August 3

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

“LEFT by the subscriber at Mr. Bennett White’s … a neat assortment of JEWELLERY.”

Aug 3 - 8:1:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (August 1, 1766).

James Geddy “became Williamsburg’s best-known colonial silversmith,” according to the entry detailing his silversmithing and retail business by Colonial Williamsburg. His advertisement in the Virginia Gazette did not offer much by way of introduction, but Geddy may have believed that he could rely on the reputation he had established and did not need to promote his “neat assortment of JEWELLERY, with GOLD and SILVER WORK” beyond selling it “at the lowest rates.”

It appears that Geddy placed this advertisement as part of an effort to expand his business and gain customers in a new market beyond Williamsburg, up the James River in New Castle in Hanover County (the vicinity of Richmond today). He did not set up a shop or workshop of his own in that town; instead, he “LEFT” his wares “at Mr. Bennett White’s, who keeps a publick house of good entertainment in Newcastle.” In addition, Geddy also accepted orders via White, either to repair damaged items or create new ones to specification. In choosing a partner in New Castle, Geddy likely valued the high volume of patrons who frequented White’s tavern. Rather than attempt a partnership with a local smith or retailer (neither of which would have appreciated a competitor from Williamsburg attempting to siphon off potential customers), Geddy chose an establishment that likely had greater foot traffic, both locals and travelers. White may have earned commissions on his sales and orders, making the arrangement mutually beneficial to the silversmith and the tavern keeper.

Learn more about Geddy and his business by visiting the original James Geddy House and the reconstructed James Geddy Foundry at Colonial Williamsburg.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:23:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 23, 1766).

“He continues to do business in the commission way.”

Thomas Hepburn was a broker who sold goods on consignment or, as he put it, he did “business in the commission way.” Rather than purchase and maintain his own stock, he sold merchandise that others supplied to him under an agreement that he would keep a portion of the proceeds from every sale. This minimized the risk of becoming overextended within the networks of credit that accompanied the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century; Hepburn did not lose any investment required to procure his merchandise.

What might Hepburn have sold? While it’s possible that he carried new merchandise, it seems more likely that he carried secondhand or used goods that colonists decided that they no longer wanted or needed for whatever reasons. Selling such items on commission facilitated a secondhand economy that permitted a greater number of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution that was taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. The “baubles of Britain” that found their ways into the possession of so many colonists did not always take a direct path from British merchant to colonial shopkeeper to colonial consumer. Sometimes they passed from person to person or household to household, making detours through shops that did “business in the commission way.”