March 6

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 6, 1769).

“A neat Assortment of China, flower’d and plain Glass and Stone Ware.”

Advertisements like this were very common in newspapers in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Hammatt and Brown had for sale an impressive list of goods, including tea, chocolate, cotton wool and a “neat Assortment” of china, glass, and stoneware. This advertisement displayed the expanding consumer culture in the colonies. No longer were people producing things for self-sufficiency. As T.H. Breen explains, “[A] pioneer world of homespun cloth and wooden dishes … was swept away by a flood of store-bought sundries.”[1] Colonists became interested in things and what those material goods did for their image. This change also led to an emergence of a commonalities and a community mindset among colonists of different areas. For example, in “Baubles of Britain”; The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Breen describes a “shared language of consumption.”[2] People in the colonies had this newfound connection with each other. A colonist from Massachusetts would see the type of fabric a visitor from a southern colony wore and immediately know the material and social class that went with it. This created a common connection among people and subsequently grew a feeling of nationalism through the colonies as the imperial crisis with Britain drew to its boiling point.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Olivia indicates, advertisements of this sort were indeed commonly inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers, especially in those published in the largest port cities. Although they ran in every newspaper printed in the colonies, they appeared in greater numbers and with greater frequency in publications from Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. In each of those cities, advertisers contended not only with competitors who placed advertisements in the same newspapers they did but also with rival merchants and shopkeepers who advertised in other newspapers as well as those who did not advertise at all. The advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, for instance, reveal only a small portion of the commercial landscape that made consumer goods available in colonial Massachusetts.

When they decided to advertise the assortment of goods they sold at their shop in Union Street, Hammatt and Brown chose from among several newspapers published in Boston. The Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette were all published on Mondays. A second issue of the Boston Chronicle came out on Thursdays, along with the Boston Weekly News-Letter and Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette. Each included an array of advertisements that hawked the same kinds of wares that Hammatt and Brown listed in their notice. Some merchants and shopkeepers opted to advertise in more than one publication, but others, like Hammatt and Brown, confined themselves to a single newspaper. Among them, advertisers created sufficient copy to barrage colonial readers and potential customers with lists of goods and encouragement to acquire them. Advertising often accounted for as much as half or more of each newspaper. Advertisers submitted so many notices to T. and J. Fleet’s printing office that the issue of the Boston Evening-Post that carried Hammatt and Brown’s advertisement was accompanied by a two-page supplement comprised entirely of advertisement, including Thomas Knight’s advertisement that listed almost all of the same merchandise. Elsewhere in the colonies, other newspapers carried advertisements that peddled similar inventory, contributing to a shared experience, as both readers and consumers, among colonists from New Hampshire to Georgia.

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[1] Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119, (May 1988): 78

[2] Breen, 76.

April 11

GUEST CURATOR:  Sean Sullivan

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

Apr 11 - 4:11:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 11, 1768).

“BOHEA TEA in large Chests, HYSON TEA in small Chests or Cannisters.”

Tea was an established part of life in the colonial America, consumed both in metropolitan centers along the coast as well as further inland, nearly ubiquitous across the British colonies. This advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle mentioned two varieties, Bohea and Hyson. Bohea was a more expensive black tea while hyson was a cheaper and more common green variant. However, savvy merchants likely would not have hindered themselves with selling one variety and thus limiting their potential clientele. By importing both varieties of tea, Christopher and Charles Marshall appealed to the widest market available, increasing both potential profits and their presence in the sphere of public business. Such an action would be in the best interests of any aspiring entrepreneur, as the tea market in colonial America was massive not only economically but, as Rodris Roth argues, as a part of the wider culture. Colonial customs were highly reflective of trends prominent in Europe, and the consumption of tea was among the most significant of these trends. By the middle of the eighteenth century, tea had become the social lubricant of choice. Anyone in the mercantile realm who could find a steady market for tea would therefore be almost guaranteed a lucrative business.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Tea was indeed a major commodity consumed throughout the British colonies in the eighteenth century.  Many assume that tea was a luxury in colonial America, but that interpretation reflects its position when it was first introduced to consumers rather than the position it eventually held in the marketplace and in the social lives of colonists.  As Rodris Roth reports, “During the first half of the eighteenth century the limited amount of tea, available at prohibitively high prices, restricted its use to a proportionately small segment of the population.  About mid-century, however, tea was beginning to be drunk by more and more people, as supplies increased and costs decreased, due in part to the propaganda and merchandising efforts of the East India Company.[1]  The expanding market for tea placed it at the center of the consumer revolution that took place throughout the British Atlantic world in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, tea might be considered emblematic of colonists participating in the consumer revolution since consuming it required acquiring a variety of other goods, some of them for its preparation and some considered necessary for the social rituals associated with consuming the beverage. Shopkeepers advertised and colonists purchased elaborate tea sets that included cups, saucers, teapots, sugar bowls, containers for cream or milk, waste bowls, tongs, strainers, canisters for storing tea, spoons, and other items.  Yet the equipage did not end there.  Depending on their means, colonists also bought tea tables and chairs as well as trays and tablecloths.  Whether made of metal or imported porcelain, the popular styles for tea sets changed over the years, just as the fashions for garments shifted. Merchants and shopkeepers noted such changes in their advertisements, spurring potential customers to make additional purchases and further fueling the consumer revolution.  Yet consuming tea contributed to importing other goods, especially sugar.  No matter how genteel the setting for socializing while sipping tea, colonists were enmeshed in networks of exchange that depended on the involuntary labor of enslaved men and women who worked on sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

