February 21

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

feb-21-2211767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (Februar 21, 1767).

“English and West-India Goods.”

Nathan Angel sold “English and West-India Goods,” which is the part of this advertisement that stood out to me when I first read it since it reminded me of T.H. Breen’s article, “Baubles of Britain.” In it, Breen discusses the consumer revolution that took place during the eighteenth century, including the Anglicization of American colonists, their culture, and their economy that resulted from buying English goods. Anglicization, I learned, means to make or become English. Breen says there was “a pervasive Anglicization of the American market” during this period.[1] Breen also asserts that advertisements, such as this one, influenced the Anglicization of American consumers: “Advertisements, merchants’ displays, news of other people’s acquisitions stoked consumer desire and thereby accelerated the spread of Anglicization.”[2]

After reading Breen’s article, I had a better understanding of this advertisement. In it, Angel did not list specific goods to be sold.   He merely stated that he was selling “an assortment of English and West India goods.” However, in 1767 colonists would have known what Angel meant by “English” goods, such as cloth, pots and pans, and nails and other hardware.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Compared to many other merchants and shopkeepers who placed newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, Nathan Angel was a man of few words. In contrast, Joseph and William Russell listed dozens of “English Goods” in their advertisement that appeared on the following page of the Providence Gazette. Despite the brevity of his notice about his “General Assortment of English and West-India Goods,” Angel managed to be repetitive, not because he was careless in choosing his words but more likely because he wanted prospective customers to notice two particular selling points.

In the space of just nine lines, Angel made and repeated two appeals concerning his merchandise, one concerning how recently he acquired his wares and the other concerning the prices customers could expect to pay.

Angel opened his advertisement by announcing, in capital letters, that he had “JUST RECEIVED” the goods he offered for sale. Midway through his advertisement he described his “General Assortment” of imported goods as “FRESH.” When it came to clothing and housewares, Angel knew that colonists worried about keeping up with current fashions in London. He countered that anxiety by implying that his inventory might be superior to what his competitors stocked solely because he had more recently acquired it. The Russells listed dozens of items, but they had been running the same advertisement since November. Were they trying to move undesirable goods that had been sitting in their shop for months? Readers did not need to worry about that if they bought Angel’s “FRESH” goods instead.

In the second line of his brief advertisement Angel promised prospective customers the “cheapest Rate” when they patronized his shop. To underscore that point, he concluded by stating that he was “determined to sell as Cheap as any Person in this or the neighbouring Colonies.” Throughout the past few months several shopkeepers in Providence had compared their prices to those of both local competitors and counterparts in Boston, New York, and elsewhere. In the advertisement printed immediately below Angel’s notice, Benjamin and Edward Thurber devoted a lengthy paragraph (longer than Angel’s entire advertisement) to explanations and assurances about their low prices. Angel, on the other hand, did not belabor the point.

Nathan Angel deployed some of the most common appeals in his advertisement, but he also devised a marketing strategy that deviated from what appeared in other notices. In the spirit of “less is more,” he quickly stated and then reiterated that he just acquired merchandise that he sold at low prices. Readers glancing through the Providence Gazette may have found his notice more memorable than the lengthy or dense advertisements that also appeared.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 79.

[2] Breen, “Baubles of Britain,” 85.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 10 - 4:10:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 10, 1766)

“Public Vendue. This Day, the 10th April, Will be Sold … A Great Variety of ENGLISH GOODS.”

This advertisement is obviously much shorter than many of those that were featured last week, but it should not be overlooked because its mention of selling goods that were imported to Boston from England is worth exploring. Settlers from England first occupied American soil in the sixteenth century, though it was not until the seventeenth century that the first successful English colonies were established in the parts of America that are known today as the Chesapeake (in 1607) and New England (in 1620).

During the colonial period, goods were sent by ship to ports in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, or New York from England. America’s dependence on imports from England and throughout the British Empire helped bolster England’s trade-based mercantilist economy. Tea was one example of an imported item commonly sold in colonial America. In response to the 1765 Stamp Act colonists threatened to stop importing items from England.

