December 1

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 1, 1772).

“PIKE’s ANNUAL BALL.”

The December 1, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal carried an advertisement that proclaimed “BALL” in a larger font than anything else in the entire issue.  That headline drew attention to an announcement that “PIKE’s ANNUAL BALL, for the young LADIES and GENTLEMEN, under his Tuition, will be on Tuesday the Eighth of December.”  The event would begin “exactly at SIX o’CLOCK.”  Presumably members of the community other than the dancing master’s students were welcome to attend the ball to observe the skills that Pike taught in what he had promoted as a “NEW SUIT of ROOMS” in another advertisement that he published in September.

Pike concluded that advertisement with a message to the “Parents and Guardians of his Scholars, that his BALL will be on Tuesday the 8th of December next.”  He underscored that they needed to sign up for classes “as soon as possible, that they may be enabled to complete his Figures in a proper Manner” when they were on display at the ball.  The dancing master aimed to excite some anxiety about public scrutiny, knowing that colonizers carefully observed each other to assess whether their appearance and comportment revealed authentic grace and gentility …or whether they merely put on an act and went through the motions.  Effortless dancing, many believed, revealed virtue, while stumbling around the dance floor and awkwardly interacting with partners and other dancers suggested character flaws.

As a result, colonizers who wished to demonstrate that they truly belonged among the ranks of the genteel relied on the services of various instructors, including tutors who taught them how to speak French, tutors who taught them how to play musical instruments, and dancing and fencing masters, like Pike, who taught them how to move gracefully and how to engage in polite exchanges at social gatherings.  In cautioning the parents and guardians of his prospective pupils that “his SCHOLARS” would be on display at his annual ball in December, Pike reminded them that they needed his services just as much as he needed their patronage if they wished to safeguard their social standing.

October 8

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

South-Carolina Gazette (October 8, 1772).

“Dancing & Fencing.”

“THE Sign of the Golden Cup.”

Mr. Pike, a dancing master, and Thomas You, a silversmith, both used graphic design to draw attention to their advertisements in the October 8, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, yet they adopted different strategies.  Their notices further enlivened the vibrant graphic design that distinguished notices in that newspaper from those that ran in other newspapers.  The compositor for the South-Carolina Gazette made liberal use of varying font sizes, gothic letters for headlines, italics, capitals, and centering compared to advertisements.

That being the case, the compositor may have played a role in how the dancing master used decorative type and gothic letters to enhance his advertisement.  The headline “Dancing & Fencing” in gothic letters appeared inside a border composed of printing ornaments above a secondary headline spread over three lines: “PIKE’s ACADEMY / for / DANCING and FENCING.”  Compare that to a similar advertisement that Pike ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  It featured only one headline, “DANCING and FENCING,” that did not appear in a different font than the rest of the advertisement.  Rather than constituting a second headline, “PIKE’s ACADEMY, for FENCING and DANCING” was part of the first paragraph of the advertisement.  An enterprising compositor at the South-Carolina Gazette likely played a significant role in designing Pike’s advertisement, perhaps assuming full responsibility without consulting the advertiser.

On the other hand, You almost certainly submitted instructions to include a woodcut depicting a golden cup in his advertisement for the merchandise he sold at the “Sign of the Golden Cup.”  You commissioned that image for his exclusive use, previously inserting it in advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette in December 1770 and March 1771.  Prior to that, he used a different woodcut in his advertisements in December 1766 and July 1767.  He seemed to appreciate that images helped draw attention to his notices.  How to incorporate an image, however, he may have left to the discretion of the compositor.  In 1772, his woodcut of a golden cup appeared in the center, flanked by his name and location.  In earlier advertisements, it was positioned to the left, replicating the placement of woodcuts depicting ships that adorned other notices.

The advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette testify to both the role of the compositor in designing newspaper notices and occasional collaboration or consultation involving both the compositor and the advertiser.  Rather than dense text, variations abounded in the advertisements in that newspaper, making the South-Carolina Gazette one of the most visually interesting publications in the early 1770s.

September 15

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 15, 1772).

“Young Ladies and Gentlemen instructed in DANCING.”

An advertisement for “DANCING and FENCING” lessons in the September 15, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal alerted readers that “PIKE’s ACADEMY, for FENCING and DANCING” would soon offer a new “Season” of classes.  Pike was probably already familiar to many prospective pupils, having offered instruction in Charleston for several years.  He attempted to generate interest even among those who had already taken lessons with him by inviting students to his “NEW SUIT of ROOMS” on Church Street.

