February 22

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

Providence Gazette (February 22, 1772).

“He has acquired such an Art in building Chimnies, that he will warrant all he sall hereafter build to carry Smoke in the best Manner.”

Artisans of all sorts often promoted their years of experience when they placed advertisements in American newspapers in the eighteenth century.  Such was the case for Amos Horton, a bricklayer in Providence.  In an advertisement that first ran in the February 15, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette, Horton invoked his “long Experience in the Bricklayer’s Business.”  That “long Experience” prompted him to incorporate an additional marketing strategy into his notice.  Horton offered a guarantee.

The bricklayer proclaimed that he “has acquired such an Art in building Chimnies, that he will warrant all he shall hereafter build to carry Smoke in the best Manner.”  The guarantee, however, came with conditions.  Horton specified that “if any one Chimney in any Stack he shall build after the 15th of February, 1772, fails in carrying Smoke after the best Manner, that then he will deduct out of his Charge for building such Stack, the Value of building such particular Chimney.”  What constituted “carrying Smoke after the best Manner” remained a matter of interpretation, but offering a guarantee of any sort may have helped Horton garner attention.  It likely made prospective clients favorably inclined toward his work before hiring him while also providing reassurances that the bricklayer would address concerns if his chimneys did not meet with their satisfaction.

Furthermore, Horton put his reputation on the line.  After making such a proclamation, published in the public prints on several occasions, he was obligated to honor it.  Not doing so had the potential to damage his reputation and prevent additional clients from hiring him than if he never issued any sort of guarantee at all.  Word-of-mouth critiques of the bricklayer and his chimneys had the potential to outweigh any promises he made in notices that ran in the Providence Gazette.  Adhering to the promise he published in his advertisement became part of his record of customer service.

December 11

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

Boston Evening-Post (December 9, 1771).

“[I]f the Teas should not please those that have not yet made trial, they will be received back and the Money returned.”

Archibald Cunningham took to the pages of the Boston Evening-Post to advertise a variety of groceries and housewares in December 1771.  His inventory included sugar, rice, nutmegs, and an assortment of spices as well as “Blue and white China Cups and Saucers” and “Delph & Glass Ware” in several colors.  Cunningham listed each of these items, some with short descriptions, but devoted an entire paragraph to promoting tea.

He informed prospective customers that he carried “Bohea Tea very good” and “excellent Souchong and Hyson Tea.”  According to Cunningham, his tea “has been approved of by good Judges to be of a superior Quality in Flavor and Color to that commonly imported.”  He did not name those “good Judges,” but he also did not expect consumers to accept such testimonials without question.  Instead, Cunningham promised satisfaction by offering a money back guarantee.  [I]f the Teas should not please those that have not yet made trial,” the shopkeeper declared, “they will be received back and the Money returned.”  That likely attracted the attention of some readers as they encountered advertisements placed by several shopkeepers who included tea among their merchandise.

On occasion, purveyors of goods and services experimented with money back guarantees in the eighteenth century, but not so often that such offers regularly appeared in advertisements.  Cunningham provided his customers with an additional benefit that distinguished how he marketed tea from others who advertised the same varieties.  Lewis Deblois and George Deblois listed “Bohea Tea per Chest or Dozen” in their advertisement, giving customer options when it came to quantity.  John Adams and Company commented on the quality of their “Best Hyson and Bohea Tea,” but did not encourage customers to take it home, try it, and then return it for a refund if it did not meet with satisfaction.

In offering a money back guarantee, Cunningham further testified to the quality of his tea.  He would not have made such an offer unless he was confident consumers would rarely invoke the option of returning what they purchased.  The guarantee provided security at the same time that it reassured prospective customers about the quality “in Flavor and Color” of Cunningham’s “Bohea Tea very good” and “excellent Souchong and Hyson Tea.”

July 3

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

Jul 3 - 6:30:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (June 30, 1768).

“Jolley Allen, At his Shop almost opposite the Heart and Crown, in Cornhill, Boston.”

