March 18

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

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

Providence Gazette (March 18, 1769).

“Choice Indico.”

This advertisement shows that Joseph and William Russell had multiple items for sale, including pork, pepper, and nails. I selected “choice Indico” to examine in more detail. Indigo was used as a blue dye for clothing and other textiles. This highly priced dye was produced in the southern colonies. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, “By 1755 the Carolina colony alone was exporting around 200,000 pounds of indigo annually; Georgia was just beginning to export indigo, with 4,500 pounds exported that year. Georgia’s indigo exportation reached its peak in 1770, with more than 22,00 pounds.” Production of indigo collapsed in the colonies at the onset of the Revolutionary War because plantations in Central America and Florida were able to produce more crops per year based on their climate. Indigo dye was important to the colonies. Just like the potash from yesterday’s advertisement, producing indigo and exporting it helped colonists earn money to buy imported goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As we revised earlier drafts of his entry for today’s advertisement, Zach and I discussed the intended audience. He hypothesized that the Russells did not target end-use consumers but instead sought to attract the attention of masters of vessels who needed to supplies when they visited Providence. Zach suspected that much of the “CHOICE Barrel Pork,” cordage, “Nails of all Sorts” hawked by the Russells ended up aboard ships that sailed on commercial ventures from Providence to other places throughout the Atlantic world.

I agree with Zach for a couple of reasons. First, he offers a sound interpretation of the specific commodities offered by the Russells in this particular advertisement. I also agree with him because of the style of the advertisement and the many sorts of goods that it did not include. The Russells were prominent merchants in Providence. They regularly advertised in the Providence Gazette, ranking among the most prolific advertisers in that publication. Their advertisements often invited consumers to visit their shop and examine the variety of items they offered for sale. For instance, one previous advertisement announced “A most neat and general Assortment of SPRING and SUMMER GOODS,” although it did not describe any of the merchandise. In another advertisement they described their “large, neat, and compleat Assortment of English, India, and Hard-Ware GOODS” as “by far the largest and best Assortment in this Town.” Others went into elaborate detail about the Russells’s inventory. They were the first advertisers to experiment with full-page advertisements in the Providence Gazette. On such occasions they listed hundreds of items in stock at their shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” a landmark that became nearly exceptionally familiar in the public prints. In their advertisements placed as retailers, they often addressed prospective customers as “Gentlemen and Ladies both in Town and Country.”

These elements were missing from the Russells’s advertisement in the March 18, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. Based on the types of goods offered for the sale, the quantities, and the style of the advertisement, it appears that they sought different buyers than they addressed in many of their other advertisements. This time they operated as merchants providing supplies in bulk rather than as shopkeepers cultivating relationships with consumers.

March 12

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Georgia Gazette (March 8, 1769).

“Samuel Elbert HAS JUST IMPORTED … NEW-ENGLAND RUM.”

This advertisement features a series of items that recently had been imported into Georgia by a trader named Samuel Elbert. Some of the items included soap, “CALIMANCO SHOES,” and New England rum.

Who was Samuel Elbert? Originally I was not expecting to uncover much about this advertiser, but I learned that he was an American merchant, politician, and officer during the Revolution. According to the Georgia Historical Society, Elbert started as a merchant and served in the colonial legislature as well as being a captain of a grenadier company. However, once fighting started, he decided that he wanted to serve in the war. He received a commission as an officer because of his wealth and social status. He rose up the ranks and was promoted to brigadier general in 1783 after years of service. He was later elected governor of Georgia. It is important to know about the many different people who participated in the American Revolution. Elbert may not be as famous as other officers, but he played a major role in the southern campaigns. Like other officers and soldiers from diverse backgrounds and occupations, he helped with defeating the British.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke has chosen an advertisement that may look familiar to regular readers of the Adverts 250 Project. Samuel Elbert’s notice was the featured advertisement on February 22. While the methodology for this project usually requires selecting an advertisement only once, I sometimes make exceptions when I wish to explore a particular aspect of an advertisement in more detail.

Elbert’s advertisement first appeared in the February 22, 1769, edition of the Georgia Gazette, notable because it was one of only two that incorporated a large gothic font for its headline. Such typography distinguished both advertisements from the others on the same page and throughout the issue. The other advertisement, an announcement that the former members of the “Ugly Club” would meet on the 25th was discontinued the following week, but Elbert’s advertisement ran once again on March 1. In that issue, Lewis Johnson, an apothecary, and William Sime, a goldsmith and jeweler, both inserted advertisements that displayed their names in the same large gothic font. Elbert, Johnson, and Sime all ran their advertisements once again in the March 8 edition, the one examined by Luke, though yet another notice deployed the same visual style, this time featuring the name of Michael Hamer, a shopkeeper.

