January 26

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

Connecticut Courant (January 26, 1773).

“WATCHES … every Particular in repairing at HALF PRICE.”

For the past four years the Adverts 250 Project has traced newspaper advertisements placed by watchmaker John Simnet, first in Portsmouth in the New-Hampshire Gazette for a year and a half in 1769 and early 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York.  In both locations, the cantankerous artisan engaged in public feuds with his competitors and sometimes ran notices that mocked and denigrated them.

At the end of January 1773, Simnet decided to insert an advertisement for his shop in New York in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford.  That put him in competition with Thomas Hilldrup, who had been advertising in the Connecticut Courant for months, Enos Doolittle, who had been advertising in that newspaper for six weeks, and other watchmakers in Hartford and other towns in Connecticut.  It was an unusual choice for an artisan in New York to extend their advertising efforts to newspapers in neighboring colonies, especially when they had the option to run notices in multiple newspapers in New York.  Did Simnet believe that he would gain clients in Hartford?  Perhaps he thought his promotions – “every Particular in repairing at HALF PRICE” and “no future Expence, either for cleaning or mending” – would indeed convince faraway readers to send their watches to him when they needed maintenance.

New-York Journal (January 21, 1773).

Even if those offers caught the attention of prospective customers in Connecticut, the final lines of Simnet’s advertisement likely confused them.  The advertisement previously ran in the New-York Journal for eight weeks, starting on December 3, 1772.  In the most recent edition, published on January 21, 1773, Simnet added a short poem that addressed “Rhyming Pivot, of York, / With Head, light as Cork.”  The “Rhyming Pivot” may have been Isaac Heron, a nearby neighbor and competitor, who included short verses in his advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for several weeks, starting on December 24.  At the conclusion of Heron’s notice, he asked “brethren of the Pivot,” fellow watchmakers, to confiscate certain watches that had gone missing from his shop if clients brought them to their shops “for repair or sale.”  Simnet, easily agitated, apparently did not like that another watchmaker dared to try to generate business via notices in the public prints.  He responded with his own poem that described his competitor’s merit as “a Joke or a Song” and declared that he belonged on Grub Street in London, known for authors who often lacked talent and the printers and booksellers who peddled works of dubious quality.

The poem may have resonated with readers of the New-York Journal who were familiar with Heron’s advertisement (and may have also witnessed Simnet’s feud with James Yeoman several months earlier), but readers of the Connecticut Courant had no context for understanding it.  Why did Simnet choose to have his updated advertisement reproduced in its entirety rather than the original version, without the poem, that ran for so many weeks in New York.  The ornery watchmaker was usually very calculated in his decisions about marketing.  What made him decide that advertising in the Connecticut Courant was a good investment?  Even if he considered it worth the costs, why did he include a poem that would have confounded prospective clients?

December 22

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

Connecticut Courant (December 22, 1772).

“WATCHES … Advice to those who are about to buy, sell or exchange.”

When Thomas Hilldrup arrived in Hartford in the fall of 1772, he commenced an advertising campaign in hopes to introduce himself to prospective customers who needed their watches repaired.  He first advertised in the September 15 edition of the Connecticut Courant.  That notice ran for three weeks.  On October 13, he published a slightly revised advertisement, one that appeared in every issue, except November 10, throughout the remainder of the year.  Although many advertisers ran notices for only three or four weeks, the standard minimum duration in the fee structures devised by printers, Hilldrup had good reason to repeat his advertisement for months.  He intended to remain in Hartford “if health permit[s], and the business answers.”  If he could not attract enough customers to make a living, then he would move on to another town.

Hoping to remain in Hartford, he asked prospective customers “to make a trial of his abilities” to see for themselves how well he repaired watches.  Satisfied customers would boost his reputation in the local market, but generating word-of-mouth recommendations would take some time.  For the moment, he relied on giving his credentials, a strategy often adopted by artisans, including watchmakers, who migrated from England.  Hilldrup asserted that he “was regularly bred” or trained “to the [watch] finishing branch in London.”  Accordingly, he had the skills “to merit [prospective customers’] favors” or business, aided by his “strict probity, and constant diligence.”  In addition, Hilldrup offered ancillary services in hopes of drawing customers into his shop.  He sold silver watches, steel chains, watch keys, and other merchandise.  He also provided “advice to those who are about to buy, sell or exchange” watches, giving expert guidance based on his professional experience.  Hilldrup concluded his advertisement with an offer that he likely hoped prospective customers would find too good to dismiss.  He stated that he did “any other jobbs that take up but little time gratis.”  Doing small jobs for free allowed the watchmaker to cultivate relationships with customers who might then feel inclined or even obligated to spend more money in his shop.

