July 15

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 15, 1771).

“Buy worth a Dollar, when you come, / And you may drink a Glass of Rum.”

Lydia Learned received some free advertising in the July 15, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  She distributed a handbill that listed a variety of items available at her shop “Near the Sign of the Punch-Bowl” in Brookline.  Intrigued by the advertisement, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, inserted it in its entirety along with a note advising, “The following advertisement, copied from one in the Punch Bowl Tavern in Brookline, we publish for the Amusement of out Poetical Readers.”  Indeed, the poetry, not the assortment of goods offered for sale, attracted their attention.  Few advertisers attempted to transform their inventory into poetry in newspaper notices or on broadsides and handbills, helping to make Learned’s advertisement more memorable.

Her poetry featured three stanzas of four lines each, the second and fourth lines rhyming.  Learned devoted the first stanza entirely to her wares:  “FLOUR, Raisons, Rice, Molosses, Spice, / Good Indigo and Wire, / Knives[,] Combs, Fish-hooks, Verses and Books, / And Paper by the Quire.”  In the remaining stanzas, she used the final line to make appeals to prospective customers.  In the second, for instance, she listed “Sugar[,] Bisket and Chocolate, / Tinn, Glass and Earthen-ware, / Pins, Needles[,] Thread and Ginger-bread, / As good as any where.”  Her shop may have been humble compared to the larger enterprises operated by other entrepreneurs, but Learned assured prospective customers that the size of her business did not negatively affect the quality of her merchandise.  In the final stanza, she offered an additional incentive to shoppers.  “Salt, Allum, Coffee, Tea, and Snuff, / Crown-Soap and Candles, cheap enough / Buy worth a Dollar when you come, / And you may drink a glass of RUM.”  Perhaps the nip of alcohol as much as the poetry amused the Fleets and convinced them to reprint Learned’s handbill in their newspapers.

Learned was not the only entrepreneur to have the text from a trade card or billhead also printed in an eighteenth-century newspaper.  On May 5, 1768, Mary Symonds, a milliner in Philadelphia, ran a lengthy advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In it, she listed dozens of items among her inventory.  She also distributed a trade card that reiterated, with minor variations, the text from the newspaper advertisement.  In October and November 1770, she recorded a receipted bill for items purchased by the Cadwalader family on the reverse, suggesting that Symonds kept her trade card in circulation for some time.

Symonds seems to have made a more intentional effort than Learned when it came to deploying advertisements in multiple formats.  All the same, Learned demonstrated creativity in devising a billhead that distinguished her business from her competitors.  If prospective customers did not appreciate the poetry, then the promise of a glass of rum offered as a premium for making a purchase may have convinced them to check out her merchandise.

Lydia Learned, Trade Card, ca. 1771. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

March 18

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

Boston Evening-Post (March 18, 1771).

“Susannah Brimmer … has resigned Business to he Son.”

In the early 1770s, Susannah Brimmer ran a shop the South End of Boston.  In May 1771, she placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter announcing that she “resigned Business to her Son, Andrew Brimmer.”  The younger Brimmer recently imported a “fresh Assortment of English Goods” from London and planned to sell them “Wholesale and Retail, Very Cheap for Cash.”  He also carried “Pepper, Spices, English Loaf Sugar,” and other grocery items.

Even though Susannah had been an enterprising entrepreneur who established her own clientele and made improvements to her shop, she did not appear in the pages of the Evening-Post, the Weekly News-Letter, or any of the other newspapers published in Boston prior to transferring her business to her son.  She did not place advertisements to promote her business.  Susannah instead relied on other means of attracting customers, such as renovations to her shop to enhance the shopping experience for consumers.

Not every merchant and shopkeeper in colonial Boston advertised in one or more of the many newspapers printed there, but women who ran businesses advertised less often than their male counterparts.  Certainly, fewer women than men earned their livelihoods as proprietors of businesses, yet that does not explain why they were proportionally underrepresented among advertisers.  It does not explain why Susannah never advertised until she transferred her business to Andrew.

