April 3

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

Apr 3 - 4:1:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (April 1, 1768).

“Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland.”

First in response to the Stamp Act and later in the wake of the Townshend Act, some American merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans cast their advertising appeals in terms of the politics of production and consumption. They sought to convince prospective customers that their decisions about which goods to purchase and which establishments to patronize had a political valence. In so doing, they echoed the calls to boycott imported goods and instead to encourage domestic manufactures published in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers.

John Morris’s advertisement in the April 1, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal suggests that some artisans who resided on the other side of the Atlantic became aware of this discourse and opted to mobilize it for their own benefit. Morris, a “Gun-Flint Cutter to His Majesty’s Board of Ordnance, in the Kingdom of Ireland,” announced that he was “willing to come and establish that Branch in any of his Majesty’s Colonies or Plantations in America, if properly encouraged.” In an attempt to frame his advertisement to achieve an enthusiastic response, he addressed it to “the Society of Gentlemen, for the Encouragement of Arts in the different Provinces of America.” Many colonists might have been hesitant to import a variety of goods as a means of resistance when Parliament overstepped its authority, but Morris reasoned that they would welcome an artisan whose labor would make valuable contributions in the domestic marketplace. To underscore this benefit, Morris signed himself as “A Friend to Liberty and Freedom,” indicating his sympathy for the colonists’ cause.

He did not, however, make his case in stronger terms than popular opinion permitted. Morris carefully positioned his work, stating that “the Safety and Protection of his Majesty’s Royal Person, His Dominions and Subjects in general” depended on the efforts of gunflint cutters. He provided a service to king and country. While migrating to the colonies might yield some particular advantages for certain of the monarch’s subjects who wished “for the Encouragement of the Arts in the different Provinces of America,” Morris was not advocating anything more radical than strengthening the economic position of the colonies within the empire. Colonists had called for resistance to abuses by Parliament, but they did not yet seriously entertain notions of revolution or independence. The “Honourable House of Representatives” of Massachusetts, one the colonies that led resistance efforts, underscored that point in a letter to “the Right Honourable the Earl of SHELBURNE, one of his Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State,” a letter that circulated in colonial newspapers (including the April 2, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette). Legislators from Massachusetts argued in favor of strengthening local government, but also that they were “not insensible of their security and happiness in their connexion with, and dependence on, the mother state.” Furthermore, “they have reason to believe [these] are the sentiments of all the colonies.”

Morris marketed his occupation and willingness to migrate to the American colonies in terms that matched the current political situation. He was an astute enough observer of the rhetoric currently in use in the colonies that even from across the Atlantic he was able to replicate both the sentiments and the appeals advanced by artisans and other advertisers who already resided “in the different Provinces of America.”

March 18

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

Mar 18 - 3:18:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 18, 1768).

“A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed, to be sold by Richard Woodhull, in New-Haven.”

Richard Woodhull’s advertisement for “A Quantity of Good Dutch Clover Seed” benefited from its fairly unique yet conspicuous placement in the March 18, 1768, edition of the Connecticut Journal. Unlike some printers who reserved certain pages for news items and other pages for advertisements, brothers Thomas Green and Samuel Green distributed news and advertising throughout the entire issue, though only news and the masthead appeared on the first page. The second, third, and fourth pages all featured both news and paid notices, with news first and advertising filling in the remainder of the page. In other words, readers encountered news and then advertising when they perused the page from left to right. On the second and fourth pages, advertisements comprised nearly the entire final column. On the third page, however, a single paid notice appeared at the bottom of the last column …

… except for Woodhull’s advertisement, a short announcement printed on the far right of the page. The type had been rotated to run perpendicular to the rest of the text, replicating a strategy sometimes deployed by printers and compositors in other colonial newspapers. In this instance, however, the execution was rather clumsy in comparison. The text of Woodhull’s advertisement was positioned flush against the contents of the third column rather than set slightly to the right with at least a narrow strip of white space separating them. Unfortunately, examining a digital surrogate does not allow for any assessment of whether this was done out of necessity to fit the size of the sheet or if the Greens had sufficient margins that they could have moved Woodhull’s advertisement to the right and away from the third column. The March 18 edition was only issue “No. 22” of the Connecticut Journal. Given that the Greens had been publishing the newspaper for less than six months, they still may have been experimenting to determine their preferred format when it came to graphic design and visual aspects.

Alternately, the Greens may have resorted to squeezing Woodhull’s advertisement on the third page because they neglected to insert it when they set the type for the columns. The same advertisement appeared in the March 11 edition (in what appears to be the same size font, though working with a digital surrogate makes it impossible to definitively state that was the case), but in four lines in a column with other advertisements. The spacing between words seems to be replicated in the perpendicular insertion the following week, suggesting that the Greens at some point took four lines of type that had already been set and positioned them side by side to make a single line. A new version of the advertisement, completely reset and extending only three lines, appeared in a regular column in the March 25 issue. Yet another version, again completely reset but this time in only two lines, was inserted as the final item the last column in the April 1 issue before the advertisement was discontinued in subsequent issues.

