December 24

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

Providence Gazette (December 24, 1768).

“PATRICK MACKEY … has opened a Skinner’s Shop.”

When Patrick Mackey arrived in Providence from Philadelphia, he set about establishing himself in a new town and building a clientele for his business by placing an advertisement in the December 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. He announced that “he has opened a Skinner’s Shop near the Hay-Ward, on the East Side of the Great Bridge, between Mr. Godfry’s and the Sign of the Bull,” offering familiar landmarks to aid customers in navigating to his location. Realizing that prospective customers were unfamiliar with his work, Mackey underscored that “he has worked in the principal Parts of Europe and America.” As a result, he “doubts not of gaining the Approbation of his Customers” once they gave him the opportunity to provide his services. He offered further assurances that his leather and skins were “dressed in the best Manner.” In case skill and quality were not sufficient to draw clients to the newcomer’s shop, Mackey also promoted his prices, proclaiming that he sold his wares “as cheap as any in Town.” In his first introduction to Providence in the public prints, Mackey deployed several of the most common advertising appeals used by artisans in eighteenth-century America.

Yet Mackey went beyond the expected methods of encouraging prospective customers to patronize his business. He also invoked his collaboration with colleagues who enhanced the services available at his shop. In addition to selling materials, he also had a “Breeches-maker, who learned his Business in Europe” on staff to transform his leathers and skins into garments for “Any Gentlemen who may please to employ him.” In addition, Mackey reported in a nota bene that Benjamin Coates, a cordwainer, “carries on his Business at the same Place.” Clients interested in Mackey’s services could also “be suited in the best Manner with all Kinds of Boots, Spatterdashes, Shoes, Slippers, &c.” at the same location. In his efforts to build his customer base, Mackey offered convenience in addition to quality and low prices. His clients did not need to visit other artisans at other locations after acquiring materials at his shop. Instead, they could consult directly with a cordwainer and a breechesmaker on the premises. All three artisans stood to benefit from such an arrangement. Increased patronage for one of them likely yielded additional business for the others.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:11:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 11, 1767).

“He is so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts.”

Recently arrived in Philadelphia from Saint Domingue, surgeon-physician Louis Colin did not place an advertisement in search of patients, though that may have been his ultimate goal. For the moment, two obstacles prevented him from offering his services to the residents of Philadelphia. He did not speak English fluently, nor had he cultivated a reputation for skill and expertise in his profession. He placed a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette to set about overcoming both.

Colin realized that many readers were likely to be skeptical of any new medical practitioner who arrived in town. Too many itinerant doctors made promises and did not deliver. Too many peddlers sold patent medicines that had no effect. To allay suspicions of those sorts, he asserted that he was “so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts, that he utterly despises all Charlatanry.” He did not conjure preposterous diagnoses, prescribe ludicrous treatments, or hawk potions to desperate customers. Instead, his work with patients was grounded in years of training in Europe followed by years of experience in the Caribbean. He offered his credentials to make the point, noting that he studied “in one of the greatest Hospitals” in Paris for nine years before migrating to Saint Domingue. There, Count d’Estaing, the governor general of the colony, “had great Confidence in him, and placed him at the Head of the Hospital of Cape Francois.” Unfortunately for Colin, the climate did not agree with him, so he opted to migrate once again, this time to Philadelphia.

Readers did not need to merely trust that Colin accurately related his credentials. Rather than seeking patients, he placed his advertisement in hopes of making acquaintance with “the Gentlemen Physicians and Surgeons of this City,” provided that they could speak Latin or French. In the course of their conversations with Colin, other medical professionals could assess whether he truly possessed the knowledge and skills he claimed. If he had made false claims, surely local physicians and surgeons already known and trusted by the community would expose him as a fraud, the sort of “Quack Doctor” he disdained. In the course of socializing with his professional peers, Colin could also further develop his ability to speak English, though he assured readers he “assiduously applies himself” to studying the language.

As a newcomer to Philadelphia, Colin made an astute decision about what sort of advertisement to place in the local newspaper. He was not yet ready to solicit patients, but he realized that he would benefit in the long run by introducing himself to the community, especially fellow physicians and surgeons, as a means of gaining familiarity and building his reputation. This would only make recruiting patients that much easier when the time came.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:11:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 11, 1767).

“THOMAS LEE jun. House-Carpenter and Joiner.”

Thomas Lee, Jr. most likely placed this advertisement to introduce himself to residents of Savannah. As far as introductions went, it was brief but covered a lot of ground. In a single sentence, Lee assured “gentlemen who will be pleased to employ him, that they may depend upon having their work done in the best manner and at the most reasonable rates, with the utmost dispatch.” In so doing, Lee incorporated two of the most common appeals made in advertisements for consumer goods in the eighteenth century. Artisans and others who offered services often adapted those appeals to their own purposes. An appeal to price (“at the most reasonable rates”) required little shift in the meaning, but an appeal to quality (“”having their work done in the best manner”) moved the focus away from merchandise to the skills possessed by the advertiser offering the service. Lee added another appeal sometimes advanced by shopkeepers but more often deployed by artisans. When he pledged to complete work “with the utmost dispatch,” he promised attentiveness and efficiency. Then and now, customers hiring artisans (or contractors) to work on their homes value jobs completed in a timely manner. Similarly, Lee provided “estimations and plans” so customers could hold him accountable for the work he was hired to do.

In describing himself as a “House-Carpenter and Joiner,” Lee informed potential clients that he was a versatile craftsman. Like carpenters, joiners worked with wood, but they specialized in lighter and more ornamental work. Lee was qualified to work on the structure of a building or make and repair any of the fittings that adorned it. Those fittings might include simple doors and windows or they could include intricate pediments and mantels. That being the case, he addressed his introduction “to all gentlemen” in Savannah because affluent merchants and other members of the local gentry would have been most likely to hire (and afford) his services for more ornate work. As the consumer revolution placed an increasing number of goods in the hands of all sorts of colonists, the elite used architectural adornment to express their tastes and attempt to assert distinctions between themselves and others who sometimes mimicked their fashions.

At first glance, Lee’s advertisement looks like a simple notice, but the savvy “House-Carpenter and Joiner” actually incorporated several types of appeals to make a good first impression when introducing himself and his services to residents of Savannah.