What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
For several weeks in 1771, Nesbitt Deane promoted “HATS, MANUFACTURED by the Advertiser” in the New-York Journal. His advertisements concluded with “86—,” a notation intended for the compositor rather than readers. Most advertisements in the New-York Journal included two numbers, the first corresponding to the issue in which the advertisement first appeared and the other indicating the final issue for the advertisement. That allowed the compositor to quickly determine whether an advertisement belonged in the next issue when arranging notices and other content on the page in advance of going to press.
George Ball’s advertisement for “A Neat Assortment of CHINA, GLASS, STONE and DELPH WARES” in the same column as Nesbitt’s advertisement for hats in the July 18 edition, for instance, concluded with “88 91.” That signaled to the compositor that Ball’s advertisement first appeared in “NUMB. 1488” on July 11 and would continue through “NUMB. 1491” on August 1. That was the standard run, four issues, for many advertisements. According to the colophon, John Holt, the printer, charged “Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.” Many advertisers tended to pay for the minimum number of issues and then discontinued their notices. Others, like Jacobus Vanzandt and Son, arranged for their advertisements to appear for longer durations. Their notice for imported textiles, garments, and housewares in the column next to Nesbitt’s notice concluded with “79 87,” indicating that they specified that it should run for nine weeks.
Deane apparently did not select an end date when he initially placed his advertisement in “NUMB. 1486” on June 27. Instead, he opted to let it run indefinitely until he decided to remove it. The dash instead of a second number communicated to the compositor to continue inserting the advertisement until instructed otherwise, while the “86” aided in keeping the books. The printer did not need to consult previous editions when calculating how much Deane owed when he eventually stopped running his advertisement. Many, but not all, printers included similar notations in advertisements that appeared in American newspapers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Symonds describes the different materials and trimmings she sold, such as “a great variety of printed calicoes and cottons” and “A great variety of figured and plain ribbons” along with “sattins of different colours.” Unfortunately, I could not identify a lot of descriptive words, but I could tell that all those paragraphs were different trimmings, fabrics, and their descriptions.
In the 1760s all types of people – from the rich to the poor – wore hats. The difference, however, was the material and how much detail was put into them. Hats could be extremely detailed, depending on how much money the colonist could pay. Milliners could add ribbons and other trimmings like the ones in Symonds’ advertisement if customers so chose. Like today, how people dressed was a status symbol that was very important to American colonists. Whether her customers had enough money to wear a different hat every day or wore the same hat every day, they could keep Symonds in business for years to come.
I was curious about how hats in America and England looked in the 1760s. These paintings all show women with hats during the period.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
There’s so much going on in this advertisement that it’s hard to know where to begin. Indeed, an entire chapter or more could be devoted to teasing out the various aspects of this advertisement. As Elizabeth notes, average readers today do not recognize the various kinds of textiles and trimming that Symonds listed. Material culture specialists, on the other hand, have written entire books about the quality and characteristics, production and consumption, and social and cultural meanings of these fabrics and accoutrements.
Mary Symonds operated her shop in the same location as William Symonds, but this advertisement suggests that they operated their businesses independently of each other. Although William’s business appeared first in the advertisement, Mary’s list of wares comprised a significantly lengthier section. Mary also noted that she had once been in partnership with “her sister Ann Pearson,” a milliner who ran her own advertisements in Philadelphia’s newspapers. The two sisters ran a series of advertisements in previous weeks announcing that they were dissolving their partnership and dividing the merchandise in anticipation of running separate shops. Such advertisements help to demonstrate that some colonial women operated businesses independently or in partnership with other women. Male relations, including William Symonds, did not necessarily oversee women who acted as retailers.
There’s another reason I was excited when Elizabeth selected this advertisement. I’ve identified only a handful of eighteenth-century trade cards and billheads distributed by women. Mary Symonds is the only female advertiser from Philadelphia with a trade card still extant (as part of the Cadwalader Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Her trade card, listed a broad range of millinery supplies similar to what appeared in her newspaper advertisements, circulated in 1770 and perhaps even earlier. It included a border and her name in a rococo-style cartouche. Overall, it was less ornate than some of the trade cards distributed by male advertisers, but it was the most impressive trade card known to have been used by a female advertiser. It appears that Symonds took pride in her business and invested in it accordingly.
The copy at the HSP has been dated to 1770 because a receipted bill appears on the reverse. On five different occasions in October and November 1770, somebody – probably Symonds herself – recorded more than a dozen purchases made by “Mrs. Cadwalader” (including “White Gloves,” a “Lace Cap,” and several yards of satin and muslin) amounting to more than £20. This receipted bill indicates that Symonds “Recevd the Contents in full” on November 22, 1770.