March 6

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

Mar 6 - 3:6:1770 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 6, 1770)

“The best French gloves and mits, free from spots, at 12s6. per pair.”

Like many other shopkeepers in Charleston and throughout the colonies, William Stukes stocked “a neat assortment of millenary GOODS, with many other articles.”  To demonstrate the point, he cataloged much of his inventory in a newspaper advertisement.  He carried “PLAIN and flowered sattins,” “stript thread gauze,” “scented and plain hair powder,” and “different coloured silk gloves and mitts,” along with an array of other items.  In addition, he advised prospective customers of “All sorts of millinary ware made in the newest fashion by Mrs. Stukes.”  His partner received second billing even though she provided an important service that undoubtedly supported his enterprise and supplemented the household income.

Stukes sought to incite demand for his wares by emphasizing both consumer choice and fashion.  In addition, he made appeals to price, proclaiming that he would sell these goods “extraordinary cheap.”  When eighteenth-century advertisers made such claims, they usually did not elaborate.  Stukes, however, listed his prices for several items:

  • “black sattin hats at 30s.”
  • “the newest fashion broad ribbons at 5s. per yard”
  • “the best French gloves and mits, free from spots, at 12s6. per pair”
  • “Hose’s callimanco shoes at 31s. per pair”
  • “fine bohea tea at 20s. per pound”
  • “black pepper at 15s. per pound”
  • “table knives and forks at 20s. per set”
  • “best Oronoko tobacco at 12s6 per pound”

Prospective customers did not have to take Stukes at his word that he offered low prices, only to be disappointed when they visited his shop.  Unlike most other advertisers, he published prices for several items.  That allowed consumers to assess for themselves whether Stukes actually offered bargains.  It also facilitated comparison shopping.  Prospective customers might examine the merchandise in other shops, Stukes may have reasoned, and then decide to give their business to him upon learning that his competitors did not match his prices.

Today, consumers are accustomed to prices being advertised with products.  Indeed, naming a price is a common marketing strategy, an effort to entice customers with bargains.  Most eighteenth-century advertisers did not deploy that method for attracting customers, though a few, like Stukes, did experiment with attaching prices to some of their goods when they promoted their businesses in the public prints.

December 14

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

Dec 14 - 12:14:1769 Virginia Gazette Rind
Virginia Gazette [Rind] (December 14, 1769).
“She has an assistant just arrived from London.”

In the late 1760s, relatively few women in Williamsburg, Virginia, resorted to the public prints to advertise consumer goods and services. Many certainly worked in shops operated by husbands and other male relations, their contributions hidden when it came to marketing. Others ran their own shops but neglected to make themselves more visible to the public by placing newspaper advertisements. They participated in the marketplace without calling attention to themselves, perhaps relying on friends and regular patrons to promote them via word of mouth.

Sarah Pitt, however, joined the ranks of women who did advertise. On December 14, 1769, she placed an advertisement in William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She did not run the same advertisement in the other newspaper printed in Williamsburg, Alexander Purdie and John Dixon’s Virginia Gazette. Her marketing did not reach as many readers as notices that other advertisers placed in both publications. Still, she informed readers of Rind’s newspaper that she sold an array of textiles, accessories, and other merchandise, most of it intended for women and children.

To maintain and even enlarge her customer base or, as she described it, “a continuance of the Ladies custom,” Pitt also reported that “she has an assistant just arrived from London.” This assistant, presumably a woman, “understands the millinery business.” This allowed Pitt to expand her enterprise by providing a service associated with the goods she sold. She provided one-stop shopping for customers who wished to purchase, for example, “Balladine silk,” “rich black lace,” “white blond thread,” “fine cap wire,” and “shaded flowers” to be made into a hat. Having “just arrived from London,” Pitt’s assistant would have been familiar with the current fashions in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire. With that knowledge, she could recommend other accouterments and combinations of goods to purchase for the purpose of making hats or “mounting fans, and making cardinals and bonnets.”

