August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 4, 1769).

“Good Work … equal to any in Boston.”

The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century extended far beyond major metropolitan centers like London and into the provinces, both the English provinces and the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. For colonists, participating in consumer culture became part of their identity and a marker of their membership in the vast British Empire. For many, acquiring goods also testified to their status. This sometimes prompted both anxiety and competition among consumers … and advertisers cultivated both for their own purposes. Some deployed an eighteenth-century version of “keeping up with the Joneses” to stimulate demand in their goods and services.

Consider the advertisement John Smith and Company placed in the August 4, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Smith and Company introduced themselves as “Peruke-Makers and Hair-Dressers for Gentlemen and Ladies,” but before they specified their occupation they first proclaimed that they were “From BOSTON.” This inverted the usual order of information that commonly appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements. Most advertisers listed their occupation first and their place of origin or site of significant employment second, but Smith and Company made certain that their affiliation with Boston, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New England, foregrounded everything else in their advertisement.

Smith and Company had recently opened a new shop at Norwich Landing, a much smaller town than the busy port of Boston. Despite the relatively bucolic setting, Smith and Company’s prospective clients could depend on “having good Work … equal to any in Boston.” This “good Work” presumably applied not only to the quality of the goods and services available from Smith and Company but also to the assistance they provided clients in demonstrating taste through adopting the latest styles, an important aspect of making wigs and dressing hair. Smith and Company encouraged readers of the New-London Gazette to consider current fashions and the services provided by wigmakers and hairdressers in Boston even though they lived at a distance from that busy port, much the same way that their counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia urged their prospective customers to look to London or Paris and promised to deliver the current styles from those places. No matter where consumers resided, according to advertisements in colonial newspapers, purveyors of goods and services could help them achieve the fashions currently en vogue in places they considered one rung up the cosmopolitan ladder.

January 23

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

Jan 23 - 1:23:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 23, 1768).

“Three very compleat Stage-Boats, for the Carriage of GOODS and PASSENGERS.”

In the late 1760s, Thomas Lindsey and Benjamin Lindsey frequently advertised their ferry service or “STAGE-BOATS from Providence to Newport” in the Providence Gazette, sometimes directly competing with advertisements inserted by Joshua Hacker. That competition may have inspired the Lindseys to provide additional services and market them in their notices aimed at potential customers. In November 1767, Hacker had upstaged them when he published a list of prices and promoted several services he provided gratis, including storage of goods at his warehouse until they were ready for shipment. The Lindseys’ advertisement that ran at the same time much more briefly promised “excellent Accommodations for Passengers.”

In their subsequent advertisement, however, the Lindseys elaborated on the sort of experience travelers could expect on their “very compleat Stage-Boats.” As a convenience for their passengers, they “supply their Boats with Provisions and Liquors of all Kinds” to make the journey more enjoyable. Furthermore, they also pledged that “Passengers will be treated in the most genteel Manner.” In addition, the Lindseys augmented their schedule, sailing between Providence and Newport “every Day” instead of “twice a Week” as they had done just a couple of months earlier. In that regard, they now matched Hacker’s itinerary, making their schedule just as convenient for prospective clients. For customers who wished to ship commodities, they now offered “a convenient Store for the Reception of Goods, with Conveniences for weighing the same, at Arnold’s Wharff.” Again, their services matched those Hacker previously outlined in his advertisement.

The differences between the Lindseys’ advertisements published in November 1767 and January 1768 suggest that they determined that they needed to augment their services if they wanted to compete with Hacker. Yet improving their services was not sufficient: they also needed to market them in the public prints lest Hacker become the preferred carrier of passengers and goods between the two ports by default. They did not want potential clients to gain the impression Hacker offered superior services based on the more extensive advertising campaign he previously launched. The Lindseys may have considered their expanded services and expanded advertisement necessary to maintain and improve their position in the marketplace, especially if they felt they previously had been at a deficit that resulted from Hacker besting their advertisements with his own.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 25, 1767).

“Advertisements omitted this Week, for want of Room, will be inserted in our next.”

