March 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 30, 1770).

“The trifling expence of a News Paper.”

Colonists did not have to subscribe to newspapers to gain access to their contents.  Some subscribers passed along newspapers to friends and neighbors.  A single newspaper could change hands several times.  Proprietors of coffeehouses often subscribed to a variety of newspapers that they made available to their patrons, just one of the many amenities intended to make their establishments more cosmopolitan and attractive to customers.  Colonists sometimes read aloud from newspapers in taverns, sharing news and editorials with larger audiences than read the articles themselves.  Colonists did not need to subscribe in order to read or hear about the news.  They could gain access to newspapers in public venues … or they could steal them.

The theft of newspapers was a sufficiently chronic problem that Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a notice in the March 30, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The Fowles excoriated the “mean, lowliv’d Fellows, who have not Souls large enough to be at the trifling expence of a News Paper, yet are continually stealing their Neighbours, and others.”  The Fowles did not deliver the New-Hampshire Gazettedirectly to subscribers.  Instead, they dispatched copies from their printing office in Portsmouth to taverns “in the several Country Towns” with the intention that subscribers would pick them up or arrange for delivery by a local carrier.  Too many “lowliv’d Fellows,” however, interfered with the system by picking up newspapers that belonged to others and “never deliver[ing them] to the proper Owners.”

The Fowles were concerned about subscribers not receiving their newspapers, but they were just as worried about the impact this “vile and scandalous Practice” would have on their business.  Customers who regularly did not receive their newspapers were likely to discontinue their subscriptions.  Theft endangered another important revenue stream.  The Fowles lamented that the missing newspapers were “often a Damage on Account of Advertisements,” a twofold problem.  First, advertising represented significant revenue that made it possible to disseminate the news.  If prospective advertisers suspected that their advertisements did not reach the intended audiences then they might refrain from placing them.  Second, many advertisements, especially notices about public meetings, estate notices, and legal notices, delivered news that supplemented the articles, editorials, and letters that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.  Advertisements underwrote the newspaper business while also informing readers of matters of public interest.

The situation reached a point that the Fowles called on their “good Customers” to inform them “of those Fellows Names” who had “abused both the Customers & Printers in this Way for Years past.”  The Fowles planned to publish a list of the offenders, a public shaming that included descriptions of “their proper Character,” as well as prosecute them “as the Law directs for stopping Letters, News Papers.”  Newspaper advertisements frequently reported the theft of consumer goods in eighteenth-century America, but this notice indicates that “lowliv’d Fellows” also stole newspapers and, by extension, access to information.

March 16

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 16, 1770).

“He has the best of clarified Oyl, for Clock and Watches.”

By the time that Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith placed his advertisement in the March 16, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, he and fellow clock- and watchmaker John Simnet had been engaged in a public feud for more than a year.  They often traded barbs in their advertisements, though they also published notices that focused exclusively on promoting their own skills and service.  Their rivalry may have prompted both to advertise more regularly.  Griffith certainly did not take to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to address “his Customers and others” nearly so frequently before Simnet set up shop in Portsmouth and began his own advertising campaign in early 1769.

For the most part, Griffith ignored Simnet in his March 16 advertisement, though he did proclaim that he provided his services “cheaper than by any other Watchmaker.”  He emphasized the supplies he had in his shop, “all sorts of materials for Clocks and Watches,” as well as customer service, promising that “those who Employ him, may depend on being faithfully and punctually served.”  He also added a component that did not previously appear in his advertisements.  In a separate short paragraph, Griffith stated that “He has the best of clarified Oyl, for Clock and Watches, which prevents their stoping in cold Weather.”  For the first time, Griffith marketed a product related to his business, a product that allowed his customers to care for their clocks and watches.  That product also generated additional revenue for Griffith by expanding his retail activities.

Griffith may have been selling “clarified Oyl” all along.  If that was the case, then it seems that his competition with Simnet in the public prints likely prompted him to incorporate this ancillary product into his marketing efforts.  Rather than merely taking swipes at his rival, Griffith devised new means of distinguishing himself and his business in order to entice readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to become patrons of his shop.

March 9

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

Mar 9 - 3:9:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 9, 1770).

“She will endeavour to Teach young MISSES the various Arts and Branches of NEEDLE WORK.”

