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