July 5

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter (July 2, 1772).

“M. ASBY, Millener from LONDON.”

In the summer of 1772, James Asby took to the pages of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to inform the public that he imported a “compleat Assortment of Gold, Silver, Pinchbeck & Tortoishell WATCHES” and sold them at his shop “nearly opposite the British Coffee-House in King-street.”  He placed that notice in collaboration with M. Asby, a “Millener from LONDON” who advised “her Customers and other Ladies” that she “removed from the Corner of Cross-street to a Tenement in Capt. Joy’s Buildings in Quaker-Lane.”  James and M. did not disclose their relationship.  They might have been husband and wife operating businesses at different locations, but they might have been brother and sister, father and daughter, or mother and son.

Whatever their relationship, promoting the millinery shop accounted for two-thirds of the advertisement, an interesting contrast to most advertisements shared by male and female relations.  In most instances, women’s contributions to the family business or enterprises that they pursued on their own amounted to a brief sentence or two at the end of an advertisement, if they were mentioned at all.  In this case, however, M. described in some detail the “compleat Assortment of dress and undress Caps of the newest Fashions, Ribbons, Gauzes, silk Gloves and Mits, Ladies Patterns for Ruffels, and Handkerchiefs, and many other Articles in the Millenary Way” that she imported.  In addition, she declared that she made cloaks, hats, bonnets, and other garments “on the shortest Notice, and in the most fashionable Taste.”  By reiterating “newest Fashions” and “most Fashionable Taste,” she sought to reassure prospective customers that they could trust her to outfit them according to the latest styles.  Underscoring that she was an entrepreneur in her own right, M. concluded the advertisement with a note that “An Apprentice is wanted to the said Business.”

Even as James and M. invested in an advertisement together, she became the focal point of the notice.  Her name and occupation, “M. ASBY, Millener from LONDON,” appeared in larger font and centered, drawing attention.  In contrast, James’s name, though in all capitals, appeared in the same size font in the middle of a paragraph.  Only on closer examination would readers have discovered that the two placed the advertisement together.  At first glance, most readers likely assumed the advertisement concerned M. and her business alone.  Even though her name appeared second, she took the lead in the advertisement that James and M. shared.

May 22

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

Connecticut Journal (May 22, 1771).

Mrs. SMITH takes this Method to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary.”

When Joseph Smith relocated from New York to New Haven, he took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal to “acquaint the Public, That he has open’d a Store … and has for Sale a Variety of fancy’d GOODS, proper for the Season.”  He then listed a variety of textiles, including “Flower’d and plain Sattins of all colours,” “Strip’d Camblets,” and “Flower’d and strip’d Muslins.”  He also carried accessories, such as “Black & white Silk & Thread Laces for Caps,” “Feathers & Flowers of all Colours,” and “All Kinds of Trimings for Cloaks.”  In addition to enumerating dozens of items, Smith asserted that he stocked “sundry other Articles too tedious to mention.”

Although Smith presented himself as the primary purveyor of these goods, the advertisement revealed that his wife also contributed to the family business.  In a brief note that followed the catalog of merchandise, she addressed prospective customers.  “Mrs. SMITH takes this Method,” she declared, “to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary either plain or fashionable, such as Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, Childrens Jockies, &c.”  She provided an ancillary service that enhanced the retail business.  She undoubtedly assisted her husband in serving customers, making recommendations about what was “plain or fashionable,” and taking care of other aspects of running the store, but her contributions did not end there.  She was an entrepreneur in her own right, even if the advertisement emphasized Joseph as the proprietor and only made reference to her skills and labor at the very end.  Still, Mrs. Smith gained greater visibility in the public prints than most wives, daughters, and other female relations who aided male heads of households in operating their businesses.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Connecticut Journal, Hubbard and Atwater, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers, and Paul Noyes advertised various goods, from medicines to textiles to leather breeches.  None of their notices mentioned anyone other than the proprietors of their businesses, but all of them almost certainly benefited from invisible labor provided by women.  Even in what appeared as a postscript to a much longer advertisement, Mrs. Smith gained greater public recognition as an entrepreneur than most other women did for their contributions to their family businesses.

January 30

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 30, 1772).

“The copartnership between HANNAH and HEPHZIBAH CARNES is mutually dissolved.”

For a time in the early 1770s, Hannah Carnes and Hephzibah Carnes operated a millinery shop together.  In December 1771, however, they “mutually dissolved” their partnership and set up their own businesses.  The former partners became competitors, both placing advertisements in the Boston-Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy.

Both women were conscious of the costs of advertising.  They placed their notices in only two of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time.  In addition, each of them listed some of the items available among the “large and compleat assortment of Millinery and piece Goods” in their shops, but also stated that their wares were “too numerous to particularize in an advertisement.”  Hannah went into greater detail in her advertisement, perhaps a necessity because Hephzibah remained in the shop “near the Town pump, in Cornhill,” and Hannah “removed to the shop opposite to Mr. Cranch Watch-Maker’s near the Mill Bridge.”  With Hephzibah having the advantage of a location already familiar to former customers, Hannah may have found it necessary to elaborate on the goods and services she offered as a means of catching the attention of “the Ladies” that she hoped would seek out her new shop.  Unlike Hephzibah, Hannah also mentioned that she sold “Bohea Tea” to entice prospective customers.

