November 24

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

Essex Gazette (November 24, 1772).

“William Vans sells / Allspice by the Bag, / Raisins by the Cask, / Flour by the Barrel.”

William Vans wanted to make sure that prospective customers knew about the goods he offered for sale in the fall of 1772.  Like other merchants and shopkeepers in Salem, Massachusetts, he placed advertisements in the Essex Gazette.  Unlike his competitors, however, he did not limit himself to one advertisement at a time.  Instead, he published multiple advertisements simultaneously, encouraging greater name recognition as readers encountered his notices over and over while perusing the newspaper.

The November 24 edition of the Essex Gazette featured four columns of advertising (out of twelve columns in the entire issue).  Three advertisements inserted by Vans appeared in those four columns, one longer notice and two shorter ones.  He could have made arrangements with the printer to consolidate the advertisements into a single notice, but apparently considered it more effective to have readers repeatedly return to his name and descriptions of his merchandise as they browsed through other advertisements promoting similar goods.

Vans once again ran his GOODS cheaper the cheapest” advertisement, a catalog of his inventory that rivaled other advertisements in length.  It included a revision to the final line, moving “Looking-Glasses” to a separate line and printing the word in a larger font to draw attention.  That Vans modified his advertisement in that manner demonstrates that he could have inserted additional content if he wished.

Instead, he opted to publish two shorter advertisements.  One consisted of only fifteen words on four lines: “William Vans sells / Allspice by the Bag, / Raisins by the Cask, / Flour by the Barrel.”  Vans likely believed those quick pronouncements, that reiterative tattoo of goods and their containers, made his advertisement as effective as any of the more elaborate notices.  He seems to have carefully selected his words to create a cadence that would resonate with readers.  He took a more traditional approach in his other short advertisement, stating that he had a “few quarter Casks old Teneriffe WINE” for sale, as well as “ALLSPICE by the Bag or less Quantity.”  He removed the portion about allspice when he published the advertisement the following week, once again suggesting an ability to revise, extend, and consolidate advertisements if he wished to do so.

Other merchants and shopkeepers occasionally adopted a similar strategy, publishing multiple advertisements in a single issue as a means of drawing greater attention to their names and their goods.  Most purveyors of goods and services, however, tended to run only one advertisement at a time during the era of weekly newspapers prior to the American Revolution.

November 10

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

Essex Gazette (November 10, 1772).

GOODS cheaper than the cheapest.”

William Vans ran a “Variety-Shop” in Salem in the early 1770s.  To incite interest in his wares, he regularly advertised in the Essex Gazette.  He often mentioned his low prices, comparing them to what consumers could expect to pay for the same merchandise in other shops.  For instance, in May 1771 he proclaimed that he sold his wares “as cheap as any Store in Town.”  Eighteen months later, he enhanced a similar appeal to price with a headline that made his marketing pitch.  “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest” appeared at the top of his advertisement in the November 10, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Vans intended the meaning of “cheap” as understood in the eighteenth century, promoting inexpensive wares without suggesting that low prices indicated inferior quality.  In the introduction to his extensive inventory, Vans declared that he set prices “as cheap or cheaper … than at any Shop in the County,” deciding to give his assertion more weight by expanding it beyond “any Store in Town.”

That Vans devised a headline with a marketing message distinguished his advertisement from others in the same issue.  William Scott advertised the “Essence of Pearl, and Pearl Dentifrice,” the toothpaste created by Jacob Hemet, “DENTIST to her Majesty, the Princess Amelia,” that he sold at his shop.  A headline that advised the product was “For the TEETH and GUMS” appeared at the beginning of the advertisement, but it did not make an explicit marketing appeal like Vans’s headline.  Most merchants and shopkeepers used their names, printed in larger font, as headlines.  Such was the case for John Appleton, “John & Andw. Cabot,” George Deblois, John Dyson, Samuel Flagg, Stephen Higginson, John Prince, and others.  Van’s name received similar treatment, but below the “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest” headline.  Some of those merchants and shopkeepers did make appeals to price in the introductions that came before their lists of merchandise.  Deblois, for instance, declared that “he will sell as cheap as is sold in any Shop or Store in Town, and as low as is sold in Boston, or elsewhere.”  John Appleton stated that “he is determined to sell at such very low Rates … as cannot fail to give full Satisfaction to every reasonable Purchaser.”  Those advertisers made appeals to price, but prospective customers encountered them only after wading into those notices.  Consumers did not have to read the smaller print in Vans’s advertisement to know that he claimed to sell “GOODS cheaper than the cheapest.”  In this instance, the format certainly enhanced the message.

