July 8

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

Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer (July 8, 1773).

“He has obtained a certificate from the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

Readers of Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer likely noticed the image that adorned John Burchett’s advertisement in the July 8, 1773, edition.  After all, it was the only image featured throughout the issue, with the exception of a woodcut depicting a ship at sea that appeared in the masthead.  Burchett, a “STAY and RIDING HABIT-MAKER” who kept shop “at the Sign of the Crown and Stays,” led his advertisement with a woodcut that replicated that sign.

Yet Burchett did not rely on the image alone to market his goods and services.  Instead, he incorporated other appeals in his efforts to convince prospective customers to purchase stays from him.  For instance, he invoked his origins and previous experience, describing himself as “From LONDON and PARIS.”  Like others in the garment trades, Burchett suggested to consumers that they would derive additional cachet from hiring someone with connections to such cosmopolitan cities.  Most tailors, milliners, and staymakers who migrated across the Atlantic could claim roots in only one of those capitals of fashion and gentility, yet Burchett asserted ties to both.  He especially emphasized the recognition he gained in London, informing prospective customers that “he has obtained a certificate form the Queen’s Stay-Maker in London.”

That testified to the taste and quality associated with stays made by Burchett.  For those concerned about price, he declared that he “has also a good number of ready made stays of the best quality, cheaper than can be imported.”  He even gave prices so prospective customers could assess the bargains for themselves without having to visit his shop.  In addition, he proposed a payment plan meant to encourage consumers to select him over his competitors.  The staymaker pledged that “any lady who shall employ him” could pay “half cash … and the rest in dry goods.”  That put him in a position to barter with female shopkeepers and the wives and daughters of merchants and shopkeepers.

Burchett did not merely announce that he made and sold stays and then hope that customers would visit his shop at the Sign of the Crown and Stays.  Instead, he deployed an image that corresponded to the sign associated with his business as an invitation to peruse a lively narrative that included a variety of marketing strategies.  He commented on fashion and price while emphasizing his experience working in London and Paris and alternatives to paying with cash or credit.  As a result of such attention to so many aspects of his business, prospective customers could trust that the staymaker would indeed “use all possible endeavours to merit their interest.”

July 3

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

Providence Gazette (July 3, 1773).

“Watch and Clockmaker, from Paris, but late from New-Orleans.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers testified to the migration of artisans from place to place in the Atlantic World in the eighteenth century.  As they sought to earn their livelihoods in new locations, some artisans introduced themselves to prospective customers with newspaper notices.  These newcomers had not yet established their reputations in the cities and towns where they settled, so they used advertising as a means of assuring consumers of the quality of their work if given a chance.  As part of those efforts, they listed their origins in hopes that prospective customers would associate some sort of cachet with London, Paris, and other European cities.  Some even continued to make reference to their origins long after they set up shop in the colonies.

Consider two advertisements that appeared in the July 3, 1773, edition of the Providence Gazette.  In the first, Lambert Lescoiet pledged that he made and repaired watches and clocks “in the best Manner, and doubts not of giving entire Satisfaction to such as may please to employ him.”  Having recently arrived in Providence, he had not yet established a reputation or cultivated a clientele.  In the absence of the community’s familiarity with him and his work, he hoped that introducing himself as a “Watch and Clockmaker, from Paris, but late from New-Orleans,” would suggest to readers that he did indeed possess the skills to “giv[e] entire Satisfaction” to his customers.  He also attempted to excite some curiosity and even bragging rights among colonizers who availed themselves of the services of the clockmaker “from Paris, but late from New-Orleans.”

In the other advertisement, John Sebring continued promoting himself as a “Saddler, Chaise and Harness-Maker, from London” who made saddles and accessories “in the newest Fashion, and in the neatest Manner.”  He likely hoped that prominently displaying his origins suggested that he maintained connections to London and possessed special insight into the latest fashions in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire, even though he had been working in Providence for eight months.  In that time, his previous advertisement in which he declared that he “has had the Advantage of several Years Experience in some of the principal Shops in London” may have helped in attracting clients.  In his latest advertisement, he expressed “his Thanks to all those who have obliged him with their Custom, and hopes for a Continuance of their Favours.”  In so doing, he signaled to prospective clients that their peers already trusted him to supply their saddles and accessories.

Like many other artisans who advertised in colonial newspapers, both Lescoiet and Sebring hoped that invoking their origins from metropolitan places, like Paris and London, would serve as recommendations to prospective customers.  As newcomers who had not yet established their reputations in Providence, they made reference to their origins as one means of inciting interest among local consumers.

December 12

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (December 12, 1772).

“He has had the Pleasure of pleasing some of the most respectable Gentlemen in London.”