Who was responsible for the sudden infusion of such bold typography? Was it all at the discretion of a compositor who wished to experiment with some of the types not often used in the pages of the Georgia Gazette? Or did Johnson, Sime, and Hamer notice how the unique type drew attention to Elbert’s advertisement and then request that their own notices receive the same treatment? The answers cannot be found in the pages of the Georgia Gazette. Instructions may have been submitted with the copy for those advertisements, though advertisers may have simply made verbal requests when visiting James Johnston’s printing office on Broughton Street in Savannah. In his examination of the typography of the Georgia Gazette, Ray Dilley remarks that the “large size (Great Primer, or 36 point), appears at least once as a fascinating announcement for a meeting of ‘The Ugly Club,’” but does not mention its use in Elbert’s advertisement or any that appeared in subsequent issues.[1] Nor does Lawrence speculate on why Johnston or a compositor happened to resort to that type. The advertisements themselves testify to a willingness to experiment with graphic design, but the identity of the innovator remains unknown.

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[1] Lawrence A. Alexander, James Johnston, Georgia’s First Printer: With Decorations and Remarks on Johnston’s Work by Ray Dilley (Savannah: Pigeonhole Press, 1956), 42.

September 6

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

Sep 6 - 9:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 3
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 6, 1768).

“ANDREW LORD, Has just imported …”

In September 1768 Andrew Lord experimented with a marketing strategy deployed by relatively few merchants and shopkeepers prior to the American Revolution. He placed multiple advertisements in a single issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, improving the likelihood that readers would notice at least one of them. For readers and prospective customers who happened to notice both, this further increased Lord’s visibility in the Charleston marketplace, making it difficult to overlook his significance in the local commercial landscape. Publishing multiple advertisements enhanced his name recognition.

Printers frequently crowded newspapers with advertisements for their own goods and services, exercising one of the privileges of operating the press, but merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others were slow to follow their lead. Financial considerations certainly played a role. Advertisers not affiliated with the newspaper did, after all, have to pay to have their notices inserted, but that alone does not sufficiently explain their failure to appreciate how to better take advantage of the power of the press in presenting their goods and services to prospective customers. After all, many advertisers made significant investments when they inserted lengthy notices that listed vast arrays of merchandise.

Sep 6 - 9:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Page 4
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 6, 1768).

Lord could have done the same. He could have combined his two advertisements into a single advertisement. Doing so would have had the advantage of making his assortment of merchandise seem even more expansive by taking up more space on a single page. Yet he opted for two distinct advertisements instead. Since most printers charged by the length, Lord incurred the same costs whether he published one longer advertisement or two shorter ones. Given the choice, he determined that two shorter notices better suited his purposes. One appeared on the third page of the September 6 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, the other on the fourth page. This bolstered his presence in the newspaper, further solidifying his reputation as a merchant of note in the bustling port of Charleston. The appeals Lord made in his advertisements did not distinguish him from his competitors, but the reiteration of his name in a single issue did.

November 1

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

Nov 1 - 10:29:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 29, 1767).

“China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”

In an advertisement placed in the Massachusetts Gazette at the end of October 1767, Caleb Blanchard “Acquaints his Customers in Town and Country, that he has Just Imported … a LARGE and COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT of GOODS, both English & India” that he sold for low prices at his shop on Union Street in Boston. He also listed several other items that he stocked, including cocoa, sugar, tobacco, nutmegs, and cinnamon. Although he had already announced that he charged “the very lowest advance” for his wares, he concluded with another appeal to price. Blanchard proclaimed that he sold “China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”

Blanchard implied that the prices of china and paper would soon increase, but he did not explicitly state why he was so certain that customers would soon pay more for those particular items. He did not need to do so. Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette “in Town and Country” already knew that that the Townshend Act was set to go into effect in just three weeks on November 20, 1767. Indeed, residents throughout the colonies were aware of the provisions of the Townshend Act, in large part because newspaper printers from Massachusetts to Georgia had published excerpts of the legislation.

