October 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Colleen Barrett

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

Essex Gazette (October 15, 1771).

“Apothecary’s SHOP, AT THE Head of Hippocrates.”

On October 15, 1771, Nathanael Dabney advertised his apothecary shop in the Essex Gazette. Dabney sold “Drugs, Medicines, AND Groceries” in Salem, Massachusetts. This is one of many examples of advertisements for medicines in the newspapers of the period. Dabney sold medicines and other items imported from London, including “Patent Medicines of every sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse.”  According to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, patent medicines, like those mentioned in the advertisement, “are named after the ‘letters patent’ granted by the English crown.” Furthermore, the maker of any of these medicines had “a monopoly over his particular formula. The term ‘patent medicine’ came to describe all prepackaged medicines sold ‘over-the-counter’ without a doctor’s prescription” in later years.  Dabney also mentioned the services he provided at his shop, letting customers know that he “will wait on them at all Hours of the Day and Night.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

As Colleen notes, customer service was an important element of Nathanael Dabney’s marketing efforts.  He concluded his advertisement with a note that “Family Prescriptions” were “carefully put up, and Orders from the Country punctually obeyed.”  A manicule helped to draw attention to these services.  That Dabney “put up” prescriptions suggests that he was an apothecary who compounded medications at his shop rather than merely a shopkeeper who specialized in patent medicines.  He likely possessed a greater degree of expertise about the drugs and medicines he sold than retailers who included patent medicines among a wide array of imported goods.

Prospective customers did not need to visit Dabney’s shop “AT THE Head of Hippocrates” in Salem.  Instead, the apothecary offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of mail order service for clients who resided outside of town.  He assured them that they did not have to worry about receiving less attention than those who came into his apothecary shop.  Instead, he “punctually obeyed” their orders, echoing the sentiments of other advertisers who provided similar services.

In addition to customer service, Dabney attempted to entice potential customers with promises of quality, declaring that he imported his drugs “from the best House in LONDON.”  He made a point of mentioning that he received “Patent Medicines of every Sort from Dicey & Okell’s Original Wholesale Warehouse,” an establishment well known in London and the English provinces.  According to P.S. Brown, newspaper advertisements published in Bath in 1770 referred to “Dicey and Okell’s great original Elixir Warehouse.”[1]  Dabney may have hoped to benefit from name recognition when he included his supplier in his advertisement.

The apothecary promised low prices, stating that he sold his wares “at the cheapest rate,” but he devoted much more of his advertisement to quality and customer service.  He waited on customers whenever they needed him “at all Hours of the Day and Night,” compounded medications, and promptly dispatched orders to the countryside, providing a level of care that consumers did not necessarily receive from shopkeepers who happened to carry patent medicines.

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[1] P.S. Brown, “Medicines Advertised in Eighteenth-Century Bath Newspapers,” Medical History 20, no. 2 (April 1976):  153.

September 10

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

Connecticut Courant (September 10, 1771).

“The Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House, In King Stret BOSTON.”

As summer turned to fall in 1771, Ebenezer Bridgham, the proprietor of the “Staffordshire and Liverpool Ware House” on King Street in Boston, attempted to cultivate a regional reputation for his store.  Not content seeking customers in Boston and the surrounding towns, he also placed advertisements in newspapers published in other places in New England. On September 7, for instance, he inserted an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, informing prospective customers that he stocked “a very large and elegant Assortment of China, Glass, Delph and Stone Ware” that he imported “directly from the several Manufacturers in Staffordshire and Liverpool.”  Three days later, the same advertisement also ran in the Connecticut Courant, published in Hartford, and the Essex Gazette, published in Salem.  Bridgham disseminated information about the Staffordshire and Liverpool Warehouse far more widely than if he had placed his notice solely in the several newspapers published in Boston.  To entice customers in towns throughout New England to place orders from his store, he pledged to part with his wares “as low as they were ever sold in America.”