A significant portion of the advertisement consisted of the schedule.  Pike devoted early mornings, “Five o’Clock to Nine,” to fencing lessons.  He taught dancing to “Young Ladies and Gentlemen” in the afternoons on Thursdays and Saturdays in addition to his “EVENING SCHOOL, every Evening in the Week, from Six o’Clock to Nine.”  That left “four Afternoons at Liberty every Week” for Pike to venture beyond his academy to provide private lessons to students “at their own Houses.”  That may have been the preferred option for those who felt anxious about appearing anything other than graceful and genteel in front of observers.

Yet dancing was an activity meant to be undertaken in public, at least eventually.  Colonizers asserted their status and took great pride in being skillful dancers.  Smoothly completing complex steps testified to their refinement, while awkwardness or stumbling undermined impressions of politeness and sophistication they demonstrated in other aspects of their comportment and dress.  Understanding the stakes, Pike scheduled an exhibition ball for early December and encouraged the “Parents and Guardians of his Scholars” to enroll them in lessons “as soon as possible.”  The teacher and his pupils needed sufficient time “to complete his Figures in a proper Manner” during their lessons so the young ladies and gentlemen could showcase their skills in front of observers at the ball.  Other dancing masters also raised the specter of public embarrassment in their advertisements, encouraging prospective students and their parents to enroll in lessons in order to withstand public scrutiny.  By stoking anxiety, they aimed to motivate colonizers to engage their services.

June 12

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 12, 1772).

“Those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”

Many colonizers sought to demonstrate that they belonged to genteel society through their fashions, possessions, and comportment.  They participated in the consumer revolution, purchasing textiles, garments, accessories, and housewares according to the latest tastes in English cities, especially London.  They also concentrated on their comportment, putting into practice good manners and learning a variety of genteel skills, including dancing, fencing, speaking French, and playing musical instruments.  Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and tutors aided colonizers in acquiring both the things and the knowledge necessary for displaying their gentility.

This was not solely an urban phenomenon.  Far beyond the major port cities of Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, purveyors of goods advertised their wares and consumers acquired them.  Similarly, colonizers in smaller towns had opportunities to take lessons in dancing, fencing, and other genteel pursuits.  As summer arrived in 1772, Monsieur Viart placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform the public, especially parents, that he taught “DANCING, FENCING, the FRENCH LANGUAGE, and the VIOLIN … in the most perfect and polite manner.”  He cautioned parents against overlooking the benefits of enrolling their children in his classes, arguing that his curriculum yielded “those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”  Even colonizers in Portsmouth, Viart declared, needed these skills.

Viart listed the tuition for each kind of lesson, both an initial entrance fee and additional payment for each quarter.  He also offered a discount if “a Scholar learns in two Branches,” encouraging pupils and their parents to sign up for more than one subject.  He anticipated the most interest in dancing and French, holding “School” for each at set times on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  He may have also provided private tutoring, but he did not mention those lessons in his advertisement.  He gave fencing and violin lessons “at such times as may be convenient for his Scholars.”

Tutors like Viart attempted to entice colonizers to become even more immersed in the consumer revolution and the culture of gentility and cosmopolitanism often associated with it.  He expected that his pronouncement that learning to dance or speak French was “so necessary” in preparing children to successfully make their way in the world that it would resonate with parents and other readers in Portsmouth and nearby towns.  Such skills, he suggested, were not reserved for the gentry in New York and Philadelphia.

October 7

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

New-York Journal (October 4, 1770).

“There is no other Art so various perhaps and universal in its Influence, as Music.”

D. Propert and W. C. Hulett took very different approaches to promoting music lessons in the October 4, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. Hulett, who described himself as a “DANCING-MASTER,” advertised both his “public DANCING SCHOOL” and lessons for several instruments. Like many other dancing masters, he also provided fencing lessons for gentlemen.  Most of his advertisement focused on his work as a dancing master, but he did begin and end with information about music lessons.  The headline proclaimed, “The GUITTAR, TAUGHT By W. C. HULETT, DANCING-MASTER.”  In the final paragraph, he informed prospective pupils that also gave lessons for the violin and flute as well as the small sword.  Overall, Hulett’s notice resembled most advertisements for music lessons that appeared in American newspapers in the era of the American Revolution.

