June 8

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

Jun 8 - 6:8:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 8, 1767).

“At as low a Rate for Cash as can be bought at any Shop in Newport.”

In the June 8, 1767, edition of the Newport Mercury, Josias Lyndon advertised that he sold an assortment of imported goods “Very cheap for Cash, or short Credit.” Invoking low prices was one of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century. Lyndon chose a standard method: promoting his own prices without making reference to those of his competitors. In that regard, he advertisement differed from most placed by shopkeepers in that issue. Others went into greater detail about the nature of their prices.

Samuel Lyndon, Jr., for instance, offered his wares “at as low a Rate as can be bought in any Shop in the Town of NEWPORT.” Similarly, David Moore sold dry goods and groceries “AS CHEAP FOR CASH as at any Shop in Newport.” Issachar Polock boldly proclaimed that he parted with his merchandise “at a LOWER PRICE than any advertised before him.” Each of these shopkeepers adapted the standard appeal to price in ways that more directly positioned their shops as preferable to local competitors.

Other advertisers expanded on this trend. Napthaly Hart, Jr., stated that was “determined to sell at as low Rate as any of the Shops in NEWPORT or PROVIDENCE.” In an advertisement that also appeared in the Providence Gazette, William Rogers promised that customers purchased his inventory “as cheap as can be bough at any Shop in Providence.” Both of these shopkeepers seemed as concerned (or, in Rogers’ case, more concerned) with losing business to counterparts in Providence than others in Newport.

Christopher Champlin’s advertisement suggested why Newport’s shopkeepers provided more elaborate appeals to price than usual in the late spring of 1767. “FINDING many of his Brother Shopkeepers,” Champlin declared, “to prevent most of the circulating Cash from being sent to Providence, have greatly lowered the Price of their Goods; therefore … said CHAMPLIN … has to sell … a neat Assortment of GOODS … at as low a Rate for Cash as can be bought at any Shop in Newport.”

Cash was scarce in colonial America. By charging low prices, Newport’s shopkeepers not only competed with each other but also pursued the public interest on behalf of their entire community by not allowing scarce resources to seep away to another port city. Champlin annunciated this as “so laudable a Motive,” one that was “worthy of Imitation.” He was late to the game in lowering his own prices, but managed to position himself, along with his “Brother Shopkeepers” in Newport, as doing something noble when setting his prices.

October 10

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-10-10101766-new-london-gazette
New-London Gazette (October 10, 1766).

Linseed-Oil … for ready CASH.”

 

Lindseed oil has many uses today, but this advertisement made me wonder how colonists used linseed oil in the eighteenth century. According to the historians at Historic Jamestowne, linseed oil was “used in wood treatments, paint and animal fodder.” Linseed oil had many uses so it is understandable why people would need it back then as well.

For ready CASH” meant that the customer needed to have money for that item right as they bought it. “In colonial America,” according to David Walbert, “nobody had enough cash. There wasn’t enough cash to go around — not enough to cover the value of all the goods and services that were available to be bought and sold.” The advertisement I examined yesterday included some of the goods the colonists wanted to purchase, such as necklaces, ribbons, and teas.” It also stated that the shopkeeper sold those goods “for CASH only.” Both Jolley Allen and the company selling the linseed oil wanted cash right away for the goods they sold. They did not want to give credit over time to colonists it seems.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Linseed oil (or flaxseed oil) is a byproduct of flax production, which made it a widely available product in colonial America because farmers grew flax to process and ultimately weave into linen in small-scale production. Flax possessed many advantages. For instance, it “has the greatest tensile strength of any natural fiber,” except for ramie. On the other hand, “its overwhelming disadvantage [was] the amount of labor, skilled and otherwise, required from sowing to harvest.” Furthermore, processing flax was “an extremely labor-intensive process” that involved many steps, as explained in greater detail by Historic Jamestowne. After harvest, the first step was removing the seeds in a process called rippling, which involved putting flax bundles through coarse combs. Jordan has chosen an advertisement that appears rather plain; it belies the amount of labor involved in producing linseed oil before offering it for sale.

I found the placement of this advertisement rather interesting. Except for the colophon, it was the last item that appeared in the final column of the October 10, 1766, issue of the New-London Gazette. The printer devoted more than half of the issue (the first two pages in their entirety, excepting the masthead, and most of the first column on the third page) to reprinting “The EXAMINATION of Doctor Benjamin Franklin, before an August Assembly, relating to the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” As we saw last week, colonial printers deployed a bit of subterfuge to publish Franklin’s testimony before Parliament.

The Stamp Act intensified many colonists’ desire to become self-sufficient rather than rely on goods, especially textiles, imported from England and elsewhere. Both news items and advertisements promoted domestic manufactures as a means of reducing Parliament’s influence in North American affairs. However, schemes for the mass production of linen in the colonies continued to fall short because, as Michele Mormul explains, “they lacked funding and labor was too expensive.”

