May 1

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (May 1, 1771).

“Lower Terms than can be at any Shop or Store in the Province.”

Although “Sadler and Jockey Cap-Maker” Richard Sharwin signed his entire name at the end of his advertisement in the April 29, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy, he deployed the mononym “SHARWIN” as a headline to draw attention.  The mononym suggested that consumers should already be familiar with his reputation, but he also declared that he was “From LONDON” to further underscore his importance for readers who were not familiar with his work.  Sharwin proclaimed that he made a variety of items, “the several Materials and Workmanship the best of their Kind.”  From “hunting Sadles with Hogskin seat” to “Pelm and Snaffle Bridles with Silver plated Bits” to “Velvet Jockey Caps,” the items he produced in his shop were “as Neat as can be Imported.”  Sharwin assured prospective customers that when they shopped locally, they still acquired goods of the same quality as those that arrived from London.

Sharwin also tended to price in his advertisement, pledging that he sold his wares “upon lower Terms than can be at any Shop or Store in the Province.”  Advertisers commonly asserted their low prices, but not nearly as often did they encourage consumers to compare their prices to those of their competitors.  Sharwin not only did so but also listed prices for welted saddles (“from 8 to 10 Dollars”) and plain saddles (“from 6 to 8 Dollars”), allowing readers to do some comparison shopping without even visiting his shop on King Street.  They could judge for themselves whether he offered bargains.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans provided prices in their advertisements only occasionally, making Sharwin’s invitation to compare prices all the more notable.  Prospective customers could use the prices for welted saddles and plain saddles as a barometer for how much he charged for the dozens of other items listed in his advertisement since Sharwin set prices for “every Article in proportion.”

All in all, Sharwin incorporated several standard elements of eighteenth-century advertising into his own advertisement while also experimenting with less common marketing strategies.  Like many other advertisers, he emphasized consumer choice by listing an assortment of goods, touted his connections to London, and underscored quality and price.  He enhanced his advertisement with a mononym for a headline, stating the prices for some items, and trumpeting that his competitors could not beat those prices.  Sharwin crafted an advertisement that was not merely a rote recitation of the usual appeals made to consumers.

April 7

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

Pennsylvania Journal (April 4, 1771).

“Spencer has already given convincing proofs of his abilities.”

In the spring of 1771, Brent Spencer, a “Coach & Coach Harness MAKER,” opened a new shop on Lombard Street in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the April 4 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he noted that he drew on his experience “in all the branches of Coach, Chariot, Phaeton, and Chaise making” gained in London and Dublin.  Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, he intended that prospective customers would associate his time in those cities with superior skill and training.

That was one way of attempting to establish a reputation in a new place, but Spencer did not ask consumers merely to take his word.  Instead, he declared that he already had work on display in the local marketplace.  Spencer asserted that he had “already given convincing proofs of his abilities, in executing some of the principal Carriages now running in this city and province.”  He did not name his clients, but he did suggest that some of the most prominent residents of Philadelphia and its environs previously hired him.  Anyone who had admired or otherwise taken note of carriages already traversing the streets of the busy port city, Spencer suggested, had likely seen some that he constructed.

Given that he already cultivated a clientele among the better sorts, Spencer gave their peers and those who aspired to their ranks an opportunity to acquire one of his carriages.  Immediately following his comment about making “some of the principal Carriages” in the city, he noted that he “has now for sale a coach body and a waggon body, both of new construction.”  Prospective customers did not need to settle for secondhand carriages that may have previously belonged to friends or acquaintances, not when Spencer could outfit them with carriages that observers would recognize as new.

Spencer concluded his advertisement with assurances about customer service and low prices, two more reasons for consumers to purchase coaches from him.  In a short advertisement, he established his experience working in two of the largest cities in the empire, suggested that readers already glimpsed his carriages on the streets of Philadelphia, and promoted new carriages available at his shop.  Even for the most affluent colonists, purchasing a carriage was a major investment.  Spencer offered many reasons to choose his workshop over others in the city or imported alternatives.

February 25

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 25, 1771).

“Just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”

Thomas Hartley made stays or corsets for “the LADIES” of New York in the early 1770s.  In his efforts to cultivate a clientele, he placed an advertisement in the February 25, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, advising prospective customers that “he makes STAYS OF ALL SORTS, in the newest and best fashion.”  Staymakers as well as tailors, milliners, and others who made garments frequently emphasized that they followed the latest fashions, assuring clients that they did not need to worry about appearing behind the times and out of style after visiting their shops and hiring their services.

Hartley enhanced such appeals with additional commentary in his advertisement, first describing himself as “LATE FROM LONDON” in a portion of his advertisement that served as a headline.  Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions.  The gentry in New York and other colonies sought to demonstrate their own sophistication by keeping up with styles popular in London.  In proclaiming that he was “LATE FROM LONDON,” Hartley established a connection that suggested he had special insight into the current trends in the metropolis.  Later in the advertisement, he extended “humble thanks to all ladies that have favoured me with their commands,” calling into question just how recently he had arrived in New York.

The staymaker, however, suggested that something else mattered more.  After migrating across the Atlantic, he maintained contact with correspondents who kept him informed about the newest styles.  He trumpeted that he had “just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”  As a result, Hartley felt confident that he could “give universal satisfaction” to his clients.  In making a pitch to “the LADIES” of New York, he claimed to have access to information about the garments the most elite women in London would be wearing in the coming months.  Prospective clients in New York could not expect anything more cutting edge than that!