Essex Gazette (September 10, 1771).

The appearance of Bridgham’s advertisement in several newspapers demonstrated a division of responsibilities in the creation of marketing materials in the eighteenth century.  As the advertiser, Bridgham supplied the copy.  The composition, however, made decisions about the format.  In each newspaper, the graphic design of Bridgham’s advertisement looked consistent with other paid notices in that publication.  In the Essex Gazette, for example, the advertisement promoted “a very large and elegant Assortment of CHINA, GLASS, DELPH and STONE WARE,” the various categories of goods in capital letters.  Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette also featured key words in all capitals.  On the other hand, notices in the Connecticut Courant did not tend utilize that means of drawing attention to particular goods, reserving capitals for names of advertisers and towns.  Similarly, “Staffordshire” and “Liverpool” appeared in italics in the headline in the Essex Gazette, but “King Street” appeared in italics in the Connecticut Courant.  The compositors made decisions independently when they set type.  As a result, Bridgham’s advertisement had variations in design, but not copy, when it ran in multiple newspapers.

September 3

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

Essex Gazette (September 3, 1771).

“The Original of this Advertisement, with the Subscribers Names, which are omitted, may be seen at the Printing-Office.”

Colonial printers disseminated information via newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets, and other items produced on their presses, but the printed word was not their only means of communicating with the public.  Through written correspondence or visiting printing offices, colonists gained access to information that did not appear in print.  For instance, newspaper advertisements of all sorts instructed interested parties to “enquire of the printer” for more information.  Enslavers often remained anonymous when they placed advertisements looking to sell those they held in bondage, instead stating that readers should “enquire of the printer” for particulars, but they were not alone.  Purveyors of various commodities also listed printers as intermediaries, as did colonists seeking employment and artisans seeking apprentices.  In addition to “enquire of the printer” advertisements, subscription notices listed printers as local agents collecting orders for books published in other cities.  Sometimes printers had more extensive subscription notices on display in their printing offices compared to what appeared in newspapers.

On other occasions, printers chose to withhold some information, but informed readers that they could learn more in person.  Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  The notice declared that “the new Work-House in Salem, was broke open” on August 25 and “the Workmen’s Tools stolen and carried away.”  The “Subscribers” who placed the advertisement lamented “such Villainy [that] brings a Scandal upon the Town” and encouraged “all well-disposed Persons [to] do their utmost that Justice may take Place.”  To that end, the “Subscribers” offered a reward “to any Person or Persons, who will discover the Offenders.”  The notice concluded with a note from Samuel Hall, the printer, that stated, “The Original of this Advertisement, with the Subscribers Names, which are omitted, may be seen at the Printing-Office.”  Hall did not indicate whether the original contained more information than appeared in print, other than the names of the “Subscribers” who placed it and offered the reward, but even the omitted names revealed that readers could learn more with a visit to the printing office.  Hall also did not specify why he did not publish the names of the “Subscribers.”  Perhaps he shared his reasons with those who came to examine the original.  Whatever the case, Hall utilized multiple methods in disseminating the information in his possession.  Some of it appeared in print, but certain details he shared with the curious when they visited his printing office.

August 20

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

Essex Gazette (August 20, 1771).

“Strips of Paper are printed off, containing a List of every Rateable Article.”

Throughout the colonies, printers produced, advertised, and sold “BLANKS” or printed forms that facilitated legal and commercial transactions.  Samuel Hall listed a “general Assortment of Blanks … particularly fitted for the County of Essex” in the August 20, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Among that assortment, he reported that he had “neatly and accurately” printed “Apprentices Indentures,” “Bills of Lading,” “Powers of Attorney,” “Sheriffs Bail Bonds,” and “Justices Writs, Summonses, Executions and Recognizances.”  The template on each blank aided colonists attending to their affairs in the marketplace and the legal system.