Today’s advertisement for tea may appear rather simple at first glance, yet upon closer examination it tells a much larger story about the consumption and culture in eighteenth-century America.  For even more information, see Rodris Roth’s “Tea-Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” available in its entirety via Project Gutenberg.

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[1]Rodris Roth, “Tea Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” in Material Life in America, 1600-1860, ed. Robert Blair St. George (Boston:  Northeastern University Press, 1988), 442.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 16 - 4:16:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 16, 1767).

“A Fresh Assortment of English GOODS.”

American colonists loved British goods! This gave many a sense of national pride, but some also believed that these goods gave them a boost in status. According to the public historians at Colonial Williamsburg, “As society became more mobile, houses, land, and livestock alone no longer communicated social rank. By the end of the seventeenth century, ordinary men and women began to demand consumer goods that indicated their status.” These were the roots of the consumer revolution in eighteenth-century America. “Items that once were considered luxuries reserved for the highest ranks began to ‘trickle down’ to common households.” Starting in the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century Americans purchased greater amounts of goods, such as those among the “Fresh Assortment of English GOODS” advertised by Joshua Gardner and Company. The shopkeepers may have realized the demand for these imported goods and not considered it necessary to write much about them. This advertisement demonstrates increased demand for consumer goods which became easier for all social classes – elites, middling and poorer sorts, “and occasionally even slaves” – to attain in the American colonies.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jonathan’s analysis of Joshua Gardner and Company’s advertisement represents a popular interpretation of the cause of the consumer revolution. Many historians and other scholars argue that incipient demand fueled the expansion of purchasing, possessing, and displaying a vast array of goods by many different sorts of consumers in the British Atlantic world in the eighteenth century. Producers, suppliers, and retailers merely responded to the desires and demands of customers that ranked not only among the elite but also the middling sort and others who purchased what they could acquire when they could afford it (and, thanks to networks of credit, sometimes even when they could not yet afford it).

Today’s advertisement certainly lends that impression. After all, it seems to do little more than announce that Gardner and Company sold imported English goods. William Greenleaf’s advertisement, immediately above it, appeared almost identical. It informed customers that he stocked “A Fresh Assortment of Goods” imported on the same ship that carried Gardner and Company’s inventory. William Fisher’s advertisement, immediately below, stated that he sold “A General Assortment of English GOODS,” also imported “in Capt. Jenkins, who is just arrived from LONDON.” Some argue that such advertisements, which might better be described as notices given that they seem to merely announce the availability of goods that consumers already wanted, could be used to make convincing arguments about the importance of demand as the primary cause of the consumer revolution.

Doing so, however, overlooks both the innovative marketing efforts to incite demand that regularly appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers (and via other advertising ephemera, including trade cards, bill heads, catalogs, broadsides, magazine wrappers, circular letters, subscription notices, and furniture labels) and aspects of Gardner and Company’s advertisement not apparent at first glance.

For instance, note that Gardner and Company indicate their “Fresh Assortment” was imported “In the Hawk, Capt. Jenkins, from LONDON.” According to the shipping news on the previous page, the Hawk had arrived in port within the past week. Gardner and Company (as well as Greenleaf and Fisher) may not have had time to unpack all their new wares or write more extensive copy, but they did rush to Richard Draper’s printing office to have their advertisements inserted as quickly as possible. Rather than simply announce they carried goods that colonists already desired, these advertisers attempted to incite demand by noting that they sold the most current fashions and housewares from the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Furthermore, Gardner and Company engaged in other marketing efforts in their short advertisement. Promising an “Assortment” promoted consumer choice. Invoking low prices helped to convince potential customers to make purchases.

