What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Orders having been left with Mr. Jennings for that purpose.”
Advertisements for lost, missing, and stolen items frequently appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia in the eighteenth century. For lost and missing items, advertisers often offered rewards to those who returned them. For stolen items, advertisers usually offered rewards not only for the return of their items but also for information about the thieves and burglars who had taken them.
An advertisement in the August 16, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter took a different approach. The advertiser noted that on August 6 “a Man’s HAT was taken out of the House of William Sheaffe, Esq; in Queen-street.” The hat may have belonged to Sheaffe or to a visitor; the remainder of the advertisement never specified who owned the hat or made the offer that followed. Rather than expressing anger about the theft, the “Owner of [the hat] would charitably suppose that the Person who took it away was under a pressing Necessity for a little Money, or much in want of a Hat.” The anonymous advertiser acknowledged that some colonists participated in the consumer revolution through informal means, wearing stolen apparel or selling stolen goods. Having chosen to take a charitable approach, the advertiser informed whoever had his hat that “if he will return it to Mr. Levi Jennings, Hatter, in King-Street, he shall receive a New One in Lieu thereof.” The advertiser also offered assurances of “Orders having been left with Mr. Jennings for that purpose.” Instead of calling for the arrest and punishment of whoever took the hat, the advertiser made a bargain to purchase a new hat in return for the old, perhaps because it held sentimental value.
Whoever took that hat was not the only one who stood to come out ahead. Jennings, the hatter, benefited from the compassionate approach taken by the anonymous advertiser. Not only did he sell a hat, he also saw his business promoted in the public prints in connection to an interesting story. The advertisement did not include the usual hallmarks of how artisans promoted their wares, but it did make Jennings part of a narrative that readers were likely to remember.