July 17

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

Jul 17 - 7:14:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (July 14, 1768).
“He will sell without Exception, as cheap as can bough at any Shop or Store in Town.”

Consumers in Boston had many choices when it came to shopping in the busy port city in the late 1760s. Numerous merchants and shopkeepers regularly advertised in the several newspapers published in Boston. Many others ran shops without promoting their wares in the public prints. This multitude of retailers presented colonists with opportunities to engage in comparison shopping in order to find the best deals on the merchandise they wished to purchase.

William Gale attempted to streamline the process for readers of the Massachusetts Gazette. When he advertised his “general Assortment of English and India Goods” he made a bold proclamation about his prices. Gale declared that “he will sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town.” The shopkeeper likely did not expect prospective customers merely to accept his claim; he probably expected that most would visit other shops to confirm that he did indeed offer the best deals or, at the very least, competitive prices. Expecting readers to be skeptical, he intended for them to consider his shop and the potential bargains when making their decisions about which retailers to visit.

In addition to promoting low prices, Gale may have also offered price matching for customers who found better values elsewhere. If he wished to honor the promises he made in print then he would have had to lower his prices if shoppers informed him of better deals offered by his competitors. Shopkeepers and customers expected to haggle with each other, so Gale may have anticipated price matching in order to “sell without Exception, as cheap as can be bought at any Shop or Store in Town” as part of the negotiations.

Retailers and other advertisers commonly made appeals to price throughout the eighteenth century. Some simply mentioned low prices, but others, including Gale, made other claims intended to further distinguish their prices from those of others who sold similar merchandise.

June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Draper
Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (June 9, 1768).
“Choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.”

Thomas Walley’s advertisement in the June 9, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette included an interesting mixture of imported and locally produced wares. He first promoted the imported goods: figs, tea, sugar, coffee, rice, and other groceries. Then he shifted attention to two products produced in New England: “choice Starch made in BOSTON” and “choice N.E. Flour of Mustard.” In describing each as “choice,” Walley indicated that they achieved the same quality as imported goods. He further underscored that the starch was “equal to Poland.”

He devoted significantly more space to mustard seeds, inserting a nota bene that made the advertisement half again as long. Walley had previously advertised “Choice New-England Flour of Mustard … which by repeated Trials is found to be extraordinary good, therefore needs no further Recommendation.” In his new advertisement he called on colonists not only to purchase mustard produced locally but also to participate in making it available as an option for all consumers. He offered cash for mustard seed, but he encouraged “Persons in the Country [to] endeavour to raise and save more Mustard Seed than they have done heretofore” for reasons other than financial gain. He depicted such efforts as “serving their Country” since “N.E. Flour of Mustard” was “certainly found to be preferable to any that is imported.” In what ways was it preferable? Walley did not mean solely the quality or taste. Instead, he invoked a movement to encourage “domestic manufactures” and the consumption of goods produced in the colonies as a means of resistance to abuses perpetrated by Parliament, including the Townshend Act that had gone into effect the previous November. Over the past several months, newspapers throughout the colonies published or reprinted the resolutions of, first, the Boston Town Meeting and, in response, other towns that determined to decrease their dependence on goods imported from or via Britain.

Walley’s advertisement demonstrates that the idealism did not always keep pace with the practical realities. After all, he deployed “Choice Turkey FIGS” recently imported as the headline for an advertisement that eventually turned its attention to goods produced in the colonies. A series of advertisements encouraged colonists to drink “LABRADORE TEA” instead of imported “Best Bohea Tea,” but the demand for imported teas continued. Colonists could not produce some of the groceries listed in Walley’s advertisement. The merchant realized that was the case. Still, he encouraged colonists to modify their behaviors concerning products that were readily available, such as “Starch made in BOSTON,” as well as participate in bringing greater quantities of others, especially “N.E. Flour of Mustard,” into the local marketplace.

May 22

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

May 22 - 5:19:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (May 19, 1768).

“Said Paddock will take second hand Chaises in part Pay for new.”

In the late 1760s Adino Paddock operated a workshop “Where the Coach and Chaisemaking Business is carried on in every Branch.” In other words, Paddock made, repaired, and sold all sorts of carriages to the residents of Boston and its hinterlands. He frequently promoted his enterprise by inserting advertisements in multiple newspapers published in the city. In addition to some of the usual appeals made by other artisans, especially appeals to price and quality, Paddock deployed additional marketing strategies that seem strikingly modern.

