November 14

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

Nov 14 - 11:14:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 14, 1767).

He has two swift-sailing small Sloops, which ply constantly between Providence and Newport.”

Readers of the Providence Gazette encountered two advertisements for ferries between Providence and Newport on the final page of the November 14 edition. The operators adopted different strategies in promoting their services. Thomas Lindsey and Benjamin Lindsey inserted a short, streamlined advertisement to announce that their “STAGE-BOATS … ply twice a Week … with GOODS and PASSENGERS.” They made a nod toward customer service, assuring prospective customers that they “may depend on being faithfully served,” and concluded with standard language about the “excellent Accommodations for Passengers.” They dressed up their advertisement with a woodcut of a ship, which likely attracted attention since it was the only image that accompanied an advertisement in the entire issue.

Joshua Hacker devised a much more extensive advertisement. Even without a woodcut, its length and the table of fees distinguished it visually from the other advertisements on the same page. Hacker elaborated on many of the marketing appeals made by the Lindseys; he also launched additional appeals intended to convince prospective clients to choose him over his competitors. While the Lindseys sailed twice a week, Hacker’s sloops “set off every Day … Wind and Weather permitting.” Instead of using formulaic phrases that consistently appeared in other advertisements offering passage, Hacker expanded on the “exceeding good Accommodations,” promising that passengers “can be as comfortable on board … as in their Parlours.” Hacker did not merely reiterate stock phrases used in advertisements throughout the colonies. He exerted additional effort in writing copy to make it resonate with potential customers.

He also incorporated additional justifications for selecting his business over others. Not only did he make an appeal to price – “the very cheapest rates” – he provided a list of more than a dozen specific rates, including nine pence for a single passenger, three shillings for a four-wheeled carriage, and three shillings for a barrel of cargo. To cultivate customers, he also offered some services gratis. He informed those who wished to ship goods between the two ports that “he hath a convenient Store for depositing such Goods,” a warehouse where they would be stored for free. Hacker also made an appeal to his long experience, noting that he had “for upwards of ten Years, carried on this Business.”

Neither the Lindseys nor Hacker merely announced that they operated ferry and freight service between Providence and Newport. Both advanced appeals intended to make their businesses attractive to prospective clients, yet their approaches differed significantly. The Lindseys relied on methods already in use by their counterparts who advertised similar services in other colonial ports. Hacker, however, offered a much more innovative advertisement that further developed existing marketing strategies.

September 6

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

Sep 6 - 9:3:1767 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 3, 1767).

“BLANCH WHITE, UPHOLSTERER FROM LONDON.”

Colonists lived in an era of intense geographic mobility. In the decade before the Revolution, the flow of immigrants from across the Atlantic accelerated. Even colonists born in North America moved from place to place as they searched for economic opportunities. Many residents of cities and towns up and down the Atlantic coast could not claim to be from the place they now lived. For various reasons, some continued to emphasize their origins even as they became members of new communities.

This was often the case with tailors, cabinetmakers, and other artisans, especially as newcomers attempting to promote their livelihoods in local newspapers. They needed customers, yet determined that maintaining some aspects of their outsider status would effectively attract patrons who were unfamiliar with them and the goods they produced. Artisans who placed advertisements frequently asserted their connections to cosmopolitan centers in Europe. This gave them a certain cachet, suggesting that they made and sold items that were particularly fashionable. In some instances connections to London and other European cities also implied specialized training superior to any undertaken in the colonies.

In the September 3, 1767, edition of the New-York Journal, Blanch White introduced himself to potential customers as an UPHOLSTERER FROM LONDON.” In the same issue, readers also learned of the services of “Charles Le Frou, From PARIS, Perriwig-maker and hair Dresser.” Recent arrivals often used such designations to identify and distinguish themselves, though many advertisements obscured precisely how much time had elapsed since the artisan had lived and worked in London or another cosmopolitan center of fashion and commerce.

White’s advertisement provided some clarification. Even though he pronounced that he was “FROM LONDON,” he also indicated that he “has followed the Business for many Years past in Philadelphia.” Apparently his connection to London was not recent, yet the upholsterer still considered it a selling point worth mentioning to prospective customers. Some advertisers would have been content not to provide additional information about any extended interim between departing London and setting up shop locally, but White sensed an opportunity in acknowledging the time he spent in Philadelphia. Given that he seemed to specialize in martial supplies, he believed that he “must be known to some Gentlemen of the Military in this City.” He extended a direct appeal to former customers and acquaintances that served as an indirect endorsement.

Years after migrating across the Atlantic, Blanch White continued to identify himself as “FROM LONDON,” at least for the purposes of promoting his business in print. Yet he also found value in underscoring the work he had done and the clients he had served for “many Years” in the largest city in the colonies.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 20, 1767).

