September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 23, 1768).

I have been informed that some of my customers have been displeased.”

Seth Wales had two purposes for placing an advertisement for his “clothier’s business” in the New-London Gazette in September 1768. He promoted the skills of the workman he now employed while simultaneously recanting and correcting an advertisement that appeared in the same newspaper a year earlier.

That advertisement originally ran in the September 11, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. In it, Seth Wales of Norwich and Nathaniel Wales of Windham announced that “every Part and Branch of the Clothier’s Business is carried on” in their towns “under the Direction and Management of one FRANCIS GILDING.” Having recently arrived from London, Gilding was unfamiliar to prospective customers so the Waleses assured them that he is “thoroughly skilled in the Art of a Scowerer and Dyer, and can imitate or strike any Colours (that are dyed in the English Nation).” The advertisement continued to extol Gilding’s skills and abilities at some length, adopting a marketing strategy frequently adopted by artisans in newspapers published throughout the colonies.

Seth Wales ultimately found himself dissatisfied with Gilding’s “Direction and Management” of the business. In an advertisement that first appeared in the September 16 (misdated 15), 1768, issue he implied that Gilding had placed the previous notice. Although Wales did not take responsibility for misleading the public about Gilding’s work, he did acknowledge that he had been “informed that some of my customers have been displeased with some of their work done at my mill.” He indicated that those customers had responded to “Gilding’s pretences” in the earlier notice, but that he had “found by experience he no ways answers to said advertisement.” Wales then savaged Gilding’s skills before declaring that he had “dismissed him.”

In the wake of Gilding’s termination, Wales hired a new “workman at the clothier’s business, that served an apprenticeship at said trade in Europe, and understands every branch of the business.” This new employee had been on the job for six months, sufficient time for Wales to confidently exclaim that his work “shall be done this year much better than it was last.” Perhaps Wales had learned a lesson about advertising the skills of an employee too soon. The trial period gave him better opportunity to assess for himself the abilities of his “present workman” before making promises in advertisements and then finding himself in the position of retracting them.

For his part, Gilding was not pleased with how Wales portrayed him. The following week he placed his own advertisement, which appeared immediately below the second insertion of Wales’s notice. He lamented that he had been “greatly Abused and Injured in my Reputation.” He considered the entire advertisement “a Piece of Malice and Detraction.” He then explained that any shortcomings in his work should be attributed to Wales for not providing proper supplies for the dyeing business. Furthermore, Gilding asserted that Wales attempted to hire him for an additional year. Gilding quit, despite Wales pretending otherwise. Finally, Gilding reported that his former employer and “the Workman he pretends to have had Six Months experience of” had parted ways, once again due to difficulties caused by Wales.

Artisans of various sorts often used newspaper advertisements to promote their skills and training in eighteenth-century America. In this incident, Wales and Gilding did that and more. Each turned to the public prints to defend their own reputation, inserting advertisements that constructed competing narratives. Airing their dirty laundry presented risks, but calculated that the rewards of presenting their own side of the dispute would result in rewards if prospective customers believed their version of events.

March 13

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 13, 1766).

“BOLTON and SCOTLAND, At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

As soon as I saw this advertisement I knew that I had to select it. It didn’t matter what it said, only that it included a visual image, a woodcut of a (presumably blue) hand that likely replicated the “Sign of the Blue Hand” where Bolton and Scotland operated their business “in Race-street, between Front and Second-streets, Philadelphia.”

Most newspaper advertisements for goods and services did not include images of any sort during the eighteenth century. Unlike type that could be used repeatedly and for any purpose (set, broken up, and reset for a new job), images were often very specific to a particular advertiser’s business. This image of a hand would not have worked for any advertiser who did not happen to run a business “At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

This is not to say that other kinds of advertisements were devoid of images. Printers usually had a small selection of woodcuts, especially ships, houses, and runaway slaves, that could be used interchangeably and generically in advertisements for vessels preparing to leave port, real estate, or seeking the return of runaways.

Shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants who wanted to spruce up their advertisements, however, had to commission their own woodcuts, but then those woodcuts belonged exclusively to them and did not appear in other advertisements. This may be obvious when looking at the Blue Hand, but it is worth keeping in mind that it applied to other sorts of woodcuts associated with particular shops. For instance, a woodcut of a spinning wheel that accompanied John Kean’s advertisements was used exclusively in his advertisements – as a brand of sorts – and was not inserted in other advertisements for textiles.

Today we are accustomed to advertisements that include stimulating visual images. In the eighteenth century, however, advertisements were typically comprised mostly of text. Images were an exception rather than the rule.