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.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 26, 1768).

“Mrs. Crane continues to make … the Brunswick dresses, so much esteemed in England.”

In the summer of 1768, John and Sarah Crane placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform residents of Charleston and the surrounding area that they had “removed from the house” where they formerly kept their workshop to a new location. The tailor and mantuamaker considered it “their duty, not only to acquaint the gentlemen and ladies of this town” that they had moved but also to express “their sincere acknowledgments for the many favours they have received.” The Cranes wanted their existing clientele to follow them to their new location. They anticipated the “pleasing prospect” of the “continuance” of their business, but acknowledging their customers in the public prints served as more than a means of maintaining those relationships. It also communicated to prospective clients that other consumers in the busy port had already sought out their services.

The Cranes may have considered this especially important since they had only recently arrived in Charleston. They described themselves as “Very Lately arrived from LONDON,” though they had been in town for at least five months. They had previously advertised in February, yet they still considered themselves new to the community. Despite the disadvantages of being newcomers, depicting themselves in this manner worked to their advantage in certain ways. It established a direct connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, suggesting that they relied on their own knowledge when they pledged to make garments “in the newest taste.” To further make their case, they noted that “Mrs. Crane continues to make … the Brunswick dresses, so much esteemed in England.” The glossary of “Colonial Lady’s Clothing” compiled by historians at Colonial Williamsburg describes the Brunswick as a “three-quarter length jacket worn with a petticoat” that was worn as “an informal gown or a traveling gown. It had a high neck, unstiffened bodice that buttoned, long sleeves, and frequently had a sack back (loose pleats) and a hood.” The Brunswick reached the height of its popularity in the 1760s, indicating that the Cranes were right on message when they chose it as an example to demonstrate their awareness of the “newest taste” in London.

When it came to stating how long they had been in Charleston, the Cranes tried to have it both ways. They had been in the city just long enough to faithfully serve some of its residents, but not so long that their personal observations of popular styles in London had become outdated. They expected both of these factors to appeal to prospective clients.

July 6

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

Jul 6 - 7:6:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (July 6, 1768).

“EVANS, TAYLOR, HABIT and CLOAK-MAKER, from LONDON.”

Except for the mononym, this advertisement by Evans in the July 6, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette was not flashy. Nor was it particularly lengthy. Yet despite the economy of prose, Evans, a “TAYLOR, HABIT and CLOAK-MAKER,” managed to work several appeals into his short advertisement. In that regard, he met the standards for advertising established by many of his contemporaries throughout the colonies.

Like many other artisans, especially those in the garments trades, he first informed prospective clients of his origins. Evans was “from LONDON,” though he did not indicate how long it had been since he had lived there or how long he had pursued his trade in that city. Still, establishing a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire likely afforded him some cachet among the residents of Savannah and its environs.

Asserting that connection also provided a foundation for one of his other appeals. He promised potential customers that “he makes every article in the above branches after the newest fashion.” It went without saying that he meant the newest fashion in London. The tailor played on colonists’ anxieties that they lived in a provincial backwater, one separated from the metropole not only by distance but also by taste and style. Evans assured them that when they wore his clothing that they donned the current trends not only in the largest and most sophisticated urban ports on this side of the Atlantic but also the fashions in London. Yet it was not prohibitively expensive to rival the styles in those places. Evans pledged that he charged “the most reasonable rates” for the garments he made.

The tailor incorporated a brief employment advertisement at the end of his notice: “Wanted, Several Men and Women who can sew neatly.” Doing so communicated to readers that his services were in such demand that he needed more help in his shop, not just a single assistant but instead several to handle the volume of clients he served. Just as prospective clients desired to keep up with “the newest fashion” they also derived status from having their apparel made by a popular tailor.

Evans’s advertisement may seem sparse at first glance, but the savvy tailor inserted several appeals that recommended his services to customers. Without going into great detail, he played on several currents in consumer culture already quite familiar to eighteenth-century readers.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 23, 1768).

“Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents.”

Richard Norris, a “Stay-Maker, FROM LONDON,” followed many of the usual conventions in the advertisement he placed in the June 23, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, but he also included one significant innovation. After informing prospective clients of the variety of stays and other garments he made, he also noted that “Any ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any Incumberances.” Furthermore, “Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents by methods approved of by the society of stay-makers in London.” Staymakers regularly offered implicit commentary about women’s appearances in their advertisements, but Norris explicitly named reasons that women might feel uncomfortable about their bodies. He purposefully attempted to induce anxiety about their physical features among female readers as a means of attracting clients.

He gave priority to that marketing strategy before turning to more common appeals made by staymakers and others in the garment trades. He asserted that he produced apparel as fashionable as any currently worn in London, rather than lagging behind the styles en vogue in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Prospective patrons could be confident this was the case because Norris “acquires the first fashions of the court of London by a correspondent he has settled there.” Norris realized some sort of research was necessary and cultivated a relationship to make sure he received the most current information about the fashions currently popular among the most influential women in England. In addition, he had previously served prominent women of taste, having “had the honour of working for several ladies of distinction both in England and in this city.” Not only had he made stays and other garments for the elite, his efforts had earned him “universal applause” among his clients.

Like many artisans, Norris emphasized skill and quality in addition to his extensive experience. He pledged that he made garments “after the neatest and best manner,” but in addition to invoking that familiar phrase he proclaimed “his work preferable to any done in these parts for neatness and true fitting.” In other words, Norris considered himself the best staymaker in New York – and encouraged readers of the New-York Journal to adopt that attitude as well.

Norris combined several common appeals with an innovative marketing strategy designed to cause or enhance uneasiness among women by explicitly mentioning various qualities of their bodies. He offered the standard appeals as a remedy to those concerns. Like many modern advertisers, especially advertisers of products intended primarily for women, he attempted to create anxiety among prospective customers and then conveniently provided consumption of his goods and services as the remedy.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 21, 1768).

“Will now undertake to make Kinds of Wigs.”

Convenience!  That was the hallmark of Benjamin Gladding’s advertisement in the May 21, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The peruke (wig) maker and hairdresser acknowledged that some of his potential clients had not previously had access to all the goods and services they desired in the local marketplace.  In particular, he noted that some “Gentlemen … have heretofore been at the Trouble of sending to Boston for their Wigs.”  That, Gladding proclaimed, was no longer necessary because “he has lately engaged a Journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Together, they could meet the needs of prospective clients in Providence. Gentlemen no longer needed to resort to the inconvenience of having wigs shipped from Boston.

In case prospective clients were as concerned about quality as convenience, Gladding offered additional commentary about the skills and expertise of his new journeyman, describing him as “a compleat Workman.”  Together, they labored “to make all Kinds of Wigs, in the neatest and best Manner, and in the most genteel Taste.”  In making this assertion, Gladding underscored that he offered potential customers more than just convenience.  He implicitly compared the wigs produced in his shop to those that came from Boston, stressing that they were not inferior in any way.  They possessed the same quality, having been made “in the neatest and best Manner,” and they were just as fashionable, following “the most genteel Taste” currently in style in the colonies and the British Atlantic world.  Gladding further emphasized his familiarity with the latest trends when he promoted his services as a hairdresser.  Since he set hair according to “the newest Fashions,” his clients did not need to worry that friends and acquaintances would critique them as ignorant or outdated, at least not as far as their tonsorial choices were concerned.

Gladding concluded his advertisement by pledging that “his constant Endeavour will be to render every Satisfaction.”  By then he had demonstrated what this promise meant:  prospective clients could depend on attention to convenience, quality, and fashion when they patronized his shop.