December 4

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

Connecticut Journal (December 4, 1772).

“Whoever shall take up the said Mare and return her … shall have One Dollar Reward.”

William Hickcok’s advertisement about a bay mare “STRAYED or Stolen” from a local stable must have arrived in the printing office of the Connecticut Journal just before the December 4, 1772, edition went to press.  That would explain its unusual placement on the third page of that issue.  The notice ran across the bottom of the page, divided into three columns of four lines each.  A line ran above Hickcok’s advertisement, making clear where other content ended and his notice began.

Thomas Green and Samuel Green, the printers of the Connecticut Journal, or a compositor who worked in their printing office made room for the advertisement rather than forcing Hickcok to wait an entire week for the next issue.  Like other colonial American newspapers, a standard issue of the Connecticut Journal consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadside and then folding it in half.  Printers typically produced the front and final pages first, reserving the second and third pages for the most current news and advertising.  That seems to have been the case for the December 4 edition.  Advertisements that previously ran in the newspaper, including one dated November 13 and another dated November 16, appeared on the front page, along with news from London that continued on the second page.  The third page featured recent news from Boston and New York and shipping news from the customs house as well as some advertisements from previous issues and two new advertisements dated December 4 (in addition to Hickcok’s advertisement with that date).  Hickcok’s advertisement ran in what otherwise would have been the margin at the bottom of the page.

A week later, Hickcok’s notice ran once again, this time in a single column on the first page.  Whoever set the type anticipated a means of saving time and labor.  By setting the type in columns, even though the advertisement initially ran across the bottom of the entire page, the compositor eliminated the necessity of breaking down the type and setting it again for the next issue.  In this way, the printing office managed to accommodate Hickcok’s desire to run his advertisement as soon as possible while minimizing the amount of additional time and labor required to do so.

November 13

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

Connecticut Journal (November 13, 1772).

“Will alter any Fault (if observed within Twelve Months) gratis.”

Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, Edward Hart, a “WIG-MAKER,” described himself as “Lately from London” when he introduced himself to prospective customers in a newspaper advertisement.  Realizing that readers were unfamiliar with him and his work, he sought to use his origins to suggest a certain level of skill and, especially, knowledge of current fashions in the cosmopolitan center of the empire to convince clients in Wallingford and nearby towns to give him a chance.  In an advertisement in the November 13, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal, he declared that he made “Lady’s Hair Rolls … in the best Manner.”  He also boasted that his customers would “be served with all Sorts of Wigs, made in the present Taste.”

Hart did not confine his marketing efforts to those appeals.  He also offered free repair services for a year, pledging that he would “alter any Fault (if observed within Twelve Months) gratis.”  Knowing that he could not yet depend on his reputation to sell his wigs, Hart likely hoped that providing that warranty would persuade prospective customers that they had nothing to lose when they purchased his wares.  If they discovered any defects, the wigmaker pledged to correct them without charge.  Customer service extended beyond the initial purchase, aiding Hart in cultivating a clientele in a new location.

At a glance, Hart’s advertisement may look like little more than a dense block of text to modern readers, but it was not a mere announcement that he made and sold wigs.  Instead, he advanced several appeals intended to entice consumers to acquire their wigs from him rather than other sources.  He promoted his origins in London, the quality of his work, and his knowledge of the latest trends.  In case that was not enough, he also provided a warranty to reassure customers still hesitant after his other marketing appeals.  Rather than inserting an announcement in the newspaper, Hart devised a strategy for attracting customers to his new shop.

June 5

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

Connecticut Journal (June 5, 1772).

“I shall from this Date, pay no Debts of his contracting.”

Advertisements that ran in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy in the spring of 1772 testified to marital discord in the Wolcott household.  In the May 8 edition, Jeremy Wolcott inserted a notice informing the public that “My wife SARAH, and MYSELF, being unhappy in the Marriage State !! which had subjected me to great anxiety; and for Reasons, I hereby forbid any Person trusting her on my Account, for I will not pay any Debts by her contracted, after this Date.”  It was one of dozens of similar advertisements placed by anxious patriarchs in newspapers published in New England that year.  Throughout the colonies, aggrieved husbands ran similar notices in their attempts to assert control over wives they claimed did not obey their commands.  Jeremy’s advertisement appeared in the next two issues as well.

