December 21

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

Dec 21 - 12:21:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 21, 1767).

John M’Lane stop’d last Wednesday Night a Large Silver Spoon.”

Watchmaker John McLane advertised his services in the Boston Post-Boy for several weeks in December 1767. He relied on two marketing strategies to attract potential clients, one commonly used by artisans and the other a clever innovation that testified to his character in addition to his credentials.

McLane opened his advertisement with a recitation of his training to assure customers that he was qualified to work as a watchmaker. He had completed an apprenticeship, having “serv’d his Time in Dublin to one of the best Finishers there.” On its own, this might have impressed prospective clients, but McLane also reported that he received additional training when he “work’d in London for improvement.” Artisans who migrated across the Atlantic frequently asserted their connections to the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the empire, often providing details about their previous training and work.

McLane’s second strategy, however, deviated from colonial artisans’ usual marketing practices. He appended a nota bene that reported he had “stop’d last Wednesday Night a large Silver Spoon.” In other words, a man that McLane deemed untrustworthy had attempted to sell him a spoon, but the watchmaker suspected stolen goods. He confiscated the spoon and advertised descriptions of both the spoon and the man who attempted to sell it to him. The owner, upon recognizing the monogram or “Marks of the Spoon,” could contact McLane to have it returned.

When he “stop’d” the silver spoon, McLane prevented it from circulating in an informal economy or black market, an alternative means for many colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Less scrupulous artisans would have purchased it at a bargain price and not questioned how the stranger who presented the spoon had acquired it. By taking this action, McLane demonstrated his character to potential customers in a manner they might remember longer than they would recall his training in Dublin and additional experience in London. Not only was he skilled, he was also trustworthy.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 30, 1767).

“Samuel Young … begs Leave to notify the Gentlemen and Ladies of Town and Country.”

Samuel Young of Providence was new to shopkeeping, but he demonstrated in his first advertisement that he understood the conventions of eighteenth-century advertising. He incorporated several of the most common marketing appeals of the era, including price, quality, and consumer choice. He opened his notice with a pledge to “sell as cheap for Cash, as any Person in this Town, or elsewhere” and concluded by reiterating that he offered “the lowest Prices.” He went into greater detail about the “most excellent Quality” of his “European GOODS,” claiming that “all who have passed their Judgment on them” acknowledged “that they are better wrought than any that have yet been exposed to Sale here.” Similarly, he sold “the best of West-India Goods.” Savvy consumers probably greeted these boasts with some skepticism. After all, Young sold the same imported goods as his competitors. Although he did not enumerate his wares, Young stated that they comprised “a great Variety” and were “finely suited to the Wants of the People.” Hyperbolic at times, Young did not merely place a notice that announced he opened a new shop. Instead, drew on techniques already popular in consumer advertising to market his merchandise.

As a newcomer to his occupation, Young also attempted to reassure potential customers about his own character, arguing that he possessed the personal qualities to make sure they would receive satisfactory treatment during transactions. He was not afraid of hard work, intending to “give constant Attendance at his Shop.” He also seemed sensible that some of his claims came off a bit overstated. To that end, he persuaded readers “that he doth not mean to delude and betray People by false Pretensions.” Instead, he simply wished to “establish himself in the World, on the firm Foundation of Truth and Integrity.” Young’s advertisement appeared alongside commercial notices by shopkeepers with established reputations. He realized that he needed to make bold claims to attract attention to his business while simultaneously cultivating his own standing as an honest and fair dealer.

January 4

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

Providence Gazette (January 3, 1767).

“FOUND … a Silver Knee Buckle.”

Lost and found notices frequently appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers. Colonists not only purchased consumer goods; they sometimes misplaced their possessions and placed advertisements in hopes of reclaiming them. Colonists who found lost items also sometimes helped to reunite them with their owners. Such was the case in today’s advertisement: Elihu Robinson announced that he had “FOUND” a silver knee buckle “in the Main Street, Providence,” a week earlier on December 27. He wanted to return it to its owner, but only once the owner paid “the Charge of advertising.”

That would have been the extent of most lost and found notices, but Robinson opted to add a few lines about the business he operated. He reminded former customers “and the Public in general” that he made “Beaver, Beaveret, and Felt Hats” at his shop. In the process, he incorporated an appeal to price, stating that he was “determined to sell as cheap for Cash, as any in Boston, New-York, or any Person in this Town.” In so doing, he followed a recent trend in advertisements published in the Providence Gazette by expressing concern that too many local consumers purchased their goods from shopkeepers, artisans, and suppliers in other urban ports in the region, especially the larger and more bustling cities of Boston and New York. In another advertisement in the same issue, shopkeeper James Green pledged that he sold his merchandise “at as low a rate as can be bought in this town, or any of the neighbouring governments.” More so than in any other colony, advertisers in Rhode Island encouraged prospective customers to shop locally.

Robinson’s advertisement may appear disjointed at first glance. The headline in a larger font, “FOUND,” described a silver knee buckle, but most of the advertisement promoted the hats Robinson made and sold at his shop and promises about low prices. Although seemingly unrelated, the lost-and-found notice served an important purpose. Robinson signaled to customers that they could trust his claims about offering lower prices than anywhere else in Providence or other cities because he was such an honest man that he attempted to return a silver knee buckle that he found in the street to its rightful owner. Many eighteenth-century advertisers assured readers about the quality of their character. Elihu Robinson provided a practical demonstration. Customers could trust him.