March 17

GUEST CURATOR:  Matthew Holbrook

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

Essex Gazette (March 17, 1772).

“A large ASSORTMENT of Hard-Ware GOODS.”

I found that this advertisement interesting because Jacob Ashton owned a shop in Salem, Massachusetts, about 50 miles from my hometown. I connected with this advertisement because my grandfather was a carpenter who owned a small shop and sold similar materials. Jacob Ashton sold a wide variety of hardware and other goods, including nails, case knives, hammers, teaspoons and tablespoons, frying pans, knitting needles, gun powder, cinnamon, brass clocks, and just about anything in between.

In the “Meet the Carpenter” podcast from Colonial Williamsburg, master carpenter Garlin Wood explains what it was like to be a carpenter during the era of the American Revolution. In particular, he describes the differences between different woodworkers. A carpenter focused on the construction of the timber frame. A joiner used similar tools as a carpenter but focused on the finishing of the house, such as panel doors and paneling. A cabinetmaker focused on constructing furniture that belonged inside the house. Garlin describes the importance that carpenters and other woodworkers had in early America. In Colonial Williamsburg, then and now, carpenters built everything by hand and used tools such as chisels and mallets. According to Garlin, many carpenters in early America were savvy businessmen who used their trade to move into the gentry. When it comes to his work as a carpenter, he likes the idea of putting a roof over other people’s heads.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

When I invite students enrolled in my classes to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project, I am always interested in which advertisements they choose to feature and which aspects of those advertisements they choose to examine in greater detail.  I appreciate that they select advertisements that I might have otherwise overlooked, that they investigate aspects that did not initially resonate for me and, in the process, demonstrate the significance of something that I might have otherwise dismissed, and that they identify a range of sources about early American history.  As guest curators, my students are junior colleagues who help me to continue learning and asking new questions about familiar sources even as I engage in mentoring and teaching them.

That was the case when working with Matt on this entry.  In his absence, I would have chosen a different advertisement in the Essex Gazette, one in which Abraham Cornish offered a guarantee on the fishhooks he made in Boston and pledged to provide two new hooks for each one found defective.  In his role as guest curator, however, Matt determined which advertisement he wanted to examine … and then demonstrated why his choice was just as sound as the one I would have made.  If I had chosen to analyze Ashton’s advertisement for “Hard-Ware GOODS,” I would have focused primarily on the range of choices he offered to consumers and the low prices that he promised.  Matt, inspired by his grandfather, instead opted to examine the kinds of work undertaken by the customers who purchased many of the items listed in Ashton’s advertisement.  He identified the various roles of woodworkers in early America, outlining the contributions of carpenters, joiners, and cabinetmakers.  To do so, he sought information from a public historian who interprets the past through re-creating the experiences of eighteenth-century carpenters at Colonial Williamsburg.  In working on a digital humanities project for his college course about the era of the American Revolution, Matt consulted the expertise of a public historian, demonstrating that no one kind of historian has a monopoly on knowledge about the past.  Matt’s experience as a guest curator, the many ways in which his contribution enhances the Adverts 250 Project, underscores why I believe it is so important to incorporate my own research and digital humanities projects into the classes I teach.

September 30

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

“Being much importuned by sundry young men of the carpenter’s business …”

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 27, 1770).

Thomas Nevell was “one of colonial Philadelphia’s most prominent master builders, according to curator Erin Kuykendall Thomas of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art.  Nevell “designed and constructed significant public and private buildings, from the classically inspired Georgian mansion Mount Pleasant to the utilitarian cabinetmaking shop of Benjamin Randolph” (an artisan famous among early American advertising enthusiasts for his ornate trade card).  Yet in the eyes of architectural historians, Nevell deserves acclaim for another accomplishment.  His “unique contribution to his profession,” in the words of Carl G. Karsh, “was the city’s – and probably the nation’s – first architecture school.”

Karsh locates the origins of Nevell’s instruction in “a lengthy advertisement which doubles as syllabus for Nevell’s new venture,” published in the October 31, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He originally taught lessons in his, but the school was so successful that Nevell built a two-story classroom behind the house in 1772.  By that time, Nevell had opened his academy for at least two seasons.  An advertisement in the September 27, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette announced that he “sundry young men of the carpenter’s business” convinced him to offer lessons.  Classes were scheduled to begin on October 1 and continue through the end of March.  Just as he would do the following fall, he provided an overview of the material covered, including “the most useful problems in geometry,” “the most easy and ready method of describing brackets for plaistered cornices and coverings,” and “a new and concise method to form the diminution of columns, dividing and gauging the flutes and fillets of either columns or pilasters.”  Pupils could expect that many of these lessons would require hands-on work rather than attending lectures.  They “will be reduced to practice in miniature,” Nevell stated.