When it concluded its run, something unusual happened.  Sarah inserted her own advertisement in response, a rare instance of a wife answering her husband’s charges in print.  Not surprisingly, Sarah told a very different story than the one rehearsed by Jeremy, one that likely humiliated him even more than placing his own advertisement that implicitly confessed his inability to exercise proper authority within his household.  In a notice that first appeared in the May 29 edition, Sarah referred to Jeremy’s notices “in the Connecticut Journal, No. 238, 39, and 40” that advised “the Publick, not to trust me on his account, and declar’d he will pay no Debts of my contracting.”  Given the actual state of affairs, according to Sarah, that advertisement misrepresented Jeremy’s record of providing for his wife.  “I think I ought (in Justice to myself),” she proclaimed, “inform the Public, That I never was trusted a farthing on his Credit, in my Life.” Furthermore, “when I was married to my said Husband, he had no Estate, and was much in Debt, which I soon after paid for him, and ever since he has been supported out of the Incomes of my Estate, for he has done little or nothing to support himself.”  In Sarah’s version, Jeremy had never fulfilled his responsibilities as husband and head of household.

She then turned the tables on him, issuing similar directions “not to trust him hereafter, on my Account, as I shall from this Date, pay no Debts of his contracting, further than the Select-Men’s Allowance.”  Sarah paid taxes legitimately levied by locally elected representatives, but she asserted that she did not want the resources she brought to the marriage used by Jeremy for any other purposes.  That must have resulted in further embarrassment for Jeremy, especially since the vast majority of women targeted in the sort of advertisement that he placed did not have the means to offer any sort of rebuttal in print.  Most of the time, husbands exercised exclusive access to the power of the press.  On occasions, however, women like Sarah Wolcott published forceful responses that may have caused their husbands to wish that they have never gotten the printing office involved at all.

April 17

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

Connecticut Journal (April 17, 1772).

“He continues to cut and dress Gentlemen and Ladies Hair in Taste, either antient or modern.”

Amos Morrisson described himself as a “Peruke-Maker and Dresser.”  He made wigs and styled hair for colonizers in and near New Haven in the early 1770s.  He placed an advertisement in the April 17, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal to inform current and prospective clients that he “lately removed from the Place where he formerly work’d, to a new Shop on the Church Land, next to Mr. Fairchild’s.”  That amounted to sufficient direction for patrons to find his new location.

Morrisson incorporated several marketing appeals into the remainder of his advertisement.  He addressed fashion and customer satisfaction simultaneously when he stated that he “continues to cut and dress Gentlemen and Ladies Hair in Taste, either antient or modern.”  In so doing, he hinted at debates about hairstyles that colonizers took seriously during the era of the American Revolution.  Men and women who adopted “modern” styles faced accusations that they indulged in luxury at the expense of good character.  Women wore high rolls, their hair and extensions elaborately arranged atop their heads.  Some men adopted a similar style, prompting critics to refer to them as “macaronis” as a critique of hairstyles, garments, and comportment associated with Italy.  Morrisson did not take a position in the debate.  Instead, he signaled that he was proficient in the “modern” style for those who wished to wear it, but he also served clients who preferred more conservative or “antient” styles.  Either way, his clients could depend on having their hair done “in Taste” at his shop.

In addition to styling hair, Morrisson “carried on Wigg-Making in all its Branches.”  He once again emphasized customer service, promising that “Gentlemen (both of Town and Country) … may depend upon being used in the best Manner.”  He constructed his wigs “of the best Materials” and set lower prices than prospective clients would find anywhere in the vicinity.  Morrisson declared that he sold his wigs “much cheaper … than has formerly been sold in Town.”  He also highlighted his experience and roots in the community, referencing clients “that have favoured him with their good Custom” in the past and inviting them to “continue the same.”

Morrisson’s advertisement was not particularly lengthy, but he managed to include a variety of appeals to incite demand for his services.  In so doing, he replicated aspects of advertisements placed by his counterparts in larger urban ports like New York and Philadelphia.  Fashion was not the province of the elite in those places.  Instead, purveyors of goods and services, including a “Peruke-Maker and Dresser” like Morrisson, served consumers throughout the colonies.

