June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:14:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 14, 1770).

“Proposes to return as soon as the Importation is opened.”

Although many colonists promoted “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods in the late 1760s and early 1770s, many consumers and purveyors of goods embraced those products only temporarily.  Items produced in the colonies gained popularity when nonimportation agreements were in effect as a means of economic resistance to Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods, but many colonists anticipated repeal of such odious legislation and looked forward to resuming business as usual.  For some, domestic manufactures represented a temporary measure; merchants and shopkeepers intended to import goods from England once again when the political situation calmed, just as consumers intended to purchase those items as soon as they became available once again.

In the summer of 1770, Anne Pearson, a milliner in Philadelphia, was among those purveyors of goods who expressed enthusiasm about acquiring and selling imported merchandise once again.  She placed an advertisement in the June 14, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette to announce that she sought to liquidate her current inventory before traveling to London in the fall.  She offered a “LARGE and general Assortment of Millinery and Linen-drapery Goods” at low prices.  Yet Pearson did not plan to relocate to London; instead, she would stay for only a short time and then “return as soon as the Importation is opened” in the wake of the repeal of the duties on imported paper, glass, paint, and lead that had been established in the Townshend Acts.  Some colonists continued to argue for the importance of domestic manufactures even after Parliament capitulated, but they did not sway purveyors or consumers to continue to abstain completely from imported goods.  Recognizing the demand for such goods, Pearson attempted to put herself in the best position to serve customers in Philadelphia.  Not only would she “return as soon as the Importation is opened,” she would bring with her “a fresh Assortment of the very best and most fashionable Goods.”  In journeying to London to select those goods herself, Pearson seized an advantage over competitors who relied on English merchants and correspondents to supply them with goods.  Pearson would not have to rely on the judgment of others, judgment that might be compromised by their desire to rid themselves of wares unlikely to sell in England.  Instead, she could inspect the merchandise before placing her order and observe the current trends in London in order to make her case to prospective customers that she did indeed stock “the very best and most fashionable Goods” upon her return to Philadelphia.

June 16

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

Jun 16 - 6:16:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 16, 1770).

They may depend on having their Commands executed after the newest and most genteel Fashions.”

When Daniel Stillwell, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the June 16, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, he made one of the most common and important appeals deployed by colonists who followed his trade.  He pledged that clients “may depend on having their Commands executed after the newest and most genteel Fashions.”  Tailors and others in the garment trades often made appeals to price, quality, and fashion in their advertisements.  Stillwell, like other tailors, believed that price and quality might not have mattered much to those who wished for their clothing to communicate their gentility if their garments, trimmings, and accessories did not actually achieve the desired purpose.  Reasonable prices and good quality were no substitute for making the right impression.  Stillwell’s work as a tailor required a special kind of expertise beyond measuring, cutting, and sewing.  He had to be a keen observer of changing tastes and trends so he could deliver “the newest and most genteel Fashions” to his clients.

To that end, Stillwell informed prospective customers that he “has had great Opportunities of seeing the different Methods of working.”  Although he did not elaborate on those experiences, this statement suggested to readers that Stillwell refused to become stagnant in his trade.  Rather than learning one method or technique and then relying on it exclusively, he consulted with other tailors and then incorporated new and different techniques, further enhancing his skill.  In so doing, he joined the many artisans who asserted that their skill and experience prepared them to “give Satisfaction” to those who employed them or purchased the wares they produced.  Stillwell was no novice; instead, he “carries on his Business in all its Branches,” proficiently doing so because of the care he had taken in “seeing the different Methods of working.” Simply observing current fashions was not sufficient for someone in his trade who was unable to replicate them.  Stillwell sought to assure prospective clients that he possessed two kinds of knowledge necessary for serving them, a discerning knowledge of the latest styles and a thorough knowledge of the methods of his trade that would allow him to outfit customers accordingly.

February 25

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

Feb 25 - 2:22:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 22, 1770).

“The Best accounts of fashions have been sent over by every packet.”

Thomas Charles Willett listed “A Great Variety” of garments, textiles, adornments, and accoutrements in the advertisement he placed in the New-York Journal in February 1770.  He stocked everything from “scarlet cloth cloaks” to “Striped Lutestrings” to “French pearl, garnet and jet necklaces and ear rings” to “Italian hair powder.”  He concluded his catalog of merchandise with “Bonnets and other fashionable goods.”  In his line of business, fashion mattered, especially his ability to convince prospective customers that he was familiar with the latest fashions and would offer appropriate guidance as they made their selections.

To that end, Willett made a special appeal at the conclusion of his advertisement.  He informed potential clients that “the best accounts of fashions have been sent over by every packet.”  In other words, the vessels that sailed from London and other English ports to New York delivered news of the latest fashions to Willett.  He may have maintained correspondence with friend and business associates in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, or received magazines with descriptions of the latest tastes.  Regardless of his source, Willett had his eye on the other side of the Atlantic … and he expected that prospective customers did as well.

