledging that he “will always be supplied with the newest Fashions in this Branch” as a result of “his Connection in London,” the most cosmopolitan city in the empire.  For the moment, prospective buyers could examine the items offered at the upcoming sale during viewings at Magrath’s house, selecting which they hoped to purchase at the auction in Pike’s Long Room.  Through both advertisements and viewings, Magrath wanted to generate excitement about his elegant furniture, hoping that the excitement would compound itself before and during the sale.

December 14

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

Dec 14 - 12:14:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (December 14, 1767).

“Webster has had the honour of working, with applause, for several of the nobility and gentry.”

John Webster, an “Upholsterer from London,” knew that establishing his reputation in Philadelphia would help build the clientele for his endeavors in his new location. To that end, he reported in an advertisement in the December 14, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle that he previously “had the honour of working, with applause, for several of the nobility and gentry, both in England and Scotland.” While providing credentials always helped artisans to promote their businesses, Webster probably did not need to reside in Philadelphia very long to realize that even in the largest city in the colonies the residents experienced anxiety about being perceived as backwater provincials by the better sorts in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. He depended on potential customers responding to his pledge of “having their work executed in the best and newest taste,” but indicating that he previously served prominent clients testified to his ability to deliver on that promise.

Yet Webster did not want to give the impression that he had experience only on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition, potential customers may have been skeptical about how extensively he had worked with “several of the nobility and gentry” before arriving in the colony. To alleviate such concerns, Webster extended “his most grateful thanks to those good gentlemen and ladies who have been pleased to honour and favour him with their custom, since he came to Philadelphia.” While this could have also been a ploy, the upholsterer implied that he had already attracted local clients satisfied with his work. Webster created the impression that genteel “ladies and gentlemen” sought after his services. Potential customers who had not yet hire him risked being excluded if they did not contact him before he took on too many other projects.

Webster attempted to attract clients to his upholstery business by creating a buzz among the residents of Philadelphia. Even the location of his new shop, “facing the London Coffee-House,” increased his visibility in the city. His report that he previously served “several of the nobility and gentry” in England and Scotland before working for the “good gentlemen and ladies of Philadelphia” suggested his popularity to colonists concerned with demonstrating their taste and status through the goods they acquired. Implicitly playing on those anxieties, he encouraged them to contract his services in order to keep up with their friends and neighbors.