May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (May 12, 1766).

“William Fisher, In CORNHILL, HAS imported a general Assortment of English Goods which he sells at the cheapest Rates.”

Today’s featured advertisement appears fairly short and relatively basic when compared to many of the more extensive advertisements that crowded the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers. William Fisher’s advertisement, however, was not unique. Many advertisers opted for this sort of short commercial notice. Some may not have been able to afford more space in the newspaper. Others may not have been as innovative in their thinking, compared to their competitors, about how to incite demand among potential customers. Some may have depended on networks of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to sustain their shops, believing that an abbreviated advertisement served as sufficient reminder of the wares they offered for sale.

I’ve chosen this advertisement to feature today as a means of correcting an oversight. In the process of selecting advertisements to examine I have privileged some and disproportionately excluded others, especially the plethora of short commercial notices that were familiar to colonial readers.

I’ve also selected this advertisement because even though it is short enough to fit entirely in a modern tweet it still incorporated three common marketing appeals that tell us about eighteenth-century consumer culture. Fisher made an appeal to price when he noted that “he sells at the cheapest Rates.” He expected that low prices would help to attract customers. He also stressed that he offered choices to his customers, “a general Assortment.” Upon visiting his shop customers could expect to make purchases based on their own tastes rather than accept whatever happened to be in stock. Fisher may not have found it necessary to pay to print an exhaustive list of his merchandise. Other shopkeepers already did so, which meant that Fisher could depend on readers already being familiar with what was available in Boston. Finally, he stated that he had “imported … English Goods.” Consuming wares imported from England helped colonists feel connected to fellow Britons on the other side of the Atlantic. Though they resided thousands of miles away, they shared a British identity.

William Fisher’s advertisement seems deceptively short considering how much it tells us about early American consumer culture.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:5:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (May 5, 1766).

“He has as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”

Thomas Green’s notice that he intended to open a school does not look much different from other advertisements offering similar services in the decade prior to the Revolution, at least not until the final sentence. After rehearsing the subjects to be taught and assuring parents that their “Scholars” and “small Readers” that he would instruct his charges “with the greatest Alacrity,” he also announced that “He has, as usual, an Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS, &c. at a reasonable Rate.”

How did Green earn his living? Was he primarily a shopkeeper who sought to supplement his income by trying his hand at teaching? Or was he a teacher or tutor who sold some imported goods on the side to help make ends meet when he his school was not fully enrolled? This advertisement does not offer any definitive answers, but Newport was a small enough town in 1766 (even though it ranked as one of the most significant ports in British mainland North America) that most readers would have been familiar with his occupation(s). In his reference to retailing imported goods, he noted he did so “as usual,” suggesting that readers were already aware of his business activities.

As many American towns and cities continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the residents increasingly lived among strangers. “THOMAS GREEN, In Banister’s Row” did not seem to think of himself as a stranger to others in Newport. Just the opposite, his advertisement suggests that he believed the majority of residents were at least acquainted with him in some fashion.

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:25:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 25, 1766).

Some of Portsmouth’s retailers regularly advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette throughout the winter of 1765 and 1766 while the Stamp Act was still in effect, but it tended to be the same advertisers week after week. In April, the residents of Portsmouth received word of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The news was first published in the April 18 issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The newspaper published the following week included several new advertisements from retailers who had not marketed their wares during the winter, including Nathaniel Barrell.

This could simply have been a matter of not needing to advertise. Perhaps Barrell and his counterparts had a surplus of goods in stock before the winter or before the Stamp Act went into effect, making it less necessary to advertise. Indeed, throughout the series of non-importation and non-consumption agreements in the decade prior to the Revolution merchants and retailers seized opportunities to clear out surplus wares.

Perhaps Barrell and his counterparts advertised wares recently imported from England after a lull in transatlantic voyages during the winter months. The same vessels that brought news that the Stamp Act had been repealed also brought consumer goods in their cargo holds. This may have simply been a matter of timing.

