May 5

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

May 5 - 5:5:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 5, 1768).

“A LARGE ASSORTMENT of Bath, Mecklin, Brussels and Buckinghamshire laces.”

Mary Symonds, a milliner, placed a short advertisement in the April 28, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette to announce that she now stocked “A VERY large and neat Assortment of MERCHANDIZE” imported from London via the Mary and Elizabeth. The ship had just arrived in port, so Symonds had not yet had time to compose a complete list of her new inventory, but she promised more information about the “Particulars” in the next issue of the Gazette.

The following week Symonds’s lengthy advertisement did indeed appear, occupying a prominent place on the front page, making it difficult for readers to miss. Yet the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers were not the only places where Symonds published this impressive assortment of millinery wares and other goods. Symonds was one of very few women who distributed trade cards in eighteenth-century America. With an elegant cartouche containing her name and location and a decorative border enclosing her list of merchandise, Symonds’s engraved trade card was unparalleled among any extant examples belonging to American women.

Careful comparison of her trade card and her advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette reveals that the former almost exactly paralleled the latter. All of the items appear in the same order, though sometimes the spelling and capitalization varied or descriptions changed slightly (such as “quantity of trimmings for ladies clothes” becoming “assortment of trimmings for ladies clothes”). Occasionally the trade card deployed the word “ditto” or its abbreviation, “Do,” rather than repeating words that appeared in the previous clause. A small number of items listed in the newspaper advertisement disappeared from the trade card, but no new items were listed. Symonds eliminated “Scotch handkerchiefs” (but listed many other varieties), “gentlemens silk and thread gloves” (but, again, listed other options), and “basket” buttons. The removal of basket buttons caused a slight revision in Symonds’s description of the variety of buttons she stocked: “a very large quantity of the best death-head, basket and gilt buttons” became “a large Quantity of the best Death-head and Gilt Buttons.” The trade cared even included the nota bene that appeared as its own line at the conclusion of the advertisement: “N.B. Fans neatly mounted.” For the most part, Symonds’s trade card replicated her newspaper advertisement.

This prompts reconsideration of when Symonds commissioned and began distributing her trade card to current and prospective customers. Previously it has been dated to circa 1770 because the only known copy, part of the Cadwalader Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, has a receipted bill on the reverse. That bill lists five occasions in October and November 1770 that “Mrs. Cadwalader” made a series of purchases from Symonds, who received payment in full on November 20, 1770. The similarities between the trade card and the newspaper advertisement, however, suggest that Symonds first distributed the trade card more than two years earlier.

That seems particularly appropriate since, regardless of the other content of her newspaper advertisements, Symonds regularly stressed that she was “now removed from her late shop, the corner of Market and Second-streets, to her new shop in Chestnut-street, the sixth door from Second-street.” This corresponds to the address listed on her trade card: “the South Side of Chesnut Street between Front and Second Streets, the Sixth Door from Second street.” Having recently moved to a new location, Symonds may have considered it particularly imperative to enhance her marketing efforts to direct existing and prospective clients to her new shop. The occasion of her move may have justified branching out to an additional form of advertising media. This also suggests that Symonds’s use of her trade card may have changed over time. She may have distributed beyond her shop when it was new and the contents accurately represented her current inventory, but over time she may have reserved the outdated remaining copies for use as receipted bills within her shop, presenting her best customers with a memento of their shopping experience.

Mar 23 - Mary Symonds Trade Card
Trade card (with receipted bill on reverse) distributed  by Mary Symonds in 1770 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania:  Cadwalader Collection, Series II: General John Cadwalader Papers, Box 5: Incoming Correspondence: Pa-Sy, Item 19: Su-Sy).

April 28

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

Apr 28 - 4:28:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 28, 1768).

“[The Particulars will be in our next.]”

Mary Symonds, a milliner who frequently advertised in Philadelphia’s newspapers, published a truncated advertisement in the April 28, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. In it, she announced that she sold “A VERY large and neat Assortment of MERCHANDIZE” at low prices. Unlike many eighteenth-century advertisements for imported goods, this one did not list the items for sale. Instead, it concluded with a note that announced, “[The Particulars will be in our next.]” Potential customers were invited to read the next issue to find out more about Symonds’s wares.

