August 10

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

Providence Gazette (August 10, 1771).

“CHARLES STEVENS … informs the Public, particularly his old Customers, that he has removed to BROAD-STREET.”

When Charles Stevens, a goldsmith and jeweler, moved to a new location in the summer of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  He intended his notice for “the Public,” but “particularly his old Customers.” Making this distinction served more than one purpose.  First, it was a courtesy to existing clients unaware that Stevens changed location.  In addition, it suggested to prospective new customers that the goldsmith and jeweler had already cultivated a clientele.  Some may have been more likely to engage his services once reassured others previously hired him.  Prior demand helped incite new demand.  In general, Stevens sought the “Favours of the Public,” whether former customers or new, at his shop on Broad Street.

To that end, he proclaimed that he “carries on his Business in all its Branches, as usual.”  This testified to his knowledge of his craft, signaling that he possessed the necessary skill and knowledge to complete any commission presented to him.  Appending “as usual” once again testified to his experience.  Although he opened a shop at a new location, Stevens was not new to his trade.  Beyond the usual services that consumers expected of goldsmiths and jewelers, Stevens also repaired porcelain.  In a nota bene, he declared, “Cracked and broken China riveted in the neatest Manner.”  As many artisans did in their advertisements, Stevens offered ancillary services that produced additional revenues.  He may have also hoped that getting clients to visit his shop for one purpose would lead to subsequent visits for others, provided they had positive experiences the first time.

Stevens’s short advertisement consisted entirely of text, much different from modern jewelry advertisements that dazzle prospective customers with images of the merchandise.  Given the technology and standard marketing practices in the eighteenth century, Stevens packed multiple messages intended to resonate with consumers into a short newspaper notice.

August 1

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 1, 1771).

At the GOLDEN LION.”

In the early 1770s, John Carnan, a goldsmith and jeweler, ran a shop at the corner of Second and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.  He promoted his “GOLD, SILVER and JEWELLERY WORK” in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette, assuring prospective customers that he made his wares “in the best and newest taste.”  Like many other purveyors of goods, he provided an overview of his inventory in a dense paragraph of text.  Carnan listed everything from “TANKARDS, cans, tea, coffee and cream pots” to “gold, silver, gilt, enamelled, Scotch pebble, moco, chrystal, paste and glass sleeve buttons” to “silver and enamelled snuff-boxes [and] silver mounted decanter corks.”  In addition, he offered customers the opportunity to select among “sundry other articles, too tedious to mention.”  In terms of advertising copy, Carnan’s notice very much resembled others placed by purveyors of goods and services in Philadelphia and other American towns and cities.

The woodcut that adorned Carnan’s advertisement, however, distinguished it from others.  Carnan marked his location with a sign depicting a golden lion.  A woodcut that also depicted a lion appeared in the upper left corner of his advertisement.  (Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project will likely recognize this lion as the image that has appeared on its home page since its inception.)  The woodcut in the advertisement may have replicated Carnan’s shop sign, serving as a logo or brand that identified his business.  Even if the woodcut did not resemble the sign, incorporating an image of a lion likely helped consumers associate the regal animal with the goldsmith and jeweler, making his shop all the more memorable.  Unlike the woodcuts depicting ships at sea, the only other images in the August 1, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette beyond the masthead, the woodcut of the lion belonged to the advertiser rather than the printer.  Carnan invested in an image reserved for his sole use.  Over time, he included the image in other advertisements, providing consistency via the image even as he generated new copy for his notices.  Inserting the same woodcut in multiple advertisements also allowed him a greater return on his investment.  Not every advertiser who commissioned unique woodcuts used them more than once.  Carnan, however, recognized the potential for enhancing his marketing efforts with an image that represented his business and attracted attention among prospective customers.

January 4

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

Connecticut Journal (January 4, 1770).

“Stop the Felons!”