On the other hand, it is also possible that news about the Stamp Act played a role in Barrell’s decision to advertise in the April 25 issue. With tensions between England the colonies reduced, he may have had more room to maneuver in the public prints and the marketplace, announcing boldly in the first line of his advertisement that he carried goods “Imported from LONDON.” Given his own politics or the views of neighbors and acquaintances who were also his customers, he might have identified the shift in attitudes toward England in the wake of recent news as a signal that he could promote goods imported from London.

It very well could be that all three of these factors, to greater or lesser degrees, played a role in Barrell’s decision to advertise in the April 25 issues of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

April 16

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 16 - 4:14:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 14, 1766).

“All Sorts of Garden Seeds.”

This advertisement sold goods that had been imported from London. The goods featured included various types of garden seeds. The advertisement listed “Pease and Beans, … split Pease, Hemp, Rape and Canary Bird Seed, red Clover and Herds Grass Seed.” Peas and beans were eaten. Hemp was used for a variety of things, including making rope. Rapeseed was a yellow flowering plant used as birdseed in colonial America, though it was used in China and Africa as a vegetable. Canary seed was used in conjunction with rapeseed for birdseed. Grass seed was used for planting grass and feeding livestock.

 

Apr 16 - Rapeseed
Rapeseed.

During the eighteenth century, the vegetables and herbs that were prepared, served, and eaten were often grown in home gardens. Due to the fact that settlers were still arriving and settling in, there were not many strong strains of familiar plants available, so plant seeds were imported from England. Colonial American gardens were grown in the style of European gardens due to the fact that inhabitants arrived to the colonies from Europe and were used to practicing garden cultivation in this manner. Most plants grown in the Colonies came from heirloom strains, indicating that they were species that had been passed down for many generations. A Colonial Williamsburg study has revealed that today all eighteenth-century varieties of broccoli, cabbage, and kale are extinct and no longer grown, though a great many other eighteenth-century vegetables are still grown at different locations throughout the United States.

 

For more information on cultivating a garden using early American techniques and understandings, attend out Old Sturbridge Village’s Garden Thyme: Vermicomposting event at 10 A.M. today or other Garden Thyme events offered the third Saturday of every month.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “All Sorts of Garden Seeds,” Bethiah Oliver sold “a general Assortment of Glass, Delph and Stone Ware, Lynn Shoes, best Bohea Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, and all other Groceries” that had been “Imported in the last Ships from London.” As we have seen in recent weeks, when it came to consumer culture colonists had a complicated relationship with England in 1765 and 1766. The protests concerning the Stamp Act spilled over into advertisements, sometimes as advertisers promoted locally produced goods and other times when they gave directions to their shops that invoked familiarity with recent events (such as stating that a shop was located “Near Liberty-Bridge“). Many colonists were energized to boycott goods imported from Britain, hoping to gain English merchants – who were represented in Parliament – as allies as politics and commerce converged.

On the other hand, many advertisements in 1765 and 1766, including today’s advertisement from Bethiah Oliver, continued to use formulaic language: “Imported in the last Ships from London.” Those ships transported more than just consumer goods. They also carried news from the center of the British Empire, including news of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Oliver’s advertisements appeared on the final page of this issue of the Boston Evening-Post. The previous page included an article that announced the “Good News!” It also demonstrates how the “glorious News of the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT” spread throughout the colonies as vessels moved from port to port, bringing letters and newspapers that were then printed or reprinted. Still, the printers of the Boston Evening-Post knew that they did not yet have the entire story: “We hear a Packet was to sail from Falmouth for New York about the 11th of February, so that we may daily expect some further Particulars of this interesting affair.” Ships from England continued to bring more goods, but they also brought more news.

Apr 16 - Good News 4:14:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 14, 1766).

Bethiah Oliver advertised “All Sorts of Garden Seeds” to customers who continued in the seasonal rhythms of colonial life. I wonder if more potential customers might have seen her advertisement as they scrambled to read the news for themselves. Even if that was not the case, her commercial notice offers a glimpse of everyday life continuing even as momentous news unfolded.

 

April 1

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Apr 1 - 3:31:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 31, 1766).

“A Large and good Assortment of loose STONES.”

I found a few things interesting about this advertisement: first, that Welsh’s goods were imported from London; second, the goods he sold; and, third, that his shop was located next to an insurance office.

