August 28

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 26, 1771).

“Some of the best workmen … that could be had in any part of England.”

In the summer of 1771, Bennett and Dixon introduced themselves to residents of New York as “Jewellers, Gold-smiths, and Lapidaries, from London” and invited prospective customers to their shop near the post office.  The partners recently imported “a great variety of jewellery,” including “necklaces, ear rings, egrets, sprigs and pins for ladies hair, rings, lockets, and broaches of all sorts, ladies tortoise-shell combs plain and sett,” and many sorts of buckles.  They promised low prices for both wholesale and retail prices.

Yet Bennett and Dixon were not merely purveyors of imported jewelry, accessories, and adornments.  They also accepted commissions and fabricated items at their shop.  In promoting that aspect of their business, they underscored the level of skill represented among their employees.  “[F]or the better carrying on the jewellery, goldsmith and lapidary business,” Bennett and Dixon proclaimed, they “engaged some of the best workmen in those branches, that could be had in any part of England.”  The partners imported not only merchandise and materials but also artisans with exceptional skills.  Prospective customers did not need to feel anxious that items they ordered from Bennett and Dixon would be of inferior quality or easily distinguished from imported jewelry.  Even though New York was far away from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, consumers could still acquire custom-made jewelry that rivaled anything produced on the other side of the Atlantic.  Bennett and Dixon also declared that their customers did not have to pay a premium for jewelry as “good as in the City of London.”  Their artisans worked “as cheap” as their counterparts there, keeping prices reasonable for customers who placed special orders.

Colonial consumers often worried that they only had access to second best when compared to goods and services available in English cities, especially London.  Advertisers like Bennett and Dixon frequently reassured prospective customers that they had choices that rivaled anything available to consumers in the metropolitan center of the empire.

August 10

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

Providence Gazette (August 10, 1771).

“CHARLES STEVENS … informs the Public, particularly his old Customers, that he has removed to BROAD-STREET.”

When Charles Stevens, a goldsmith and jeweler, moved to a new location in the summer of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  He intended his notice for “the Public,” but “particularly his old Customers.” Making this distinction served more than one purpose.  First, it was a courtesy to existing clients unaware that Stevens changed location.  In addition, it suggested to prospective new customers that the goldsmith and jeweler had already cultivated a clientele.  Some may have been more likely to engage his services once reassured others previously hired him.  Prior demand helped incite new demand.  In general, Stevens sought the “Favours of the Public,” whether former customers or new, at his shop on Broad Street.

To that end, he proclaimed that he “carries on his Business in all its Branches, as usual.”  This testified to his knowledge of his craft, signaling that he possessed the necessary skill and knowledge to complete any commission presented to him.  Appending “as usual” once again testified to his experience.  Although he opened a shop at a new location, Stevens was not new to his trade.  Beyond the usual services that consumers expected of goldsmiths and jewelers, Stevens also repaired porcelain.  In a nota bene, he declared, “Cracked and broken China riveted in the neatest Manner.”  As many artisans did in their advertisements, Stevens offered ancillary services that produced additional revenues.  He may have also hoped that getting clients to visit his shop for one purpose would lead to subsequent visits for others, provided they had positive experiences the first time.

Stevens’s short advertisement consisted entirely of text, much different from modern jewelry advertisements that dazzle prospective customers with images of the merchandise.  Given the technology and standard marketing practices in the eighteenth century, Stevens packed multiple messages intended to resonate with consumers into a short newspaper notice.

August 1

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 1, 1771).

At the GOLDEN LION.”

In the early 1770s, John Carnan, a goldsmith and jeweler, ran a shop at the corner of Second and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.  He promoted his “GOLD, SILVER and JEWELLERY WORK” in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette, assuring prospective customers that he made his wares “in the best and newest taste.”  Like many other purveyors of goods, he provided an overview of his inventory in a dense paragraph of text.  Carnan listed everything from “TANKARDS, cans, tea, coffee and cream pots” to “gold, silver, gilt, enamelled, Scotch pebble, moco, chrystal, paste and glass sleeve buttons” to “silver and enamelled snuff-boxes [and] silver mounted decanter corks.”  In addition, he offered customers the opportunity to select among “sundry other articles, too tedious to mention.”  In terms of advertising copy, Carnan’s notice very much resembled others placed by purveyors of goods and services in Philadelphia and other American towns and cities.

The woodcut that adorned Carnan’s advertisement, however, distinguished it from others.  Carnan marked his location with a sign depicting a golden lion.  A woodcut that also depicted a lion appeared in the upper left corner of his advertisement.  (Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project will likely recognize this lion as the image that has appeared on its home page since its inception.)  The woodcut in the advertisement may have replicated Carnan’s shop sign, serving as a logo or brand that identified his business.  Even if the woodcut did not resemble the sign, incorporating an image of a lion likely helped consumers associate the regal animal with the goldsmith and jeweler, making his shop all the more memorable.  Unlike the woodcuts depicting ships at sea, the only other images in the August 1, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette beyond the masthead, the woodcut of the lion belonged to the advertiser rather than the printer.  Carnan invested in an image reserved for his sole use.  Over time, he included the image in other advertisements, providing consistency via the image even as he generated new copy for his notices.  Inserting the same woodcut in multiple advertisements also allowed him a greater return on his investment.  Not every advertiser who commissioned unique woodcuts used them more than once.  Carnan, however, recognized the potential for enhancing his marketing efforts with an image that represented his business and attracted attention among prospective customers.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 7, 1770).

“Mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city.”

Upon the occasion of moving to a new location, jeweler and goldsmith James Bennet placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He informed former and prospective customers that he no longer ran a shop on Maiden Lane.  Instead, the “public in general” could find him at his new shop at “the house next to Mr. Peter Goelet’s, the sign of the Golden Key, near the Old-Slip Market, Hanover-Square.”  In an era before standardized street numbers, Bennett provided plenty of landmarks to help customers find his new location.

He opened his advertisement by expressing appreciation for “those ladies and gentlemen who have been so kind as to favour him with their custom.”  He hoped that they would continue as customers.  Acknowledging their prior support for his business also alerted prospective new customers that even though he set up shop at a new location this was not a new endeavor.  Bennett already had experience pursuing his trade in New York.  In thanking former customers, he also sought to demonstrate demand for his services among readers who had not yet visited his shop at any location.

To further capture their interest, he briefly described his services, stating that he continued “to make, mend, [and] sell … all sorts of jewellery and goldsmith’s work.”  He embellished that rather plain overview with a much more enticing offer, claiming that he “makes mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city, and with the greatest expedition.” An advertisement for a jeweler and goldsmith moving from one location to another was pretty standard fare among the notices that ran in colonial newspapers.  A declaration about the lowest prices possible for a popular piece of jewelry, on the other hand, challenged consumers to visit his shop to see for themselves.  If that managed to get customers through the door, it gave Bennett opportunities to secure other sales.  Even if readers were skeptical of his claim, they could not know for certain unless they investigated on their own.  Rather than merely announce that he moved to a new location, Bennett enticed prospective customers with a bold claim intended to grab their attention.

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.