For instance, in the May 19, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette Paddock provided a brief overview of some of his inventory. Among the various carriages available, he had “A very good second-hand Coach, Curricle, and several Chaises, some almost new.” He anticipated a common practice in the modern automobile industry. Then, as now, not all consumers could afford or wished to invest in a new vehicle, so Paddock provided an alternate means for acquiring carriages. His “second-hand Coach” was the eighteenth-century equivalent of today’s used car. Also like modern dealerships, Paddock realized that prospective customers balanced the price of a “second-hand” carriage against its condition. What kind of wear and tear took place before it landed in the resale market? To address such concerns, he described “several Chaises” as “almost new.” He offered the best of both worlds to his customers: lower prices for slightly used vehicles still in excellent condition. Paddock also incorporated another innovative marketing strategy into his advertisements: the trade-in. He advised readers that he “will take second hand Chaises in part Pay for new.” He simultaneously made his carriages more affordable and replenished his inventory.

Used vehicles and trade-ins are very familiar to modern consumers who buy vehicles, but these practices did not originate with the automobile industry. Instead, they were already in use in the colonial period, long before automobiles had even been invented. Automobile manufacturers and dealerships eventually adopted marketing strategies that their precursor industry had developed much earlier.

May 1

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

May 1 - 4:28:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 28, 1768).

THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.”

Richard Draper inserted a short notice at the bottom of the middle column on the third page of the April 28, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette. In it, the printer informed the public that “THOSE Advertisements which are omitted will have a very good Place in our next.” Like the abbreviated colophon (“Printed by R. DRAPER”) that appeared at the same place on the final page, it looked like the printer barely had enough space to squeeze this announcement into an issue that quite literally overflowed with news, editorials, and, especially, advertising. Unlike other printers in Boston and elsewhere in the colonies, Draper did not issue a supplement. Perhaps he did not have sufficient time or resources to do so. Perhaps he did not have sufficient content to fill an additional two pages, even though he had not been able to run all of the advertisements he had received.

Proportionally, Draper did publish a significant quantity of advertisements compared to other content in the April 28 edition. More than thirty advertisements of various lengths accounted for nearly two-thirds of the space, filling seven of the twelve columns and extending well into an eighth. Although the Massachusetts Gazette was alternately known as the Boston News-Letter, it also functioned as a delivery mechanism for advertising of all sorts in addition to news. In this particular issue, for instance, merchants and shopkeepers promoted vast assortments of consumer goods and services. Vendue masters highlighted which goods would be presented for bids at upcoming auctions. Local officials inserted legal notices. Executors called on debtors and creditors to settle accounts. Two schoolmistresses declared their intentions to open a boarding school for young ladies. Timothy Force warned others not to allow his wife to contract any debts in his name because she “has eloped and keeps away, and refuses to live with me.” All the way from Antigua, Edward Gamble announced an estate sale that included a plantation and 151 enslaved men, women, and children.

Although more than half of the paid notices in that issue featured consumer goods and services, “subscribers” placed advertisements with various purposes and goals in mind. Each expected some sort of results or return on their investment. In his own notice concerning “Advertisements which are omitted,” Draper primarily addressed advertisers rather than readers, though his announcement may have also incited anticipation about what else might appear in the pages of the next issue among some readers. The printer offered a consolation to advertisers, promising “a very good Place in our next.” That promise suggested that the printer put more consideration into the order of advertisements than their haphazard arrangement on the page otherwise indicated. That he could not include all of them in the issue also testified to the popularity of his publication, implying that prospective advertisers should follow the lead established by their peers and place their notices in the Massachusetts Gazette. After all, demand for space in that newspaper was so high, presumably because advertisers believed the publication placed their advertisements before as many eyes as possible, that Draper could not include all of them. Though he did not state it so bluntly, the printer transformed his inability to disseminate all the advertisements submitted for the April 28 edition into a rationale for others to advertise in his newspaper when choosing among the several published in Boston at the time.

April 21

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Bohane

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

Apr 21 - 4:21:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 21, 1768).

“New Rice by the Cask.”

