November 16

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

Nov 16 - 11:16:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 16, 1769).

“He will sell at the lowest Advance, and allow ten per Cent. discount for CASH.”

In the late 1760s James Courtonne operated a jewelry shop on Broad Street in Charleston. In an advertisement in the November 16, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, he promoted a variety of his wares, including an “Assortment of Sterling PLATE and JEWELS, of the newest Fashions, most elegantly finished,” “Silver and double gilt Swords,” and “a great Variety of MARCASITE and COQUE-DE-PEARL Ear-Rings.” In addition to selling these imported items, the jeweler also offered several services, noting that the “continues to make and mend Diamond and mourning Rings, and Ear-Rings and Lockets enamelled in the neatest Manner.”

Not surprisingly, Courtonne advanced an appeal to fashion when describing his wares, yet that was not his only means of marketing his jewelry and the array of silver coffeepots, spoons, and spurs available at his shop. He also lowered his prices under circumstances, proclaiming that he would “allow ten per Cent. discount for CASH.” He would allow credit for these purchases, but he saw a definite advantage to dealing in cash. In turn, he sought to make paying in cash attractive to prospective customers as well.

Credit helped fuel the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Merchants and shopkeepers extended credit to consumers while also drawing on transatlantic networks of credit that connected them to merchants, producers, and suppliers in Britain and other places. This system depended on trust and the ability to make savvy decisions. It was risky. Merchants, shopkeepers, and others frequently placed newspaper advertisements calling on customers who made purchases on credit to settle their accounts or face legal action, sometimes in the same advertisements that they marketed their wares to other prospective customers.

Rather than make threats, Courtonne offered an incentive for prospective customers to pay in cash at the time of purchase. Everyone benefitted. Customers paid less. The jeweler received payment in a timely manner. In addition, Courtonne and those clients cultivated relationships with each other that did not have the specter of credit looming over them.

September 13

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

Sep 13 - 9:13:1769 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (September 13, 1769).

“JAMES OLIPHANT, JEWELLER.”

When he moved to a new location in September 1769, jeweler James Oliphant ran an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to inform prospective customers where to find him. In marketing his wares to consumers in Charleston, he provided a catalog of several services provided by colonial jewelers. In addition to making and selling jewelry, Oliphant “engraves and enamels a variety of patterns of motto rings and lockets, forms hair for them into cyphers, sprigs, flowers, trees, knots or another device.” He also “engraves coats of arms upon seals, plate,” and other items. As he listed these services he advanced some of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements. Clients acquired “the newest fashions” at his shop “upon the most reasonable terms.” Oliphant used fashion and price to encourage conspicuous consumption among “his friends and customers.”

While Oliphant’s advertisement gave an overview of the jewelry made and sold in his shop, it did not necessary reveal the contributions of every worker who labored there. Oliphant took credit for all items produced in his shop, but he may have had enslaved assistants who crafted “the newest fashions” and made it possible for him to charge “the most reasonable terms.” Another advertisement in the same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that was the case for jeweler John-Paul Grimke. In a lengthy notice, Grimke announced his plans to retire. He scheduled an auction to liquidate his jewels, plate, watches, and other merchandise … as well as two “NEGRO BOYS” who worked in his shop. The two had been “brought up to the Jewellers Trade” and possessed many skills. They could “make Gold Rings and Buttons, engrave them very neatly, and do many other kinds of work.” Grimke offered a one-month trial period for prospective buyers who wished to assess their skills.

Throughout the eighteenth century, artisans who advertised products from their workshops often told incomplete stories about who made or contributed to making jewelry, furniture, shoes, or other items. Journeymen, apprentices, and enslaved laborers often worked alongside artisans who marketed everything produced in their shops as their own creations. Prior to his retirement, Grimke was the public face for his shop, but enslaved youth made significant contributions to his business. Oliphant did not disclose in his advertisement whether his business also benefited from the skilled labor of enslaved artisans. The “newest fashions” worn by the residents of Charleston may have been crafted, all or in part, by workers held in bondage.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 25, 1769).

“Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.”

Even though he operated a shop in the relatively small town of New London, goldsmith and jeweler Robert Douglass, Jr., sought to convince prospective customers that he provided goods and services that rivaled those offered by his counterparts in larger cities. In an advertisement inserted in the August 25, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette, he emphasized that he “makes and sells all Kinds of Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Work, as cheap as can be bought in Boston or New-York.” Prospective customers did not need to send away to shops in those busy ports to find good deals, nor did they need to suspect that Douglass engaged in price gouging as a result of being some distance from urban centers with greater numbers of goldsmiths and jewelers who kept down their prices as they competed with each other.

