September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:4:1769 New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (September 4, 1769).

“She has had the Honour of being employed by several Ladies in this City.”

In an advertisement that ran in the September 4, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, Mary Morcomb, a dressmaker, announced that she made “all Sorts of Negligees, Brunswick Dresses, Gowns, and every other Sort of Lady’s Apparel.” She also applied her skills to covering umbrellas, a fashionable accessory for many women and some men in the 1760s and 1770s.

Morcomb deployed the standard market strategies. She made appeals to price, quality, and fashion, promising prospective customers that she made garments and covered umbrellas “in the neatest, and most fashionable Manner, at the lowest Prices.” Morcomb also realized that reputation was important in attracting clients and building her business. She informed readers that she “has had the Honour of being employed by several Ladies in this City, who have declared their Approbation of her Work.” Given that Morcomb described herself as a “MANTUA-MAKER from LONDON,” she may have arrived in New York relatively recently. The newcomer may not have had time to establish a clientele in the city but had managed to find some work from “several Ladies,” leveraging their approval into a secondhand testimonial. Satisfied customers generated more customers, but word-of-mouth referrals and cultivating a reputation took time. To speed along the process, Morcomb asked the women of New York to trust her that she already served “several Ladies in this City.” In exchange for that trust, Morcomb pledged that new customers “may depend upon having their Work done with all possible Care and Dispatch.” This may not have been enough to convince every prospective client of her skills and the quality of her garments, but it may have been sufficient for some to take a chance with Morcomb. Even if the dressmaker entice only a few more clients with her advertisement, that new business could further enhance her reputation among female consumers in New York.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 26, 1768).

“Mrs. Crane continues to make … the Brunswick dresses, so much esteemed in England.”

In the summer of 1768, John and Sarah Crane placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to inform residents of Charleston and the surrounding area that they had “removed from the house” where they formerly kept their workshop to a new location. The tailor and mantuamaker considered it “their duty, not only to acquaint the gentlemen and ladies of this town” that they had moved but also to express “their sincere acknowledgments for the many favours they have received.” The Cranes wanted their existing clientele to follow them to their new location. They anticipated the “pleasing prospect” of the “continuance” of their business, but acknowledging their customers in the public prints served as more than a means of maintaining those relationships. It also communicated to prospective clients that other consumers in the busy port had already sought out their services.

The Cranes may have considered this especially important since they had only recently arrived in Charleston. They described themselves as “Very Lately arrived from LONDON,” though they had been in town for at least five months. They had previously advertised in February, yet they still considered themselves new to the community. Despite the disadvantages of being newcomers, depicting themselves in this manner worked to their advantage in certain ways. It established a direct connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, suggesting that they relied on their own knowledge when they pledged to make garments “in the newest taste.” To further make their case, they noted that “Mrs. Crane continues to make … the Brunswick dresses, so much esteemed in England.” The glossary of “Colonial Lady’s Clothing” compiled by historians at Colonial Williamsburg describes the Brunswick as a “three-quarter length jacket worn with a petticoat” that was worn as “an informal gown or a traveling gown. It had a high neck, unstiffened bodice that buttoned, long sleeves, and frequently had a sack back (loose pleats) and a hood.” The Brunswick reached the height of its popularity in the 1760s, indicating that the Cranes were right on message when they chose it as an example to demonstrate their awareness of the “newest taste” in London.

When it came to stating how long they had been in Charleston, the Cranes tried to have it both ways. They had been in the city just long enough to faithfully serve some of its residents, but not so long that their personal observations of popular styles in London had become outdated. They expected both of these factors to appeal to prospective clients.

February 16

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

Feb 16 - 2:16:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 16, 1768).

“JOHN & SARAH CRANE, TAYLOR and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON.”

Given their participation in the colonial marketplace as the providers of goods and services, women were underrepresented among the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Some female entrepreneurs did place their own advertisements to promote businesses they operated, but others followed a different strategy when they jointly advertised with men. Such advertisements had several variations. In most, a woman advertised alongside a male relation, most often as wife and husband but sometimes as siblings or as mother and son. On occasion, women advertised with male partners who were not related to them, but such instances were much less common.

Joint advertisements also varied in terms of how prominently they featured women’s activities in the marketplace. Some focused almost exclusively on the activities of a male head of household and only mentioned in passing that a woman also worked in the shop or otherwise provided goods or services on her own. Such advertisements frequently used the man’s name as the headline and did not mention the woman until the final sentence or in a nota bene that almost seemed an afterthought. Others, such as an advertisement by John Holliday and Mrs. Holliday, devoted equal amounts of space to the separate endeavors of both parties, yet still focused primary attention on the husband by using his name as the headline and promoting his business before turning to his wife.

Sometimes, however, men and women placed advertisements that portrayed them as equal partners in their enterprises, especially when they pursued related occupations. That was the case with John and Sarah Crane, “TAYLOR and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON,” in an advertisement in the January 16, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. The headline featured both of their names in capital letters. The body of the advertisement addressed the qualities they both contributed to the garments they made. A nota bene even promoted certain items made by “Mrs. Crane” beyond those customers might have expected from a mantuamaker, suggesting her skill and versatility. The Cranes apparently continued this egalitarianism into other aspects of their marketing. Their advertisement indicated their shop was marked “With their names in gold letters over the door.” The space there they conducted their business, just like their advertisement, was a shared domain where the Cranes acted as partners. Their story demonstrates what was possible for married women as providers of goods and services in the colonial marketplace, even if it was not the most probable arrangement.

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.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1766 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (August 20, 1766).

“JEAN CAMPBELL … intends to carry on the MILLENARY and MANTUA MAKING BUSINESS.”

When she set up shop in Savannah, Jean Campbell wanted readers of the Georgia Gazette to know that “she intends to carry on the MILLENARY and MANTUA MAKING BUSINESS.” It appears that this was a new endeavor for Campbell, making it especially necessary that she advertise her services to potential customers who would not otherwise have known that she made hats and dresses. Furthermore, Campbell may have been a recent arrival in the city. Note that she did not specify an address for her shop (which may have been her residence as well), but instead stated that “She may be heard of by applying to the printer.” Especially if she were a single woman, Campbell may have been hesitant to publicly announce her location, for reasons of both safety and propriety. If she had lived in Savannah for any amount of time she could have depended on many residents knowing where to find her without directing them to the printing office. After all, the town was not that large in 1766; those who lived in the city became familiar to others who also lived there for any length of time.

In addition, if she had previously operated a “MILLENARY and MANTUA MAKING BUSINESS” in Savannah she might have been able to depend on a network of customers, especially other women, to continue to patronize her as well as spread the word through their social networks. In general, women advertised much less often than men in eighteenth-century America. They did not place commercial notices in newspapers as frequently as their numbers merited, into taking into consideration that women were less likely to operate businesses than men. Campbell may have placed this advertisement as a necessity, at least until she forged relationships with neighbors and customers in Savannah.