February 11

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

Feb 11 - 2:11:1768 Massacusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 11, 1768).

*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.”

When his partner passed away, Nicholas Bowes placed an advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, he issued an invitation for “all Persons that have Accounts open with said Company to come and settle them.” Yet he also wanted current, former, and prospective customers to know that he continued to sell books and stationery “at the same Shop.” Bowes devoted about half of the space in his advertisement to a nota bene that announced the continuation of the business that he had previously operated with Wharton.

To that end, Bowes advanced several marketing appeals. Like many merchants and shopkeepers, he promised consumers that he offered a variety of choices among his “large and compleat Assortment” of books and stationery. Customers could select items that matched their own needs and tastes. Bowes also sold his wares “at the lowest Rates,” attempting to draw visitors to his shop with competitive prices. In making those appeals, Bowes resorted to two of the most common marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. He saved his most innovative appeal for last: “*** Country Customers may be supplied as well by Letter as if present.” He even used distinctive typography – the asterisks and italics – as a visual means of attracting notice to that particular effort to market his merchandise. For the convenience of those who lived outside the busy port and faraway from his shop he made available all of the same benefits enjoyed by his local patrons. In proclaiming that distant customers “may be supplied as well by Letter as if present,” he pledged not to show any preferences or to take advantage of those who submitted their orders through the mail.

Retailers did not invent mail order shopping in the late nineteenth century, despite the proliferation and popularity of catalog shopping during the period. Nor did Bowes pioneer the strategy in the mid eighteenth century … but Bowes did offer a service that was not yet a standard practice promoted to potential customers via advertising. Merchants and shopkeepers sporadically made note that they served customers via the post in their newspaper notices, suggesting that the practice was fairly common even if it had not yet been codified as one of the standard marketing strategies that appeared in print. By inserting it into his advertisement, Bowes confirmed that he did provide this service, expanding his potential market to the hinterlands beyond Boston.

December 29

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

Dec 29 - 12:29:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 29, 1767).

“Fechtman undertakes to make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.”

Christopher Fechtman, a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER from LONDON,” promoted his services in an advertisement in the supplement to the December 29, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. After noting his change of address, he launched several appeals intended to incite demand for his services and instill a preference for obtaining stays, mantuas, and other items from him rather than his competitors.

Fechtman offered a guarantee of sorts, pledging to “give entire satisfaction to those who favour him” with their patronage. He did so with confidence, underscoring his own “knowledge of the business.” Yet Fechtman did not labor alone in his shop. He also employed “some experienced hands, who understand their business to the utmost dexterity.” Artisans commonly noted their skill and expertise in eighteenth-century advertisements. Fechtman assured potential customers that his subordinates who might have a hand in producing their garments were well qualified for the task. He staked his own reputation on that promise.

The staymaker also proclaimed that he would “work at a lower rate than any heretofore,” hoping to entice prospective clients with lower prices. High quality garments produced by skilled workers did not necessarily have to be exorbitantly expensive. Quite the opposite: Fechtman indicated that his prices beat any his competitors had ever charged.

Finally, Fechtman offered his services to women who resided in Charleston’s hinterland, widening his market beyond those who could easily visit his shop on Union Street while they ran other errands around town. To that end, he played up the convenience of procuring his services, noting that he could “make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.” His female clients did not need to visit his shop for a fitting. Presumably they forwarded their measurements when submitting their orders from a distance; tailors and others who made garments sometimes included instructions to send measurements with orders in their advertisements.

Fechtman competed with other stay- and mantua-makers in Charleston, a busy port city. To distinguish his garments and services from the competition, he resorted to several marketing strategies in his advertisement. He emphasized skill and expertise, both his own and that of the “experienced hands” who labored in his shop. He also offered low prices as well as convenience to clients unable to visit his shop for fittings. In the process, he encouraged prospective clients to imagine acquiring “stays and negligees, gowns and slips” from him, stoking demand and desire for his wares.

November 28

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

Nov 28 - 11:28:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (November 28, 1767).

“Practitioners, and others, in the country, on sending a line, may depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England.”

Jabez Bowen, Jr., inserted an advertisement promoting his “LARGE and general assortment of the most valuable DRUGS and MEDICINES, both chymical and galenical,” in the November 28, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. In it, he listed a variety of popular patent medicines as well as medical equipment, all of it stocked “At his SHOP, fronting the Great Bridge, in PROVIDENCE.” Realizing that the Providence Gazette circulated far beyond that port, Bowen included a note to “Practitioners, and others, in the country” who might not be able to visit his shop themselves. He offered a mail order service, promising that “on sending a line, [they] may depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England, the pay being adequate.”

