May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 14, 1770).

“She has had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”

Mary Morcomb did not indicate how recently she had arrived in New York in her advertisement, but it was recently enough that she described herself as a “Mantua-Maker, from London.”  After migrating to the colonies, she hoped to establish a new clientele.  To that end, she informed readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that she made “all sorts of negligees, Brunswick dresses, gowns, and every other sort of lady’s apparel.”  In addition, she extended her skills working with textiles to “cover[ing] UMBRELLOES in the neatest and most fashionable manner.”  Invoking her London origins testified to her access to the latest styles and taste, reassuring prospective customers that she did indeed produce both garments and umbrellas, a new and exotic accessory in the early 1770s, in the “most fashionable manner.”

As a newcomer who could not depend on a reputation established through interacting with clients and acquaintances over time, Morcomb instead attempted to accelerate the process.  She claimed that she already “had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”  Those ladies, Morcomb reported, were satisfied with the garments she made for them and had “declared their approbation of her work.”  This was a secondhand testimonial, delivered by the provider of the goods and services, yet Morcomb hoped it would be sufficient to garner “encouragement from the ladies, in her business.”  She concluded by pledging that if prospective clients put their trust in her that they “May depend upon having their work done with all possible care and dispatch.”

In her effort to attract new customers, Morcomb deployed strategies often used by artisans, especially those in the garment trades, who only recently arrived in the colonies.  Many emphasized their connections to cosmopolitan cities where they had access to the latest fashions and then suggested that this already translated to serving select clients in their new location.  Although unfamiliar to many residents in their communities, Morcomb and other artisans attempted to incite demand by asserting that their services were already in demand.  Prospective customers should be eager to hire them, they proposed, because they had already successfully demonstrated their proficiency at their trades.

April 14

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

Apr 14 - 4:14:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (April 14, 1770).

“CORDWAINERS from LONDON.”

When cordwainers Henry Field and Josiah Gifford set up shop in Providence they placed an advertisement in the April 14, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette to inform the community that they made and sold “Mens and Womens Shoes, Slippers, [and] Boots.”  They advanced some of the most common marketing appeals of the era, pledging that their customers benefited from both the quality of their craftsmanship and the customer service they provided.  Field and Gifford asserted that they made footwear “in the strongest, neatest and best Manner.”  They followed their trade “in all its Branches,” suggesting that no request or order was beyond their capability.  They also pledged that patrons “may depend on being served with Punctuality, Fidelity and Dispatch.”  Field and Gifford exercised deference to “such Gentlemen and Ladies, who please to favour them with their Custom.”

Yet before they made any of these appeals Field and Gifford first introduced themselves as “CORDWAINERS from LONDON.”  In so doing, they adopted a strategy commonly invoked by artisans who advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Those who migrated across the Atlantic, especially artisans who had trained or worked in London, often indicated their place of origin, but not merely by way of introduction.  They expected that their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire carried a certain cachet that gave them a competitive advantage among colonial consumers … or at least leveled the playing field.  After all, other artisans benefited from long familiarity within their community.  They built relationships with consumers and cultivated reputations over time.  As newcomers, Field and Gifford did not have those advantages.  Instead, they made their recent arrival in the colonies work to their benefit.  Just as colonial consumers tended to look to London and the rest of England when it came to goods, often expressing preferences for imported wares, Field and Gifford encouraged them to express preferences and recognize the value of artisans who also came from the other side of the Atlantic

January 14

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

Jan 14 - 1:11:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 11, 1770).

“Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any incumberance.”

Richard Norris, “STAY-MAKER, from LONDON,” made a variety of appeals to prospective customers in an advertisement he inserted in the January 11, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. When it came to making stays (corsets) and other garments, he promised high quality (“the neatest and best manner”) and low prices (“the most reasonable rates”). He proclaimed the superiority of his work compared to local competitors, stating that his stays were “preferable to any done in these parts, for neatness and true fitting.”

Norris developed two appeals in even greater detail. In one, he emphasized his London origins and continuing connections to the empire’s largest city. Despite political tensions between Parliament and the colonies, London remained the metropolitan center of fashion. Norris assured prospective clients that “he acquires the first fashions of the court of London, by a correspondent settled there.” Although the staymaker had migrated to the colonies, he maintained access to the latest styles in the most cosmopolitan of cities in the British Atlantic world. He also underscored that he constructed stays according to “methods approved of by the society of stay-makers, in London,” implying that his training and experience in that city ranked him above any of his rivals in New York.

