November 29

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

New-London Gazette (November 29, 1771).

“He has lately employed a Workman from England.”

As winter approached in 1771, William Hill, a clothier who operated a fulling mill, took to the pages of the New-London Gazette to promote new services available at his shop.  Hill informed readers that he recently hired “a Workman from England” who provided assistance maintaining garments of various sorts.  According to the clothier, his employee “revives scarlets and other Colours when defaced,” restoring textiles after they experienced fading or other damage.  The workman also “takes Spots out of all Kinds of Silks” to make them presentable once again.  In addition, he “colours and presses Silk Gowns, as also all Kinds of Men’s Apparel in the best Manner.”  Hill was not content solely with treating fabrics in advance of making them into clothing; he also sought to generate revenues by offering them options for caring for their garments.  He did not possess the skills to deliver those ancillary services on his own, so he hired someone to work in his shop.

Whether artisans or shopkeepers, most advertisers did not mention those who labored in their shops, though wives, sons, daughters, apprentices, assistants, employees, and enslaved men and women made many and various contributions in all sorts of workplaces in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisements depicted bustling sites of production and commerce, but only testified to a fraction of the workers who interacted with customers or labored behind the scenes.  In most cases, newspaper notices mentioned only the proprietor, often in a larger font that served as a headline.  Such was the case for Joseph Gale, whose advertisement listed an assortment of textiles, housewares, and hardware in stock at his shop in Norwich, but did not mention any family members, employees, or others who served customers.  Those advertisers who did acknowledge others who worked in their shops usually sought to enhance their reputations by calling attention to supplementary services as they expanded their businesses.  Hill made sure that the public knew about the various skills his new employee possessed, but did not mention the contributions of anyone else who might have worked in his clothier’s shop.

November 9

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

Providence Gazette (November 9, 1771).

“Atwell hath hired an English Workman, of exquisite Sill.”

In the fall of 1771, Amos Atwell took to the page of the Providence Gazette to let “the Town and Country” know that he “hath set up the CUTLERY BUSINESS, in all its Branches, at his Smith’s Shop.”  Residents of Providence and nearby towns knew Atwell as a blacksmith, so the “CUTLERY BUSINESS” was a new endeavor for him.  That being the case, he provided an overview of his goods and services to instill confidence that he was indeed prepared to expand his business.  Atwell carried “Case Knives and Forks, Carving Knives and Forks, Pocket and Pen Knives of various Kinds, Razors, Surgeons Instruments, &c. &c.”  Repeating “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera most commonly used in the eighteenth century) underscored the range of cutlery available at his shop.  In addition, customers could have “all Kinds of Cutlery Ware cleaned, ground, and put in the best Order.”

The blacksmith did not undertake these tasks himself.  Instead, this enterprise depended on acquiring qualified help, “for which Purpose said Atwell hath hired an English Workman.”  Atwell proclaimed that he “carries on the Blacksmith’s Business as usual,” so his new employee attended to the “CUTLERY BUSINESS, in all its Branches.”  Atwell declared that the cutler possessed “exquisite Skill” and promised that he “gives constant Attendance on the Business, and is always ready to receive and execute the Commands” of customers.  New to the town, the unnamed cutler had not yet established his own reputation among prospective clients.  That made his arrangement with Atwell mutually beneficial.  The blacksmith aimed to attract more customers now that he offered more services at his shop, while the cutler received an endorsement from an artisan well known in the community.  In their newspaper advertisements, blacksmiths and other artisans rarely mentioned the workers, free or enslaved, who labored in their shops.  These circumstances, however, demanded that Atwell acknowledge that even though he “hath set up the CUTLERY BUSINESS” that another artisan actually oversaw those services at his shop.

August 28

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 26, 1771).

“Some of the best workmen … that could be had in any part of England.”

In the summer of 1771, Bennett and Dixon introduced themselves to residents of New York as “Jewellers, Gold-smiths, and Lapidaries, from London” and invited prospective customers to their shop near the post office.  The partners recently imported “a great variety of jewellery,” including “necklaces, ear rings, egrets, sprigs and pins for ladies hair, rings, lockets, and broaches of all sorts, ladies tortoise-shell combs plain and sett,” and many sorts of buckles.  They promised low prices for both wholesale and retail prices.

Yet Bennett and Dixon were not merely purveyors of imported jewelry, accessories, and adornments.  They also accepted commissions and fabricated items at their shop.  In promoting that aspect of their business, they underscored the level of skill represented among their employees.  “[F]or the better carrying on the jewellery, goldsmith and lapidary business,” Bennett and Dixon proclaimed, they “engaged some of the best workmen in those branches, that could be had in any part of England.”  The partners imported not only merchandise and materials but also artisans with exceptional skills.  Prospective customers did not need to feel anxious that items they ordered from Bennett and Dixon would be of inferior quality or easily distinguished from imported jewelry.  Even though New York was far away from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, consumers could still acquire custom-made jewelry that rivaled anything produced on the other side of the Atlantic.  Bennett and Dixon also declared that their customers did not have to pay a premium for jewelry as “good as in the City of London.”  Their artisans worked “as cheap” as their counterparts there, keeping prices reasonable for customers who placed special orders.

