June 8

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (June 8, 1772).


Molly Torres, a student in my Revolutionary America class in Fall 2021, selected this advertisement that Joseph Stansbury placed in the June 8, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet.  It prompted a conversation about the many trajectories for learning about the past presented by each advertisement.  In most instances, I encouraged students to focus on a particular item, such as tea, and how it helped us understand commerce, politics, or daily life in the era of the American Revolution.  I cautioned that examining individual advertisers would usually be more difficult, especially for students with limited experience undertaking research that integrated primary and secondary sources.  Many advertisers left behind few traces beyond their newspaper notices.  Some advertisers, however were so famous … or infamous … that more information about them was readily available to novice researchers.

Such was the case with Joseph Stansbury, infamous as the “main intercessory between Benedict Arnold and John André.”  According to an online exhibit about “Spy Letters of the American Revolution” sponsored by the William L. Clements Library, Stansbury held a variety of positions, including commissioner of the city watch, during the British occupation of Philadelphia.  He remained in the city when the British withdrew, though Stansbury traveled to New York “specifically to meet with André about Arnold.”  He did not stay in the city long, not wanting to raise suspicions about his loyalties upon returning to Philadelphia.  Upon his return, he received a letter with instructions from the British officer and then became “the mediator between the communications of Arnold and André.”  They corresponded in cipher, using identical copies of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England as keys for decoding their letters.

Researching this advertisement about a “LARGE AND CAPITAL ASSORTMENT OF GLASS AND EARTHEN WARES of the most approved kinds” took Molly in unexpected directions.  Neither of us anticipated that working on this project would lead to learning more about espionage during the American Revolution or the nation’s most infamous traitor and his accomplices.  Examining the Clements Library’s online exhibition also gave us an opportunity to discuss archives, special collections, and the process of conducting more sustained research.  As I’ve previously written, one of my favorite parts of inviting students to serve as guest curators of the Adverts 250 Project is discovering where their research will take us once they select which advertisements to feature.  That is so much more interesting than if I unilaterally set the syllabus at the beginning of the semester and we did not deviate from it.

January 14

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

Jan 14 - 1:14:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 14, 1768).

“He hath a medallion in clay … as a specimen of his abilities.”

In addition to marketing a “Neat assortment” of ceramics and hardware, Joseph Stansbury also used his advertisement in the January 14, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette to “acquaint the public, he is well versed in designing and executing any kind of ornaments in stucco, for cielings or walls of rooms, basto relievo’s, &c.” He offered his services as an artisan to colonists interested in sprucing up the interior architecture of their homes according to the prevailing styles and tastes.

Stansbury did not expect prospective clients merely to take him at his word that he was “well versed in designing and executing” those decorative elements. Instead, he presented an opportunity for them to examine a sample of his work and determine for themselves whether he possessed the level of skill he claimed. Interested parties could visit his shop on Market Street where “he hath a medallion in clay, of the present King of Poland, executed here from his coronation medal … which he will shew to the curious, as a specimen of his abilities.” This sample likely had some cachet among genteel colonists. According to Richard Butterwick, in 1764 the Polish king’s coronation medal had been “struck in England by Thomas Pingo, who had earlier struck the medal for George III’s coronation.”[1] As early as 1765 descriptions of the medal, supplemented by engraved images, circulated in magazines published in England and Ireland, which may have been Stansbury’s source for his clay specimen.[2]

Stansbury did not consider newspaper advertising alone sufficient to entice potential clients to commission his services. Advertisements acted as an opening salvo that informed colonists of the services he offered, but the specimen he displayed may have been the more powerful marketing tool. No matter how elaborate the description of his work he might publish, words could not compare to the opportunity to examine, by sight and by touch, a sample that demonstrated his abilities.

Jan 14 - Engraving
Detail of engraving of coronation medal for Stansilaw II from Gentleman’s and London Magazine (March 1765).


[1] Richard Butterwick, Poland’s Last King and English Culture: Stanislaw August Poniatowski, 1732-1798 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 221.

[2] Gentleman’s and London Magazine; or Monthly Chronologer (Dublin: John Exshaw, March 1765), 156 and leaf between 156 and 157.