Compared to other advertisements I chose for this week, Welsh explicitly stated that his goods were imported from London. While the Revolution had not officially started, there was a lot of unrest in the colonies and tension with Britain. On the other hand, from the goods he sold, Welsh would have wanted to let his potential customers know that they were getting a good product.

From the products he advertised, Welsh’s clients were likely elites or merchants with disposable income. I cannot imagine a farmer or shopkeeper with enough money to spend on garnets, topazes, or rubies. This is the first time I have seen an advertisement for such luxury items.

This leads me to the third thing that interested me about this advertisement: the location. Other than using the shop next door as a point of reference, I believe that John Welsh might have been trying to establish subconsciously a sense of security for his customers. By stating that his shop was located next to an insurance office he projected an air of reliability. He likely also has insurance with the office and he was well protected so his customers should have felt the same.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Like Mary, I am interested in where “JOHN WELSH, Jeweller,” kept shop, but from a different angle. He indicated that he sold “Jeweller’s and Goldsmith’s Work” at “his Shop next to Mr. Pigeon’s Insurance-Office, at the North End of BOSTON.” The advertisement, however, appeared in the Newport Mercury! This caught me by surprise because in the 1760s most men and women who placed newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services did so only in publications printed in the city or town where they operated their business. They targeted their marketing at relatively local consumers, those who resided in their city or the hinterland served by the city’s newspaper(s). An increasing standardization of goods in eighteenth-century American helps to explain this: shopkeepers in Newport by and large stocked the same merchandise as their counterparts in Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Accordingly, advertisers focused on attracting local customers.

There were, however, some exceptions, including John Welsh. His specialized merchandise may help to explain why he advertised in a newspaper printed and distributed in a port city about seventy miles away.  He needed to reach a critical mass of potential customers. Certainly wealthy merchants who could afford his wares resided in Newport. Note that he stated that “any Gentleman may be as well used by Letter as if present.” Welsh offered a form of mail order shopping for customers who could not visit his shop.

March 25

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 25 - 3:24:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 24, 1766).

“Just imported in the Cornelia, Capt. Harvey, (via New-York) …”

This advertisement by merchant John Dockray caught my attention because of the fact that the goods came to the colonies via New York City before being sold in Newport, Rhode Island. The Cornelia, commanded by Capt. Harvey, was the ship that brought Dockray’s merchandise to New York. At this time Newport, itself a bustling port, was still smaller in size and population compared to New York or Boston.

The advertisement lists many different everyday goods for everyday people. Dockray clearly characterized these goods as “WINTER GOODS,” the uppercase letters and the placement made that the prominent and eye-catching feature. Due to the fact that it was March, colonists’ winter stores would be getting low as the season came to an end. With spring arriving soon, people would be getting ready for planting, farming, and other occupations.

Dockray also said that the store was attached to his house, which allowed for easy management and control.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth’s final observation, that Dockray operated his business in “his Store adjoining to his House,” allows us to further consider some of the ramifications of the work that she did yesterday when she located the general area where several colonists sold their wares using addresses from newspaper advertisements and trade cards in combination with maps of Boston from the period.

John Dockray’s situation was not unique. In yesterday’s featured advertisement Elizabeth Clark announced that she sold seeds “At her Shop near the Mill Bridge, BOSTON.” Clark most likely resided at the same location. In the featured advertisement from two days ago, William Symonds indicated that he sold his wares “at his house, the corner of Market and Second streets, opposite the Quaker Meeting-house” in Philadelphia. In the portion of the advertisement devoted to Mary Symonds’s millinery business, she reiterated that her merchandise was “in the corner shop in said house.”

Colonial Americans who lived in urban ports – like Newport, Boston, and Philadelphia – often tended to work at the same location where they lived, whether shopkeepers or artisans, unlike today’s practice of residing at one location and working elsewhere. An artisan’s workshop, for instance, might be on the first floor of the domicile, with the family residing upstairs. Or portions of a house could have been set aside for running a shop, as was the case with Mary Symonds.

As a result, the addresses included in colonial advertisements help us to reconstruct more than just the commercial landscape of early American cities and towns. In many instances they also tell us where a variety of people lived, helping us to better understand who lived in which neighborhoods and what kinds of relationships – social as well as economic – developed there.