This stood in stark contrast to the political ideology of the period that called for boycotting goods imported from England.  In protest of the duties leveled on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants, shopkeepers, and other signed nonimportation agreements.  They pledged not to do business with their counterparts in England until Parliament repealed the duties, just as the Stamp Act had been repealed.  That did not prevent Willett and other retailers from selling goods ordered or delivered before the nonimportation pact went into effect, not did it prevent consumers from looking to England when they wished to display their own gentility and cosmopolitanism.  Willett stocked a variety of textiles and adornments.  How were they to be transformed into garments and combined together to make a statement?  As the answer to that question changed, Willett offered assistance from “the best accounts of fashions” he continued to receive.  He imported information for his customers to consume even when they collectively declined to import or purchase goods.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 21, 1770).

“The Taylor’s Business is carried on in all its branches.”

When Jonathan Remington, a tailor, moved to a new location early in 1770, he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette so prospective clients would know where to find him.  Although he devoted much of the notice to giving directions, he also incorporated, though briefly, several marketing appeals.  “The Taylor’s Business,” he proclaimed, “is carried on in all its branches, in the genteelest manner, and with the utmost dispatch.”  Remington deployed formulaic language, though its familiarity to consumers may have been an asset.  Such brevity may have also allowed the tailor to keep down the costs of advertising while still promoting several aspects of his services.

In that single sentence, he communicated that he possessed a range of skills associated with his trade, declaring that he was qualified to pursue “all its branches.”  Prospective clients need not worry that they might present him with requests too difficult or beyond his experience.  He also made a nod to fashion, asserting that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.”  That appeal also implied the quality of his work.  Prospective customers would not look as though they had visited a second-rate tailor.  They could don his garments and confidently go about their daily interactions with other colonists without fearing that careful observation resulted in damaging judgments.  Remington’s pledge to tend to clients “with the utmost dispatch” testified to the customer service he provided.

Remington also attempted to attract new customers by leveraging his former customers as evidence of his abilities.  He expressed gratitude to “his friends and good customers for their past favours, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  In making that acknowledgment, Remington sought to maintain his current clientele while implicitly extending an invitation to new customers to visit him at his new location.  He reported that his services were already in demand, hoping to incite additional demand among readers of the Georgia Gazette who had not previously employed his services.  He played on consumer psychology that demand, or even the appearance of demand, could create additional demand.

Although not extensive, Remington’s advertisement delivered several marketing appeals intended to make his services attractive to prospective clients.  He relied on standardized language that allowed him to deliver messages grounded in the consumer culture of the period in relatively few words.

January 14

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

Jan 14 - 1:11:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 11, 1770).

“Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any incumberance.”

Richard Norris, “STAY-MAKER, from LONDON,” made a variety of appeals to prospective customers in an advertisement he inserted in the January 11, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. When it came to making stays (corsets) and other garments, he promised high quality (“the neatest and best manner”) and low prices (“the most reasonable rates”). He proclaimed the superiority of his work compared to local competitors, stating that his stays were “preferable to any done in these parts, for neatness and true fitting.”

Norris developed two appeals in even greater detail. In one, he emphasized his London origins and continuing connections to the empire’s largest city. Despite political tensions between Parliament and the colonies, London remained the metropolitan center of fashion. Norris assured prospective clients that “he acquires the first fashions of the court of London, by a correspondent settled there.” Although the staymaker had migrated to the colonies, he maintained access to the latest styles in the most cosmopolitan of cities in the British Atlantic world. He also underscored that he constructed stays according to “methods approved of by the society of stay-makers, in London,” implying that his training and experience in that city ranked him above any of his rivals in New York.

While most of these appeals focused on Norris and his abilities, the other strategy that he developed in greater detail targeted female readers of the New-York Journal. He attempted to incite demand for his services by prompting women to feel “uneasy in their shapes.” He made a special point of exhorting “young ladies and growing misses” to question whether they were “inclin’d to casts and risings in their hips and shoulders,” compelling them to imagine that their bodies were misshapen. Young women could hide such imperfections from observers by wearing the stays that Norris made and sold, even though they would retain the knowledge that there was supposedly something wrong or undesirable about their bodies. In eighteenth-century America, quite like today, advertisers often relied on provoking anxieties among consumers, especially young women, and offering to reduce those anxieties as a means of promoting their products.

December 25

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

Dec 25 - 12:25:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 25, 1769).

“Many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.”

As 1769 drew to a close, the residents of Boston and many other cities and towns throughout the colonies were still embroiled in a dispute with Parliament over the duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts. Merchants and shopkeepers continued to participate in nonimportation agreements, refusing to order merchandise of all sorts as a means of using economic pressure to achieve political goals. Especially in Boston, newspapers provided updates about traders who either declined to sign or subsequently violated the boycotts. Discourse about the virtues and vices inherent in making or abstaining from certain purchases became a regular feature in the public prints, in advertisements as well as in editorials.

