September 22

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

Essex Gazette (September 22, 1772).

“Mr. SPARHAWK Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country.”

Although editorials elsewhere in colonial newspapers frequently criticized women for indulging in consumer culture too eagerly, most advertisements for goods and services did not single out female consumers are their intended audience.  Instead, shopkeepers usually presented their wares to all prospective customers, realizing that men participated in the consumer revolution and kept up with news fashions just as enthusiastically as women.

On occasion, however, some advertisers did make special appeals to women.  Nathaniel Sparhawk, Jr., pursued both strategies.  In most instances, he did not target consumers of either sex, but in an advertisement in the September 22, 1772, edition of the Essex Gazette he “Presents his Compliments to his Female Customers of the Town and Country” and “acquaints them he has a most beautiful Assortment of almost every Kind of SILKS for Capuchins [or hooded cloaks], that are of the newest Fashion.”  Sparhawk presented shopping as a pleasure for women, though he did not depict it as an excessive or luxurious vice like critics in the editorials.  He asserted that he “doubts not he shall be able to please almost every Fancy, if the Ladies will be so obliging … just to call and take a View of them.”  He mentioned his location “nearly opposite the Printing-Office,” suggesting that “the Ladies” could visit as they were walking through town and “passing his Store.”  Sparhawk portrayed shopping as an experience, recognizing that each trip to his shop would not necessarily result in a sale.  “Should he be so unhappy as to fail of pleasing any who may call upon him,” he stated, “he shall hold himself much indebted for the Visit.”  Good customer service cultivated and strengthened relationships even when “the Ladies” did not make purchases.

To further entice female customers (and their male counterparts as well), Sparhawk declared that “At the same Store may be seen as great a Variety of English and India GOODS as any in Salem.”  He set low prices for cash or “short Credit,” pledging “not to be undersold by any.”  In addition, he announced that he had just received word of the “arrival of his Fall Goods at Boston.”  Within the next week, he would have new inventory for all of his customers to examine.  The first portion of his advertisement made clear that he wanted women to browse his wares, yet he shifted to more general appeals to engage all prospective customers, both men and women, in the second half of his advertisement.  Sparhawk apparently believed that targeting female customers exclusively had its limits.

August 31

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 31, 1772).

To the LADIES of New-York.”

Although newspaper editorials depicted women as consumers who gave into luxury, relatively few colonial merchants and shopkeepers addressed women directly in their advertisements.  Instead, most presented their merchandise for the consideration of both men and women, encouraging prospective customers of both sexes to participate in the consumer revolution.

Jane Willson did target women in her advertisement in the August 31, 1772, edition of the News-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  The first line of her notice requested attention from “the LADIES of New-York” before launching into a description of “A GREAT VARIETY OF BEAUTIFUL japan’d goods, with cream colour’d grounds, and other colours of the newest taste.”  Willson referred to items decorated in imitation of East Asian lacquerware, a popular style in England and its American colonies in the eighteenth century.  She imported “tea trays and waiters, tea chests completed with canisters, tea kitchens, and compleat tea tables” decorated with “well painted landskips [landscapes], human figures, fruit and flowers.”  Willson underscored that she carried new designs, “some of them only finished last May, at Birmingham, and imported to New-York” on the Hope earlier that month.   Consumers could not obtain any similar items of newer design.  Willson offered “the LADIES of New-York” cutting-edge fashion when it came to japanned ware.

Although most of her advertisement focused on those items, Willson did not seek female customers exclusively.  She also carried “some holster pistols, and a few oil’d hat covers for gentlemen’s use,” likely anticipating that once men entered her shop they might browse and purchase the japanned items or other items that she stocked.  Even if some male customers did not wish to seem too eager to examine tea tables and tea chests, the pistols and hat covers gave them plausible reasons for their initial visits to Willson’s shop.  Even an advertisement addressed “To the LADIES of New-York” presented possibilities for men to enjoy the pleasures of shopping and acquiring decorative wares for their homes.

January 15

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

Boston-Gazette (January 13, 1772).

“Any Person, by attending to the Instructions given in this Book, may soon attain to a competent Knowledge in the Art of Cookery.”