Their notices happened to appear one after the other on three occasions in the Massachusetts Spy, likely the result of happenstance rather than design on the part of the milliners.  Hannah launched her advertising campaign first, placing a notice in the Boston-Gazette on December 23, 1771.  It ran in that newspaper for five consecutive weeks.  Hephzibah also placed advertisements in the Boston-Gazette, starting on December 30, but only for three weeks.  On only one occasion, January 13, did their advertisements appear together.  Once again, Hannah may have invested in more advertising in order to direct customers to her new location.  Both women ran advertisements in the Massachusetts Spy on January 2, 9,16, and 30.  In that newspaper, their notices appeared together in all but the January 16 edition.  These variations suggest that compositors made decisions about the placement of the advertisements when they set the type for each issue.  Hannah and Hephzibah may not have appreciated their advertisements appearing in such close proximity, but advertisers exercised little control over where their notices appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.

June 11

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

Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 11, 1771).

“She continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY.”

Readers encountered many advertisements that listed dozens of consumer goods when they perused the June 11, 1771, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and the supplement that accompanied it.  Indeed, rather than news accounts the first items on the first page consisted of advertisements for “a general and very compleat ASSORTMENT of GOODS, just imported … from London” that listed many kinds of textiles, garments, and adornments.  Male entrepreneurs placed most of those advertisements, but women also made an appearance in the public prints.  Jane Thomson ran her own notice for a “neat assortment of MILINARY GOODS.”

Thomson stocked everything from “pink, green, white, sky blue, and black English persians” to “women and girls silk and leather gloves and mitts” to “blond lace, single and double edged.”  After listing dozens of items, she proclaimed that her inventory also included “many other articles, too tedious to enumerate.”  She offered as many choices to consumers as her male competitors.  In addition to retailing those goods, Thomson informed prospective clients that she “continues to make up EVERY ARTICLE in the MILINARY WAY, and FINE JOINS LACE as usual.”  That made her a producer as well as a purveyor of goods.

Editorials in early American newspapers often framed women solely as consumers, usually to critique their activities in the marketplace, but Thomson demonstrated that women filled other roles during the consumer revolution.  They ran their own businesses, negotiated with English merchants who supplied their inventory, kept ledgers and other records, collected debts, produced goods, placed advertisements, and mentored other women.  Thomson informed readers that she sought “one GIRL a[s] an apprentice,” someone she could train as a milliner who might eventually operate her own business.

Many more women pursued shopkeeping and other occupations in eighteenth-century American than placed newspaper advertisements.  As a result, the public prints did not give a complete accounting of the presence of women in the marketplace as producers and purveyors of consumer goods.  As they went about their daily business, however, colonists certainly knew that many of their female friends, relatives, and neighbors operated businesses of one kind or another.  Jane Thomson’s advertisement only hints at the number of women who made or sold goods in Charleston in the early 1770s.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:14:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 14, 1770).

“Proposes to return as soon as the Importation is opened.”

Although many colonists promoted “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods in the late 1760s and early 1770s, many consumers and purveyors of goods embraced those products only temporarily.  Items produced in the colonies gained popularity when nonimportation agreements were in effect as a means of economic resistance to Parliament imposing duties on certain imported goods, but many colonists anticipated repeal of such odious legislation and looked forward to resuming business as usual.  For some, domestic manufactures represented a temporary measure; merchants and shopkeepers intended to import goods from England once again when the political situation calmed, just as consumers intended to purchase those items as soon as they became available once again.

In the summer of 1770, Anne Pearson, a milliner in Philadelphia, was among those purveyors of goods who expressed enthusiasm about acquiring and selling imported merchandise once again.  She placed an advertisement in the June 14, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette to announce that she sought to liquidate her current inventory before traveling to London in the fall.  She offered a “LARGE and general Assortment of Millinery and Linen-drapery Goods” at low prices.  Yet Pearson did not plan to relocate to London; instead, she would stay for only a short time and then “return as soon as the Importation is opened” in the wake of the repeal of the duties on imported paper, glass, paint, and lead that had been established in the Townshend Acts.  Some colonists continued to argue for the importance of domestic manufactures even after Parliament capitulated, but they did not sway purveyors or consumers to continue to abstain completely from imported goods.  Recognizing the demand for such goods, Pearson attempted to put herself in the best position to serve customers in Philadelphia.  Not only would she “return as soon as the Importation is opened,” she would bring with her “a fresh Assortment of the very best and most fashionable Goods.”  In journeying to London to select those goods herself, Pearson seized an advantage over competitors who relied on English merchants and correspondents to supply them with goods.  Pearson would not have to rely on the judgment of others, judgment that might be compromised by their desire to rid themselves of wares unlikely to sell in England.  Instead, she could inspect the merchandise before placing her order and observe the current trends in London in order to make her case to prospective customers that she did indeed stock “the very best and most fashionable Goods” upon her return to Philadelphia.

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.