Sarah Goddard and Company, the publishers of the Providence Gazette, apparently received more advertisements than space permitted them to insert in the July 25, 1767, edition. As a result, they included a notice frequently seen in rival newspapers in other cities: “Advertisement omitted this Week, for want of Room, will be inserted in our next.” This signaled to readers that they would discover new material in the next issue, but it also communicated to advertisers not to fret when they did not spot their notice in the current issue.

Space was indeed at a premium in that edition of the Providence Gazette. Advertising filled nearly five of the twelve columns (including the entire final page), which was quite a change from the scarcity of advertising that plagued Goddard and Company the previous winter. The printers no longer resorted to filling the last page with their own advertisements (although one short notice did inform readers that “THE new Digest of the LAWS of this Colony, printed in One Volume, are to be sold at the Printing-Office in Providence”). Instead, they printed advertisements of various sorts, including legal notices, real estate pitches, and one seeking the capture and return of “a Negro Man named Caesar.” The majority of advertisements, however, promoted consumer goods and services. William Logan announced that he “now carries on the Painting Business in all its Branches.” Thomas Sabin advertised his stagecoach service to Boston (also advertised in Boston’s newspapers) and Ebenezer Webb advertised his “Passage-Boat” between New London and Long Island (also advertised in the New-London Gazette). Several merchants and shopkeepers – Black and Stewart, William Brown, James Green, John Mathewson, Philip Potter, Benjamin West – sought to attract customers.

What accounted for this spirit of competition in the public prints that had been absent during the winter months? Why did Goddard and Company now have more advertisements than they squeeze into the weekly issue of the Providence Gazette? Did other marketing efforts beget more advertising? In recent weeks, several advertisers made bolder claims (such as James Green proclaiming that “he will sell as cheap as can be bought in any Shop in this Town, or an of the neighbouring Governments”), became rancorous (such as Black and Stewart lamenting “the Knavery of some, and the Collusion of others” to their detriment), and singled out specific competitors (such as Philip Potter pledging “he will sell as Cheap as the Messrs. Thurbers”).   A combination of increasingly vocal marketing efforts in the pages of the local newspaper and concurrent events revived the advertising section of the Providence Gazette in the summer of 1767.

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:29:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 29, 1767).

Cheaper for Cash than can be had at Capt. Nathl. Backus’s, or any Store in Norwich.”

Ebenezer Coburn sold “All Sorts of Iron-Mongery, and Cutlery Ware … at his Shop … at the Sign of the Black Horse, at Norwich-Landing” in Connecticut. In marketing his wares, he resorted to one of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, low prices, promising that customers could purchase his merchandise “cheaper for Cash” from him than from “any store in Norwich.” Merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies frequently made similar claims. Many simply stated that they had low prices, but others specified that they offered the best prices in town and would not be undersold by any of their competitors. A few even boasted that they offered the lowest prices in the entire colony or the region, especially in New England.

In that regard, Coburn’s notice replicated standard advertising practices. Yet he deviated from most other advertisements in one significant way: he named one of his competitors and explicitly stated that his prices were lower. Before even mentioning other shops in Norwich, Coburn singled out Captain Nathaniel Backus. In their advertisements, most shopkeepers either graciously pretended that their competitors did not exist or politely acknowledged them by indicating that their own shop had the best prices. Coburn, on the other hand, fired a shot in a price war with Backus, challenging consumers to take special note of what the captain charged for his wares.

Why did Coburn take aim at Backus in particular? Was the captain the most prominent trader in Norwich and thus Coburn’s most significant competitor? Had Backus established a reputation for especially low prices that Coburn hoped to turn to his advantage? Did some sort of personal, rather than professional, animosity exist between Coburn and Backus? The captain was a man of some prominence in Norwich, a descendent of the founders of the town and one of only six men who owned his own carriage prior to the Revolution. He exercised some clout in the local marketplace.

Something happened relatively recently that caused Coburn to compare their prices. Two weeks earlier he had published a nearly identical advertisement in the New-London Gazette; it did not mention Backus or that Coburn sold “by Wholesale or Retail.” Given the number of vessels that had “Entered In” according to the recent shipping news, Backus very well may have recently received a large shipment of imported goods, enough to seemingly flood the local market in Norwich. By naming Backus in particular, Coburn may have been trying to gain ground on his most prominent and most significant competitor, one who commanded the attention of local consumers even without advertising in the New-London Gazette.