By running an advertisement with the headline “WATCHES” in a large font larger than the size of the title of the newspaper in the masthead, Hilldrup aimed to make his new enterprise visible to prospective customers in and near Hartford.  He included several standard appeals, such as promising low prices and noting his training in London, while also promoting ancillary services to convince readers to give him a chance.

December 15

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

Connecticut Courant (December 15, 1772).

“The Printer is sensible that the Courant is very badly printed.”

Throughout the colonies, printers had difficulties getting subscribers to pay for their newspapers.  They regularly inserted notices calling on subscribers to settle accounts, especially when one year ended and another began.  Such was the case when Ebenezer Watson ran a notice in the December 15, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  He asserted that for most of his customers “the Year … terminates with this Day’s Publication (No. 416).”  That made it a good time for him to “return his sincere Thanks to all those Gentlemen who have not only been his Customers a Number of Years, but who have been very punctual” in paying for their subscriptions.  The printer requested that those who had been punctual continue to pay their bills in a timely fashion because “it is by their kind Assistance that he has been enabled to continue his Business to this Time.”  Watson depended on them for the “Continuance” of the Connecticut Courant.

He also addressed those who still owed for their subscriptions, declaring that he “takes the Liberty, ONCE MORE! To ask all those indebted to him, whose Accounts are of a Number of Years standing, whether they don’t think it REASONABLE that he should NOW, call upon them for PAYMENT.”  With a bit of exasperation, Watson underscored that his subscribers had a responsibility to settle accounts since he had made the request so often.  With a bit of sarcasm, he advised that “If they think the Request UNREASONABLE, after having been waited upon such a Length of Time, they are hereby inform’d that they are at Liberty to take their own Time.”  Unlike other printers, Watson did not threaten legal action.  Instead, he sought to shame delinquent subscribers into paying, suggesting that none of them could really consider his request unreasonable given the amount of time that Watson supplied them with newspapers.

The printer then made a curious admission in a nota bene.  He stated that he was “sensible that the Courant is very badly printed.”  Furthermore, he acknowledged that “the Complaints of his Customers on that Account are very just.”  Such critiques applied to the material quality of the newspapers produced in Watson’s printing office, but not to the quality of the news that he collated and disseminated to readers.  Those complaints also did not justify withholding payment.  Indeed, if subscribers wished to see an improvement in the quality of the printing then they needed to send their payments.  Watson explained that “his Types are worn out” and he could not “procure new ones” without “a large Sum of Money.”  That being the case, “an immediate Settlement is the only effectual Plan to be adopted to replenish the Office with a new Set of Printing Materials.”  That was a different strategy than most printers deployed when they called on subscribers and others to settle accounts.  Watson sought to negotiate with his customers by promising that the quality of the newspaper would improve but only if they fulfilled their half of the bargain by making payments that he would then use to purchase new type.  The printer gambled that a carrot, the promise of new types, would be more effective than a stick, threatening legal action, in convincing recalcitrant customers to pay their overdue accounts.

September 8

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

Connecticut Courant (September 8, 1772).

“Invite all Captains of Vessels (especially from Connecticut) and Sailors.”

After moving from Stamford, Connecticut, to New York, Foster Lewis kept residents of his former home apprised of his new endeavors.  On September 8, 1772, he inserted an advertisement in the Connecticut Courant to inform readers in Hartford and other towns that he “has opened a public house near Burling-Slip, known by the name of the New England Tavern.”  He promised prospective patrons that if “they give him their Custom … they may depend upon being handsomely used.”  In other words, Lewis made hospitality a priority at the New England Tavern.  He also noted that he “provides good Stabling for Horses” for patrons who arrived in New York by land rather than by sea.