“A considerable number of rolling screens for cleansing wheat.”

John Sellers and Richard Truman both advertised their “SCREENS for cleaning all sorts of Grain” in the August 20, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Truman devoted more than half of the space in his notice to a woodcut depicting a machine that used one of the screens he made. This strategy likely garnered a fair amount of attention since visual images were relatively rare in eighteenth-century newspapers; even the most humble woodcuts distinguished the advertisements they adorned from the vast majority of others.

Sellers purchased the same amount of space, but, like most advertisers, densely filled it with text. He used that space to develop two marketing strategies: an appeal to unparalleled expertise in his field and roll call of existing customers who could testify to his abilities and their experience using the screens he made.

Sellers not only “MADES and sold” screens for cleaning flaxseed and wheat, he claimed to be “the original inventor and institutor of that branch of business in America.” Furthermore, he protected his trade secrets by not sharing his techniques with anyone else. As evidence that former customers recognized the quality and utility of his “wire work of all sorts,” Sellers argued that he had made “all the wire boults used in the cities of Philadelphia and New-York” as well as a “considerable number” of rolling screens akin to those advertised by Truman. Due to his “long experience” and status as “the best master of the work,” he believed that he was “best intitled” to the patronage of those who needed to purchase such equipment.

Potential customers did not need to take Sellers’ word. Instead, he listed eight associates in Philadelphia and another eight in New York, encouraging readers to enquire of them for further endorsements. Realizing that consumers would rightfully be skeptical of what amount to nothing more than braggadocio, Sellers made it possible for them to independently verify his claims by speaking with satisfied customers.

Without a woodcut decorating his advertisement, John Sellers instead worked to convince potential customers of the superiority of his product over others marketed and sold by his competitors. Richard Truman’s advertisement was rudimentary in comparison. It included an eye-catching visual image, but did little beyond announcing that he sold fans and screens for cleaning grains. In contrast, Sellers explained why customers should prefer the products he made and sold. In addition, he directed them to satisfied customers who could speak authoritatively about his screens.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 13, 1767).

“I likewise frame, gild and glaze Pictures at the cheapest Rates.”

According to his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Robert Kennedy provided a variety of goods and services at his “Copper-plate Printing Office, in Third-street, Philadelphia.” To entice potential customers, he extolled both the wares he sold and personal attributes that qualified him to pursue his occupation. Kennedy was no mere middleman who shuttled imported goods through his shop; instead, he was a craftsman who altered and improved his merchandise to conform to the tastes and desires of his customers.

Kennedy stocked a “general Assortment of Maps and Prints” that were “neatly framed and glazed” in a variety of sizes and fashions. Customers could choose among these items to decorate their homes. Alternately, they could bring their own prints to Kennedy’s shop for him to “frame, gild and glaze” and otherwise prepare them to be exhibited in homes, either as “Houshold Furniture” or in “Cabinets of the CURIOUS.” His other services included cleaning, repairing, and gilding paintings and looking glasses as well as painting houses and installing windows.

Lest potential customers fear that he might irreparably damage their irreplaceable possessions, Kennedy assured them that he “had several Years Experience.” During that time he “acquired such a Degree of Knowledge of the Branches of my Profession” that he would be able to “give Satisfaction” to any of his customers. Notably, Kennedy underscored his expertise in various “Branches” of preparing paintings and prints for display. He did not want prospective clients to worry or suspect that he specialized in one task and dabbled in the others. Instead, through years of experience he had developed expertise in each of the services he offered.

In his description of framed maps and prints as “Houshold Furniture,” Kennedy revealed the value colonists placed on these items. They were part of a culture of conspicuous consumption that included the exhibition of consumer goods to signal taste and status. In addition to clothing, housewares, and furniture, colonists displayed framed maps, prints, and paintings as testaments to their gentility and adherence to current fashions. These decorative items needed to withstand keen observation, which made Kennedy’s experience and expertise all the more important. Part of the “Satisfaction” that he marketed to customers was confidence that the quality of his work would impress their visitors who viewed the items he framed, gilded, and repaired.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 2
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 9, 1767).

“He first introduced into this Province the most expeditious Method of teaching Writing.”

Osborne Straton was not the only schoolmaster who advertised his services in the newspapers printed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1767. He needed to distinguish his instruction from that provided by W. Adams and William Johnson, both of whom inserted much more extensive notices in the public prints. Rather than going into as much detail about his curriculum and teaching methods, Straton advanced two other reasons “Parents and Guardians” should enroll their children in “the British Academy on the Green, at the West End of BROAD-STREET.”

