January 30

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

Supplement to the Boston-Gazette (January 28, 1771).

“I think it my Duty to acquaint the Publick, that I met with a Doctor … [who] made a sound Cure of me.”

One brief advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the January 21, 1771, edition of the Boston-Gazetteconsisted entirely of a testimonial by Eleanor Cooley about the medical services provided by Charles Stephen Letester of Braintree.  Physicians and purveyors of patent medicines sometimes published testimonials as portions of their newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, but rarely did they confine their advertising solely to testimonials.  Assuming that Letester and Cooley collaborated on the advertisement and Letester paid to insert it in the newspaper, he must have believed that Cooley’s testimonial was sufficient recommendation to convince prospective clients to avail themselves of his services.

WHEREAS I Eleanor Cooley,” the grateful patient declared, “have had a Burst in the Side of my Belly for Twelve Years, with a Dropsey and several other Disorders:  I think it my Duty to acquaint the Publick, that I met with a Doctor in the Town of Braintree, that with the Help of God, has made a sound Cure of me:  His Name is CHARLES STEPHEN LETESTER.”  This testimonial put Letester in competition with others who provided medical care of various sorts, including Oliver Smith.  In an advertisement almost immediately to the left of Cooley’s testimonial, Smith informed readers that he carried a “compleat Assortment of DRUGGS & MEDICINES, Imported in the last Ships from London, and warranted genuine.”  Especially for colonists who had attempted to find relief via various remedies sold by apothecaries, Cooley’s testimonial about Letester may have provided new hope sufficient to incite them to consult with the doctor.

In this instance, Letester did not recite his credentials, his training, his extensive experience, or his prominent clients, strategies often deployed by other doctors in their newspaper advertisements.  Instead, he relied on a firsthand account of his care for a single patient, one who was not famous but perhaps more relatable to prospective clients as a result.

January 29

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

Essex Gazette (January 29, 1771).

“Choice Labradore Tea.”

Two advertisements in the January 29, 1771, edition of the Essex Gazette promoted tea to colonial consumers.  William Vans advertised “CHOICE Bohea Tea by the Hundred, Dozen or single Pound,” acknowledging the demand for imported tea.  Robert Bartlett, on the other hand, sold “Choice Labradore Tea,” an alternative produced in the colonies.  As Lisa L. Petrocich explains, “Colonists brewed Labrador, or Labradore, tea from the Ledum groenlandicum evergreen plant that grows in New England, and the Middle Atlantic, and the Midwest.”[1]

Bartlett emphasized the medicinal qualities of Labradore tea in his advertisement, advising prospective customers that the product was “esteemed as very wholesome, & good for the Rheumatism, Spleen, and many other Disorders and Pains.”  He also hawked a medicine that he described as “an infallible Cure for the Tooth-Ach.”  Bartlett focused on providing remedies for ailments rather than rehearsing the recent history of tea consumption in the colonies, but he almost certainly depended on consumers possessing some familiarity with the politics of Labradore tea.  The import duties on glass, paper, lead, and paint imposed in the Townshend Acts had been repealed the previous year, prompting colonists to call an end to the nonimportation agreements adopted in protest, but the tax on tea remained.  Some stalwarts argued that was reason enough to continue the boycotts until Parliament met all of their demands by repealing the duty on tea as well, but both merchants and consumers eager to resume trade and gain access to imported goods once again overruled them.  Before that debate, however, newspapers, especially newspapers published in New England, ran news items, editorials, puff pieces, and advertisements that educated the public about Labradore tea and promoted it as an alternative to Bohea and other imported teas.

Bartlett eschewed politics in his advertisement, perhaps not wanting to alienate prospective customers who advocated for resuming trade with Britain, but the political meaning of choosing Labradore tea likely still resonated with many readers of the Essex Gazette.  That Bartlett advertised Labradore tea at all indicated that he believed he believed a market for it still existed and that he could incite greater demand by presenting it as a remedy for various ailments.

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[1] Lisa L. Petrovich, “More than the Boston Tea Party: Tea in American Culture, 1760s-1840s” (master’s thesis, University of Colorado, 2013), 24.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 17, 1769).

“The Art of curing, with God’s Assistance, all curable Disorders.”

Isaac Calcott, a healer, inserted an advertisement in the June 17, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette to announce his presence in the city as soon as he arrived from London, even though he was not yet ready to see patients. He aimed to stoke anticipation among residents, especially prospective patients who might benefit from the “Art of curing” that he had obtained during “several Years travelling abroad.” Calcott did not indicate where he had traveled, leaving it to others to imagine the faraway places where this “SEVENTH SON of a SEVENTH SON” had learned secrets for healing a variety of maladies, from “Rheumatism” to “Pleurisy,” “Venereal Disorder” to “Scurvy,” and “Dropsy” to “Consumption.” Calcott informed colonists who suffered from any of these that they could soon consult with him at Elizabeth Thurston’s house starting on the following Tuesday.