When Ruth Jones prepared to open a school in Portsmouth in 1770, she placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform the community of her intent as well as attract students.  Given the curriculum, Jones restricted her pupils to girls or, as she put it, “young MISSES” who desired to learn “all the various Arts and Branches of NEEDLE WORK.”  She planned to teach “Needle Lace Work, Needle Work on Lawn, Flowering with Cruel, working Pocket Book with Irish Stitch, drawing and working of Twilights, marking of Letters, and plain Sewing.”  She added “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to the end of the list to indicate that she possessed skills in other “Arts and Branches” of needlework that she could also transmit to pupils in her charge.  She depicted herself as much as an artisan as a schoolmistress, replicating the language of “Arts and Branches” of a trade that frequently appeared in newspaper advertisements placed by artisans of all sorts.

Jones supplemented her “NEEDLE WORK” curriculum with teaching “young Children to Read,” though she did not mention writing and arithmetic nor any advanced subjects that schoolmasters and many schoolmistresses included in their advertisements.  While she covered a vast array of techniques for using the needle, her curriculum was otherwise narrow and specialized.  She delivered instruction primarily in a homosocial environment.  Presumably any boys among her pupils learning to read were quite young rather than adolescents.  Parents of “young MISSES” did not need to worry about distractions caused by young men at Jones’s school.  The advertisement suggested that they would be able to focus on their stitches, interacting with each other but not the opposite sex.

Jones advanced two primary appeals in her advertisement.  She underscored her own expertise in needlework, listing the many “Arts and Branches” of the trade that she had mastered and could pass on to pupils.  She also sketched a homosocial learning environment in which young women could master the various stitches free from interruptions by young men.  She did not explicitly make the same appeals about tending to the manners and comportment of her female charges as other schoolmistresses made in their advertisements, but parents of prospective pupils may have considered that implied in Jones’s notice.

February 9

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

Feb 9 - 2:9:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 9, 1770).

“Auction-Hall, KING-STREETBOSTON.”

John Gerrish, “Public Vendue-Master” or auctioneer, continued his endeavor to extend the range of his advertising by developing a marketing campaign for his auction hall that incorporated newspapers published in towns other than Boston. In early February 1770, he placed notices in the Providence Gazette, the Essex Gazette, and, eventually, the New-Hampshire Gazette, in addition to three of the five newspapers in Boston. In so doing, he coordinated a campaign that involved six newspapers in four cities spread over three colonies. The Adverts 250 Project has been tracking the development of that campaign in several entries published during the past week.

Not surprisingly, Gerrish’s efforts radiated outward from Boston. His advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette only after it ran in the Essex Gazette, moving from Boston to Salem to Portsmouth. That the notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette included exactly the same copy, down to the punctuation (such as the brackets around “[Public Vendue-Master]”), as the one in the Essex Gazette suggests one possible mode of transmission. While Gerrish might have carefully written out identical copy in letters sent to the two printing offices, he may very well have instructed Samuel Hall, printer of the Essex Gazette, to forward instructions to reprint the advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he sent an exchange copy to Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of that newspaper. The Fowles, like every other colonial printer, liberally reprinted news items, letters, and editorials from other newspapers when selecting the content for the New-Hampshire Gazette. When sent instructions (and promises of payment) they could have done the same with an advertisement.

Although the advertisements in the Essex Gazette and the New-Hampshire Gazette featured identical copy, they did have variations in format, including capitalization, italics, and line breaks, though certain key appeals to prospective customers did appear in capitals in both newspapers (“EXCEEDING CHEAP” and “VERY CHEAP TERMS INDEED”). That was standard practice in the production of newspaper advertisements. Advertisers provided the copy and sometimes made suggestions or requests concerning format, but printers and compositors exercised broad discretion when it came to typography and graphic design.

For Gerrish, the format, as long as it was done well, likely mattered less than disseminating his advertisements over greater distances than he managed previously by inserting them solely in the Boston newspapers. He aimed to create a much larger regional market for himself by boosting the circulation of his notices in additional publications and new places where prospective bidders and clients had less awareness of his “Auction-Hall” on King Street in Boston.

February 2

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

Feb 2 - 2:2:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 2, 1770).

