January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:18:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“Every lover of his country will encourage … American manufactures.”

Benjamin Randolph, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent and successful cabinetmakers, was also a savvy advertiser. He inserted notices in the city’s newspapers, but he also distributed an elegant trade card that clearly demonstrated the influence of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). Known for his furniture, Randolph also promoted other carved items produced in his shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” including “a quantity of wooden BUTTONS of various sorts.”

Buttons often appeared among the extensive lists of imported merchandise published in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers. When consumers purchased textiles and trimmings to make garments, they also acquired buttons. At a time when colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, Randolph offered an alternative to buttons from England. He made it clear to prospective customers that purchasing his buttons served a political function; doing so signaled support for the American cause. Rather than depend on consumer’s familiarity with current events and popular discourse about the political meaning of goods, Randolph plainly stated, “[E]very lover of his country will encourage [his buttons by purchasing them], as well as all other American manufactures, especially at this time, when the importation of British superfluities is deemed inconsistent with the true interest of America.” Randolph encouraged colonists to reject the “Baubles of Britain,” as T.H. Breen has so memorably named the consumer goods produced on the other side of the Atlantic and sent to American markets. Randolph made a bid not only for support of the items he produced but also others made in the colonies, showing solidarity with fellow artisans as they did their part in opposition to Parliament.

Such efforts, however, did not depend solely on Randolph and other artisans. Ultimately, consumers determined the extent of the effectiveness of producing “American manufactures” through the decisions they made about which and how many items to purchase and which to boycott. Randolph had “a quantity” of buttons on hand, but producing more depended on the reception he received from the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands. He would “keep a general assortment of them” but only “if encouraged.” Consumers had to demonstrate that they would partner with him in this act of resistance once Randolph presented them with the opportunity.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 12, 1767).

“Gilding and all the branches of house and furniture carving.”

John Lord earned his living as a carver and gilder, but he also sold imported looking glasses, “either with or without frames, at his shop in Meeting-street” in Charleston. He likely constructed, carved, and gilded some of those frames in his own shop, replicating styles currently popular in London.

By his own account, Lord was skilled at his craft. He was capable of “gilding and all the branches of house and furniture carving, in the Chinese, French, and Gothic tastes.” In the same way that shopkeepers presented potential customers with an array of choices, Lord also catered to potential clients’ desire to express themselves through the types of ornamentation they selected for their furniture and homes. His invocation of “Chinese, French, and Gothic tastes” also echoed styles for exotic housewares, including decorative arts and imported porcelain tea sets and dishes, popular among eighteenth-century consumers who participated in increasingly global circuits of trade. Potential customers who already possessed imported Chinese porcelain, for instance, could commission looking glass frames or tables or sideboards with similar or matching elements to achieve a sense of cohesion and style.

In contrast to many other artisans who advertised in colonial newspapers, Lord did not indicate his origins. See, for example, the notice placed by “WHITING, SADLER, FROM LONDON,” that appeared immediately below Lord’s advertisement. Still, the carver and gilder asserted a connection to cosmopolitan center of the empire, reporting that because of “the many advantages he received from the best shops in London” that he was “capable of executing any ornaments in the above tastes, to the satisfaction of those gentlemen and ladies who please to employ him.” Lord suggested that he completed an apprenticeship in London or that he had worked alongside skilled artisans in notable workshops before migrating across the Atlantic. He had not learned his trade in the colonies; instead, he benefited from the cachet accrued by hinting that he had superior training compared to his provincial competitors. Closer connections to workshops in London could also mean that he developed better understandings of current fashions.

Charleston was one of the largest cities in Britain’s North American colonies, yet its residents still looked to London as they participated in consumer culture, adopted new fashions, and decorated their homes. In that context, John Lord took advantage of his previous experience working in “the best shops in London” to market his services as a carver and gilder.

September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:4:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 4, 1766).

“JAMES REYNOLDS, CARVER and GILDER, … UNDERTAKES to execute all the various Branches of Carving and Gilding.”

James Reynolds, a carver and gilder by trade, announced that he had “Just arrived from London” and set up shop in Philadelphia. He used an advertisement to launch his business in the colonies when he first arrived, but over the next two decades he continued to entice customers to engage his services via advertisements in Philadelphia’s newspapers.

He also passed down his skills in “the various Branches of Carving and Gilding, in the newest, neatest and genteelest Taste” to his sons, James Jr. and Henry. Over time, Reynolds and his sons specialized in selling looking glasses with decorative frames, though they continued to advertise that could be hired to perform the “various Branches” of their trade. In the 1790s the Reynolds brothers offered the same services their father had advertised thirty years earlier, using much of the same language of current and genteel fashions.

They did not, however, restrict their marketing to newspaper advertisements. They also affixed furniture labels to the items they sold “At their LOOKING-GLASS Store, No. 56, Market-street, PHILADELPHIA.” Eighteenth-century artisans, including cabinetmakers and closely affiliated occupations, experimented with various means of advertising the furniture they produced. Like shopkeepers, some distributed trade cards. Others marked their furniture in various ways, including signing, stamping, and branding or pasting labels. Such labels often took the form of miniature trade cards that incorporated copy directly from newspaper advertisements. Marking furniture in this way allowed artisans to continue to advertise their wares to customers long after completing sales.

Sep 4 - Reynolds Furniture Label
Furniture label affixed to looking glass (c. 1795). Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Library.

The elder Reynolds may have devised his own furniture label, though none have survived. His sons certainly labeled the looking glasses they sold as they reminded customers of the variety of goods and services they provided. They wanted to increase the likelihood that customers satisfied with their previous purchases would patronize their shop once again. For many eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, newspaper advertisements were only one aspect of their marketing strategies.