Jonathan and I place different emphasis on the importance of consumer demand in the eighteenth century. Drawing on one strand of scholarship, arguably the more prominent one, he asserts that Gardner and Company’s advertisement reacted to existing demand. That very well may have been the case, but I argue that certain aspects suggest that the shopkeepers also worked to create demand. More generally, advertising played a significant role in inciting demand throughout the eighteenth century. Early American merchants, shopkeepers, and others who produced and sold goods encouraged potential customers to desire their wares.

April 12

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 12 - 4:11:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 11, 1767).

“Pork, Rice, and Indigo”

The Not-So-Bare Necessities! As we can see in this advertisement, newspapers were a prime place for merchants to advertise popular goods. Items ranging from necessary food ingredients, such as flour and rice, all the way to saws and steel were advertised and accessible to customers in the colonies. However, purchasing these items meant more than just having something of worth; purchasing these items sometimes also had added political and social connotations.

The consumer culture seen in this advertisement was present not only in Providence but also throughout the colonies. The historians at Colonial Williamsburg indicate that one of the main contributors to this was the fact that colonists had more money by the middle of the eighteenth century than they previously did. They could then purchase items, such as indigo, as a luxury because they had money left over after purchasing their basic necessities. It was a luxury to have more items, but this also made for a better reputation. If colonists could show that they could purchase things beyond just the necessities, it must mean that they have some form of disposable wealth. However, this could be misleading, especially with the rise of credit, which allowed individuals to purchase items without having the money upfront to pay for them. The rise of the use of credit as well as competition to display status both gave way the purchasing of goods beyond just basics that was part of the consumer revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

For the past several months, the Adverts 250 Project has tracked the relative scarcity of advertising that appeared in the Providence Gazette, compared to newspapers published in other port cities, during the winter of 1766 and 1767. With the arrival of spring, the number and total column space increased, including today’s advertisement from Black and Stewart. This advertisement, however, was not the only notice that Black and Stewart placed in the April 11, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette. The partners inserted a second notice announcing that they wished to acquire “the best Kind of Hogshead Hoops, Red Oak Hogshead Staves, and Yellow Pine Boards.”

A single advertiser placing two separate notices concerning the exchange of goods or commodities in one issue was relatively rare in the late 1760s, at least as far as those outside the book trades were concerned. Printers frequently filled the pages of their own publications with multiple advertisements, a privilege of operating the press, but merchants, shopkeepers, and others buying and selling goods tended to limit themselves to just one advertisement at a time. Some certainly revised the copy or submitted new advertisements to made sure they always had a presence in the public prints, but usually not multiple notices per issue. A few departed from this general rule, mostly in the major port cities of Boston and Charleston.

That made Black and Stewart’s multiple advertisements all the more notable. In the space of just a couple of months, the Providence Gazette shifted from including virtually no advertising (except notices inserted by the printers) to featuring more than one notice placed by the same advertisers. While the significance of this example should not be exaggerated, it is worth noting that advertisers beyond the largest urban centers adopted a practice previously only identified in major port cities, places where multiple newspapers competed for readers and advertisers. Although newspapers printed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston provide the most plentiful examples of advertising in the 1760s, entrepreneurs in other places also experimented with format and frequency as they developed their own marketing strategies.

November 29

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

nov-29-11291766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 29, 1766).

“A large Assortment of English Goods and Braziery Ware.”

Joseph and William Russell sold a lot of items at their shop, which made it slightly difficult to digest this advertisement when I first looked at it. They listed many different types of products, ranging from clothing to cooking supplies to other household items. What I found interesting about this advertisement was how it reflected the consumer revolution in colonial America.

According to Colonial Williamsburg’s description of the consumer revolution, colonists wanted to show their “rising standard of living and their style and worth” through their purchases. In addition, “[a]s society became more mobile, houses, land, and livestock alone no longer communicated social rank. By the end of the seventeenth century, ordinary men and women began to demand consumer goods that indicated their status.” For example, in this advertisement the Russells sold things like “superfine green, blue, and crimson velvets” as well as “Dutch quills and sealing wax,” “Watch strings,” “Table and tea-spoons,” and even “Ivory handle forks and knives.”

