September 21

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

Providence Gazette (September 21, 1771).

“Price Three Shillings per single Dozen, Two Shillings and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”

As fall arrived in 1771 advertisements for almanacs began appearing in newspapers throughout the colonies.  On September 21, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, inserted an advertisement that he would publish “THENEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our LORD 1772” by Benjamin West.  For several years West, an astronomer and mathematician, and Carter collaborated on almanacs, the former as author and the latter as printer.  As always, the newest edition included “a Variety of Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining” in addition to “the usual Astronomical Calculations.”

Like others who promoted almanacs, Carter and West offered the New-England Almanack wholesale and retail.  Consumers could purchase single copies for “Six Coppers” or six pence from the author or at the printing office.  Shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others who bought by the dozen, however, received discounts.  Carter and West charged “Three Shillings per single Dozen,” but offered an even better bargain to those who bought in even greater volume.  Those customers paid “TWO SHILLINGS and Sixpence per Dozen by the Quantity.”  In other words, a dozen almanacs cost thirty-six pence (or three pence each), but two dozen almanacs cost thirty pence per dozen (or two and a half pence each).

This pricing structure suggests just how much retailers could mark up prices for almanacs.  Those who bought only a dozen still acquired them for half the retail price that Carter and West charged.  Retailers who purchased two dozen or more could double the price they paid to five pence per almanac and still charge less than Carter and West did for single copies.  The printer and author probably did not worry too much about being undersold by retailers who assumed the risk for finding consumers for the almanacs, preferring the revenues guaranteed in bulk sales.  For their part, some readers may have decided to hold off on purchasing new almanacs for their homes, hoping to get better bargains from local shopkeepers and booksellers.

July 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 25, 1771).

“JAPANED WARE … now made and sold by TIMOTHY BERRET, and COMPANY.”

Advertisements for domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, appeared in colonial newspapers with greater frequency when nonimportation agreements remained in effect in response to the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the Coercive Acts in the 1760s and 1770s.  They tapered off, but did not disappear altogether, when colonists resumed regular trade with merchants in Britain.  Some advertisers continued to encourage consumers to acquire domestic manufactures, even if doing so did not have the same political valence when tensions between colonists and Parliament eased.

In the summer of 1771, for instance, Timothy Berret and Company advertised “JAPANED WARE” made in Pennsylvania.  The partners recognized the popularity and demand for fashionable housewares with patterns carved into thick black varnish, following styles and techniques that originated in Japan.  Such items testified to commercial networks that extended far beyond the Atlantic as well as to the cosmopolitanism of consumers who acquired and displayed “JAPANED WARE,” no matter whether made in Britain, the colonies, or elsewhere.  Berret and Company adamantly proclaimed their merchandise “Equal in quality to any that can be imported from Great-Britain.”  They underscored the point, declaring their wares “no way inferior, either in neatness of workmanship, japaning, painting, or polishing, to any that is made in England.”  For those consumers skeptical that Berret and Company achieved the same quality as imported items, the partners had on hand “very neat bread-baskets, tea-boards, and waiters” for sale and inspection.

In an effort to gain more orders for their “new Manufactory,” Berret and Company sought buyers among retailers as well as end-use consumers.  They offered discounts, a “great allowance,” to shopkeepers and others “who buy to sell again.”  In addition to quality that matched imported goods, they passed along bargains to their customers with prices “as cheap as in England.”  Purchasers did not have to pay a premium when acquiring domestic manufactures from Berret and Company instead of imported goods produced in greater quantities.

The “young beginners” in Philadelphia refrained from inserting political commentary into their advertisement, instead choosing to reassure hesitant buyers that the quality and price of their “JAPANED WARE” rivaled anything imported.  For many advertisers and consumers, politics did not matter as much in 1771 as they did in 1766 or 1769 or would again in 1774.  Several times in the 1760s and 1770s, the marketing appeals in newspaper advertisements, the arguments in favor of purchasing domestic manufactures, shifted depending on current events and the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

January 8

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

Connecticut Courant (January 8, 1771).

