April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

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

New-London Gazette (April 21, 1769).

“JUST IMPORTED … from Charlestown, South Carolina … INDICO.”

Indigo was used as a dye to create vibrant blues and some greens. Although this indigo from Charleston was sold in Connecticut, in an article on South Carolina indigo and its role in the European textile industry R.C. Nash points out that plantation owners preferred to sell their indigo in London rather than in the colonies.[1] During the mid to late eighteenth century, South Carolina indigo made up 25 percent of the product being traded in the Atlantic. The colony first began producing the dye after its rice industry started to fail following the Seven Years War. According to Nash, they quickly gained a foothold in the British market as textile industries in Great Britain grew.[2] Scholars have found that South Carolina indigo was actually of much poorer quality than its competitors from French and Spanish colonies, but it continued to dominate the market because of how cheap it was. As indigo production became more popular, those plantations that produced both rice and indigo began to acquire more and more slaves, eventually coming to own 30 percent more slaves than those that only sold rice or indigo.[3] By producing both rice and indigo, South Carolina plantation owners adapted to and shaped the changing Atlantic trade economy.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

With the exception of a short verse in the “Poets Corner” in the first column, advertisements filled the entire final page of the April 21, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Some of those notices marketed commodities, such as “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” “SALTS OF LYE,” and “Linseed Oil.” Others offered services, such as “WEBB’S Passage-Boat” that “Continues to ply between New-London and Sterling, as usual.” One offered a reward for the return of an apprentice who ran away from his master. Another reported that twenty-eight hogsheads of rum had been stolen from Nathaniel Shaw’s store and offered a reward for information about the culprits. Several legal notices appeared among these various advertisements, as did an advertisement for a book recently published and for sale by the printer. No classification system aided readers in navigating these advertisements. The compositor arranged them according to where they fit on the page, not by their contents or purpose.

The compositor did not, however, leave readers completely to their own devices. The advertisement for “CHOICE Indian Corn, and INDICO,” immediately below the “Poets Corner” bore the title “ADVERTISEMENTS,” presumably to inform readers that only advertisements appeared throughout the remainder of that issue. Even the placement of that headline did not signal a strict classification system. A paid notice appeared on the previous page. In other issues of the New-London Gazette, the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline also appeared immediately below “Poets Corner” on the final page, even though numerous advertisements ran on the previous page. Such was the case a week earlier in the April 14 edition; the third featured page half a dozen paid notices before readers encountered the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline on the fourth page. Advertisements appeared immediately after the shipping news form the customs house, a visual marker just as reliable for indicating the placement of paid notices as the “ADVERTISEMENTS” headline.

The first advertisement in the final column on the last page of the April 21 edition included an additional headline: “NEW ADVERTISEMENT.” All the others on the page, including those underneath it, ran in one or more previous issues. This headline likely aided readers in identifying new content if they skimmed the paid notices quickly. It was the closest the newspaper came to using a classification system for paid notices, though this classification was not based on the contents of advertisements.

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[1] R.C. Nash, “South Carolina Indigo, European Textiles, and the British Atlantic Economy in the Eighteenth Century,” Economic History Review 63, no. 2 (May 2010): 386.

[2] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 363-4.

[3] Nash, “South Carolina Indigo,” 379.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 20, 1767).

“For further Particulars inquire of EDWARD SPALDING, in Providence.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin in other advertisements) had two purposes when he took an advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1767. First, he wished to sell a farm in Coventry. As long as he was purchasing space in the newspaper, he also opted to promote his business. He reminded readers that he “still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES” at his shop across the street from the printing office. In the past, Spalding advertised fairly regularly. He was one of the first advertisers to insert commercial notices in the Providence Gazette when it resumed publication the previous year. He must have considered it a good return on his investment since he decided to include commercial marketing at the end of his notice concerning real estate.

Spalding’s hybrid advertisement presents a conundrum for conducting any sort of quantitative study of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspapers of the era did not have classifieds. They did not organize advertisements in any particular order or by categories that suggested the general purpose of the notices. Sometimes, as seen here, individual advertisements had multiple purposes. Spalding and the printers of the Providence Gazette did not classify this advertisement. How should historians do so? It would not be appropriate to categorize it solely as a real estate notice or solely as marketing consumer goods and services. More appropriately, it should count as both, but that sort of double counting does not address another issue. Together or separately, both halves of Spalding’s advertisement were relatively short compared to many others for both real estate and consumer goods and services inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. This suggests that tabulating column inches devoted to advertisements (or portions of advertisements) might produce more accurate data for assessing the proliferation of advertising in relation to news and other content as well as comparing the quantity of advertising space utilized for various purposes. This, however, would be extremely labor intensive. It also requires access to the original newspapers rather than digital surrogates. Working with digitized sources allows for examining other sorts of questions concerning advertising in early America.

Earlier in my career I was much more enthusiastic about incorporating quantitative analysis into my study of advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America. Over time, however, I have determined that identifying general trends rather than hard numbers provides a sufficiently accurate portrait of the expansion of advertising in the era that the colonies became a nation.

April 28

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

Apr 28 - 4:28:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (April 28, 1766).

“TAKEN out of the Shop … two Beaver Hatts supposed to be Stolen.”

Advertisements did not always serve a single purpose in the eighteenth century, as we saw last week in a notice that seemed to squeeze two separate advertisements – one for a sloop and the other for an enslaved woman – together into a single square. Neither seemed to be the primary purpose for the advertisement; instead, an auctioneer placed relatively equal emphasis on both sales.

Lazarus LeBaron, however, did have a purpose when he placed his notice. He proclaimed that a thief had stolen “two Beaver Hatts” from his shop and warned readers against “any suspicious Person” selling similar hats. LeBaron was agitated and he wanted justice, offering a reward to “any Person that can give Information so that the Person who took them may be convicted.” His indignation was apparent.

His demeanor in the notice made the nota bene that much more jarring: “Hatts of all Sorts made and Sold at the above Shop.” As long as he was paying for an advertisement in hopes of recovering his stolen goods, LeBaron likely figured that he might as well attempt to attract some business in the bargain. Even if the pilfered hats never turned up, perhaps the nota bene might have yielded new business to offset the loss and the price of the notice. Still, promoting his shop seemed to be an afterthought relative to his crusade to track down “any suspicious Person” who had absconded with his “Beaver Hatts.”

January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:3:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 3, 1766)

“- Who has to Sell all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates.”

At first glance, this does not appear to be an advertisement for consumer goods and services.  A variety of kinds of notices populated the advertising sections of eighteenth-century newspapers, often seemingly placed haphazardly without concerns for classification or categorization.  An advertisement for goods and services might appear above a legal notice, below an advertisement for a runaway wife, to the left of an announcement about a vessel departing port, and to the right of an advertisement to sell or lease property.  Indeed, printers’ practical concerns about fitting columns on a page or using type previously set for advertisements that previously appeared likely played a more significant role in the layout of advertisements than any deliberate effort to place similar items near each other.  Edward Emerson’s advertisement requires careful reading to discover that he sold “all sorts of Grocery’s at the lowest Rates” at all.

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UPDATE:  Emerson W. Baker notes, via Twitter, that “Edward Emerson lived in York, Maine.  His house is now part of the Museums of Old York.”  He also tweeted this image of the Emerson-Wilcox House.

Emerson-Wilcox House
Emerson-Wilcox House, Museums of Old York