February 29

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Feb 29 - 2:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

Just Imported from LONDON … A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the Season.”

Joseph Bass’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette is intriguing because of the diversity of goods he was selling. The advertisement suggests that he was trying to target as many different audiences as possible, while spending the least amount of money. In the world of advertising this is a very basic concept but one that can prove difficult. During this time, businesses operated on a face-to-face level of interaction that has been lost in todays culture. People chose who they bought their goods from based on the foundation of who they trusted and supported.

I also find it interesting that some of the goods advertised were seasonal. The first thing advertised was “A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the season.” Seasons in New Hampshire are very different than those of England, especially during the end of winter to the beginning of spring. The “Bedding suitable for the season” then exemplifies the demand of the colonial market in comparison to England’s market.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Many scholars of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America have demonstrated that colonists demonstrated their connections to the larger British Empire by purchasing and using the same goods as their cousins in London and the English provinces. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen demonstrated a rapid expansion of consumer choice in colonial America, accompanied by increasing standardization of consumer behavior and Anglicization of the consumer market.[1]

Some English observers, upon visiting the colonies, commented on how quickly fashions en vogue in London could be seen in British mainland North America. Residents of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and smaller towns like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, may have resided in some of the empire’s distant outposts, but that did not mean that they lacked taste. Perhaps because they were so far from the metropole they desired to demonstrate that they did not lack sophistication. Consumer culture gave them a means for doing so.

Trevor’s commentary challenges us to update, but not overturn, the narrative of Anglicization of American markets by reminding us that consumers (and advertisers!) often contended with very local concerns, including the changing of the seasons. Some of the goods included in Bass’s advertisement adhered to the current fashions in London, but that did not deprive colonists of the ability to make decisions independently of consumers on the other side of the Atlantic.

Jan 25 - 1:24:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 24, 1766).

Today’s advertisement may look familiar. A variant was previously featured five weeks ago, at which time I commented on the layout. I found the layout awkward as a result of the pilcrows forming a line to divide the columns. The graphic design has been improved for this advertisement, which features many of the same goods.

The entire first column of today’s advertisement was listed in the earlier one. This one inserts “black walnut and mahogony fram’d looking Glasses ; brass Nails ; choice cannon powder ; Shot ; black Pepper by the doz. or smaller quantity” before returning to the list included in the earlier version. The nota bene running across the bottom is new as well.

This and similar examples undercut claims that goods had been “Just Imported from LONDON.” Savvy consumers, especially those who paid attention to the shipping news elsewhere in newspapers, likely calibrated how much they weight they wished to give such appeals, just as modern consumers assess the advertising that assails them.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:17:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 17, 1766)

“European and India GOODS … TO BE SOLD By Jonathan Jackson, At his Store in Newbury-Port.”

Jonathan Jackson advertised his wares frequently.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with his promise to sell imported goods at the same costs they would encounter in the larger port city of Boston.  Indeed, readers would have been aware of this because Jackson inserted the same advertisement in the newspaper repeatedly.  Some wholesalers and retailers that advertised regularly either revised existing notices or devised entirely new ones.  Jackson, on the other hand, repeatedly placed the same advertisement.

Nov 15 - 11:15:1765 New-Hampshire Gazette.gif
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 15, 1765)

Those who have followed the Adverts 250 Project since its origins on Twitter may recognize this advertisement and realize that I have broken one of my rules:  this advertisement was previously featured on November 15, 2015.  Why have I done this instead of providing new content?  Jackson’s (repeated) advertisement raises several issues that merit consideration when considering the history of marketing in early America.  I’ll raise two of them here.

First, did Jackson actually place this advertisement after its initial appearance?  Or was the printer responsible for each subsequent insertion?  Did it generate revenue for the printer?  Or, as a relatively short advertisement, was convenient for filling space?

In addition, did readers and potential customers pay any attention to this advertisement over time?  The promise that merchandise was “JUST Imported” certainly lost its luster over time.  The advertisement continued to prompt potential customers to visit Jackson’s shop.  Perhaps that was sufficient justification for repeating it throughout the winter months, especially since new ships were unlikely to arrive during that period.