Almost without exception, shopkeeper Jolley Allen used bold visual elements to distinguish his advertisements from others that appeared in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. Sometimes he arranged to have borders composed of printing ornaments surround his advertisements. Other times he dominated the page with lengthy list-style advertisements that included his name in a font that far exceeded the size of anything else printed in the newspaper. To add further interest, designs derived from printing ornaments flanked his name, making the graphic design elements of his advertisements even more distinctive.

Such was the case in the summer of 1768 when Allen once again published advertisements that filled two out of three columns on a page, this time in the Boston Weekly News-Letter. He had launched this strategy late in the previous summer. For the new iteration he maintained the format but updated the copy. In addition to the decorative elements that headlined his notice, he also inserted manicules to direct attention to specific merchandise or promotions. For instance, one manicule pointed to “Cotton Wool, very good and very cheap.” Another directed readers to “Choice Jamaica and other brown Sugars, by the barrel, hundred or smaller Quantity, some as low as 3s. O.T. per single pound, and cheaper by the Quantity.”

Allen even deployed double manicules – one at the beginning of the sentence and another at the end – to draw attention to the most significant appeals aimed at convincing readers to make their purchases from him. In one case, he proclaimed, “The above TEA is warranted of the best Kind, and if it proves otherwise, after trying it, will be taken back and the Money returned, by the said JOLLEY ALLEN.” The manicules made it less likely that prospective customers would miss this generous money-back guarantee. The advertisement concluded with an appeal reprinted from the previous iteration, this time with double manicules to draw greater attention. In it, Allen advised that his “Town and Country Customers, and others, may depend upon being supply’d with all the above Articles the Year round … as cheap in P[r]oportion as those which have the Prices fixed to them.” Unlike most merchants and shopkeepers, Allen did indicate prices for several items in his advertisement.

It might be tempting to dismiss the placement of the manicules and other visual aspects as haphazard or accidental, especially since compositors rather than advertisers generally determined the layout and other graphic design elements of advertisements. However, the consistency demonstrated in Allen’s advertisements from newspaper to newspaper suggests that he carefully consulted with compositors in order to achieve the visual elements important to him. Not all eighteenth-century advertisers left it to the printing office to determine how their notices would appear on the page.

February 2

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

Feb 2 - 2:2:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 2, 1768).

“They engage to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.”

David Maull and John Wood, “TAYLORS, from LONDON,” incorporated a variety of marketing appeals into their advertisement in the February 2, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. They included some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed in the eighteenth century, but they also devised several innovative strategies that differentiated their commercial notice from others.

Purveyors of goods and services commonly promoted quality and fashion. Maull and Wood did so when they stated that their work represented “the neatest and newest fashion.” Artisans often underscored their competence. Maull and Wood reported that “they carry on the Taylors Business in all its Branches.” Shopkeepers and artisans both proclaimed their origins or other connections to London to give their goods and services more cachet in the transatlantic marketplace. Maull and Wood announced that they had migrated “from LONDON,” where they had presumably received training and previously worked. Invoking some sort of link to London also bolstered their claim to produce garments in the “newest fashion.” Many advertisers made a nod toward customer service, as Maull and Wood did when they pledged to fulfill orders “with quickest Dispatch.” Maull and Wood used stock language in making these common appeals to customers.

Yet the tailors also attempted to entice clients with a series of other marketing strategies in a nota bene that concluded their advertisement. They provided a money-back guarantee, promising “to take back every Article from a Customer, that they can make the least reasonable Objection against.” They also offered reduced rates to customers who paid in cash, vowing to “discount Five per Cent.” On the other hand, they extended “twelve Months Credit” to other customers during a period that most advertisers either demanded cash or allowed only “short credit.” Consumers regularly made purchases on credit in eighteenth-century America, but it was not a method of payment promoted by most purveyors of goods and services in their advertisements in the late 1760s. Maull and Wood made clear that they were willing to work out payment schedules that fit the needs of their prospective clients. John Ward, another tailor who advertised in the same issue, made no mention of how he expected customers to pay. Finally, Maull and Wood doubled the length of their advertisement by publishing a roster of prices to demonstrate their reasonable prices to prospective clients. This eliminated negotiating over the bill and anxieties that a better deal might have been possible by locking in rates from the start.

