August 30

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement.jpg
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 27, 1767).

“JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR … UNDERTAKES to make Clothes in the neatest and newest Fashion.”

John Holliday and his wife ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout most of 1767. The Adverts 250 Project previously featured that advertisement, examining how the couple surreptitiously inserted information about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing unwanted facial hair at the end of an advertisement that, at a glance, focused primarily on John’s services as a tailor.

The Hollidays’ advertisement demonstrates one strategy female entrepreneurs used to promote their participation in the marketplace without independently publishing newspaper notices, yet the initial portion dedicated to John’s enterprise includes fairly rare commentary on attitudes about the effectiveness of advertising in eighteenth-century America. “Mr. Holliday humbly begs Leave to refer to those Gentlemen who have favoured him with their Commands, since the Commencement of this Advertisement, as their Approbation has been equal to his highest Expectation.” In other words, Holliday acknowledged that business had increased since first placing the advertisement and he attributed that development to his marketing efforts rather than other circumstances. Perhaps Holliday’s advertisement had been successfully because he did not merely announce that he had set up shop. Instead, he listed his qualifications, noting that he had previously been employed as “Foreman and Cutter-out to some of the most eminent Master-Taylors in London.” Such a pedigree likely caught the attention of status-conscious residents of the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the colonies!

Furthermore, Holliday attempted to use his new clients to incite additional demand for his services. Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia from London, he promised that “any Gentlemen that shall be pleased to favour him with their Commands … will not be disappointed” with the garments he made “in the neatest and newest Fashion.” According to this advertisement, several “Gentlemen” indeed “favoured him with their Commands” and thought so highly of the work he completed for them that other potential clients should consider that sufficient testimonial to also engage his services.

February 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 5, 1767).

“Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound.”

Women actively participated in the colonial marketplace as retailers of imported goods and sellers of other wares, especially in the major port cities. Historians have estimated, for instance, that as many as four out of ten shopkeepers in Philadelphia were women. Yet an overview of advertising from the period does not testify to the extensive presence of women as sellers, producers, and suppliers (as opposed to merely taking on the role of consumers) in the eighteenth century. Although some female entrepreneurs did advertise in newspapers, they were disproportionately underrepresented in that medium. Women were even less likely to distribute other forms of advertising – trade cards, billheads, broadsides, notices on magazine wrappers – in the eighteenth century, despite some notable exceptions.

Some female entrepreneurs resorted to roundabout means of promoting their business endeavors in the public prints. John Holliday’s wife, identified only as “Mrs. Holliday,” appended an announcement about her “new-invented curious Compound” to her husband’s advertisement for his tailoring shop. Throughout the eighteenth century, some women took that means of injecting their own marketing messages into a public discourse of commerce dominated by men. In addition to husbands and wives, sometimes fathers and daughters or brothers and sisters or widows and close family friends or business associates issued joint advertisements that first detailed the goods and services offered by a man and then turned to another enterprise conducted by a woman. Only on exceptionally rare occasions did shared newspapers advertisements first promote a woman’s business endeavors before turning to her male counterpart.

Certainly some of the decision to place joint advertisements resulted from minimizing expenses devoted to marketing. The pattern of privileging husbands and other male relations or associates over women, however, suggests that some female entrepreneurs felt a bit of apprehension about too boldly making their business activities visible to the general public, even as they needed to attract customers from among that public. Appending their own advertisements to those placed by men who presumably oversaw their dealings to some extent or another had the effect of providing implicit masculine endorsement as well as suggesting that female entrepreneurs operated under appropriate male supervision.