November 3

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

Nov 3 - 11:3:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 3, 1769).

“Tickets for Admission to be had … at the Printing-Office.”

The tour continued! In the fall of 1769 an itinerant performer traveled from city to city in New England, advertising in local newspapers at each stop along the way. His notices first appeared in the Providence Gazette on September 16, then in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28, and again in the Essex Gazette on October 10. To entice patrons, he announced that “His Stay will be short” when he arrived in Salem. An advertisement in the November 3 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette revealed that his stay had indeed been short. Just a few weeks later he was performing, in his own distinctive fashion of reading portions and singing others, “An OPERA, call’d Love in a Village” at “Mr. Stavers’s Long ROOM” in Portsmouth. As usual in his advertisements, he informed local audiences that he “personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions, as they change from one to another throughout the Opera.”

The performer also included another standard element of his advertisements, instructions for prospective patrons to obtain “Tickets for Admission” either at the venue or at the local printing office. Printers played an integral role in his tour “of the great Towns in America.” They not only published the advertisements that informed audiences about upcoming performances, they also took served as an auxiliary box office, selling tickets and collecting money on behalf of the performer. Printing offices were hubs of activity in eighteenth-century America, places where colonists exchanged information in print, in manuscript, and in conversation … yet they exchanged more than just information in those busy spaces when printers took on additional responsibilities for their clients. Sometimes they served as local agents when colleagues issued subscription notices for proposed books. Other times they sold tickets and collected money on behalf of itinerant performers. The services provided by printers extended beyond the publications that came off their printing presses. Colonists regularly had to “enquire of the printer” for purposes other than acquiring information.

October 10

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

Oct 10 - 10:10:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 10, 1769).

“Will be READ, A Ballad OPERA.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers reveal aspects of popular culture in colonial America, everything from fireworks displays to stage performances. Some of them also allow us to trace the routes traveled by itinerant performers who moved from town to town. A series of advertisements inserted in several newspapers published in New England in the fall of 1769, for instance, reveal the itinerary of “a PERSON who has READ and SUNG in most of the great Towns in AMERICA.” In September, he performed a one-man rendition of The Beggar’s Opera in both Providence (advertised in the Providence Gazette) and Boston (advertised in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter). He soon moved on to Salem, where he advertised a different show in the Essex Gazette in October.

For this performance, he read “A Ballad OPERA, call’d Damon & Phillida.” The delivery remained the same: “He personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions as they change from one to another, throughout the Opera.” He supplemented the main attraction with “celebrated Songs in the OPERA of Artaxerxes” and “a celebrated CANTATA, called Neptune & Amymone.” Readers of the Essex Gazette, prospective audiences for the performance, may very well have seen advertisements for The Beggar’s Opera in the Boston newspapers, given their circulation beyond the busy urban port and the proximity to Salem. By switching to another opera during his stay in Salem, the unnamed performer presented prospective audiences with something new and novel. To further entice local audiences to attend this new program, the performer added a nota bene advising that “His Stay will be short.” In other words, anyone interested in seeing the performance needed to purchase tickets as quickly as possible or else risk not having a chance to observe this dramatic spectacle before the itinerant performer moved along to another of the “great Towns.” Part of the marketing strategy depended on scarcity, but rather than scarcity of goods it emphasized scarcity of performances and limited opportunities to see the show. The performer challenged readers not to miss an event that would have their friends and neighbors talking long after it was over.

September 28

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

Sep 28 - 9:28:1769 Boston Chronicle
Boston Chronicle (September 28, 1769).

Will be READ, THE BEGGARS OPERA.”

The itinerant performer who staged a one-man rendition of The Beggar’s Opera in Providence on the evening of September 18, 1769, did not linger long in that city to offer encore performances. Instead, he quickly moved on to new audiences in Boston, according to advertisements that ran in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28. Perhaps attendance at the Providence performance did not merit remaining for additional shows; alternately, the performer may have planned in advance to move from one city to the next fairly quickly, making arrangements for the venues ahead of his arrival. Whatever the explanation, he attempted to attract as large an audience as possible by inserting an advertisement in both newspapers published in Boston on Thursdays, a day before the performance “At a Large ROOM in BRATTLE STREET, formerly GREEN and WALKER’S Store.”