Yet colonists in Boston and other places did not abstain from all things associated with Britain even as they rejected imported goods. They still looked across the Atlantic, especially to London, for cues about fashion. Colonists continued to imbibe British culture and tastes even as they eschewed British goods. Timothy Kelly, “Hair Cutter and Peruke-Maker from LONDON,” depended on that continued allegiance to British styles in his advertisement that ran in the December 25, 1769, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. This wigmaker leveraged his previous experience serving clients in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire, underscoring to the “GENTLEMEN and LADIES” that he “had the advantage of many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.” That alone gave his perukes and other hairpieces cachet not associated with wigs made or styled by competitors whose training and entire careers had been confined to the colonies. Kelly claimed he possessed knowledge of the current styles in London, vowing that he made “any kind Perukes now in fashion” and did so “as genteel as can be had from thence.” Why should colonists import wigs from afar when they could consult with an “eminent” stylist in Boston? After all, this stylist was so eminent that he deployed solely his last name as the headline of his advertisement, expecting that to sufficiently identify him when prospective clients perused the newspaper. Kelly did far more than merely promise that he “dresses Hair in any form in the neatest manner” in his advertisement. He accentuated his connections to London and the fashions there, anticipating that doing so would resonate with residents of Boston even as they continued to boycott goods imported from England. British fashions could still be replicated in the colonies, and Kelly offered his services.

November 24

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

Nov 24 - 11:24:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 24, 1769).

“HAIR ROLLS for LADIES.”

A very short advertisement in the November 24, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed readers of “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood in Portsmouth.” Although brief, this advertisement demonstrated the reach of fashion beyond the major port cities to smaller towns in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman documents clothing and hairstyles favored by the elite in the largest urban port, but such styles were not confined solely to places like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Williams and Stanwood made “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES” available to the better sorts (and anyone else willing to pay their fees) in Portsmouth and its hinterlands.

Haulman offers a description of styles adopted by ladies in Philadelphia. “At tea tables, assemblies, and even in city streets, ladies’ hoops grew wider, and heads appeared larger with high rolls. Fashionable hairstyles for women began to grow in the late 1760s, and with them rose the ire of social critics.”[1] The high roll became popular at the same time that many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements as a means of resisting the duties that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, tea, and other good in the Townshend Acts. Women who chose high rolls to express themselves emulated fashions “that English ladies all too eagerly copied from their French counterparts.”[2] For many, the high roll became a symbol of luxury that contradicted the spirit of sacrifice that patriots practiced when they abided by nonimportation agreements. Furthermore, the high roll testified to continued cultural dependence on and deference to England. As Haulman notes, residents of Philadelphia “asserted the city’s, and their own, stylish, cosmopolitan character through fashion even as the imperial ties that engendered those cultural forms began to unravel.”[3]

Such inconsistencies did not occur only in Philadelphia, though they may have been most visible in large port cities. Hairdressers, wigmakers, and others did not limit their efforts to market high rolls and other fashionable styles to the gentry in urban centers. Instead, colonists in Portsmouth as well as nearby towns and villages had access to “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood.” Opportunities to purchase (or not) such items as well as other garments and goods allowed them to express their own personal style and political principles while grappling with any incongruities between the two.

**********

[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 638.

[2] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 638.

[3] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 640.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:6:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 6, 1769).

“Will engage to make Wigs as can be had there.”

When Benjamin Gladding, a “PERUKE MAKER and HAIR-DRESSER,” advertised in the May 6, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, he made multiple appeals to prospective clients. He emphasized both his knowledge of the latest styles and the amenities available at his shop, but he also made a more common appeal to price.

Gladding addressed the public, but he made certain to acknowledge “those Gentlemen who have hitherto honoured him with their Favours.” Doing so made it clear to other prospective customers that Gladding already had an established clientele who placed their confidence in his attention to their hair and wigs. Gladding offered a service that should not be entrusted to some mere novice. To that end, he proclaimed that he “continues to execute the different Branches of his Profession in the most elegant and genteel Manner, and after the newest Fashion.” Experience, skill, and knowledge all played a role as Gladding positioned himself as the wigmaker and hairdresser of choice in Providence. He gained experience and developed skills over time, but maintain knowledge of “the newest Fashion” required constant and immediate attention. Gladding could not rely on what he had learned in years past because his clients certainly would not be satisfied with outdated styles.

