February 7

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

Feb 7 - 2:7:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 7, 1770).

“He continues to follow the Business of an INSURANCE-BROKER.”

Like many colonists who placed newspaper advertisements, John Benfield did not confine his notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to a single purpose. Instead, he divided it into two portions, advancing separate business enterprises. Benfield opened with a recitation standard in advertisements for consumer goods. He gave his location and promised low prices before listing the various goods, mostly spirits and grocery items, for sale at his store. In the second portion of the advertisement, complete with a manicule to attract the attention of readers, he described a service, insurance, he provided to merchants who owned ships that passed through the busy port of Charleston. While these very different endeavors may have merited separate advertisements, that Benfield choose to combine them in a single notice testifies to the close reading of newspapers, even the advertisements, undertaken in eighteenth-century America. Benfield did not devise a separate advertisement about insurance with a distinct headline because he expected prospective clients would take note of both portions of the combined advertisement.

That did not prevent him from making a case for why merchants and others in the market to purchase insurance should allow him to provide that service. He declared that he “continues to follow the Business of an INSURANCE-BROKER,” establishing that he had experience in that capacity. Furthermore, he made an appeal to price, just as he had done for the goods available at his shop. Benfield declared that “Vessels, which are known in this Province to be staunch and good, with their Cargoes, may be insured here on as low Terms as they are in England.” He offered the convenience of purchasing insurance locally rather than having to communicate over long distances with brokers on the other side of the Atlantic. At a time when many colonists encouraged the production and consumption of “domestic manufactures” as a means a means of reducing dependence on goods imported from England, Benfield offered an alternative for a product offered in the service sector. He did not explicitly make this argument, but he may have expected prospective clients to draw their own conclusions considering the rhetoric about nonimportation and domestic production throughout the colonies in the wake of the Townshend Acts. Certainly some readers would have made the connection without prompting from Benfield, especially after carefully perusing the other contents of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

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.