February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 6, 1768).

Williams & Stanwood Peruke Makers, Hair Cutters and Dressers.”

In eighteenth-century America wigmakers and hairdressers like Williams and Stanwood did not restrict their attempts to incite demand for their services to the better sorts who resided in the largest port cities. Their advertisement in the February 5, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed prospective clients in Portsmouth and its hinterland that “they carry on their Business together at the lower end of Queen Street.” Rather than cultivating a clientele of the local elite, they sold gentlemen’s wigs “suitable for all Ranks in Life.” In addition, they served “Ladies who live in the Country, or at a distance from a Hair Dresser,” accepting orders for wigs submitted by post or messenger. Whether potential customers lived in a busy port city or a quiet village did not matter: wigmakers and hairdressers insisted that they must keep up with current fashions by enlisting their services.

Williams and Stanwood also used their advertisement to instruct the ladies about products that might not have been familiar to them previously, including “new invented rough TOUPEES.” Such merchandise needed some explanation to help prospective clients understand their value and convenience. Sold “with or without Powder,” such wigs “preserves their Form, and want no dressing.” They made it that much easier for women to prepare themselves to receive guests in their homes or to appear in public since these wigs were “so easily fixed that Ladies may Dress themselves in five Minutes Time, fit for any Company.” Customers did not, however, benefit from this ease and simplicity by sacrificing the quality or style derived from sitting with the hairdressers at their shop. Williams and Stanwood proclaimed that their toupees “excel the finest Hair Dressing now in Practice.” Ladies did not necessarily need the advantage of leisure time to appear smartly coiffed, especially if they acquired “new invented rough TOUPEES” from Williams and Stanwood.

Urban ports like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia may have been the cosmopolitan centers of colonial life, but wigmakers and hairdressers did not allow the gentry to dictate that they be the only beneficiaries of their services. Instead, wigmakers and hairdressers encouraged much broad swaths of the colonial population to engage their products and services, portraying them as simultaneously stylish and convenient. Williams and Stanwood sold their wigs to customers of “all Ranks in Life” from city and countryside alike. To that end, they explained new products to prospective clients, training them to desire the most recent creations available in the marketplace.

March 28

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 28 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“CROWN Coffee-House.”

According to Colonial Williamsburg, coffeehouses in the eighteenth century were “information centers and forums for debate and discussion.” Coffeehouses were places where people had conversations with others. Most coffeehouses were not limited to serving just coffee, but provided tea and chocolate as well. Some coffeehouses served alcoholic drinks as well, including the “ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c.” at Isaac Williams’s Crown Coffeehouse. Coffeehouses that did not serve alcoholic drinks sometimes struggled to compete with those that did. Coffee, states Steven Topik, was often dismissed as an unnecessary luxury.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Isaac Williams issued a challenge to the readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Rather than simply announce that he stocked and served “the best of LIQUORS” for his patrons at the Crown Coffeehouse in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he dared them to “be so kind as to call and judge for themselves, whether his ALE, PUNCH, WINE, &c. is not as good as at other public Houses.” Advertisers in the eighteenth century, like their counterparts today, engaged in a complicated dance with potential customers. They made claims that they wanted readers to believe, often offering assurances of their validity and trustworthiness, but they also expected potential customers to greet their appeals with some skepticism. Williams acknowledged as much, insisting that he “would not have them take his Word.” Instead, he craftily invited comparisons with other establishments. Readers could not make such comparisons, however, unless they actually became customers and sampled the offerings at the Crown on Queen Street.

Once he got them through the doors, Williams promised a variety of amenities in addition to the “best of Liquors.” In addition to the quality of the beverages, “Gentlemen” experienced a refined atmosphere that included “large and small Entertainment, provided in the most genteel manner.” Such entertainment may have included performances by any of the variety of itinerants that Peter Benes examines his recent book, For a Short Time Only: Itinerants and the Resurgence of Popular Culture in Early America. Musicians, singers, magic lanternists, puppeteers, actors, and conjurers all performed in American taverns and coffeehouses throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. In addition, the advertisement indicated that Williams likely completed renovations to make his coffeehouse a comfortable space for men to gather, drink, gossip, conduct business, discuss politics and current events, watch performers, and exchange information. To that end, he invested “considerable Expence … in making his House convenient” for the entertainment of his patrons.

From the liquor, coffee, and food to entertainment, furnishings, and service, Isaac Williams described an atmosphere that could only be truly appreciated by experiencing it. He prompted readers to imagine themselves drinking and socializing at the Queen, making it more likely that some would accept his challenge to visit and “judge for themselves” whether his coffeehouse compared favorably to other public houses.