Maull and Wood distinguished their advertisement from others published in Charleston’s newspapers by augmenting the most common appeals with innovative marketing strategies. They did not invent any of the methods they used, but they effectively amalgamated multiple popular and novel tactics for attracting customers into a single advertisement to an extent not achieved by most other advertisers of consumer goods and services in the 1760s.

October 20

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

Oct 20 - 10:20:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 20, 1767).

“If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.”

In the fall of 1767 John McDonnell advertised “A Parcel of choice IRISH LINENS” in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. To entice potential buyers he resorted to several marketing appeals. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he underscored price. Indeed, he mentioned low prices even before naming the merchandise, first stating that customers could acquire his wares “at as low an advance as can be bought for in London” and only then revealing that he sold linens. Even though they had been transported across the Atlantic that did not raise the cost he charged for Irish linens in Charleston; local buyers enjoyed the same prices as their counterparts in faraway London. In addition, McDonnell pledged that he would not be undercut by any of his competitors, vowing to sell his linens “as cheaper than any in town.”

McDonnell also offered another opportunity for a potential customer to enjoy a discount, provided they had a willingness to purchase in bulk. “[A]ny merchant inclinable to purchase the whole,” he proclaimed, “will meet with a bargain.” McDonnell understood that he stood to generate greater revenues by selling his entire inventory at a reduced price than gradually selling smaller lots and perhaps ending up with surplus linens that never sold. (He was also willing to barter with customers who bought in bulk, accepting rice rather than cash.)

Yet emphasizing the low price was not the only marketing strategy McDonnell advanced in his advertisement. He also offered a money-back guarantee: “If the linen is not liked, it will be taken back again, if not abused, and the money returned.” He did stipulate one condition, that he would only accept returns and pay refunds if unsatisfied customers returned the merchandise in the same condition they purchased it. He needed to protect his own interests even as he proposed an arrangement that worked in potential customers’ favor.

Relying exclusively on text without images, McDonnell constructed a vibrant advertisement to convince readers to purchase his imported Irish linens. He made nods toward quality and customer service, but repeatedly emphasized low prices and bargains for consumers. If that was not enough to attract buyers, he also provided additional assurances about quality via an innovative money-back guarantee. Readers had nothing to lose if they gave McDonnell and his linens a chance.

September 29

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

Boston Evening-Post (September 29, 1766).

“Warranted of the best Kind; and if they prove otherwise, will be taken back, and the Money returned.”

Jolley Allen’s lengthy advertisement from the Boston Evening-Post features countless common products seen in numerous other advertisements, including tea, silks, textiles, and jewelry. In addition to a long list of merchandise, this one had something else included at the end. Many of the advertisements I have looked at claimed to be selling their assortment of goods the cheapest, and they promised the highest quality products around. However, Allen is the first one I have seen who actually backed it up. This advertisement concluded with a guarantee that if the “Teas and Indigo” were not of the “best Kind,” they “will be taken back, and the Money returned by the said Jolley Allen.

Allen put his name and reputation on the line. He displayed his character in a way favorable to consumers. With the expansion of consumer culture in the colonies, it would have been easy for shopkeepers to make all sales final, yet with more shops opening, consumers could take their business elsewhere. Allen was committed to his name, his shop, and his goods, and made it a point for his shop to stand out from the rest. After further research, however, I also learned that Allen was a Loyalist entrepreneur; it’s interesting that he became a successful businessman regardless of his controversial political views.



Jolley Allen operated his business in an increasingly politicized colonial marketplace. His own politics, however, were not apparent in this particular advertisement. That he was a Loyalist, we learn from other sources from the period.

