What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.”
At a glance, readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that Frederick Hubley was a distiller. After all, the woodcut that adorned his advertisement in the July 14, 1773, edition depicted a still. On closer examination, however, they discovered that Hubley was a coppersmith who plied his trade in Lancaster. He advised prospective customers in and near that town that he “MAKES all sorts of COPPER and BRASS WARE, in the neatest and best manner.” In particular, he made “STILLS, brewers, hatters, wash, fish and tea kettles, bake-pans, [and] sauce-pans,” though repeating “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) indicated that he accepted orders for other items.
To entice prospective customers, Hubley advanced some of the appeals most commonly deployed by colonial artisans who placed newspaper advertisements. He offered assurances about the quality of the items he produced in his shop, declaring that he made them “in the neatest and best manner.” Such declarations simultaneously testified to his skill as a coppersmith. Hubley also leveraged price as a means of attracting customers. He did not merely mention low prices or reasonable prices. Instead, he compared his prices to those charged by his competitors, both coppersmiths and shopkeepers, near and far, stating that he “is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.” Prospective customers, Hubley asserted, would not find better deals, not even in Philadelphia, the largest city and busiest port in the colonies.
Hubley advertised in a newspaper published in that city because Lancaster did not yet have its own newspaper in 1773. The Pennsylvania Gazette and several other newspapers published in Philadelphia, as well as Germantowner Zeitung, served the entire colony and portions of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. Lancaster would not have its own newspaper until late November 1777 when John Dunlap temporarily moved the Pennsylvania Packet to town when the Continental Congress briefly relocated there during the British occupation of Philadelphia. Although the Continental Congress quickly moved to York in hopes that even more distance meant more safety from the British, Dunlap and his press remained in Lancaster. For six months, he printed the Pennsylvania Packet in Lancester, but ceased when he returned to Philadelphia to resume the newspaper there on July 4, 1778. The war disrupted publication of several newspapers. In addition, some folded completely, while printers established others. In the summer of 1773, however, Hubley and others in Lancaster who wished to advertise did so within a fairly stable media environment, one with a center of gravity in Philadelphia.