What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He makes American Punch in Perfection.”
When Robert Benson became the new proprietor of “COLE’S and the GREENLAND COFFEE-HOUSE, in Ball Court, Cornhill,” in London, he placed advertisements in newspapers in South Carolina. Having formerly worked as a waiter at the Carolina Coffee House, he likely hoped that some merchants who had conducted business there would remember him fondly enough to visit his new establishment when they next traveled to London as well as entrust him to receive “Bills, Letters, and Messages” directed to local associates. He opened his first advertisement with a headline introducing himself as “BOB, WAITER from the CAROLINA,” but concluded it more formally as his prospective customers’ “obedient humble Servant, ROBERT BENSON.” In a subsequent advertisement, he dispensed with giving his full name, opting instead to solely use the more familiar “BOB, WAITER from the CAROLINA and PENNSYLVANIA COFFEE-HOUSE, in Birchin Lane.”
Benson made other changes when he published a second advertisement in newspapers in Charleston. In particular, he declared that “for the Accommodation of American Gentlemen, the South-Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania News-Papers, will be regularly taken in.” Those newspapers featured a significant amount of news from Europe, especially London, that would have been more quickly and more readily available to visitors to the city, but they also carried digests of news from throughout the colonies, varying amounts of local news, prices current for a variety of commodities in Charleston, Savannah, and Philadelphia, and shipping news from the customs houses in those busy ports. In addition, readers could glean a fair amount of news (and gossip) from reading the advertisements, including legal notices and advertisements intended to promote commerce and consumption (and notices cutting off credit for disobedient wives who “ran away” from their husbands). Benson considered supplying American newspapers one of the services for his customers that demonstrated he “will exert his utmost Endeavours to merit their Favours.” He also declared that he “has fitted up” his establishment “very elegantly.” In addition to the newspapers, American merchants and other travelers would feel at home at Cole’s and the Greenland Coffee House because Benson “makes American Punch in Perfection.” Even as colonial merchants took part in London’s cosmopolitan culture, Benson suspected they would welcome a taste of home. He listed the “American Punch” last in his advertisement, one of several amenities that he hoped would make his coffeehouse an attractive destination. His competitors relied on reputation and word of mouth to attract customers from Charleston and other towns in the colonies. Benson, the affable “BOB,” on the other hand, believed that directly marketing his new venture in the colonies would contribute to its success. He attempted to leverage his reputation while also promoting the amenities that made his coffeehouse a rival to any others in London.