July 14

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 14, 1773).

“He is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.”

At a glance, readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette may have thought that Frederick Hubley was a distiller.  After all, the woodcut that adorned his advertisement in the July 14, 1773, edition depicted a still.  On closer examination, however, they discovered that Hubley was a coppersmith who plied his trade in Lancaster.  He advised prospective customers in and near that town that he “MAKES all sorts of COPPER and BRASS WARE, in the neatest and best manner.”  In particular, he made “STILLS, brewers, hatters, wash, fish and tea kettles, bake-pans, [and] sauce-pans,” though repeating “&c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) indicated that he accepted orders for other items.

To entice prospective customers, Hubley advanced some of the appeals most commonly deployed by colonial artisans who placed newspaper advertisements.  He offered assurances about the quality of the items he produced in his shop, declaring that he made them “in the neatest and best manner.”  Such declarations simultaneously testified to his skill as a coppersmith.  Hubley also leveraged price as a means of attracting customers.  He did not merely mention low prices or reasonable prices.  Instead, he compared his prices to those charged by his competitors, both coppersmiths and shopkeepers, near and far, stating that he “is determined to sell as low as any person can sell in Philadelphia, Lancaster, or elsewhere.”  Prospective customers, Hubley asserted, would not find better deals, not even in Philadelphia, the largest city and busiest port in the colonies.

Hubley advertised in a newspaper published in that city because Lancaster did not yet have its own newspaper in 1773.  The Pennsylvania Gazette and several other newspapers published in Philadelphia, as well as Germantowner Zeitung, served the entire colony and portions of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.  Lancaster would not have its own newspaper until late November 1777 when John Dunlap temporarily moved the Pennsylvania Packet to town when the Continental Congress briefly relocated there during the British occupation of Philadelphia.  Although the Continental Congress quickly moved to York in hopes that even more distance meant more safety from the British, Dunlap and his press remained in Lancaster.  For six months, he printed the Pennsylvania Packet in Lancester, but ceased when he returned to Philadelphia to resume the newspaper there on July 4, 1778.  The war disrupted publication of several newspapers.  In addition, some folded completely, while printers established others.  In the summer of 1773, however, Hubley and others in Lancaster who wished to advertise did so within a fairly stable media environment, one with a center of gravity in Philadelphia.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 17, 1768).


Although he ran a shop in Lancaster, Henry Stuber sought local customers by placing advertisements for his “FRESH and universal supply of DRUGS and MEDICINES” in the Pennsylvania Gazette, printed in Philadelphia more than fifty miles to the east. His advertisements demonstrate the reach of colonial newspapers in an era before most towns had printing presses and local newspapers. Lancaster did not have its own newspaper in 1768. Instead, English-speaking residents treated those printed in Philadelphia – the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal – as their local newspapers, while others who spoke German read the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote printed in Germantown, just outside of Philadelphia. As the titles of the English-language newspapers suggest, they served the entire colony of Pennsylvania – and beyond. Colonists in Delaware and portions of New Jersey and Maryland also considered these regional newspapers to be their local publications, reading them and inserting advertisements in them.

Stuber relied on the extensive geographic distribution of the Pennsylvania Gazette when he composed his advertisement. Realizing that he would probably not attract many customers from the busy port where residents had access to many apothecary shops, he instead targeted customers who lived in the hinterlands. In particular, he addressed “Doctors in the country” who were likely to purchase in volume, informing them that it “will be much easier to get [medicines] from Lancaster” than from Philadelphia. He also promoted his wares to “families who live at a distance from a Doctor” in towns and villages throughout the colony. He supplied “medicine boxes, with ample directions” so they could tend to their own minor ailments as necessary. In addition to convenience, he suggested other benefits: acquiring drugs from his shop could be done with “much less risk” and “will save the expence of so far carriage.” Just in case skeptical prospective customers assumed that the prices would already reflect the costs Stuber paid for transporting his inventory to Lancaster, he assured readers that “he will sell as cheap as any one in Philadelphia.”

That Henry Stuber, a “DRUHGGIST in Lancaster,” opted to advertise in a newspaper printed in Philadelphia in hopes of enticing customers from throughout the countryside testifies to the wide dissemination and readership of eighteenth-century newspapers. Those publications not only delivered information far and wide but also facilitated commerce beyond the largest and busiest port cities.