May 22

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

Connecticut Journal (May 22, 1771).

Mrs. SMITH takes this Method to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary.”

When Joseph Smith relocated from New York to New Haven, he took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal to “acquaint the Public, That he has open’d a Store … and has for Sale a Variety of fancy’d GOODS, proper for the Season.”  He then listed a variety of textiles, including “Flower’d and plain Sattins of all colours,” “Strip’d Camblets,” and “Flower’d and strip’d Muslins.”  He also carried accessories, such as “Black & white Silk & Thread Laces for Caps,” “Feathers & Flowers of all Colours,” and “All Kinds of Trimings for Cloaks.”  In addition to enumerating dozens of items, Smith asserted that he stocked “sundry other Articles too tedious to mention.”

Although Smith presented himself as the primary purveyor of these goods, the advertisement revealed that his wife also contributed to the family business.  In a brief note that followed the catalog of merchandise, she addressed prospective customers.  “Mrs. SMITH takes this Method,” she declared, “to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary either plain or fashionable, such as Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, Childrens Jockies, &c.”  She provided an ancillary service that enhanced the retail business.  She undoubtedly assisted her husband in serving customers, making recommendations about what was “plain or fashionable,” and taking care of other aspects of running the store, but her contributions did not end there.  She was an entrepreneur in her own right, even if the advertisement emphasized Joseph as the proprietor and only made reference to her skills and labor at the very end.  Still, Mrs. Smith gained greater visibility in the public prints than most wives, daughters, and other female relations who aided male heads of households in operating their businesses.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Connecticut Journal, Hubbard and Atwater, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers, and Paul Noyes advertised various goods, from medicines to textiles to leather breeches.  None of their notices mentioned anyone other than the proprietors of their businesses, but all of them almost certainly benefited from invisible labor provided by women.  Even in what appeared as a postscript to a much longer advertisement, Mrs. Smith gained greater public recognition as an entrepreneur than most other women did for their contributions to their family businesses.

September 6

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

Connecticut Journal (September 6, 1771).

Shoes sold cheap.”

Joseph Smith and Jacob Thompson competed for customers.  Both placed advertisements in the September 6, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal to promote the shoes they made and sold in New Haven.  Smith’s notice appeared first, informing prospective customers that “he carries on the Business of shoemaking or cordwaining, in all its Branches” at his shop located at “the Green Boot and Shoe.”  He used “good Materials” and hired “the best of Workmen.”  In case that was not enough to attract the attention of local consumers, Smith also described a limited-time offer for those ready to pay (or barter for “Country Produce”) immediately rather than purchase their shoes and boots on credit.  Until September 20, he would “work 10 per cent. cheaper than the booking price.”  Customers could take advantage of this bargain, but only if they acted quickly.

Thompson’s advertisement ran immediately below Smith’s notice.  He declared that he “continues to carry on the Business of Shoe-making as usual” and already had “a quantity of ready made Shoes” in stock.  Rather than allow Smith to get the upper hand by setting lower prices, Thompson made an offer of his own.  For customers prepared to pay (or, again, barter) rather than buy on credit, he sold his shoes “10 per cent cheaper than Joseph Smith.”  This offer also concluded on September 20.  Only on rare occasions did advertisers mention competitors by name in eighteenth-century America, making Thompson’s notice exceptional.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans frequently proclaimed that they had the lowest prices in town (or sometimes the entire colony).  Some offered to match the prices of their competitors, but they usually did not seek to undercut other purveyors of goods and services as blatantly as Thompson attempted to do with Smith.

The publication history of these advertisements added another layer to the competition.  Smith first inserted his notice in the Connecticut Journal on August 23, giving prospective customers four weeks to respond to his offer.  The following week, Thompson placed his advertisement as a response, but the two notices appeared on different pages.  On September 6, the printers decided to place the two advertisements together and added a headline that trumpeted, “Shoes sold cheap.” Neither Smith nor Thompson had previously included that headline in their advertisements.  A line separated it from Smith’s advertisement, making clear that the headline was an addition rather than part of either notice.  Why did the printers intervene?  Were they having some fun with the competition between two local shoemakers?  Whatever their intention, the new headline enhanced the advertisements, calling greater attention to them and benefitting consumers with cash (or country produce) on hand to respond to the limited-time offer.