October 4

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

New-York Journal (October 4, 1770).

“They render the skin delicately white and soft.”

Amid advertisements for textiles and housewares. James Thompson marketed cosmetics in the New-York Journal in September and October 1770.  He informed readers that he had recently acquired a “Parcel of the Queen’s pearl wash balls” that would “render the skin delicately white and soft.”  For only three shillings, consumers could use this balm for “removing sun burning, freckles, roughness of the skin, and pimples.”  Thompson also presented this product as a restorative for their skin after contracting smallpox, recommending that they dissolve the “Queen’s pearl wash balls” in milk for maximum effectiveness.  Upon applying the mixture to the face, neck, arms, and hands, they would discover that it “heals the skin, takes off the redness, and prevents it from being pitted or marked.”  Thompson also declared that the product was “well known and esteemed by the nobility and gentry in Europe, particularly in England and France.”  He encouraged consumers to associate celebrities and cosmetics in the eighteenth century, anticipating the famous spokespeople, predominantly women, who would promote cosmetic lines and brands in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Thompson also stocked “La Cieur’s celebrated ointment for thickening and preserving the hair.”  He received his inventory “from the original warehouse.”  This ointment both “prevents the hair from falling off” and “when rubbed on bald places, with certainty promotes its growth.  In marketing the “Queen’s pearl wash balls” and “La Cieur’s celebrated ointment,” Thompson encouraged colonists to experience anxiety about their appearance and make purchases to alleviate them.  Richard Norris, a staymaker, adopted a similar strategy in his advertisements that ran for months in the New-York Journal.  He addressed “Ladies uneasy in their shapes,” especially “young ladies and growing misses.”  Thompson did not target female consumers exclusively, though women may have been his primary audience.  Norris, on the other hand, specifically sought to stoke anxiety among female consumers and promised them relief from their apprehensions about their appearance.  Such trends continue today, with marketers playing on the apprehensions of all consumers but targeting women much more intensively when it comes to cosmetics and other products intended to enhance their appearance and “correct” any shortcomings.