Check out this video to learn more about the economic developments of the thirteen colonies and overseas trade. (You will have to register for a free trial to watch the entire video.)

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kathryn has selected an advertisement that allows us to explore colonial commerce along multiple trajectories. The reference to “ENGLISH GOODS” prompts modern readers less familiar with mercantilism and trading patterns throughout the early modern Atlantic world and beyond to gain better familiarity with the networks of commerce and exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and the globe, as well as the policies to regulate such trade enacted by the English government. In and of itself, this is an important topic for students just learning about colonial America to explore.

For others with more familiarity with the contours of trade and commerce in early America, this advertisement offers an interesting glimpse of the intersections of print culture, marketing goods, and “Public Vendue” sales. This advertisement seems especially timely given that I discussed eighteenth-century book catalogues just two days ago. (That post featured John Mein’s advertisement that filled almost an entire page in the April 3, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. It appeared again in the April 10 issue, from which Kathryn selected today’s advertisement.)

Note that today’s advertisement promises that “Printed Catalogues will be timely dispersed by J. Russell, Auctioneer.” Rather than publish a list of goods up for sale in a newspaper advertisement, Russell turned to another printed medium. I wonder about the means of “dispers[ing]” these catalogues. I am also curious about how consumers would have read and used them. Like many other advertisements, this one raises as many questions about print culture and consumption as it answers.

Occasionally I see references to these sorts of catalogues, but not enough to make me believe they were standard practice for vendue sales in colonial America. Since they were ephemeral items not many seem to have survived. (Once the semester ends and I have more time to spend in the archive, I plan to do a more systematic search for such items. Here’s another interesting example of how this collaborative project with my students has helped to shape my research agenda.)

I think it is also worth noting that the “Public Vendue” was scheduled to take place “at the Store under Green & Russell’s Printing Office.” John Green and Joseph Russell were the printers of the Massachusetts Gazette. This advertisement also indicates that “J. Russell” served as “Auctioneer.” I suspect that printers who also ran vendues were more likely than other auctioneers to create and disperse “Printed Catalogues” to promote their sales. I have devoted an entire chapter of my book manuscript to arguing that printers were the vanguard of advertising innovation in eighteenth-century America. Here we see one more example.

February 28

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Feb 28 - 2:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

“Pork by the Barrell. – BUTTER by the Firkin. … English Sail CANVIS – One ANCHOR.”

This advertisement offers insight into the economy of New Hampshire during the late 1700s. Although many of the goods listed were common during this time period, the diversity and quantity of the goods is what I found interesting. Many of the goods were preserved foods being sold in large quantities, suggesting they were expected to last long durations of time. In the New Hampshire area during this time, the port of Portsmouth was thriving, leading me believe these goods were being marketed towards sailors.

Furthermore, after the advertisements for different foods there are two advertisements, one for English sail canvases and another for an anchor. These final two products further support the idea that this advertisement is being marketed towards sailors. When comparing the two different groups of goods being sold they seem out place, but when taking into account the variety of goods and the time period, it is suggestive that the advertisement was meant primarily for supplying ships and the sailors on them.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

The New-Hampshire Gazette was printed by Daniel Fowle, the newspaper’s founder (1756), and his nephew, Robert Fowle (admitted to a share in the management in 1764), in Portsmouth. As Trevor notes, this was a maritime community. Advertisers wished to attract a variety of customers, including sailors, captains of vessels, and merchants and quartermasters responsible for outfitting ships headed to sea. In this advertisement, John Wheitfield highlighted goods that would have been of particular interest to seafarers.

That being said, I suspect that he intended to address multiple audiences with this advertisement. While the goods he specifically enumerated would have been of interest to sailors, he first mentioned “A Variety of English Goods” that he did not describe in detail. Perhaps he could not afford or did not wish to purchase the space for a lengthier advertisement to list some of those wares. Perhaps he hoped to draw in customers curious about what that “Variety” might include and intentionally avoided listing specific goods. Whatever his reasoning, his advertisement suggests that his store did not cater to one clientele exclusively. He highlighted merchandise for crews of sailing vessels, but also indicated that he stocked assorted other wares for other members of the Portsmouth community.