What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Hugh Glassford … now carries on his Business, at Glen and Gregory’s.”
Moving to a new location prompted Hugh Glassford, a leather breeches and glove maker in New Haven, to place an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal in the summer of 1769. Glassford stated that he resided with Mr. Beers for the past year, but he “now carries on his Business, at Glen and Gregory’s.” He reported that he served customers “much to their Satisfaction” at his former location, suggesting that he would offer the same quality of service at his new location. It does not appear that Glassford inserted an advertisement in the local newspaper when he first arrived in New Haven. He likely engaged customers via word of mouth. After building a clientele for his leather breeches and gloves and cultivating a reputation in the town and beyond, however, he likely considered an advertisement worth the investment. Advising the public of his new location would help Glassford retain current customers as well as encourage new ones to seek out his services.
To quickly discover if Glassford had previously advertised, I did a keyword for his last name in all 2752 issues of the Connecticut Journal, spanning dates from October 23, 1767 to December 26, 1820, available in America’s Historical Newspapers database. That search yielded zero results, but that did not surprise me since I had searched for the breeches and glove maker’s name as I read it – Glassford – rather than as optical character recognition software would interpret it – Glafsford. As a person with experience working with eighteenth-century newspapers, I possess knowledge and creativity that the software lacks. I easily recognize the long s commonly used in the eighteenth century and effortlessly translate “Glafsford” into “Glassford.” The database’s OCR does not.
Armed with that knowledge, I did a second keyword search, this time for “Glafsford.” It yielded five results, all of them for the advertisement Glassford ran in the summer of 1769. According to the keyword search, his notice appeared five times: June 30, July 7, 14, and 28, and August 25. In order to produce these results, I had to adopt a methodology that tricked the software into doing what I needed. This is a valuable lesson that I pass along to students when we work with primary sources. Beyond our usual manner of thinking, we also have to think like people from the era we are investigating and think like the tools we deploy in doing our work. For the latter, sometimes that means thinking about how a cataloger might have organized a collection of documents, but other times it means thinking about the shortcomings of optical character recognition.