April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 7, 1769).

Garden Seeds.”

In this advertisement from the New-Hampshire Gazette, shopkeeper John Adams promoted garden seeds imported from London to potential customers. Customers throughout the colonies, including Virginia, purchased seeds from shopkeepers. According to Wesley Greene, a garden historian in the Landscape Department at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, “All of the stores in eighteenth-century Williamsburg offered vegetable seeds for sale, so there were certainly a number of fine gardens in town that were nost likely vegetable gardens.” Greene states that vegetables in those gardens were considered “luxuries rather than staples.” Vegetables were expensive, took a long time to grow, could only be grown in season, and did not last long. Colonists in Williamsburg who did have vegetable gardens showed off their higher status to their fellow colonists. As Greene explains, “In the eighteenth century, a gentleman made a statement about who he was by how his table was set. Vegetables such as Cauliflowers and Articholes conveyed an important merssage that guest were dining at the home of a person of taste and consequence.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In the spring of 1769, shopkeeper John Adams of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, aimed to supplement the livelihood he earned by selling “a general Assortment of English GOODS” at his shop on Queen Street by also peddling “a fresh Assortment of Garden-Seeds” imported from London. He likely was not the only purveyor of “Garden Seeds” in town, but he was the only local entrepreneur who devoted a lengthy advertisement to listing dozens of varieties of seeds.

Adams acknowledged that he had competition, especially from more than half a dozen women who advertised seeds for sale in the several newspapers published in Boston and distributed throughout the region. Four days before his advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Elizabeth Clark, Abigail Davidson, Lydia Dyar, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Susanna Renken, and Rebeckah Walker each published similar advertisements in the Boston-Gazette. That same day, Sarah Winsor placed an advertisement in Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette, as did Greenleaf and Renken. In an attempt to capture as much of the market as possible, the appropriately named Greenleaf also advertised in the Boston Evening-Post on that day. For some reason, Richard Draper circulated the Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Gazette a day later than usual that week. On April 7, the same day that Adams’s advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Anna Johnson and Bethiah Oliver added their voices to the chorus of seed sellers, accompanied by Clark and Greenleaf, with list of seeds in Draper’s newspapers.

As these lists of advertisers demonstrate, prospective customers interested in purchasing garden seeds had many options … and Adams knew it. To prevent competitors in Boston from infringing on his share of the market in Portsmouth and its environs, Adams proclaimed that he sold his seeds “at the same Rate … as those sold in Boston” even before he listed the many varieties on offer. In so doing, he cautioned local consumers that they did not need to send away for their garden seeds. Instead, he offered them the convenience of visiting his shop and enjoying the same prices they would encounter in Boston, saving time and hassle in the process.

March 30

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Massachusetts Gazette (March 30, 1769).

“WINE To be Sold by ROSANNA MOORE.”

Rosanna Moore advertised wine imported from other places around the Atlantic world, including Madeira, an island that lies about 450 miles off the western coast of Morocco. Wine, like many other goods, was a common import into the colonies. However, when colonists first came to Virgnia, they tried to make wine. According to Charles M. Holloway, “it was tobacco that made a market, but in the beginning wine looked more likely.” This was one of the contributing factors to the colony not doing well when it was first founded; the colonists could not trust the water source.” Holloway states that “settlers [were] often reduced to drinking from the wide muddy tidal stream, and … sometimes paid for the gamble with their lives.” Because of this, colonists relied on imported wines and they tried to make cider to replace wine. Eventually, the vineyards were actually profitable, but that would not be for a long time. Holloway gives a figure from 1768, a year before Moore’s advertisement: “Virginians exported to Britain a little more than thirteen tons of wine while importing 396,580 gallons of rum from overseas, and another 78,264 from other North American colonies.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

On many occasions Rosanna Moore would have been the only female entrepreneur advertising goods and services in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, but that was not the case in the March 30, 1769, edition. Three other women also inserted advertisements in that issue. Elizabeth Clark, Elizabeth Greenleaf, and Anna Johnson each listed the “Assortment of Garden Seeds” they imported from London and offered for sale at their shops in Boston. Their notices appeared in a single column, one after another, forming a block of advertisements placed by women, making their presence in the public prints difficult to overlook.

Throughout the late winter and early spring of 1769, female seed sellers advertised in most of the newspapers published in Boston. It was an annual ritual that contributed to a rhythm of advertising. Just as advertisements for almanacs tapered off, a sign that the new year had come and gone, advertisements for garden seeds, the vast majority placed by women, began filling the pages of Boston’s newspapers. During the last week of March 1769, female seed sellers placed advertisements in all of the city’s newspapers except the Boston Chronicle. (Established within the past couple of years, the Chronicle had not cultivated the same volume of advertising as its competitors. All sorts of advertisers, including seed sellers, apparently preferred to pursue their marketing efforts in other publications.) Advertisements from Elizabeth Clark, Bethiah Oliver, Susanna Renken, and Elizabeth Greenleaf filled the entire final column on the last page of the Boston Evening-Post. Advertisements from Susanna Renken, Rebeckah Walker, Lydia Dyar, and Abigail Davidson appeared one after another in the Boston-Gazette, while Elizabeth Clark’s advertisement ran elsewhere on the same page. In Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette (published on the same broadsheet as the Boston Post-Boy), Sarah Winsor, Susanna Renken, Anna Johnson, and Elizabeth Greenleaf occupied almost an entire column with their advertisements for imported seeds.