Woodhull may have requested these variations as a means of drawing attention to his advertisements, but it seems more likely that they resulted from the Greens working through their practices for the publication process for what was a relatively new endeavor. Although Thomas had more than a decade of experience as a printer, setting up shop with his brother Samuel was a new enterprise. The two may have been working out a system for operating their business and organizing tasks. Whatever the reason for the awkward insertion of Woodhull’s advertisement, it had the effect of making his notice difficult to overlook. Casual observers could not help but notice the strange line of text, in larger font, set perpendicular to the rest when they glanced at the page. Those who actively read the news from Boston or the shipping news from New Haven’s Custom House could not have missed Woodhull’s advertisement. Whether done intentionally or not, the unusual typography made Woodhull’s advertisement more visible to potential customers.

December 25

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

Dec 25 - 12:25:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (December 25, 1767).

“Dunstable Hats, being a new Fashion.”

In December 1767, shopkeeper William McCrackan began placing advertisements for “very neat Assortment of Winter Goods” in the Connecticut Journal, a newspaper founded just two months earlier. Almost as soon as it was established, colonial retailers used the advertising pages of the new publication to teach potential customers about consumer goods in order to incite demand and generate sales.

McCrackan operated his shop in New Haven in the midst of a consumer revolution. Prospective customers spoke the language of consumption. In particular, they could identify and distinguish among a variety of imported textiles – like “Callimancoes,” “Camblets,” and “Ratteens” – without descriptions from those who sold them. Some products, however, especially those recently introduced to the market, required at least some explanation. Such was the case for “Dunstable Hats” and consumers in New Haven and its hinterland. Realizing that some colonists might not be familiar with that particular item, McCrackan advertised them as “Dunstable Hats, being a new Fashion.” Almost simultaneously, shopkeeper Henry Wilmot advertised “Leghorne, Dunstable and Skelliton hats, trimmed in the newest fashion” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Unlike McCrackan’s perspective on colonists in rural Connecticut, Wilmot assumed that residents of the busy urban port were already acquainted with Dunstable hats, yet he did make a point of asserting that the ones he stocked had been “trimmed in the newest fashion.” Even familiar accessories could be updated to reflect evolving tastes.

McCrackan provided no description of Dunstable hats beyond the short interjection that they represented “a new Fashion.” Still, that likely would have been sufficient to provoke curiosity among some prospective customers, drawing them into his shop to view and converse about the hats and other merchandise. For those who desired to imagine that they participated in the same culture of consumption as residents of cosmopolitan London, despite their distance from the metropole, McCrackan offered a helpful update about prevailing tastes, alerting them to the latest trends. His advertisement did more than merely announce the availability of goods. It encouraged an interest in the novel and the new in order to stimulate consumer demand.

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:13:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (November 13, 1767).

“Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

Thomas Green and Samuel Green launched a new newspaper, the Connecticut Journal; and New-Haven Post-Boy, on October 23, 1767. Like many other colonial printers, they used the colophon not only to provide the particulars concerning publication but also as an advertisement for the newspaper itself: “All Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Six-Shillings a Year.”

Yet colonial newspapers rarely had sufficient subscribers to make them sustainable business ventures. In addition to subscriptions, advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream. To that end, the Greens also issued a call for advertisers in the colophon. In the process, they provided a relatively rare indication of the costs of advertising in eighteenth-century newspapers.

How much did it cost Michael Todd to place an advertisement for the “GOOD Assortment of Winter Goods” at “his Store in New-Haven” in the November 13 issue? According to the colophon, “Advertisements of not more Length than Breadth, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, and Six-Pence each Week afterwards; and long Ones in Proportion.” Todd’s advertisement was approximately half again as long as it was wide. He would have paid four shillings and six pence to run it for the first three weeks and then another nine pence for each week thereafter. (Todd and other advertisers received a discount for subsequent insertions because the labor of setting the type had already been completed.) If Todd ran his advertisement for only three weeks the cost would have been equivalent to three-quarters of a yearly subscription. Running it for a fourth week would have raised the shopkeeper’s cost (and the printers’ revenue) to the same as a subscription.

Advertisements were indeed good for business, especially the printing business. The amount of space devoted to advertising in the Connecticut Journal gradually expanded during its first month of publication, a development the Greens welcomed and sought to further cultivate in order to improve the prospects for their new publication. They met with some success. The Connecticut Journal continued publication for more than fifty years, issuing its final edition in December 1820. Advertising filled one-third of the space in that issue.