While most of these appeals focused on Norris and his abilities, the other strategy that he developed in greater detail targeted female readers of the New-York Journal. He attempted to incite demand for his services by prompting women to feel “uneasy in their shapes.” He made a special point of exhorting “young ladies and growing misses” to question whether they were “inclin’d to casts and risings in their hips and shoulders,” compelling them to imagine that their bodies were misshapen. Young women could hide such imperfections from observers by wearing the stays that Norris made and sold, even though they would retain the knowledge that there was supposedly something wrong or undesirable about their bodies. In eighteenth-century America, quite like today, advertisers often relied on provoking anxieties among consumers, especially young women, and offering to reduce those anxieties as a means of promoting their products.

December 25

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

Dec 25 - 12:25:1769 Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy
Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (December 25, 1769).

“Many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.”

As 1769 drew to a close, the residents of Boston and many other cities and towns throughout the colonies were still embroiled in a dispute with Parliament over the duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts. Merchants and shopkeepers continued to participate in nonimportation agreements, refusing to order merchandise of all sorts as a means of using economic pressure to achieve political goals. Especially in Boston, newspapers provided updates about traders who either declined to sign or subsequently violated the boycotts. Discourse about the virtues and vices inherent in making or abstaining from certain purchases became a regular feature in the public prints, in advertisements as well as in editorials.

Yet colonists in Boston and other places did not abstain from all things associated with Britain even as they rejected imported goods. They still looked across the Atlantic, especially to London, for cues about fashion. Colonists continued to imbibe British culture and tastes even as they eschewed British goods. Timothy Kelly, “Hair Cutter and Peruke-Maker from LONDON,” depended on that continued allegiance to British styles in his advertisement that ran in the December 25, 1769, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy. This wigmaker leveraged his previous experience serving clients in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire, underscoring to the “GENTLEMEN and LADIES” that he “had the advantage of many Years experience in the most eminent Shops in London.” That alone gave his perukes and other hairpieces cachet not associated with wigs made or styled by competitors whose training and entire careers had been confined to the colonies. Kelly claimed he possessed knowledge of the current styles in London, vowing that he made “any kind Perukes now in fashion” and did so “as genteel as can be had from thence.” Why should colonists import wigs from afar when they could consult with an “eminent” stylist in Boston? After all, this stylist was so eminent that he deployed solely his last name as the headline of his advertisement, expecting that to sufficiently identify him when prospective clients perused the newspaper. Kelly did far more than merely promise that he “dresses Hair in any form in the neatest manner” in his advertisement. He accentuated his connections to London and the fashions there, anticipating that doing so would resonate with residents of Boston even as they continued to boycott goods imported from England. British fashions could still be replicated in the colonies, and Kelly offered his services.

July 16

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

Jul 16 - 7:13:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (July 13, 1769).
Confectioner and Distiller from London.”

In the summer of 1769 Peter Lorent, a confectioner and distiller, provided a variety of sweet treats to the residents of Boston. In addition to “Cakes of all kind,” he made and sold macaroons, sugar plums, candied fruits, syrups, and cordials.

As part of his marketing efforts, Lorent underscored the quality of his confections. He introduced himself to prospective customers as a “Confectioner and Distiller from London,” hoping readers would associate him with his counterparts in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. Advertisers from many occupations, especially artisans and doctors, frequently deployed this strategy, implying that their origins testified to skills and expertise gained from training or employment on the other side of the Atlantic. They also prompted consumers to imbue their goods or services with the cachet of having been acquired from a purveyor “from London.” Advertisers like Lorent invoked their origins as a means of asserting status; they suggested that customers could demonstrate and enhance their own status by making purchases from the right providers of goods and services.

Lorent helped consumers reach the intended conclusions about the cakes, candies, and cordials they could acquire from a confectioner “from London.” He trumpeted that he made all of his treats “in as great Perfection as in Europe” and underscored that he had the requisite exposure to make that claim since he previously “worked in England, France, and Italy.” Lorent aimed to impress prospective customers with his experience that ranged beyond England to other countries often associated with taste and fashion. He also attempted to ease their anxieties about residing far from the center of the empire. Residents of Boston did not need to worry that they lived in a provincial backwater, not when they could consumer confections as fine as those enjoyed by the genteel ladies and gentlemen of London.

February 24

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 24, 1769).

“Watches repair’d or clean’d.”

