April 4

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

Apr 4 - 4:4:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 4, 1768).

“M’QUEEN continues as usual, to make all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.”

How effective were the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers?  This is a difficult question to answer, especially from the perspective of consumers. From the perspective of the advertisers, however, their persistence in running newspaper advertisements suggests that they believed those advertisements effectively generated more business than if they had instead chosen not to advertise.  This speaks to attitudes about advertising in eighteenth-century America.

John McQueen sold made and sold stays (or corsets) in New York in the 1760s.  He repeatedly placed advertisements in the local newspapers (including advertisements in March 1766 and February 1767), an indication that he considered them effective for stimulating demand among prospective customers. At the very least, he saw advertising as a necessity for informing readers of the various kinds of stays he stocked.  Neglecting to advertise might have resulted in surrendering his share of the market to competitors.  Such an interpretation implies that McQueen merely attempted to direct existing demand to his establishment.  The contents of the advertisements, however, suggest that he considered advertising more powerful than that.  After all, he did not merely announce that he sold stays; the staymaker also formulated appeals to fashion that he expected would resonate with potential customers.

For instance, McQueen underscored that he sold “all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.”  This echoed appeals that he made in previous advertisements:  “all sort of Stays for Ladies in the newest Fashions that is wore in London” and “all Sorts of Stays, in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.”  In addition to invoking current tastes, McQueen linked his stays to European fashions, especially those in the metropolitan center of the empire.  New York was a relatively small city compared to London, but “Ladies” who purchased McQueen’s stays could trust that they were not less cosmopolitan than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. McQueen reinforced this appeal when he also applied it “neat polished Steel back Shapes, and Collars, much used in London.”  He continued by asserting that these items were “necessary for young Ladies, at Boarding and Dancing Schools.”  He bound fashion and gentility together, seeking to convince prospective customers that they needed the stays he made and sold, especially if they intended to comport themselves appropriately at certain venues where the better sorts gathered.

McQueen considered these appeals effective enough that he consistently incorporated them into newspaper advertisements over the course of several years.  He did more than announce that he made and sold stays.  He offered reasons why readers should purchase his wares, attempting to stimulate demand.  Had he not believed that this would yield a return on his investment then he likely would have scaled back or discontinued his advertisements rather than continue to pay for notices that had no effect on consumers.

February 2

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

feb-2-221767-new-york-gazette
New-York Gazette (February 2, 1767).

“Said M‘Queen, continues his Business as usual, to make all sorts of Stays for Ladies.”

John McQueen pursued multiple branches of the staymaking business at his shop “At the Sign of the Stays … in Smith-Street” in New York. He sold stays (or corsets) recently imported from London, but stated that he made “all sorts of Stays” as well. McQueen described himself as a “Stay-Maker” rather than a shopkeeper, although he also engaged in retailing “every Article for Stay-Makers” to others who practiced the trade. He sold textiles and accessories, like many shopkeepers, but the landmark that identified his shop, “the Sign of the Stays,” testified to his primary occupation and merchandise.

Even though he possessed the skills “to make all sorts of Stays,” McQueen may have considered it necessary to stock and advertise inventory imported from London. In addition to keeping up with demand that might have exceeded the number of garments he could produce in his shop, this also allowed him to assert that customers who purchased his stays could be certain that they made stylish choices that kept with those made by genteel women who resided across the Atlantic in the metropolitan capital of the British empire. McQueen had a habit of concluding his advertisements with declarations that he made stays “in the newest Fashions that is wore in London,” as he did in a nota bene that accompanied today’s advertisement. In an advertisement published nearly a year earlier, he resorted to even more grandiose language, proclaiming that he made stays “in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France, &c. &c.” In that case, he also reported that he imported stays “directly from London.”

Which merchandise comprised the bulk of McQueen’s business? Imported Stays or those he made in his own shop? Either way, he needed to establish some sort of connection – some sort of awareness of – current fashions in London and other cosmopolitan cities in Europe to help move any of his inventory made in his own shop. In the coming years many colonists would increasingly turn to homespun and look askance at goods and styles transported across the Atlantic for England, but for the moment most were still invested in expressing British identity through the Anglicization of the goods they purchased and clothing they wore.

March 10

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

Mar 10 - 3:10:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (March 10, 1766).

“To be sold by JOHN M”QUEEN, At the Sign of the WHITE STAYS.

Staymaker John M”Queen was concerned with fashion – and from start to finish his advertisement suggested that his potential customers should be as well. He opened with a summary of his wares (“A Neat Assortment of Women and Maid’s Stays, the very newest Fashion, directly from London”) and concluded with a reassurance (“all sorts of Stays, in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France”). What is a stay? Colonial Williamsburg offers “A Glossary of Terms” describing women’s clothing in the colonial era: stays were the eighteenth-century version of what became corsets in the nineteenth century, but visit the glossary for a much more complete examination.

New York was one of the largest cities in the colonies in the 1760s, but it was a provincial outpost. M”Queen incited anxieties that residents did not want to be seen as inhabitants of some backwater village. Instead, his advertisement suggests, they wanted full membership in British (and European) fashion and culture. His stays were not merely of the “newest Fashion” in the colonies. Instead, they had arrived “directly from London” and were the same style as those “wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.” Not just an importer, M”Queen was a staymaker himself, but as he produced stays locally he kept his eyes on changing fashions in London.

As an aside, it is worth mentioning that this advertisement linking consumption and fashion was aimed at female customers, but that should not be misinterpreted as evidence that eighteenth-century women placed more emphasis on fashion than men. Given the nature of the product he marketed, M”Queen addressed women, but advertisements for men’s garments during the period were just as likely to invoke a language of fashion and cosmopolitan connections to European metropolitan centers.