Given the tavern’s location near the waterfront in New York, Lewis addressed his advertisement to mariners, both “Captains of Vessels (especially from Connecticut) and Sailors.”  He hoped to cultivate a sense of community among customers with connections to Connecticut as well as give them an additional reason to choose his tavern over others.  In highlighting his own origins in the neighboring colony, Lewis likely intended to suggest that he exerted even greater effort in making mariners and travelers from New England, especially Connecticut, feel welcome and comfortable in his establishment.  After all, the name of the public house, the New England Tavern, testified to the character of its proprietor and patrons.

Although Lewis no longer lived and worked in Connecticut, he sought to capitalize on identifying with that colony in the advertisement he placed in the Connecticut Courant.  Rather than being treated as strangers and run-of-the-mill customers, patrons who hailed from Connecticut could expect enthusiastic service grounded in their shared connections to that colony.  Lewis apparently suspected that this marketing strategy would resonate with colonizers in Connecticut, making the effort to place his notice in a newspaper published there rather than opting for any of the newspapers published in New York.  Some readers and prospective patrons may even have known Lewis, prompting them to expect a friendly and familiar face if they visited the New England Tavern.

August 25

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

Connecticut Courant (August 25, 1772).

“WINES.”

William Ellery stocked a variety of wares, but emphasized “WINES” in his advertisement in the August 25, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Many purveyors of goods and services used their names as the sole or primary headline in their newspaper advertisements, but Ellery opted to open his advertisement with a segment of his merchandise that he thought would attract attention.  The headline, “WINES,” appeared in a large font, followed by a list of “CHOICE Old Madeira, Claret, Teneriff and Mountain, Malaga WINES.”  Only after that preview did Ellery give his name and location as a secondary headline before providing a more extensive account of beer, spirits, and groceries.  In contrast, an advertisement in the next column featured a more familiar headline, “Imported from LONDON, and to be sold by Stephen Mears, Opposite the North Meeting House in Hartford,” with “Stephen Mears” centered and in a larger font.

Ellery used graphic design to his advantage elsewhere in his advertisement as well.  The “N.B.” that marked the nota bene that followed his list of merchandise appeared in an even larger font than “WINES,” as did the “M” in “MR. ELLERY.”  Even if readers skimmed over “Bristol Beer, and Dorchester Ale, by the Cask, or Dozen Bottles” and “Coffee by the Bag or single Pound,” the large letters guided them to a message from the merchant.  He expressed “his Thanks to those People who have heretofore favour’d him with their Custom” and invited them to continue to “favour him with their Custom.”  Ellery deployed two of the most popular marketing appeals of the period, choice and price, proclaiming that he “his Shop is fuller sorted than ever, as he has just received a large Supply of the above Articles, and flatters himself he cans sell so low as to give intire satisfaction” to his customers.  In contrast, other advertisers tended to position such notes below the headline and above the list of goods.  Once again, Ellery adopted a format that distinguished his advertisement from others.

Ellery’s notice consisted entirely of text, as did all of the advertisements in most issues of the Connecticut Courant.  That did not mean, however, that every advertisement looked the same.  Some advertisers did rely on standard formats, but others sought to engage readers by presenting familiar messages in less familiar formats.  The design of Ellery’s advertisement challenged prospective customers to look more closely at his merchandise and the assertions he made about low prices and extensive choices.

August 4

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

Connecticut Courant (August 4, 1772).

“The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold.”

Booksellers Smith and Coit had a true full-page advertisement in the August 4, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  They came close in the previous issue, but the compositor squeezed another advertisement into the space that otherwise would have been the right margin.  When readers perused the August 4 issue, they encountered only Smith and Coit’s advertisement on the final page.  Not even a colophon stating that Ebenezer Watson printed the Connecticut Courant in Hartford appeared at the bottom of the page.

