July 15

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

Boston Evening-Post (July 15, 1771).

“Buy worth a Dollar, when you come, / And you may drink a Glass of Rum.”

Lydia Learned received some free advertising in the July 15, 1771, edition of the Boston Evening-Post.  She distributed a handbill that listed a variety of items available at her shop “Near the Sign of the Punch-Bowl” in Brookline.  Intrigued by the advertisement, Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post, inserted it in its entirety along with a note advising, “The following advertisement, copied from one in the Punch Bowl Tavern in Brookline, we publish for the Amusement of out Poetical Readers.”  Indeed, the poetry, not the assortment of goods offered for sale, attracted their attention.  Few advertisers attempted to transform their inventory into poetry in newspaper notices or on broadsides and handbills, helping to make Learned’s advertisement more memorable.

Her poetry featured three stanzas of four lines each, the second and fourth lines rhyming.  Learned devoted the first stanza entirely to her wares:  “FLOUR, Raisons, Rice, Molosses, Spice, / Good Indigo and Wire, / Knives[,] Combs, Fish-hooks, Verses and Books, / And Paper by the Quire.”  In the remaining stanzas, she used the final line to make appeals to prospective customers.  In the second, for instance, she listed “Sugar[,] Bisket and Chocolate, / Tinn, Glass and Earthen-ware, / Pins, Needles[,] Thread and Ginger-bread, / As good as any where.”  Her shop may have been humble compared to the larger enterprises operated by other entrepreneurs, but Learned assured prospective customers that the size of her business did not negatively affect the quality of her merchandise.  In the final stanza, she offered an additional incentive to shoppers.  “Salt, Allum, Coffee, Tea, and Snuff, / Crown-Soap and Candles, cheap enough / Buy worth a Dollar when you come, / And you may drink a glass of RUM.”  Perhaps the nip of alcohol as much as the poetry amused the Fleets and convinced them to reprint Learned’s handbill in their newspapers.

Learned was not the only entrepreneur to have the text from a trade card or billhead also printed in an eighteenth-century newspaper.  On May 5, 1768, Mary Symonds, a milliner in Philadelphia, ran a lengthy advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In it, she listed dozens of items among her inventory.  She also distributed a trade card that reiterated, with minor variations, the text from the newspaper advertisement.  In October and November 1770, she recorded a receipted bill for items purchased by the Cadwalader family on the reverse, suggesting that Symonds kept her trade card in circulation for some time.

Symonds seems to have made a more intentional effort than Learned when it came to deploying advertisements in multiple formats.  All the same, Learned demonstrated creativity in devising a billhead that distinguished her business from her competitors.  If prospective customers did not appreciate the poetry, then the promise of a glass of rum offered as a premium for making a purchase may have convinced them to check out her merchandise.

Lydia Learned, Trade Card, ca. 1771. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

December 27

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

Dec 27 - 12:27:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 27, 1769).

“One of Mrs. Stoke’s hand bills relating to her boarding school in Charlestown.”

Newspaper notices accounted for the vast majority of advertisements that circulated in eighteenth-century America, yet they were not the only form of marketing familiar in the colonies or the new nation. Advertisers distributed a variety of other media, including broadsides, trade cards, billheads, catalogs, magazine wrappers, subscription notices, furniture labels, and handbills. Even more ephemeral than newspapers, relatively few of these items survive today. Those that are extant testify to a vibrant landscape of advertising in early America.

In some cases, newspaper notices alluded to other advertisements, providing a more complete story of their production and circulation in eighteenth-century America. For instance, printers, booksellers, auctioneers, and others sometimes noted in their advertisements that they provided free catalogs to prospective customers who wished to learn more about their inventory. Sometimes newspaper notices placed for purposes other than marketing consumer goods and services mentioned advertisements distributed via other media.

Such was the case in a notice that ran in the December 27, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Lewis Johnson informed the public that several certificates and bills had been “STOLEN out of a desk in [his] house.” Je offered a reward to “whoever will give any information of the thief.” To help anyone who might come in contact with the culprit identify the stolen bills, Johnson reported that the “money was put up on one of Mrs. Stokes’s hand bills relating to her boarding school in Charlestown.” That single sentence, embedded in a newspaper advertisement about a theft, revealed quite a bit about another advertisement that circulated separately. Not only had a schoolmistress in Charleston, South Carolina, hired a printer to produce handbills about her boarding school, at least one of those handbills found its way to Savannah, Georgia. Whether or not he had any interest in Stokes’s school, Johnson held onto the handbill, adapting it to his own purposes when he used it as a folder to contain his certificates and bills. A significant proportion of eighteenth-century advertising ephemera in the collections of research libraries and historical societies have been preserved among family papers related to finances and household management. This suggests that advertising was integrated into the everyday lives of early Americans. In this instance, Johnson encountered Stokes’s handbill regularly as he saw to his own finances (before the theft), while readers of the Georgia Gazette saw references to an advertisement that many might have also seen circulating elsewhere.