October 27

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

Essex Gazette (October 27, 1772).

“A fine Assortment of ENGLISH & INDIA GOODS and HARD-WARE.”

When John Appleton advertised the merchandise available at his shop in Salem in the fall of 1772, he resorted to two of the most common appeals deployed by merchants and shopkeepers.  He emphasized price and selection.  In his advertisement in the October 27 edition of the Essex Gazette, he asserted that he was “determined to sell” his wares “at such very low Rates … as cannot fail to give full Satisfaction to every reasonable Purchaser.”  He offered those low prices “by WHOLESALE or RETAIL,” extending the benefit to both consumers and retailers looking to expand their own inventory.  Low wholesale prices meant that shopkeepers who acquired goods from Appleton could pass along the bargains to their own customers.

Appleton devoted significantly more space to developing his appeal about selection.  He announced that he carried a “fine Assortment of ENGLISH & INDIA GOODS and HARD-WARE” and then provided a lengthy list of goods to demonstrate the range of choices his customers enjoyed.  Although he enumerated scores of items, everything from “black & white, plain and flower’d Sattins” to “children’s red Morocco Shoes,” he did not have space in a newspaper advertisement to include everything.  The clarification “Some of which are as follows” preceded Appleton’s list of goods.  In addition, Appleton mentioned categories of goods, such as “linen, silk and cotton Handkerchiefs of all sorts” and “Door Locks, Hinges and Latches of all sorts,” to further suggest ample choices.  He also inserted “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) several times to indicate that he sold even more of certain types of items.  The length of the dense advertisement, the longest notice in that issue of the Essex Gazette, also testified to the selection at Appleton’s shop.

Appleton was not alone in making an appeal about consumer.  In the same issue, Samuel Flagg promoted a “General Assortment of English and India GOODS,” Stephen Higginson hawked a “Large and general Assortment of English and India GOODS,” and Campbell and Duncan marketed a “compleat Assortment of GOODS.”  Five other merchants and shopkeepers used similar phrases to describe their inventory, some of them also mentioning low prices.  Appleton distinguished his advertisement from others with a brief elaboration on his low prices and a lengthy catalog of his merchandise.

October 20

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

Essex Gazette (October 20, 1772).

“At his Shop at the Head of Hippocrates, in SALEM.”

In the fall of 1772, Nathaniel Dabney’s name would have been familiar to regular readers of the Essex Gazette.  The apothecary frequently placed advertisements encouraging prospective customers to visit his shop “at the Head of Hippocrates, in SALEM.”  A woodcut that depicted a bust of the physician from ancient Greece, often known as the “Father of Medicine,” atop a pillar adorned many of his advertisements.  Rather than appearing in the upper left corner, as was often the case for woodcuts, the narrow image extended the length of Dabney’s advertisements.  The apothecary first incorporated the woodcut into his advertisements in the fall of 1771.

A year later, he opted to publish an advertisement that did not include his signature image, though he continued to associate the “Head of Hippocrates” with his business.  In this advertisement, he relied on a double headline.  “Fresh DRUGS” ran in a large font on the first line, followed by his name in an even larger font on the second line.  The copy suggested that his previous advertising efforts had been effective.  The apothecary “RETURNS his Thanks to those Persons in Town and Country, who have been pleased to favour him with their Custom.”  He then informed current and prospective customers that he just imported “a few Articles, which compleat his Assortment in the DRUG and GORCERY WAY.”  He sold them “very cheap” in “large or small Quantities.”

Why did Dabney decide not to use the woodcut that became so familiar to readers and served as a logo for his shop?  Perhaps he decided that he achieved sufficient visibility and name recognition that he no longer needed to include it in every advertisement.  The cost of advertising may have also influenced his decision.  The colophon for the Essex Gazette stated that “ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”  Advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied, not the number of words.  Dabney’s long and narrow woodcut and the copy that accompanied it extended far beyond “eight or ten Lines.”  The apothecary may have determined that he wished to keep his name in the public eye without assuming the expense of printing the woodcut in each advertisement.

September 22

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

Essex Gazette (September 22, 1772).

“Mr. SPARHAWK Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country.”

Although editorials elsewhere in colonial newspapers frequently criticized women for indulging in consumer culture too eagerly, most advertisements for goods and services did not single out female consumers are their intended audience.  Instead, shopkeepers usually presented their wares to all prospective customers, realizing that men participated in the consumer revolution and kept up with news fashions just as enthusiastically as women.