Propert, on the other hand, placed a very different advertisement, starting with the headline that introduced him to prospective students as “D. PROPERT, Professor of MUSIC.”  Nearly four times the length of Hulett’s notice, this advertisement included a short essay on how music benefited “Body and Mind” for those who heard it and those who performed it.  “Music,” Propert declared, “has ever been held in the highest Esteem, by the most exalted Characters, and finest Geniuses of almost every Age and Nation.”  Music had a sublime impact; it was “capable of raising the Soul into Dispositions for the most pleasing, useful and noble purposes.”  Propert extolled the influence of music in worship services, on the battlefield, and at funerals, banquets, and balls.  Music enhanced any activity “for it has Expression for all the various Passions and Emotions of the Heart and Soul.”  Making his pitch to those who considered themselves genteel or aspired to the ranks of gentility, Propert concluded his homily on music with an assertion that “this Art has obtained the Patronage, Regard and Praises of the greatest Personages” throughout recorded history.  He instructed prospective pupils that music “hath been the Delight and Study of every polished and ingenious National in all Climates and in all Ages.”

Propert’s advertisement and Hulett’s advertisement happened to appear one after the other, Propert’s first in the October 4 edition and Hulett’s first in the next issue on October 11.  Appearing alongside a competitor may have worked to Hulett’s benefit since Propert made a case for the virtues of learning to play an instrument that applied to Hulett’s lessons as well as his own.  According to the advertising rates in the colophon, Propert paid four times as much to run his advertisement.  Not only did the printer collect those revenues, Hulett accrued benefits as well in his quest for students for this “most pleasing of the liberal Arts.”  Propert’s innovation in marketing may have worked to the advantage of all music instructors in New York.

October 3

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 3, 1770).

“He proposes teaching COTILLONS in the newest taste.”

The South Carolina Newspapers collection available via Accessible Archives is an invaluable resource for producing the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  The collection includes digitized images of three newspapers published in Charleston in 1770, the South-Carolina Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

Transcriptions of the newspapers accompany the images.  In many cases, those transcriptions make it easier to decipher the contents of advertisements and other items that appear illegible for a variety or reasons.  Perhaps the original printing did not produce a clear impression in 1770 or the document suffered damage over time or poor photography resulted in a remediation that does not accurately the original.  Sometimes more than one of these factors influence the quality of digital surrogates.

Transcriptions, whether undertaken by people or technology, must be consulted with care.  Consider an advertisement for “PIKE’s DANCING and FENCING SCHOOLS” that ran in the October 3, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The digital image is not easily legible, though an experienced research familiar with the language and contents of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements can piece together the contents.  The transcription, on the other hand, leaves out words, such as “Ladies” in the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen,” and does not accurately reproduce others, such as “he proposes trashing COTILLONSisa new first” for “he proposes teaching COTILLONS in the newest taste.”

Flawed Transcription of Pike’s Advertisement

While this is obviously an error in the transcription, the interface created by Accessible Archives does correct an error that the compositor made when setting the type for the issue that contained Pike’s advertisement.  That issue consisted of six pages, four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half and two additional pages of advertising printed on either side of a smaller sheet.  That supplement has the wrong date at the top, “Sept. 24 – Oct. 2” instead of “Sept. 24 – Oct. 3” at the top of the pages for the rest of the issue.  The page numbers for the supplement, 183 and 184, run continuously with the pages printed on the larger sheet.  The date 1770 appears in the title (an abbreviated masthead): “THE SOUTH-CAROLINA AND AMERICAN GENERAL GAZETTE, for 1770.”  Dates in some of the advertisements also make it clear that the supplement was printed in 1770.

Yet manuscript additions indicate that at some time the supplement was separated from the rest of the issue.  The first page includes a notation, either incomplete or partially illegible, that states, “Sup in 177[x],” with a missing digit at the end of the year.  Similarly, the supplement has a notation, not entirely legible, that declares it “does not belong in this [state].”  Most likely the “Oct. 2” error resulted in the supplement being cataloged or even bound with another issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette from another year, but an archivist noted the other discrepancies and context clues.  In the end, Accessible Archives arranged the digital images of all six pages of the issue together and in the correct order, despite an error made by the compositor in 1770.

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 3, 1770).

Human error and technological error sometimes creep into sources at every stage of their production, preservation, and remediation.  Such errors introduce miniature mysteries that can be entertaining to solve, but they also challenge researchers to constantly assess their sources to recognize any features that seem out of place or inconsistent with what they know about the period they are investigating or the subsequent collection and treatment of primary sources that make them accessible.

September 9

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

New-York Journal (September 6, 1770).

“PETER VIANY.  CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing.”