In a separate advertisement, Hall promoted another product intended to assist colonists in meeting their obligations, in this case their obligation to enumerate their property for the purposes of paying taxes.  Hall described this helpful device as “Strips of Paper … containing a List of every Rateable Article” that contributed toward the overall tax assessment.  Like the blanks more familiar to many colonists, these “Strips of Paper” included empty space to fill in with the appropriate details; in this case, “to set down the Number and Value of Articles in the Columns left Blank for the Purpose.”  Such organization then made it that much easier to achieve a final tally.  Hall promoted these “Strips of Paper” in terms of the convenience they bestowed on prospective customers who might otherwise experience greater difficulty with this task.  He intended them “FOR the Easement of People, in preparing Lists of their Polls & Rateable Estates.”  Customers who used them did not need to worry about inadvertently overlooking anything that should be included, Hall suggested, since they could simply proceed down the list.

The printer conveniently placed this advertisement immediately below a notice to the “Inhabitants of the Town of SALEM” that they were “to give in to the Assessors Accounts of their Polls and Rateable Estates, according to the Tenor of an Act passed the last Session of the Great and General Court.”  That notice also threatened penalties for “every Person … refusing or neglecting to give into the Assessors in writing, and on Oath if required, a true Account of his or her Rateable Estate” by September 20.  Hall seized an opportunity to make current events work to his advantage in creating and marketing a product that made the assessment process easier and more convenient for prospective customers.

July 23

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

Essex Gazette (July 23, 1771).

“Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield, deceased.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, inserted several of his own notices in the July 23, 1771, edition, interspersing them among other advertisements.  In so doing, he promoted additional revenue streams and filled space that could have been devoted to other content.  Like many printers, he offered “CASH … for RAGS” to use in making paper.  Most of his notices were fairly short, but he devoted two longer advertisements to “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT of Stationary” and “A general Assortment of Blanks” or printed forms for legal and financial transactions.  Most of his other notices featured books, including one for “Dr. Watts’s young Child’s first Catechism” and another for “A Set of Dean Swift’s Works, neatly bound.”  Hall also stocked “Rev. Dr. Pemberton’s Sermon at the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Story” and “The Lawfulness, Excellency and Advantage of INSTRUMENTAL MUSICK in the Publick Worship of GOD.”  When it came to individual titles, Hall primarily focused on religious works, yet that was not the only way that the printer engaged religion in his marketing.

Hall inserted one additional advertisement that hawked an item less commonly included among the notices placed by printers.  “Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield, deceased, to be sold at the Printing-Office in Salem,” he advised readers.  That medal commemorated George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Whitefield died at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, less than a year earlier.  Almost immediately following the minister’s death, printers and others began marketing commemorative items, mostly books, pamphlets, and broadsides.  Hall first informed the public that he would soon offer medals on May 14.  More than two months later, he apparently still had some on hand and reminded prospective customers that they could honor Whitefield by purchasing medals that bore his likeness.  Like others who sold commemorative items, Hall provided an opportunity for colonists to mourn the minister through acts of consumption.  The medals the printer advertised not only memorialized Whitefield but also transformed him into a commodity following his death.  However sincere Hall’s regard for the minister may have been, he also aimed to generate revenues in the wake of his death.

July 16

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

Essex Gazette (July 16, 1771).

“He has got two Sorts of Chairs made by him which are called as neat as any that are made in Boston.”

When Joseph P. Goodwin set up shop in Salem in the summer of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette“to inform all Gentlemen and others” that he “makes the best Sort of Mahogany Chairs, Couches and easy Chairs, Sofa’s, and any Thing in the Chair-making Business.”  To attract customers, especially those not yet familiar with his work, he deployed some of the appeals early American artisans most commonly incorporated into their newspaper advertisements.  “All Gentlemen and others that will favour him their Custom,” Goodwin proclaimed, “may depend upon having Work done in the neatest Manner.”  Such an assertion had multiple purposes, evoking both the quality of the chairs and other furniture and the skill of the chairmaker.  In addition, Goodwin promised good customer service, declaring that he attended to clients “with Fidelity and Dispatch.”