Sarah Pitt made savvy decisions when she advertised in Rind’s Virginia Gazette. She emphasized consumer choice by listing a vast array of goods available at her shop. She also promoted a service that many other shopkeepers did not provide, noting the contributions her new assistant made to the business.

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“ELIZA BRAITHWAITE … is removed from Mrs. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s.”

Eliza Braithwaite, a milliner originally from London, inserted an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in October 1769. She informed “the Ladies, and others” that she had changed locations, moving from “Mr. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s,” still on Market Street but “a few Doors higher up.” She intended to continue pursuing her trade at the new location and called on “those Ladies, who have been kind enough to employ her before she removed” to “continue their Favours.”

Relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, certainly not in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as shopkeepers and tradeswomen. That made their advertisements notable, then and now. When they did inject themselves into the public prints, some women were bolder than others. Braithwaite took a fairly conservative approach in her advertisement, almost as though she hoped to limit the amount of attention she might receive as a result of making her business so visible. She adopted standard language that appeared in advertisements placed by tailors and milliners throughout the colonies. She did her work with “particular Care.” She charged “the cheapest Rate.” She made hats and other accessories “in the newest and genteelest Taste.” While this could indicate Braithwaite’s familiarity with the conventions of marketing in eighteenth-century America, it might also signal hesitation to distinguish herself too much from her competitors. That she conformed to the expectations of milliners, male and female, may have been the most important appeal Braithwaite wished to advance in her advertisement.

The circumstances that prompted Braithwaite to place a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to a conservative approach to advertising. She did address “the Ladies, and others,” but her primary purpose seems to have been maintaining her clientele rather than expanding it. She wanted former customers to know that she had moved so they could find her at her new location and continue employing her. Although Braithwaite’s advertisement exposed her business to much larger audiences, any invitation to new customers was implicit rather than explicit. Did Braithwaite advertise in the Pennsylvania Gazette or any of the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia on other occasions? Whether she promoted her business in the public prints at other times merits further investigation.

January 16

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 16, 1769).

“As she is a Stranger, will make it her constant Study to give intire Satisfaction.”

When milliner Margaret Wills migrated from Dublin to New York she placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that she now received customers “in the Broadway, Next Door to Richard Nicol’s, Esq.” She briefly described the services she offered, noting that she made “all Sorts of Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, and all other Articles in the Millinary Way.” She incorporated some of the most common appeals made by milliners and others who advertised consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America: price and fashion. She stated that she charged “the lowest Prices” and that her hats and garments represented “the newest and most elegant Fashion.” In addition, she provided instruction to “young Ladies” interested in learning a “great Variety of Works” related to her trade.

Wills devoted half of her advertisement, however, to addressing her status as a newcomer in the busy port. Unlike many of her competitors who had served local residents for years and cultivated relationships, she was unfamiliar to colonists who perused her advertisement. She acknowledged that she was “a Stranger” in the city, but strove to turn that to her advantage. To build her clientele, she pledged “to make it her constant Study to give intire Satisfaction to those who please to honor her with their Commands.” In so doing, she advanced customer service as a cornerstone of her business. Its allure had the potential to attract prospective clients for an initial visit; following through on this vow could cement relationships between new customers and the milliner “Just arrived from DUBLIN.” It might even lead to word-of-mouth recommendations, but Wills determined that she needed to start with a notice in the public prints to enhance her visibility before she could rely on any satisfied customers circulating any sort of buzz. Her advertisement operated as a letter of introduction to the entire community.

December 15

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 15, 1768).

“There may also be had at the same place … a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London.”

Joseph Wood sold a variety of textiles, apparel, and millinery goods at his shop on the corner of Market and Second Streets in Philadelphia. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he published an extensive list of his wares to entice prospective customers. According to his advertisement in the December 15, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he stocked everything from “scarlet and other serges” and “fine and coarse broadcloths, of all colours” to “mens and womens beaver and other gloves” and “mens and womens cotton and worsted hose” to “gold and silver basket buttons” and “newest fashioned gold and silver trimmings for gentlemen and ladies hats.”