Cox and Berry sold “Modern Books of all Kinds” as well as “School Books” and “Prayer Books of various Sizes” at their store on King Street in Boston, but they targeted women and children (or parents and others who bought books to give to children) as prospective customers in an advertisement that ran in the January 13, 1772, edition of the Boston-Gazette.  That notice listed several “Little Books for the Instruction and Amusement of all good Boys and Girls,” including “Brother Gift, or the Naughty Girl Reformed” and “Sister Gift, or the Naughty Boy Reformed.”  They also stocked abridged versions of popular novels by Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson.

The partners devoted half of their advertisement to promoting “THE FRUGAL HOUSE-WIFE, OR COMPLETE WOMAN COOK … by SUSANNAH CARTER, of London” to female consumers (or others who believed that women they knew would benefit from the guidance offered in that volume).  Quoting from the extensive title, Cox and Berry explained that the book provided instruction in “the Art of Dressing all Sorts of Viands [or Foods] with Cleanliness, Decency and Elegance.”  It contained five hundred “approved Receipts” or recipes as well as the “best Methods” for “Preserving, Drying, Candying, [and] Pickling” various foods.  In addition to the recipes, readers would encounter menus or “various Bills of Fare, for Dinners and Suppers in every Month of the Year” as well as a “copious Index to the Whole” to help them navigate so much content.  To further entice prospective customers, Cox and Berry declared that The Frugal House-Wife “contains more in Quantity than most other Books of a much higher Price.”  Such a bargain!

The booksellers promised that “Any Person, by attending to the Instructions given in this Book, may soon attain to a competent Knowledge in the Art of Cookery.”  That theme ran throughout Cox and Berry’s advertisement.  They targeted women and children as consumers out of a belief that they merited special instruction in performing their household duties or behaving appropriately.  They deployed consumer culture, especially choices about which books to purchase, as a means of promoting good order within households, though they suggested that the readers of these books would experience “Amusement” as well as “Instruction” in the process of learning their proper roles.

February 17

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

South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 17, 1767).

“Men, women, boys and girls worsted, cotton, thread, and silk stockings.”

Thomas Radcliffe’s lengthy advertisement filled more than two-thirds of a column in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but it could have been published in any of the nearly two dozen newspapers printed in colonial America in 1767. Radcliffe promoted his “large and neat Assortment of Goods” that he “sold on the most reasonable Terms.” He listed scores of specific imported items included in his inventory, yet concluded with “&c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc. etc.”) to suggest an even more vast array of goods customers would encounter in his shop. In so doing, he emphasized that customers could make their own choices based on personal tastes and budgets. The appeals he made to consumers matched appeals other advertisers made in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and throughout the colonies.

Yet it was not only Radcliffe’s marketing strategies that would have looked familiar to visitors from other colonies who read his notice in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Shopkeepers throughout the colonies would have hawked the merchandise he stocked, a result of so much of it being imported from London and other English ports. T.H. Breen has labeled this the standardization of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. Unique markets or regional tastes did not develop.

As a result, the letter by the pseudonymous Anthony Afterwrit published in the Providence Gazette just a few days before Radcliffe’s advertisement made its way into print hundreds of miles to the south could have appeared in any of South Carolina’s newspapers. The Afterwrit character might have expressed dismay at the bounty of goods offered to colonial shoppers, especially the “women’s fashionable hats, shades, handkerchiefs and scarfs” and “new fashionable stuffs for ladies gowns” intended the catch the attention of women, like his wife, interested in using conspicuous consumption to attest to their social status. Radcliffe’s advertisement even concluded with a “compleat set of tea china,” one of his wife’s acquisitions that Afterwrit explicitly lamented. Afterwrit conveniently ignored, however, merchandise marketed directly to men, such as “men’s silk, worsted and cotton caps” and “gentlemen’s watch chains.”

That demonstrates yet another aspect of colonial commerce common throughout the colonies: editorials that complained about feminized luxury achieved via consumption that appeared in the same newspapers that ran advertisements that marketed all sorts of goods to both female and male consumers.