In addition to those standard appeals, Goodwin devoted a nota bene to favorable comparisons between the chairs he produced and those from workshops in Boston.  That he made his furniture from mahogany already testified to his understanding of quality and fashion in the eighteenth-century marketplace, but Goodwin embellished his advertisement with additional details.  He trumpeted that “Chairs made by him … are called as neat as any that are made in Boston.”  He did not, however, indicate who made that assessment, whether it was a pronouncement he made on his own or a recommendation made by former customers or others.  The wording suggested that others bestowed that designation on Goodwin’s chairs, but he did not offer further elaboration.  He may have considered it unnecessary, believing that his confidence in making such a statement would entice prospective customers to visit his shop to see his chairs and other furniture for themselves.  Like many merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who advertised in the Essex Gazette, Goodwin refused to allow competitors in Boston to overshadow his workshop in Salem.  Boston was the bigger port, but that did not necessarily mean better merchandise than readers of the Essex Gazette could find in local stores and workshops.

July 2

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

Essex Gazette (July 2, 1771).

“To be sold by the Printer hereof.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, frequently supplemented the news accounts, letters, and paid notices in his newspaper with advertisements of his own.  In doing so, he simultaneously promoted various enterprises undertaken at his printing office in Salem and generated content to fill otherwise empty space.  Throughout the colonies, printers adopted similar strategies in their newspapers.

Consider the July 2, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  Hall interspersed three of his own notices among the paid advertisements.  The first announced, “A good Assortment of PAPER, by the Ream or Quire, as cheap as at any Shop or Store in Boston; together with most other Sorts of Stationary, to be sold by the Printer hereof.”  Extending only four lines, this notice appeared near the bottom of the second column on the third page.  Another of Hall’s notice ran at the top of the final column on that page.  That one advised prospective customers that Hall sold copies of “the Rev. Dr. Pemberton’s Sermon in the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Story of Marblehead.”  It also listed related items “annexed” to the sermon in the pamphlet.  Like many other printers, Hall pursued multiple revenue streams at his printing office, selling books and stationery to supplement the proceeds from newspaper subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing.

Essex Gazette (July 2, 1771).

In his third notice, Hall declared, “CASH given for RAGS, at the Printing Office in Salem.”  Printers frequently collected rags, a necessary resource for the production of the paper they needed to pursue their occupation.  Even more than his other notices in the July 2 issue, the placement of Hall’s call for rags suggests that it also served as filler to complete the page.  It appeared at the bottom of the final column.  The compositor also inserted decorative type to fill the remaining space, furthering testifying to the utility of running that particular notice.  Access to the press meant that printers could run advertisements promoting their own endeavors whenever they wished, but that was not the only reason they inserted notices into their publications.  Sometimes they sought to quickly and efficiently fill remaining space with short notices already on hand.  The type remained set for easy insertion whenever necessary, a strategy for streamlining the production of newspapers in eighteenth-century America.

June 22

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

Providence Gazette (June 22, 1771).

“ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”

Today marks two thousand days of production for the Adverts 250 Project.  Every day for two thousand consecutive days, I have examined an advertisement originally published in an eighteenth-century newspaper.  Students enrolled in my Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Public History, and Research Methods classes at Assumption University have also contributed to the Adverts 250 Project as guest curators.

This milestone seems like a good opportunity to address two of the questions I most commonly encounter.  How much did a subscription to an eighteenth-century newspaper cost?  How much did an advertisement cost?  Most printers did not regularly publish subscription rates or advertising rates in their newspapers, but some did include that information in the colophon at the bottom of the final page.  Of the twenty-two newspapers published during the week of Sunday, June 16 through Saturday, June 22, 1771, that have been digitized and made available for scholars and other readers, seven listed subscription rates and six indicated advertising rates.  Four of those, the Essex Gazette, the Maryland Gazette, Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette, and Rind’s Virginia Gazette, included both subscription rates and advertising rates in the colophon. That nearly as many identified advertising rates as the cost of subscriptions testifies to the importance of advertising for generating revenue.