The performer was consistent in his messaging. Aside from the details about the location of performance and where to purchase tickets, the copy in the Boston newspapers replicated what ran in the Providence Gazette less than two weeks earlier (though the typography varied from newspaper to newspaper according to the discretion of the compositor). “Will be READ,” the notice proclaimed, “THE BEGGARS OPERA, By a Person who has READ & SUNG, IN MOST OF THE GREAT TOWNS IN AMERICA, All the SONGS will be SUNG.” The advertisement further described the performer’s delivery for the prospective audience: “He personates all the CHARACTERS, and enters into the different HUMOURS or PASSIONS, as they change from one to another throughout the OPERA.” When it came to the copy of the advertisements in the Boston newspapers, there was only one small variation. The version in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter advised, “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.” The notice in the Providence Gazette included the same warning, a means of suggesting that the event would be so popular that readers risked missing out if they did not secure their tickets quickly. The version in the Boston Chronicle did not express the same urgency. Was the omission the fault of the performer or the compositor? The latter seems more likely considering how carefully the actor attended to marketing his performances.

These advertisements in the Providence Gazette and, later, newspapers published in Boston demonstrate some of the opportunities for colonists to participate in early American popular culture. They also suggest that even though some aspects of popular culture may have been local that others were shared throughout the colonies and beyond. The performer underscored that he had “READ & SUNG, IN MOST OF THE GREAT TOWNS IN AMERICA.” On his current tour, he presented a show already exceptionally popular in England, connecting colonists culturally to Britain even as they experienced political ruptures due to the Townshend Acts and other perceived abuses by Parliament. While the press offered one means of creating an imagined community among colonists, itinerant performers provided another way of cultivating a sense of community. This advertisement encouraged residents of Boston to participate in popular culture shared with colonists in other “GREAT TOWNS.”

October 27

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

Oct 27 - 10:27:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (October 27, 1768).

“A grand set of Fire-works.”

The proprietors of Ranelagh Garden advertised leisure activities, especially fireworks displays, to colonists in New York and the surrounding area throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 1768. As October drew to a close, they announced plans for “a grand Set of Fire-Works” for “the last Time for the Season.” The proprietors planned to go out with a bang, literally, by presenting a program that included “a Variety of Pieces, several of them in an intire new and elegant Taste.” The “Pieces” did not consist primarily of projectiles launched into the air and visible from some distance. Instead, they amounted to an ornamental design created by igniting devices filled with gunpowder and other combustible chemicals.

The show took place in four stages, each with a display even grander the previous. Indeed, the descriptions of the “FIRST FIRING” through the “FOURTH FIRING” became increasingly elaborate. The first, for instance, presented a “beautiful Cascade of different Fires,” but the grand finale consisted of “An illuminated Statue of Harlequin flying on a Cord, with a Fire Tube in his right Hand, which will set fire to an Italian Candle, I the right Hand of a Figure representing Columbine; which Figure will communicate Fire to an Horizontal Wheel, by which she will be turned round, backwards and forwards several Times. The Whole to conclude with the Flight of Harlequin, to the Place from whence he came, and several large double and single Rockets.”

This entire program was a show that colonists would be disappointed to miss, not only because it happened to be the last of the season. Several of the pieces had not “ever been exhibited here before,” including “A new Piece representing a large and beautiful Palm Tree, with three large Chinese Fountains, on the Top curiously decorated.” One of the most elaborate displays depicted “a magnificent Pavilion, with three Fronts beautifully embellished, with Illuminations, Chinese and Venetian Fountains, Italian Candles, and Diamonds, with the Letters G.R. under an illuminated Crown.” The initials stood for George Rex, a Latin appellation for George III. Colonists participated in entertainments that honored the monarch even as they quarreled with Parliament over the quartering of troops in Boston and the imposition of taxes on paper, glass, and other goods throughout the colonies.

Among the many advertisements for consumer goods that crowded New York’s newspapers, other notices promoted leisure activities. They marketed experiences to colonists who had the time and the means to partake in them. Along with pleasure gardens, spas, and inns, the fireworks at Ranelagh Gardens were part of an incipient tourism and hospitality industry that emerged as part of the consumer revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century.

August 1

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

Aug 1 - 8:1:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 1, 1768).

“One of the most beautiful Animals, call’d, The LEOPARD.”

In addition to an array of consumer goods and services, newspaper advertisements also promoted a variety of entertainments and leisure activities, from concerts and plays to fireworks and exotic animals. Readers of the August 1, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury could not have missed Abraham Van Dyck’s advertisement that invited them to view a leopard that had just arrived in the city. The relatively large woodcut that accompanied the advertisement crudely depicted the large cat, inciting even greater interest than Van Dyck’s description of the animal.

