May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 18, 1767).

“Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.”

George Senneff adopted a marketing strategy commonly deployed by tailors and other artisans. To imbue his services with extra cachet, he included his origins in his introduction: “George Senneff, Taylor, from LONDON.” Colonists were preoccupied with the latest trends in England, especially London, when it came to both dress and adorning private and public spaces. They experienced anxiety that they might appear pretenders in provincial backwaters as they participated in transatlantic consumer culture that changed increasingly rapidly as the eighteenth century progressed. Tailors and others in the clothing trades, as well as hairdressers and cabinetmakers, offered reassurances that their goods and services were à la mode when they asserted their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire.

Many considered announcing that they were “from LONDON” sufficient for the purpose, but Senneff treated that merely as an opening salvo in his bid to win clients concerned about wearing the latest fashions and demonstrating their awareness of the most current trends. Not only was he “from LONDON,” Senneff proclaimed that he made men’s garments of “plain and lac’d Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.” He reiterated this claim when he described the riding habits he made for women: “after the newest Fashions now worn in London.” Senneff had his finger on the pulse of changing tastes in the metropole. In turn, his clients in New York would exhibit that insider’s knowledge in their attire as they attended to business and socialized in the colonial outpost.

Senneff’s decision to repeatedly state that his garments conformed to “the newest Fashions now worn in London” may not have merely reassured customers. Instead, such intensive focus on the latest styles in that faraway city could have stoked anxiety among local consumers. Repetitively invoking current tastes in London may have prompted some potential customers to dwell on this aspect of their own apparel, encouraging them to seek out Senneff’s services since he seemed to be in the know and could provide appropriate guidance in outfitting them “after the newest and genteelest Taste.” Senneff craftily induced such uneasiness and simultaneously offered his services as an especially effective way to experience relief. His notice was no mere announcement but rather a clever attempt to manipulate potential customers into visiting his shop.

August 26

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

Aug 26 - 8:26:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (August 26, 1766).

“George Beattie, From LONDON … works next Door to Mr. Jepson’s the Tinman.

George Beattie seems to have been a metalsmith who produced a variety of relatively small objects for his customers, from “Pocket Books, with the newest fashioned Locks and Clasps” to “Tooth & Ear-Pickers” to “several other Articles in the Toy way.” He also “mends broken China,” most likely using metal rivets.

(Yes, Ear-Pickers! I confess that I was previously unaware of this accouterment for personal hygiene before reading this advertisement. I was delighted to discover Historic Jamestowne’s description of ear pickers and brief history of their use in the early days of settlement in Virginia. Apparently styles varied, from plain and completely utilitarian to ornate pieces intended for display and personal adornment.)

Aug 26 - Ear Picker
Silver Ear Picker.  Historic Jamestowne.

In the headline of his advertisement, Beattie announced that he was “From LONDON,” perhaps expecting that this would give him and the merchandise he made some cachet by being associated with the cosmopolitan center of the British Empire. He did not mention how long since he had left London and took up residence in Boston, perhaps purposefully so. He left it to potential customers to make their own assumptions about how recently he plied his trade in the capital city, but he planted the idea that he had a connection to the cosmopolitanism of London that perhaps competitors who had spent their entire lives in the colonies lacked. He doubled down on his association with the metropole when he concluded his advertisement with a promise that customers could expect “to be served as reasonably as in London.” He did not make comparisons to local vendors; instead, he positioned his the quality, fashion, and price of his wares as equivalent to those in the most important city in the empire.

May 9

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

May 9 - 5:9:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 9, 1766).

Stephen Hardy, TAYLOR from LONDON.”

Stephen Hardy did not indicate how long he had lived and worked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but his advertisement made it clear that he had migrated from London.

In yesterday’s advertisement blacksmith Daniel Offley played on the fact that he had lived in Philadelphia and practiced his trade there for many years. His familiarity with, as well as service to, the community, Offley stated, justified potential customers choosing him over his competitors.

In contrast, it likely worked in Stephen Hardy’s favor if he had only recently crossed the Atlantic to take up residence in New Hampshire. Portsmouth was a small city in 1766 – barely a village compared to the booming population of London. Colonists in Portsmouth and throughout the colonies felt anxious that they lived in tiny backwater outposts of the empire.

By underscoring that he was from London (and presumably trained there in the tailoring trade), Hardy linked himself, his business, and the “Gentlemen’s Cloaths of all Sorts, Ladies Riding Habbits, &c.” he made and sold with the cosmopolitanism of the empire’s metropolitan center of fashion and culture.

In the decades before the Revolution, several English travelers registered their shock – and sometimes annoyance – that colonists dressed in the latest London fashions. Engaging a “TAYLOR from LONDON” would have helped colonial consumers assert their identity as Britons and as genteel participants cognizant of the latest trends in the heart of the capital and cultural center of the empire.