Colonial consumers often worried that they only had access to second best when compared to goods and services available in English cities, especially London.  Advertisers like Bennett and Dixon frequently reassured prospective customers that they had choices that rivaled anything available to consumers in the metropolitan center of the empire.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 9, 1770).

“Having engaged two Workmen … he proposes shortly to manufacture all Kinds of Stone Ware.”

When Joseph Wilson, a potter, moved to a new location late in the spring of 1770, he placed an advertisement “to inform the Public, particularly his old Customers,” where they could find him.  He also reminded readers of the Providence Gazette that “he continues to sell all Kinds of Earthen Ware,” inviting both new and returning customers to visit his shop.

At the conclusion of his advertisement, Wilson included a nota bene to request that prospective customers take note of the employees he recently hired.  “Having engaged two Workmen from New-York and Philadelphia,” Wilson declared, “he proposes shortly to manufacture all Kinds of Stone Ware, in the neatest and best Manner.”  Although artisans occasionally mentioned others who worked in their shops, they did so relatively rarely in their newspaper advertisements.  They usually assumed sole responsibility and took sole credit for the items they produced and sold.

Wilson likely expected to derive certain benefits from mentioning the “two Workmen” that he now employed.  Doing so suggested that his business was expanding, indicative of his own skill and careful management as well as demand for his wares.  Noting that his new employees came from New York and Philadelphia, two of the largest cities in the colonies, also implied that he cast his net widely to enlist the most skilled assistants who would indeed produce pottery “in the neatest and best manner.”

Most advertisements for consumer goods and services concealed the contributions of the various people who worked in colonial shops and workshops, whether wives and other family members who waited on customers or assistants, apprentices, and enslaved artisans who performed much of the labor.  “JOSEPH WILSON, POTTER,” offered a rare acknowledgment that he did not operate the business alone, that others supplied their own skill and expertise in producing the merchandise that he offered for sale.

February 22

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

Feb 22 - 2:22:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (February 22, 1770).

“He has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”

While eighteenth-century artisans frequently promoted their own training and other credentials, relatively few devoted space in their newspaper advertisements to acknowledging the skill and experience of subordinates who worked in their shops.  William Faris, a clock- and watchmaker in Annapolis, however, incorporated several employees into the advertisement he placed in the February 22, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Indeed, he said little about his own contributions to the business in favor of convincing prospective customers that he hired skilled artisans capable of executing their orders.

Faris opened his advertisement by announcing that “he has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”  He noted that one “has been a Finisher several Years to the celebrated Mr. Allen,” expecting that name to resonate with consumers familiar with clock- and watchmakers.  Faris leveraged the reputation of another artisan, perhaps even a competitor, to enhance the standing of his own business.  Having competent workmen in the shop allowed Faris to branch out.  He informed prospective customers that he also “executes any Orders he may be favoured with for Chair Work,” an endeavor made possible by hiring “a good Workman” who has produced “several Dozens of very neat black Walnut Chairs.”

In the midst of acquainting the public with his skilled staff, Faris also noted, though briefly, that “he still carries on” activities closely aligned with making clocks and watches.  He pursued the “Gold, Silversmiths and Jewellers Businesses,” doing that work “in the neatest and Best Manner.”  His own skill and experience made him qualified to assess the abilities of the workmen he employed.  By listing the several tradesmen who worked alongside him, Faris conjured images of a busy and bustling shop, one where customers could depend on the proprietor having sufficient assistance to see to their orders “faithfully” and “with the utmost Dispatch.”  At the same time, Faris assured them that they did not have to worry about inferior work undertaken by those he employed.  He vouched for their skill and experience.  Many colonial artisans disguised labor done by others in their shops when they advertised, but Faris sought to mobilize his workmen to his advantage when wooing prospective customers.

December 29

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

Dec 29 - 12:29:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 29, 1767).

“Fechtman undertakes to make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.”

Christopher Fechtman, a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER from LONDON,” promoted his services in an advertisement in the supplement to the December 29, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. After noting his change of address, he launched several appeals intended to incite demand for his services and instill a preference for obtaining stays, mantuas, and other items from him rather than his competitors.

Fechtman offered a guarantee of sorts, pledging to “give entire satisfaction to those who favour him” with their patronage. He did so with confidence, underscoring his own “knowledge of the business.” Yet Fechtman did not labor alone in his shop. He also employed “some experienced hands, who understand their business to the utmost dexterity.” Artisans commonly noted their skill and expertise in eighteenth-century advertisements. Fechtman assured potential customers that his subordinates who might have a hand in producing their garments were well qualified for the task. He staked his own reputation on that promise.

