June 6

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 6, 1771).

“The Estate of JANE EUSTIS, late of Boston, Shop-keeper.”

For several weeks in the spring of 1771 the Massachusetts Spy carried a notice requesting “all those persons who are indebted to the Estate of JANE EUSTIS, late of Boston, Shop-keeper, deceased, or that have any Demands on, or accounts open with the estate … settle such accounts with JOSEPH PEIRCE, merchant, in Boston.”  During her lifetime, Eustis ran advertisements in the public prints in order to promote her business, but that was not the only form of marketing that she deployed.  In the late 1760s, Eustis distributed an engraved trade card, known at the time as a shopkeeper’s bill, to supplement her newspaper advertising.

Jane Eustis’s Trade Card or Shopkeeper’s Bill, ca. 1769. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Surrounded by a rococo border, the text resembled a newspaper advertisement.  It opened with a familiar phrase, “Imported from LONDON,” before naming Eustis, giving her location, and listing a variety of “English and India Goods,” primarily textiles, “Millinary & Haberdashery.”  A brief note assured prospective customers that Eustis sold her merchandise “All Cheap for Cash.”  Although a significant number of female entrepreneurs in Boston and other towns placed newspapers advertisements, relatively few disseminated trade cards, billheads, broadsides, or other forms of advertising in eighteenth-century America.  Eustis’s trade card is also notable for being the earliest known shopkeeper’s bill distributed by a woman.  The copy in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society features a receipted bill for lace, gloves, and textiles dated April 17, 1769, on the reverse.  Merchants and shopkeepers tended to use the same design for years, so Eustis may have commissioned her trade card well before 1769.

The design, especially the ornate border, testified to genteel tastes that resonated with many consumers.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in London and other English cities distributed similar trade cards throughout the eighteenth century.  Eustis, like other American entrepreneurs who commissioned trade cards, replicated a common style, positioning her marketing efforts within transatlantic networks of commerce and consumption.  In so doing, she enhanced her appeal asserting connections to London and current fashions in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.  Commissioning and distributing an engraved trade card that resembled those passed out in London suggested that even though Eustis operated a shop on the other side of the Atlantic neither she nor her merchandise could be dismissed as merely provincial.

Receipted Bill Dated April 17, 1769, on Reverse of Jane Eustis’s Trade Card. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.