In addition to making an appeal to price, Douglass pledged that “Whoever will please to favour [him] with their Custom, may depend on having their Work done as well as in any other Part of New-England.” Prospective customers also did not have to fret that they sacrificed quality when they chose to deal with a local goldsmith and jeweler. Douglass positioned his skills and expertise in direct competition with his counterparts in Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and even Boston. Having invoked New York when it came to price, he also implied that his work rivaled that done by goldsmiths and jewelers there.

To further entice prospective clients to visit his shop, Douglass introduced a new employee. James Watson, “who makes and repairs all Kinds of Clocks and Watches in the neatest and best Manner,” had just arrived from London. His presence in Douglass’s shop linked it to the most cosmopolitan city in the British Empire. Local customers did not have to worry that they had settled for what was available when they visited Douglass’s shop. Instead, the goldsmith and jeweler suggested, they patronized an establishment on par with those in the largest cities in the colonies and even the metropolis of London. Despite ongoing disputes over the Townshend Acts, many colonial consumers still looked to London as a center of taste and gentility.

Douglass incorporated several common marketing strategies in his advertisement: price, quality, and connections to the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. He adapted each appeal to address anxieties about hiring a goldsmith and jeweler located in a small town, assuring prospective customers that the goods and services from his shop matched those from other shops in larger towns and cities. Local customers did not need to look beyond New London to discover remarkable value when they wished to hire a goldsmith, jeweler, or watchmaker.

August 6

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

Aug 6 - 8:3:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (August 3, 1769).

“Two negro boys brought up to the jeweler’s trade.”

When John Paul Grimke, a jeweler, decided to “retire from business” he announced a going-out-of-business sale in the South-Carolina Gazette. He aimed to liquidate his entire “STOCK IN TRADE” via auction at his shop on Broad Street in Charleston beginning in early November of 1769 and continuing into December. Grimke provided a list of his inventory as a means of enticing prospective bidders to view his wares in advance and attend the auctions. His merchandise included “many valuable jewels of most kinds,” “silver handle table and desert knives and forks,” silver hilted swords and hangers with belts,” and “silver and Pinchbeck watches with chains.”

Grimke’s “STOCK IN TRADE” that he intended to auction also included “two negro boys brought up to the jeweler’s trade.” Each had acquired several skills. They could “make gold rings and buttons, engrave them very neatly, and do many other kinds of work.” Realizing that these claims required time and observation to verify, Grimke offered a trial period of one month before making the sale of these enslaved jewelers final.

Advertisements that presented enslaved people for sale testified to the many and varied skills they possessed. Enslaved men, women, and children did not merely perform agricultural labor on farms and plantations. They also worked in homes and workshops in both urban and rural environments. Many were highly skilled artisans who enriched those who held them in bondage not only through their involuntary labor but also through their skill and expertise. Advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette regularly offered enslaved blacksmiths, carpenters, and coopers for sale. John Matthews advertised “two or three Negro Shoemakers” who had “done all my business for nine Years past,” indicating that they had played an indispensible part in the success of his business. Grimke’s enslaved assistants may never have labored in the fields, having instead been “brought up to the jeweler’s trade.” Along with other sources, newspaper advertisements catalog the variety of occupations pursued by enslaved people in eighteenth-century America, expanding our understanding of the contributions enslaved people made to colonial commerce and society. Enslaved artisans, these advertisements demonstrate, played a vital role in the development of the colonial marketplace.

June 6

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

Jun 6 - 6:6:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (June 6, 1769).

Goldsmith and Jeweller, AT the Sign of the Gold Cup.”

Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, John Andrew noted the proximity of a landmark to his shop when directing prospective customers to his location. In an advertisement that ran in the Essex Gazette on June 6, 1769, Andrew informed readers that they could find his shop “near the Long-Wharf-Lane” in Salem. Yet he did not rely solely on landmarks and street names to identify his business. Andrew also declared that customers could seek him out at “the Sign of the Gold Cup.” A goldsmith and jeweler, Andrew selected a device that resonated with his occupation to mark his location.

