September 20

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 20, 1771).

“Sold (by appointment of Mr. Hemet) … at William Scott’s Irish Linnen Store … in New England.”

Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette learned that Jacob Hemet, “DENTIST to her Majesty, and the Princess Amelia,” compounded an “Essence of Pearl, and Pearl Dentrifice,” a paste or powder for cleaning teeth, “which he has found to be so greatly superior not only in elegance, but also in efficacy, to any thing hitherto made use of for complaints of the Teeth and Gums” when they perused the September 20, 1771, edition.  That information appeared in an advertisement that provided additional details about how Hemet’s products contributed to both health and beauty.

At a glance, it may have appeared that Hemet placed the advertisement.  His name served as the headline, a common practice among purveyors of goods and services when they placed notices in eighteenth-century newspapers.  A short paragraph at the end of the advertisement, however, revealed that Hemet designated local agents to hawk his products on his behalf.  Interested parties could purchase Hemet’s Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentrifice “wholesale and retail” from “W. Bayley, in Cockspur street, near the bottom of the Hay market, London” as well as “at William Scott’s Irish Linnen Store, near the Draw Bridge, Boston, in New England.”  Hemet may have written the copy for the advertisement and transmitted it to Bayley and Scott, but he probably did not arrange for running the advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Instead, he likely left those details to Scott following his “appointment” as an agent in the colonies.  Scott placed the advertisement in the Boston-Gazette on September 16.  Taking advantage of his exclusive access to Hemet’s products, he aimed to expand the market by advertising in nearby New Hampshire as well.  Yet the advertisement did not suggest a local or regional market but instead encouraged consumers to think of themselves as participating in a transatlantic market that connected them to the heart of the empire.  Scott made available to them products that residents of London presumably purchased, products that Hemet supplied to members of the royal family.  Prospective customers skeptical of the efficacy of Hemet’s Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentrifice may have been more willing to take a chance on products supposedly distributed to consumers in London, grateful that the dentist opted to select an agent in the colonies who could provide them with the same products used by Hemet’s most elite clients.

September 16

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

Boston-Gazette (September 16, 1771).

“George Spriggs, Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”

In the early 1770s, George Spriggs supplied colonists with fruit trees.  In September 1771, he placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette to promote “ABOUT four or five Thousand Mulberry Trees of different Sizes,” “a large Assortment of English Fruit Trees,” and “an Assortment of flowering Shrubs.”  Those were not just any mulberry trees, Spriggs asserted.  They grew from seeds from “the first ripe Fruit of Mulberries, from a Tree of Mr. David Colson’s, which is the largest and finest Fruit that is in America.”  He expected consumers to be familiar with Colson and his trees or at least trust his expertise about the significance.  He carefully timed his marketing, advising prospective customers that “the best Time of transplanting” the fruit trees “is about the Middle of October.”  Anyone interested in purchasing trees or shrubs from Spriggs could plan accordingly.

In addition to establishing a connection to Colson, Spriggs leveraged his connection to a colonist so prominent that readers of the Boston-Gazette almost certainly knew who he was.  Before he even described the trees and shrubs he offered for sale, Spriggs described himself as “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”  It was not the first time he deployed that strategy, seeking to benefit from the celebrity of one of his clients.  In February 1770, for instance, he opened another advertisement in the same manner.  Nor was he the only advertiser who named a famous client as a means of establishing his credentials.  Elsewhere in the Boston-Gazette, Jacob Hemet introduced himself as “DENTIST to her Majesty, and the Princess Amelia.”  Doctors and dentists who migrated to the colonies frequently claimed they previously provided their services to nobles and the gentry in Europe, expecting prospective clients to take their word for it.  Spriggs, on the other hand, knew that customers could much more easily confirm whether he actually was a “Gardner to John Hancock, Esq.”  He did not publish a testimonial from the prominent merchant, but encouraged customers to believe that his association with Hancock was recommendation enough.

February 29

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

Feb 29 - 2:26:1770 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (February 26, 1770)

“George Spriggs, Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.”

As spring approached in 1770, the appropriately named George Spriggs took to the pages of the Boston-Gazette to advertise a “Large Assortment of English Fruit Trees” as well as “flowering Shrubs,” bushes, and other plants that he sold “at a reasonable price.”  Price and quality were not the only appeals that Spriggs incorporated into his advertisement.  He devised a headline to introduce himself to prospective customers as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.”  In so doing, he attempted to leverage his relationship with an existing client to incite demand among other consumers.  Readers of the Boston-Gazette may not have known Spriggs, but they were certainly familiar with prominent merchant and patriot leader John Hancock.  The gardener hoped to capitalize on the cachet of being associated with such an eminent member of the community.  He invited prospective customers to imagine that they could possess something in common with Hancock, a marker of their own taste.

Spriggs deployed a strategy not often used in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  Doctors and artisans who recently arrived in the colonies sometimes listed notable patients or clients they previously served in Europe before migrating across the Atlantic.  Doing so helped newcomers establish their reputation, but advertisers rarely invoked the names of local customers.  They did make more general statements of appreciation to those who had previously employed them, simultaneously seeking to maintain their clientele while demonstrating to prospective new customers that others made purchases from them or hired their services.  Yet they did not tend to name specific clients.

Spriggs did not publish an endorsement nor a testimonial from Hancock, yet he did seek to benefit from his association with one of the most prominent men in Massachusetts.  Describing himself as “Gardener to JOHN HANCOCK, Esq.” suggested that the merchant was satisfied with his services, even if it fell short of an outright recommendation.  Spriggs pursued the eighteenth-century version of promoting his celebrity clientele as a means of attracting new customers for his business.