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.

August 3

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

“LEFT by the subscriber at Mr. Bennett White’s … a neat assortment of JEWELLERY.”

Aug 3 - 8:1:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (August 1, 1766).

James Geddy “became Williamsburg’s best-known colonial silversmith,” according to the entry detailing his silversmithing and retail business by Colonial Williamsburg. His advertisement in the Virginia Gazette did not offer much by way of introduction, but Geddy may have believed that he could rely on the reputation he had established and did not need to promote his “neat assortment of JEWELLERY, with GOLD and SILVER WORK” beyond selling it “at the lowest rates.”

It appears that Geddy placed this advertisement as part of an effort to expand his business and gain customers in a new market beyond Williamsburg, up the James River in New Castle in Hanover County (the vicinity of Richmond today). He did not set up a shop or workshop of his own in that town; instead, he “LEFT” his wares “at Mr. Bennett White’s, who keeps a publick house of good entertainment in Newcastle.” In addition, Geddy also accepted orders via White, either to repair damaged items or create new ones to specification. In choosing a partner in New Castle, Geddy likely valued the high volume of patrons who frequented White’s tavern. Rather than attempt a partnership with a local smith or retailer (neither of which would have appreciated a competitor from Williamsburg attempting to siphon off potential customers), Geddy chose an establishment that likely had greater foot traffic, both locals and travelers. White may have earned commissions on his sales and orders, making the arrangement mutually beneficial to the silversmith and the tavern keeper.

Learn more about Geddy and his business by visiting the original James Geddy House and the reconstructed James Geddy Foundry at Colonial Williamsburg.

May 5

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

May 5 - 5:5:1766 Boston Gazette
Boston Gazette (May 5, 1766).

“BEST neat Shoe & Knee Chapes.”

What were shoe and knee chapes? Colonial readers would have instantly recognized shoe and knee chapes as buckles. Eighteenth-century consumers had an extensive vocabulary for personal adornment, from the assortment of textiles frequently listed in advertisements to the perukes examined yesterday. A visit to an eighteenth-century shop likely involved a conversation that in many ways would be partially incomprehensible today.

May 5 - Chapes
Shoe and knee buckles.  These photos are on the same scale, demonstrating the relative size of shoe and knee buckles.

John Symmes imported his “Shoe & Knee Chapes” from London, but he likely customized them according to the taste and budget of his customers. He concluded his advertisement by noting that he was not solely a shopkeeper; instead, “All Sorts of Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Work” could be “done in the neatest Manner at said Shop.” According to Carolyn L. White (in American Artifacts of Personal Adornment, 1680-1820), buckles were frequently decorated with a variety of jewels or their paste substitutes (since buckles were frequently lost). White documents an entire industry devoted to making, adorning, and retailing shoe and knee chapes in the eighteenth century.

May 5 - Earl Portrait of David Baldwin
Ralph Earl, Portrait of David Baldwin (1790).  High Museum of Art, Atlanta.  Note that Baldwin wears both shoe and knee buckles.

Like other historians of material culture in early America, White consulted newspaper advertisements extensively to reconstruct the merchandise and services available in the eighteenth century. Again we see the enduring value of advertising from the period: it gives us glimpses of daily life 250 years ago and, in some cases, provides the most complete information about the business activities and personal possessions of colonists.

April 1

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Apr 1 - 3:31:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 31, 1766).

“A Large and good Assortment of loose STONES.”

I found a few things interesting about this advertisement: first, that Welsh’s goods were imported from London; second, the goods he sold; and, third, that his shop was located next to an insurance office.

Compared to other advertisements I chose for this week, Welsh explicitly stated that his goods were imported from London. While the Revolution had not officially started, there was a lot of unrest in the colonies and tension with Britain. On the other hand, from the goods he sold, Welsh would have wanted to let his potential customers know that they were getting a good product.

From the products he advertised, Welsh’s clients were likely elites or merchants with disposable income. I cannot imagine a farmer or shopkeeper with enough money to spend on garnets, topazes, or rubies. This is the first time I have seen an advertisement for such luxury items.

