January 14

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

Essex Gazette (January 14, 1772).

“Two LIGHT-HOUSES on Thatcher’s Island for the Safety of Navigation.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers often carried important news that supplemented the contents that appeared elsewhere.  Consider, for example, an advertisement that first ran in the Essex Gazette on December 31, 1771, and then continued to appear in subsequent issues in 1772.  “WHeras the Government having at their own Charge erected Two LIGHT-HOUSES on Thatcher’s Island for the Safety of Navigation,” the advertisement informed readers, “This is to give Notice, that said LIGHT-HOUSES are finished.”  Furthermore, “the LAMPS in said HOUSES have been light ever since the 21st of this Month.”  According to the National Park Service, “The original towers [constructed in 1771] were replaced by the present 124-foot tall, twin granite towers in 1861.”  Now known as the Cape Ann Light Station, those towers are a distinctive site (and sight!) in the region.

The National Park Service also explains that Thacher Island, located about a mile offshore from Rockport, Massachusetts, gained its name “when the General Court granted it to Anthony Thacher in 1636-1637.”  Thacher and his wife were the sole survivors of a shipwreck near the island in 1635.  Over the next four decades, several other shipwrecks occurred in the area, prompting the Massachusetts colonial government to purchase the island with the intention of establishing a light station.  Only nine lighthouses operated in North America prior to the twin lights on Thacher Island.  The two towers made the site easy for mariners to identify.  The other lighthouses guided ships to entrances to harbors, making these lights the first to mark a hazardous location.  As the advertisement in the Essex Gazette noted, they contributed to “the Safety of Navigation.”  They were also the last lighthouses built before the colonies declared independence.

Readers of the Essex Gazette may very well have been aware of the construction of the lights on Thacher Island, but this advertisement confirmed for the entire community that the project had been completed and the lights now lit.  In addition, printers and merchants participated in extensive networks for exchanging newspapers and the information contained in them.  An advertisement in the Essex Gazette, the newspaper printed closest to the location of the new lighthouses, almost certainly helped in disseminating news that the lights on Thacher Island now warned vessels of treacherous waters.

December 31

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

Essex Gazette (December 31, 1771).

“CHOCOLATE … as good and cheap as any in the Government.”

On the final day of 1771, Francis Symonds placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform the public that he “continueth to entertain Gentlemen and Ladies in the most agreeable Manner” ay the Bell Inn near Salem.  In addition, he “hath for SALE a good Assortment of English & West-India Goods.”  Symonds devoted the final portion of his advertisement to promoting one item in particular: chocolate.  He proclaimed that “he not only grinds, but hath for Sale, in large or small Quantities, CHOCOLATE.”  To entice prospective customers, he declared that his chocolate was “as good and cheap as any in the Government.”  In other words, consumers would not find chocolate of a higher quality for a lower cost elsewhere in Salem, Boston, or any other town in the colony.

Symonds did not conclude his efforts to win over consumers there.  Instead, he continued with a short poem to capture the attention of readers, a precursor to the advertising jingle of the twentieth century.  He suggested to readers wondering about the quality and price of his chocolate:

If for Confirmation you incline,
And would have that that’s genuine,
Then please to come and try mine.

Chocolate frequently appeared among the goods listed in advertisements in the Essex Gazette as well as in notices published in newspapers in Boston.  Consumers in the region had many choices among purveyors, so Symonds sought to increase the chances that they would acquire chocolate from him rather than his competitors.  He hoped that the poem would help to make his chocolate more memorable and more appealing, tempting prospective customers to see for themselves if the product lived up to the promises Symonds made.  Most of the advertisements in the Essex Gazette adhered to standard formats, but Symonds and a few others experimented with making their notices more distinctive.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., for instance, used ornamental type to enhance the visual appeal of his advertisement.  As an alternative, Symonds relied on text alone, devising a poem unlike anything that appeared in advertisements elsewhere in the issue.  Glimpsing something different, readers may have paused to take note.

December 17

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

Essex Gazette (December 17, 1771).

“An Elegant Assortment of English and India GOODS.”

John Cabot and Andrew Cabot sought to use typography to their advantage when they advertised in the Essex Gazette in December 1771.  They began with a notice in the December 3 edition, one that likely attracted attention because the copy was arranged to form a diamond.  The text ran upward diagonally with the longest line extending from the lower left corner to the upper right corner.

Two weeks later, they placed another advertisement that once again played with graphic design.  It featured the same copy as the previous advertisement, but this time the compositor created a different shape.  Not quite a diamond, it resembled a bulb.  The names of the advertisers filled most of the upper portion, helping to draw the eyes of the readers, but the white space in each of the corners also distinguished this advertisement from others on the page.

Except for the masthead on the front page, this edition of the Essex Gazette did not feature any images.  None of the advertisers opted to adorn their notices with woodcuts, yet the Cabots were not alone in their efforts to deploy typography to make their advertisement more conspicuous.  Nathaniel Sparhawk’s advertisement included a list of goods available at his store, divided into two columns, but it did not consist entirely of text.  Printing ornaments ran down the center, separating the columns.  Such visual appeal differentiated that advertisement from one with a similar format, but no decorative type, placed by John Gould and Company.

In most cases, advertisers submitted copy and compositors made decisions about format, but for these advertisements it seems almost certain that Sparhawk and, especially, the Cabots issued instructions or otherwise participated in developing the designs for their notices.  As they competed for customers with others who advertised similar goods, they likely hoped that savvy graphic design would prompt prospective customers to look more closely at their advertisements.

December 10

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

Essex Gazette (December 10, 1771).