On occasion, however, some advertisers did make special appeals to women.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., pursued both strategies.  In most instances, he did not target consumers of either sex, but in an advertisement in the September 22, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette he “Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country” and “acquaints them he has a most beautiful Assortment of almost every Kind of SILKS for Capuchins [or hooded cloaks], that are of the newest Fashion.”  Sparhawk presented shopping as a pleasure for women, though he did not depict it as an excessive or luxurious vice like critics in the editorials.  He asserted that he “doubts not he shall be able to please almost every Fancy, if the Ladies will be so obliging … just to call and take a View of them.”  He mentioned his location “nearly opposite the Printing-Office,” suggesting that “the Ladies” could visit as they were walking through town and “passing his Store.”  Sparhawk portrayed shopping as an experience, recognizing that each trip to his shop would not necessarily result in a sale.  “Should he be so unhappy as to fail of pleasing any who may call upon him,” he stated, “he shall hold himself much indebted for the Visit.”  Good customer service cultivated and strengthened relationships even when “the Ladies” did not make purchases.

To further entice female customers (and their male counterparts as well), Sparhawk declared that “At the same Store may be seen as great a Variety of English and India GOODS as any in Salem.”  He set low prices for cash or “short Credit,” pledging “not to be undersold by any.”  In addition, he announced that he had just received word of the “arrival of his Fall Goods at Boston.”  Within the next week, he would have new inventory for all of his customers to examine.  The first portion of his advertisement made clear that he wanted women to browse his wares, yet he shifted to more general appeals to engage all prospective customers, both men and women, in the second half of his advertisement.  Sparhawk apparently believed that targeting female customers exclusively had its limits.

August 18

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

Essex Gazette (August 18, 1772).

“His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers.”

In August 1772, George Deblois alerted readers of the Essex Gazette that he “has received, in the last Ships from LONDON, and has now for SALE … A Good and general Assortment of Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” at his shop in Salem.  The merchant boasted that he purchased this merchandise “in England on the best Terms.”  As a result, he “is enabled, and is determined to sell them, by Wholesale and Retail, at the very lowest Advance.”  Deblois hoped to hook “his Customers and others” with lots of choices and low prices.

He did not, however, catalog his inventory in an attempt to demonstrate the many choices he made available to consumers, a popular strategy among eighteenth-century advertisers.  Instead, he suggested that doing so “would be only tedious” because “his Assortment consists of a great Variety.”  Rather than publish a dense list of his wares, he encouraged prospective customers to visit his shop, browse his merchandise, and see for themselves that they would “find almost every Article usually enquired for, and on as low terms as can be purchased in the Province.”  He pledged that “those who please to call and look” at his imported goods would not be disappointed.  Deblois also emphasized customer service in his efforts to encourage colonizers into his shop, declaring that “His utmost Abilities will be exerted to give Satisfaction to his Customers, and to use them in such a Manner as to encourage them to call again, or to recommend any of their Friends.”  In addition, he added a nota bene to underscore that “Constant Attendance will be given, and the Favours of his Customers gratefully acknowledged.”

Many merchants and shopkeepers focused primarily on their merchandise when they advertised in colonial newspapers.  Deblois took a different approach, treating shopping as an experience to be enjoyed by consumers in Salem and nearby towns.  He invited colonizers to browse in his shop, encountering items they wanted or needed on their own instead of finding them in a list in the public prints.  That experience included customer service as well as the “Hard-Ware and ENGLISH GOODS” offered for sale.  Deblois seemed to understand that cultivating relationships with “his Customers and others” who had not yet visited his shop would likely yield subsequent sales over time.  Accordingly, he emphasized more than moving merchandise in his advertisement.

June 9

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

Essex Gazette (June 9, 1772).

“He is determined to be undersold by none.”

Philip Godfrid Kast, an apothecary in Salem, regularly placed advertisements in the Essex Gazette in the early 1770s.  He also distributed an engraved trade card that included a depiction of the “Sign of the Lyon & Mortar” that marked his location.  Kast resorted to a variety of marketing appeals in his efforts to convince consumers to give him their business rather than acquire medicines from his competitors.

In an advertisement that ran on June 9, 1772, Kast declared that he “is determined to be undersold by none.”  Purveyors of all sorts of goods frequently promised low prices for their wares, some making similar claims that prospective customers would not find better bargains than they offered.  Kast explained why he was so confident that he could match and beat the prices charged by other apothecaries as well as merchants and shopkeepers who imported and sold various patent medicines.  He stated that he “has a Brother who resides in London, and purchases his Drugs at the cheapest Rate for Cash.”  His competitors may have acquired their medicines through middlemen and marked up their prices accordingly, but Kast had a direct connection that allowed him to set the best rates.  The apothecary presented this as a benefit to all of his customers, but he made a special appeal to “Gentlemen Practitioners in Physick” who were most likely to buy in volume.  That meant greater savings for them as well as greater revenues for Kast.