Many medical practitioners from London and other places in Europe tended to assert their credentials when they advertised upon their arrival in the colonies. They detailed their professional training at universities and the hospitals where they had worked alongside prominent physicians. Many reported that they had served members of the aristocracy, suggesting that having earned the trust of prominent clients demonstrated their competency. Calcott, however, was a different sort of healer. He did not trumpet his prior successes. Instead, he implied that those who adopted that strategy often reported on “Cures never performed.”

Calcott expected his work to provide sufficient testimonial over time: “let my Medicines and Practice merit your Applause.” This strategy did depend on attracting patients who could then speak favorably of the care they received. Prospective clients had little to lose, except for the shilling they paid for the consultation. Calcott promised that even “if he can do no Good” at least “he will do no Hurt.” Perhaps more significantly, Calcott repeatedly invoked the role that faith played in the care he provided to patients. His ability to cure all sorts of disorders flowed from “God’s assistance.” For colonists who had exhausted other options or could not afford to visit physicians who proclaimed their specialized training, this may have been an attractive alternative.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:25:1769 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 25, 1769).

Family Physician, or Primitive Physic, just published.”

The supplement that accompanied the May 25, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal concluded with an advertisement for a handy reference manual, “THE Family Physician, or Primitive Physic.” Prospective customers could acquire copies “at the Printing-Office, at the Exchange.” In other words, John Holt, the printer and publisher of the New-York Journal, sold this book to supplement his income. In so doing, he competed with druggist Thomas Bridgen Atwood, who advertised elsewhere on the same page of the supplement. Atwood and Holt, however, provided different goods and services.

Atwood, who advertised regularly, sold a “general Assortment of Drugs and Medecines.” In addition to selling patent medicines and other remedies prepared in advance by others, he also compounded new prescriptions. Holt, on the other hand, offered a means for prospective customers to avoid consulting (and paying) “a Physician or Surgeon” or an apothecary. The book he peddled would allow buyers to act as doctor and pharmacist in treating “most kinds of common Diseases” since it contained “Receipts [recipes] for preparing and applying a great Number of Medicines.” Prospective customers did not need to worry about any lack of expertise or access to the necessary materials. Holt pledged that most of the “Receipts” were “simple” to prepare and their elements “easily procured.”

To underscore the utility of the book as a substitute for consulting physicians and apothecaries, Holt noted that consumers considered it “so generally useful and acceptable to the Public” that it had been reprinted thirteen times in the course of just a few years. For his final pitch, he proclaimed that “every Family, especially in the Country, ought certainly to be furnished with one of these Books.” In promoting this reference manual to prospective customers who lived outside of the city, he suggested that procuring a copy was not merely a means of saving money on consultations with physicians and druggists. The book provided greater access to the world of medicine, especially the most common and basic remedies, for those who did not have doctors and apothecaries residing in close proximity.

August 14

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

Aug 14 - 8:14:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 14, 1767).

“Now open’d for Sale, at the Sign of the LION and MORTER.”

Little and Jackson sold “A large and fresh Assortment of genuine Medicines” at their apothecary shop near the Crown Coffee House in Portsmouth. The sign the druggists displayed made it easier for residents and visitors to the port to locate their shop. Its device, the “LION and MORTER,” testified to the type of merchandise they carried, including popular patent medicines imported from England as well as ingredients for compounding remedies on the spot.

The mortar alone, a symbol widely recognized among potential customers, would have sufficiently described Little and Jackson’s business. Adding the lion, a regal symbol, imbued their business with more prestige, but that was not all it accomplished. It also replicated a shop sign already in use by one of their counterparts in Salem, Massachusetts. As early as January 1764, Philip Godfrid Kast advertised in the Boston Post-Boy that he imported and sold “a very large Assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES” at his shop “at the Sign of the Lyon and Mortar.” In 1774, Kast even distributed a trade card that featured his sign, a rare visual image of what would have been a ubiquitous sight in colonial cities.