April 10

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

Connecticut Journal (April 10, 1772).

“The Printers hereof earnestly request all those who are indebted to them for Newspapers, Advertisements, Blanks, or in any other Way … to make speedy Payment.”

Colonial printers regularly called on customers to settle accounts, placing notices in their own newspapers for that purpose.  The appearance of those notices often coincided with an anniversary; as printers completed one year of publication and commenced another, they requested that customers make payments.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, however, did so halfway through their fifth year of publishing the Connecticut Journal.  They inserted a notice in the April 10, 1772, edition to inform readers that “THIS Day’s Paper (No. 234) completes Four Years and an Half since the first Publication of the CONNECTICUT JOURNAL, and NEW-HAVEN POST-BOY.”  They then lamented that “many of the Subscribers for it, have not paid a single Farthing, and others are indebted for Two or Three Year’s Papers.”

The Greens focused most of their attention on subscribers who had fallen behind or never paid, but they did not limit their efforts to collecting from those customers.  Instead, they “earnestly request all those who are indebted to them for News Papers, Advertisements, Blanks, or in any other Way, (whose Accounts are of more than a Year’s standing) to make speedy Payment.”  They continued to allow credit for those whose accounts did not extend more than a year, but they wanted others to pay their bills because “Printing a Weekly News-Paper, and carrying on the other Branches of the Printing-Business is attended with great Expence.”  While some printers may have considered advertising the more significant source of revenue and required that advertisers pay for notices in advance while extending credit to subscribers, that was not always the case.  For a time in the early 1770s, the colophon for the Providence Gazette, printed by John Carter, stated that “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three weeks.”  Ebenezer Watson, printer of the Connecticut Courant in Hartford, apparently updated his policy about paying for advertisements in advance of publication.  On February 25, 1772, he informed readers that “No Advertisements will for the future be published in this paper, without the money is first paid, unless it be for such persons as have open accounts with The Printer.”  Watson continued to accept advertisements without payment from existing customers in good standing, but no longer did so for new advertisers.  The Greens did not change their policy, but their notice did indicate that they extended credit for advertisements as well as subscriptions.  Payment in advance was not always required for publishing advertisements in early American newspapers.

March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Catherine Hurlburt

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

Connecticut Journal (March 20, 1772).

“Penknives, Quills, Ink Powder, Sealing-Wax & Wafers.”

In this advertisement, James Lockwood put up for sale an array of books on various subjects, as well as different writing tools. Lockwood emphasized that these commodities were English, “JUST IMPORTED from LONDON,” which may have been enticing to some colonists. Even though in 1772 the relationship between Britain and the colonies was deteriorating, many colonists still considered themselves to be British, and having English goods was considered a sign of status throughout the colonies, making these goods more desirable.[1]

Today, some readers might find that the writing utensils pique their interest and become curious about writing in the eighteenth century. Colonists mixed their own ink from ink powder and wrote with pens made by sharpening quills with penknives. Lockwood sold all of those items that are so different from the writing tools we use today. Another interesting difference between then and now is the age at which people who learned to write began their lessons. According to Rachel Bartgis, reading education began around age four and lasted until age seven, but writing did not occur until around age nine. This is because writing with a quill took higher fine motor ability than using today’s pen or pencil. In contrast, children learn reading and writing at the same time today. In addition, colonists learned “cursive” because “print,” named after the script on the printing press, was only used for special purposes, such as labelling parcels.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In the advertisement that Catherine selected to feature today, James Lockwood updated a notice that he first published in the Connecticut Journal more than two months earlier.  He began 1772 by placing an advertisement to advise consumers in New Haven and the nearby towns that he “is now opening, at a new Store, … a great Assortment of English & India GOODS, BOOKS, and all kinds of STATIONARY.”  He pledged that he sold his merchandise “Wholesale or Retail, at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours.”