“He will sell for the following Prices.”

K. Sexton sold books at a shop “Near the Great Bridge in Hartford” in the early 1770s. Like many other early American booksellers, he placed newspaper advertisements that listed various titles available at his shop. In his advertisement in the January 8, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Courant, however, he included an enhancement not part of most newspaper advertisements or book catalogs published during the period.  He gave the prices of his merchandise.

In orderly columns that ran down the right side of his notice, Sexton listed prices in pounds, shillings, and pence, allowing prospective customers to anticipate what they would spend on his books as well as identify bargains.  He charged, for instance, fourteen shillings for a two-volume set of “SMALL Morrocco Bibles, bound in the neatest Manner,” five shillings and four pence for a “large” edition of a popular novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and four shillings and eight pence for a “small” edition, and ten pence for “Cato’s Tragedy.”

For some items, Sexton sought buyers among both consumers and retailers.  He sold “Sinners in the Hands of an angry God, a Sermon preach’d by the Rev’d Jon. Edwards at Enfield, at a Time of great awakenings” for six pence for a single copy or four shillings for a dozen.  Retailers and others who bought in volume enjoyed a significant discount when they paid four shillings or forty-eight pence for twelve copies; Sexton reduced the retail price by one third.  He offered similar savings for purchasing at least a dozen copies of six other titles, including “Mr. Moodys Sermon to Children” and “Watts’s Catechism.”  For each of those, he charged either four pence each or three shillings (or thirty-six pence) for a dozen.  Those who bought a dozen save one quarter of the retail price.

Most booksellers did not specify prices for their merchandise in newspapers advertisements that listed multiple titles, though they were more likely to mention prices in advertisements for single titles and almost always did so in subscription notices for proposed books, magazines, and pamphlets.  In general, most purveyors of goods and services in eighteenth-century America did not indicate prices in their advertisements, except to offer assurances that they were low or reasonable.  Setting prices and promoting them to prospective customers eventually became a standard marketing strategy, but it was not common in eighteenth-century advertisements.  In the early 1770s, Sexton’s use of prices in his newspaper notices amounted to an experiment and innovation in marketing.

December 22

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

Providence Gazette (December 22, 1770).

“On Wednesday next will be Published … Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”

Advertisements for almanacs were ubiquitous in American newspapers in late December during the era of the American Revolution.  They began appearing in late summer or early fall, usually just brief announcements that printers planned to publish and start selling them within the coming weeks.  The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall and continued as winter officially arrived just before the end of the year.  Printers continued to advertise almanacs in January, hoping to relieve themselves of surplus copies that cut into their revenues.  Advertisements tapered off in February and beyond, though some notices occasionally appeared well into the new year.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both that almanac and the Providence Gazette, were among the promoters of almanacs in the public prints in 1770.  They offered “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity.”  In other words, shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others received discounts for buying by volume, thus allowing them to charge competitive retail prices.

By the first day of winter, West and Carter had already been advertising the New-England Almanack for more than a month.  The advertisement that ran in the December 22 edition of the Providence Gazette likely looked familiar to readers, but the conclusion announced a new product that would soon be available for customers.  Within the next week, Carter planned to publish “Mr. West’s Sheet ALMANACK, For the Year 1771.”  This condensed version of the pamphlet organized the contents on a single broadsheet to hang on a wall in a home or office for easy reference.  West and Carter realized that consumers might have use for an almanac in a different format instead of or, even better, in addition to the standard pamphlet version.  Their decision to publish a sheet almanac presented customers with choices.  Waiting to publish the sheet almanack until just a week before the new year may have been a savvy decision when it came to customers who preferred that format but who already purchased the pamphlet version.  For printers of all sorts, including those who published newspapers, almanacs were an important source of revenue.  For Carter, that made introducing a sheet almanac just a week before the new year worth the risk.

