November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:19:1767 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 19, 1767).

“New fancied Goods too tedious to mention.”

Upon importing a “Large Assortment of MILLENARY,” M. Philips turned to the pages of the New-York Journal to advertise her wares. Unlike many other shopkeepers, she did not attempt to incite demand by indicating particular items in her inventory. In the two advertisements immediately above, for instance, Garrat Noel and James Nixon both listed dozens of items they peddled. Compared to Philips, both made a more significant investment in marketing. The newspaper’s colophon indicated that “Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five shilling, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” Printer John Holt did not specify what qualified as moderate length, but he almost certainly charged Noel and Nixon more for their notices. Nixon’s advertisement occupied twice as much space as Philips’s relatively brief advertisement. Noel’s was five times as long. Featuring two columns of merchandise, it also involved much more complicated typography (though the advertising rates in the colophon do not indicate any additional fees for such services).

Even though Philips did not attempt to entice potential customers with an extensive list of the items on her shelves, she aimed to convince them that they would encounter an array of choices in her shop. First she stated that she had imported a “Large Assortment.” Then she described her inventory as a “great Variety.” It was such a “great Variety” that the particulars were “too tedious to mention” in an advertisement. In making that claim, Philips resorted to a strategy sometimes deployed by other merchants and shopkeepers, though some placed the phrase at the end of a list as a means of assuring readers that they had not exhaustively enumerated their wares. Prospective customers could still encounter some surprises in their shops.

Philips may have also benefited from the proximity of her advertisement to Noel’s. At the top of the column, Noel announced that he had imported goods from London via Captain Lawrence and the New-York. Philips also reported that she had “just imported” her millenary supplies and fancy goods “in the Ship New-York, Captain Lawrence, from London.” As a result, some readers may have associated the types of goods listed by Noel with the “newest and genteelest” merchandise in Philips’s shop. Noel’s advertisement primed readers to think of particular items. Philips then allowed them to conjure images of those and other “fancied Goods” at her store on Smith Street.

November 17

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

Nov 17 - 11:17:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 17, 1767).

“ELIZABETH ROFFE HAS just importeda fresh assortment of GOODS.”

On November 16, 1767, the Boston Post-Boy published an “Address to the LADIES,” a poem that advised women to refrain from purchasing imported goods in favor of wearing “cloaths of your own make and spinn.” In addition to donning homespun, the anonymous poet recommended that women substitute Labrador tea indigenous to North America for Bohea and Hyson cultivated in other parts of the world and shipped through English ports. The poet also gave advice for courtship: “agree that you’ll not married be / To such as will wear London Fact’ry” and instead encourage relationships only with men who clothed themselves in “our own Manufact’ry.” Despite this brief acknowledgment that men purchased imported textiles and other goods, the poet positioned women as the primary consumers in the colonies, a common assumption among poets and essayists who critiqued consumer culture in the public prints in the decades before the American Revolution. The author underscored the urgency of following these instructions by stating that “money’s so scarce, and times growing worse,” referring to an imbalance of trade with Britain that drained the colonies of hard currency. Concerns about “times growing worse” may have also included the imposition of the Townshend Act in less than a week.

The “Address to the LADIES” portrayed women as consumers. It did not, however, address women as purveyors of consumer goods. The poet imagined women’s participation in the marketplace confined to consumption alone, envisioning even the acts of production required to generate homespun as individual labors that did not extend to marketing, selling, or otherwise participating in commerce as retailers rather than shoppers. Yet women operated their own shops and ran other businesses throughout the colonies, especially in the largest and busiest port cities.

Female entrepreneurs were certainly underrepresented among advertisers who promoted consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century newspapers, but they were not completely absent. The day after readers in Boston perused the “Address to the LADIES” the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal ran two advertisements placed by women. Katharine Lind and Elizabeth Roffe each inserted list-style advertisements that named dozens of items they recently imported and stocked in their shops in Charleston. They also advanced other appeals made by their male counterparts, including price and quality.

Even as the author of the “Address to the LADIES” called on women to practice politics through their consumer choices, he or she overlooked the important role women played on the other side of the production/consumption equation. Calling on female retailers to alter their relationships with English merchants who supplied their wares, however, would have required also lecturing their male counterparts. That would have distributed responsibility to both men and women, whereas imagining consumption as predominantly a feminine pursuit conveniently allocated blame to women alone. It made them responsible for the vices and disadvantages associated with importing and purchasing an array of goods instead of relying on American manufactures. This scapegoating ignored the entrepreneurial efforts of women like Lind and Roffe while simultaneously sparing their male peers from critique.

October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:22:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 22, 1767).

“A NEAT assortment of coarse, fine and superfine broadcloths.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have recognized Magdalen Devine’s advertisement at a glance even if it had not featured her name in capital letters. Why? Devine used a woodcut that depicted some of her merchandise. In so doing, she successfully branded her business, repeatedly inserting it along with extensive lists of the merchandise she stocked.