Fashion often played a role in the appeals made by staymakers, tailors, milliners, and others.  In some instances, advertisers included generic statements using formulaic words and phrases, a shorthand intended to reassure prospective clients that they understood their trade and provided satisfactory services.  Hartley, on the other hand, elaborated on his appeal to “the very newest and best fashion,” seeking to convince customers that he did indeed possess special insights into current trends in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

October 23

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 23, 1770).

“The newest and most fashionable Taste.”

In the fall of 1770, John Brown, a hairdresser, informed “the Ladies in particular” and “the Gentlemen” as well as that he had set up shop in Charleston.  In an advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he announced that he had “Just arrived from LONDON.”  This was a common marketing strategy among advertisers from a variety of occupations, from doctors to artisans to tailors to hairdressers.  They listed their place of origin as part of their credentials, suggesting to colonists that those who had trained and worked in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire possessed greater skill and a better understanding of taste and fashion than their counterparts from the colonies.

Brown stated that he “was regularly bred to the Business,” invoking a common phrase that indicated extensive training, but he also made the claim to superior circumstances more explicit by clarifying that he learned his trade “in one of the genteelest Shops in London.”  Unlike other hairdressers in Charleston, Brown had not yet established a reputation among current and prospective clients.  As an alternative, he used his connections to the urban sophistication of London to encourage residents of Charleston to associate additional cachet with his services.

Brown also emphasized his recent arrival in South Carolina.  Many advertisers deployed the phrase “from London” in their notices, some after living and working in the colonies for years.  That made it significant for Brown to proclaim that he “Just arrived from LONDON.”  His experience working in one of those “genteelest Shops” was recent.  He possessed a familiarity with tastes and trends in the metropole that was current.  Other hairdressers relied on travelers and correspondents to keep them apprised of new styles, but Brown brought that knowledge with him when he crossed the Atlantic and set up his own shop in Charleston.  He pledged to dress hair according to “the newest and most fashionable Taste,” a common appeal that had greater resonance when deployed by a coiffeur who had “Just arrived from LONDON.”

September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:3:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 3, 1770).

“… practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.”

Like many other artisans who migrated to the colonies in the eighteenth-century, James Yeoman emphasized his origins on the other side of the Atlantic.  In an advertisement that ran in the September 3, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, Yeoman described himself as a “CLOCK and WATCH-MAKER, FROM LONDON.”  It was not clear from the advertisement how long he had resided in New York and practiced his trade there.  He extended “his best Thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City for the past Favours” and noted that he “he still continues his Shop … in Hanover Square.”  He had been in New York long enough that he already had customers.  All the same, he asserted his connections to London, aiming to take advantage of the cachet often derived from the metropolitan center of the empire.  For artisans, that cachet was often twofold, an association of their wares with cosmopolitanism and an insinuation that they possessed greater skill due to superior training compared to their competitors from the colonies.  For instance, when it came to replacing the parts of an “ever so nice mechanical Construction,” Yeoman stated that he provided that service “as reasonable and neat as if done in London.”

In that regard, the appeals he made in his advertisement paralleled those made by other artisans “FROM LONDON.”  Yeoman, however, did not stop there.  He added a nota bene that further linked him to artisans on the other side of the Atlantic, noting that he would “undertake to make Clocks for Churches, or Gentlemens Turrets, on an entire new Plan, practised by very few in ENGLAND, and those esteemed the best Mechanicks in Europe.” At the same time that Yeoman was advertising in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, John Simnet, “original maker from London,” inserted advertisements in the New-York Journal.  Simnet did not expound on his connections to London in any greater detail, while Yeoman made greater effort in his attempt to guide prospective customers to the conclusion that he did indeed possess greater skill due to his origins.  If only the “best Mechanicks in Europe” were capable of making clocks according to this “new Plan,” then Yeoman must have been skilled indeed.  At least that was the impression he sought to give in the nota bene that concluded his advertisement.  Anxious that describing himself as “FROM LONDON” did not sufficiently distinguish him from other clock- and watchmakers, Yeoman made his case for consumers in New York.

August 23

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

Aug 23 - 8:23:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 23, 1770).

“WATCHES REPAIR’D by J. SIMNETT.”

Near the end of the summer of 1770, watchmaker John Simnet went quiet in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In late June and early July, he placed a series of advertisements attacking his competitor and rival Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith.  That other watchmaker sometimes responded to Simnet’s taunts in the public prints, but he chose to leave the most recent tirade unanswered.  It seemed that Simnet had the last word in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

A very public feud that played out in a series of advertisements over the course of a year and a half in the New-Hampshire Gazette came to an end when Simnet relocated to New York and began placing advertisements for his services there.  His first advertisement in his new city ran in the August 23, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  In the largest font that appeared anywhere in the issue (including the masthead) he called attention to the “WATCHES” that he “REPAIR’D in a perfect and durable manner, with expedition, at an easy expence, and kept in good order, for 2s6 sterling per year.”

Simnet also gave his current location and described himself as an “original maker from London,” attempting to take advantage of the cachet associated with training and working in the largest city in the empire.  He did not mention that he had not arrived directly from London but had instead spent the last eighteen months in New Hampshire, nor did he proclaim that his skills were superior to those of any of his competitors in New York.  He frequently made such pronouncements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, targeting watchmakers in that colony in particular.  If prospective customers wished to assume that Simnet was indeed more skilled because he was “an original maker from London,” they were free to do so, but perhaps the sharp-tongued Simnet had learned a lesson during his interactions with Griffith in New Hampshire and opted to cultivate a different persona in the public prints in New York.  Only time would tell.  After all, his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette initially took a neutral tone but became increasingly abusive toward another watchmaker over time.

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.