“He still carries on Clock and Watch making as usual.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a clock- and watchmaker, was a prolific advertiser who frequently inserted notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette. The frequency of his advertisements may have been occasioned in large part by his rivalry with John Simnet, a competitor who previously practiced the trade in London for several years before migrating to the colonies and setting up shop in the same market as Griffith. Both men advertised and, in a rare occurrence in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, departed from merely promoting their own services in favor of denigrating the skill and even the character of the other. They did not explicitly name their rival, but context made the intent of their remarks clear to readers.

Simnet, the newcomer, was the more aggressive. In his first advertisement for 1770, he proclaimed himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” a bit of boasting that disparaged Griffith as much as it bolstered Simnet. First appearing in the New-Hampshire Gazette on January 12, that brief but provocative notice continued for several weeks. On February 2, Griffith placed a new advertisement, his first of the year. As he had done sometimes, but not always, in the past, Griffith refused to engage with Simnet. Without much fanfare, he sought to inform “his Customers, and others, that he still carries on Clock and Watch making as usual, at his Shop opposite Dr. Langdon’s Meeting House.”

Although he did not spar with Simnet, Griffith did offer appeals intended to resonate with prospective clients. He acknowledged his previous customers and stated that he continued his trade “as usual,” establishing his prior service to local consumers and the stability of his business. Griffith also reported that he had “all Sorts of Materials for said Business,” reassuring readers that he possessed the supplies necessary for his work. Griffith’s advertisement was not as flashy as Simnet’s, but perhaps it did not need to be. Griffith had much deeper roots in the community and may have believed that he did not need to be as strident as Simnet in his advertisements.

January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 19, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD AT William Scott’s Store.”

When it came to disseminating his advertisements widely, William Scott was more industrious than most merchants, shopkeepers, and others who placed newspaper notices promoting consumer goods. His advertisements for a variety of textiles available “Wholesale & Retail” at his store on the “North-side of Faneuil-Hall” ran in the January 19, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, shortly after appearing in the Essex Gazette (published in Salem, Massachusetts) and four out of five of Boston’s newspapers. His advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette listed “Irish LINNENS,” “Diaper and Damask Table Cloths,” “Cambricks,” “Lawns,” and all of the other fabrics enumerated in the other newspapers, lacking only a note about “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods, by Retail” that concluded those advertisements.

That may have been the result of the advertisement’s position on the page in the New-Hampshire Gazette. It appeared in the lower right corner, the last item on the third page. The compositor had sufficient space to include the main body of the advertisement while still achieving columns of equal length, but not the additional note. Using a smaller font for Scott’s name would have yielded the necessary space to print the entire advertisement, but the compositor did not make the choice. Comparing Scott’s notices as they appeared in all six newspapers reveals that compositors exercised considerable discretion when it came to the format of advertisements. That discretion likely even extended to occasional minor adjustments to the copy. Scott generated the copy for his advertisements and submitted it to several printing offices, but compositors adopted very different approaches to how that copy appeared on the page when it came to font sizes, capitalization, italics, line breaks, and other typographical elements. Variations in spelling (“LINNENS” or “Linens”) and fractions (“Three quarter” and “3-4”) may have originated with the advertiser or the compositor.

Scott intended to engage as many prospective customers as possible by inserting the same advertisement in six newspapers published in three port cities in New England. His marketing efforts reveal testify to a division of labor in the production of advertisements for consumer goods. Advertisers generally took responsibility for composing copy, while compositors who worked in printing offices designed the format of advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

January 5

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

Jan 5 1770 - 1:5:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 5, 1770).

“Ran away last Wednesday … an Apprentice Boy.”

The format and placement of Benjamin Mackay’s advertisement suggests that it was a late addition to the new edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Mackay reported that his apprentice, John Bowler, “Ran away last Wednesday” on January 3, 1770. The aggrieved master scrambled to insert an advertisement in the next issue of the colony’s only newspaper, published just two days later on Friday, January 5. Failing to do so would have forced Mackay to wait another week to alert the community by disseminating information about the runaway apprentice in print since the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other American newspapers published in the early 1770s, appeared only once a week.