November 10

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

Providence Gazette (November 10, 1770).

“NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771.”

In eighteenth-century America, November was one of the most important months for marketing almanacs. Advertisements began appearing as early as August or September in some newspapers, but those were usually brief notices that printers planned to publish almanacs in the coming weeks or months.  More advertisements appeared with greater frequency in October, November, and December, many of them much more extensive than the earlier notices.  Those advertisements often included lists of the contents to convince prospective buyers that almanacs contained a variety of practical, educational, and entertaining items.  Sometimes they also featured excerpts taken from one of those features.

Benjamin West, the author of the “NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord 1771,” and John Carter, the printer of both the almanac and the Providence Gazette, ran a lengthy advertisement on November 10, 1770.  It extended more than half a column, much of that space filled with a list of its contents.  Practical entries included “High Water at Providence, and Differences of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent” and “Courts in the New England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method.”  The almanac also contained items intended to educate or entertain or both, such as “select Pieces of Poetry” and “an Essay on ASTROLOGY.”  A few verses appeared near the end of the advertisement, previewing what readers would encounter when they perused the almanac.  The astronomical calculations were “Fitted for the Latitude of PROVIDENCE,” but the almanac also included useful information for anyone venturing beyond the city, such as a “Table of Roads, enlarged and corrected, with the most noted Inns prefixed, for the Direction of Travellers.”

West and Carter aimed their advertisement at both consumers and retailers.  They promised “Great Allowance … to those who take a Quantity” or a discount for buying by volume.  They hoped to supply shopkeepers, booksellers, peddlers, and others with almanacs to sell to their own customers, further disseminating them beyond what the author and printer could accomplish by themselves.  The lengthy advertisement in the Providence Gazette also served the interests of those prospective retailers.  They did not need to post their own extensive advertisements to convince buyers of the benefits of acquiring this particular almanac but could instead advise customers that they carried the New England Almanack.  West and Carter already did much of the marketing for retailers gratis.

Readers of the Providence Gazette could expect to see similar advertisements throughout the remainder of November and into December and January before they tapered off in late winter.  Just as falling leaves marked the change of the season in New England, the appearance and length of newspaper advertisements for almanacs also signaled that fall had arrived and winter was on its way.

October 17

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (October 15, 1770).

“Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, on September 30, 1770, colonial printers quickly engaged in simultaneous acts of commemoration and commodification.  Radiating out from Boston, newspapers provided extensive coverage of Whitefield’s passing, in news articles reprinted from one newspaper to another, in verses dedicated to the minister, and in a hymn composed by Whitefield himself in anticipation of it one day being sung at his funeral.  In addition to widespread and widely reprinted commemorations of Whitefield, printers also hawked memorabilia that commodified his death.

The first instance appeared in the October 4 edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, just days after residents of Boston received the news that Whitefield died at Newburyport.  The news coverage included an announcement of “A FUNERAL HYMN, wrote by the Rev’d Mr, Whitefield … Sold at Green & Russells.”  Within two weeks, every newspaper published in Massachusetts as well as the New-Hampshire Gazette published at least one freestanding advertisement that promoted a broadside that commemorated the minister.  Printers and others made available several broadsides for consumers, some of that memorabilia featuring the funeral hymn and others featuring poems dedicated to Whitefield.

The advertisements for those broadsides initially addressed individual consumers, but on October 15 the advertisements for the “ELEGIAC POEM” by Phillis Wheatley, the enslaved poet, in both the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy included a new note at the end: “Great Allowance to travelling Traders, &c.”  Ezekiel Russell and John Boyles offered discounts to peddlers, shopkeepers, and anyone else who would purchase in bulk and then retail the broadside beyond Boston.  Just as news of Whitefield’s death spread through printing and reprinting of articles, verses, and hymns in newspapers that were distributed far beyond the towns in which they were published, the opportunities to engage in commemoration through commodification also widened.  Newspapers in Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth all ran advertisements for Whitefield memorabilia.  The producers of that memorabilia expected and encouraged further distribution into villages, offering discounts to facilitate the further dissemination of their product.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 19, 1770).