Van Dyck introduced New Yorkers to a spectacle previously unknown to them, “one of the most beautiful Animals.” He could not assume that prospective viewers were already familiar with leopards, prompting him to publish a short description to supplement the woodcut. Van Dyck explained that the leopard was “adorned all over with very neat and different spots, black and white.” It had “large sparkling Eyes, and long Whiskers on both Sides of his Jaws.” In comparison to an animal that may have been more familiar to many colonists, “This Leopard is much in Shape, Nature, and Colour, like unto a Panther.” To augment the excitement of viewing this exotic beast, Van Dyck noted that the leopard was “greedy in catching his Prey by leaping at it,” but those tantalized by this description did not need to worry about their safety when they went to see this exotic creature. “Gentlemen and Ladies may have a full View of the Leopard,” Van Dyck promised, as he is well secured with a Chain.”

The leopard was not Van Dyck’s only attraction. He informed readers that he had “several other Animals, which will be seen at the same Time,” though he did not indicate which other animals comprised the rest of the show. The leopard was the star, the exotic beast that Van Dyck expected would draw viewers willing to pay a shilling to glimpse a creature so out of the ordinary compared to the sights they encountered on most days. The woodcut underscored that the leopard was a true curiosity that readers did not want to miss.

June 16

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

Large or small Entertainments provided, in the most genteel Manner.”

Jun 16 - 6:16:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 16, 1768).

As summer arrived in New York in 1768, Josiah Davenport continued placing advertisements in newspapers published in that city to inform colonists planning to visit Philadelphia that he had recently opened a new inn and tavern “called the BUNCH of GRAPES.” This was not merely a way station for food and lodging but instead “a genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT, for travelers and others.”

Yet New Yorkers did not need to travel to Philadelphia to enjoy the sorts of amenities Davenport advertised. Starting with the June 16 edition of the New-York Gazette (number 1328), Samuel Francis (more commonly known today as Samuel Fraunces) announced that his summer resort at the edge of the city, “VAUX-HALL GARDEN,” was open for business. Naming his pleasure garden after Vauxhall Gardens of London, Fraunces opened “VAUX-HALL GARDEN” at Spring Hill, a villa located on the Hudson River, in 1767. The establishment competed with nearby Ranelagh Gardens, the site of several fireworks exhibitions in the spring of 1768. Fraunces countered the series of advertisements for the fireworks shows with his own notices, slated to appear in the New-York Gazette for at least four weeks (according to the issue numbers – “28 31” – that the compositor inserted at the end of the advertisement).

Visitors to his “House and Gardens” could experience “Large or small Entertainments … in the most genteel Manner” as they selected among “neat Wines, and other Liquors.” In addition to evening amusements, patrons could also enjoy “Breakfasting” complete with tea and coffee as well as “Cakes, Tarts, Jellies, [and] Sillibubs.” In addition, Fraunces offered catering services – “Dinners, Suppers, &c. dressed at Gentlemen’s own Houses” – for those who wished to entertain in their own homes.

In the second half of the eighteenth century an emerging leisure and hospitality industry served “such Ladies, Gentlemen, and others, who may be pleased to favour” establishments like Vauxhall Garden, Ranelagh Gardens, and the Bunch of Grapes “with their Company.” Colonists participated in a transatlantic consumer revolution that involved more than acquiring goods. Those with the time and resources also enjoyed a variety of services and entertainments presented for their amusement. For some early Americans, the culture of consumption extended to consuming experiences as well as the myriad of housewares and apparel advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:9:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 9, 1768).

“The Fire-Works will be disposed in the following Order.”

Colonists in New York, especially those who read the New-York Journal, were aware that “two Italian Brothers” who created fireworks shows visited the city and resided among them in the spring of 1768. To draw audiences for their shows, the brothers adopted marketing strategies similar to those deployed by other itinerant entertainers in eighteenth-century America. They initially introduced themselves to a community that considered them strangers, presenting their credentials before their first public exhibition. In advertisements published in May they described themselves as “two Italian Brothers from Turin, (Engineers to the King of Sardinia).” They also informed New Yorkers that they had previously presented “very surprising Specimens of their Abilities before the Royal Family in Spain and with great Applause before his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and all the Nobility at Bath.” They proclaimed that colonists in New York could witness the same fireworks demonstrations that had entertained some of the most powerful and important personages in Europe.

