April 17

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

Apr 17 - 4:11:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (April 11, 1768).

“Two young HORSES.”

Samuel Harnden placed an advertisement seeking to sell “two young HORSES” in the April 11, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy.  An image of a horse accompanied his advertisement, distinguishing it from most others.  More than thirty advertisements appeared in that issue, but only four featured images of any sort.  In addition to Harnden’s advertisement, a real estate notice included a woodcut of a house and two others concerning maritime trade and transportation incorporated woodcuts of ships.  Otherwise, the issue was devoid of visual images, with the exception of the masthead. A ship at sea and a post rider flanked the newspaper title at the top of the first page of each issue of the Boston Post-Boy.

Visual images constitute an important aspect of twenty-first-century media, in general, and advertising, in particular.  Printing technologies of the eighteenth century, however, made visual images in newspapers relatively rare.  In addition to their type, printers also had a limited number of stock images, woodcuts that could accompany some of the most common types of advertisements. Most of these generic images were represented in the April 11, 1768, edition of the Boston Post-Boy, but advertisements also frequently included woodcuts of slaves in addition to horses, houses, and ships.  Since they belonged to printers and could be used interchangeably for advertisements with the same purpose, such images were not associated with any particular advertisers.  However, some advertisers did invest in woodcuts that represented their businesses, often replicating their shop signs.  Compared to the stock images, significantly fewer paid notices had woodcuts commissioned by the advertiser.

Woodcuts were not the only way to introduce visual variation into eighteenth-century newspapers.  Printers typically possessed a variety of printing ornaments that could be deployed to add visual interest to the page, though the extent of ornamental printing varied from newspaper to newspaper.  The compositors in Green and Russell’s printing shop, for instance, did not tend to insert much ornamental printing into the pages of the Boston Post-Boy, but their counterparts in Edes and Gill’s shop used ornaments to separate news items and advertisements.  In the process, they presented a more sophisticated graphic design.  Given the scarcity of visual images in eighteenth-century newspapers, readers may have been even more attuned to the variations in ornamental printing than modern readers who quickly become overwhelmed by the density of the text in both news items and advertisements.

October 19

GUEST CURATOR: Lindsay Hajjar

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

oct-19-10171766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 17, 1766).

“A Beautiful Saddle MARE”

Owning nice things was a luxury that not every colonist had the opportunity to experience because of their financial situation. This advertisement targeted someone who could afford the extravagance of having a horse that was intended to be an accessory and a marker of status. When the seller described the mare he said,“She Both Trots and Paces well and easy.” This showed that the mare was in good condition, was even tempered, and could be ridden for leisure and pleasure. The mare was probably not meant to be a working house. This seems clear because the seller did not provide her age and weight, whether she had had any colts, or whether she was healthy and fit to work and breed. He described her as “A Beautiful Saddle MARE,” one ready to be shown off.

Conspicuous consumption of this sort suggests a growing sense of individuality among the colonists. As time went on and as their farms and businesses flourished and grew many had the financial stability to purchase goods that they would not have been able to afford had they stayed in Europe. The colonists’ sense of self was starting to shine through more and more as their wealth grew. Many colonists were able to make purchases that reflected their desires rather than just obtaining necessities.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Newspapers advertisements provide revealing glimpses of how the colonial marketplace operated, but sometimes they fall frustratingly short of revealing all the details that would allow us to make sense of the transactions they promoted. Lindsay has selected an advertisement that tells only a portion of a longer story.

An unknown seller sought a buyer for “A Beautiful Saddle MARE,” noting that she was “fit for any Gentleman.” In this case, referring to the purchaser as a “Gentleman” most likely was not a courtesy but rather an indication that the owner of such a horse would be an individual of some stature in the community, somebody with the resources to maintain the mare as a status symbol.

The same was presumably true of the current owner of the “Beautiful Saddle MARE,” yet the advertisement does not reveal the seller’s identity. Instead, it merely stated “Enquire of the Printers.” Who was the seller? Why was the horse offered for sale? Why did the seller conceal his identity?

A dozen different stories and scenarios spring to mind, each of them pure conjecture because the advertisement offers so few clues. In that regard, this advertisement seems ideal for working on a project with students. It demonstrates the historians must work within the limits of the documents available to us. We can work imaginatively but responsibly with our sources. We can make inferences from the language and context, as Lindsay has done in positing that this was not a workhorse intended for labor on a farm. Doing so allowed her to imagine what else could be learned from this advertisement, even if it was not stated explicitly. In the process, she reconstructed the social meanings of colonists’ possessions, extrapolating from the advertisement.

In that regard, Lindsay demonstrates that this advertisement tells us more about colonial society than might have initially seemed apparent. However, some aspects of the advertisement remain out of reach. I was drawn to this advertisement because it indicated that since “Cash is scarce, West India Goods will be taken for her.” What did the seller intend to do with a quantity of “West India Goods” exchanged for “A Beautiful Saddle MARE” that was “fit for any Gentleman?” Would those goods have been put to personal use or would they have been traded or sold to other consumers? That is a story of the colonial marketplace that will remain untold.

 

April 2

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Apr 2 - 3:31:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 31, 1766).

 

“To COVER, … The fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND.”

This advertisement is for the stud services of a “fine BAY HORSE, called OLD ENGLAND” with a lineage traced back to the great Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers. Even as early as 1766 the Godolphin Arabian was considered a horse central to the modern thoroughbred breed, having gained prestige in the 1730s. To have Old England mentioned as being the descendent of the Godolphin Arabian and Flying Childers, an undefeated horse of the 1720s, would have immediately tipped off potential horse breeders that Old England was from very good stock. I am sure many, if not all, of the other horses mentioned were notable in their own right as well. This was attested to by the fact that the advertiser listed the prizes that many of the horses in Old England’s pedigree won for their owners.

Apr 2 Godolphin Arabian by George Stubbs
Godolphin Arabian (George Stubbs, 1724-1806).

It is interesting that the advertiser signs the advertisement as “the Public’s Most Obedient Servant.” For the most part the majority of people used horses for work and would not be interested in a horse bred for racing. His audience would likely have been the people who had extra income to breed and racehorses. It is good to know as well that John Leary was “A Lover of the Turf.” That projected a sense of camaraderie among the potential horse breeders who wanted Old England to cover their mares.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Notices about horses “to cover” constituted their own genre of newspapers advertisements in the eighteenth century. They appeared frequently in the public prints, and they were easily spotted because they tended to include a woodcut of a horse. Usually these woodcuts would have been among the very few images that accompanied advertisements.

For instance, this issue of the New-York Mercury included approximately fifty advertisements. Only three had an image: Old England and another advertisement for a horse “to cover” as well as a notice that the Minerva would soon be sailing for Bristol. The first two featured different woodcuts of horses and the final one a woodcut of a ship.

Apr 2 - Hero 3:31:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 31, 1766).

As I have explained previously, such woodcuts belonged to the printer, who kept on hand a small collection of ships, houses, runaways (men and women; slaves, servants, and wives), and horses that could be used interchangeably in any advertisement about vessels arriving or departing, real estate to buy or lease, runaways, and horse breeding, respectively. That horses were included on this list suggests how common advertisements promoting their availability “to cover” mares were in eighteenth-century newspapers. In addition, several broadsides (what we would call posters today) for horses “to cover” also survive from the eighteenth century.

The woodcut in Old England’s advertisement does not do justice to the beauty of that horse, but it did help to distinguish that notice from the others that appeared on the same page.