In choosing to pair a lion with a mortar, had Little and Jackson infringed on Kast’s efforts to brand his business? Not by the standards of the eighteenth century. The devices depicted on many shop signs had long been in use in England, first appearing in an earlier period with lower literacy rates. Just as the mortar and pestle were associated with druggists, other symbols denoted specific occupations. For instance, a sign showing a dog with its head in a bucket indicated that a smith practiced his trade at that location. Leather dressers who made all sorts of clothing, including James and Matthew Haslett, did so at the “Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”

Throughout London and the provinces and, eventually, the colonies, the consistent use of these and other easily recognized symbols conveniently marked where shopkeepers and artisans carried on specific activities. To some extent they could be deployed as branding in a certain area, but they did not tend to be the sole domain of entrepreneurs and advertisers beyond their local markets.

October 27

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-27-10271766-boston-gazette
Boston-Gazette (October 27, 1766).

“DRUGS and Medicines of the very best Kinds.”

This advertisement caught my attention because it is unique. In reading colonial newspapers I have not seen many advertisements for medical supplies. This one includes “Syringes of all kinds” and “Bateman’s Drops,” among other things.

The advertisement made me wonder about the realities of health in the 1700s. Colonists tried to do what we still strive for now, to live a healthy life. However, that was much more difficult to do in the 1700s. Fewer medical discoveries, poor hygiene practices, and contamination of water sources contributed to an unfavorable health environment. In eighteenth-century America a mild illness could turn into a fatal ailment. Diseases, like yellow fever, were always a threat and could cause epidemics.

One example of a disease causing havoc happened in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. As Simon Finger notes, “At the end of the eighteenth century, Philadelphia found itself in the grip of an implacable horror, wracked by ‘the hurricane of the human frame.’ Yellow fever loomed like the storm.”[1] The spread of illnesses wreaked havoc on the population. Not only were residents dying from illnesses, but the economy was also affected. Finger further states that: “yellow fever returned to terrorize Philadelphia six more times, taking thousands of lives, paralyzing the port economy, and sowing the seeds of a panic.”[2]

Americans now have access to properly educated doctors, hygiene education, and clean water sources. In 2016, not many people are worried about a lethal cough or a yellow fever epidemic occurring. However, it is important to recognize the unhealthy environment colonists lived in and the health threats they faced, as it was one of the characteristics of the 1700s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Peter Roberts offered a variety of conveniences for customers who purchased his “DRUGS and Medicines of the very best Kinds.” Like many other druggists (as well as some shopkeepers), he provided mail order service for those who were unable to visit his shop “opposite the West Door of the Court-House Boston.” In a nota bene he announced that “Orders by Letters from Practitioners and others, in Town or Country, will be as faithfully complied with as if they were present.”

Roberts offered another convenience less commonly promoted in eighteenth-century advertisements. Before listing the various remedies and medical equipment he stocked, the druggist stated that he “carefully prepares and puts up in the best Manner, DOCTOR’s BOXES of all sizes, with proper Directions, for Ships or private Families.” In other words, Roberts produced and sold the early modern equivalent of the first aid kit. Given that customers could choose boxes of “all sizes,” Roberts most likely allowed them to choose specific items they wished included. On the other hand, some customers probably preferred readymade boxes that included the most popular and commonly used items, leaving it to the druggist to make the selections based on his experience and expertise.

While these “DOCTOR’s BOXES” represented a convenience for his customers, they presented an opportunity for Roberts, an opportunity to increase sales and move inventory more quickly. Customers purchased individual items from Roberts and other druggists as they needed them or in anticipation of need. When Roberts assembled one these boxes, however, he could include various products that customers were less likely to select on their own or that they were less likely to imagine that they might need at some point. He could include items that customers were much less likely to purchase separately but that they would accept as part of a larger package. He bundled his products in order to distribute them in greater numbers.

Note that Roberts also sold “DOCTOR’s BOXES” for vessels going to sea as well as to “private Families.” He recognized that the local market was comprised of more than the “Practitioners” who lived in Boston and its hinterland. The city was a busy port. Potential customers were arriving and departing by ship all the time. When they were in port, they needed a variety of supplies, including the “DRUGS and Medicines” that Roberts sold.

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[1] Simon Finger, The Contagious City: The Politics of Public Health in Early Philadelphia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012), 120.

[2] Finger, Contagious City, 120.

September 26

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-26-9261766-new-hampshire-gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 26, 1766).

An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES.”

Stephen Little’s advertisement displaying “An Assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES” did not waste much space.” Not only did Little’s advertisement offer a diverse selection of common goods and medicines, he also claimed they were indeed the best and the cheapest around. Accepting cash only, Little offered everything from a variety of seasonings, like cinnamon, pepper, and allspice, to beverages, like wine, brandy, “French Hungary Water in Bottles,” and tea.