The merchandise offered by these female seed sellers differed from the “OLD Sterling MADEIRA … and other WINES” hawked by Moore. Renken, who noted in some of her advertisements that she had “a Box of China Ware to sell,” was the only one of those female seed sellers who regularly advertised other sorts of wares throughout the rest of the year. Although female shopkeepers comprised a significant minority of shopkeepers in port cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, they did not advertise in proportion to their numbers. Female seed sellers appear to have been the exception. Perhaps the occupation became so feminized as to outweigh any concerns about trumpeting their presence in the marketplace as suppliers rather than consumers. Even as competitors, Clark, Davidson, Dyar, Greenleaf, Johnson, Oliver, Renken, and Walker participated in a common venture when they advertised seeds in Boston’s newspapers. Rosanna Moore, the lone female entrepreneur advertising anything other than seeds in late March 1769, remained an outlier.

February 20

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

Boston-Gazette (February 20, 1769).

“To be sold by Lydia Dyar … A Variety of sundry Garden Seeds.”

It was a sign of spring, even though the season would not arrive for another month. Lydia Dyar placed an advertisement for “A Variety of sundry Garden Seeds” in the February 20, 1769, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In so doing, Dyar was one of the first advertisers to participate in an annual ritual. Just as the first appearances of advertisements for almanacs marked the arrival of fall, advertisements for garden seeds heralded spring, especially in newspapers published in Boston.

Dyar was one of several seed sellers who annually inserted advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and other local newspapers. Just a few days after her notice ran, Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Greenleaf both placed advertisements for seeds in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. Over time many others who sold seeds, the overwhelming majority of them women, would join Clark, Greenleaf, and Dyar on the pages of the public prints. Each tended to advertise in multiple newspapers, presenting colonists with an image of a feminized occupational group. Compared to their male counterparts, relative few women who were purveyors of goods placed advertisements to promote their commercial activities. That made the simultaneous appearance of half a dozen or more advertisements by female seed sellers in a single issue of a newspaper particularly noticeable.

Compositors contributed to the enhanced visibility of those advertisements, often placing them together such that they filled entire columns or sometimes the smaller sheets issued as supplements to standard issues. Printers and compositors rarely organized advertisements by category; usually they did not impose any sort of classification system, yet advertisements for seeds were an exception. They tended to place those notices together, presenting readers with advertisement after advertisement that featured women’s names in larger font as the headlines. Most of these women rarely advertised other goods or services during the rest of the year, but for a couple of months in late winter and early spring they asserted a noteworthy presence in the pages of Boston’s newspapers.

March 15

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

Mar 15 - 3:15:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 15, 1768).

“A fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.”

James McCall stocked and sold a variety of imported merchandise “at his store in Tradd-street” in Charleston. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he attempted to incited demand for his wares by placing an advertisement that listed many of them in a dense paragraph, everything from “neat Wilton carpeting” to “shot of all sizes” to “coffee and chocolate.” His inventory included groceries, clothing, housewares, and much more.

For the most part McCall did not make special efforts to promote any particular items, with one exception. Deploying typography strategically, he did draw attention to his “fresh assortment of GARDEN SEEDS, pease, beans and flower-roots.” Very few words in his advertisement appeared in all capital letters; most of those that did were names: his own name that served as a headline, the name of the ship and captain that transported the goods, and the name of the English port of departure. In the main body of the advertisement, the list of items for sale, the first word appeared in all capitals, as was the convention for all advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Otherwise, the words “GARDEN SEEDS” about midway through the list of goods were the only words in all capitals in the body of McCall’s notice.

Although advertisers usually wrote copy and left it to compositors to determine the graphic design elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, deviations from the standard appearance of notices within particular publications suggest that advertisers could and did sometimes request specific typography for certain aspects of their notices. Such appears to have been the case for McCall’s advertisement since the compositor would have had little reason to randomly set “GARDEN SEEDS” in all capitals. On the other hand, McCall had particular interest in drawing attention to such seasonal merchandise. In other advertisements, he developed a habit for singling out a specific item to promote to prospective customers. For instance, the previous August he included “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE” in a list-style advertisement that did not feature any other items in all capitals.

McCall could have chosen to highlight these items by listing them first or writing a separate nota bene to append to his advertisements. Instead, he opted to experiment with variations in typography to accentuate his “GARDEN SEEDS” and “CHOICE DOUBLE GLOSTER CHEESE.” Although rudimentary compared to modern understandings of graphic design, his choices indicate some level of understanding that the appearance on the page could be just as effective as the copy when it came to delivering advertising content to consumers.