Bowen knew that he faced competition from other apothecaries, not only those from Providence but also others from Boston, a much larger city. Those competitors distributed their advertisements throughout New England and beyond via four newspapers, giving them another advantage over Bowen. Although shopkeepers sometimes advertised that they served customers “in the country” when they sent orders by mail, apothecaries most regularly incorporated this marketing strategy into their advertisements. In his attempts to operate a prosperous business, Bowen also participated in this practice, proclaiming that he would not be overshadowed by competitors from Providence, Boston, or anywhere else. His customers could “depend on being as well used as by any apothecary in New-England.” In making this claim, Bowen offered both service and value to prospective customers.

Yet he also made clear that he aimed to establish commercial relationships mutually beneficial to both parties. He qualified his pledge that customers would be “as well used as by any apothecary” with the caveat of “the pay being adequate.” He was not so desperate for business that he would allow customers to take advantage of him. Bowen sold his medicines and supplies “on the most reasonable terms,” but expected clients to acknowledge the value of his wares and the service he provided in packaging orders and dispatching them to “the country.” In so doing, he indicated that he was as professional and as competent as his counterparts in Boston, capable of delivering on the promises he made in his advertisements.

February 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-27-2271767-south-carolina-and-american-general-gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 27, 1767).

“LONDON, New-York, and other MADEIRA WINE, by the Pipe, Hogshead, Quarter Cask, or Dozen.”

Colonial Americans drank alcoholic beverages all the time and at any time they wanted. According to Ed Crews, colonists commonly had a drink for breakfast, brunch, lunch, pre-dinner snacking, during supper, and right before bed. Colonists enjoyed drinking at social events, work, and, even during studies at colleges. In fact, Crews reports, in 1639 Nathaniel Eaton, the President at Harvard College at the time, “lost his job” when he did not provide enough beer for students and staff. Alcohol was a wonder drink believed to have many beneficial properties ranging from warming the body, making people stronger, aiding the sick, and generally causing people to have a good time.

Today’s notice advertised the sale of a variety of wines and spirits imported from across the Atlantic, including Madeira, Port, Burgundy, Claret, and Brandy, as well as Jamaican Rum from the Caribbean. Colonists had a variety of different drinks they preferred, including mixers called Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle, Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip, and just as many names for being drunk.

Wine, rum, and whiskey were favored drinks among the colonists, with rum being king amongst the common man. Elites imported wine, especially Jefferson who loved French wine and attempted to produce wine in America, a failed endeavor. George Washington, on the other hand, owned and operated a private whiskey distillery on his property at Mt. Vernon.

American colonists consumed a large variety of alcoholic beverages for various occasions and at times throughout the day, with wine, rum, and whiskey being especially favorite drinks.

For more on “Drinking in Colonial America,” see Ed Crews’ article on the Colonial Williamsburg website.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Cunningham and Sands, purveyors of all sorts of alcohol, emphasized quality and service in their advertisement. Whether customers purchased any of a dozen different varieties of wine or instead opted for rum from Jamaica and other locales in the West Indies, all were “warranted to be excellent in Quality.” This was possible because Cunningham and Sands took “the greatest Care” in choosing which wines and rum to import and sell, implying a certain level of expertise on their part. They also took great care in “the Management” of the wines they stocked, suggesting that they were shipped and stored under the best conditions in order to avoid any sort of contamination or turning. Cunningham and Sands implied that they knew wine as well as artisans knew their trades.

In terms of service, the partners offered several options to potential customers interested in obtaining their products. Consumers could visit Cunningham and Sands at one of two locations in Charleston, either “at their Counting-House fronting the Bay, on Mr. Burn’s new Wharf, or at their Store in Union-street.” Realizing that not all readers of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette – and prospective customers – resided in the Charleston or had easy access to either of their two locations, Cunningham and Sands also announced that “All Orders from the Country will be punctually complied with.” In effect, they offered mail order service! They apparently believed this convenience would attract customers. Not only did they include it in their advertisements, they also drew special attention to it by inserting it as a separate nota bene rather than including it in the paragraph of dense text that detailed the other aspects of quality and service they provided. (Whether Cunningham and Sands or the printer decided that the nota bene should be printed in italics is much more difficult to determine. Advertisers generally wrote their own copy and printers generally made decisions about layout, but occasionally advertisers exercised some influence over format.)

Sam notes that Americans consumed a fair amount of alcohol and enjoyed various sorts of wines and spirits. Today’s advertisement reveals some of the options available to them as well as part of the process involved in shopping for these items.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 25, 1766).

“All Customers … may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.”

In an age of online shopping, modern consumers are accustomed to the convenience of purchasing goods to be delivered directly to their homes without visiting stores to examine the products they are buying. In the evolution of shopping, this seems like a natural progression from catalog shopping, which has been a popular means of distributing merchandise to consumers for more than a century.

