July 23

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

Essex Gazette (July 23, 1771).

“Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield, deceased.”

Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, inserted several of his own notices in the July 23, 1771, edition, interspersing them among other advertisements.  In so doing, he promoted additional revenue streams and filled space that could have been devoted to other content.  Like many printers, he offered “CASH … for RAGS” to use in making paper.  Most of his notices were fairly short, but he devoted two longer advertisements to “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT of Stationary” and “A general Assortment of Blanks” or printed forms for legal and financial transactions.  Most of his other notices featured books, including one for “Dr. Watts’s young Child’s first Catechism” and another for “A Set of Dean Swift’s Works, neatly bound.”  Hall also stocked “Rev. Dr. Pemberton’s Sermon at the Ordination of the Rev. Mr. Story” and “The Lawfulness, Excellency and Advantage of INSTRUMENTAL MUSICK in the Publick Worship of GOD.”  When it came to individual titles, Hall primarily focused on religious works, yet that was not the only way that the printer engaged religion in his marketing.

Hall inserted one additional advertisement that hawked an item less commonly included among the notices placed by printers.  “Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield, deceased, to be sold at the Printing-Office in Salem,” he advised readers.  That medal commemorated George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  Whitefield died at Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770, less than a year earlier.  Almost immediately following the minister’s death, printers and others began marketing commemorative items, mostly books, pamphlets, and broadsides.  Hall first informed the public that he would soon offer medals on May 14.  More than two months later, he apparently still had some on hand and reminded prospective customers that they could honor Whitefield by purchasing medals that bore his likeness.  Like others who sold commemorative items, Hall provided an opportunity for colonists to mourn the minister through acts of consumption.  The medals the printer advertised not only memorialized Whitefield but also transformed him into a commodity following his death.  However sincere Hall’s regard for the minister may have been, he also aimed to generate revenues in the wake of his death.

May 14

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

Essex Gazette (May 14, 1771).

“Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield.”

George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  Newspapers in Boston published the news the following day.  Newspapers in other colonies reprinted those accounts as soon as they came to hand.  Almost as quickly, printers, booksellers, and others inserted advertisements for various commemorative items, including funeral sermons, poems in memory of the minister, and works written by Whitefield.  Once vessels crossing the Atlantic delivered the news to England and returned to the colonies, printers advertised even more Whitefield memorabilia, including his last will and testament and the sermon John Wesley preached in his memory.  As broadsides, pamphlets, and books, the simultaneous commemoration and commodification of Whitefield took place via print.

Yet that commemoration and commodification was not confined to print.  Advertisers also marketed “Medals of the Rev. G. Whitefield.”  Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, was the first to do so, inserting a brief notice in the May 14, 1771, edition of his newspaper.  Hall did not elaborate on the medals, stating only that they “may be had at the Printing-Office next Thursday or Friday.”  He did not mention the images or inscriptions that appeared on either side, nor did he specify the artist or place of production.  Artists produced several medals on the occasion of Whitefield’s death, many of them dated to 1770, but Hall did not indicate which medals consumers could purchase at his printing office.  Given his experience marketing other commemorative items, he may not have considered it necessary to provide elaborate descriptions of the medals in newspaper advertisements, especially if those other items met brisk demand among consumers who wished to mourn the famous minister through acquiring goods associated with him.  Many months after Whitefield’s death attracted notice throughout the colonies, new commemorative items continued to hit the market.  One of the most significant news events of 1770 continued to receive attention in the public prints as advertisers hawked a variety of Whitefield memorabilia.