March 22

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 22 - 3:20:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 20, 1767).

Choice Green Coffee.”

When it comes to choices of drink when thinking of the colonial and Revolutionary eras, the first one that probably comes to mind is tea. This advertisement is interesting because it sold coffee instead. According to Christina Regelski, coffee was sometimes used as a way of showing wealth or status in the colonial era due to the expensiveness of producing the coffee grounds from the beans. In the southern colonies slaves were often in charge of grinding the coffee beans in the kitchens for their wealthy owners. Sadly, they had no access to the coffee they prepared.

Coffeehouses became hubs of information that could be accessed by many in the eighteenth century. Similar to taverns, men from any status and station could go to coffeehouses to drink coffee and discuss what was going on in their lives and their colony. John Adams even noted the importance of coffeehouses in a letter to James Warren in 1775: “the Debates, and Deliberations in Congress are impenetrable Secrets: but the Conversations in the City, and the Chatt of the Coffee house, are free, and open.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Some colonists very well may have encountered Noah Parker’s advertisement for “Choice Green Coffee” when they visited a coffeehouse, such as the Crown Coffeehouse on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In the same issue that Parker hawked coffee, Isaac Williams placed an advertisement announcing that he had just opened the “CROWN Coffee-House” and provided many amenities for customers (including “the best of LIQUORS” and “large and small Entertainment, provided in the most genteel manner” in addition to coffee). At many eighteenth-century coffeehouses, the amenities included newspapers.

As Ceara notes, coffeehouses were hubs for exchanging information in the eighteenth century. Patrons certainly traded stories, but they also had access to newspapers the proprietors provided for their convenience and entertainment. Customers read newspapers to learn about politics and current events that affected their daily lives and commercial transactions. As a result, the advertisements that appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette and other colonial newspapers had a far wider reach than just local subscribers. Visitors to the Crown Coffeehouse most likely had access to recent issues of many newspapers other than just the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially newspapers from Boston and other parts of New England, but also from elsewhere in the colonies, the Caribbean, and London. Similarly, coffeehouses in other colonial port cities also provided newspapers from near and far for patrons to consult.

In addition to sharing news and gossip, coffeehouses were also places to conduct business. Merchants gathered to settle accounts in comfortable surroundings. Vendue sales or auctions also took place in coffeehouses. Noah Parker may have visited the Crown Coffeehouse to meet with associates interested in purchasing the various commodities he listed in his advertisement. Despite the atmosphere of gentility that Williams and other proprietors cultivated, coffeehouses were also sometimes the venue for buying and selling slaves. Although not as rowdy as taverns, coffeehouses were busy places for exchanging information and conducting business in the era of the Revolution.

December 26

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

dec-26-12261766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 26, 1766).

“CROWN (Coffee-House.)”

Isaac Williams launched a new venture for the new year, a “COFFEE-HOUSE, at the lower end of Queen Street, in Portsmouth,” New Hampshire. Based on the description of the Crown in his advertisement, Williams sought to operate an establishment similar to those in London, other cities throughout England and continental Europe, and major port cities in the North American colonies. The London Coffee House, for instance, opened in Philadelphia in 1754, a little over a decade earlier.

Eighteenth-century coffeehouses tended to be homosocial environments, gather places for men to conduct business, talk politics, socialize, and gossip. Williams invited “Gentlemen on Business” to visit his coffeehouse, noting that they would find there “the freshest Intelligence that is possible to be had.” The proprietor and staff likely provided some of this “Intelligence,” as did the array of patrons who assembled there, but a good amount of “the freshest Intelligence” probably derived from newspapers. In addition to the New-Hampshire Gazette, Williams likely supplied copies of major and minor newspapers from throughout the colonies as well a variety of publications from London and other parts of the Atlantic world.

Williams did not promote his coffeehouse merely as a place for merchants to negotiate deals and settle accounts. He also portrayed it as a destination for the “Entertainment” of his clients. Indeed, when the proprietor listed the reasons to visit his coffeehouse, the word “PLEASURE” appeared in capital letters, while “Business” did not. In addition to coffee, he served “PUNCH, WINE, BEER, &c. &c. &c.” Eighteenth-century patrons would have read “&c. &c. &.c” as “etc. etc. etc.” and imagined a variety of spirits. Williams catered to men looking to have a good time with friends, associates, and acquaintances.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, may not have been as big or as bustling as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Charleston in the 1760s, but it was a still a busy port city in its own right. Accordingly, local entrepreneurs launched businesses, such as the Crown Coffee House, that offered services and, more generally, experiences that paralleled those that could be found in larger cities.