Perhaps attitudes about women in business help to explain the reticence of some female entrepreneurs when it came to inserting advertisements in the public prints.  A satirical letter to the editor by the purported “Widows of this City” in the January 21, 1733, edition of the New-York Weekly Journal mocked “she Merchants” and their participation in any sector of the public sphere.  Shopkeepers like Susannah Brimmer may have navigated a careful course of encouraging prospective customers without drawing unwelcome attention to themselves via newspaper advertisements.  Friendships and other relationships, word of mouth, making improvements to her shop, and other strategies likely served Brimmer well in the absence of running advertisements.  Once she “resigned Business to her Son,” however, she did not have the same concerns.  To increase his likelihood of success, she recommended his shop to both “her Customers and Others,” hoping that he would build on and expand the clientele she cultivated.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (July 30, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD, By ELIZABETH VAN DYCK.”

The front page of the July 30, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury featured a letter “To the PRINTER” reprinted from the Public Ledger and several advertisements for consumers goods.  Many of those notices used the names of the advertisers as headlines, setting them in larger type and often in capitals.  At a glance, readers saw that ABEEL & BYVANCK; GEORGE BALL; RICHARD CURSON; Herman Gouverneur; Greg, Cunningham and Co.; PHILIP LIVINGSTON; JOHN McKENNEY; and ELIZABETH VAN DYCK all offered goods for sale to consumers in the city and beyond.

In many ways, those advertisements each resembled the others.  With the exception of George Ball and the partnership of Abeel and Byvanck, each advertiser purchased a “square” of space and filled most of it with a short list of their merchandise.  Abeel and Byvanck’s advertisement occupied two squares and George Ball’s four.  Each of those longer advertisements divided the list of goods into two columns, as did Richard Curson’s advertisement.  With minor variations, these advertisements for consumer goods adhered to a standard format.

That meant that the most distinguishing feature of Elizabeth Van Dyck’s advertisement was that it promoted a business operated by a female entrepreneur.  Women comprised a substantial minority of shopkeepers in colonial American port cities, with some estimates running as high as four out of ten.  Yet they did not place newspaper advertisements in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as purveyors of goods rather than consumers.  Van Dyck was the only female shopkeeper who advertised in that issue of New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, while more than a dozen advertisements for consumer goods deployed men’s names as their headlines.  No female shopkeepers advertised in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Post-Boy published the same day, nor the New-York Journal three days later.

The representation of the marketplace among the advertisements in New York’s newspapers presented it as primarily the domain of men, at least as far as wholesalers and retailers were concerned.  Even though women operated shops in the bustling port in the early 1770s, they did not establish a presence in the public prints in proportion to their numbers.  When Van Dyck chose to join the ranks of her male counterparts who advertised, she composed a notice that conformed to the standard format.  She struck a careful balance, calling attention to her business but not calling too much attention to it.  In so doing, she claimed space for herself in the market, both the actual market and the representation of it in the newspaper, while demonstrating that women’s activities as entrepreneurs need not be disruptive to good order.

December 19

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

Dec 19 - 12:19:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (December 19, 1769).

“To be SOLD, by Priscilla Manning, At her Shop in SALEM.”

Priscilla Manning placed a remarkable advertisement for “her Shop in SALEM” in the December 19, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Compared to newspapers published in nearby Boston and Portsmouth, the Essex Gazette carried relatively few advertisements for consumer goods and services. Those that did appear tended to be short, extending no more than a single “square.” Manning’s advertisement, on the other hand, filled two squares. Other advertisements in the Essex Gazette offered a summary of inventory, such as “An Assortment of English and India GOODS,” but Manning enumerated the choices she made available to customers. She stocked dozens of textiles as well as hose, caps, gloves, shoes, and trimmings to adorn garments.