Serving them “in the most elegant and genteel Manner” also depended on the setting. In this case, Gladding stressed that he had moved “to the commodious Shop” until recently occupied by his brother. He provided comfortable and spacious accommodation for his patrons. Having sufficient space was even more important because Gladding had a new employee. He reported that he had “procured a Hand from Boston” who assisted in serving his clients. Together, they made wigs “as cheap as can be had” in Boston or elsewhere. Striking a fashionable appearance did not need to be prohibitively expensive, not even in places beyond the largest port cities. Gladding may not have had as much local competition as his counterparts in Boston, but that did not mean that he raised the rates.

To attract existing and new clients to his shop, Gladding resorted to a variety of appeals in his short advertisement. In addition to highlighting his own skill and experience as a wigmaker and hairdresser, he balanced fashion and price as a means of making his services simultaneously exclusive and attainable.

November 6

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

Nov 6 - 11:3:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (November 3, 1768).
“All the above are fashionable, new, and good.”

Like her male counterparts, shopkeeper Catherine Rathell ran lengthy advertisements that listed all sorts of goods, especially textiles, adornments, apparel, and accessories, that she “Just imported from London” and sold at low prices. In the process of enumerating her inventory, Rathell also offered further descriptions of several items. For instance, she stocked “a large and fashionable assortment of ribands [ribbons], caps, egrets [decorative feathers], plumes, feathers, and fillets [headbands]” as well as “a neat assortment of garnet and paste, hoop, and other rings.” As these examples make clear, Rathell emphasized variety and consumer choice in her marketing efforts. Her customers did not have to be content with a narrow range of options shipped across the Atlantic. Instead, they could choose which items they liked best, even when it came to accessories like fans. Rathell sold “a very neat and genteel assortment of wedding, mourning, second mourning, and other fans.” In addition, visitors to her shop would encounter “many other articles too tedious to insert” in a newspaper advertisement.

Yet choice was not the only appeal this shopkeeper made to prospective customers. After concluding her list she underscored that “all the above goods are fashionable, new, and good.” Quality was important, but when it came to the sorts of wares that Rathell peddled fashion may have been even more important. Her customers did not have to choose from among castoffs that had lingered on shelves and not sold in London. Rathell’s merchandise was “new” as well as “fashionable.” Note that she described her assortment of fans as “genteel.” She offered the most extensive description for “breast flowers, equal in beauty to any ever imported, and so near resemble nature that the nicest eye can hardly distinguish the difference.” Here Rathell combined appeals to quality and fashion into a single description of artificial flowers intended to adorn garments according to the latest styles.

In making appeals to choice, fashion, and quality, Rathell advanced some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the middle of the eighteenth century. T.H. Breen has argued that colonists from New England to Georgia experienced a standardization of consumer culture in terms of the goods available to them. They also often experienced a standardization of advertising. Although some advertisers did introduce innovations into their marketing efforts, many relied on the most familiar means of promoting their goods to the public. Rathell’s advertisement was more than a mere announcement that she had goods for sale, but she reiterated the sorts of appeals known far and wide in colonial America.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 15, 1768).

“I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London, of making Wigs.”

In the advertisements they placed in American newspapers in late colonial period, entrepreneurs in occupations tied to fashion often underscored their connections to London, the cosmopolitan center of the Britain’s empire. Tailors, milliners, and others who made apparel often proclaimed that they were “from London.” Hairdressers and wigmakers advanced similar appeals. Even shopkeepers did so when they thought that it might help them to sell imported garments, textiles, and assorted adornments.

John Lewis, a native of New York, could not claim to be “from London,” but his origins mattered less than the time he had spent in that city. The “HAIR-DRESSER, and PERUKE-MAKER” opened his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury by informing prospective clients that “after considerable Residence in London” he had returned to New York and set up shop. During the time that he had resided in London Lewis had worked with “the most eminent Masters in the above mentioned Branches of Business” and, as a result, had “acquired Abilities equal to any of my Brethren, in the Professions of Hair-Dressing and Wig-Making.” This made him particularly qualified to serve customers in New York and its environs.

Lewis highlighted his familiarity with current fashions and the most advanced methods of his trade, both acquired during his time in London. To that end, his advertisement served as a primer to newspaper readers about some of styles currently popular on the other side of the Atlantic. “I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London,” he proclaimed, “of making Wigs that shall not need dressing for six Months, preserving their Shape and first Appearance during that Time.” For those who were unaware, he firther explained that “This fashion is much esteem’d at present in England [for] its Usefulness and Convenience.” Since such wigs were new to the American marketplace, Lewis proposed another means of helping prospective clients become more familiar with them. In addition to describing the wigs in advertisements, he made several “Specimens” or samples that “Gentlemen” could examine before engaging his services.

Lewis leveraged his connections to London in his advertisement. He not only claimed familiarity with the current styles but also asserted that he was in a position to educate potential customers about new tastes and methods that they had not yet encountered in the colonies. He provided extensive detail in hopes that these factors would distinguish him from local competitors who either had never traveled to London or had not done so recently.