Little’s shop seems like a modern day drug store, advertising an array of different remedies and other products. Included were “Casteel Soap” and “Turlington’s Balsom of LIFE,” along with “Stoughton’s Elixer – Lockyer’s Pills – Dr. Ward’s Essence for Head-Ach.” T.H. Breen has discussed how advertisements like this one were able to “inflame customer desire” by offering so many goods to potential customers.[1]

After researching some of these products, I learned that “Lockyer’s Pills” were one of the most well, widely sold across London and the colonies. The pills have been described as “cure-alls.” They especially worked to relieve intestinal issues and kidney stones. In addition, this hopefully decreased doctor visits over the year.[2]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Nick decided to investigate “Lockyer’s Pills” in greater detail, I decided to do the same, but our research took us in different directions. I visited another digital humanities project and one of my favorite research blog: The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Art, Science, and Medicine, conducted by “an international group of scholars interested in the history of recipes, ranging from magical charms to veterinary remedies.”

In an entry devoted to “Medicinal Compounds, Efficacious in Every Case,” Lisa Smith concluded with a few words about Lockyer’s Pills, but she first offered insights that help to better understand Little’s advertisement. Little and his customers did not divide all of his wares between the categories of “MEDICINES” and “GROCERIES.” Instead, they believed that many of the grocery items possessed medicinal qualities, especially the mace, cloves, and nutmegs listed at the beginning of his current inventory. Consulting early modern herbals and pharmacopoeias, Smith states, “reveals that herbs like nutmegs, cloves, mace, aniseeds, lavender and rosemary (for example) had warming and drying properties.” This would have been important to doctors, apothecaries, and patients who believed that the hot, cold, wet, and dry properties of bodily humors needed to be balanced to achieve good health. Little offered several medicines already prepared for clients, but some likely bought what we would today consider grocery items to use in compounding their own remedies.

Smith concludes by noting that “not all cure-alls were created equal – and there were some weird ones out there,” especially the pills marketed by Lionel Lockyer. Those remedies supposedly contained an extract of the sun! For patients interested in medicines with warming and drying qualities, what could have been better?! To my delight, Smith also included an image of a broadsheet advertisement for Lockyer’s Pills.

L0002420 Broadsheet advertsing L.Lockyer's patent medicine
Broadsheet Advertising Lockyer’s Pills. Wellcome Library, London.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 476.

[2] Andrew Wear, Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550-1680 (Cambridge University Press, 2000): 425-436.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:26:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 26, 1766).

“He undertakes to cure Consumptions, and the Golden Vein.”

Today’s advertisement demonstrates the shifts in everyday language and medical terminology that have taken place between the eighteenth century and today. To most modern readers it is not readily apparent which affliction John Peter Steg, “Practitioner in Physick and Surgery,” promised to cure when he included “Consumptions, and the Golden Vein” in his advertisement. Though tuberculosis continued to be known as consumption throughout the nineteenth century and is still familiarly known by that term, it is possible that Steg had other symptoms or maladies in mind as well. What is more certain is that reference to “the Golden Vein” has passed out of our daily lexicon.

So what was the Golden Vein? This affliction was also known as the piles (another term we do not employ today), but is commonly called hemorrhoids today. (Given all the euphemisms deployed in marketing a variety of remedies to be administered at home for some of the most sensitive and delicate health issues, modern purveyors of a variety of ointments, creams, medicated pads, and other products should revive the use of “the Golden Vein” in their advertising, don’t you think?!)

Hemorrhoids may have earned the nickname “Golden Vein” in relationship to the medical theory of the humors, the most commonly held view of the human body among European and Anglo-American physicians until the nineteenth century. According to this system, each individual achieved good health by balancing the four humors, black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. This helps to explain why bloodletting was a frequent treatment. Some scholars have suggested that hemorrhoids became known as the “Golden Vein” because they presented an opportunity to discharge excess or unhealthy blood and return balance to the body. Christopher E. Forth indicates that hemorrhoids “were sometimes praised as a cost-saving ‘golden vein’ because they were “an easy way to purge oneself of excess humours (thus obviating the need to pay a physician to do the honours).” Furthermore, Forth reports, “Many physicians even approved o haemorrhoidal bleeding as a healthy male counterpart to menstrual flux, perhaps as a sign that men could withstand losses of blood just as women did every month.”[1]

References to a medical problem called “the Golden Vein” do not register with modern readers, but John Peter Steg certainly used language that colonists would have understood. We continue to deploy euphemisms and code words when talking about the intersection of medicine and the body with consumer goods and services. The words may have changed, but the practice has endured.