Manning’s advertisement resembled those that ran in Boston’s newspapers much more than those that tended to appear in the Essex Gazette. In that regard it may have been remarkable in the Essex Gazette, but not when considered in the context of newspaper advertisements published throughout the colonies in the 1760s. Manning adopted familiar methods of marketing her wares in her advertisement, likely having consulted newspapers from Boston and other places in addition to the Essex Gazette. Yet that did not disqualify her advertisement from being remarkable in another aspect. Few female entrepreneurs advertised consumer goods and services, even in the largest and busiest port cities. Although women constituted a significant proportion of shopkeepers in urban ports, they tended not to promote their activities in the marketplace in the public prints. This made Manning’s advertisement twice as bold in the Essex Gazette, bold for its length and bold for publicizing the activities of a female entrepreneur. Manning’s name served as a headline; it appeared in larger font than anything else on the same page or the facing page. At a glance, it made her business the single most visible item in that issue of the Essex Gazette. Although women were underrepresented among advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America, they certainly were not absent. Advertisements like those placed by Priscilla Manning made it impossible to overlook women’s activities in the marketplace as producers, suppliers, merchants, and, especially, retailers, not just as shoppers and consumers.

Update:  This was the first of many advertisements Manning placed over several decades. Donna Seger uses them (and includes images!) as the foundation for a short biography of Priscilla Manning Abbot in “It was Her Shop” on Streets of Salem.

December 14

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

Dec 14 - 12:14:1769 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (December 14, 1769).
“She has an assistant just arrived from London.”

In the late 1760s, relatively few women in Williamsburg, Virginia, resorted to the public prints to advertise consumer goods and services. Many certainly worked in shops operated by husbands and other male relations, their contributions hidden when it came to marketing. Others ran their own shops but neglected to make themselves more visible to the public by placing newspaper advertisements. They participated in the marketplace without calling attention to themselves, perhaps relying on friends and regular patrons to promote them via word of mouth.

Sarah Pitt, however, joined the ranks of women who did advertise. On December 14, 1769, she placed an advertisement in William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She did not run the same advertisement in the other newspaper printed in Williamsburg, Alexander Purdie and John Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. Her marketing did not reach as many readers as notices that other advertisers placed in both publications. Still, she informed readers of Rind’s newspaper that she sold an array of textiles, accessories, and other merchandise, most of it intended for women and children.

To maintain and even enlarge her customer base or, as she described it, “a continuance of the Ladies custom,” Pitt also reported that “she has an assistant just arrived from London.” This assistant, presumably a woman, “understands the millinery business.” This allowed Pitt to expand her enterprise by providing a service associated with the goods she sold. She provided one-stop shopping for customers who wished to purchase, for example, “Balladine silk,” “rich black lace,” “white blond thread,” “fine cap wire,” and “shaded flowers” to be made into a hat. Having “just arrived from London,” Pitt’s assistant would have been familiar with the current fashions in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. With that knowledge, she could recommend other accouterments and combinations of goods to purchase for the purpose of making hats or “mounting fans, and making cardinals and bonnets.”

Sarah Pitt made savvy decisions when she advertised in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She emphasized consumer choice by listing a vast array of goods available at her shop. She also promoted a service that many other shopkeepers did not provide, noting the contributions her new assistant made to the business.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (August 23, 1769).

“Several other articles too tedious to enumerate.”

Although male merchants and shopkeepers placed the vast majority of advertisements for imported consumer goods in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and other newspapers published in Charleston in the 1760s, their female counterparts occasionally inserted advertisements as well. Given the number of women who earned their livelihoods as shopkeepers in the largest port cities, female entrepreneurs were disproportionately underrepresented when it came to advertising in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Those who did advertise, however, tended to deploy the same marketing strategies as men rather than crafting commercial notices that made distinctive appeals based on their sex.

Such was the case for Frances Swallow. Except for her name and the pronouns, her advertisement did not differ from those placed by male competitors in the August 23, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. She made an appeal to price, stating that she sold her wares “on the most reasonable terms.” She also invoked current tastes more than once. She sold “ribbons of the newest fashion” and “continues to make up all kinds of MILLINERY, in the newest fashion.” Price and fashion, along with quality, were among the most commonly deployed marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspapers.

Most significantly, Swallow’s advertisement emphasized consumer choice, another exceptionally popular marketing strategy of the period. Swallow produced a litany of goods equal in length to those published by her male competitors in the same issues. Indeed, Swallow’s list might be considered even more extensive because it consisted almost exclusively of textiles and millinery supplies, whereas most of the male advertisers listed those items along with housewares, hardware, and other items. To underscore the extent of the choices she presented to customers, Swallow concluded her list with a proclamation that she also carried “several other articles too tedious to enumerate.” This challenged readers who already envisioned the dozens of items she did describe to imagine what other merchandise did not appear on Swallow’s list.