Although colonial newspapers carried stories about a variety of events, much of the crime reporting appeared among the advertisements.  Rather than printers, editors, and others affiliated with newspapers writing those accounts or selecting them to reprint from publication to another, the victims of crimes composed the narratives and paid to insert them in the public prints.  This was especially true in instances of theft.

Consider a burglary that took place in late December in 1770.  Joseph Hopkins, a goldsmith, placed an advertisement in the January 4, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal.  The dramatic headline proclaimed, “Stop the Felons!”  Hopkins explained that his shop “was broke up” sometime during the night of December 27.  The “Felons” stole “sundry Pair of Stone Ear Rings, one Pair Stone Buttons, one Pair Gold [Buttons], and one Gold Ring.”  The thieves also took some cash and “likely some other Articles of Goldsmith’s Ware.”  Hopkins identified a suspect, Richard Steele, though he did not venture a guess about Steele’s partner.  The goldsmith imagined that Steele was the culprit because he had been “lately punished for breaking open Mr. Marks’s House in Derby.”  According to Hopkins, Steele bore the marks of having been punished for that crime and possibly others.  He had “both Ears crop’d” in addition to being “branded twice in the Forehead.”  The goldsmith offered a reward for apprehending either Steele or his accomplice.

The same day that Hopkins advertisement first ran in the Connecticut Journal, another advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette also reported a crime.  “THIEVES,” the headline alerted readers, before listing a variety of items stolen from Isaac Hill’s shop in Dover on December 14.  Hill did not name any suspects, but he did offer a reward to “Whoever will discover” them “so that they may be brought to Justice.”  Not every issue of every colonial newspaper carried similar advertisements, but they were so common that they did not seem out of place when readers encountered them.  The victims of crimes, especially thefts, played an important role in producing newspaper coverage.  As a result, their advertisements often reported news, supplementing the articles and editorials that appeared elsewhere in newspapers.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 7, 1770).

“Mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city.”

Upon the occasion of moving to a new location, jeweler and goldsmith James Bennet placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He informed former and prospective customers that he no longer ran a shop on Maiden Lane.  Instead, the “public in general” could find him at his new shop at “the house next to Mr. Peter Goelet’s, the sign of the Golden Key, near the Old-Slip Market, Hanover-Square.”  In an era before standardized street numbers, Bennett provided plenty of landmarks to help customers find his new location.

He opened his advertisement by expressing appreciation for “those ladies and gentlemen who have been so kind as to favour him with their custom.”  He hoped that they would continue as customers.  Acknowledging their prior support for his business also alerted prospective new customers that even though he set up shop at a new location this was not a new endeavor.  Bennett already had experience pursuing his trade in New York.  In thanking former customers, he also sought to demonstrate demand for his services among readers who had not yet visited his shop at any location.

To further capture their interest, he briefly described his services, stating that he continued “to make, mend, [and] sell … all sorts of jewellery and goldsmith’s work.”  He embellished that rather plain overview with a much more enticing offer, claiming that he “makes mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city, and with the greatest expedition.” An advertisement for a jeweler and goldsmith moving from one location to another was pretty standard fare among the notices that ran in colonial newspapers.  A declaration about the lowest prices possible for a popular piece of jewelry, on the other hand, challenged consumers to visit his shop to see for themselves.  If that managed to get customers through the door, it gave Bennett opportunities to secure other sales.  Even if readers were skeptical of his claim, they could not know for certain unless they investigated on their own.  Rather than merely announce that he moved to a new location, Bennett enticed prospective customers with a bold claim intended to grab their attention.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 25, 1769).

“Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.”

Even though he operated a shop in the relatively small town of New London, goldsmith and jeweler Robert Douglass, Jr., sought to convince prospective customers that he provided goods and services that rivaled those offered by his counterparts in larger cities. In an advertisement inserted in the August 25, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette, he emphasized that he “makes and sells all Kinds of Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Work, as cheap as can be bought in Boston or New-York.” Prospective customers did not need to send away to shops in those busy ports to find good deals, nor did they need to suspect that Douglass engaged in price gouging as a result of being some distance from urban centers with greater numbers of goldsmiths and jewelers who kept down their prices as they competed with each other.

