October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Champlin Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).

“To be SOLD, by CHRISTOPHER CHAMPLIN.”

Regular readers of the Newport Gazette would not have been surprised to see an advertisement from Christopher Champlin on the first page of the October 26, 1767, edition. Champlin regularly turned to his local newspaper to promote the “neat Assortment of European and India GOODS” he imported and sold. Readers may have been surprised, however, to encounter a second advertisement from Champlin on the third page. That deviated from standard marketing practices prior to the American Revolution. Given that newspapers usually consisted of only four pages, advertisers rarely inserted more than one commercial notice in an issue. Was Champlin attempting to gain even more attention for his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Ball” by saturating the Newport Gazette with his advertisements? Did he even intend to publish more than one advertisement that day?

While it is possible that Champlin experimented with running multiple advertisements simultaneously, this situation may have instead resulted from decisions made by the printer in the production of that week’s issue. Note the date on the advertisement on the third page: October 26, 1767. It corresponded exactly to the date of that issue. Compare it to the date on the advertisement on the first page: September 14, 1767. Champlin previously placed this notice, intending that it run for several weeks.

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).

Now consider the production process for a weekly newspaper. Printers created the standard four-page newspapers of the colonial period by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half, transforming a single sheet into four pages. This required printing the first and fourth pages on one side at one time and the second and third pages on the other side at another time. This meant that the material on one side of the sheet could have been older, the type could have been set earlier, than the content on the other side.

The first and fourth pages included two standard parts of any issue, the masthead on the first page and the colophon on the last. Except for updating the date and issue number in the masthead, these items did not change from week to week. In the October 26 issue, advertisements that previously appeared in earlier issues filled the fourth page. The type had been set well in advance and simply reused. The first page had other advertisements that continued from previous issues, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. The first page also had two excerpts reprinted from other colonial newspapers, one from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the other from the New-Hampshire Gazette, dated October 16. All the material on the first and fourth pages could have been prepared and printed early in the week.

The printer likely selected the contents of the second and third pages later in the week, setting the type and printing those pages after the first and fourth pages had been determined. The second page featured news “By several Vessels from London, arrived at Philadelphia and Boston” and then disseminated to other colonies. Given the amount of time it took for ships to cross the Atlantic, the printer likely waited as long as possible to choose the contents of the second page in order to publish the most recent news. The third page had news items from other colonies in the Middle Atlantic and New England, many of them dated after the previous issue of the Newport Gazette. This news had only arrived in the past week. Several advertisements also appeared on the third page, including Champlin’s advertisement dated October 26 and two others dated October 24.

Careful consideration of the contents of the October 26 edition of the Newport Mercury suggests that Champlin may not have intended to run multiple advertisements in that issue. By the time he submitted his new advertisement the printer might have already printed the first and fourth pages, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. Champlin may not even have paid for that advertisement; the printer may have included it as filler in order to complete the page. The shopkeeper certainly wanted to promote his new merchandise he had “Just imported.” Right before the newspaper went to press, he submitted a new advertisement to appear alongside the most recent news.

Christopher Champlin may have attempted an innovative advertising campaign by placing more than one advertisement in a single issue of the Newport Mercury. Taking into consideration the production process for colonial newspapers, however, suggests that this was an accidental rather than intentional aspect of Champlin’s marketing efforts. His advertisements must be considered in the larger context of where they appeared on the page and within the newspaper.

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.

February 23

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

feb-23-2231767-newport-mercury
Newport Gazette (February 23, 1767).

“Nutmegs, Copperass, Allum, Pepper, Tea.”

This advertisement interested me because of its length. As T. H. Breen notes in “Baubles of Britain,” with the increase in imported goods colonists had countless options, exemplified by this advertisement.[1] Another thing that intrigued me about this advertisement was that nutmeg was being sold in the 1760s. Nutmeg is a spice that is commonly used today, however, I was surprised to see it mentioned in an eighteenth-century advertisement. I discovered that nutmeg was used as a spice then, just like it is today. In Food in Colonial and Federal America, Sandra L. Oliver states, “The nutmeg husk is cracked, and the nut within is used for spice, usually grated on a grater specifically for nutmegs.”[2]

 

feb-23-nutmeg
Nutmeg grater crafted by Joseph Kneeland (ca. 1720-1740). Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit the museum’s online record to see additional photos.

The importation and sale of nutmeg in the colonies reveals that the colonists and the mother country took part in trade that expanded beyond than the Atlantic Ocean. After further research, I discovered that nutmeg was grown in the Banda Islands, also known as the Spice Islands (in modern Indonesia).

After the American Revolution, the new United States became more involved in the global spice trade by trading directly with Asian growers, instead of going through Great Britain. Some American businessmen embarked on long voyages to obtain spices. American entrepreneurs formed new businesses in search of profits to be made once they were free of the restrictions of the British imperial system.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Shannon indicates, Christopher Champlin’s advertisement provides evidence of an expansive and expanding consumer culture in the decade before the American Revolution. In many instances, purchasing one product made it necessary to obtain other goods as well. Such was the case with nutmeg. The buyer also needed a nutmeg grater, though it did not have to be as ornate as the one currently in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum. As Oliver notes, “Spices were usually imported whole, and it was the cook’s job to pound and sift them for use in cookery.”[3] Note that Champlin’s advertisement lists “Nutmegs” rather than “Nutmeg,” an indication that they were indeed whole and needed to be grated by the customer. A consumer only needed to purchase a nutmeg grater once, but that was still an acquisition that contributed to colonial households being filled with an increasing number of possessions.

While a nutmeg grater could be a relatively minor purchase (even though it appears that “RW” opted for one inspired by fashion as much as practical use), consuming other imported grocery items required equipment that could become quite expensive, depending on the tastes and desires of the consumer. For instance, Champlin sold both tea and chocolate. To enjoy either of these beverages, his customers also needed to possess various sorts of housewares, including cups and either a teapot or a chocolate pot. In addition, tea drinkers also obtained strainers, waste bowls, sugar tongs, ewers for cream or milk, tea canisters, sugar bowls, saucers, and stands for the pot and sometimes even the bowls. Decorative tea sets could be made of ceramic, Chinese export porcelain, or silver. Champlin also sold “hard metal Tea Pots and Spoons.” Fashions evolved for housewares just as they did for clothing, prompting consumers to make additional purchases.

It comes as no surprise that colonists needed various sorts of kitchen equipment in order to prepare food. That being said, eighteenth-century advertisements that list assorted grocery items sometimes obscure the specialized items that colonists also needed (or wanted). As Shannon notes, the length of this advertisement testifies to the growth of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. On closer examination of individual items, however, we discover that the cascade of selling and acquiring was even more significant than the length of the advertisement alone suggests.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

[2] Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 74.

[3] Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America, 74.