August 2

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

Aug 2 - 8:2:1768 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (August 2, 1768).

Marblehead, July 25, 1768. Edward Griffiths, Taylor and Habit-maker from LONDON.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features an advertisement from the Essex Gazette for the first time, an advertisement from the first issue of that newspaper. Samuel Hall commenced publication of the Essex Gazette in Salem, Massachusetts, on August 2, 1768. Hall offered an address “To the PUBLICK” on the first page, explaining the purpose of establishing a printing office and, especially, publishing a newspaper to the residents of Salem and other readers: “there can be no doubt that every Inhabitant is sufficiently sensible that the Exercise of this Art is of the utmost Importance to every Community, and that News-Papers, in particular, are of great publick Utility.” That was because newspapers collected together “miscellaneous Productions, and the Advices from different Parts of the World” in order that “the most useful Knowledge to Mankind, tending to preserve and promote the Liberty, Happiness and Welfare of Civil Society, is, at a trifling Expence, imperceptibly diffused among the Inhabitants of an extensive Country.”

Although Hall assumed primary responsibly for compiling those “miscellaneous Productions” and “Advices from different Parts of the World,” other colonists did play a part in shaping the contents of the Essex Gazette, just as they did newspapers published throughout the colonies, through the advertisements they paid to have inserted alongside news, editorials, prices current, poetry, and other items. Hall did not solicit advertising in his address “To the PUBLICK,” but the colophon at the bottom of the final page did states that “SUBSCRIPTIONS, (at Six Shillings and Eight Pence per Annum) ADVERTISEMENTS, &c. are received for this Paper” at the printing office “a few Doors above the Town-House.” Hall reported that he had issued proposals for publishing the Essex Gazette a month earlier. Those proposals likely included a call for colonists to submit advertisements in advance of the first issue going to press.

Five advertisements, filling, one and a half of the twelve columns, did appear in the inaugural issue. Andrew Oliver,a prominent colonial official, requested that “WHOEVER has borrowed” two books from his library either return them or contact him. The other four advertisements all promoted consumer goods and services. William Vans peddled a “Great Variety of English Goods” at his shop on the “Corner leading from the main Street to the North-River Bridge.” Edward Griffiths, a “Taylor and Habit-maker from LONDON” used a list of prices for suits, jackets, and breeches to attract prospective clients to his shop in Marblehead. William Jones invited travelers and others to the “King’s-Head Tavern, in Danvers, on the Road from Boston to Salem.” In an advertisement that filled an entire column, Philip Godfrid Kast listed and described various patent medicines available at his apothecary shop “at the Sign on the Lyon and Mortar” in Salem. Kast regularly advertised in newspapers published in Boston, but the new Essex Gazette provided an opportunity for him and the other entrepreneurs who inserted notices in the first issue to more directly target local readers who could become customers. That certainly enhanced the “publick Utility” of the newspaper for advertisers.

February 29

GUEST CURATOR:  Trevor Delp

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

Feb 29 - 2:28:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 28, 1766).

Just Imported from LONDON … A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the Season.”

Joseph Bass’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette is intriguing because of the diversity of goods he was selling. The advertisement suggests that he was trying to target as many different audiences as possible, while spending the least amount of money. In the world of advertising this is a very basic concept but one that can prove difficult. During this time, businesses operated on a face-to-face level of interaction that has been lost in todays culture. People chose who they bought their goods from based on the foundation of who they trusted and supported.

I also find it interesting that some of the goods advertised were seasonal. The first thing advertised was “A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the season.” Seasons in New Hampshire are very different than those of England, especially during the end of winter to the beginning of spring. The “Bedding suitable for the season” then exemplifies the demand of the colonial market in comparison to England’s market.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Many scholars of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America have demonstrated that colonists demonstrated their connections to the larger British Empire by purchasing and using the same goods as their cousins in London and the English provinces. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen demonstrated a rapid expansion of consumer choice in colonial America, accompanied by increasing standardization of consumer behavior and Anglicization of the consumer market.[1]

Some English observers, upon visiting the colonies, commented on how quickly fashions en vogue in London could be seen in British mainland North America. Residents of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and smaller towns like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, may have resided in some of the empire’s distant outposts, but that did not mean that they lacked taste. Perhaps because they were so far from the metropole they desired to demonstrate that they did not lack sophistication. Consumer culture gave them a means for doing so.

Trevor’s commentary challenges us to update, but not overturn, the narrative of Anglicization of American markets by reminding us that consumers (and advertisers!) often contended with very local concerns, including the changing of the seasons. Some of the goods included in Bass’s advertisement adhered to the current fashions in London, but that did not deprive colonists of the ability to make decisions independently of consumers on the other side of the Atlantic.

Jan 25 - 1:24:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 24, 1766).

Today’s advertisement may look familiar. A variant was previously featured five weeks ago, at which time I commented on the layout. I found the layout awkward as a result of the pilcrows forming a line to divide the columns. The graphic design has been improved for this advertisement, which features many of the same goods.

The entire first column of today’s advertisement was listed in the earlier one. This one inserts “black walnut and mahogony fram’d looking Glasses ; brass Nails ; choice cannon powder ; Shot ; black Pepper by the doz. or smaller quantity” before returning to the list included in the earlier version. The nota bene running across the bottom is new as well.

This and similar examples undercut claims that goods had been “Just Imported from LONDON.” Savvy consumers, especially those who paid attention to the shipping news elsewhere in newspapers, likely calibrated how much they weight they wished to give such appeals, just as modern consumers assess the advertising that assails them.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.