Many people in the colonies wanted to live more refined lives. They bought imported fabrics to make fashionable clothes. They also bought chairs and other furniture, silverware and other housewares, latches and other hardware, and other imported goods in stores like the one from this advertisement. The consumer revolution made life easier for colonists who bought more items since they had more disposable income.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today’s advertisement may look familiar to readers who visit the Adverts 250 Project regularly. It was the second printing of the first full-page advertisement for consumer goods in an American newspaper, which was the subject of a special feature last week. While the project’s methodology usually forbids repeating an advertisement, I do make exceptions for good cause. In this case, today’s advertisement helps to demonstrate one of the limitations of working with digitized sources: portions of a source can be separated from the remainder of the source in ways not possible when working with an original document. This alters the way scholars then interpret those truncated sources.

Near the beginning of the semester each guest curator submitted the seven advertisements that he or she wished to study in greater detail. They were not required to submit the entire issues of the newspapers that contained their advertisements, just the advertisements themselves. As a result, I sorted through a pile of advertisements printed one per page, completely disembodied from the context of their original sources. I approved each advertisement based on whether it marketed consumer goods and services and whether it had been featured previously.

When Nicholas submitted this advertisement I noticed that its format deviated from that of standard eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but it did so in the same ways as earlier advertisements by Thompson and Arnold and other shopkeepers who experimented with decorative borders around oversized advertisements that spanned multiple columns. At a glance, I assumed that Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement was yet another example of a trade card transformed into a newspaper advertisement in the pages of the Providence Gazette. I approved this advertisement for inclusion in the project, figuring that I would note that it provided further evidence that advertisers paid attention to their competitors’ marketing and adapted new and innovative methods when they saw them.

Before I write my commentary on any of the advertisements selected by the guest curators, I always look through the entire issue in order to gain a greater appreciation for the context in which they appeared. That was how I first discovered that the Russells’ advertisement did not merely replicate a new mode recently adopted by other shopkeepers. Their full-page advertisement in the November 22, 1776, issue of the Providence Gazette was different, a further evolution of innovations involving the size of newspaper advertisements.

I made this discovery about the original November 22 publication of the Russells’ advertisement only after I had approved Nick’s submission of the November 29 iteration and dispatched him to do his research. I did not want to be a week late drawing attention to the importance of this advertisement in my additional commentary section attached to his analysis, so I went ahead and wrote a special feature on November 22. In his use of this advertisement to provide an overview of the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, Nick demonstrates how much more there was to say about this advertisement (and how much remains to be said given the extensive list of merchandise). In that regard, it hardly matters that Joseph and William Russell’s advertisement has been featured twice on the Adverts 250 Project.

Still, my appreciation for the significance of this advertisement occurred belatedly because the processes of digitization and reproduction altered its size and separated it from the rest of the issue. As a result, I did not understand the nature of the advertisement when I first viewed it. In contrast, had I been working with an original copy of the Providence Gazette the materiality of the text would have made this advertisement’s significance apparent at a glance.

January 13

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

Jan 13 - 1:13:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (January 13, 1776).

“To be sold at the STORE of John Smith … A general Assortment of GOODS.”

Advertisements like this one from John Smith make me reassess (or, at least, temper) one of the central arguments of my work on advertising in eighteenth-century America.  I contend that the consumer revolution that took place in the late colonial period, during the American Revolution, and into the era of the Early Republic was supply driven, whereas others argue that it was generated by consumer demand.  I have spent a lot of time and spilled a lot of ink making the case that newspaper advertisements and other marketing media were developed to incite demand among potential customers, that producers, suppliers, and retailers invoked a variety of appeals and devised incentives to encourage potential customers that they wanted and needed to purchase their goods and services.

Smith’s rather simple advertisement is certainly not the best example offering support for such claims.  At first glance, it seems to amount to little more than an announcement.  However, I am not willing to abandon my argument concerning the significance of supply (rather than demand) in the consumer revolution.  Consider other advertisements that appeared in the same issue.  Many make appeals to price or quality or fashion.  Some provide extensive lists to underscore the choices available to potential customers.  Indeed, even the relatively banal reference to “A general Assortment of GOODS” does make an appeal by hinting at the possibility of many choices among Smith’s merchandise.  Smith’s advertisement may not be flashy by modern standards — or the standards of the nineteenth century or even the final decades of the eighteenth century — but it does suggest that even many of the most rudimentary advertisements used language meant to engage readers and encourage them to make purchases.

Jan 13 - Boston Evening-Post - Full Page
Final Page of the Boston Evening-Post (January 13, 1766).