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[1] Christopher E. Forth, “Painful Paradoxes: Consumption, Sacrifice, and Man-Building in the Age of Nationalism,” in Medicine, Religion, and the Body, ed. Elizabeth Burns Coleman, and Kevin White (Brill, 2009).

March 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 26 - 3:24:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 24, 1766).

“A General Assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”

In this advertisement, Philip Godfrid Kast sold something a little different. Imported from the last ships from London (which is a way to guarantee their freshness), he sold “a general assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.” I have never seen a pharmaceutical advertisement when looking through colonial newspapers for the Adverts 250 Project, which is why I chose this advertisement for today.

Kast characterizes his drugs as “Chymical” (which is the historical spelling of “chemical”) and “Galenical” (which is a medicine made from natural ingredients – plant or animal components – rather than synthetic components). Most prescription medications made today are of the chemical sort, since over time they have been proven to help more, and can be developed further to help more people.

What else further interested me was that this was a “dual” advertisement almost. Philip Godfrid Kast advertised for himself in Salem as well as for Dr. Stephen Huse in Haverhill, Maassachusetts. This is interesting because those towns are around twenty miles apart. Is it possible that these were the only two shops on the North Shore of Massachusetts that sold pharmaceuticals other than the port of Boston? Also, I noticed that Huse had the label of “Dr.” whereas Kast did not. This makes me wonder if they could possibly have been business partners or maybe Kast was more like a pharmacist today and Huse was more like a doctor today. Or maybe colonial Americans did not care as much about getting their medicines from such an official.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I intended to feature this advertisement (from a previous issue of the Boston Post-Boy) last week before my Public History students resumed their guest curator duties, but when Elizabeth submitted her list of proposed advertisements for this week I held off for a bit. I figured it would be much more interesting to see what each of us thought was interesting and important about this advertisement.

What originally drew me to this advertisement? In early January I included another advertisement from Kast in my analysis of the featured advertisement of the day. The Kast advertisement I used, however, was a trade card rather than a newspaper advertisement. I posted it because the trade card included an image of Kast’s “Sign of the Lyon & Mortar.” Most colonial shop signs have been lost to time, but trade cards provide an alternate form of preservation of the image if not the material object.

Philip Godfrid Kast Trade Card
Philip Godfrid Kast’s trade card engraved by Nathaniel Hurd in Boston in 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

All of the advertisements that Elizabeth examined this week have told us something about consumer culture and life in eighteenth-century America, but in at least one aspect some of her advertisers themselves were extraordinary. Recall that Mary Symonds, the milliner from Philadelphia, also issued a trade card for her business. (Elizabeth also included a trade card from William Breck, whose shop “at the Golden Key” was located near the shop promoted in the featured advertisement on another day.) Very few retailers, merchants, producers, or suppliers distributed trade cards in colonial America. Only a small fraction of newspaper advertisers experimented with advertising campaigns that utilized multiple media. I’ve been hoping that some of my students would have an opportunity to examine some of those advertisers, but I never would have guessed at the outset of this project that any of them in any single week would encounter two or more advertisers who used trade cards to supplement their newspapers advertisements.

March 17

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

Mar 17 - 3:17:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 17, 1766).

“A Compleat Assortment of Druggs and Medicines; … a fine Assortment of Surgeon’s Instruments.”

Benjamin Church operated a shop that likely attracted many different kinds of customers.

Anderson’s Pills, Bateman’s Drops, Stoughton’s Bitters, and Turlington’s Balsam were all familiar patent medicines that colonists would have purchased both with or without consulting a physician. In some ways, they were the over the counter medications of their day. The first half of Church’s advertisement lists a “Compleat Assortment of Druggs and Medicines” and ingredients that customers from a variety of backgrounds would have purchased.

The second half, on the other hand, lists equipment, “a fine Assortment of Surgeon’s Instruments,” likely intended for specific occupational groups that practiced one form of medicine or another. Everyday consumers may have had some of these supplies in their homes, just as modern American households possess basic first aid materials, but “Midwifry Instruments” and “Surgeon’s Knives” were likely purchased almost exclusively by medical practitioners.

I’m curious to know which volumes were included among the “good Collection of modern Medical Authors.” Did they include any works of general reference? Who would have purchased them?

Overall, this advertisement offers an interesting glimpse of medicine in colonial America, but it also demonstrates how an eighteenth-century business operated. Once upon a time I worked for an independently owned retail pharmacy and home health care supply store. Although the two portions of the business shared a location, most employees were specifically affiliated with either one or the other. Pharmacy staff and home health care staff had distinct areas of expertise and experience and consulted with customers accordingly. In contrast, it is likely that Benjamin Church worked on both sides of the business at his shop in colonial Boston.