Peter Vianey taught dancing and fencing in New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  To attract students, he periodically placed newspaper advertisements in the New-York Journal.  His advertisements often appeared in September in advance of a new season of lessons to commence at his “public Dancing School” in October, though he placed notices on other occasions as well.  For prospective pupils who desired more personalized attention (or who were anxious about others potentially seeing them in awkward positions as they worked to master the steps), he also taught “Ladies and Gentleman in private either at his School or at their own Houses.”

Vianey inserted a relatively short advertisement into the September 6, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His statement that he “CONTINUES to teach Fencing and Dancing” suggests that he expected that many residents of New York were already familiar with his services.  It was a very different tone than he took two years earlier when his advertisement included a short introduction and three additional paragraphs.  The first announced the opening of his school in October, described the dances he taught, listed his fees, and offered private lessons.  The second emphasized the quality of instruction.  Vianey proclaimed that he taught “in the Style of the best Masters in Europe.”  His methods were so effective that the results were already “discoverable in his Scholars” even though “none of them have yet had Time to be perfected in their Minuets.”  It was the final paragraph, however, that was the most important.  In it, Vianey addressed gossip and a case of mistaken identity.  “Having been informed,” he stated, “that he has been mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago, he takes Liberty to inform those who are acquainted with him, that he never was in this Country, till the Year 1764.”  He further asserted that “all who know him” could “testify that his Conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.”  Vianey sought to manage his reputation in the wake of reports that confused him with another dancing master.  Given that teaching dancing often required being in close physical proximity with his students, even touching them as they danced together and he demonstrated the steps, Vianey needed to establish that he was beyond reproach in order to protect his livelihood.

Apparently, Vianey successfully rehabilitated his reputation after placing his advertisement in 1768.  In subsequent advertisements, including the one placed in advance of a new season of lessons starting in October 1770, he did not mention further difficulties, nor was it in his interest to remind readers of gossip he wished to put behind him.  That he continued to reside in New York, offer lessons, and place advertisements testified to his success in overcoming the gossip and suspicions directed at him.

September 18

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

Sep 18
Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 18, 1769).

“DANCING MASTER.”

Advertisements in the September 18, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle reminded readers that more than one dancing master taught lessons in the city that fall. Martin Foy and Mr. Tioli placed notices that conveniently appeared on the same page. Indeed, the compositor may have had a little fun when choosing the layout for the page, positioning both advertisements at the top of their respective columns but on opposite sides as though they were facing each other before commencing a dance … or perhaps a duel, considering that Foy taught “Gentlemen the use of the small sword” in addition to the latest steps. Whatever the compositor’s intent, the placement of the advertisements clearly put Foy and Tioli in competition with each other.

Even though they were rivals for students, both dancing masters emphasized the environment in which they provided their lessons. Foy ran his school “at the assembly room,” noting that the “room will be illuminated” in the evenings when he provided lessons for men who could not attend during the day due to their other commitments. Tioli taught at his home, where he set aside a room “excellently adapted for the purpose.” Yet it was not only the place of instruction that concerned the dancing masters. Tioli also assured prospective pupils that he would “make it his particular study to preserve the greatest order and decorum” during lessons. When several students gathered, the dancing school became a cacophony of movement and physical interactions, which helps to explain why both dancing masters instructed men and women separately. Even during lessons segregated by sex, Foy and Tioli recognized the prospect for misbehavior and mischievousness, whether horseplay or gossip, and insisted on their students acting with propriety. They imposed order when necessary. Foy promised his “fidelity” in conducting lessons “in a regular and polite manner.”

Personal comportment was an important aspect of both dancing well and appearing in genteel company to dance and socialize with others. Many colonists devoted considerable time to learning to dance in order to make the best possible impression on friends and neighbors when they attended public events. Learning the steps – and, equally important, how to do them gracefully – for a dance that lasted a few moments could require hours of instruction and practice, significantly more time for lapses in conduct and demeanor resulting from distractions during lessons composed entirely of male or female students who might feel unfettered when gathered in groups and not observed by members of the opposite sex. Instructing men and women separately avoided certain kinds of opportunities for discomfort among pupils, but doing so meant dancing masters potentially faced other sorts of allegations of impropriety at their schools. To that end, dancing masters advertised that they made great effort “to preserve the greatest order and decorum” at their schools.

September 10

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

Sep 10 - 9:7:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 7, 1769).

“But few of them have yet had time to be perfected in their minuets.”

During the first week of September 1769, Peter Vianey announced that he “Continues to teach MUSIC, FENCING and DANCING” to the residents of New York. The dancing master periodically placed advertisements in the city’s newspapers as a means of both cultivating his reputation and attracting new clients. In this particular notice, he announced that he would open his “public Dancing School” on the first Monday of October. He also taught private lessons, either at the school or in the homes of pupils.