Yet he did not expect low prices alone would bring customers to his shop.  He also testified to the quality of his medicines and provided a guarantee, proclaiming that they were “warranted to be genuine, and the best of their Kinds.” Furthermore, his new inventory was “fresh,” having been imported from London” via a vessel that “arrived at Boston last Week.”  Kast assured prospective customers that he did not peddle remedies that had lingered on the shelves for months.  He anticipated that a combination of low prices and promises about quality would convince consumers to visit the Lion and Mortar when they needed medicines.

May 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Kelsey Savoy

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

Essex Gazette (May 26, 1772).

“Every Article in the Apothecary Way.”

Nathaniel Dabney owned a shop called “Head of HIPPOCRATES” in Salem, Massachusetts. In an advertisement from the Essex Gazette on May 25, 1772, Dabney announced he had a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, Medicines, Groceries, Instruments,” and more, indicating that he ran an apothecary shop. An apothecary shop in 1772 and modern pharmacies are very similar.  That inspired me to find out more about medicine in the colonies during the eighteenth century.

Individuals who ran apothecary shops, who sold or administered medicines, did not require any education or licensure, nor did physicians. In “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Whitefield J. Bell, Jr., notes that “only one in nine Virginia physicians of the eighteenth century had attended a medical school.”[1] Physicians and apothecaries often learned from experience instead of formal training.  This began to change in the colonies in 1772, the year Dabney posted this advertisement. Bell details the Medical Society of New Jersey dedicated to getting legislation passed that required physicians to obtain licensure by the courts to practice “after examination by a board of medical men.” The society’s goal was “to discourage and discountenance all quacks, mountebanks, imposters, or other ignorant pretenders to medicine, and not to associate professionally with any except those who had been regularly initiated into medicine.”[2] Requiring training for physicians was an improvement that colonists enacted during the era of the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kelsey astutely observes that many eighteenth-century apothecary shops and twenty-first century retail pharmacies have much in common.  Neither of them exclusively carried drugs and medicines, though selling remedies of all sorts gave those establishments their primary identity.  Nathaniel Dabney (or Nathanael Dabney in other advertisements) made that clear when he selected Hippocrates, a physician from ancient Greece widely considered the “Father of Medicine,” to identify his shop.

In his newspaper notice, Dabney commenced the list of merchandise available at “the Head of HIPPOCRATES” with a “fresh and full Assortment of Drugs, [and] Medicines” and cataloged several familiar patent medicines from his “Assortment” of goods.  He sold “Turlington’s original Balsam of Life,” “Bateman’s Pectoral Drops,” “Dr. Walker’s Jesuits Drops,” “Anderson’s and Locker’s Pills,” and “Hooper’s Female [Pills],” as well as other patent medicines less commonly mentioned in newspaper advertisements.  Those nostrums were the over-the-counter medications of the day.  Customers could consult with the apothecary of they wished, just like customers ask pharmacists in retail stores for advice today, but many also selected patent medicines based on their reputation and common knowledge about the maladies they supposedly relieved.

Yet Dabney, like other apothecaries, hawked other goods.  His apothecary shop, like modern retail pharmacies, doubled as a convenience store where customers could acquire groceries, home health care equipment and supplies, and a variety of other items.  In his advertisement, Dabney promoted “Groceries,” including cinnamon, cloves, raisins, and “Flour of Mustard, by the Dozen or single Bottle.”  He also had supplies for the “Clothiers Business” and the “Painters Business,” mostly items for producing colors.  In addition, Dabney sold medical instruments to physicians, a practice not followed by most modern retail pharmacies that focus on providing care to consumers.  All the same, a visit to the Head of Hippocrates in 1772 likely would not have been that much different from a visit to CVS, Rite Aid, or other retail pharmacy today.

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[1] Whitfield J. Bell, Jr., “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 31, no. 5 (September-October 1957): 444.

[2] Bell, “Medical Practice in Colonial America,” 453.

May 12

GUEST CURATOR:  Thomas Ross

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

Essex Gazette (May 12, 1772).

“The handsomest Horse in America.”

This advertisement describes “The famous Bellsize Arabian,” a horse considered “the handsomest Horse in America.” During the eighteenth century, horse racing was a popular sport throughout the colonies. According to Mehmet Samuk, “horse racing was separated by strong lines of class and race.”  In 1674, a court in Virginia fined a tailor who planned a race because horse racing was supposed to be “exclusive to only rich gentlemen.”  Even though that was the official position of the court, horse racing became popular among the general public in almost every colony by the time of the American Revolution.