“A Discount of 5 per Cent. at least.”

In the summer of 1770, David Baty and Company advertised a variety of liquors available at their store in Charleston.  Their notice in the supplement to the June 19 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal listed “RUM of different Qualities,” brandy, Madeira, claret, port, and “a Variety of other WINES.”  Customers could select the quantity they desired.  For rum and brandy, that meant by the hogshead, quarter cask, or “smaller Quantity,” but not less than three gallons.  For the wines, they could select among pipes, casks, and bottles.

Baty and Company encouraged customers to make larger purchases.  To that end, they offered “a Discount of 5 per Cent. at least” for buying “any considerable Amount,” suggesting that they applied even more significant discounts as customers increased their orders.  The partners did not list any prices to capture the attention of prospective customers; instead, they asked them to imagine a different kind of bargain available at their store.

They also provided a discount to customers who paid cash rather than made their purchases on credit.  The same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal included several notices calling on customers and others to settle overdue accounts.  Some of those advertisements included threats to place delinquent “Accounts in the Hands of a Lawyer.”  Baty and Company sought to avoid the hassle and expense of chasing down customers for payment at a later date, so they offered an incentive for paying with “Ready Money” at the time of sale.

Purveyors of goods and services frequently trumpeted their low prices in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements.  Baty and Company took a different approach.  The partners asked prospective customers to consider how they could play a role in bringing down prices by ordering “any considerable Amount” or paying in cash, actions that provided even greater benefits to Baty and Company than simply making a sale.

January 6

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

Jan 6 1770 - 1:6:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (January 6, 1769).

NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK … 1770.”

In the first issue of the Providence Gazette published in the new year, John Carter continued promoting “THE NEW-ENGLAND ALMANACK, OR, Lady’s and Gentleman’s DIARY, For the Year of our Lord CHRIST 1770.” He once again ran an advertisement that had been continuously appearing in the pages of the Providence Gazette for the past two months. Such was the lot for printers throughout the colonies. Most who published almanacs began each new year with surplus copies that became less useful with each passing week. Many attempted for weeks or even months to rid themselves of those extras rather than have them count against potential profits.

To that end, lengthy advertisements listing the various contents of almanacs served Carter and other printers well. Printers emphasized that these reference volumes contained not just the astronomical calculations for each day but also reference items, informative essays, and entertaining anecdotes that readers could enjoy throughout the year. Carter, for instance, attempted to entice customers with a list of contents that included “Courts in the New-England Governments, digested in a new and familiar Method,” “a curious Essay on Comets, with some Remarks on the extraordinary one that appeared in August and September last,” and “a beautiful Poem on Creation.” Even though the dates would pass for predictions about the weather and calculations for high tide, the other contents of the almanac retained their value and justified purchasing a copy days, weeks, or even months after the first of the year.

Carter’s first advertisement for 1770 included a modification that he made to the notice after it ran for a month. On December 2, 1769, he added a note at the end: “A considerable Allowance is made to those who take a Quantity.” In other words, the printer offered a discount for buying in volume to booksellers, shopkeepers, and others. He continued to offer this bargain in early January. Because such an investment became increasingly risky for retailers with each passing week, it became all the more imperative to underscore the many and varied features of the New-England Almanack. Carter aimed his advertisement at both consumers and retailers, perhaps even more eager to sell to “those who take a Quantity” than to customers who wished to acquire only a single copy.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 5, 1769).

“For the Encouragement of those who are willing to promote American Manufactories.”

