September 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 23, 1772).

“He hereby recommends to them, as a person qualified to serve them on the best terms.”

As fall arrived in 1772, Richard Humphreys took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to inform prospective customers that he “now carries on the GOLDSMITH’s Business, in all its branches” at “the house in which PHILIP SYNG lately dwelt” near the London Coffee House in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the September 23 edition, he made appeals similar to those advanced by other artisans who placed notices in the public prints.  He emphasized the choices that he offered to consumers, asserting that he stocked a “NEAT and GENERAL ASSORTMENT of GOLD and SILVER WARE.”  Humphreys also highlighted his own skills, promising that customers “may be assured of his utmost ability to give satisfaction, both in the quality and workmanship” of the items he made, sold, and mended.

In addition to those standard appeals, Humphreys published an endorsement from another goldsmith, Philip Syng!  Syng reported that he recently relocated to Upper Merion.  In the wake of his departure from Philadelphia, he “informs his friends and former customers, that they may be supplied as usual, at his late dwelling, by the above-named RICHARD HUMPHREYS.”  Syng did not merely pass along the business to Humphreys.  He also stated that he recommended him “as a person qualified to serve” his former customers “on the best terms, and whose fidelity” in the goldsmith’s business “will engage their future confidence and regard.”  With this endorsement, Humphreys did more than set up shop in Syng’s former location.  He became Syng’s successor.  In that role, he hoped to acquire the clientele that Syng previously cultivated.  Syng’s endorsement also enhanced his reputation among prospective customers.

Artisans frequently stressed their skill and experience in their advertisements.  Some detailed their training or their previous employment to assure prospective customers of their abilities and competence.  Such appeals required readers to trust the claims made by the advertisers.  Endorsements also required trust, but they did not rely solely on the word of the advertisers themselves.  In this instance, another goldsmith, one known to “friends and former customers” in Philadelphia, verified the claims that Humphreys made in his advertisement.  Syng staked his own reputation by endorsing Humphreys, a marketing strategy intended to give prospective customers greater confidence in the goldsmith who now ran the shop near the London Coffee House.

August 7

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

Aug 7 - 8:4:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (August 4, 1768).

“Mr. Benjamin Leigh meets so great Encouragement in the Intelligence Office.”

In late July 1768, Benjamin Leigh began advertising an “Intelligence Office” at the Green Dragon Tavern that he opened “For the Benefit of the Public.” According to David Van Arsdale, “Intelligence offices in British North America shared many similarities with their English forebears.” Among them, they “continued operating in close relation to coffeehouses and centers of investment and commodity exchange, and continued providing employment services to the unemployed and seekers of their labor.”[1] In addition, Leigh listed a variety of other services associated with intelligence offices. He practiced discretion when facilitating transactions between those who had “money to lend” and others seeking to borrow. He also introduced those with “Merchandize Goods, Vessels, Lands, Negroes or Servants to sell,” rent, or charter with buyers or tenants. Beyond providing “employment services,” the men who operated intelligence offices were enmeshed in the slave trade, trucking in enslaved men, women, and children who were the objects rather than the beneficiaries of the assistance they provided in the world of colonial commerce.

Van Arsdale comments briefly on efforts to promote intelligence offices in the public prints, noting that Leigh and his counterparts in the colonies followed the example set in London by continuing to generate business through advertising. By the time Leigh informed readers of multiple newspapers published in Boston of his intelligence office at the Green Dragon Tavern, John Coghill Knapp had been advertising his services to residents of New York for several years. His frequent notices became a fixture in several newspapers. Van Arsdale also indicates that those who ran intelligence offices “often advertised … the success of English office as a way of establishing credibility and conjuring up business.”[2]

Leigh did not adopt that strategy in his own advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Weekly News-Letter when he first opened his business, but evidence of the success of his new business did appear in advertisements printed elsewhere on the page. An advertisement placed by his former partner testified to the success of Leigh’s new endeavor. Shortly after Leigh began inserting his own notices, John Coleman, the “Proprietor of the Brewery at the Green-Dragon,” published a separate advertisement informing current and prospective customers that because Leigh “meets with so great Encouragement in the Intelligence Office” Coleman now ran the brewery on his own. In the August 4 edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter, Coleman’s notice appeared one column to the right and just above Leigh’s advertisement. The proximity made it that much easier for readers to connect the messages delivered in each. Unlike many of his counterparts in the colonies, Leigh did not attempt to convince prospective clients that they should avail themselves of his services because intelligence offices on the other side of the Atlantic delivered results. Instead, another entrepreneur in Boston asserted the early success of Leigh’s enterprise, assuring potential clients that the system did indeed work in that busy port city.

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[1] David Van Arsdale, The Poverty of Work: Selling Servant, Slave and Temporary Labor on the Free Market (Brill, 2016), 85.

[2] Van Arsdale, Poverty of Work, 86.