In addition to publishing his advertisement as an act of self-promotion, Vianey offered another means of enhancing his reputation. He suggested that others could observe the benefits of his instruction in his students. The dancing master declared that “he teaches in the style of the best masters in Europe, and their manner is discoverable in his scholars.” Here Vianey walked a careful line. He expressed confidence in both his own ability and the achievements of his student, yet he hedged his bets when it came to sweeping expressions of approbation for the latter. He asserted that “few of them have yet had time to be perfected in their minuets.” Should any of his pupils falter when observed by others, Vianey supplied an explanation that did not negatively reflect on his instruction: his students made good progress but needed more practice. Furthermore, he guarded his position as an expert by making it clear that he could accurately assess the level of skill exhibited by his students; he was not so blinded by his own regard for his abilities as a dancing master that he could not recognize that his students had not “perfected” their steps. Indeed, his continued employment depended on being the master of his craft, no matter how well his pupils learned to dance. For any of his current and former pupils who encountered his advertisement, Vianey’s acknowledgment that they were not yet “perfected in their minuets” served to coax them to continue under his tutelage in order to remedy such shortcomings. As he coached “Ladies and Gentlemen” in the refined comportment of dancing, Vianey had to demonstrate the benefits of his instruction yet also avoid making his lessons obsolete. He presented himself as a master who always had more to teach, no matter the accomplishments of his pupils.

April 28

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 28, 1769).

“A SCHOOL for teaching young MASTERS and MISSES, DANCING and GOOD MANNERS.”

Peter Curtis took out an advertisement in the April 28, 1769, edition of the New Hampshire Gazette to advertise his dance school. This advertisement is particularly interesting because it demonstrates one of the ways that people found entertainment in the eighteenth century. The lives of colonists during the revolutionary era were not focused only on work and survival. The services that Peter Curtis offered might have been a great way for people to take a break and learn how to dance. The profession of dance master could be quite rewarding because, according to an online exhibition from the American Antiquarian Society, these dances were difficult to master and would require many classes. However, having the time and money to attend a dance class would have been a luxury that mostly the middling sort and elites would have been able to take advantage of. In another part of this advertisement that is interesting Curtis states that he will also teach good manners. This would be a must for elites who wanted their children to learn the proper way to behave themselves when in the company of other affluent members of society. A common way that people asserted their affluence was through consumer culture, but being able to dance and have well-mannered children also accomplished the same goal.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In this advertisement Peter Curtis announced that he “has again opened a SCHOOL for teaching young MASTERS and MISSES, DANCING and GOOD MANNERS.” In declaring that he had “again opened a SCHOOL,” he assumed that readers and prospective clients were already aware of his previous endeavors as a dancing master. The brevity of his advertisement, especially compared to another he previously inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette, suggests that was indeed the case. For instance, Curtis did not even state his location; he instead expected that others knew where to find his dancing school. In an advertisement that ran almost two years earlier, however, when Curtis launched that enterprise, he informed residents of Portsmouth that “he proposes to open a DANCING SCHOOL, at the House where the late Mr. David Horney kept a Tavern, and opposite Mr. John Stavers.” Over the course of a couple of years, his school became so familiar that Curtis no longer considered it necessary to give directions.

The dancing master himself had also become familiar in the community, so much so that he no longer underscored one of his most important credentials. When he first opened his school he introduced himself in the public prints as “Peter Curtis, From PARIS.” After outlining his services, he noted that he “has resided fifteen Years in France; he will teach them in the most polite and genteel Manner.” In so doing, he linked the experience he gained living and working in France with gentility and proper comportment. He encouraged prospective clients to desire the additional cachet of employing a dancing master with connections to Paris, at least when he first marketed his services in a community as yet unfamiliar with him. Over time, however, he apparently decided that he had established such a reputation in Portsmouth that he no longer needed to explicitly attach himself to the cosmopolitan French center of fashion and manners.

That Curtis once again advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette suggests that he experiences some success in Portsmouth and its environs. Dancing masters were notorious for being itinerant in eighteenth-century America. Curtis apparently attracted enough clients and cultivated sufficient demand that he planned to remain in the relatively small port for another season rather than seek his fortune in New York or Philadelphia or any of the larger cities in the colonies. Even beyond urban centers, genteel colonists (and those who aspired to gentility) considered dancing and the manners associated with the pastime an important signifier of their status.