Mackay apparently delivered his advertisement to the printing office too late for inclusion in any of the next issue’s twelve columns, three on each of four pages. The compositor had already set the type … but that did not mean that there was not any space for Mackay’s new and urgent advertisement. Compositors sometimes placed short advertisements and news items in the margins, an innovative strategy used only occasionally to include additional content. Mackay’s advertisement ran on the third page of the January 5 edition, running in the bottom margin across all three columns. The unique format possibly attracted the attention of some readers, but it also limited the number of details that Mackay could publish in that particular advertisement. Brevity allowed for speedy publication, but forced Mackay to carefully select which information to circulate to other colonists.

With more time to plan, he remedied that situation in the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He published another advertisement, nearly three times the length, that provided a much more extensive description of Bowler, including his approximate age, notable physical characteristics, and description of his clothing. In addition to offering a reward for apprehending and returning the apprentice, that second advertisement warned others against “entertaining or carrying off” Bowler.

That Mackay published a second advertisement at all suggests that the first was not successful, at least not in the short time between its publication and the compositor preparing the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Still, it had no chance of success if it had not appeared in the January 5 issue at all. By resorting to an innovative format for the advertisement, the compositor helped Mackay distribute time-sensitive information in the public prints as quickly as possible.

December 15

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

“Stript Camblets     |     Knee Garters     |     Brass Ink Pots.”

Dec 15 - 12:15:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 15, 1769).

According to the advertisement he placed in the December 15, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Jacob Treadwell sold an assortment of goods at his shop in Portsmouth. He carried everything from textiles to tea kettles to “Locks & Latches.” His advertisement listed more than 120 items and promised even more, concluding with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera). Enumerating his inventory served to demonstrate to prospective customers the extent of the choices Treadwell offered them. He did not have just a couple kinds of fabric in stock. Instead, he listed dozens of options available at his shop. He did not make general assertions about carrying housewares or hardware. Instead, he named an array of goods he sold, prompting consumers to imagine acquiring specific items.

Treadwell’s advertisement served as a catalog of his wares. The advertisement’s format, three neatly organized columns, helped prospective customers navigate that catalog. Publishing an extensive list of merchandise was a common marketing strategy in early America. Most advertisers who adopted that approach lumped their goods together in dense paragraphs of text that made it difficult for readers to distinguish among the multitude of items the advertisement included. Some advertisers, however, experimented with other formats, incorporating graphic design into their marketing efforts. Treadwell advertised the same items as other eighteenth-century retailers, but he made his inventory more accessible with the use of columns and white space.

Doing so liked incurred additional expense since most newspaper printers sold advertising by the amount of space it occupied rather than the number of words. Treadwell’s advertisement extended half a column as a result of its design. Had he opted for the paragraph format instead, the advertisement would have taken up a fraction of the space. Treadwell apparently believed that the potential return on his investment merited the additional expense. In making his advertisement easier for readers to peruse, he augmented the chances that they would become customers.

December 8

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

Dec 8 - 12:8:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 8, 1769).

“WATCHES … preserv’d in perfect Repair … by JOHN SIMNETT.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have already been familiar with John Simnett’s work by the time he placed a short advertisement in the December 8, 1769, edition. For nearly a year he had advertised regularly, but, more significantly, he had also engaged in a feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the public prints. Although the two watchmakers usually refrained from mentioning the other by name, their advertisements made clear that neither much liked the other. Most of their advertisements included some sort of insult in addition to promoting their own work.

On occasion, however, one or both placed advertisements that did not include a negative characterization of the other. Such was the case with Simnet’s notice in the December 8 issue. Relatively brief compared to many of his others, it simply stated: “WATCHES For Two and Six Pence Sterling per Year, preserv’d in perfect Repair, (Accidents excepted) by JOHN SIMNETT, near the Parade.” Simnet introduced his trade, set the rate for the service he provided, clarified the terms, and informed prospective clients of his location, all without taking a swipe at Griffith.

Many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette might have noticed other variations that made this advertisement different from most of Simnet’s others. The watchmaker usually identified himself only as “Simnet.” Dancing and fencing masters most often adopted a mononym in their newspaper advertisements, but this watchmaker who migrated from London after pursuing his trade there for two decades determined that he merited the flair of going by a single name in the press. He presented himself as much more capable than competitors who had trained and worked exclusively in the colonies, thus meriting the mononym as a proclamation of his illustriousness. Why did he include both his first name and surname in this advertisement, departing from his usual marketing strategy? Did he react to comments from others about his tone and demeanor in his advertisements?