Wood did not rely on this impressive assortment of merchandise alone to attract customers. Instead, he provided an additional service: a milliner on site. “There may also be had at the same place,” Wood proclaimed, “a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London, who understands perfectly every branch of that business.” Whether the unnamed milliner was an employee or a tenant was not clear, but that mattered far less than the service available at Wood’s shop. In addition to acquiring materials, customers could also receive advice about “the newest and genteelest taste” in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, and even have their hats and other accessories made by a skilled milliner who was familiar with the most recent trends by virtue of having resided there until quite recently. Furthermore, prospective customers did not need to fret about the costs. Wood assured them that “they may depend upon being served on the most reasonable terms, and as cheap as in London.” He promised the same sophistication without inflated prices. Wood played on the anxieties and desires of residents of Philadelphia eager to demonstrate that they were fashionable and genteel despite their distance from London.

Other merchants and shopkeepers made appeals to price and fashion in their advertisements. They also emphasized consumer choice with their own lengthy lists of merchandise. Wood, however, adopted a business model and marketing strategy that distinguished his shop from the competition. He realized that more readers were likely to become customers if he did more than just sell goods but instead provided services that enhanced the shopping experience.

November 17

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

Nov 17 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“JULIET BONTAMPS, French Millener … MICHELLE BONTAMPS, Fencing master.”

Juliet Bontamps, “French Millener,” placed an advertisement for her services in the November 17, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. In it, she declared that she did “all kinds of millenery work, after the best and newest fashion,” making an appeal to prospective customers who would have been anxious not to appear that they had fallen behind when it came to current styles. At a glance, the milliner was the center of attention in this advertisement. On closer examination, however, Michelle Bontamps may have upstaged her in a theatrical nota bene at the conclusion of the notice. Take notice, it proclaimed, “MICHELLE BONTAMPS, Fencing master, teaches the use of the small sword, at home or abroad, in the most expeditious, approved and easy method, and in order that his abilities may be known, offers himself to fence with any gentleman, or fencing master, either in a public or private place.”

Most likely Juliet’s husband, but perhaps a male relation of another sort, Michelle quite likely created the more lasting impression in an advertisement that promoted the services offered by both. Often when men and women placed joint advertisements for goods or services, the man received top billing and any discussion of the woman’s activities in the marketplace received secondary consideration. The Bontampses upended that convention, making her name and occupation the headline for the advertisement. It may have been a calculated strategy to place Juliet’s “millenery work” first in the notice, a decision intended to make it less likely that Michelle’s sweeping challenge to duel “any gentleman, or fencing master” would eclipse her services. The Bontampses did not present Juliet’s contributions to supporting their household as subordinate; instead, they positioned her as a full partner whose work, distinct from Michelle’s, was not merely ancillary to the family business. The daring of the fencing master may have been flashy compared to the standard appeals made by milliners, but the format and order in which they listed their services made it less likely that Michelle would completely overshadow Juliet.

November 8

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

Nov 8 - 11:8:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (November 8, 1768).

“M. NELSON, PASTRY-COOK, from LONDON.”

The advertisements that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers testify to the presence of women in the marketplace as purveyors of goods and services, not merely as consumers. They ran their own businesses. They advanced their commercial activities in the public prints, carving out greater visibility for themselves in their communities. Yet women who advertised adopted a variety of approaches when it came to establishing that visibility.

Consider three advertisements that appeared in the November 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement devoted entirely to advertisements. Mary King, a milliner, achieved the greatest visibility. Her notice used her name as a headline: “MARY KING.” A secondary headline, “A COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT of / MILLINARY GOODS,” described the merchandise that she then listed in greater detail. King achieved greater visibility as a female entrepreneur than either of the other two women who placed advertisements in the same issue.

