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.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:17:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (March 17, 1766).

“Baggammon tables, … flutes and fifes, … fishing reels.”

Peter Goelet presented many choices to potential customers in an advertisement that listed dozens and dozens of items that he stocked in his shop “At the Golden Key, in Hanover-Square, New-York.” What else possibly could have been included among the “great variety of other articles” listed at the end of the advertisement?!

This assortment of goods could be used to glimpse many different aspects of daily life in colonial America, from the types of tools that many artisans would have used to housewares and cooking equipment to supplies for writing letters, accounts, and other documents, to name a few.

This advertisement also suggests leisure activities pursued by some early Americans. Goelet sold “baggammon tables” on which colonists would have played the game now commonly known as backgammon. He also carried musical instruments, including violins and “German and common flutes and fifes,” and supplies, such as “hautboy [oboe] reeds, violin strings, bridges, and pins, [and] brass and steel harpsichord wire.” Although the advertisement does not list other sorts of books or pamphlets, “newest tunes, &c.” may have referred to music. Goelet concluded his advertisement with a list of fishing rods, reels, hooks, and flies.

Games, music, and fishing: advertisements offered colonial Americans the goods they needed to pursue a variety of leisure activities that in turn helped them to express their own status and gentility.