Both means of acquiring goods have been considered simultaneously disruptive and revolutionary, but such narratives obscure continuities with consumer culture in earlier eras. Consider, for instance, this brief advertisement for “All Sorts of West-India Goods, and Grocery” placed by John Jenkins. He informed “All Customers, in Town and Country” that they “may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.” In effect, Jenkins offered an early variation of mail order delivery. Customers wrote to inform him which items they wished to purchase. In turn, he had the items delivered to them. While such an arrangement was not a standard business practice mentioned in most advertisements, it was common enough in the 1760s that customers would have readily recognized this service.

Jenkins’s advertisement does differ in one significant way from others by merchants and shopkeepers who solicited orders through the post: its brevity. Most such advertisements included much more extensive lists of the goods that had been imported and were available for sale. Jenkins, on the other hand, did not specify any particulars. He did not name any specific merchandise. Why not? Could he not afford a lengthier advertisement? How effective was such a truncated advertisement? Did potential customers write to him in hopes he stocked the items they desired? Jenkins certainly offered a convenience to his customers, but it may have been negated by not providing enough information about his wares to guide customers in making their choices.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 17, 1766).

“Ladies in the Country may be supplied by sending measures.”

It was not necessary to visit William Harvey’s shop for a fitting. He made “WOMEN’s and children’s stays, … women’s riding dresses, cloaks and cardinals, vests and tunicks” for “Ladies in the Country” who sent their measurements to him. Mail order and catalog shopping became especially popular at the end of the nineteenth century, but this service offered by a “STAY-MAKER and TAYLOR” in eighteenth-century Philadelphia” could rightly be considered a precursor of those methods of marketing and selling goods.

In addition to capturing a greater portion of the market, there were other advantages to conducting portions of the staymaking business solely through letters. Taking measurements required close personal contact between the staymaker and the customer. Harvey could avoid potential accusations of impropriety, at least as far as his patrons “in the Country” were concerned, by eliminating face-to-face encounters.

That Harvey acknowledged “Ladies in the Country” also demonstrates the reach of colonial newspapers and the advertisements in them. Newspapers did not serve only the city in which they were printed. Instead, they were distributed throughout a vast hinterland, in part because there were so few newspapers. In 1766, only four newspapers were printed in the entire colony of Pennsylvania, three in Philadelphia (two English and one German) and one in nearby Germantown (in German). That meant that the Pennsylvania Journal was a “local” newspaper for colonists who lived outside Philadelphia and William Harvey was a “local” staymaker and tailor. He advertised accordingly.

February 21

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Feb 21 - 2:21:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 21, 1766).

“Assortment of the best of Medicine, among which are the following, viz. Burlington’s Balsom of Life.”

Robert Turlington’s Balsam of Life was an English nostrum that claimed to contain twenty-seven ingredients. It was patented in England in 1744 with the claim that it could cure kidney and bladder stones, colic, and inward weakness. Turlington’s pamphlet contained testimony from users that a multitude of other ailments would be cured because they took this medicine. In order to appeal to people, Burlington stressed in his pamphlet  the natural ingredients he used, specifically balsam, which is “a perfect Friend to Nature, which it strengthens and corroborates when weak and declining, vivifies and enlivens the Spirits, mixes with the Juices and Fluids of the Body and gently infuses its kindly Influence into those Parts that are most in Disorder.”

Patent medicines began in Europe and quickly became a hit, so much so that rivals were almost instantly a problem. Many people were too busy or too poor to go call the doctor; these “cure alls” were perfectly marketed to these people. And the multitude of products all advertising as being the best kept the price of them down to some extent.

For more, see George B. Griffenhagen and James Harvey Young’s Old English Patent Medicines in America.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Some histories of advertising in America suggest that little was advertised – with the exception of patent medicines – in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Adverts 250 Project, on the other hand, regularly demonstrates the diversity of goods and services marketed in colonial America, including, on occasion, the patent medicines that have given early American advertising such a bad reputation.

Mary discusses a 46-page pamphlet that Turlington published in England in hopes of convincing potential customers to choose his Balsam of Life over the medicines offered by a host of competitors. Colonial merchandisers sometimes distributed similar pamphlets, but did not engage in newspaper advertising for patent medicines to the same extent as in England because the American market did not have the same surplus of such products. Newspaper advertisements in colonial period tended to mention patent medicines only by name, without expounding on their contents or promised effects (as seen in today’s featured advertisement). This shifted a bit after the Revolution. In the wake of a greater number of newspapers being published, as well as many expanding to multiple issues each week, more space for advertising became available. Newspaper advertising for patent medicines became more extensive after the Revolution, sometimes including the same sorts of testimonials that Turlington used to promote his Balsam of Life in his original pamphlet from the 1740s.

In Old English Patent Medicines in America, Griffenhagen and Young describe advertisements in the colonies as “drab” compared to those in London and the English provinces. Note, however, that Josiah Gilman offered one innovative marketing method: “Customers may depend on being served as well by sending as if present themselves.” In other words, Gilman offered an early form of mail order shopping. Customers did not need to visit his shop in person. Instead, they could select which items listed in the advertisement that they wished to purchase and send for them.