Although “our next” suggests an editorial note from the printer or compositor, perhaps for lack of space to insert the advertisement in its entirety, other evidence suggests that Symonds had not yet submitted the copy for a more extensive advertisement but instead wanted to attract as many customers as possible with an abbreviated version while whetting the appetites of other consumers who could not make it to her shop before publication of the next edition. Consider the advertisement Symonds ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle three days earlier. It included identical copy, except for the note at the end. Instead, it said, “[The particulars will be in the next CHRONICLE.]” It seems unlikely that both newspapers would have been so short on space that they would have truncated the same advertisement. Symonds’s sister, Ann Pearson, also a milliner, included a similar note in her advertisement in the Chronicle: “[The particulars will be in our next.]” Both milliners likely stated that they would publish a more extensive advertisement the following week, but the printer selected the language.

Consider as well that both Symonds and Pearson advertised goods that had just been imported from London by Captain James Sparks on the Mary and Elizabeth. The shipping news in both the Chronicle and the Gazette indicated that vessel had arrived in port in the past week. The milliners may not have had an opportunity to unload or unpack their most recent shipment, but they did not want to wait an entire week to advertise their wares and potentially lose business to their competitors. Numerous merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements about new inventory shipped via the Mary and Elizabeth, but few of them offered any “Particulars.” Isaac and Moses Bartram were among the few exceptions, listing dozens of items in their advertisement, but most others took the approaches of Mease and Miller (“A LARGE and neat assortment of European and East-India goods) or Hubley and Graff (”AN assortment of GOODS, suitable for the season”).

Symonds and Pearson attempted to claim their spots in the colonial marketplace alongside male competitors by adopting a similar strategy, yet they supplemented their advertisements with pledges to provide more information about their merchandise in the next edition. In so doing, they communicated a level of service and desire to address the needs of prospective customers not embodied in other advertisements. They did not merely rush their advertisements to press; they also anticipated that consumers would want more details and promised to deliver.

April 7

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 7, 1768).

“MARY SYMONDS, MILLENER, Is now removed from her late Shop.”

The advertisement that Mary Symonds, a milliner, inserted in the April 7, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazettedid not look any different than others promoting consumer goods and services, but that belies her role as an extraordinary advertiser in early America.

What made Symonds extraordinary?  It was not merely that she was a female entrepreneur who advertised her wares in the public prints.  True, women were disproportionately underrepresented among newspaper advertisers in eighteenth-century America, especially in busy urban ports like Philadelphia where they comprised anywhere from a quarter to a third or more of shopkeepers.  Despite their numbers, relatively few ran newspaper advertisements.  Yet enough did that Symonds could not be considered extraordinary – then or now – for placing an advertisement that promoted the “very large and neat Assortment of MILLENERY GOODS for Sale” at her new shop on Chestnut Street.

In addition to regularly running notices in newspapers, Symonds resorted to at least one other form of advertising, one that male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans dominated even more than newspaper advertisements.  By 1770 she distributed a large trade card to incite demand among prospective customers.  Trade cards circulated widely in England, especially in London.  The practice made its way across the Atlantic to the colonies, but relatively few women adopted this method of advertising.  Those that did tended to commission rather simple designs that did not rival the engraved images that graced the trade cards passed out by their male counterparts.

Fewer than half a dozen trade cards distributed by American women in the eighteenth century have survived, indicating that even fewer women resorted to trade cards than placed newspaper advertisements.  That made Symonds an extraordinary advertiser.  Her trade card stands out as an example not of what was probably in the eighteenth-century marketplace but instead what was possible.  The milliner devised an advertising campaign that incorporated one of the most innovative methods deployed by male entrepreneurs, supplementing her newspaper advertisements with engraved trade cards for current customers and prospective clients.  In so doing, she made a major investment in her marketing efforts, expecting it to pay off by attracting more business to her shop.

Colonists encountered a visual landscape of advertising every day.  By distributing her trade card, Mary Symonds claimed a place in that visual landscape of circulating ephemera just as she physically occupied a space in the marketplace by operating a shop on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

Mar 23 - Mary Symonds Trade Card
Trade card (with receipted bill on reverse) distributed  by Mary Symonds in 1770 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania:  Cadwalader Collection, Series II: General John Cadwalader Papers, Box 5: Incoming Correspondence: Pa-Sy, Item 19: Su-Sy).

