July 16

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

Essex Gazette (July 16, 1771).

“He has got two Sorts of Chairs made by him which are called as neat as any that are made in Boston.”

When Joseph P. Goodwin set up shop in Salem in the summer of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette“to inform all Gentlemen and others” that he “makes the best Sort of Mahogany Chairs, Couches and easy Chairs, Sofa’s, and any Thing in the Chair-making Business.”  To attract customers, especially those not yet familiar with his work, he deployed some of the appeals early American artisans most commonly incorporated into their newspaper advertisements.  “All Gentlemen and others that will favour him their Custom,” Goodwin proclaimed, “may depend upon having Work done in the neatest Manner.”  Such an assertion had multiple purposes, evoking both the quality of the chairs and other furniture and the skill of the chairmaker.  In addition, Goodwin promised good customer service, declaring that he attended to clients “with Fidelity and Dispatch.”

In addition to those standard appeals, Goodwin devoted a nota bene to favorable comparisons between the chairs he produced and those from workshops in Boston.  That he made his furniture from mahogany already testified to his understanding of quality and fashion in the eighteenth-century marketplace, but Goodwin embellished his advertisement with additional details.  He trumpeted that “Chairs made by him … are called as neat as any that are made in Boston.”  He did not, however, indicate who made that assessment, whether it was a pronouncement he made on his own or a recommendation made by former customers or others.  The wording suggested that others bestowed that designation on Goodwin’s chairs, but he did not offer further elaboration.  He may have considered it unnecessary, believing that his confidence in making such a statement would entice prospective customers to visit his shop to see his chairs and other furniture for themselves.  Like many merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who advertised in the Essex Gazette, Goodwin refused to allow competitors in Boston to overshadow his workshop in Salem.  Boston was the bigger port, but that did not necessarily mean better merchandise than readers of the Essex Gazette could find in local stores and workshops.

May 8

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

May 8 - 5:8:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 8, 1767).

“As neat as any in Boston.”

John Edwards, a “BOOKBINDER and STATIONER from BOSTON,” sold a variety of books as well as writing supplies at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Edwards did not describe himself as a bookseller, even though he devoted approximately half of his advertisement to listing some of the titles he carried. Throughout the eighteenth century members of the book trades often specialized in one trade yet supplemented their incomes by taking on some responsibilities more closely associated with other aspects of book production and distribution. Both printers and bookbinders, for instance, commonly sold books that they had not printed or bound.

By trade and training, Edwards may have considered himself first and foremost a bookbinder, taking pride in the unique skills mastered in that occupation. Yet the demand for bookbinding services in the town of Portsmouth likely made it impossible to earn his living solely from that trade. Considering that Edwards had relocated from Boston at some point, competition among bookbinders for the business of a finite number of potential customers, even in that bustling port, may have prompted him to seek out other opportunities in the neighboring colony. Fewer bookbinders resided in Portsmouth, but so did fewer potential customers. In the face of less demand for the services of bookbinders, Edwards sold consumer goods related to his trade – books and writing materials – to generate additional revenues. He likely bound some of his imported books to the taste and budget of those who purchased them.

Edwards attempted to mobilize his Boston origins to his advantage. He proclaimed that he bound “all sorts of Books” and made “Account Books of any size, as neat as any in Boston.” Having lived and worked in that city, Edwards was qualified to testify to the quality of the bookbinding done there and assess his own work in comparison. He pledged to potential customers that his work was comparable to what they would find in a larger and more distinguished market, assuring them that its quality was comparable to what they would find in the urban center that most immediately commanded their attention when making comparisons. Similarly, advertisers in Boston favorably compared their wares and workmanship to what was produced in London. Colonists looked to the next larger market for validation as they shaped their own practices of consumption.