Rich gentlemen were not the only people who participated in the races. It was not uncommon for the owners of the horses to employ enslaved people, free black people, and poor white people as jockeys. Samuk states that “African Americans eventually emerged as some of the most talented and experienced trainers of racing horses,” another contribution to American commerce and culture beyond working on plantations.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to the prestige associated with racing horses, some colonizers also sought to earn money by breeding horses with notable pedigrees.  They placed newspaper advertisements offering stallions to “cover” mares.  Such was the case with Amos Mansfield of Danvers, Massachusetts, and an Arabian horse named Bellsize Arabian (or Belsize Arabian, according to the list of “Historic Sires” compiled by Thoroughbred Heritage).  Mansfield placed an advertisement in the May 12, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette to inform readers that the horse “will cover this Season.”

To incite interest, Mansfield detailed Belsize Arabian’s pedigree.  “He is a Son of the famous Horse called Moresah,” Mansfield declared, “and his Mother is of the best Race that the great Sultan or Emperor Muley Abalah ever had.”  He further explained that Belsize Arabian was “both by Sire and Mother of the best Blood and true Araback Race in all Barbary.”  By 1772, the horse already had a reputation for “covering” mares, first in England and then in New England.  Even if prospective clients were not familiar with all the details in the horse’s pedigree, Mansfield likely expected that the connection to the Sultan of Morocco would resonate with them.  For just “a Guinea a Colt,” colonizers could have Belsize Arabian “cover” their mares.

Mansfield attempted to increase the chances that readers would take note of his advertisement by including an image of a horse.  The woodcut did not depict Belsize Arabian in particular.  Instead, the printer provided a generic image that could have adorned any advertisement about horses.  Nonetheless, it was the only image that accompanied an advertisement in that issue of the Essex Gazette, almost certainly drawing eyes to the pedigree that Mansfield considered so important.  Some customers who engaged the services of Belsize Arabian might have been interested in racing horses, but other may have been content with displaying the offspring of “the handsomest Horse in America.”

May 5

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

Essex Gazette (May 5, 1772).

“MULBERRY TREES.”

Loammi Baldwin did much more than advertise mulberry trees for sale in Woburn, Massachusetts, in a notice that ran in the May 5, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette.  He advocated for colonizers in New England to more firmly establish a silk industry and, to that end, offered advice for cultivating mulberry trees.

What was the connection between mulberry trees and silk?  As Bob Wyss explains, the silkworm, a type of caterpillar, “prefers a diet of mulberry leaves.  It produces a cocoon which, when unraveled, can be spun into silk thread.”  Colonizers experimented with silk production in Virginia as early as 1613, “but efforts to build businesses around [silkworms] in American colonies such as Georgia, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania were only marginally successful.”  Efforts expanded into New England when the Connecticut Colonial Assembly “passed legislation offering financial incentives for silk growers” in 1734.  Bolstered by those incentives and newspaper advertisements promoting mulberry trees and silk production, some colonizers in Connecticut met with success in their silk ventures in the second half of the eighteenth century.  In the early nineteenth century, “Connecticut was a national leader in silk production and by 1840 was producing three times as much silk as any other state.”

Baldwin believed that silk production had a lot of potential in neighboring Massachusetts.  “I would spare no reasonable pains,” he declared, to encourage and bring to perfection, the production of so valuable an article as silk.”  He explained that he had already raised silkworms for a few years and “made a machine to winde the silk.”  He found the entire process “less difficult than I imagined.”  Yet readers did not need to take his word for it.  “Some of the raw silk,” Baldwin confided, “I sent to the society for encouraging arts, sciences and commerce in Great-Britain, where it was examined, and found equal to the Italian silk.”  As a result, he had a vision that depended on colonizers purchasing the mulberry trees he advertised.  “I am fully of the opinion,” Baldwin asserted, “that the culture of silk may be effected and brought to at least the state of raw silk, which we may export to great advantage.”  Yet he did not confine that vision merely to producing raw materials.  Instead, he believed that colonizers could “then procure Weavers, and other tradesmen, and carry on the whole manufacture amongst ourselves.”

Both politics and commerce likely influenced Baldwin’s vision.  Within the past several years, colonizers objected to new imperial regulations, including the Stamp Act and duties on imported goods imposed in the Townshend Acts.  In response, they adopted nonimportation agreements and encouraged the production and consumption of “domestic manufactures,” goods made in the colonies, as alternatives to imports from Britain.  In an age of homespun cloth signaling resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, cultivating mulberry trees for the purpose of producing silk had the potential to further safeguard both the political and commercial interests of the colonies.