“Some of the above-mentioned Lawns and Gauzes are perhaps the most genteel of any ever imported into North-America.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed advertisements promoting imported goods in the December 10, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  With the exception of the notice from John Cabot and Andrew Cabot with its text running upward diagonally, most of those advertisements looked quite similar at a glance.  The name of the purveyor of the goods, set in a larger font, functioned as a headline, an introduction outlined the origins of the merchandise and the location of the shop or warehouse, and dozens of items appeared in a catalog of current inventory.

Some advertisers, however, attempted to distinguish their notices from others by incorporating additional appeals to prospective customers.  John Andrew, for instance, informed readers that they could expect good bargains at his shop at the Sign of the Gold Cup.  “Those who favour him with their Custom,” he confided, “may depend upon being served with good Pennyworths, as he is determined to be undersold by none.”  Elsewhere on the same page, Samuel Cottman described his prices as “Extremely cheap,” while John Gould and Company declared that they set prices “as low as at any Store in the Province.”  Andrew made it clear that customers could expect competitive prices from him.

Rather than price, John Grozart made an appeal to fashion in the nota bene that enhanced his advertisement.  He drew attention to certain textiles, declaring that “Some of the above-mentioned Lawns and Gauzes are perhaps the most genteel of any ever imported into North-America.”  Those fabrics were not merely fashionable, Grozart suggested, but superlative in their fashionableness.  Customers could not go wrong in purchasing them, especially if they wanted to impress their friends and acquaintances.  Folsom and Hart advertised wigs “made in the present Taste,” but did not make claims nearly as bold as Grozart did about his wares as he attempted to incite curiosity among readers.

Neither Andrew nor Grozart included images in their advertisements.  The copy had to do all the work of enticing prospective customers to visit their stores.  To that end, they each devised an additional appeal to enhance the otherwise standard format of their newspaper notices, trusting that consumers practiced the close reading necessary to detect the differences among the advertisements in the Essex Gazette.

December 3

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

Essex Gazette (December 3, 1771).

“The Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”

John Cabot and Andrew Cabot operated a shop in Beverly, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s.  They took to the pages of Essex Gazette in December 1771 to promote an “Elegant Assortment of English and India GOODs.”  They boldly proclaimed that they offered the best prices in the region, “determined … to give undoubted Satisfaction to every Purchaser, and at as low a Rate, if not lower, than at any Store in BOSTON or SALEM, notwithstanding the Promises in some pompous Advertisements.”  The Cabots critiqued their competitors as they made their own “pompous” claim about their prices.

Such commentary may have captured the attention of prospective customers, but it was like the format of the advertisement that drew their attention in the first place.  The copy ran upward diagonally, forming a diamond that filled the traditional square of space that advertisers purchased.  One or two words appeared on the first lines.  The number of words and length of each line increased with each line until the line that extended from the lower left corner of the advertisement to the upper right corner, then decreased with each line.

The format was novel in the Essex Gazette, but that does not mean that it was unfamiliar to readers or to the Cabots.  Two months earlier, Gilbert Deblois, a shopkeeper in Boston, similarly experimented with the design of his advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The Cabots likely saw Deblois’s advertisement.  After all, they commented on the content of advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers in both Boston and Salem.  Perhaps they even clipped the advertisement or submitted an issue of the Boston Evening-Post with their copy and instructions for the compositor to replicate the format of Deblois’s unique notice.  They likely had to pay more than the three shillings that Samuel Hall usually charged for advertisements “not exceeding eight or ten Lines,” but they may have considered it well worth the investment to create an advertisement practically guaranteed to attract notice from prospective customers.

November 19

Who placed an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Essex Gazette (November 19, 1771).

“Priscilla Manning, At her Shop a few Doors above Capt. WEST’s Corner.”

Advertising accounted for one-third of the contents of the November 19, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette.  A substantial number of notices promoted consumer goods and services available in Salem, Massachusetts.  George Deblois advertised “excellent BOHEA TEA” as well as “English & Hard-Ware GOODS.”  Similarly, John Appleton carried “the very best Bohea Tea” and a “fine Assortment of English and India, Scotch and Irish GOODS.”  In an advertisement that extended almost an entire column, Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., listed dozens of items from among the “large and general Assortment of English and India Goods” that he imported “in the last Ships.”  He called special attention to “Bohea TEA, (warranted good).”  John Andrew informed prospective customers that he stocked an “Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS” at his shop “At the Sign of the Gold Cup,” though he did not mention tea.

Priscilla Manning joined these merchants and shopkeepers in advertising the merchandise she sold to consumers.  Her inventory included “Bohea, Hyson & Souchong TEAS” as well as a “general Assortment of English and India GOODS.”  Manning had been operating a shop “a few Doors above Capt. WEST’s Corner” for at least two years, according to advertisements in the Essex Gazette, but her name would disappear from the pages of that newspaper in 1772 when she married George Abbot.  Historian Donna Seger has traced Manning’s life and career, noting that Abbot apparently took over Manning’s shop.  Advertisements in the Essex Gazette bore his name and made reference to “his shop a little above Capt. West’s Corner.”  When Abbot died in 1784, Manning “re-opened her shop … and built a big new house—both in her name.”  She almost certainly continued to work in the shop during those twelve years that her husband’s name appeared in the public prints, eclipsing her contributions to the family business.  Given that Manning was a woman of business in her right before her marriage and after the death of her husband, it raises questions about how many wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, and other female relations worked in the shops advertised by Deblois, Appleton, Sparhawk, and Andrew.  Which women, known to customers and the community but unnamed in the notices, came to mind when eighteenth-century readers perused those advertisements?

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.