That’s not to say, however, that all newspaper advertisement published during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s lacked a political valence. As soon as the colonists learned of the Stamp Act, many advertisers made explicitly partisan appeals as part of their marketing messages, often promoting domestic manufactures or condemning the effects that Parliament’s actions would have on commerce. After the Stamp Act was repealed, some entrepreneurs inserted their own brief celebratory proclamations into their advertisements; even when they did not directly connect the Stamp Act to the merchandise they advertised, they assumed that their political views would influence potential customers to visit their shops.

As a Loyalist, Jolley Allen certainly did not condemn Parliament nor celebrate the demise of the Stamp Act in his advertisements. The advertisements he published in 1766 were devoid of politics, yet Boston was not so large that his political views would have been unfamiliar to friends, neighbors, and potential customers. Perhaps that played a role in inspiring some of the innovative aspects of his advertisements: he needed to overcome suspicions of his allegiances and used distinctive marketing to do so. Nick identified Allen’s reputation and stature as an honest trader as one means of promoting his shop “Opposite the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, BOSTON.” Although not the first colonial advertiser to offer some form of money-back guarantee, he did make an offer that was not a standard part of eighteenth-century advertising. In addition, his advertisements consistently featured distinctive graphic design elements, namely a decorative border, intended to draw more eyes than competitors’ advertisements that appeared elsewhere on the page. Allen also advertised extensively, placing the same advertisement in all four newspapers published in Boston in 1766, thus reaching the largest possible audience of potential customers despite the political leanings of any particular newspaper or its printer.

March 12

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1766 Providence Gazette Extraordinary Supplement
Supplement to A Providence Gazette, Extraordinary (March 12, 1766).

Given the publication history of the Providence Gazette, it is interesting that this advertisement appeared at all.

On March 12, 1766, William Goddard published “A Providence Gazette, Extraordinary.” Note that it was “A Providence Gazette” rather than “The Providence Gazette.” (The most recent issue had featured a masthead proclaiming “Vox Populi, Vox Dei. A PROVIDENCE GAZETTE Extraordinary” nearly seven months earlier on August 24, 1765. Not surprisingly, its contents focused on the then-impending Stamp Act. Regular publication on a weekly schedule had ceased with the issue of May 11, 1765. The newspaper finally resumed weekly publication in August 1766.) The four-page issue included “PROPOSALS for reviving the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE,” assorted news items from throughout the colonies, and testimonials from former and potential customers interested in Goddard resuming publication of the newspaper.

A half dozen or so advertisements appeared in a two-page “SUPPLEMENT to ‘A PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, Extraordinary,’ of Wednesday March 12, 1766.” (Did this supplement accompany the extraordinary issue? Or was it published later? The masthead does not make this clear.)

Edward Spauldin and a handful of other local shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants chose to insert advertisements in a newspaper that was not published on a regular schedule and did not have a slate of subscribers. They may have envisioned that the Extraordinary issue and its SUPPLEMENT would garner a fair amount of attention, allowing them an opportunity to present their goods and services for the consideration of potential customers in the area.

Spauldin’s advertisement was dated “PROVIDENCE, March 10, 1766.” (I checked the previous five issues to confirm that this was a new advertisement rather than one repeated from earlier but with an updated date.) Goddard may have approached him about inserting a commercial notice, but Spauldin ultimately made the decision about advertising in A Providence Gazette. This suggests that he believed in the effectiveness of advertising to incite business in the 1760s. He did not operate his business in an environment of pent-up demand but instead used advertising to create that demand with appeals to price and quality. In addition, he also included a money-back guarantee to get customers through the door: “If any of his Work fails, he will repair the same gratis.”

When “Sarah Goddard, and Company” resumed publication of the Providence Gazette on August 9, 1766, Edward Spaulding placed the same advertisement, except the nota bene had been eliminated and the date was revised to “Providence, August 8, 1766.” Perhaps he attributed new business in March to the original advertisement and decided to give it another try.