Subsequent advertisements dispensed with such puffery in favor of local testimonials to their skills as both engineers and entertainers. They no longer needed to assert that they had performed for nobility on the other side of the Atlantic because reports of their first shows at Ranelagh Gardens in New York spread by word of mouth. Such testimonials likely evoked less skepticism since a general buzz among those who had seen the fireworks or knew someone who had seen the fireworks or even knew someone who knew someone who had attended the performance provided more certain verification about the quality and entertainment value of the show than a list of dignitaries on the other side of the ocean. Indeed, the “two Italian Brothers” trumpeted that they had “given such Specimens of their Abilities (to the general Satisfaction of the Spectators) at the Fire-Works), which they have formerly exhibited” at Ranelagh Gardens that “some of the principal Gentlemen of this City” had encouraged them to put on another show.

In that regard they also followed a script established by other itinerant entertainers in their advertisements: begin by announcing a single performance or limited time engagement but upon establishing a reputation in the local marketplace extend the stay and promise bigger and bolder spectacles to assure prospective viewers that they too could witness the same entertainments that had captured the attention of so many of their friends and neighbors. For the fireworks engineers, this meant presenting a show “more curious than either of the former,” this one composed of four parts (each described in detail) rather than the three parts that comprised their first exhibition at Ranelagh Gardens. Like other performers who traveled from city to city in the colonies, the “two Italian Brothers” attempted to manage expectations for their shows in the press, inserting advertisements that first introduced them to the public and, later, others that offered one more chance to participate (and avoid being excluded from) an event that loomed large in local popular culture.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (June 4, 1768).

The following Advertisement from the London Gazetteer … is inserted as a Curiosity.”

Colonial printers generated content for their newspapers by liberally reprinting items that previously appeared in other newspapers. Much of the news came from newspapers printed in other colonies, but some it also came directly from newspapers printed in London. In making their editorial decisions, printers sometimes chose items intended to inform or to educate, but other times selected items intended solely to entertain. The latter included anecdotes, poems, and even advertisements.

For instance, John Holt reprinted news from London in the Supplement to the New-York Journal distributed on June 4, 1768. He complemented the news from the Public Advertiser and Public Ledger with items intended to edify and to amuse, namely a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” and an “Advertisement from the London Gazetteer of the 31st of March last.” Holt explained that the advertisement “is inserted as a Curiosity” for his readers.

The advertisement offered colonists a glimpse of popular culture and entertainments available in England. It announced a spectacle that occurred every night (except Sundays) throughout the summer: “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Fields Southwark.” The notice listed ten tricks performed by Wolton, including riding “two horses on full speed, standing upright with one foot on each saddle” and making “a flying leap over the bar with two horses, sitting on both saddles.” For added interest, Wolton beat a drum during some of his tricks and fired a pistol during others. To make the event even more spectacular, the proprietors supplied “Proper musick” to set the tone throughout the series of stunts.

Unless they planned a trip across the Atlantic, the readers of the New-York Journal did not have opportunities to witness Wolton’s show of horsemanship during the summer of 1768, but Holt suspected that the advertisement on its own provided some of level of entertainment. Its inclusion in the New-York Journal demonstrates how carefully the printer scoured other newspapers for content he imagined his readers would enjoy. Some colonists likely paid similar attention to the advertisements in their local newspapers, not because they were responsible for filling out the pages but instead because they sought entertainment, either by attending events like fireworks shows and musical performances or simply by reading advertisements that included curious or amusing content.

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 12, 1768).

“FIRE WORKS, PERFORMED by two Italian Brothers from Turin.”

In addition to purchasing an array of goods and services, colonial consumers also spent their money on assorted entertainments. Newspaper advertisements testify to both the popular culture and leisure activities of the period. The May 12, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, for instance, included several advertisements that encouraged readers to gather to socialize at a range of venues that provided entertainment. Some of these, such as an advertisement for a tavern, offered activities available to readers at practically any time, but others, especially an advertisement for a fireworks display, featured one-time-only spectacles.

John Taylor inserted an advertisement announcing that he had just opened “a Tavern and House of public Entertainment” known as “The GLASS-HOUSE” on the outskirts of the city. He invited both “Gentlemen and Ladies” to patronize his new enterprise, pledging to “regale them in the genteelest Manner, with the best Accommodations of every Kind.” In particular, he proclaimed, “Dinners will be provided at the shortest Notice.” Taylor attempted to distinguish his tavern from the many others operating in New York at the time by depicting it as an upscale alternative to the bawdy and boisterous atmosphere in other establishments.