Here is an overview of subscription rates and advertising rates inserted in the colophons of colonial newspapers during the last week of spring in 1771.

SUBSCRIPTION RATES:

  • Essex Gazette (June 18): “THIS GAZETTE may be had for Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum, (exclusive of Postage) 3s. 4d. (or 3s. 6d. if sent by Post) to be paid at Entrance.”
  • Maryland Gazette (June 20): “Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE, at 12s. 6d. a Year.”
  • Massachusetts Spy (June 20): “Persons may be supplied with this paper at Six Shillings and Eight Pence, Lawful Money, per Annum.”
  • Pennsylvania Chronicle (June 17): “Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum) Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this Paper.”
  • Pennsylvania Journal (June 20): “Persons may be supplied with this Paper at Ten Shillings a Year.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (June 20): “ALL Persons may be supplied with this PAPER at 12s. 6d. a Year.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Rind] (June 20): “All Persons may be supplied with this GAZETTE at 12s6 per Year.”

ADVERTISING RATES:

  • Essex Gazette (June 18): “ADVERTISEMENTS not exceeding eight or ten Lines are inserted for Three Shillings.”
  • Maryland Gazette (June 20): “ADVERTISEMENTS, of a moderate Length, are inserted for the First Time, for 5s. and 1s. for each Week’s Continuance.  Long Ones in Proportion to their Number of Lines.”
  • New-York Journal (June 20): “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”
  • Providence Gazette (June 22): “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length (accompanied with the Pay) are inserted in this Paper three Weeks for Four Shillings Lawful Money.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (June 20): “ALL Persons may … have ADVERTISEMENTS (of a moderate Length) inserted in it for 3s. the first Week, and 2s. each Week after.”
  • Virginia Gazette [Rind] (June 20): “ADVERTISEMENTS of a moderate Length are inserted for 3s. the First Week, and 2s. each Time after; and long ones in Proportion.”

Those newspapers that specified both subscription rates and advertising rates demonstrate the potential for generating significant revenue by publishing advertisements.  The competing newspapers in Williamsburg, Virginia, each charged twelve shillings and six pence per year for a subscription and collected three shillings for the first insertion of an advertisement and two shillings for every subsequent insertion.  William Rind declared that he set rates “in Proportion” for longer advertisements.  An advertisement that ran for six weeks cost more than an annual subscription.  Anne Catherine Green set the same price, twelve shillings and six pence, for a subscription to the Maryland Gazette, but charged five shillings the first time an advertisement ran.  Samuel Hall charged six shillings and eight pence for a subscription to the Essex Gazette and three shillings for each appearance of an advertisement of “eight or ten Lines.”  Some significantly exceeded that length, costing as much as a subscription for a single insertion.  Other printers presumable set similar rates, a pricing structure that meant that advertising played a substantial role in funding the dissemination of the news even in the colonial era.

June 18

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

Essex Gazette (June 18, 1771).

“Those who live remote shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”

Apothecaries Nathanael Dabney and Philip Godfrid Kast competed for customers.  Each placed an advertisement in the June 18, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette, inviting prospective customers to their shops in Salem.  Making the choice between the two apothecaries even more visible to readers, their advertisements appeared one after the other.  Kast, the more experienced advertiser, placed the longer notice.  It extended more than a column, extensively listing the items in stock at the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.  Kast also included blurbs about patent medicines, some of them more familiar to consumers than others, such as “Dr. Hill’s Pectoral Balsam of Honey,” “Dr. Robert James’s Powder for Fevers,” “Dr Stoughton’s great Cordial Elixir for the Stomach,” and “Dr. Scott’s Powder for the Teeth.”  Dabney, on the other hand, provided a shorter list of his inventory, but also promising “every Article in the Apothecary’s Way.”  He aimed to make himself competitive with Kast.