Article I of the Townshend Act assessed duties on dozens of different kinds of imported paper, from twelve shillings “For every ream of paper, usually called or known by the name Atlas Fine” to nine pence “For every ream of paper called Demy Second, made in Great Britain” to ten pence halfpenny “For every single ream of blue paper for sugar bakers.” Article II specified that duties on “all other paper” not specifically mentioned should be calculated on the nearest equivalent. Article III defined how many sheets of paper made a quire and how many quires made a ream.

Articles VII and VIII prohibited drawbacks on “china earthen ware.” In other words, merchants could not expect to receive a refund on any taxes they paid for re-exporting imported china. In the end, this would raise prices for consumers since merchants and shopkeepers would pass along the expense to their customers.

Caleb Blanchard did not name the Townshend Act in his advertisement, but that was not necessary to make his appeal to price resonate with consumers. Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette would have been well aware of the impending duties. They would have made the connection on their own. Blanchard depended on public awareness of politics and imperial economic policy in marketing his wares.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:24:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (September 24, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles suitable for this Market, and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.”

As spring turned to fall and colonists anticipated the arrival of winter in 1767, Philip Livingston inserted an advertisement for “A Very neat Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Season” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. In placing this notice, Livingston did not seek the patronage of end-use consumers; instead, he acted as a wholesaler in distributing imported textiles to retailers to sell to customers in their own shops throughout the colony. After listing a variety of fabrics (most of them in an array of colors), he described them as “suitable for this Market and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.” The merchant wanted potential customers to know that if they acquired his woolens and “other Articles” that the merchandise would not just sit on the shelves.

Livingston’s advertisement also demonstrates the wide distribution of newspapers in the late colonial period. He inserted his notice in a newspaper printed in New York City, confident that “Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony” would see it. At the time, printers in the busy port published four newspapers: the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on Mondays and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal on Thursdays. Livingston placed the same advertisement in all four publications, realizing that was the most efficient way to communicate with shopkeepers in towns beyond the city. After all, the four newspapers printed in New York City were the only newspapers published in the colony in 1767. Livingston did not have the option of buying advertising space in hometown publications because the four newspapers emanating from New York City were the local newspapers for residents throughout the entire colony! Subscribers beyond the city received copies delivered by post riders. After delivery, issues passed from hand to hand. Individual retailers “in the Northern Parts of the Colony” might not have access to each of New York’s newspapers during any given week, but Livingston knew that they likely would see at least one.

In distinguishing among the various components of colonial newspapers it might be tempting to view the news items as general interest for any reader but advertisements as limited to local markets. That, however, would not be an accurate assessment of many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Many advertisers – both wholesalers and retailers – sought to cultivate customers in towns beyond the cities where newspaper were published. The extensive distribution networks for colonial networks made that possible.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (September 1, 1767).

“GODREY & GADSDEN, Will exchange the following GOODS.”

Godfrey and Gadsden’s dense list-style advertisement resembled many other inserted in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and newspapers throughout the colonies in the second half of the eighteenth century. The partners enumerated dozens of imported items, everything from textiles to housewares to hardware, and concluded with “&c.” (etc.) to suggest an even greater array of merchandise than what could be squeezed into their advertisement.

Their advertisement differed from most others, however, in one significant aspect. Godfrey and Gadsden were not seeking customers. They did not offer their assortment of goods directly to colonial consumers. Instead, they stated that they “Will exchange the following GOODS … for such others as they have occasion for.” The partners intended this notice for fellow merchants who imported a similar, yet slightly different, variety of goods and now wished to further diversify their wares. Perhaps they also sought shopkeepers who had obtained surpluses of certain items and looked for opportunities to reduce their inventory through such exchanges. They may have also had their eye on the export market, trading imported goods for local commodities that they could then transport to other ports around the Atlantic. Whatever the possibilities, Godfrey and Gadsden did not address end-sue consumers in their advertisement.

This illustrates that even though the format looked quite similar to other commercial notices advertisers sometimes envisioned very different purposes for their advertisements. They turned to the advertising pages of weekly newspapers to conduct business along multiple trajectories, rather than exclusively pursuing potential customers engulfed in the consumer revolution. The “black silk and cotton gauze” and “large bell lamps for halls and stair-cases” and “parrot cages” and “gilt Morocco leather prayer books” eventually found their way into the homes of consumers, but Godfrey and Gadsden’s advertisement helps to demonstrate the circuitous route. Rather than a direct transatlantic supply chain from English producer to English merchant to American shopkeeper to American consumer, imported goods often passed through many other hands and were part of numerous additional commercial exchanges before consumers purchased them.