Colonists could also enjoy theatrical productions in some, but not all, of the largest cities. Traveling troupes also entertained residents in towns and villages. In New York, the American Company regularly advertised plays staged “At the Theatre in John-Street.” The company placed two advertisements in the May 12 edition of the New-York Journal, one announcing the program for Friday, May 13 and the other Monday, May 16. On Friday evening viewers would be treated to “A TRAGEDY, call’d VENICE PRESERV’D, OR A PLOT DISCOVER’D” and “A FARCE (never perform’d in America) call’d LOVE A-LA-MODE.” To convince readers to purchase tickets, the company claimed that that the farce would only be performed only once during the season. To raise the stakes, the advertisement included a brief history its popularity: “The above Farce has been acted with more Success than any dramatic Piece in the Memory of Man, for since it was first presented to the Town, it has been presented to crowded Audiences One Hundred and Fifty Seven Nights, and is still constantly play’d at least once a Week, at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden.” The company implied that they anticipated crowds, but cautioned that “No Person on any Pretence whatsoever, can be admitted behind the Scenes.” Each element of the advertisement was designed to persuade potential patrons to attend the show or risk feeling left out of a major event. The American Company sold an experience that yielded a sense of community; not participating, however, resulted in a sense of exclusion and regret.

Two “Italian Brothers from Turin” offered other entertainments for the evening of Saturday, May 14: a fireworks show in three parts at Renelagh Gardens. The brothers described each portion of the show in detail, but their words merely suggested the spectacle that readers would experience if they attended the exhibition. To provide further encouragement, they listed their credentials, claiming that they were “(Engineers to the King of Sardinia) who have given very surprising Specimens of their Abilities before the Royal Family in Spain, and with great Applause before his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and all the Nobility at Bath.” Even though New York was an imperial outpost on the far side of the Atlantic, the advertisement suggested that its residents could enjoy some of the best entertainments that had amused royals and nobles in England and other places in Europe, but only if they seized the opportunity and made their way to Renelagh Gardens for the exhibition on the only night it would be performed.

Each of these advertisements peddled popular culture to consumers, encouraging them to purchase experiences in addition to goods. The various entertainments cultivated a sense of community among those who witnessed them. Just as merchants and shopkeepers cautioned colonists not to be left behind when it came to the goods they sold, performers and others whose services emphasized leisure activities portrayed participating in the events they sponsored as a means of establishing bonds with other colonists through shared experiences.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 28 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“CROWN Coffee-House.”

According to Colonial Williamsburg, coffeehouses in the eighteenth century were “information centers and forums for debate and discussion.” Coffeehouses were places where people had conversations with others. Most coffeehouses were not limited to serving just coffee, but provided tea and chocolate as well. Some coffeehouses served alcoholic drinks as well, including the “ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c.” at Isaac Williams’s Crown Coffeehouse. Coffeehouses that did not serve alcoholic drinks sometimes struggled to compete with those that did. Coffee, states Steven Topik, was often dismissed as an unnecessary luxury.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Isaac Williams issued a challenge to the readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Rather than simply announce that he stocked and served “the best of LIQUORS” for his patrons at the Crown Coffeehouse in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he dared them to “be so kind as to call and judge for themselves, whether his ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c. is not as good as at other public Houses.” Advertisers in the eighteenth century, like their counterparts today, engaged in a complicated dance with potential customers. They made claims that they wanted readers to believe, often offering assurances of their validity and trustworthiness, but they also expected potential customers to greet their appeals with some skepticism. Williams acknowledged as much, insisting that he “would not have them take his Word.” Instead, he craftily invited comparisons with other establishments. Readers could not make such comparisons, however, unless they actually became customers and sampled the offerings at the Crown on Queen Street.

Once he got them through the doors, Williams promised a variety of amenities in addition to the “best of Liquors.” In addition to the quality of the beverages, “Gentlemen” experienced a refined atmosphere that included “large and small Entertainment, provided in the most genteel manner.” Such entertainment may have included performances by any of the variety of itinerants that Peter Benes examines his recent book, For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America. Musicians, singers, magic lanternists, puppeteers, actors, and conjurers all performed in American taverns and coffeehouses throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition, the advertisement indicated that Williams likely completed renovations to make his coffeehouse a comfortable space for men to gather, drink, gossip, conduct business, discuss politics and current events, watch performers, and exchange information. To that end, he invested “considerable Expence … in making his House convenient” for the entertainment of his patrons.

From the liquor, coffee, and food to entertainment, furnishings, and service, Isaac Williams described an atmosphere that could only be truly appreciated by experiencing it. He prompted readers to imagine themselves drinking and socializing at the Queen, making it more likely that some would accept his challenge to visit and “judge for themselves” whether his coffeehouse compared favorably to other public houses.