Thomas Walley sold “New Rice by the Cask” at his “Store, on Dock-Square.” Rice was one of the most profitable goods cultivated in colonial America. According to James M. Clifton, settlers from Barbados and other colonies in the West Indies introduced rice to South Carolina. Colonists there had much to learn about rice, doing so through trial and error. The earliest mention of rice shipment recorded was in 1692, but after that point it became a staple crop, one that supported much of the economy for the entire colony.[1] In order to reduce the amount of strenuous labor required to produce this popular commodity, colonists in South Carolina sought to perfect machines and mills that could aid in processing rice.[2] Unfortunately, this proved quite unsuccessful and remained a challenging process throughout the colonial period. Rice crops became more profitable, however, with the labor of black slaves who worked on plantations and knew how to properly cultivate rice.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “New Rice by the Cask,” Thomas Walley also peddled a variety of other goods. He emphasized textiles and “all sorts of Groceries,” such as tea, olive oil, and mustard. The assortment of fabrics available at his store included “homespun check,” cloth that had been woven in the colonies rather than imported from England. Walley did not explicitly link his products to the imperial crisis that had intensified six months earlier when the Townshend Act went into effect, but he did offer prospective customers the opportunity to participate in a larger coordinated effort to resist Parliament’s attempts to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue without the consent of the colonies. Several months before Walley’s advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, the Boston Town Meeting (followed by many others) had voted to use commerce as leverage in the political dispute with Parliament. They pledged to encourage “American manufactures” rather than continue their dependence on imported goods. In so doing, they acknowledged that in order to change their consumption habits that they first needed to modify the amount of goods produced in the colonies.

Just as this advertisement obscures the role of enslaved labor in producing “New Rice by the Cask,” it also obscures the role women played in this political strategy. Barred from participating in the formal mechanisms of government, women pursued other avenues when it came to participating in resistance efforts during the imperial crisis that culminated in the Revolution. American women produced Walley’s “homespun Check,” first spinning the thread and then weaving it into checkered cloth. Women also made choices about which goods to consume, their decisions extending to entire households. Women who purchased homespun could make very visible political statements by outfitting every member of their families in garments made from that cloth. The meanings of consumption increasingly took on political valences in the late 1760s and into the 1770s. In that realm, women often exercised as much power as men as they exercised their judgment in selecting which goods to acquire and which to reject. Their decisions reverberated beyond the point of purchase; everyday use of clothing, housewares, groceries, and other goods advertised in newspapers and sold by merchants and shopkeepers became laden with political significance.

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[1] James M. Clifton, “The Rice Industry in Colonial America,” Agricultural History 55, no. 3 (July 1981): 267.

[2] Clifton, “Rice Industry,” 278.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Kurt Falter

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

Apr 15 - 4:15:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 15, 1768).

“A few Cask choice Jamaica Sugar & Coffee.”

It is without question that coffee is far more popular drink in the United States than tea, but this was not always the case. During the colonial period, tea was the more preferred caffeine-oriented commodity due to its easy preparation, yet this is not to say that the coffee industry was absent from American culture at the time. Colonists imported some of their coffee from Jamaica, but it was never indigenous to that island; instead, in 1728 Sir Nicholas Lawes brought it over from Haiti. Jamaica’s warm climate made coffee cultivation plentiful and profitable. Approximately 12 million pounds of coffee was exported during the colonial era, making the Jamaican trade one of the largest providers of coffee to the British Empire. Unlike the roasted coffee beans or grinds sold today, usually only the recently picked and pre-roasted coffee beans were sold in colonial America, meaning that the purchaser would have to the roasting, grinding and brewing themselves.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Coffee, tea, and chocolate comprised a trio of exotic hot beverages popular in colonial America.  Many colonists drank these beverages at home, but men also gathered in public venues to consume them together.  As Kurt notes, tea became the most popular of those drinks – and arguably the most emblematic of the early American experience – but the venues that served them were known as coffeehouses.  Like many other aspects of English culture, colonists transported the concept of the coffeehouse across the Atlantic.