Both apothecaries sought clients in Salem and beyond, inviting readers unable to visit their shops to submit orders.  Dabney and Kast each pledged not to favor customers who visited their shops over those who did not.  “Those who live remote,” Dabney proclaimed, “shall have their Orders as faithfully complied with as if present themselves.”  Kast deployed similar language in a nota bene that concluded his advertisement: “Those who will send their Orders shall be as well used as if present themselves.”  That included both consumers and “Practitioners … in Town and Country.”  The apothecaries described an eighteenth-century version of mail order for “DRUGS and MEDICINES,” an effort to enhance their sales and increase their revenues by offering a convenience to their customers.  Some prospective clients may have found Kast’s advertisement the more alluring of the two.  In addition to a longer list of merchandise, the blurbs about various patent medicines served as suggestions for distant customers unable to consult with the apothecary in person.  Furthermore, Kast trumpeted that he sold his wares “as reasonable, and on as good Credit, as can be purchased in Boston.”  The apothecary no doubt sought to engage every reader, but especially prospective customers outside of Salem who might have been likely to look to Boston, the larger port, for better bargains when resorting to sending orders from a distance.

Dabney and Kast promoted the assortment of medicines they carried and pledged good customer service, but Kast further embellished his marketing efforts by comparing his prices to those in Boston and by providing descriptions of certain patent medicines to help prospective customers make their choices.  For instance, Kast declared that Stoughton’s Cordial “is as necessary for all Seamen or Travellers, and others, to take with them as their daily Food.”  That level of detail required purchasing additional space in the Essex Gazette, but Kast may have determined it was well worth the expense if it drummed up additional business.

June 4

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

Essex Gazette (June 4, 1771).

An additional Supply of English GOODS.”

Wholesalers and retailers rarely placed multiple advertisements in a single issue of a newspaper prior to the American Revolution, but on occasion some did so.  Such was the case for George Deblois of Salem in the spring of 1771.  He originally published one advertisement in the Essex Gazette in April and then supplemented it with another advertisement in May.  The timing of the advertisements as well as the contents corresponded with the arrival of ships in port.

In an advertisement in the April 23 edition, Deblois “acquaint[ed] his Customers and others” that he stocked “A good Assortment of English Piece Goods” that he “just imported, in the last Ships from LONDON.”  To entice consumers, he enumerated some of the merchandise available at his shop, including textiles, stationery, and hardware.  That advertisement filled two-thirds of a column.  A month later, he placed another advertisement promoting “An additional Supply of English GOODS” and listing dozens of items not mentioned in the first advertisement.  These goods, Deblois explained, arrived “in the Captains Lyde, Hall, and Hood, from LONDON, and in Capt. Gough from BRISTOL.”  Like many other advertisers, he named the captains rather than the vessels that transported the goods.  The merchant also proclaimed that he received “in Captain SMITH from BRISTOL, a large Assortment of HARD WARES.”  Not as lengthy as the first advertisements, this one filled one-third of a column.

Both advertisements ran in the May 21 edition of the Essex Gazette and then appeared in the same issue again on June 4.  In each instance, they accounted for a considerable portion of the content.  Between them, they extended an entire column in a newspaper that consisted of only twelve columns.  For his marketing efforts, Deblois purchased a significant amount of space in the local newspaper.  Running two advertisements simultaneously, though briefly, enhanced the visibility of his enterprise.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, one of Deblois’s competitors, ran an advertisement that extended nearly an entire column, but readers encountered his notice only once when they perused the Essex Gazette.  That Deblois published multiple advertisements, each documenting a variety of items, suggested an even greater array of choices for consumers who visited his shop.