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.