November 29

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

New-London Gazette (November 29, 1771).

“He has lately employed a Workman from England.”

As winter approached in 1771, William Hill, a clothier who operated a fulling mill, took to the pages of the New-London Gazette to promote new services available at his shop.  Hill informed readers that he recently hired “a Workman from England” who provided assistance maintaining garments of various sorts.  According to the clothier, his employee “revives scarlets and other Colours when defaced,” restoring textiles after they experienced fading or other damage.  The workman also “takes Spots out of all Kinds of Silks” to make them presentable once again.  In addition, he “colours and presses Silk Gowns, as also all Kinds of Men’s Apparel in the best Manner.”  Hill was not content solely with treating fabrics in advance of making them into clothing; he also sought to generate revenues by offering them options for caring for their garments.  He did not possess the skills to deliver those ancillary services on his own, so he hired someone to work in his shop.

Whether artisans or shopkeepers, most advertisers did not mention those who labored in their shops, though wives, sons, daughters, apprentices, assistants, employees, and enslaved men and women made many and various contributions in all sorts of workplaces in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisements depicted bustling sites of production and commerce, but only testified to a fraction of the workers who interacted with customers or labored behind the scenes.  In most cases, newspaper notices mentioned only the proprietor, often in a larger font that served as a headline.  Such was the case for Joseph Gale, whose advertisement listed an assortment of textiles, housewares, and hardware in stock at his shop in Norwich, but did not mention any family members, employees, or others who served customers.  Those advertisers who did acknowledge others who worked in their shops usually sought to enhance their reputations by calling attention to supplementary services as they expanded their businesses.  Hill made sure that the public knew about the various skills his new employee possessed, but did not mention the contributions of anyone else who might have worked in his clothier’s shop.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 23, 1768).

I have been informed that some of my customers have been displeased.”

Seth Wales had two purposes for placing an advertisement for his “clothier’s business” in the New-London Gazette in September 1768. He promoted the skills of the workman he now employed while simultaneously recanting and correcting an advertisement that appeared in the same newspaper a year earlier.

That advertisement originally ran in the September 11, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. In it, Seth Wales of Norwich and Nathaniel Wales of Windham announced that “every Part and Branch of the Clothier’s Business is carried on” in their towns “under the Direction and Management of one FRANCIS GILDING.” Having recently arrived from London, Gilding was unfamiliar to prospective customers so the Waleses assured them that he is “thoroughly skilled in the Art of a Scowerer and Dyer, and can imitate or strike any Colours (that are dyed in the English Nation).” The advertisement continued to extol Gilding’s skills and abilities at some length, adopting a marketing strategy frequently adopted by artisans in newspapers published throughout the colonies.

Seth Wales ultimately found himself dissatisfied with Gilding’s “Direction and Management” of the business. In an advertisement that first appeared in the September 16 (misdated 15), 1768, issue he implied that Gilding had placed the previous notice. Although Wales did not take responsibility for misleading the public about Gilding’s work, he did acknowledge that he had been “informed that some of my customers have been displeased with some of their work done at my mill.” He indicated that those customers had responded to “Gilding’s pretences” in the earlier notice, but that he had “found by experience he no ways answers to said advertisement.” Wales then savaged Gilding’s skills before declaring that he had “dismissed him.”

In the wake of Gilding’s termination, Wales hired a new “workman at the clothier’s business, that served an apprenticeship at said trade in Europe, and understands every branch of the business.” This new employee had been on the job for six months, sufficient time for Wales to confidently exclaim that his work “shall be done this year much better than it was last.” Perhaps Wales had learned a lesson about advertising the skills of an employee too soon. The trial period gave him better opportunity to assess for himself the abilities of his “present workman” before making promises in advertisements and then finding himself in the position of retracting them.

For his part, Gilding was not pleased with how Wales portrayed him. The following week he placed his own advertisement, which appeared immediately below the second insertion of Wales’s notice. He lamented that he had been “greatly Abused and Injured in my Reputation.” He considered the entire advertisement “a Piece of Malice and Detraction.” He then explained that any shortcomings in his work should be attributed to Wales for not providing proper supplies for the dyeing business. Furthermore, Gilding asserted that Wales attempted to hire him for an additional year. Gilding quit, despite Wales pretending otherwise. Finally, Gilding reported that his former employer and “the Workman he pretends to have had Six Months experience of” had parted ways, once again due to difficulties caused by Wales.

Artisans of various sorts often used newspaper advertisements to promote their skills and training in eighteenth-century America. In this incident, Wales and Gilding did that and more. Each turned to the public prints to defend their own reputation, inserting advertisements that constructed competing narratives. Airing their dirty laundry presented risks, but calculated that the rewards of presenting their own side of the dispute would result in rewards if prospective customers believed their version of events.

March 24

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

Mar 24 - 3:24:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (March 24, 1768).

“Work will be taken in either at said Shop, or by Edward Wentworth, at Milton Bridge.”

In the early spring on 1768, Theophilus Chamberlain, a clothier, turned to the public prints to announce that he “HAS opened Shop near the Sign of the White-Horse in BOSTON.” Like many other artisans in the garment trades, he promoted both his skill and his prices, pledging that he did “the Clothier’s Business in the best and cheapest Manner.” Perhaps realizing that this did not sufficiently distinguish him from his competitors, Chamberlain supplemented those appeals by offering prospective customers a choice for dropping off and picking up textiles and garments. In a nota bene, he advised that “Work will be taken in either at said Shop, or by Edward Wentworth, at Milton Bridge; and may be had again at either Place as the Owner may choose.” By extending these options, the clothier marketed convenience to his clients. He acknowledged that his location might be attractive to some, but out of the way for others. In an effort to increase his clientele he made arrangements to serve them at two locations.

The typography of the advertisement highlighted the additional appeal made in the nota bene, placing special emphasis on the convenience that Chamberlain provided that his competitors did not. While the graphic design of the advertisement – indenting the entire nota bene so the additional white space on a page of dense text drew more attention to it – likely drew more eyes, it does not appear that Chamberlain made particular arrangements concerning the format of the advertisement. The advertisement immediately below it also featured a short nota bene and identical decisions concerning the layout.

Chamberlain carefully crafted the copy for his advertisement to entice readers of the Massachusetts Gazette to hire him to dress their textiles and garments, finishing them so as to give a nap, smooth surface, or gloss, depending on the fabric. He underscored price, his skill, and, especially, the convenience of multiple locations. Fortuitously for Chamberlain, the typography of the advertisement amplified the most unique of his appeals. Some of the innovation of his advertisement was intentional, but other aspects that also worked to his benefit seem to have been merely circumstantial since they depended on decisions made by the compositor independently of the advertiser.