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.

September 20

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

sept-20-9201766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (September 20, 1766).

“To be RUN … by any Horse, Mare, or Gelding.”

Yesterday’s advertisement promoted a lottery for “SUNDRY Millinery Goods” at Joseph Calvert’s vendue house in Williamsburg. After weighing the risks and taking a chance, participants acquired an assortment of goods that they could keep for their own use or resell to others, further extending networks of commerce and distribution of goods in the colonies.

Today’s advertisement also invited readers to take a chance and perhaps win a prize, “a good pinchbeck WATCH, valued at Sixteen Dollars” awarded to the owner of “any Horse, Mare, or Gelding, in the County of Providence” that won a race to be held a little over a week later. Unlike the advertisement for Calvert’s lottery sale, this notice did not – and could not – indicate participants’ odds of winning the prize. It all depended on which horses (and how) many entered. The sponsors required that each entrant “pay one Dollar, upon entering his Horse,” presumably hoping to attract more than enough to balance the value of the watch to be given as the prize.

During the second half of the eighteenth century advertisements for goods and services increasingly placed consumption within a culture of entertainment, especially for those with sufficient wealth and leisure. Although this advertisement did not sell any particular merchandise or services, it did inform colonists of opportunities to be entertained. Those who owned fast horses could participate, but many others could also gather in Cranston to watch the run. The race and anticipation of which horse would win the prize for its owner offered the most excitement, but the entire event offered an entertaining experience, an opportunity to socialize with others and to see and be seen before and after the horses and riders competed. Anyone hoping to win the pinchbeck watch was most likely attired in the sorts of fashionable clothing and accouterments advertised elsewhere in the same issue of the newspaper. Gathering for this event allowed for consumption to become even more conspicuous.