September 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 27, 1771).

“As the Owner is returning immediately to ENGLAND, he will sell them on very low Terms.”

An anonymous advertiser informed readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that he offered great bargains on an assortment of textiles and other imported goods because he planned to sail “Immediately to ENGLAND.”  On September 27, 1771, the advertiser encouraged prospective customers to act quickly because “he will stay but a Fortnight in Town.”  Since he was such a motivated seller, he was willing to part with his goods “on very low Terms,” so retailers and consumers alike would “find it to their Advantage in dealing with him.”  He did not give his name, instead merely stating that he offered the goods for sale “at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern in Portsmouth.”

To whet the appetites of potential buyers, the anonymous advertiser listed many of the items, including an “Assortment of strip’d and flower’d border’d Lawn Handkerchiefs,” a “variety of Gauze Handkerchiefs and flower’d Gauze Aprons,” and an “elegant Assortment of Fashionable Ribbons.”  Reiterating “assortment” and “variety” underscored that his customers benefited from an array of choices in addition to low prices.

At the end of the notice, the advertiser also listed “a few Setts of Doctor HEMET’s Famous Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifice for the Teeth, with proper Brushes and Directions.”  Readers encountered a more extensive advertisement for that product further down the column, though that advertisement indicated that Hemet, a dentist in England, had appointed William Scott in Boston and W. Bayley in London as local agents for wholesale and retail sales.  The advertiser did not indicate where he acquired Hemet’s dental care products, but he offered consumers in Portsmouth greater convenience than sending away to Scott in Boston.  Scott’s advertisement providing more detail about the products bolstered his own marketing without incurring additional expense.

The anonymous advertiser attempted to capture the attention of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette with a “limited time only” offer, suggesting that his imminent departure for England put them in a good position to negotiate for low prices.  If that was not enough to entice prospective customers, he also promoted extensive choices and even the convenience of acquiring a product otherwise available only in Boston.  Appeals to price and choice were standard elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but this anonymous advertiser further enhanced those strategies in his efforts to engage customers.

May 8

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 6, 1771).

“Mr. SAUNDERS’s stay in this City will be but a few weeks.”

Like many other itinerant performers, Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, placed newspaper advertisements to inform the public when he arrived in town and to attract audiences throughout his stay.  In February 1771, he placed a notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that he planned to “CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights” longer in that city, presumably extending his stay.  Anyone who wished to see him perform had only a limited time to do so.

Saunders apparently exaggerated how quickly he would move to a new town.  Three months later he arrived in Philadelphia and ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, asserting that his “stay in this City will be but a few weeks.”  Once again, he attempted to attract audiences by proclaiming that they could see his show for a limited time only.  Local audiences had two options for seeing Saunder’s show, general admission at Josiah Davenport’s tavern or private functions.  He gave performances at the Bunch of Grapes on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings.  At other times, he “also performs in private to any select company, at any place they please to appoint.”

Describing his act helped Saunders incite interest among prospective audiences.  He declared that they would witness “a variety of new astonishing and entertaining performance, by dexterity of hand, surpassing any thing of the kind that has hitherto been seen or attempted on this side the Atlantic.”  Saunders promised a spectacle unlike anything audiences had ever seen.  Spread over three acts, his illusions would “deceive the eye of the nicest observer, and appear in a manner supernatural.”  Some of those previous observers included “his Excellency the Earl of DUNMORE, governor of New-York” as well as “nobility and gentry” on both sides of the Atlantic.  Saunders expected that performing before such dignitaries testified to the quality of the illusions he would soon present to audiences in Philadelphia.

In announcing his arrival and describing his act, Saunders relied on anticipation and exhilaration to entice audiences to catch a performance at the Bunch of Grapes or to hire him for a private exhibition.  He asked readers to imagine his show, building a sense of anticipation that would transform into exhilaration when they witnessed the spectacle of illusions unlike any others previously seen in the colonies.  Saunders also encouraged readers to anticipate his departure after a few weeks, warning them not to wait to attend his performance or risk not having an opportunity to see his “dexterity of hand” for themselves.

April 18

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

New-York Journal (April 18, 1771).

“His Stay in this City will be but a few Weeks.”

Michael Poree, a surgeon dentist, occasionally placed newspaper advertisements in New York in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He offered a variety of services, including “cleaning the Teeth,” “supplying New Ones,” and providing patent medicines related to dental care.  Poree did not, however, make the busy port his permanent residence.  Instead, he moved back and forth between New York and Philadelphia, serving patients in both cities.

In the spring of 1771, he published advertisements simultaneously in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal upon arriving in the city.  He began by renewing his acquaintance with former clients, extending “his hearty Thanks to the Gentlemen and Ladies of this City, for the Encouragement they have given him in his Profession.”  He then informed them “and others,” prospective new clients who needed dental care, that his stay in New York would be short, “but a few Weeks.”  He planned to return to Philadelphia and would not be back for nearly six months, not until “October next.”  Not unlike itinerant performers and peddlers, the surgeon dentists proclaimed that he would be in town for a limited time only as he persuaded customers to engage his services promptly or else miss their opportunity.

According to the colophon for the New-York Journal, Poree paid five shillings to insert his advertisement for four weeks.  He likely paid a similar amount to run the same notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  That he advertised in two newspapers indicated that he considered the cost well worth the investment in terms of attracting a sufficient number of clients to make his stay in New York profitable.  Experience may have taught him that he served a greater number of patients, new and returning, when he placed newspaper notices.  Documenting the reception of advertisements remains an elusive endeavor.  That an itinerant surgeon dentist like Poree repeatedly paid to inform the public of his services and his schedule, however, suggests that he considered advertising an effective means of promoting his business.

February 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 4, 1771).

“He intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights.”

When Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, arrived in New York from Europe in the fall of 1770, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to introduce himself and invite colonists to attend performances “at the house of Mr. Hyer, on Hunter’s Quay” or schedule a “private exhibition.”  Saunders encouraged the curious to see his show as soon as possible or risk missing it because his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks.”  Itinerant performers often deployed that strategy for inciting interest in the spectacles they offered to prospective audiences.  They created a form of scarcity when they stated that they would remain in town for only a limited time.

Sometimes itinerant performers did move to the next town fairly quickly.  Consider, for instance, the series of advertisements placed by an unnamed performer “who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America” in the Providence, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth in less than two months in the fall of 1769.  He offered a few performances in each place before moving along to the next.  Other performers attempted to encourage interest by proclaiming that they would soon depart for other places, but then remained much longer.  Such was the case for Saunders.  On February 4, 1771, he inserted an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He no longer included his first name, perhaps believing that he achieved sufficient local celebrity in the three months he already spent in New York to dispense with such a detail.  He also eliminated the description of “variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks” that appeared in earlier advertisements.  Instead, he simply announced that he “intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights … longer in NEW-YORK.”  That he remained in the city at that time was not by his own design but instead in response to the “PARTICIULAR DESIRE of several Ladies and Gentlemen,” or so he claimed.  Saunders sought to give the public what they wanted.  To that end, he also continued offering private shows “to any select Company,” suggesting another trajectory of demand for his “astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

When they advertised, itinerant performers often emphasized that they would be in town for only a limited time so colonists needed to catch their shows before they were gone or else miss out on the popular culture experiences enjoyed by other members of their communities.  Performers often delayed their departures in order to offer additional shows.  Some, like Saunders who remained in New York for months, may not have planned to leave after a short time at all, but others did move along fairly quickly.  Even though he already remained in town for three months, Saunders attempted to leverage uncertainty about his departure in order to incite demand for his upcoming performances.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1770 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (July 24, 1770).

“An Exhibition of modern Books, by AUCTION.”

Robert Bell, one of the most influential booksellers and auctioneers in eighteenth-century America, toured New England in the summer of 1770.  Bell is widely recognized among historians of the book for his innovative marketing practices.  The tone and language in his advertisement in the July 7, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, however, seems rather bland compared to the flashy approach that eventually became the hallmark of Bell’s efforts to promote his books and auctions.  On the other hand, another advertisement in the Essex Gazette just a few weeks later hinted at the showmanship that Bell was in the process of developing and refining.

In announcing auctions that would take place at a tavern in Salem on three consecutive nights, Bell addressed prospective bidders as “the Lovers of literary Instruction, Entertainment, and Amusement.”  Deploying such salutations eventually became a trademark of his newspaper advertisements, broadsides, and book catalogs.  The advertisement in the Essex Gazette gave customers a glimpse of the personality they would encounter at the auction.  Bell described each auction as “an Exhibition of modern Books” and proclaimed that one each evening “there will really exist an Opportunity of purchasing Books cheap.”  He seemed to take readers into his confidence, offering assurances that the prospect of inexpensive books was more than just bluster to lure them to the auction.

In the same advertisement, Bell sought to incite interest in another trilogy of auctions.  “An Opportunity similar to the above,” he declared, “will revolve at the Town of NEWBURY-PORT.”  Readers of the Essex Gazette who could not attend any of the book auctions in Salem had another chance to get good bargains while mingling with other “Lovers of literary Instruction, Entertainment, and Amusement.”  Like other itinerants who announced their visits in the public prints, whether peddlers or performers, Bell made clear that he would be in town for a limited time only.  He advised that “the Public may be certain that the Auctionier’s Stay in those Towns will not exceed the Time limited as above.”  Bell would be in Salem for just three nights and then in Newburyport for three more nights before moving along to his next destination.

Compared to his recent notice in the Providence Gazette, the advertisement Bell placed in the Essex Gazette much more resembled the style of promotion that made him famous in the eighteenth century and infamous in the history of the book.  His lively language suggested that his auctions would be more than the usual sort of sale.  They would be events that readers would not want to miss.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (May 11, 1770).

“May be had … till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails.”

The colophon for the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated that it was published by Robert Wells “at the Old Printing-House, Great Stationary and Book Shop.”  Like many other eighteenth-century printers, Wells simultaneously operated several affiliated enterprises from his printing office.  An advertisement in the May 11, 1770, edition of his newspaper alerted prospective customers to an item for sale among the books and stationery at his shop, “A PLAN of the CITY of NEW-YORK by Capt. Ratzer, Engineer.”

The advertisement declared that this map was “most elegantly engraved,” but that was not the only marketing strategy deployed to incite demand among consumers.  The advertisement also proclaimed that the map was available for a limited time only.  Customers could acquire their own copies for one dollar each “till Capt. Schermerhorn’s Sloop sails, in which will be returned all the Copies then unsold.”  None would be held in reserve at the printing office to sell in the future.  Anyone potentially interested in this map, the advertisement warned, needed to visit Wells’s shop to examine the map and make a decision about purchasing it as soon as possible or else they would miss the opportunity to obtain it easily from a local bookseller.

May 11 - 10:15:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 15, 1770).

In its notes on Plan of the City of New York, in North America: Surveyed in the Years 1766 & 1767, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library cites two states of the map, the first “undated but about 1770” and the second from 1776.  Furthermore, the “attribution of 1770 for the first state of the map is based on a ‘New-York Gazette’ advertisement for the map in October 1770,” according to Margaret Beck Pritchard and Henry G. Taliaferro.  Although available for purchase in two of the largest urban ports in the colonies in 1770, there are “only two known examples of the map in the first state” today.  The advertisements aid historians in telling a more complete story of the production and distribution of the Plan of the City of New York in the late colonial era.