Men gathered in coffeehouses for a variety of purposes.  Some conducted business at these establishments.  Merchants and other traders met to make deals and settle accounts over a hot cup of coffee.  Both New York and Philadelphia had a Merchants’ Coffee House prior to the American Revolution, the name suggesting the type of clientele each sought to attract. Customers also gathered to discuss news and politics.  To that end, the proprietors provided several amenities, especially newspapers and pamphlets for their clients to peruse.  In addition to local newspapers, they also subscribed to publications from other cities, broadening the array of sources available to their patrons.  News concerning politics spread as men in coffeehouses read newspapers from near and far, often aloud to their companions, and then discussed current events and editorial pieces, including the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” that circulated in the wake of the Townshend Act. Merchants also visited coffeehouses to consult newspapers in hopes that the information they contained would guide them in making sound business decisions.

Yet men met at coffeehouses for reasons other than business and politics.  Coffeehouses were centers of sociability.  Customers gathered to converse with one another. As much as many of them liked to think of their discussions with friends and acquaintances as enlightened exchanges, they also tended to engage in gossip as well.  Women were excluded from coffeehouses, from conducting business, from discussing politics, from conversations that took place there, but that did not mean that one of the vices most frequently attributed to women – gossip – was absent from those homosocial spaces.  Men managed to trade stories, both fanciful and snide, without the influence of women, though they liked to pretend otherwise.

Coffee was more than a commodity sold for consumption within the household in eighteenth-century America.  Colonists also gathered in public spaces to drink this hot beverage together as they conducted business, debated politics, and socialized.  Like taverns, coffeehouses were important venues for exchanging information and ideas and, in turn, shaping American commerce and politics, in the era of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution.

March 31

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1768 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (March 31, 1768).

“The late Company of ABIGAIL WHITNEY and DAUGHTER.”

In an extraordinary that accompanied the March 31, 1768, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette, Abigail Whitney advertised “a large Assortment of Goods” that she sold “at her Shop in Union-Street” in Boston. Like other eighteenth-century merchants and shopkeepers, she made an appeal to price, announcing that she sold her wares “quite low.” She also demonstrated the extent of the choices she offered consumers by listing dozens of items included among her “large Assortment of Goods,” from a variety of fabrics to curtains and quilts to items for personal adornment that included buttons, fans, and “Horn and Ivory Combs.” She further emphasized choice when she stated that she also stocked “many other Articles not mentioned.” Among the items she did list, Whitney explicitly connected some to current styles in London and throughout the British Atlantic world as a means of further enticing prospective customers concerned that they appear genteel to their friends and neighbors. For instance, she carried “newest fashion striped and flowered Lutestrings” to be made into garments. Given this array of marketing strategies, Whitney’s advertisement was not extraordinary at all, despite being published in a four-page extraordinary when Richard Draper needed more space for all the content he had compiled for the Massachusetts Gazette that week.

Whitney’s advertisement, however, was fairly unique given that she was a female retailer who advertised her participation in the colonial marketplace as supplier rather than a consumer. In urban ports, women comprised a significant proportion of shopkeepers, often more than a quarter of all shopkeepers according to other records from the late colonial period. Yet many chose not to advertise in the public prints; they were disproportionately underrepresented among the advertisements that filled and sometimes dominated the pages of colonial newspapers. Even though some of Whitney’s sister retailers did advertise in Boston’s newspapers they did not do so according to their numbers among the residents of the city.

Whitney herself may have chosen to advertise as the result of extraordinary circumstances. A short paragraph at the end of her advertisement, a fraction of the length of the list of the “Assortment of Goods,” called on “all Persons indebted to the late Company of ABIGAIL WHITNEY and DAUGHTER, to pay their respective Ballances speedily.” If they did not, the “surviving Partner” would initiate legal action. Abigail Whitney and Daughter had not been in the habit of advertising. The last (and only) time that an advertisement placed by anyone named Abigail Whitney appeared in newspapers published in Boston had been nearly ten years earlier when notices appeared in both the Boston-Gazette and the Boston News-Letter in December 1759. Those advertisements had a similar format, listing an extensive inventory of imported goods. Between March and July 1768, Whitney placed the new advertisement in the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Massachusetts Gazette, but she did not advertise in newspapers again after that. Although she advertised rarely, Abigail Whitney’s advertisement testifies to the presence of women in the colonial marketplace as retailers, producers, and suppliers. They were familiar to colonists who walked the streets of Boston even if they maintained much less visibility in the pages of newspapers from the era. Whitney’s advertisement even reveals a partnership of female entrepreneurs, a partnership cut short when her daughter died.