This leads me to the third thing that interested me about this advertisement: the location. Other than using the shop next door as a point of reference, I believe that John Welsh might have been trying to establish subconsciously a sense of security for his customers. By stating that his shop was located next to an insurance office he projected an air of reliability. He likely also has insurance with the office and he was well protected so his customers should have felt the same.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Like Mary, I am interested in where “JOHN WELSH, Jeweller,” kept shop, but from a different angle. He indicated that he sold “Jeweller’s and Goldsmith’s Work” at “his Shop next to Mr. Pigeon’s Insurance-Office, at the North End of BOSTON.” The advertisement, however, appeared in the Newport Mercury! This caught me by surprise because in the 1760s most men and women who placed newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services did so only in publications printed in the city or town where they operated their business. They targeted their marketing at relatively local consumers, those who resided in their city or the hinterland served by the city’s newspaper(s). An increasing standardization of goods in eighteenth-century American helps to explain this: shopkeepers in Newport by and large stocked the same merchandise as their counterparts in Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Accordingly, advertisers focused on attracting local customers.

There were, however, some exceptions, including John Welsh. His specialized merchandise may help to explain why he advertised in a newspaper printed and distributed in a port city about seventy miles away.  He needed to reach a critical mass of potential customers. Certainly wealthy merchants who could afford his wares resided in Newport. Note that he stated that “any Gentleman may be as well used by Letter as if present.” Welsh offered a form of mail order shopping for customers who could not visit his shop.

March 4

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Mar 4 - 3:3:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 3, 1766).

“Making or mending any Kind of Diamond or enameled Work.”

Charles Oliver Bruff’s advertisement offers a wide variety of popular jewelry to be made and mended. Jewelry made between 1714 and 1847 comes from the Georgian Era. It is important to note that jewelry was not made the same way it is today. According to the International Gem Society, the process was far more labor-intensive. Gold and metal ingots needed to be rolled into thin sheets before they could be formed into the popular styles of the time.

Bruff chose to market a variety of popular merchandise, but one that is specifically interesting is pinchbeck buckles. Pinchbeck was a material commonly used that looks like gold but is much more affordable. Oliver’s choice to advertise this along with more expensive jewelry is interesting because it shows that he was trying to appeal to people of many different economic backgrounds. Jewelry was primarily a luxury of the elite society, but Oliver’s advertisement alludes to the inclusion of customers from other economic statuses.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Of all the possible items in Bruff’s advertisement that Trevor chose to investigate, he selected pinchbeck buckles. That, in turn, led me to a fascinating discovery when I clicked the hyperlink to a dictionary definition of “pinchbeck” that he included to accompany his commentary for today. The first entry refers explicitly to “the Jewellery Way” (as Bruff put it): “an alloy of copper and zinc used especially to imitate gold in jewelry.”

A second entry, however, indicates that “pinchbeck” could also mean “something counterfeit or spurious.” It seems unlikely that Bruff intended to suggest that his buckles should be considered inferior in any way, but colonial consumers would have known that pinchbeck buckles were made of something other than gold (especially since Bruff promised to sell them “cheap by the dozen”).

A variety of scholars – including those who study consumer culture, material culture, manners, and reputation – have argued that assessing the dress and comportment of others became a cultural preoccupation in the eighteenth century. Especially as greater numbers of people of diverse statuses possessed an increasing array of goods as the consumer revolution progressed, colonists attempted to distinguish the truly genteel from those who merely simulated gentility. Colonists carefully observed each other to see if inner character matched an individual’s outward appearance.

In that context, pinchbeck buckles potentially presented a bit of a conundrum. What did it say about someone who wore accoutrements that looked like gold all while knowing that the appearance of the more costly metal misrepresented the true nature of the alloy that was actually used? Could that be interpreted as a reflection on one’s own character? Social mobility was fraught with such dilemmas in the eighteenth century.