As Lockwood settled in at his new store, he decided to emphasize his “large and good Collection of BOOKS & STATIONARY” in his next advertisement, mentioning his “great Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” only after listing the various kinds of books he had in stock.  He did not mention any titles, but instead announced that he carried “Divinity, Law, Physic, Surgery, Anatomy, History, Voyages& Travels, Novels, Poems, Plays, Philosophy & Mathematicks, School Books, Miscellaneous Works, [and] Seaman’s Books.”  Each genre received its own line in a portion of the advertisements divided into three columns.  That made the list easier for readers to peruse and areas of interest more visible to prospective customers.  The unique format also distinguished Lockwood’s advertisement from others on the page.  The third column included the various writing implements that Catherine examined.

Lockwood continued to promote his low prices, though he further enhanced that appeal.  Rather than claiming that he set process “at least as cheap as any of his Neighbours,” he instead looked to competitors in Boston and New York.  Lockwood declared that his customers acquired books, stationery, and “ENGLISH GOODS” from him “As low as they are commonly purchased” in those larger ports.  Prospective customers did not need to travel or send away to merchants and shopkeepers in those cities.  Instead, they could find the best bargains right in New Haven.

Lockwood’s proximity to “the College in New-Haven” (now Yale University) may have inspired him to publish an updated advertisement that focused on books and stationery.  He did not rely on a single newspaper notice to attract customers to his new Store.  Instead, he tried different methods of marketing his wares and generating name recognition among readers of the Connecticut Journal.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 476.

February 28

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

Connecticut Journal (February 28, 1772).

“Advertisements.”

Among the many primary sources that I incorporate into my classes about early American history, eighteenth-century newspapers are among my favorites.  Despite the decline of print editions of newspapers in the internet age, students still have expectations about what a newspaper looks like and how it should be organized.  Working with eighteenth-century newspapers gives us many opportunities to identify change over time.

We consult digitized copies of newspapers via several databases.  Students quickly discover that colonial printers distributed new editions only once a week, not daily.  Printers chose which day of the week to publish their own newspapers, most of them opting for Mondays or Thursdays, but none of them published newspapers on Sundays.  The Sunday edition celebrated today did not exist in early America.

Moving beyond the calendar of publication to the newspapers themselves, students learn that the standard issue for most newspapers consisted of only four pages produced by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  On occasion, some printers also distributed supplements or extraordinaries, but for the most part subscribers received only four pages of news and other content each week.

Upon examining the contents, students express surprise over the organization and lack of headlines for most news articles.  In modern newspapers, advertisements usually do not appear on the front page, but that was common practice in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Consider the February 28 edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Immediately below the masthead, a header for “Advertisements” announced what sort of content appeared in that column.

The header itself was relatively unique; running advertisements on the first page was not.  Indeed, some printers filled the entire front page with advertising.  The production process played a role in that decision.  In order to create a four-page issue out of a single broadsheet, printers first printed the front and back pages on one side of the sheet.  After the ink dried, they printed the second and third pages on the other side of the sheet.  They saved the second and third pages for the most current news.  That meant they first printed advertisements, many of them with type already set because they ran in previous issues.

In the eighteenth century, readers knew to open their newspapers to the second and third pages to find the most current news.  Doing so seems quite foreign and counterintuitive to students accustomed to the appearance and organization of print editions of newspapers in the twenty-first century.  Discovering this on their own provides valuable opportunities to critically engage with primary sources, examining not only their format but also the production process and how readers engaged with newspapers as material texts.

February 21

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

Connecticut Journal (February 21, 1772).

Can be afforded cheaper than if purchased in Boston or New York.”

In February 1772, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy to advertise “a small Assortment of GOODS” they recently imported from London.  They listed some textiles, promising as well “a general Assortment of Articles in the Cloathing Way.”  They concluded their advertisement with a note that they sold their wares “at the very lowest Rates.”  A manicule drew attention to that proclamation.

The shopkeepers provided additional commentary about price intended to convince prospective customers to shop at their store rather than seek out alternatives.  “As we imported the above Goods immediately from London,” they explained, “they undoubtedly can be afforded cheaper than if purchased in Boston or New York.”  Residents of New Haven and nearby towns did not need to visit one of the bustling port cities or send away to shopkeepers there in order to benefit from the best bargains.  The higher volume of shipping that arrived in Boston and New York did not necessarily mean that consumers in those cities had access to better deals, at least not according to the Beerses.  In addition, they managed to keep prices low at their store in New Haven because they did not acquire their merchandise via wholesalers in Boston and New York.  Receiving their goods “immediately from London” eliminated a round of markups.