In late February 1769, the New Hampshire Gazette featured an attractive advertisement for John Simnet’s watchmaking services, including repairs and cleaning. The advertisement points out that Simnet was an experienced watchmaker who had moved to America from London. Colonists still felt connected to the mother country so readers may have appreciated Simnet’s ties to Britain. In fact, most colonists identified as British and emphasized English culture, especially fashion and consumer goods. The colonists looked towards London, where taste and style were set. T.H. Breen has called this the Anglicization of consumer culture in the colonies.[1]

Readers may have been enticed by the price of Simnet’s repair and cleaning services. He appealed to the general public by offering the best deal, promising customers “less Expence than usual in this Country.” Breen states, “Consumer demand was the driving engine of economic change. Knowledge of the availability of these goods sparked desire, and though humble buyers obviously could not afford quality items, they purchased what they could.”[2] Simnet’s advertisement assured readers that his price was affordable for a greater number of customers, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In her first entry as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, Chloe has focused on some of the appeals that watchmaker John Simnet made to prospective customers. Price was a popular marketing strategy throughout the colonies, but Chloe also points out that colonists continued to emphasize their cultural connections to London and the rest of the empire even as they contended with Parliament over the Townshend Acts and other measures after the Seven Years War.

Simnet also incorporated other appeals in his advertisement. Deceptively short, it presented a multitude of reasons that anyone who needed watches “repair’d or clean’d” should call on Simnet at his shop across the street from Staver’s Tavern. Like many artisans, Simnet promoted both his skill and experience. For instance, he informed readers that he had worked at his trade for twenty-five years. As Chloe mentions, he had spent that time in London. That likely had a double resonance for colonial consumers. Not only did it establish a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, it also suggested that Simnet had acquired greater expertise than many colonial watchmakers for having operated his business in such a competitive environment for so long. Simnet came right out and said so when he proclaimed that he performed his services “in a neater manner … than usual in this Country.” Many artisans, especially those who had migrated from London like Simnet, attempted to convince potential customers that they had the skills to deliver services equal to their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. With his declaration that he cleaned and repaired watches better than others in New Hampshire, Simnet opted for a slightly different approach, one more aggressive toward his local competitors.

Simnet did not require a lot of words or a lot of space in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, he deployed multiple marketing strategies in just a few lines. In addition to his purported skill as a watchmaker, he demonstrated his familiarity with the most common appeals artisans made in advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 497.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 476.

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:16:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 16, 1768).

“CHARLES HARRIS, WORKING SILVERSMITH, FROM LONDON, (Last from Mr. JONATHAN SARRAZIN.”

Like many other artisans who advertised in colonial newspapers, Charles Harris, a silversmith, provided his some of his credentials in the notice he inserted in the August 16, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He first asserted his connections to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, as a means of assuring prospective customers that he was indeed aware of the current tastes and styles. Invoking his London origins gave the silversmith cachet while simultaneously suggesting his familiarity with “all sorts of new fashioned bottle-stands” and “cruet frames after a new fashion.” He paid attention to the smallest details, even when making “table spoons, feathered on the handle.”

Yet Harris had not just arrived in Charleston directly from London. His advertisement indicated that he had already spent some time in the colony, employed in another workshop before establishing his own. Even though he had migrated “FROM LONDON,” Harris informed readers that he was also “(Last from Mr JONATHAN SARRAZIN),” a jeweler who ran a shop at the corner of Broad Street and Church Street. Harris’s former employer, who had recently published a series of advertisements in all three newspapers published in Charleston, was now one of his competitors. Harris took advantage of their former affiliation to market his own wares. Prospective customers who had previously secured Sarrazin’s services had likely acquired items that Harris took a hand in producing. Rather than his work being completely unknown in the local marketplace, as was the case for artisans newly arrived from London, some of his wares had already found their way into the hands of local consumers. This allowed Harris to piggyback on the reputation that Sarrazin had cultivated among residents of Charleston.

Harris deployed his advertisement as his résumé. He included vital work history that allowed prospective customers to determine if they wished to consider availing themselves of his services. Establishing that he had already made contributions to his trade in the local marketplace gave Harris additional credibility in his pledge to potential clients that they “may depend on having their work done to their satisfaction, and with the quickest dispatch.”

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 26, 1768).

“Mrs. Crane continues to make … the Brunswick dresses, so much esteemed in England.”

In the summer of 1768, John and Sarah Crane placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform residents of Charleston and the surrounding area that they had “removed from the house” where they formerly kept their workshop to a new location. The tailor and mantuamaker considered it “their duty, not only to acquaint the gentlemen and ladies of this town” that they had moved but also to express “their sincere acknowledgments for the many favours they have received.” The Cranes wanted their existing clientele to follow them to their new location. They anticipated the “pleasing prospect” of the “continuance” of their business, but acknowledging their customers in the public prints served as more than a means of maintaining those relationships. It also communicated to prospective clients that other consumers in the busy port had already sought out their services.