Smith and Coit likely distributed this advertisement via other methods.  They may have placed an order for handbills or broadsides.  They certainly did so a year later when they disseminated a broadside promoting “a universal assortment of drugs, medicines, painter’s colours, and grocery articles; together with the following books” on sale “at their store east of the Court-House in Hartford.”  According the notes in the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, this broadside was “Primarily booksellers’ catalog” and the “complete text of the broadside appeared in the July 6, 1773, issue of the Connecticut Courant, printed by Ebenezer Watson.”  It did not run in the standard issue of the July 6 edition, but Watson may have distributed a supplement not included in America’s Historical Newspapers.  The broadside did do double duty as the second page of the July 13 edition.  Considering that Watson collaborated with Smith and Coit in creating a broadside book catalog that also served as a full-page newspaper advertisement in the summer of 1773, they probably did so in 1772 as well.

Smith and Coit had several options for circulating their book catalog.  They may have posted it at their shop or pasted it up around town.  They may have passed it out as a handbill.  They may have given customers a copy when they made purchases, encouraging them to consider buying other titles on a subsequent visit.  They may have treated it as a circular letter, writing a short note, folding the catalog into a smaller size, sealing it, addressing it, and sending it via the post.  They may have sent copies to booksellers in other towns, alerting them to titles they had in stock to sell or exchange for others.  Smith and Coit may have distributed their book catalog in some or all of these ways.  Other advertisers utilized all of them in the second half of the eighteenth century.

July 28

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

Connecticut Courant (July 28, 1772).

“BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON.”

Booksellers Smith and Coit took out a full-page advertisement in the July 28, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Or did they?

A headline that extended four lines ran across the top of the final page, advising readers that “The following BOOKS, imported directly from LONDON, are to be sold cheap for Cash, by SMITH and COIT, At their Store in HARTFORD.”  The booksellers provided a list of authors and titles, arranged in four columns with one item per line.  They further aided prospective customers in navigating the list by organizing it according to genre, providing headings for each category, and alphabetizing the entries under Divinity; Law; Physic, Surgery, &c.; Schoolbooks; History; and Miscellany.  This design allowed Smith and Coit to distribute the advertisement separately as a broadside book catalog, if they placed an order for job printing with Ebenezer Watson, the printer of the Connecticut Courant.

Smith and Coit may have intended to run a full-page advertisement, but another notice also appeared on the final page, that one printed in the right margin on the final page.  To make the advertisement that William Jepson placed in the previous issue fit in the margin, either Watson or a compositor in his printing office rotated the type perpendicular to the other contents of the page and divided the notice into five columns of five or six lines each.  A common strategy for squeezing content into the margins, that saved the time and energy of completely resetting the type.

Jepson’s advertisement could be easily removed.  Indeed, it did not appear on the same page as Smith and Coit’s advertisement in the next edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Instead, the booksellers had the entire page to themselves, a true full-page advertisement.  Did Watson make the adjustment of his own volition?  Or had Smith and Coit complained that Jepson’s notice intruded into their advertisement, its unusual format distracting from the impression they hoped to make with a full-page advertisement?

July 21

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

Connecticut Courant (July 21, 1772).

“☞ once more! ☜”

Many former customers of the “late Company of Gardiner & Jepson” did not respond to William Jepson’s notices in the Connecticut Courant calling on those “indebted by Judgment, Execution, Note, Book Debt, or otherwise” to settle accounts.  That exasperated him.  It also influenced the format of an advertisement that first ran in the July 21, 1772, edition of the newspaper.  He wished to call attention to his efforts to notify debtors of their obligations, proclaiming that he “☞ once more! ☜” addressed them, setting apart that phrase not only in italics but also with a manicule (a typographic mark depicting a hand with its index finger extended in a pointing gesture) on either side to draw even more attention.  He deployed that format a second time when threatening legal action against those who continued to ignore his advertisements, warning that “they must expect Trouble ☞ without Exception or further notice! ☜”  A set of manicules once again enclosed the words in italics, making Jepson’s frustration palpable.