Swallow specialized in retailing textiles and millinery ware. In marketing her goods, she adopted the same strategies as male merchants and shopkeepers who advertised all sorts of imported goods. She made appeals to price, fashion, and, especially, consumer choice to convince prospective customers to visit her shop.

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.

July 10

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

Jul 10 - 7:7:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 7, 1768).

“MARY PHILIPS, Has just imported … A Large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY.”

Mary Philips was certainly not the only female shopkeeper in New York in 1768, but she was the only woman who advertised consumer goods in the July 7, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal and its two-page supplement. Numerous male merchants and shopkeepers advertised imported goods, including Henry C. Bogart, Isaac Noble, Thomas Charles Willet, John Morton, Isaac Low, William Seton, and John Hawkins. Even when taking into consideration that male shopkeepers outnumbered female shopkeepers in eighteenth-century America, women who sold consumer goods were still disproportionately underrepresented in newspaper advertisements in the largest urban ports, especially New York and Philadelphia. Women comprised a significant minority of shopkeepers in those cities, as much as one-quarter to one-third or more, yet even though they participated in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers they opted not to promote such enterprises in the public prints.

That is not to say that women did not advertise at all. Many women did – and did so quite extensively, with advertisements that usually resembled those placed by their male counterparts or, on occasion, exceeded their efforts. Mary Philips’s advertisement fell into the first category. She incorporated several popular appeals into her advertisement for “A large and neat Assortment of MILLENARY and new fancied Goods to the newest Fashion and genteelest Taste.” With a few well-chosen phrases, she made appeals to fashion and consumer choice. Unlike her male counterparts who inserted advertisements in the July 7 issue, she did not list any of her merchandise. Instead, she advised that her inventory was “too tedious to mention.” Shopkeepers of both sexes sometimes resorted to this strategy. This method also evoked consumer choice and challenged prospective customers to imagine what might be available, but also required less investment in advertising fees since such notices occupied less space on the page. While Philips’s choices for her advertisement replicated those sometimes made by her male counterparts, they still seem striking when compared to the other advertisements for consumer goods in the same issue of the New-York Journal. She was the only shopkeeper who opted not to provide even a short list, making her advertisement even less visible than those of her male counterparts.

Other women did place advertisements in that issue, though they advertised services rather than goods. Mrs. Hogan and Mrs. Gray announced plans “to open a School for the general Education of young Ladies” and Mrs. Johnston advised readers that she now operated “a Publick House of Entertainment” at “the Sign of the Duke of Rutland, in Elizabeth-Town.” Other advertisements concerned women, including two for runaway wives and one selling an indentured servant. Still, the pages of the newspaper disguised the extent that women like Mary Philips participated in the colonial marketplace as retailers rather than merely as consumers.

June 13

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

Jun 13 - 6:13:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 13, 1768).

To be Sold by Susanna Renken, At her Shop in Fore-Street.”

Susanna Renken was one of several women who took to the pages of the several newspapers published in Boston to advertise the assortment of seeds she stocked and sold in late winter and early spring in the late 1760s. In February 1768 she commenced this annual ritual among the sisterhood of the city’s seed sellers. Over the course of the next couple of weeks Rebeckah Walker, Bethiah Oliver, Elizabeth Clark, and Lydia Dyar and the appropriately named Elizabeth Greenleaf also inserted their own advertisements. As had been the case in previous years, their notices sometimes comprised entire columns in some newspapers, a nod towards classification in an era when printers and compositors exerted little effort to organize advertisements according to their content or purpose.

Even though some of these female seed sellers indicated that they sold other goods, usually grocery items, most did not intrude in the public prints to promote themselves in the marketplace throughout the rest of the year. They published their advertisements for seeds for a couple of months and then disappeared from the advertising pages until the following year. Susanna Renken was one of the few exceptions to that trend. Her advertisement for seeds concluded with brief mention of her other wares: “ALSO,–English goods, China cups and saucers, to be sold cheap for cash.” Nearly four months later she followed up with a much more extensive advertisement that listed dozens of items available at her shop, an advertisement that replicated those placed by other shopkeepers – male and female – who did not sell seeds (or, at least, did not promote seeds as their primary commodity in other advertisements).