November 24

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Keane

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

Supplement to the Boston Evening-Post (November 24, 1766).

“A general assortment of GOODS, suitable for the Season.”

In this advertisement Baker and Bridgham marketed imported goods “suitable for the Season.” They sold a wide variety of fabrics and accessories that appealed to men, women, and children. They also had a lot of competition for the goods they sold. There were at least ten other advertisements that were almost the same in that newspaper. Other stores sold nearly the same products.

Compared to local shopkeepers in small towns, Baker and Bridgham had it much tougher. Those local stores were better known to residents. One online encyclopedia states, “Country storekeepers became important figures in their communities because they were the primary source for goods and information about the outside world.” Compared to country shopkeepers, Baker and Bridgham had to constantly advertise themselves, because in the cities colonists did not always know all the shops. Country shopkeepers did not have as much competition as Baker and Bridgham and other shopkeepers in Boston did.



As Patrick asserts, Baker and Bridgham certainly faced competition for customers from other merchants and shopkeepers in Boston. I would like to build on the work that Patrick has already done by providing a complete census of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services in Boston on November 24, 1766, in order to underscore Patrick’s main argument. (Note: I have tabulated only the advertisements for consumer goods and services. Other sorts of advertising, such as ships departing and legal notices, appeared alongside them).

Boston Post-Boy (November 24, 1766).

In addition to its regular four-page issue, the Boston Evening-Post published a two-page supplement on November 24. As was often the case in such instance, about half of the supplement consisted of news and the other half of advertising. Overall, ten advertisements for consumer goods and services appeared in the regular issue and another thirteen, including Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement, in the supplement. T. and J. Fleet printed twenty-three newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services that week.

Massachusetts Gazette (November 20, 1766).

Yet the story does not end there. Four newspapers were printed in Boston in 1766. Two others, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy, were published on the same day as the Boston Evening-Post. Turning to them yields another ten advertisements for consumer goods and services in the Boston-Gazette and sixteen more in its supplement, as well as fourteen additional advertisements in the Boston Post-Boy. (The Boston Post-Boy had an abbreviated version of Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement.) That amounts to another forty advertisements, twenty-six in the Boston-Gazette and fourteen in the Boston Post-Boy. Although three of Boston’s newspapers were distributed on Mondays, the Massachusetts Gazette found its ways to readers on Thursdays. Its most recent issue from November 20 included twenty-three advertisements for consumer goods and services in the regular issue and another four in an extraordinary, for a total of twenty-seven. (The Massachusetts Gazette featured Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement in its entirety.)

This means that residents of Boston had access to ninety newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services recently printed in local newspapers at the time that Baker and Bridgham’s advertisement appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on November 24, 1766. In contrast, many of the newspapers from smaller towns ran just a handful of advertisements by shopkeepers and merchants promoting imported wares and other consumer goods and services. Competition for customers in urban ports certainly made advertising seem like a necessity to shopkeepers like Baker and Bridgham.

Even as American celebrate Thanksgiving today, many will already be thinking of the holiday season and the rampant consumption that accompanies it. Today’s holiday will be immediately followed by “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” Critics will inevitably lament the rise of consumerism in America. The newspapers published 250 years ago today, however, suggest that a vibrant consumer culture has been a central part of American life since before the Revolution.

October 2

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

Massachusetts Gazette (October 2, 1766).

“Just Published … The Examination of Doctor BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, before an AUGUST ASSEMBLY.”

In the eighteenth century and today, most people agree that Benjamin Franklin significantly influenced colonial American politics and commerce. Some count him as an honored founding father, but if you ask my seven-year-old nephew he’ll declare that Franklin was his favorite president (despite my repeated attempts to tell him that, no, Mr. (or Dr.) Franklin was in fact not a president). Franklin made many contributions to early America history and life.