While the Townshend Acts remained in effect, imposing duties on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imported in the American colonies, the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements promoting “American manufactories” increased. The partnership of Gilpin and Fisher joined the chorus of advertisers encouraging colonists to “Buy American” in the late 1760s. In an advertisement for their “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” in the October 5, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Gilpin and Fisher extolled the quality of their product. They proclaimed that they “spar[ed] no Pains or Expence to render” their snuff “equal to any made here” or, more significantly, “imported from abroad. That was not merely their own puffery but rather the assessment of “some of the best Judges,” though Gilpin and Fisher did not publish their “concurrent Testimonies” nor name those “Judges.” Still, they made their point: consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when purchasing from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” instead of buying imported alternatives.

Elsewhere in the advertisement, they incorporated another popular element of the “Buy American” motif that emerged in response to an imbalance of trade with Britain, the Townshend Acts, and nonimportation agreements adopted in cities and towns in several colonies. According to many editorials and advertisements, American consumers had a moral imperative to purchase goods produced in the colonies. Doing so would correct the trade imbalance while simultaneously exerting economic resistance to Parliament’s attempts to tax the colonies via import duties. Joshua Fisher and Sons sold the snuff “by the Bottle, Dozen, or Gross,” offering discounts to those who bought in bulk. To convince both consumers and retailers to take advantage of such deals, the tobacconists called on those “willing to promote American manufactories.” The two appeals buttressed each other: purchasing “domestic manufactures” was good politics but also savvy business when getting a bargain for doing so. The “Considerable Allowance” promised to those who purchased by volume likely made products from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” even more enticing for prospective customers who wanted to practice politics through their decisions in the marketplace.

The imperial crisis and American reactions to it did not unfold solely in the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers. Instead, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others addressed the political issues of the day in their advertisements. The appeals they made to consumers helped to shape American resistance to Parliament’s attempts to raise revenues and regulate commerce in the colonies.

June 30

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

Jun 30 - 6:30:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 30, 1767_.

“Compleat Assortment of Stationary Ware, consisting of almost every Article in that Branch.”

George Wood, “STATIONER and BOOKBINDER in Elliott-street” in Charleston, adopted many of the marketing appeals most frequently used by merchants and shopkeepers who sold dry goods and housewares in eighteenth-century America. In particular, he emphasized consumer choice when he noted that he stocked “a very large and compleat Assortment of Stationary Ware” and then listed dozens of specific items. His inventory included everything from the basics, like “Writing Paper of all Kinds” and “best London Ink Powder,” to specialty items, like “large Ink Pots for Compting-Houses” and Surveyors Pocket Cases of Instruments.” To guarantee that potential customers did not assume that he sold only the items listed in his advertisement, Wood concluded his list with “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera), allowing readers to conjure up images of other stationery wares that might be in Wood’s shop.

He followed a similar strategy in listing books he had for sale, listing some of the most popular titles before making nods toward general categories, such as “a great Variety of small Picture Books for Children” and “a great Variety of Song Books.” Just in case readers did not notice particular titles they desired, Wood doubled down on his appeal to consumer choice: “He has likewise to dispose of, upwards of One Thousand Volumes of curious Books, consisting of Histories, Voyages, Travels, Lives, Memoirs, Novels, Plays, &c.” The bookseller had something for every taste and interest. Customers just needed to visit his shop and explore the shelves to find the books they wanted.

Wood realized schoolmasters in particular would likely be interested in the variety of titles he stocked, especially spelling and math books. He indicated that some volumes were intended “for the use of Schools.” To encourage instructors to choose from among his selection, Wood offered discounts if they would “take a Quantity” to distribute among their students.

By offering such a “large and compleat Assortment” of stationery, writing supplies, and books, Wood encouraged customers of all sorts to visit his shop. Providing a list of merchandise not only underscored consumer choice but also allowed him to identify specific types of customers with particular interests or specialized needs. His advertisement addressed the general interests of colonial readers, but also marketed certain wares to several occupational groups.