The October 10, 1766, issue of the New-London Gazette opened with explicitly political news coverage. The advertisement for linseed oil that concluded the issue may not appear particularly partisan at first glance, but some colonists may have drawn connections between the recent argument with Parliament, calls for nonimportation and domestic manufactures, and linseed oil’s connections to flax cultivation and linen production. Take into consideration the placement of the advertisement relative to the Franklin’s testimony as well. Although they appeared first and last, spatially they were not separated on the broadsheet newspaper when laid flat. In that case, the advertisement in the third column of the final page appeared next to the first column of Franklin’s testimony on the first page. When a reader held the newspaper open to peruse the second and third pages, observers would have seen the first and final pages, with the advertisement for linseed oil leading into the political news.

August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1766).

“All those who owe small trifling Debts, must discharge them before the End of August.”

Thomas Davidson wanted to settle accounts and catch up on his bookkeeping. To those ends he published an advertisement with a timetable for customers to pay their debts. Those with “small trifling Debts” had four weeks (“before the End of August”) to pay up, while others who owed more substantial amounts had nearly twice as long (“before the latter End of September next”). Davisdon warned that customers in both categories needed to be punctual or else he would take a step he considered “very disagreeable.” He threatened to sue those who did not heed his call to pay what they owed.

Davidson preferred cash, but he was more interested in settling accounts. If necessary, he was willing to accept a variety of goods that his customers presumably produced on their own farms: “Wheat, Rye, Indian-Corn or Pork.” Cash, credit, and barter all served as modes of exchange in the economy of colonial Connecticut as buyers and sellers negotiated final reckonings for their exchanges.

Although the primary purpose of Davidson’s advertisement seems to have been settling accounts, he also sought to generate more business. After warning customers with outstanding debts that he would sue them “without further Notice,” he announced that he sold “WEST-INDIA RUM, by the Hogshead, or smaller Quantity.” Apparently he did not want to find himself in a similar situation with prospective sales. He declared that he sold the rum “for Cash only.” Such was the tradeoff for purchasing the rum “very cheap.” Customers had to pay in cash.

Eighteenth-century account books, ledgers, and letters are the best sources for revealing business practices of merchants and shopkeepers, but advertisements often provide useful supplements that also demonstrate the public face that entrepreneurs presented to customers and their communities.

March 1

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Mar 1 - 2:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

“Will give Cash for Forty HEIFERS or young COWS.”

Jonathan Moulton’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette gives insight into a society where bartering was accepted in lieu of cash or credit at times. Although Moulton’s advertisement does state he will give cash payment in exchange for cows, he initially asks for “ABOUT Eighty Tons of good Salt and English HAY, for Boards or Staves.” The decision to offer a trade in replacement of cash allowed Moulton to target a wide range of people that may not have had consistent access to cash.

In order to be successful in the colonies, entrepreneurs needed to be flexible and work with their fellow colonists in the developing economy. Moulton’s decision to accept boards or staves instead of cash and then later to pay cash for young cows likely made his advertisement applicable and appealing to more people.

The second half of Moulton’s advertisement is directed towards people with livestock, giving him a targeted audience, one that did not always have large sums of cash readily available. The opportunity for people to choose either to trade or to use local currency was appealing to many colonists.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In the wake of Currency Acts passed by Parliament in 1751 and 1764, colonists feared “the likelihood of a diminished supply of local currency and a return to a heavier reliance on the more burdensome, less flexible alternatives: barter, commodity money (e.g., tobacco or sugar), and foreign gold or silver coin.”[1] Trevor has chosen an advertisement that suggests how some colonists incorporated both currency and barter into their business practices, resorting to one or the other depending on the circumstances. Given the relatively short supply of currency, Moulton’s offer to pay cash for heifers and young cows may indeed have been all the more attractive to colonists looking to sell some of their livestock.

Does this advertisement sound familiar? It should, even if it does not visually look familiar, because a portion of it was previously featured on the Adverts 250 Project. This advertisement was printed in two separate pieces in the February 7, 1766, issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The first half appeared at the bottom of the first page, running across both columns. The second half appeared at the bottom of the final page, also running across both columns.

2:7:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).
Mar 1 - New-Hampshire Gazette 2:7:1766
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1766).

When Trevor and I discussed the advertisements he wished to feature this week, I approved this one because, technically, it is a different advertisement than the previous one. It includes new material and the type for the entire advertisement was reset for this variant. Besides, as I have previously explained, our methodology (requiring us to consult the most recently published newspaper in the colonies) disproportionately privileges the New-Hampshire Gazette. The paucity of advertisements for consumer goods and services in that publication, compared to others from the period, can be frustrating. The guest curators and I have learned to make do with the slim pickings in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Why did the printer reset the type and combine two advertisements into one? Friday’s extended commentary will explain how I solved that mystery when I examined the original copies at the American Antiquarian Society.

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[1] John J, McCusker and Russell L. Menard, The Economy of British America, 1607-1789 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1985), 337.