In addition to making an appeal to price, Douglass pledged that “Whoever will please to favour [him] with their Custom, may depend on having their Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.” Prospective customers also did not have to fret that they sacrificed quality when they chose to deal with a local goldsmith and jeweler. Douglass positioned his skills and expertise in direct competition with his counterparts in Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and even Boston. Having invoked New York when it came to price, he also implied that his work rivaled that done by goldsmiths and jewelers there.

To further entice prospective clients to visit his shop, Douglass introduced a new employee. James Watson, “who makes and repairs all Kinds of Clocks and Watches in the neatest and best Manner,” had just arrived from London. His presence in Douglass’s shop linked it to the most cosmopolitan city in the British Empire. Local customers did not have to worry that they had settled for what was available when they visited Douglass’s shop. Instead, the goldsmith and jeweler suggested, they patronized an establishment on par with those in the largest cities in the colonies and even the metropolis of London. Despite ongoing disputes over the Townshend Acts, many colonial consumers still looked to London as a center of taste and gentility.

Douglass incorporated several common marketing strategies in his advertisement: price, quality, and connections to the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. He adapted each appeal to address anxieties about hiring a goldsmith and jeweler located in a small town, assuring prospective customers that the goods and services from his shop matched those from other shops in larger towns and cities. Local customers did not need to look beyond New London to discover remarkable value when they wished to hire a goldsmith, jeweler, or watchmaker.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 6, 1769).

Goldsmith and Jeweller, AT the Sign of the Gold Cup.”

Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, John Andrew noted the proximity of a landmark to his shop when directing prospective customers to his location. In an advertisement that ran in the Essex Gazette on June 6, 1769, Andrew informed readers that they could find his shop “near the Long-Wharf-Lane” in Salem. Yet he did not rely solely on landmarks and street names to identify his business. Andrew also declared that customers could seek him out at “the Sign of the Gold Cup.” A goldsmith and jeweler, Andrew selected a device that resonated with his occupation to mark his location.

Andrew’s advertisement testifies to an element of the visual landscape that residents and visitors alike encountered in Salem and other towns on the eve of the American Revolution. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others posted signs to identify where they did business. Often these signs featured images that became associated with both entrepreneurs and locations. In Andrew’s case, the “Sign of the Gold Cup” was appropriate for an artisan who “makes all Sorts of Goldsmith’s and Jewellery Ware,” yet others who followed different occupations most likely also made reference to that sign when giving directions. Advertisements from newspapers published in several cities reveal that even when they did not invest in signs themselves, colonists made use of signs posted by others to give directions. In addition to marking the locations of particular businesses, shop signs served as landmarks for navigating the vicinity. Just as Andrew stated that his shop was near Long Wharf Lane, advertisers sometimes invoked nearby signs erected by others as features that would aid prospective customers in finding their shops. Given the frequency that this occurred in newspaper advertisements, colonists likely adopted such strategies in conversation just as regularly. Useful not only for commerce, shop signs aided everyday navigation of the lanes, streets, and alleys in colonial cities and towns.

May 4

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

May 4 - 5:4:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 4, 1768).

“They intend carrying on their business in all its branches, as they have brought proper tools for that purpose.”

According to an advertisement they placed in the May 4, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, William Sime and Jacob Moses had recently arrived in Savannah and planned to open their own shop in the small port city. They described themselves as “Goldsmith and Jewelers, from LONDON,” but did not indicate if they had migrated directly from the largest city in the empire or if they had practiced their trades in other cities before arriving in Georgia.  For the purposes of marketing their services, establishing a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the British Atlantic world mattered most.  It implied skill that arose from training and experience as well as familiarity with the most popular fashions.