The Cranes may have considered this especially important since they had only recently arrived in Charleston. They described themselves as “Very Lately arrived from LONDON,” though they had been in town for at least five months. They had previously advertised in February, yet they still considered themselves new to the community. Despite the disadvantages of being newcomers, depicting themselves in this manner worked to their advantage in certain ways. It established a direct connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, suggesting that they relied on their own knowledge when they pledged to make garments “in the newest taste.” To further make their case, they noted that “Mrs. Crane continues to make … the Brunswick dresses, so much esteemed in England.” The glossary of “Colonial Lady’s Clothing” compiled by historians at Colonial Williamsburg describes the Brunswick as a “three-quarter length jacket worn with a petticoat” that was worn as “an informal gown or a traveling gown. It had a high neck, unstiffened bodice that buttoned, long sleeves, and frequently had a sack back (loose pleats) and a hood.” The Brunswick reached the height of its popularity in the 1760s, indicating that the Cranes were right on message when they chose it as an example to demonstrate their awareness of the “newest taste” in London.

When it came to stating how long they had been in Charleston, the Cranes tried to have it both ways. They had been in the city just long enough to faithfully serve some of its residents, but not so long that their personal observations of popular styles in London had become outdated. They expected both of these factors to appeal to prospective clients.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (July 22, 1768).

“John Astle, Stay-Maker, & Taylor, directly from London.”

When John Astle, a tailor and staymaker, set up shop in New Haven in the summer of 1768, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal to inform prospective clients that he made and repaired all sorts of garments, including “Cloaks, and Huzzas,” “Riding-Habits for Ladies,” and corsets (stays). He also pledged to deliver exemplary customer service: “Whoever will be kind enough to favour him with their Custom, may depend upon the best Usage in his Power.”

In the process of introducing himself to readers he hoped would become customers, Astle also noted his origins. He stated that he had arrived in New Haven “directly from London.” (The tailor may have requested that “London” appear in italics to garner more attention, but more likely the compositor made this decision without consulting the advertiser.) In so doing, he adopted a common marketing strategy, one that was especially popular among members of the garment trades. The frequency of styles changing dramatically accelerated in the eighteenth century as part of the consumer revolution. Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions. Some advertisers explicitly stated that they made or sold garments, housewares, and other goods according to the most current tastes. Others asserted connections to London or other places in England or continental Europe as a means of suggesting that they had acquired both skill in crafting apparel and knowledge of the newest fashions.

Stating that they were “from London,” however, left room for interpretation. That description did not specify how recently advertisers had worked in London or migrated to the colonies. Astle apparently realized that some prospective clients would be skeptical. To answer any objections, he modified the standard phrase “from London” to “directly from London,” communicating to readers that he had not been working in the English provinces or other colonies immediately prior to arriving in New Haven. Months or years had not passed since he had actively made garments in the city at the center of the empire. Instead, potential customers could depend on him having knowledge of current styles and outfitting them accordingly. Many eighteenth-century advertisements deployed formulaic phrases, but advertisers like Astle sometimes modified them to suit their needs and deliver better marketing appeals.

March 1

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

Mar 1 - 3:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 1, 1768).

“He makes jumps and stays … in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.”

John Burchet presented himself to consumers in Charleston as a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON and PARIS.” He established his former places of residence and employment not merely by way of introduction but also to strengthen one of the appeals he advanced in his advertisement. Burchet announced to prospective clients that he made garments “in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.” Although he did not elaborate on his time in the English and French capitals, he leveraged the connection to assure customers that they could rely on him to outfit them in “the newest fashion” rather than trends that already declined in popularity. He implied that he had special insight into la mode on the other side of the Atlantic.

Keeping up with the current styles in England and France was important to residents throughout the colonies, but perhaps especially to the gentry and middling sorts aspiring to join their ranks in the largest urban ports. Although the size of Charleston, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia paled in comparison to the metropolis of London, the better sorts in those cities wished to imagine themselves as cosmopolitan as their peers across the ocean. Anxious that they would be seen as backwater provincials, they adopted new fashions – both clothing and housewares – at a speed that often surprised European visitors to the colonies. Some shopkeepers and members of the garments trade emphasized their correspondence with counterparts in England as a means of keeping abreast of the newest trends. Burchet, however, suggested that he offered something even better: why settle for an American staymaker who imitated the styles popular in Europe when it was possible to hire one “from LONDON and PARIS” who had direct knowledge from his time in those cities? This marketing strategy did rely on both the staymaker and the customer suspending their disbelief to some extent. After all, having once lived and worked in London and Paris did not give Burchet immediate access to fashions there. He relied on transatlantic correspondence, just like his competitors. Yet he marshaled the cachet of his origins, prompting clients to imagine visiting his shop for measurements and fittings and ultimately wearing garments made by an artisan “from LONDON and PARIS.” Burchet’s stays and other wares might have yielded the same appearance as those made by others, but his personal narrative added value to the clothing he made.