One of his most significant contributions was his delegation to England on behalf of Pennsylvania and other colonies. On February 13, 1766, he testified before Parliament about repealing the Stamp Act. On March 18, 1766, Parliament did in fact repeal the Stamp Act, although on that same day they voted in the Declaratory Act. News of the repeal reached the colonies around six weeks later, around the start of May.

As I was reading this advertisement I wondered, “Why would this be an August Assembly?” I found myself needing to know more, and went to J.L. Bell’s blog, Boston 1775. There I learned that Parliament’s proceedings were very secretive. Actions that Parliament took were made public, but the debates and arguments were private. Speaking about conversations held within either of the two houses was considered a breach of privilege and punishable by both houses.

To protect Franklin, his previous printing partner (and now owner of the Pennsylvania Gazette), David Hall changed the story. By saying that Franklin simply had spoken at an “August Assembly,” Franklin and Hall were attempting to get around the legality of publishing Franklin’s “Examination,” which discussed the flow of the questions and testimony and even recalled some speakers in Parliament by name. Publishing the testimony was a big deal, not only because many times colonists heard news months later, but also because this kept them better informed about Parliament, which met very far away from them.



Elizabeth introduces the curious history of “The Examination of Doctor BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, before an AUGUST ASSEMBLY, relating to the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” The colonists were certainly hungry for information, which meant that advertisements for this pamphlet did not have to offer much in the way of marketing other than announcing that it was “Just Published … And Sold” by local printers and booksellers.

Indeed, members of the book trades in multiple cities produced, distributed, and sold pamphlets about Franklin’s testimony before “an AUGUST ASSEMBLY.” The American Antiquarian Society’s catalog indicates that at least five editions were printed in British mainland North America in 1766. As Elizabeth indicates, the original edition came off the presses of Hall and Sellers in Philadelphia, but that did not prevent other printers from producing their own editions. In each instance, politics and profit overlapped as printers and booksellers simultaneously sought to keep colonists informed about what was taking place in Parliament and generate revenues for themselves in the process.

Still, even with the subterfuge involved in allusions to “an AUGUST ASSEMBLY,” printers took on some risk when they decided to reprint their own copies of this pamphlet. The edition printed in New York did not list a printer, though bibliographers have associated James Parker with this imprint. An edition from New England listed neither printer nor city, but book historians believe Edes and Gill, printers of the Boston-Gazette, produced it. The title page of an edition from Virginia stated that it had been “Printed and sold by William Rind, opposite the Capitol” in Williamsburg. Back in Philadelphia, Heinrich Miller printed a German translation, which should come as little surprise considering the large population of German settlers in Pennsylvania. Timothy Green did not bother with printing another separate edition in Connecticut; instead, he reprinted the pamphlet in the New-London Gazette, beginning with the October 10, 1766, issue. In addition to being a treat for his readers and keeping them better informed, this stunt may have attracted new subscribers.

Today’s advertisement suggests that politics and a desire to keep colonists informed of Parliament’s machinations sometimes trumped competition among colonial printers. Note that the pamphlet was sold by “T. and J. Fleet, at the Heart & Crown in Cornhill,” yet the advertisement appeared in a newspaper “PUBLISHED by RICHARD DRAPERS, Printer to the Governor and Council, and by SAMUEL DRAPER, At their Printing Office in Newbury-Street.” In other words, the printers of Boston Evening-Post stocked and sold a pamphlet most likely produced by the printers of the Boston-Gazette and placed advertisements for it in the Massachusetts Gazette. This suggests cooperation and coordination rather than competition among the printers in Boston, all of whom faced a challenge to their livelihoods when the Stamp Act was in force.

August 7

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

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).

“HAVING lately seen and advertisement … which not only aims at discrediting certain Anchors …”

William Hawxhurst of New York placed an extensive advertisement in response to the charges Daniel Offley made about the anchors sold in Philadelphia in an equally extensive advertisement that appeared in an earlier issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.

Hawxhurst reiterated some of the claims Offley made and then set about dismantling them via a point-by-point rebuttal. He did so not only to defend his own reputation and the quality of the product he sold, but also as “a piece of justice I owe to the public.” Potential customers, Hawxhurst asserted, would benefit once he set the record straight; they deserved to be as well-informed as possible by the producers and suppliers of the goods they contemplated purchasing.