March 23

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 23 - 3:20:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 20, 1766).

“She makes up goods in the millinery way.”

Mary Symonds owned a corner shop and placed a very lengthy advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette.   Symonds was a milliner, which is “a person who designs, makes, trims, or sells women’s hats.”

Symonds describes the different materials and trimmings she sold, such as “a great variety of printed calicoes and cottons” and “A great variety of figured and plain ribbons” along with “sattins of different colours.” Unfortunately, I could not identify a lot of descriptive words, but I could tell that all those paragraphs were different trimmings, fabrics, and their descriptions.

In the 1760s all types of people – from the rich to the poor – wore hats. The difference, however, was the material and how much detail was put into them. Hats could be extremely detailed, depending on how much money the colonist could pay. Milliners could add ribbons and other trimmings like the ones in Symonds’ advertisement if customers so chose. Like today, how people dressed was a status symbol that was very important to American colonists. Whether her customers had enough money to wear a different hat every day or wore the same hat every day, they could keep Symonds in business for years to come.

I was curious about how hats in America and England looked in the 1760s. These paintings all show women with hats during the period.

Mar 23 - Copley Portrait of Mary Clarke
John Singleton Copley, Portrait of Mary Clarke, Mrs. Samuel Barrett (Boston, Massachusetts, ca. 1765-1770).
Mar 23 - Boucher Portrait of Madame Bergeret
Francois Boucher, Madame Bergeret (French, possibly 1766).
Mar 23 - Collett - High Life
John Collett, High Life Below Stairs (London, England, 1763).

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

There’s so much going on in this advertisement that it’s hard to know where to begin. Indeed, an entire chapter or more could be devoted to teasing out the various aspects of this advertisement. As Elizabeth notes, average readers today do not recognize the various kinds of textiles and trimming that Symonds listed. Material culture specialists, on the other hand, have written entire books about the quality and characteristics, production and consumption, and social and cultural meanings of these fabrics and accoutrements.

Mary Symonds operated her shop in the same location as William Symonds, but this advertisement suggests that they operated their businesses independently of each other. Although William’s business appeared first in the advertisement, Mary’s list of wares comprised a significantly lengthier section. Mary also noted that she had once been in partnership with “her sister Ann Pearson,” a milliner who ran her own advertisements in Philadelphia’s newspapers. The two sisters ran a series of advertisements in previous weeks announcing that they were dissolving their partnership and dividing the merchandise in anticipation of running separate shops. Such advertisements help to demonstrate that some colonial women operated businesses independently or in partnership with other women. Male relations, including William Symonds, did not necessarily oversee women who acted as retailers.

There’s another reason I was excited when Elizabeth selected this advertisement. I’ve identified only a handful of eighteenth-century trade cards and billheads distributed by women. Mary Symonds is the only female advertiser from Philadelphia with a trade card still extant (as part of the Cadwalader Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Her trade card, listed a broad range of millinery supplies similar to what appeared in her newspaper advertisements, circulated in 1770 and perhaps even earlier. It included a border and her name in a rococo-style cartouche. Overall, it was less ornate than some of the trade cards distributed by male advertisers, but it was the most impressive trade card known to have been used by a female advertiser. It appears that Symonds took pride in her business and invested in it accordingly.

Mar 23 - Mary Symonds Trade Card
Trade card (with receipted bill on reverse) distributed  by Mary Symonds in 1770 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania:  Cadwalader Collection, Series II: General John Cadwalader Papers, Box 5: Incoming Correspondence: Pa-Sy, Item 19: Su-Sy).

The copy at the HSP has been dated to 1770 because a receipted bill appears on the reverse. On five different occasions in October and November 1770, somebody – probably Symonds herself – recorded more than a dozen purchases made by “Mrs. Cadwalader” (including “White Gloves,” a “Lace Cap,” and several yards of satin and muslin) amounting to more than £20. This receipted bill indicates that Symonds “Recevd the Contents in full” on November 22, 1770.