Andrew’s advertisement testifies to an element of the visual landscape that residents and visitors alike encountered in Salem and other towns on the eve of the American Revolution. Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others posted signs to identify where they did business. Often these signs featured images that became associated with both entrepreneurs and locations. In Andrew’s case, the “Sign of the Gold Cup” was appropriate for an artisan who “makes all Sorts of Goldsmith’s and Jewellery Ware,” yet others who followed different occupations most likely also made reference to that sign when giving directions. Advertisements from newspapers published in several cities reveal that even when they did not invest in signs themselves, colonists made use of signs posted by others to give directions. In addition to marking the locations of particular businesses, shop signs served as landmarks for navigating the vicinity. Just as Andrew stated that his shop was near Long Wharf Lane, advertisers sometimes invoked nearby signs erected by others as features that would aid prospective customers in finding their shops. Given the frequency that this occurred in newspaper advertisements, colonists likely adopted such strategies in conversation just as regularly. Useful not only for commerce, shop signs aided everyday navigation of the lanes, streets, and alleys in colonial cities and towns.

May 4

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

May 4 - 5:4:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 4, 1768).

“They intend carrying on their business in all its branches, as they have brought proper tools for that purpose.”

According to an advertisement they placed in the May 4, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, William Sime and Jacob Moses had recently arrived in Savannah and planned to open their own shop in the small port city. They described themselves as “Goldsmith and Jewelers, from LONDON,” but did not indicate if they had migrated directly from the largest city in the empire or if they had practiced their trades in other cities before arriving in Georgia.  For the purposes of marketing their services, establishing a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the British Atlantic world mattered most.  It implied skill that arose from training and experience as well as familiarity with the most popular fashions.

Sime and Moses informed prospective customers that they were prepared for “carrying on their business in all its branches.”  They had “brought proper tools for that purpose” when they moved to Savannah. That they considered it necessary to make this point in their brief advertisement suggests that they anticipated potential clients might be concerned not only about their skill but also whether they possessed the necessary implements to follow through on their pledge of “having their work executed in the neatest manner,” a standard appeal made by artisans of all sorts throughout the eighteenth century.

Many advertisements for consumer goods and services from the period appear indistinguishable at first glance, in part because many incorporated formulaic language to make many of the most common appeals to price, quality, fashion, or skill.  Sime and Moses merely reiterated some phrases used in countless other advertisements:  “in the neatest manner” and “at the shortest notice.”  Yet their notice was not completely unoriginal. Although artisans frequently trumpeted their skill and the quality of their work, very few made reference to the set of specific tools they needed to pursue their craft “in all its branches.” Sime and Moses adapted other advertisements to suit their purposes by adding unique content specific to their trade and their personal circumstances.

January 8

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

Jan 8 - 1:8:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 8, 1768).

“JONATHAN SARRAZIN, JEWELLER.”

Jonathan Sarrazin once again placed his advertisement for “a LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” in the January 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, continuing a series that originated in that newspaper in early December 1767. The same advertisement, including a woodcut depicting a fashionable teapot, also appeared in another newspaper published in Charleston, the South Carolina Gazette.

Last week I examined some of the difficulties in tracing Sarrazin’s marketing efforts in the face of an incomplete archive. Missing or inaccessible issues make it impossible to definitively document when and how often advertisers placed newspaper notices. Today I offer some comments on another challenge inherent in working with surrogates, whether photographs, microfilm, or digital databases, rather than original sources.

A woodcut of a teapot did indeed accompany Sarrazin’s advertisement in both newspapers that carried his notice. Was it the same woodcut? Or was it two separate woodcuts that closely resembled each other? Seemingly trivial at first glance, the answer offers important insights into the effort and expense Sarrazin invested in advertising as well as the business practices of the printers of the newspapers.

Careful examination of the images in the South Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette suggests that Sarrazin did commission two separate woodcuts. However due to imperfect remediation, via photography and digitization, it is impossible to definitively state that Sarrazin had two nearly identical woodcuts of an ornate teapot, even thought the visual evidence indicates that was most likely the case.

Accepting that assumption leads to certain conclusions. Along with the copy for his advertisement, Sarrazin submitted a woodcut to the printing office for each newspaper. Acquiring two woodcuts meant that the jeweler incurred greater costs. It also eliminated any need for Sarrazin to shuttle a single woodcut back and forth between printing offices, carefully coordinating with the printers and their production schedules. It also eliminated the possible need for printers to engage in any sort of cooperation required for incorporating a single woodcut into multiple publications. Had Sarrazin commissioned only one woodcut, publishing it in two newspapers would have necessitated greater coordination between advertiser and printer and perhaps even cooperation between competing printers.