The staymaker also proclaimed that he would “work at a lower rate than any heretofore,” hoping to entice prospective clients with lower prices. High quality garments produced by skilled workers did not necessarily have to be exorbitantly expensive. Quite the opposite: Fechtman indicated that his prices beat any his competitors had ever charged.

Finally, Fechtman offered his services to women who resided in Charleston’s hinterland, widening his market beyond those who could easily visit his shop on Union Street while they ran other errands around town. To that end, he played up the convenience of procuring his services, noting that he could “make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.” His female clients did not need to visit his shop for a fitting. Presumably they forwarded their measurements when submitting their orders from a distance; tailors and others who made garments sometimes included instructions to send measurements with orders in their advertisements.

Fechtman competed with other stay- and mantua-makers in Charleston, a busy port city. To distinguish his garments and services from the competition, he resorted to several marketing strategies in his advertisement. He emphasized skill and expertise, both his own and that of the “experienced hands” who labored in his shop. He also offered low prices as well as convenience to clients unable to visit his shop for fittings. In the process, he encouraged prospective clients to imagine acquiring “stays and negligees, gowns and slips” from him, stoking demand and desire for his wares.

August 11

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

Aug 11 - 8:11:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 11, 1767).


When he opened a livery stable in Charleston in the summer of 1767, Joseph Turpin turned to the advertising pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to encourage potential customers to contract his services. Most eighteenth-century advertisers rarely mentioned anyone who provided assistance in their shops and other places of business. In general, advertisements obscured the labor of family members, apprentices, indentured servants, and employees, usually equating the operation of businesses exclusively with the proprietors themselves. Turpin, on the other hand, made one of his employees, William Swindle, “an experienced English Groom,” a central feature of his advertisement. It was not the proprietor’s skill, expertise, or experience marketed to potential clients but rather the qualifications and contributions of a subordinate.

To that end, in addition to asserting that Swindle had previous experience that made him “equal to the Task in every respect,” Turpin also included the groom’s recent work history in the advertisement, noting that he had been “lately in the employ of Robert Jones, of North-Carolina.” Although not exactly a reference in the current sense, revealing Swindle’s former employer further established his credentials and suggested that Jones would indeed provide a positive recommendation.

Swindle alone, however, was not responsible for the care horses at Turpin’s stable received. The proprietor did not abdicate other responsibilities; instead, he managed the business, overseeing its employees and operations. Turpin pledged that “those Gentlemen who will intrust the Care of their horses” to his stable “may depend they will be used in the best Manner.” Hiring an experienced groom to care for the horses was only part of fulfilling that promise. Providing “good Provinder” to feed the horses was another part. Swindle might make suggestions on that account, but the proprietor ultimately approved decisions concerning purchasing and paying for supplies.

Turpin crafted an advertisement that credited an employee for the specialized skills and experience he contributed to the business. While that comprised the primary appeal made to prospective clients, the proprietor also marketed his own management and oversight as further assurances of the quality of the services provided.

February 13

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 13, 1767).

“His friends and customers may depend on being well served.”

Apothecary James Dick sold “A FRESH sortment of chemical and galenical MEDICINES” imported from London. Like other druggists in the colonies in the 1760s, he assembled “BOXES of MEDICINES, with directions, for plantations and ships.” In providing this service, he likely also moved portions of his inventory that tended to sell more slowly, especially if given the discretion to fabricate these eighteenth-century first aid kits rather than including only items specified by purchasers.

In addition to the ease and convenience of these “BOXES of MEDICINES,” Dick wanted his “friends and customers” to know that he emphasized service in other ways. He made a fairly unique pitch when he concluded his advertisement by noting that “he has now got from London a young gentleman regularly bred, who attends the shop constantly.” Advertisers from a variety of occupations and professions frequently pledged to treat potential customers well, often promising to fulfill their duties with “care” or “dispatch.” When mobilizing such appeals, however, advertisers usually referred to their own demeanor and qualities. Dick, on the other hand, described possible interactions with his employee.

Very few advertisers mentioned employees, perhaps because many ran small operations limited to family members and maybe an apprentice.   Even shopkeepers and artisans who may have had assistants of various sorts deployed advertising in which they retained their role as the public face of the businesses they operated.

By promoting the contributions of his assistant, Dick made at least two appeals to prospective customers, one practical and one aspirational. When he noted that his assistant “attends the shop constantly,” the apothecary let readers know that someone would be available to assist them no matter when they visited. Given that the druggist provided medical services, he may have been called away from the shop on occasion. Rather than close his shop, he made arrangements for an assistant to be present even when he was not.

In addition, when he noted that his assistant not only came from London but was “a young gentleman regularly bred” the apothecary conjured images of a prosperous and genteel shop where customers would be met with courtesy and deference. Given his line of business, Dick rightly assumed that some customers visited his shop when feeling their worst. The image of a “young gentleman regularly bred” serving those customers suggested an atmosphere of pampering and authentic concern rather than a hurried transaction in a busy dispensary. Some retail pharmacies make similar appeals today, emphasizing interactions – even relationships built over time – with pharmacists and other staff.