First, he underscored his experience, implying that the parents of prospective students should choose his academy because his competitors were newcomers who had not yet gained the public trust. Straton had been teaching in Charleston for half a decade; he considered it “his Duty to remind the Public, That A.D. 1762, he first introduced into this Province the most expeditious Method of teaching Writing, Drawing, &c. &c. in all their Branches.” His methods were particularly designed “to qualify Youth for Business in general,” a goal that Straton identified in an advertisement published several months earlier. He noted his long experience in that notice as well, stating that he had “forty years experience as head book-keeper in some of the first counting-houses in Europe” before migrating to South Carolina and becoming a schoolmaster. According to Straton, his experience, both in business and in teaching local youth, should cause parents to give him precedence over other schoolmasters.

Straton also argued that he served the public good in addition to earning a living by charging tuition of students who could afford it. He pledged to “Instruct six poor Children Gratis, every Thursday and Saturday in the Afternoon.” This was not the first time he made such an offer. Several weeks earlier he announced that “one youth may be qualified for business gratis, on a private benevolence,” an eighteenth-century scholarship of sorts. In making a new commitment to teach several poor children, Straton again played on his ties to the community established over the course of several years. He set a philanthropic example to make his academy more appealing to prospective students and their parents, suggesting that service rather than revenues motivated his instruction.

Compared to his competitors, Straton’s advertisement was relatively short. Despite its length, he included two appeals that made his academy both distinctive and attractive to residents of Charleston as they considered several options. Other schoolmasters might have offered effective instruction, but for Straton the work seemed to be a vocation rather than a mere occupation.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:4:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 4, 1767).

“He will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts.”

William Fooks of Philadelphia was quite chatty in an advertisement offering his services as “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK, for the French and Spanish Languages” to the “Gentleman Traders of this City.” To counter the effusiveness of his advertisement, he assured potential clients that of the “Secrecy, Prudence, and Intelligence” that defined his character and how he pursued his occupation. Those qualities, he asserted, “render him worthy of the Confidence of those who please to employ him.”

Although the term “tabellion” has declined in use today, residents of England and its colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have readily recognized this description of the scrivener’s vocation, an occupation closely associated with (and sometimes overlapping) the duties performed by notaries. In taking on both titles – “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK” – to describe his work Fooks underscored the level of expertise he possessed. This was particularly important given both his line of work and, especially, the differences in language and legal customs inherent in doing business in French and Spanish colonies. That may explain why he composed such an extensive advertisement. Special circumstances required that he underscore and reiterate his skill and experience as a means of convincing potential clients, those “Gentleman Traders,” that they could trust and depend on his work.

To that end, Fooks stated that “he will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts, and state them in the most proper Methods and Uses of those Countries, and in the most mercantile and accurate Manner.” He repeated this promise later in the advertisement, again noting that he drew up documents “according to the Laws, Uses, and Customs, of those Nations.” He was particularly qualified to do so as a result of the experience gained through “his long Residence in those Colonies” (though the otherwise verbose Fooks did not elaborate on which colonies or the length of his residence).

Fooks provided very specialized services that could have had significant ramifications in the lives and fortunes of his clients. He may have believed that his turgid prose was necessary to convince prospective clients to entrust him with sensitive and substantial matters. They may not have viewed his notice as chatty but instead as reassuring about the professionalism Fooks brought to his occupation.

January 9

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

jan-9-191767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette-page-4
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 9, 1767).

“He … proposes opening his school after the holidays.”

Osborne Straton planned to start a new session at his school “after the holidays,” to commence three days after this advertisement appeared in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. In his attempt to attract students, he noted that he already had four years of teaching experience under his belt. For the past two years, he “had the honour of being intrusted with the tuition of the youth” from many households within the colony. He suggested that parents of prospective new students should “refer to the opinion of those that have employed him.” Straton was confident that he had earned a positive reputation as a teacher during his relatively short time in South Carolina.

In addition to relying on the endorsements from others, the schoolmaster presented further qualifications that were rather unique. Straton explained that he had been “regularly bred a merchant at London” and possessed “forty years experience as head book-keeper in some of the first counting-houses in Europe.” Straton taught what he knew from experience, arguing that he had many “opportunities of ratifying theory by practice.” Teaching was not an abstract occupation for him. He did not rely solely on so-called book learning passed down from the tutors who had educated him. Instead, he incorporated his own experiences from an earlier (yet extensive) career into his classroom and his curriculum in his efforts “to qualify youth for business.”

Straton identified two outcomes parents could expect after enrolling their children in his school. One was a lofty goal – “to open and enlarge the human understanding” – but the other had a purpose many parents might have found might more practical – “to qualify youth for business.” In his advertisement 250 years ago, Osborne Straton did the same dance that many liberal arts colleges, programs, and departments are doing in their marketing efforts today, striking a balance between exhorting the personal benefits of a liberal arts education and demonstrating the preparation for a profession derived from the training undertaken in the process of earning an undergraduate degree.