April 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (April 28, 1773).

“A LARGE and curious collection of the most modern PRINTS and PICTURES.”

Nicholas Brooks regularly advertised a variety of merchandise available at his shop in Philadelphia in the early 1770s, though he specialized in visual images to adorn homes and offices and often highlighted those items.  Such was the case in his advertisement in the April 28, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Brooks promoted a “LARGE and curious collection of the most modern PRINTS and PICTURES” that he recently imported from London.

His new inventory included a “variety of maps of the world, and each quarter,” as well as a “general atlas, containing 36 new and correct maps.”  Those maps helped colonizers in Philadelphia, the largest city in British North America yet also an outpost in a global empire, envision their location in relation to London, other colonies, and faraway places connected via networks of trade that brought vessels from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean to their bustling port.  Other items at Brooks’s shop also allowed colonizers to contemplate their connections to the empire, especially the cosmopolitan city at its center.  The collection of prints included “the different Macaronies of the present time, now in the greatest vogue in London.”  The term “macaroni” referred to young men, many of whom traveled in Europe, who imitated the extravagant fashions popular on the continent.  These prints gave colonizers in Philadelphia an opportunity to glimpse current fashions adopted by some of the elite in London, providing a guide for dressing themselves to demonstrate their sophistication and gentility.  For others, however, the prints served as a cautionary tale and a means of critiquing the excesses of young men who wallowed in too much luxury.  Satirical prints presented young men as feminized by their attention to fashion and their participation in consumer culture.

Even as Brooks offered such prints for sale at his shop, he also advertised jewelry and dry goods, almost certainly including textiles and garments, for customers to outfit themselves according to the latest fashions.  Colonizers had complicated relationships with consumer culture and the array of goods presented to them by merchants, shopkeepers, tailors, milliners, and other advertisers.  They critiqued even as they indulged, attempting to find the right level of participation that testified to their good taste without impugning their character by going too far.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1767 Boston News-Letter
Massachusetts Gazette (April 30, 1767).

“Genteel Assortment newest fashion Fans and Masks.”

At his shop at the sign of the Three Doves in Boston, William Blair Townsend sold “A Fresh Assortment Goods for the Season” recently imported from London. Many of his competitors advised potential customers that they stocked fashionable goods, especially textiles, accessories, and adornments for garments, but most deployed some sort of blanket statement to that effect. Townsend, on the other hand, underscored that he carried dry goods à la mode, inserting the word “fashionable” five times in his list of merchandise. For instance, he carried “Ducapes, with Fashionable Trimmings” and “fashionable white Blond Lace.” For those worried that merchants in England attempted to pawn off inventory already going out of style to colonial shopkeepers to pass along to their customers far removed from the cosmopolitan center of the empire, Townsend asserted that his customers could purchase “new fashion black and white Silk Mitts” as well as a “variety newest fashion figured and plated Silver Ribbons.” Both could have been used to dress up garments that might otherwise have been already passing out of style. Townsend adopted even more expansive language as he continued describing his wares: “genteel Assortment newest fashion Fans and Masks.” Other eighteenth-century advertisers commonly made appeals to fashion, but Townsend made it the centerpiece of his marketing strategy.

Not all colonists were as keen on keeping up with current fashions as the customers Townsend sought to cultivate. The Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary, a supplement for “other News and New-Advertisements,” included a notice that “In a few Days will be Published, AN ADDRESS TO PERSONS of FASHION.” The author did not look upon the consumer revolution, its rituals of purchasing and display, with fondness. This pamphlet was a warning “worthy the serious Attention of every Christian, especially at a Time when Vice and Immorality seem to have an Ascendancy over Religion.” This advertisement stood in stark contrast to the array of advertisements hawking all sorts of consumer goods that surrounded it. Seemingly separated from Townsend’s advertisement by several pages according to modern archival practices, the Extraordinary may have been inserted in the Massachusetts Gazette as a means of keeping the two publications for April 30 together. If that was the case, the advertisement for the “ADDRESS TO PERSONS of FASHION” appeared on the far left of the page that faced Townsend’s advertisement. Readers would have encountered the critique of fashion almost immediately before perusing the shopkeeper’s efforts to extoll his stylish merchandise.