Sime and Moses informed prospective customers that they were prepared for “carrying on their business in all its branches.”  They had “brought proper tools for that purpose” when they moved to Savannah. That they considered it necessary to make this point in their brief advertisement suggests that they anticipated potential clients might be concerned not only about their skill but also whether they possessed the necessary implements to follow through on their pledge of “having their work executed in the neatest manner,” a standard appeal made by artisans of all sorts throughout the eighteenth century.

Many advertisements for consumer goods and services from the period appear indistinguishable at first glance, in part because many incorporated formulaic language to make many of the most common appeals to price, quality, fashion, or skill.  Sime and Moses merely reiterated some phrases used in countless other advertisements:  “in the neatest manner” and “at the shortest notice.”  Yet their notice was not completely unoriginal. Although artisans frequently trumpeted their skill and the quality of their work, very few made reference to the set of specific tools they needed to pursue their craft “in all its branches.” Sime and Moses adapted other advertisements to suit their purposes by adding unique content specific to their trade and their personal circumstances.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 7, 1767).

“If any such Piece should break, he will mend the same Gratis.”

For many eighteenth-century artisans, making a living depended in part on establishing a creditable reputation, both for fair dealing and for skilled craftsmanship. Thomas You, a goldsmith in Charleston, devoted most of his advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to cultivating and maintaining his reputation, hoping to gain new clients as well as repeat business from previous patrons.

He reminded those who had employed him in the past of their “general Satisfaction” with his work, but he also suggested that this merited passing along “their kind Recommendation to others.” You did not believe that he could rely on word of mouth alone to promote his services to new clients; he apparently supposed that newspaper advertising could provoke word-of-mouth endorsements that would supplement notices in the public prints.

You also pursued another means of cultivating his reputation: he was so confident in the quality of his work that he offered a guarantee. “Any Piece of Plate worked up in his Shop,” the goldsmith pledged, “he will warrant as good as Sterling; and if any such Piece should break, he will mend the same Gratis.” In making this promise to fix defective work for free, You offered a blanket guarantee that covered not only the work done by his own hand but also any tasks undertaken by others who labored in his shop, whether journeymen, apprentices, or enslaved artisans.

You incorporated other appeals into his advertisement, including low prices and punctual service on orders sent by mail, but he saved those for after his endeavors to secure his reputation. He revealed what he thought was most important to his customers. Low prices or quick responses hardly mattered if they accompanied inferior work. The goldsmith first needed to establish the quality of his work, reflected in both his existing reputation and a guarantee on future jobs, in order to convince potential customers of the value of the other appeals he advanced.

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1767 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (April 27, 1767).

“I will work for the following prices.”

Charles Oliver Bruff, “Gold-smith and Jeweler,” was in a price war with “three different Silver-smiths” in New York. Bruff frequently advertised in the New-York Mercury, but he departed from his usual description of his merchandise and promises to provide good service to “the Gentlemen and Ladies of this city and country” to address a problem created by some of his competitors. He accused those “three different Silver-smiths” of undervaluing his work, making it seem as though he charged unreasonable prices.

To protect his reputation and avoid losing more business to his unscrupulous competitors, Bruff went to the rather extraordinary measure of listing his prices for the entire community to see, assess for themselves, and compare to the rates charged by other “Gentlemen of the trade.” He specified nine prices, including “For making a silver tankard, 3s. per ounce,” and “For making a soop-spoon, 20s.”

Bruff may not have been the innocent victim that he tried to portray himself. His initial prices may have been inflated, but he could not admit to that in his advertisement. Instead, he offered an alternate narrative that depicted his competitors as lacking in sound judgment when it came to assessing the quality of his work and the value of products in their trade more generally. At the same time, he lowered his own prices, seemingly forced to do so in order to continue to attract clients. As a result, new customers would receive quite a bargain since Bruff did not wish to “hurt myself for others” by charging full value for his workmanship only to be undercut by competitors. He concluded his advertisement by stating definitively that he would “work as cheap as any in this city.” Even if Bruff had overcharged in the past, intentionally or not, potential patrons need not worry about that happening if they now chose to deal with him.