Hawxhurst addressed the process of making anchors, especially forging the necessary iron, in some detail, perhaps exceeding the technical knowledge of most readers of the Pennsylvania Journal (but maybe not that of those most likely to purchase anchors). On the other hand, he then mobilized appeals that any reader would understand.

Rather than choose between “assertions” made by either advertiser, Hawxhurst preferred “to appeal to experience, as a more satisfactory voucher to the public.” To that he end, he proclaimed, “Certain it is, that my iron has gained a high reputation for its purity, both in England and America.” Furthermore, the smith who made Hawxhurst’s iron into anchors had been at the trade longer than Offley. Experience mattered. In addition, Hawxhurst’s ironworks had “furnished anchors for sale at Boston, New-Hampshire, Bermuda, South-Carolina, Virginia, and Jamaica” in addition to New York. Furthermore, he had received no complaints but instead had “heard much of their goodness and superior excellency.” Finally, Hawxhurst had always offered the same sorts of guarantees that Offley promoted, so customers would not gain any advantage by purchasing from them.

Offley had publicly stated that he would refuse to repair any anchors purchased from competitors. Hawxhurst made it clear what he thought of that ploy: “I give the public assurance, that in case of any such accident, my friend in Philadelphia, has orders upon the return of the anchors so failing, or such part of it as remains, to supply another in its stead; so that Mr. Offley may not only be saved the trouble of amending them, but deprived of the pleasure of refusing it.”

Hawxhurst stated that he had “no design to injure” Offley, but found it necessary to “remove the objections and difficulties, which [Offley] has thrown out, with more art, perhaps, than truth.” Both his reputation and his business were at stake, warranting a response that filled approximately two-thirds of a column. Most eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their own products without mentioning competitors, but occasionally some advanced their own businesses by disparaging others.

BONUS: Daniel Offley published a response of a similar length. In the August 7, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, Offley’s advertisement appeared on the first page and Hawxhurst’s on the final page.

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Offley Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:13:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

“The unwary purchaser may make use of this to prevent their being taken in.”

Throughout the eighteenth century many advertisers emphasized their own virtues, especially their good character. As urban centers increased in size, residents did not necessarily always know all the merchants and retailers who lived in their area. In addition, mobility and migration were common. People were constantly coming and going in colonial America: arriving from Europe, moving from colony to colony, seeking new opportunities wherever they could find them. Many commercial exchanges began with the parties not knowing each other. Accordingly, advertisers frequently assured potential customers of their good character.

This anonymously placed advertisement, on the other hand, warned readers of the Virginia Gazette against trusting Robert Bolling. Less than two weeks earlier “an examination of the weights at Robert Bolling’s warehouse” were “found to have lost, from 2 and half per cent. to 5 per cent. or more.” Bolling, “the designing seller” was cheating his customers.

Maintaining a good reputation played an important role in inaugurating and continuing commercial exchanges in eighteenth-century America. According to this advertisement, Bolling had taken advantage of “unwary purchaser[s]” who bought tobacco at his warehouse, calling his character into question.

Had Bolling intentionally adjusted the weights? Was he even aware that they were off? The advertisements suggest that was the case by describing him as a “designing seller.” However, it’s also possible that a competitor, disgruntled employee, or unhappy customer placed this advertisement as a means of undermining Bolling’s reputation, though it seems that “the designing seller” might have tracked down the author of this advertisement fairly easily with a visit or letter to the printer of the Virginia Gazette.

Jun 15 - 6:13:1766 response Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

At any rate, Bolling seems to have offered a response that suggested the original advertisement was nothing more than subterfuge designed by competitors who had “a great many ships to load” and wanted to prevent planters from selling their tobacco through Bolling’s warehouse. Empty or partially loaded ships diminished revenues. This advertisement suggested that the accusations against Bolling were nothing more than an attempt to direct business to another warehouse.

This was not the first time that commercial rivalries found voice in newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, nor would it be the last.