February 25

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

Feb 25 - 2:25:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (February 25, 1768).

“Lucerne and Burnett seed, warranted to be of last year’s growth.”

Spring was coming. In late February 1768 colonists in Boston could tell that spring was on its way by looking for certain signs. While watching for changes in the weather and landscape provided clues about the passage of the seasons, colonists also witnessed other indications. The appearance of Susanna Renken’s advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette testified that spring was indeed on its way. It was the first to promote a variety of seeds that colonists would need to purchase soon so they could plant their gardens.

Renken participated in an annual ritual, one that transformed the pages of newspapers printed in Boston for a few months. She had previously advertised seeds in 1766 and 1767, but she had not been alone. Other women had placed their own advertisements, presenting local customers with many choices for obtaining the seeds they needed. Readers of the newspapers published in Boston knew that in the coming weeks several other female shopkeepers would join Renken, each inserting their own advertisements for seeds. If the past was any indication, they could expect to see these advertisements printed one after the other, sometimes filling entire columns in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and the Massachusetts Gazette. Renken and her competitors usually inserted their notices in multiple publications.

For now, however, Renken advertised alone. She was the first seed seller to take to the pages of the public prints in 1768, heralding the proliferation of advertisements that would soon appear, bloom for a couple of months, and recede until the next year. Colonists in Boston and its hinterlands observed this annual cycle unfold in their newspapers in the late winter and early spring, just as they saw advertisements for almanacs make their first appearances in the fall, intensify in number and frequency over several months, and taper off after the new year.

Susanna Renken was the first to advertise seeds in 1768, but soon she would not be alone. At the same time colonists noticed certain birds returning to New England as part of their seasonal migration, they also saw advertisements for seeds once again in the pages of their newspapers. The print culture of marketing had its own rhythms that colonists could associate with the changing seasons.

October 15

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-15-10151766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 15, 1766).

“Goods, suitable for the season.”

Cowper and Telfairs’ store had just received a large assortment of items imported from London. After the lengthy list of items that they sold, the partners added that “they shortly expect other articles from England and Scotland to make a complete assortment of goods for this country and season.” It was good to add that they would be receiving other items so customers would come back and purchase more from their store.

This advertisement was in the newspaper in October; colonists would soon need items for the winter that was coming, even if it would not be as cold as in New England or even Virginia. The advertisement states the supplies and clothing were “suitable for the season,” making potential buyers aware that this store had goods that would help them get through the winter. Throughout the colonies, settlers made preparations. According to David Robinson, “Mothers taught daughters how to card wool and coax soft fibers from the hard stems of flax; how to spin fibers into threads; how to stitch and mend the heavy coats and hooded cloaks that soon must ward off the biting winds.” Cowper and Telfairs’ store had “a variety of other ready-made cloaths” that colonists could purchase as well as an assortment of textiles they could use to make coats, cloaks, and warmer clothing that they would need for winter weather, even if winter in Georgia was not as extreme as in colonies further north.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Not long ago guest curator Nicholas Commesso examined an advertisement from the Massachusetts Gazette in which William Palfrey marketed “Articles suitable for the approaching Season.” He noted that colonists in Boston and its hinterland needed to take into account that fall had commenced and winter would arrive soon. Palfrey attempted to sell his goods by reminding colonists that it was time to start making preparations.

In my additional commentary I noted that “suitable to the season” was a stock phrase deployed in newspaper advertisements in Philadelphia and, more generally, in New England the Middle Atlantic colonies. I have not worked as extensively with advertisements from the Chesapeake or the Lower South, so I was uncertain if that was the case in those locales or if regional differences existed. I suggested that this merited further investigation.

Jordan turned her eye to that question today, identifying the same language in an advertisement from a newspaper printed in the Georgia Gazette. While one advertisement does not demonstrate a pattern or widespread usage of “suitable for the season,” it does indicate that the phrase was not unknown in the area. Cowper and Telfairs likely meant something a bit different – or had somewhat different merchandise in mind – than William Palfrey did when they described their wares as “suitable for the season.” Each advertiser would have taken into account local conditions.

As Jordan notes, the shopkeepers concluded by describing the items “from England and Scotland” they intended to have in stock soon as “goods for this country and season.” In addition to attempting to lure customers back to their store for subsequent visits, Cowper and Telfairs also signaled that they knew exactly what kind of merchandise would be arriving on ships expected in port soon. Most likely they had negotiated with their contacts on the other side of the Atlantic and placed orders for specific goods. London merchants sometimes tried to pawn off surplus inventory, expecting colonial retailers to accept and sell whatever was sent to them, but Cowper and Telfairs suggested that their customers would be pleased with the selection they offered because their wares had been chosen with Georgia and its climate in mind.

September 25

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-25-9251766-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (September 25, 1766).

“Woolens and other Articles suitable for the approaching Season.”

By beginning with the location of his shop, William Palfrey’s advertisement for his “Assortment of Goods” was able to attract fresh clientele that were unfamiliar with his establishment. He made a point to put the location directly following his name, and, interestingly enough, what his shop was next to: “next Door North of the Heart & Crown a well known emblem for the print shop where the Boston Evening-Post was printed.

Also, consider the significance of including where the goods had originated — in this case, London — alluding to the fact that many of these goods were not manufactured in the colonies at this time. According to T.H. Breen, “British goods flooded English colonies,” starting in the 1740s.[1] Palfrey adds that the varieties of “Broad-Cloths,” “Duffils,” and “other Woolens” would be very suitable for the upcoming changing of the seasons. Nearly every New England advertisement I examined mentioned the changing seasons, suggesting that the colonists adjusted their purchases to the varying conditions of the local climate. The changing weather conditions may not have been as extreme in the southern colonies, where the seasonal adjustments were not as significant. The advertisement prompted consumers to prepare for the upcoming change to a chillier fall and a cold winter.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Nick identifies an important aspect of William Palfrey’s advertisement in his examination of the section that promoted “many other Woolens and other Articles suitable for the approaching Season.” The autumnal equinox occurred just a few days before this advertisement was published. Fall had arrived. Colonists in Boston certainly would have been aware that seasons were changing, but Palfrey used his advertisement to draw potential customers into his shop by reminding them that they would soon need different sorts of clothing and other goods. Some readers would have stored fall and winter apparel during the spring and summer seasons, but Palfrey realized there was a good chance that even those who were most prepared likely needed replacements and supplements.

Nick raises a question about regional differences in advertising, noting that many advertisements that appeared in New England newspapers deployed appeals that stressed the goods for sale were appropriate for the season. This was also true of advertisements published in Philadelphia, a city that also experienced significant changes in weather throughout the year. Advertisements published there often used the phrase “suitable for the season” to describe the merchandise. Was that an appeal commonly used in other regions, especially the Chesapeake and the Lower South? I’m not certain. This project originated as a case study of advertising in Philadelphia, the largest city in the American colonies at the time of the Revolution and one of the centers of printing. I have not yet examined newspaper advertisements from southern colonies in the same depth. In his analysis of today’s advertisement, Nick has presented a question that merits further research as this project continues.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 486.