Sabina Taylor was the least visible. Her advertisement filled only six lines, making it one of the shortest in the entire issue. Unlike many of the other advertisements of similar length, hers did not include a headline that pronounced her name in larger font and capital letters. Instead, the schoolmistress figuratively signed her name on the final line. Although “SABINA TAYLOR” appeared in capitals, her name still was not in a larger font. The lack of white space in her own notice as well as the headline for the advertisement that appeared immediately below, “TO BE SOLD CHEAP,” crowded out Taylor’s signature, making it even more difficult to spot her on the page.

  1. Nelson charted a middle course. Her advertisement occupied only lightly less space than King’s notice. She also had a headline – “M. NELSON” – and secondary headline – “PASTRY-COOK, from LONDON” – with sufficient white space to draw attention to her advertisement. Yet she did not list her full name, making it impossible for many readers to recognize at a glance that her advertisement promoted an enterprise operated by a woman. Many residents of Charleston would have already known of Nelson and her business. For those who did not, it would not have been apparent that a woman placed the advertisement until they read the body in which Nelson expressed “her sincere thanks to those gentlemen and ladies who has honoured her with their custom.” Nelson asserted visibility for her business while simultaneously downplaying her own visibility as a female entrepreneur.

Women who provided consumer goods and services were present among the advertisers in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but their decisions about the copy for their advertisements resulted in various levels of visibility. While Mary King boldly claimed a place alongside male entrepreneurs, Sabina Taylor and M. Nelson obscured their participation in the marketplace even as they promoted the goods and services they offered to consumers.

August 30

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

Aug 30 - 8:30:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 30, 1768).

“REBECCA WRIGHT, SOLE-DEALER, MILLINER, from LONDON.”

Late in the summer of 1768, Rebecca Wright, a “MILLINER, from LONDON,” took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to announce that she intended to open her own shop on King Street in Charleston. She informed prospective customers that she pursued “the MILLINARY BUSINESS in all its branches, in the genteelest taste.” In just a few words, Wright commented on her abilities to pursue her trade and her attention to current fashions. In those regards the appeals in her advertisement paralleled some of the most common appeals deployed by artisans throughout the eighteenth century. Her notice, however, deviated from those placed by other artisans in once significant manner: the headline.

For most artisans, their name alone served as the headline for their advertisements. Their occupation or trade appeared as a secondary headline. Such was the case in other advertisements that ran in the same column as Wright’s notice. These included “JAMES OLIPHANT, JEWELLER, in Broad-street, next door to the Post-office,” “JOHN LORD, CARVER and GILDER,” and “THOMAS COLEMAN, UPHOLSTERER and PAPER-HANGER.” The headline for Wright’s advertisement had an additional element, identifying her as a “SOLE-DEALER” before listing her occupation as a secondary headline. What did this designation mean?

Laws replicating the English practice of coverture were in place throughout the colonies. Such laws negated the separate legal identity of married women. This certainly had ramifications for women in business. As the Elizabeth Murray Project explains, “Most legal arrangements, such as contracts, were considered to be the husband’s sole right and responsibility. … If [a wife] were able to enter into contracts on her own, she could ultimately be held liable in ways that might deprive a husband of services to which he had first claim.” Wives who ran their own businesses did so under the authority of their husbands, who were legally responsible for the debts incurred and other commercial activities of their entrepreneurial wives. Only Pennsylvania and South Carolina passed feme sole trader statutes that enabled married women to participate in the marketplace on their own behalf, separating their legal identity from husbands when it came to business.

Wright proclaimed that this was case with her millinery shop. The headline of her advertisement announced that she operated her business on her own, that she (not her husband) was ultimately responsible for making contracts, paying debts, suing for payment, and any other legal actions necessary for its operation. This advertisement – along with one placed by “FRANCES SWALLOW, SOLE DEALER,” on the same page – testifies to the commercial independence that some married women managed to achieve even in an age when coverture was the common practice.

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.