January 9

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

Jan 9 - 1:9:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (January 9, 1766)

“PAINTS.  White. … Reds. … Yellows. … Blues. … Greens. … Blacks. … Varnishes.”

The three columns in John Gore’s advertisement for paints and related supplies draw the eye.  Unlike the dense layout of the list advertisement featured yesterday, Gore’s notice uses varying font sizes and, especially, white space to direct potential customers’ attention to some of his wares.

I am resisting the urge to assume that it was only natural to use columns to organize this advertisement simply because doing so makes good sense, from a modern perspective, for several reasons.  It provides better organization and highlights individual products.  Such line of reasoning did not always seem to hold sway with eighteenth-century advertisers, however, as they often opted for dense paragraphs listing goods and occasionally experimented with fonts, sizes, and layout.

The longer I study early American advertising, the more strongly I become convinced that advertisers sometimes played a role in determining the appearance of their notices, but most often the printer who set the type played the most influential role.  What was the case here?  Did Gore request that his paints be divided into three columns?  Or did the printer make this decision without consulting the advertiser?

January 8

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

Jan 8 - 1:6:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (January 6, 1766)

“Spades … black plain sattin … chintzes and callicoes … brown Manchester velvit … the best French pearl earings and necklaces … tapes and bobbins … pen-knives … darning and sewing needles … and table beer by the barrel.”

Abraham Remsen stocked a variety of merchandise to be sold “Wholesale or Retale, at his Shop in Clark-Street” in Newport.  Reading through his list advertisement, which certainly testifies to the assortment of goods so many shopkeepers promoted in eighteenth-century America, can be a bit disorienting.  In response to an advertisement featured a short while ago, one correspondent on Twitter remarked that colonial Americans must have had longer attention spans than their modern counterparts, considering the length, density, and lack of visual images common in many newspaper advertisements of the period.

This prompted me to think about reading habits in the eighteenth century.  Historians have long argued that early Americans read newspapers intensively, that they were read aloud in public spaces (like taverns and coffeehouses) and passed around until they became dog-eared.  Consider that American newspapers in the 1760s were published once a week.  Consider also that each issue was typically a single broadsheet, folded in half to create a four-page newspaper.  It makes sense that subscribers and others would read the news items carefully and perhaps multiple times.

But what about the advertisements?  Would they have been read as intensively as other items?  How would an early American reader have approached this advertisement?

January 5

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

Jan 5 - 1:2:1766 Massachusetts-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette (January 2, 1766)

“LEMMONS, by the Box or smaller Quantity,” “Grocery and other Wares,” “Wiggs of all sorts,” and “a Number of other Articles not herein mentioned.”

John Goldsmith offered a variety of imported goods for sale “at the Corner of John Hancock, Esq’s Wharff” in Boston.  What was Goldsmith’s role in making these items available in the colonial marketplace?  Was he a merchant or a shopkeeper?  Residents of Boston who read the Massachusetts-Gazette likely would have known, but the advertisement does not answer this question definitively for twenty-first century readers.  Given that Goldsmith offered “choice LISBON LEMMONS, by the Box or smaller Quantity,” he may have operated as both wholesaler and retailer, depending on the needs of his customers.

Both his location and list of wares (“LEMMONS” and “Seamen’s Cloaths,” in particular) suggest that he often did business provisioning ships and their crews in Boston’s busy harbor.  How, then, did “Wiggs of all sorts” relate to the rest of his merchandise?

January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1766 Massachusetts-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette (January 2, 1766)

Ducapes, Lutestrings, Padufoys, Capuchin Silks, Pelong Sattins, Persians, Colchester Bays, Camblets, Russia Duck…

Such an assortment of goods available to purchase in Joshua Blanchard’s shop on Dock Square in Boston!  Throughout the British Atlantic World a consumer revolution was taking place during the eighteenth century.  Potential customers experienced increasing choices as they considered what and whether to buy all kinds of goods.

As this advertisement indicates, early Americans spoke a specialized language of consumption.  Blanchard did not merely indicate that he stocked a variety of textiles and patterns.  He listed them in detail, employing a lexicon lost to most modern readers (so alien that spellcheck indicates the names of many of these fabrics have been misspelled).  Yet savvy consumers would have recognized each of these during the eighteenth century.  Even without glossy images used to market clothing in modern time, this advertisement would have conjured up visions of a variety of textiles for potential customers capable of making distinctions among them.