John Marie, a tailor, wanted the better sort to know that he was well qualified to serve them at the shop he ran out of his house in Gray’s Alley in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the December 12, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he introduced himself as a “TAYLOR, from PARIS.”  He intended that his connection to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe, a city where the fashionable often set tastes adopted in London, the most cosmopolitan city in the British Empire, would recommend him to genteel consumers in the largest and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the colonies.  He made clear that he sought a particular kind of client by addressing “the Gentry and Public.”  Consumers and tailor would mutually benefit from their association as Marie enhanced the appearances of his clients and those clients gained the cachet of being dressed by a French tailor.

To demonstrate that he was prepared to work with the local gentry, Marie heralded his previous experience.  The tailor proclaimed that he “has had the Pleasure of pleasing some of the most respectable Gentlemen in London,” though he was too discreet to mention names.  That he served “respectable Gentlemen” suggested that he kept them outfitted according to the latest styles but did not resort to anything too frivolous or outrageous.  Prospective clients could depend on him dressing them well without transforming them into the macaronis who were the target of so much derision in both London and Philadelphia in the 1770s.  In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman explains that the term macaroni “applied to elaborately powdered, ruffled, and corseted men of fashion” whose “suits were opulent and closely cut, with incredibly slim silhouettes.”[1]  A series of prints published in London depicted all sorts of men, “from farmers to barristers,” as macaronis.  Thus, Haulman argues, “macaroni could apply to any man who followed fashion to ape high status.”[2]  Marie suggested that he did not seek to serve such pretenders.  The gentry in Philadelphia could depend on him to dress them as “respectable Gentlemen,” just as he had done for his clients in London.

Print depicting a macaroni and his perplexed father. “What is this my Son Tom” (London: R. Sayer and J. Bennett, 1774). Courtesy Library of Congress.

[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 635

[2] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 636.

January 26

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

New-York Journal (January 23, 1772).

“The newest and neatest manner, either in the French or English taste.”

When John Burcket, a “Stay and Riding Habit-maker,” arrived in New York, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to offer his services to the “ladies of this city.”  Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, he informed prospective clients where he had previously lived and worked, hoping to bolster his reputation among those who had not yet had an opportunity to examine the garments that he made.

In Burcket’s case, he proclaimed that he “lately arrived from London and Paris,” but did not mention where he had been most recently or how long he spent in either city.  What mattered more to him (and what he hoped mattered more to the ladies that he hoped to entice to his shop) was that his connections to two such cosmopolitan cities gave him greater knowledge of the current tastes and styles in both of them.  Burcket proclaimed that made stays (or corsets) and riding habits “in the newest and neatest manner, either in the French or English taste.”  This signaled that he did more than merely produce the garments; he also served as a guide for his clients, keeping them up to date on the latest trends and giving them advice.

Burcket buttressed such appeals with other promises intended to draw prospective clients into his shop.  He pledged that they “may depend on being punctually served.”  In addition to such customer service, Burcket aimed to achieve “utmost satisfaction” among his clients, hoping that “meriting their esteem” would lead to word-of-mouth recommendations.  He was also conscious of the prices he set, stating that he made and sold stays and riding habits “as cheap as can be imported.”  His clients did not have to pay a premium for consultations with an artisan “lately arrived from London and Paris.”  Even as he incorporated several marketing strategies into his notice, he made his connections to those cities the centerpiece of his introduction to the ladies of New York.

November 8

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 8, 1770).

“Experience has taught him to cut hair according to art.”

Lewis Fay, a “Periwig Maker and Hair Dresser,” offered his services to the residents of Philadelphia, especially “the Ladies,” in an advertisement in the November 8, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  His message to prospective clients was as elaborate as some of the styles that he created.  As a newcomer in the city, he aimed for his advertisement to help establish his reputation.

To that end, he first informed readers that he was “From Paris,” perhaps the most cosmopolitan center of fashion on either side of the Atlantic.  Hiring his services, he suggested, came with some extra cachet.  Thanks to his Parisian origins, he was familiar with the “newest fashion” and had gained the experience “to cut hair according to art.”  Fay proclaimed that he “can dress Ladies in fifty different manners with their own natural hair,” but for those “who have not sufficient hair” he could outfit them “with false curls so well as not to be distinguished from their natural ones.”  He did so with such skill that others would not be able to recognize those “false curls” even “by the nearest inspection.”  He also accepted male clients, stating that he “dresses also Gentlemen’s hair in thirty fashionable and different manners, agreeable to their faces and airs.”  Fay apparently offered advice, consulting with his clients about which styles indeed suited their physical features and the impressions they wished to make on others.  The hairdresser also provided ancillary services, including cutting children’s hair “at a reasonable rate” and selling products like “Pomatum, which changes the red and grey hair into black.”

Although he was new in town, Fay anticipated running a thriving shop in Strawberry Alley.  Expecting that his services would certainly be in demand, the French hairdresser instructed ladies who would “favour him with their commands” to make appointments at least a day in advance.  Otherwise, they might end up being “disappointed” due to “previous engagements” that would prevent Fay from dressing their hair.  He sought to incite demand for his services through puffery that emphasized his origins and skills while lending the impression that his services were already popular among genteel ladies in the city.

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.