What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“MARGARET DUNCAN … has for sale, A LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”
Newspapers published in urban ports carried advertisements placed by female shopkeepers hawking their wares, though women were generally less likely to resort to the public prints to promote their businesses than their male counterparts. Those female shopkeepers and “she merchants” who did advertise demonstrate that women participated in the marketplace in a variety of ways, not solely as shopkeepers.
Margaret Duncan was one of those women who ran newspaper advertisements. On November 4, 1772, her notice appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal. She advised current and prospective customers that she moved to a new location on Second Street, “three doors below the corner of Arch-street” and “four doors above where she formerly dwelt.” Duncan stocked a “LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE, suitable to the season, imported in the last vessels from Europe.” She declared that she sold her wares “on the lowest terms for cash or the usual credit.” In terms of substance and style, Duncan’s advertisement did not differ from those placed by other retailers. She did not address women in particular as prospective customers, nor did she make any feminized appeals to consumers. Duncan apparently understood that men were consumers as well as producers and retailers, just as women inhabited multiple roles in consumer society.
The shopkeeper did benefit from enhanced visibility the first time her advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal. It ran in the middle of the second column on the front page, immediately below news items that began in the first column and overflowed into the next. She was almost as fortunate with the placement of her notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette. In that publication, it also appeared in the middle of the second column on the first page, though in that instance it was the second advertisement.
Duncan was the only female shopkeeper to run an advertisement in either of those newspapers that week, but she was not the only woman in Philadelphia who was selling goods to consumers. Despite their relative absence in the public prints, women running businesses were much more visible to colonizers as they traversed the streets of the busy port and went about their daily activities. The prominence of Duncan’s advertisement on the front page of two newspapers only hinted at the visibility of women in the marketplace.