The available evidence suggests the most likely circumstances, but examination of the original sources would allow for a much more forceful assertion. Digitized sources tell much of the story, but they are not exhaustive in the clues about the past they reveal. Accurately telling the most complete story of the past requires using digitized and original sources in combination.

January 4

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

Jan 4 - 1:4:1767 South-Carolina Gazette
South Carolina Gazette (January 4, 1767).

“A Large assortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Jonathan Sarrazin, a jeweler in Charleston, used a woodcut of a teapot, one of the items he sold, to distinguish his newspaper advertisements from others that also appeared among the pages of dense type. Throughout 1767 and into 1768, his advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette regularly included this device. Sarrazin’s enthusiasm for associating an image of a fashionable teapot with his business, however, has been partially obscured by a gap in the archive.

Sarrazin could have advertised in any of the three newspapers published in Charleston. In addition to Robert Wells’ South-Carolina and American General Gazette, Peter Timothy printed the South Carolina Gazette and Charles Crouch printed the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Although all three newspapers had print runs that extended through 1767 and 1768, not all of the issues have been converted into digital surrogates that are digitally accessible to historians, other scholars, and the general public. Accessible Archives provides a complete digital archive for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal for 1767 and 1768, but lacks images of the South-Carolina Gazette for several months of 1767. (The database does include transcripts of the text of issues published during the period.) As a result, consideration of Sarrazin’s advertising campaign in 1767 has been truncated. Working with the available issues reveals that the jeweler advertised regularly in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, but not in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Consulting the transcripts of the South Carolina Gazette could establish whether Sarrazin also advertised in that publication, but that process requires much more time and labor than examining photographs of the original issues. This method also eliminates the most striking feature of Sarrazin’s commercial notices, the woodcut that made it so easy for readers – then and now – to identify his advertisements. (Keyword searches are notoriously unreliable, rendering them inconclusive as well.) Furthermore, the transcripts do not include metadata that indicates when woodcuts accompanied advertisements and news items. In the absence of photographs of the original issues, Sarrazin’s advertising campaign cannot be reconstructed definitively.

Fortunately, Accessible Archives does make available photographs for extant issues of the South Carolina Gazette for all of 1768. Those issues reveal that not only did Sarrazin opt to advertise in a second publication but that he also included a woodcut depicting an ornate teapot in his notices. This demonstrates the jeweler’s commitment to establishing a trademark for his business. He wanted consumers in Charleston and its hinterland to readily identify his advertisements and associate his wares with the fashionable and genteel teapot that appeared in his notices and perhaps doubled as the sign that marked the location of his shop. This testifies to a thoughtful effort to achieve consistency in his advertising in multiple newspapers.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 11, 1767).

“A LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Approximately two-thirds of the December 11, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette consisted of advertising. Among the dozens of advertisement in the issue, Jonathan Sarrazin’s notice had a feature that distinguished it from all others: an image of one of the products he sold at his shop on the corner of Broad Street and Church Street in Charleston.

Sarrazin’s advertisement was not the only one that included a woodcut, but it was the only one with an image, a teapot, created exclusively for the advertiser. Nine advertisements for freight and passage had images of ships. Despite some variation, several had woodcuts that replicated an image used elsewhere in the same issue, including three nearly identical ships on the same page as Sarrazin’s coffeepot. Three advertisements incorporated woodcuts of enslaved men, women, and children, while another three included images of houses and land for sale. One for a “FINE bay MARE” had an image of a horse that in another issue could have been used to advertise a steed “to cover.” For advertisements of the same genre – freight and passage, slaves, real estate, horses – these common images were inserted interchangeably in the eighteenth century. These woodcuts belonged to the printer, a necessary supplement to the type since they were used so often.

Some artisans and shopkeepers, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to accompany their advertisements exclusively. Sarrazin, a jeweler, did so, choosing an image that represented the “LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” listed in his notice, an ornate teapot with a decorative bird’s-head spout. (For a similar teapot crafted in New York earlier in the century, see this example from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Unlike others who advertised consumer goods and services in the same issue, Sarrazin mobilized text and visual image simultaneously to market his wares to potential customers. On the pages of dense text in South-Carolina and American General Gazette, this set apart his advertisement from others. This strategy likely attracted increased attention from readers.