Readers did not need to look beyond New Haven for the best prices.  The Beerses underscored that point when they asserted that they “are determined to sell [the above Goods] as low as they possibly can be afforded.”  They were not the only entrepreneurs to make appeals to price in Connecticut Journal, but they did provide the most extensive explanation to demonstrate how they managed to keep prices low for their customers.  In so doing, they acknowledged that consumers assessed the claims made in newspaper advertisements and made careful choices when shopping.

January 24

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

Connecticut Journal (January 24, 1772).

“Garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones.”

Abel Buell, a goldsmith in New Haven, placed advertisements in the Connecticut Journal to promote his business in the early 1770s.  He made brief appeals to quality and price, pledging that his wares were “all of the best sort” and that he sold them “very reasonably,” but he devoted much more space to listing his merchandise.  Advertisers throughout the colonies often did so, demonstrating the range of choices available to consumers.

Yet that was not the only purpose of publishing such lists.  Advertisers also sought to help prospective customers imagine the possibilities, hoping that would entice them to make more purchases.  Buell, for instance, could have simply stated that he had on hand a variety of jewelry certain to satisfy the tastes who visited his shop.  Instead, he listed “ROUND, square and oval cypher’d button cristals with cyphers, cypher’d and brilliant ear-ring tops and drops, round oval and square brilliant button stones, paste ear-ring tops and drops, cypher’d and brilliant paste for buttons, garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones, mock garnets for rings and buttons, [and] garnet cristal and paste ring sparks,” along with other items.

That list served as Buell’s catalog.  Each entry introduced prospective customers to yet another item they might acquire. As readers perused the list, they likely imagined themselves wearing many of the items.  Buell intended for the list to cultivate desire for various buttons, earrings, stones, and other jewelry as consumers made quick decisions whether they might wear each item.  In many cases, they may not have given much thought to certain items until presented with the possibilities that Buell described.  Offering choices, such as “garnet topaz amethyst and emeral’d ring stones,” encouraged prospective customers to imagine which they desired the most, which might look best on them, or which complemented other items they already owned.  That likely brought consumers one step closer to making purchases.  Buell probably intended for his list to make the possibilities more vivid and more tangible to prospective customers who could be convinced to make purchases with a little bit of encouragement.

January 17

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

Connecticut Journal (January 17, 1772).

“All Persons Indebted to said Sherman, are desired to make immediate Payment, to prevent Trouble.”

John Sherman had two purposes in placing an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy in January 1772.  He aimed to attract customers for the “large Quantity of GOODS” available at his shop, but he also wished to collect on debts.  As was often the case in colonial newspapers, he pursued both goals in a single advertisement rather than placing multiple notices with distinct purposes.  This may have been a strategy to avoid paying for more than one notice, depending on how the printer set advertising rates, but it also suggests that advertisers expected readers to closely examine the content of advertisements as well as news articles, letters, and editorials that appeared elsewhere in newspapers.

In a slightly longer advertisement, Roger Sherman addressed three different purposes.  Like John, he marketed textiles and “a general Assortment of other GOODS.”  He also demanded that “those indebted to him by Book or Note … make immediate Payment to avoid Trouble.”  That threat of legal action echoed the language deployed in John’s advertisement. Finally, he made a much more specific request: “The Person who has his Province Law-Book is desired to return it.” Rather than place a separate advertisement solely about returning the book, he expected that readers would peruse his entire notice.

Such was the case among colonizers who placed advertisements in other newspapers.  On the same day that these advertisements ran in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, Samuel Noyes, a jeweler, ran a notice in the New-London Gazette.  He devoted the vast majority of it to listing items available at his shop, including shoe and knee buckles, rings, and lockets.  At the very end, he also announced that he “Wanted a likely Boy as an Apprentice to the Goldsmith’s Business.”  Not completely trusting readers to closely examine the conclusion of the advertisement, the compositor used a slightly larger font to draw attention, but that was not usually the case in advertisements with multiple purposes.  Neither of the notices in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy featured variations in font size except for the names of the advertisers (which also served as headlines).