What explains the difference between the strategies adopted by Renken and other female seed sellers? Did Renken better understand the power of advertising than her peers? After all, in addition to being one of the few to place additional notices she was the first to advertise in 1768, suggesting some understanding of being the first to present her name to the public that year. Was she more convinced than the others that advertising yielded a return on her investment that made it profitable to budget for additional notices? Alternately, Renken may have diversified her business more than other female seed sellers. She may have stocked a much more extensive inventory of imported dry goods than competitors who carried primarily seeds and groceries and perhaps a limited number of housewares. If that were the case, Renken may have earned a living as a “she-merchant” throughout the year while other female seed sellers participated almost exclusively in that trade and did not need to advertise during other seasons.

It is impossible to reconstruct the complete story of what distinguished Renken and her entrepreneurial activities from the enterprises of Clark, Dyar, Greenleaf, and other female seed sellers by consulting their advertisements alone. Many of those who trod the streets of Boston in the 1760s, however, would have possessed local knowledge that provided sufficient context for better understanding why Renken inserted addition advertisements and her competitors were silent throughout most of the year, especially if Renken continuously operated a shop with an assortment of merchandise and the others pursued only seasonal work when the time came to distribute seeds to farmers and gardeners.

March 31

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (March 31, 1768).

“The late Company of ABIGAIL WHITNEY and DAUGHTER.”

In an extraordinary that accompanied the March 31, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, Abigail Whitney advertised “a large Assortment of Goods” that she sold “at her Shop in Union-Street” in Boston. Like other eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers, she made an appeal to price, announcing that she sold her wares “quite low.” She also demonstrated the extent of the choices she offered consumers by listing dozens of items included among her “large Assortment of Goods,” from a variety of fabrics to curtains and quilts to items for personal adornment that included buttons, fans, and “Horn and Ivory Combs.” She further emphasized choice when she stated that she also stocked “many other Articles not mentioned.” Among the items she did list, Whitney explicitly connected some to current styles in London and throughout the British Atlantic world as a means of further enticing prospective customers concerned that they appear genteel to their friends and neighbors. For instance, she carried “newest fashion striped and flowered Lutestrings” to be made into garments. Given this array of marketing strategies, Whitney’s advertisement was not extraordinary at all, despite being published in a four-page extraordinary when Richard Draper needed more space for all the content he had compiled for the Massachusetts Gazette that week.

Whitney’s advertisement, however, was fairly unique given that she was a female retailer who advertised her participation in the colonial marketplace as supplier rather than a consumer. In urban ports, women comprised a significant proportion of shopkeepers, often more than a quarter of all shopkeepers according to other records from the late colonial period. Yet many chose not to advertise in the public prints; they were disproportionately underrepresented among the advertisements that filled and sometimes dominated the pages of colonial newspapers. Even though some of Whitney’s sister retailers did advertise in Boston’s newspapers they did not do so according to their numbers among the residents of the city.

Whitney herself may have chosen to advertise as the result of extraordinary circumstances. A short paragraph at the end of her advertisement, a fraction of the length of the list of the “Assortment of Goods,” called on “all Persons indebted to the late Company of ABIGAIL WHITNEY and DAUGHTER, to pay their respective Ballances speedily.” If they did not, the “surviving Partner” would initiate legal action. Abigail Whitney and Daughter had not been in the habit of advertising. The last (and only) time that an advertisement placed by anyone named Abigail Whitney appeared in newspapers published in Boston had been nearly ten years earlier when notices appeared in both the Boston-Gazette and the Boston News-Letter in December 1759. Those advertisements had a similar format, listing an extensive inventory of imported goods. Between March and July 1768, Whitney placed the new advertisement in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette, but she did not advertise in newspapers again after that. Although she advertised rarely, Abigail Whitney’s advertisement testifies to the presence of women in the colonial marketplace as retailers, producers, and suppliers. They were familiar to colonists who walked the streets of Boston even if they maintained much less visibility in the pages of newspapers from the era. Whitney’s advertisement even reveals a partnership of female entrepreneurs, a partnership cut short when her daughter died.