Other colonizers who placed advertisements in the Connecticut Courant included manicules, bit not nearly as extensively or creatively.  Manicules most often appeared at the conclusion of advertisements, where “N.B.” might otherwise appear for a nota bene advising readers to take notice.  For instance, Caleb Bull concluded an advertisement for “Choice Linseed Oyl” with a brief note stating that “☞ Cash will be given by said Bull for Post-ash.”  A manicule that preceded that note directed attention to it.  In another advertisement, enslavers John Northrop and John Sanfard offered a reward for the capture and return of “two Negro Men” who liberated themselves by running away at the end of May.  Northrop and Sanfard provided descriptions of the unnamed fugitives seeking freedom in the body of the advertisement.  In a note at the end, marked by a manicule, they warned that “☞ ‘Tis supposed they have each of them a forged pass.”

Manicules sometimes appeared in advertisements in the Connecticut Courant in the early 1770s.  Most advertisers included them according to a standard fashion, but occasionally some advertisers, like Jepson, deployed manicules in innovative ways when they sought to underscore the message in their notices.  They experimented with the graphic design possibilities available to them.

July 7

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

Connecticut Courant (July 7, 1772).

“The County Goal in this Place was broke up.”

Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant, typically placed news items on the first pages of his newspaper and advertisements on the final pages.  Not every colonial printer did so.  Some dispersed paid notices throughout their newspapers, even placing advertisements on the first page.  Watson sometimes included advertisements in the final column of the second page, as he did in the July 7, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Courant, before continuing with additional news items on the third page and devoting the final page to advertisements.  As a general rule, only news items ran on the first page and only paid notice and the “POETS CORNER” appeared on the last page.

That did not mean, however, that readers did not encounter news when they perused the last page.  Among the advertisements for consumer goods and services in the July 7 issue, for instance, one advertisement featured a prominent headline that advised the public to “Take Notice!”  It described three men who recently escaped from the county jail.  Ely Warner, the jailer, offered rewards for the capture and return of Elisha Wadsworth of Hartford, “confined for Debt,” Abraham Curtiss of Suffield, “committed for Debt,” and John Grant, “a transient Person, committed for Burglary.”  Another advertisement had a dramatic headline that alerted readers to a “BURGLARY!”  Benjamin Sedgwick of Canaan reported that his shop “was broke open” and several items stolen on June 26.  He offered a reward for apprehending the thief and the stolen merchandise.  In another advertisement, Lynde Lord alerted the public that “noted Burglarian John Brown, who was under Sentence of Death for House breaking,” escaped from the jail in Litchfield sometime during the night of June 14.  Readers could easily recognize him since previous punishments included cropping his ears and branding.

Several of the advertisements in the Connecticut Courant delivered news, much of it more immediately relevant to residents of central Connecticut than stories reprinted from London, Philadelphia, and Boston.  When they paid to insert notices, advertisers acquired limited responsibilities as editors and journalists who aided in keeping their communities informed about local events.

June 26

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

Connecticut Journal (June 26, 1772).

“The Hartford Stage-Coach, will be in New-Haven … on its Way to New York.”

In the early 1770s, Jonathan Brown and Nicholas Brown envisioned a stagecoach route that connected New York and Boston.  They placed advertisements seeking investors in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, and the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven.  Such an enterprise, they argued, would benefit residents and entrepreneurs in a colony that travelers often bypassed when they chose to sail between New York and Providence and then continue to Boston via stage.  In the summer of 1772, the Browns inserted an advertisement in the New-York Journal to announce a trial run for their service between New York and Boston.

At the same time that they sought passengers from New York and its hinterlands, the Browns placed new notices in the Connecticut Courant and the Connecticut Journal.  For instance, Jonathan advertised that the “Hartford Stage-Coach, will be in New-Haven … on its Way to New York” in the June 26, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  He stated that “any Gentlemen or Ladies that may want a Conveyance there, or to any Place on the Road, between this Town and that City, may be accommodated in said Coach.”  In an advertisement that appeared in the Connecticut Courant on June 16, Jonathan declared that he “furnished himself with a convenient Coach and suitable horses” to provide service between Hartford and New York.”  In the same issue, Nicholas declared that he “purposes to have a Stage Coach going from this Place to Boston every Fortnight during the Summer.”  The success of the larger venture depended not only on passengers who made the journey between Boston and New York but also on other customers who paid fares to travel shorter distances.  In their efforts to attract those customers, the Browns marketed their service in several newspapers that circulated in Connecticut even as they sought passengers from beyond New England via notices in the New-York Journal.