Nevell charged ten shillings as an initial entrance fee and then twenty shilling per month for as long as students continued to attend the school.  He offered lessons “from 6 to 9 o’clock at night” three evenings each week.  The following year, he extended the numbers of nights he offered instruction to four each week, but tuition remained the same.

Operating the school likely further enhanced Nevell’s reputation as a master builder.  He claimed that he offered lessons “with some reluctance” after “being much importuned” by younger men who wanted to learn the trade and who recognized and respected his work.  Although Nevell did not make appeals directly to prospective clients in his advertisement for his new school, he may have expected that notifying the public of this new enterprise would further enhance his standing as one of the most skilled artisans in Philadelphia.

July 27

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

Jul 27 - 7:27:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (July 27, 1767).

“THOMAS HALE … undertakes the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.”

Thomas Hale, a carpenter, turned to the advertising pages of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to announce that he “undertakes the Business of hanging Bells through all the Apartments of Houses.” Appropriately, he adorned his notice with a woodcut depicting a bell. Somewhat crude compared to other woodcuts that sometimes appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, Hale’s bell served its purpose of drawing attention to his advertisement. It was the only visual image on the page, as well as the only woodcut that accompanied any advertisement in the July 27, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, making Hale’s notice difficult to overlook.

When woodcuts did accompany advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, they often replicated familiar shop signs and promoted businesses operated by colonists already well known to many readers and potential customers. That was not the case, however, for Thomas Hale. He noted that he was “LATELY from London” and so recently arrived in Philadelphia as to be considered a “Stranger” (for which he offered assurances of his integrity to anyone who contemplated hiring him). As a newcomer to the city, as someone attempting to find his footing and establish his business, Hale needed to increase the likelihood that possible patrons would notice his advertisement among the dozens of others published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Including an image offered one way to distinguish his notice from so many others that consisted exclusively of text on a densely formatted page.

This woodcut did not confirm Hale’s “Integrity” or the quality of his work, but it did demonstrate to potential customers that the carpenter was conscientious and thoughtful. Placing the advertisement was one of the first steps in establishing a clientele that could also yield further business via word-of-mouth recommendations. Accordingly, readers willing to take a chance on Hale could reasonably expect that he would exert the same care in hanging bells and other tasks that he devoted to designing his newspapers notices, his first introduction to the residents of Philadelphia.

Hale advertised that he installed “Bells through all the Apartments of Houses,” bells intended to alert residents when someone desired their attention. His own woodcut of a bell figuratively rang loudly, announcing his presence and demanding the attention of potential customers.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:11:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 11, 1767).

“THOMAS LEE jun. House-Carpenter and Joiner.”

Thomas Lee, Jr. most likely placed this advertisement to introduce himself to residents of Savannah. As far as introductions went, it was brief but covered a lot of ground. In a single sentence, Lee assured “gentlemen who will be pleased to employ him, that they may depend upon having their work done in the best manner and at the most reasonable rates, with the utmost dispatch.” In so doing, Lee incorporated two of the most common appeals made in advertisements for consumer goods in the eighteenth century. Artisans and others who offered services often adapted those appeals to their own purposes. An appeal to price (“at the most reasonable rates”) required little shift in the meaning, but an appeal to quality (“”having their work done in the best manner”) moved the focus away from merchandise to the skills possessed by the advertiser offering the service. Lee added another appeal sometimes advanced by shopkeepers but more often deployed by artisans. When he pledged to complete work “with the utmost dispatch,” he promised attentiveness and efficiency. Then and now, customers hiring artisans (or contractors) to work on their homes value jobs completed in a timely manner. Similarly, Lee provided “estimations and plans” so customers could hold him accountable for the work he was hired to do.

In describing himself as a “House-Carpenter and Joiner,” Lee informed potential clients that he was a versatile craftsman. Like carpenters, joiners worked with wood, but they specialized in lighter and more ornamental work. Lee was qualified to work on the structure of a building or make and repair any of the fittings that adorned it. Those fittings might include simple doors and windows or they could include intricate pediments and mantels. That being the case, he addressed his introduction “to all gentlemen” in Savannah because affluent merchants and other members of the local gentry would have been most likely to hire (and afford) his services for more ornate work. As the consumer revolution placed an increasing number of goods in the hands of all sorts of colonists, the elite used architectural adornment to express their tastes and attempt to assert distinctions between themselves and others who sometimes mimicked their fashions.

At first glance, Lee’s advertisement looks like a simple notice, but the savvy “House-Carpenter and Joiner” actually incorporated several types of appeals to make a good first impression when introducing himself and his services to residents of Savannah.