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.

March 5

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

mar-5-35-1767-pennsylvania-gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 5, 1767).

“Quilted or plain Carrying Saddles.”

“JOHN YOUNG, senior, SADLER,” operated a workshop “In Second-street, opposite the Baptist Meeting, and next Door to Mr. Alexander Huston’s,” in Philadelphia. Elsewhere in the city “JOHN YOUNG, jun. Saddler,” ran his own shop “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE, at the corner of Market and Front-streets, and opposite the LONDON COFFEE-HOUSE.” The younger Young likely learned his trade from the elder Young. Which one taught the other about the power of advertising? Was that also passed down from one generation to the next? Or did the senior Young eventually adopt marketing strategies on the recommendation of his son (or perhaps even to compete with him)?

mar-5-491767-pennsylvania-chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (March 9, 1767).

Both Youngs advertised in newspapers printed in Philadelphia in early March 1767, the elder Young in the established Pennsylvania Gazette and the junior saddler in the new Pennsylvania Chronicle. Although both included woodcuts of saddles in their notices, the younger Young seems to have been the more sophisticated marketer when it came to mobilizing an image to identify his products. Note that Young Sr. merely listed directions to aid potential customers in finding his workshop, yet Young Jr. created a brand for his business that operated at “the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE.” Score one for the younger Young’s innovative marketing.

The saddlers offered almost identical appeals concerning quality, price, and fashion. Young Sr. stated that “he makes in the neatest and most Fashionable Manner, and sells at the most reasonable Rates” a variety of saddles and other riding equipment. In turn, Young Jr. announced that “he makes in the best and most fashionable manner, and sells at the most reasonable rates” a similar array of leather goods. Both indicated that they had sufficient inventory “ready made” that they could sell in quantity, though the elder saddler edged out his son by offering “proper Abatement to those who buy to sell again.” In other words, retailers received a bulk discount. Score one for the elder Young’s innovative pricing.

The two saddlers seemed to address slightly different clientele. Although both asserted they made saddles “in the most fashionable Manner,” Young Jr. placed more emphasis on serving elite customers. He listed “GENTLEMEN’S English hunting” saddles first among his wares (and the format of the advertisement directed readers’ eyes to the word “gentlemen”) and underscored that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.” On the other hand, Young Sr. thanked gentlemen and merchants for their previous patronage, but he included appreciation for “Shallopmen, and others” in the same sentence. One saddler traded on exclusivity for elite customers, while the other made his workshop more accessible to clients from all backgrounds. In the end, which marketing method yielded greater revenues by attracting more business? For now, that should be considered a draw.

Whether the Youngs competed or cooperated with each other, they devised advertisements that shared some of the most common appeals deployed in commercial notices printed in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. Each other advanced unique and innovative marketing strategies, demonstrating that advertising in early America amounted to more than mere announcements that particular vendors sold certain goods.