The Adverts 250 Project previously examined another advertisement Devine placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1767. The content changed significantly. Then, Devine announced that she had imported a variety of goods in the Carolina from London and the Peggy from Glasgow. In her new advertisements, she hawked goods that had recently arrived via the Mary and Elizabeth from London as well as “the last vessels from Liverpool and Glasgow.” Both advertisements listed hundreds of items potential customers would find among her inventory; although the types of goods were similar, she enumerated different items in each.

Some aspects of Devine’s advertisements remained consistent. In May and October she gave her address, “In Second-street, between Market and Chestnut-streets, the fourth door from the Quaker meeting-house,” and concluded by assuring readers that “she will sell at the lowest terms, for cash or short credit.” Yet the most significant feature of her advertisements had to have been the woodcut that appeared at the top, a woodcut that occupied as much space as some of the shorter advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Devine deployed the woodcut as a brand to identify her business and distinguish it from others, but it also illustrated some of her merchandise. The shopkeeper sold all kinds of imported textiles; her advertisements filled half a column because she listed so many different styles, colors, and qualities of fabrics. Her woodcut provided visual affirmation of her inventory. It showed two rolls of patterned cloth (suggesting quantity) flanked by swatches that revealed distinctive patterns (suggesting fashion).

Commissioning a woodcut would have been an additional expense for Devine, but the length and frequency of her advertisements indicate that she was willing to invest in advertising. She likely considered the woodcut a good investment since it immediately identified her advertisements whenever they appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the newspaper that usually included more advertising (including a two-page supplement) than any other newspaper printed in the American colonies in the 1760s. Devine relied on standard marketing appeals throughout her advertisements, but her woodcut attracted attention and distinguished her marketing efforts.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:23:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (July 23, 1767).

“A handsome Assortment of Feather Plumes for Ladies Heads.”

Unlike most advertisements for consumer goods published in eighteenth-century newspapers, this notice for a “Variety of Millenary Goods” did not indicate who sold the “handsome Assortment of Feather Plumes” or “Hats of all colours.” Instead, it simply stated that these items were “Sold cheap at the House of Capt. Joseph Goldthwait.”

Who placed this advertisement and ran a shop out of Goldthwait’s house? It may very well have been a female entrepreneur who did not wish to call widespread attention to her participation in the marketplace as a retailer rather than as a consumer. Women often operated small retail establishments out of their own homes or rooms they rented, especially in urban ports, but they were much less likely to advertise their commercial activities than their male counterparts. Female shopkeepers tended to be disproportionately underrepresented among the advertisements in the public prints.

That did not mean that women did not advertise at all. This advertisement for “Millenary Goods” appeared immediately below Jane Eustis’s own notice for a “Large and beautiful Assortment [of] Silks, Cap Laces,” and other millenary goods. Although she stocked “Mens and Womens silk Hose” and “Mens white silk Gloves,” Eustis promoted mostly textiles and adornments intended for female customers. Like the anonymous advertiser, she concluded by making special note of the “Tippets and Turbans” she sold “for less than the prime Cost.” The type of merchandise hawked by the anonymous advertiser increases the likelihood that a woman placed the notice and operated the shop “at the House of Capt. Joseph Goldthwait.”

This sort of anonymous advertisement was rather rare in colonial America. Certainly newspapers frequently carried notices that advised readers to “enquire of the printer,” but usually those regarded only one or a small number of commodities, not the “Variety” or “handsome Assortment” of imported goods marketed in this advertisement. It even ended with a teaser, “&c &c &c” (the eighteenth-century version of “etc. etc. etc.”), suggesting an even greater array of goods that rivaled what customers would find in the shops kept by Jane Eustis and other advertisers.

Women had a variety of reasons for not calling as much attention to their entrepreneurial activities as their male competitors, including assumptions about their appropriate roles in the household and marketplace. This advertisement may have been designed by a woman eking out a living who hoped to attract female customers yet remain shielded from other readers in colonial Boston.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:14:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“Imported … by MAGDALEN DEVINE … the following goods.”

Compared to their male counterparts, female shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers (and turned to other forms of marketing media, such as magazine wrappers, trade cards, and broadsides, even less often). Women’s participation in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers was disproportionately underrepresented among advertisements in colonial and Revolutionary-era newspapers.

Magdalen Devine’s lengthy list-style advertisement was notable, however, not only because she was a female entrepreneur who turned to the public prints to promote her business. To draw attention to her notice, Devine included a woodcut that depicted the sorts of textiles she imported and sold at her shop on Second Street near the Quaker Meetinghouse. A border surrounded two rolls of cloth positioned next to two swatches, all of them arrayed to demonstrate four different patterns. This visual image reinforced the work done in Devine’s dense list of merchandise: customers could expect to make choices among the assortment of dry goods she stocked.

