February 12

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (February 12, 1772).

“A SECOND-HAND SPINNET cheap, and of very fine tone.”

James Juhan offered a variety of services to colonizers in Charleston who were interested in learning to play musical instruments.  In an advertisement in the February 12, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he informed prospective pupils that he gave lessons on the “Violin, German Flute and Guittar.”  In addition, he also sold instruments and supplies, including violins, bows, and strings.

His inventory included a “SECOND-HAND SPINNET,” a small harpsichord.  Juhan informed prospective buyers that the spinet possessed “very fine tone,” attempting to reassure them that even though it previously had been played in another home it was not defective.  In addition, Juhan described the price as “cheap,” a word that meant inexpensive in the eighteenth century but did not yet have negative associations with poor quality.  A family could acquire, play, and display the spinet in their home for a bargain price, a good investment for anyone looking for accessories to testify to their good taste, gentility, and status.  For those not yet committed to owning a spinet, even a secondhand one, Juhan also advertised “Spinnets in good order to let.”  Rather than make a major purchase, colonizers could participate in the rental market.

Whether they bought or rented their musical instruments, residents of Charleston could turn to Juhan for assistance in maintaining them.  He tuned “HARPSICHORDS, SPINNETS, FORTE-PIANOS, GUITTARS,” and other stringed instruments “with care and diligence.”  He also repaired “all kinds of Musical instruments … in the neatest manner,” setting his rates “on as reasonable terms as they can be done in this place.”  Colonizers who needed musical instruments tuned or repaired would not find better bargains than those offered by Juhan.

One of the largest urban ports in the colonies, Charleston was as cosmopolitan as New York and Philadelphia.  Merchants like Mansell and Corbett hawked a “Very neat Assortment of the most fashionable” foods imported from England, while goldsmith Philip Tidyman promoted a “Most ELEGANT ASSORTMENT” of jewelry.  In addition to acquiring and displaying garments, adornments, and housewares, colonizers had opportunities to signal their gentility and status through learning to play musical instruments and performing when guests visited their homes.  In particular, this allowed families to demonstrate that wives and daughters possessed both grace and the leisure time necessary to learn to play musical instruments.

October 7

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

New-York Journal (October 4, 1770).

“There is no other Art so various perhaps and universal in its Influence, as Music.”

D. Propert and W. C. Hulett took very different approaches to promoting music lessons in the October 4, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal. Hulett, who described himself as a “DANCING-MASTER,” advertised both his “public DANCING SCHOOL” and lessons for several instruments. Like many other dancing masters, he also provided fencing lessons for gentlemen.  Most of his advertisement focused on his work as a dancing master, but he did begin and end with information about music lessons.  The headline proclaimed, “The GUITTAR, TAUGHT By W. C. HULETT, DANCING-MASTER.”  In the final paragraph, he informed prospective pupils that also gave lessons for the violin and flute as well as the small sword.  Overall, Hulett’s notice resembled most advertisements for music lessons that appeared in American newspapers in the era of the American Revolution.

Propert, on the other hand, placed a very different advertisement, starting with the headline that introduced him to prospective students as “D. PROPERT, Professor of MUSIC.”  Nearly four times the length of Hulett’s notice, this advertisement included a short essay on how music benefited “Body and Mind” for those who heard it and those who performed it.  “Music,” Propert declared, “has ever been held in the highest Esteem, by the most exalted Characters, and finest Geniuses of almost every Age and Nation.”  Music had a sublime impact; it was “capable of raising the Soul into Dispositions for the most pleasing, useful and noble purposes.”  Propert extolled the influence of music in worship services, on the battlefield, and at funerals, banquets, and balls.  Music enhanced any activity “for it has Expression for all the various Passions and Emotions of the Heart and Soul.”  Making his pitch to those who considered themselves genteel or aspired to the ranks of gentility, Propert concluded his homily on music with an assertion that “this Art has obtained the Patronage, Regard and Praises of the greatest Personages” throughout recorded history.  He instructed prospective pupils that music “hath been the Delight and Study of every polished and ingenious National in all Climates and in all Ages.”

Propert’s advertisement and Hulett’s advertisement happened to appear one after the other, Propert’s first in the October 4 edition and Hulett’s first in the next issue on October 11.  Appearing alongside a competitor may have worked to Hulett’s benefit since Propert made a case for the virtues of learning to play an instrument that applied to Hulett’s lessons as well as his own.  According to the advertising rates in the colophon, Propert paid four times as much to run his advertisement.  Not only did the printer collect those revenues, Hulett accrued benefits as well in his quest for students for this “most pleasing of the liberal Arts.”  Propert’s innovation in marketing may have worked to the advantage of all music instructors in New York.