Given that few male advertisers, whether shopkeepers, artisans, or others, commissioned woodcuts to include in their marketing efforts, Devine’s advertisement was quite extraordinary. To paraphrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s analysis of gendered women’s activities in colonial New England, Devine’s advertisement demonstrates what was possible rather than what was probable when women took on some of the same tasks and responsibilities most often reserved for or associated with men.

Three other women played a role in advertisements that appeared in the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notice placed by “JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR,” included a final paragraph about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing hair. Unlike her husband, Mrs. Holliday’s name did appear in all capitals. “WILLIAM SYMONDS” and “MARY SYMONDS, Millener,” cooperated in placing an advertisement, though Mary seems to have been the driving force. The advertisement briefly noted that William “has just imported in the last vessels, a neat assortment of merchandize.” Mary, on the other hand, provided a list of her “neat assortment of millenery goods” that exceeded Devine’s in length. (Symonds was one of the few female entrepreneurs who distributed her own trade card in eighteenth-century America, though she would not do so for another decade.) Finally, “ANN PEARSON, MILLENER,” also inserted a list-style advertisement, seemingly of her own accord. It did not mention any male relatives who might have overseen her participation in the marketplace.

The woodcut that accompanied Devine’s advertisement made her marketing memorable. The May 14 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted of eight pages (the four-page standard issue as well as a four-page supplement) with nearly seven of them devoted to advertising. Only two other advertisements included woodcuts, a generic ship with Alexander Lunan’s notice about freight and passage on a ship about to sail for South Carolina and an extended hand with dyer Joseph Allardyce’s advertisement for his shop “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” Although men most actively advertised consumer goods and services in early America, women also adopted marketing innovations and experimented with various methods for marketing their wares.

April 14

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (April 14, 1767).

“To be sold cheap for Cash … ELEANOR REAZON.”

Women and Advertisements. In choosing this advertisement, the part that stood out to me was the fact that it was placed by a woman. Eleanor Reazon, an ordinary woman, embodied the group of women who sought to make a living for themselves and their families. What is also important to note is that women, especially once the Townshend Acts were passed, played a significant role in both adhering to boycotts, as well as breaking them and continuing their sale of goods and their tea parties. Historian T.H. Breen explains the importance of women supporting boycotts. Peter Oliver, a prominent Loyalist, accused patriot women of breaking the boycotts.

Despite the uniqueness of a woman placing an advertisement, the content is not as surprising. Hats and bonnets, as well as fabrics and tea, all represented what women most likely sold. The advertisement did not include boats, wood, or other heftier goods, but rather smaller, fine items sold within her home. During this period, the role of women and business varied. Patricia Cleary states, “A close examination of women’s trading, however, points to other possibilities: that the work itself carried implications for women beyond their family roles. Women shopkeepers, whose business practices illuminate the changing consumer world of the midcentury, highlight the interplay of gender and commerce and suggest the existence of a sphere of female entrepreneurship and association.”[1]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Eleanor Reazon was the only female entrepreneur to place an advertisement promoting consumer goods and services in the April 14 issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement, though she certainly was not the only female shopkeeper active in Charleston at the time. Women who ran shops in the eighteenth century tended not to advertise their enterprises. In turn, that produced a skewed glimpse of the marketplace in the public prints, suggesting that women acted almost exclusively as consumers.

Female shopkeepers occupied complicated space in the public sphere and market. Men dominated the world of business, while women were expected to tend to the household. Yet many women found themselves engaged in the world of trade and commerce. Sometimes this was brief, as in the case of deputy husbands who temporarily stepped forward in the absence of their husbands. Other times women had a more sustained presence in the marketplace, including widows who either continued businesses formerly run by their husbands or established their own shops, taverns, or other enterprises to support themselves. Both deputy husbands and widows justifiably participated in business only when the absence of their husbands made it necessary.

Single and married female shopkeepers were in a more precarious position. Presumably no man supervised single women, while married women who operated their own businesses usurped roles and responsibilities supposedly reserved for male heads of household. These circumstances may have made female entrepreneurs hesitant to expose themselves to unwanted scrutiny by advertising in newspapers. Instead, the language used in many advertisements placed by women in the eighteenth century suggests that many preferred to rely on word-of-mouth marketing via networks of friends and neighbors rather than listing their businesses alongside those of their male competitors in the advertising pages.

Eleanor Reazon, however, did not resort to any sort of explanations to justify inserting her voice into the world of commerce represented in the advertising section of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. As Shannon notes, she sold a relatively narrow range of goods compared to some of her male counterparts, but otherwise her marketing efforts did not much differ. Although many women downplayed their role as traders, Reazon and others claimed a place in the market as “she-merchants” and entrepreneurs. Advertising from the period demonstrates that there was not just one way for women of business to comport themselves in eighteenth-century America.

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[1] Patricia Cleary, “‘She Will Be in the Shop’: Women’s Sphere of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia and New York,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 119, no. 3 (July 1995): 182.