August 19

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

Aug 19 - 8:19:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 19, 1768).

“The Owner will stay but a Fortnight in Town.”

Henry Appleton and Richard Champney placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette frequently. Members of their community likely knew where to find Appleton “At his shop in Portsmouth” and Champney “At his shop near Mr. John Beck’s, Hatter.” In the small port, both their faces and their shops would have been familiar. One of their competitors, however, was not nearly as familiar to the residents of Portsmouth and the surrounding area. An advertisement that appeared in the August 19, 17678, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette listed many wares quite similar to those stocked by Appleton and Champney, but it did not specify the name of the seller.

Instead, it announced that “THE undermention’d GOODS were lately IMPORTED, and will be SOLD on very reasonable terms at Mr. STAVERS’s Tavern in PORTSMOUTH.” The unnamed advertiser stated that he “will stay but a Fortnight in Town.” From all appearances, Appleton and Champney found themselves in competition with a peddler. They likely did not appreciate his brief interlude in the local marketplace. Peddlers were disruptive. They diverted business away from the shops where customers usually acquired goods. In this case, the advertisement encouraged potential customers to head to a tavern to examine ribbons, gloves, fans, necklaces, and a variety of other “Baubles of Britain” (to borrow the evocative phrase from T.H. Breen’s examination of the consumer revolution in America in the eighteenth century). Those “incline[d] to buy … will find it to their Advantage in dealing with” the unnamed itinerant. Local shopkeepers like Appleton and Champney were probably none too pleased about this alternative means for their prospective customers to obtain many of the same trinkets they sold, especially not when the peddler implied that he offered lower prices than residents would otherwise encounter in Portsmouth.

Itinerant hawkers who traversed the roads from town to town in the late colonial period provided an alternate means of distributing many of the goods that were at the center of the consumer revolution. They complemented the shops and auctions that otherwise placed an array of merchandise in the hands and households of customers, usually to the chagrin of local entrepreneurs who did not appreciate the intrusion.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 29, 1768).

“RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.”

Calls for rags regularly appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers, sometimes issued by printers and other times issued by proprietors of paper manufactories. Readers did not require any explanation that their used rags would be recycled into paper, perhaps even paper that would become issues of the very newspaper in which they encountered notices encouraging them to collect and contribute their rags.

Although they sometimes expected their fellow colonists to donate rags that had exceeded their usefulness, printers and papermakers often offered a variety of inducements to convince readers to send their rags. Sometimes they offered to pay cash. Other times they played on political sentiments, especially in the wake of the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, noting that local production of paper decreased dependence on imported paper while simultaneously bolstering the local economy. The success of such endeavors depended not only on readers acting as consumers of that paper but also as providers of the necessary supplies.

In their brief advertisement in the July 29, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, printers Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle took a different approach. They offered to barter: “RAGS taken in at the Printing Office, and good Sermons or other Pamphlets given as pay for them.” The Fowles did not elaborate on which sermons or other pamphlets they traded, but they likely considered this an opportunity to achieve two goals simultaneously. In the process of acquiring a commodity essential in producing paper they could also reduce their surplus stock of pamphlets that had not sold as well as they had hoped. Two weeks earlier Robert Fowle published a lengthy advertisement that listed dozens of books as well as “a very great variety of single Sermons and other Pamphlets.” If the printers could not convince colonists to purchase these wares then they might as well offer them in trade. Operating a printing office required such flexibility.

July 15

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

Jul 15 - 7:15:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (July 15, 1768).

A large Assortment of BOOKS.

Although eighteenth-century booksellers sometimes issued book catalogs, either as broadsides or pamphlets, they much more often compiled catalogs for publication as newspaper advertisements. Booksellers who also happened to publish newspapers, like Robert Fowle, took advantage of their access to the press when they wished to promote their books, stationery, and other merchandise. Such printer-booksellers exercised the privilege of determining the contents of each issue, sometimes opting to reduce other content in favor of promoting their own wares. Alternately, inserting a book catalog, even an abbreviated list of titles, among the advertisements occasionally helped to fill the pages when printers lacked other content.

Fowle proclaimed that he stocked “A large Assortment of BOOKS” at his shop next door to the printing office in Portsmouth. To demonstrate that was indeed the case, his advertisement in the July 15, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette extended nearly an entire column and enumerated more than one-hundred titles. Such advertisements were part of a reading revolution that occurred in the eighteenth century as colonists transitioned from intensive reading of the Bible and devotional literature to extensive reading across many genres. Fowle’s list also included reference works as well as books meant for instruction. The printer-bookseller offered something for every interest or taste, including “small Books for Children.”

In some instances Fowle also promoted the material qualities of the books he sold. Some titles were “neatly bound & gilt,” making them especially attractive for display as well as reading. He offered “BIBLE of all sizes, some neatly bound and gilt.” Customers could choose whichever looked most appealing to them. If they did not care for the available bindings, they could purchase an unbound copy and have it bound to their specifications. Book catalogs and advertisements offered a variety of choices when it came to the physical aspects of reading materials, not just the contents.

Robert Fowle may have also published book catalogs in the 1760s, but his newspaper advertisements would have achieved far greater distribution. They alerted prospective customers to the “large Assortment” at his shop, introducing them to titles that they might not have previously considered but now wished to own (and perhaps even read) once they became aware of their availability.

July 8

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

Jul 8 - 7:8:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette Extraordinary (July 8, 1768).

“Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith looks upon himself to be greatly abused.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith was not pleased with a “scandalous anonimous Piece” that appeared on the front page of the July 1, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Although the author did not explicitly name Griffith, it did not take much deduction to determine that “a Man of this abandoned Character, named – N–th–el S––fe G–fi–th, of Hampton” was none other than Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. The article purported that Griffith had “descended into some Sink for Human Excrements, (from whence it was wished he could never have gotten out, as it was the most proper Place for his Abode)” and then “proceeded to the Meeting-House in Hampton, and in a dirty, filthy and polluted Manner discharged the same upon the Linings and Cushings of a Gentleman’s Pew.” The article went into further detail about how Griffith had not only befouled the pew but, more generally, a house of worship shared by the entire community. It then attributed various moral failings to the perpetrator of this “atrocious and sacrilegious Insult.”

Horrified by this account, Griffith placed an advertisement in the next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Although Griffith could not control the editorial decisions made by the printers, he did exercise greater latitude when it came to paid notices. He wanted the printers to give him equal time and an opportunity to redeem himself in the face of the “scandalous anonimous Piece.” To that end, his advertisement addressed the printers directly, insisting that they “acquaint the Public in [their] next Paper that he shall the next Week publickly acquit himself to their Satisfaction of the scandalous and sacrilegious Acts he is in that Piece charged with.” For the moment, this advertisement did not allow the tale from the previous week to go unanswered. It informed the community, in addition to the printers, that Griffith did not accept the account as presented in the most recent issue. Griffith’s advertisement also made the case that the printers must allow him a more extensive answer, not as an advertisement at his own expense but as a news item, not unlike the “scandalous anonimous Piece.” Perhaps Griffith also believed that by ramping up interest in the dispute among readers that the printers would be more likely to publish his rebuttal.

The next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, however, did not feature any items signed by Griffith, neither as news items or advertisements. Griffith may have agonized too long over his response to submit it in time for publication. The issue did include a anonymous piece addressed “To the PRINTERS” that expounded on fourteen “RULES AGAINST SLANDER.” Perhaps Griffith submitted those rules to lay the groundwork for his own response. Perhaps the printers, disappointed not to have Griffith’s response in hand, inserted the “RULES AGAINST SLANDER” themselves as a means of keeping the controversy fresh and encouraging readers to look for more developments in subsequent issues. Perhaps other members of the community, disgusted by the entire exchange, took it upon themselves to provide their own commentary about how to treat one another.

The plot thickened two weeks after Griffith’s advertisement appeared in the July 8 edition. A response from Griffith attributed the “cruel Piece” to “the circumstantial Evidence known to all the Inhabitants of Hampton, to have the Character of as infamous a Liar, as ever existed on this Globe, the scandalous Author of the defamatory Piece, only excepted.” Furthermore, Griffith described the alleged witness as “A Girl who for Ten Dollars more, and another green Gown, may perhaps be induced to swear as roundly & plumply to the Point, as the Author could wish or desire.” Griffith met the attacks against his character with provocative accusations of his own.

Advertisements sometimes entertained colonists because they contained scandal. Runaway wife advertisements, for instance, reflected as poorly on the husbands who placed them as the wives who fled. Sometimes the scandal played out in greater detail when wives or relatives placed responses. In other instances, colonists turned to advertisements to pursue their feuds with rivals they believed had wronged them in some way. News items sometimes presented tabloid accounts of certain people and events, but colonists also made room among the advertisements for a good bit of gossip. On occasion, scandal flowed back and forth between news items and paid notices in eighteenth-century America.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:24:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 24, 1768).

“Shoes, as neat and Strong as ever was made or brought from the famous Shoe Town of Lynn.”

When Samuel Foster, a cobbler, set up shop in Portsmouth, he placed an advertisement in the June 24, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform residents that “he has now removed to this Town.” Like many others who advertised consumer goods and services, he stated that he delivered exemplary customer service, promising that “all Persons who favour him with their Custom may depend on being faithfully and punctually served.” Realizing that this fairly common appeal might not provide sufficient cause for readers to employ him, Foster turned to boasting about the quality of his shoes as well as favorably comparing the products of his workshop to shoes made in both Portsmouth and Lynn, Massachusetts.

He commenced with a local comparison, pledging that he made “Mens Shoes, of all Sorts, as neat and Cheap as any Shoe Maker in Town.” Foster introduced himself to his new neighbors with an assertion that this shoes were equal, if not superior, to those produced by any of his competitors in the area. Just in case that was not bold enough, he trumpeted an even more striking claim about the quality of the shoes he made for women. He offered a variety for different tastes – “Womens Silk, Cloth, Calamanco and Leather Shoes” – and proclaimed they were “as neat and Strong as ever was made or brought from the famous Shoe Town of Lynn.” Shoe production began in Lynn in the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century the town achieved a reputation for its shoes that extended far beyond New England. Advertisers who ran notices in newspapers printed in New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston sometimes specified that they carried shoes made in Lynn, suggesting that they expected this designation would resonate with prospective customers.

As a newcomer to Portsmouth, Foster needed to establish a new clientele among residents unfamiliar with his work or his reputation. To that end, he made forceful claims about the quality of the shoes produced in his shop, implicitly challenging readers to make purchases and confirm for themselves whether his work merited the accolades he claimed. At the very least, he associated “the famous Shoe Town of Lynn” with his workshop in the minds of potential customers.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 17, 1768).

“A new Shop … near Swing or Liberty Bridge.”

When Zechariah Beal, a cobbler, set up shop in a new location he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform “his Customers and others, that he has Removed from Queen Street, to a new Shop, almost adjoining to that of Mr. John Noble’s Barber, near Swing or Liberty Bridge, not far from the Long-Wharfe in Portsmouth.” Beal advertised in an era before American cities and towns adopted standardized street numbers, though some of the largest American cities would do so in the final decade of the eighteenth century.

In the absence of street numbers, Beal and other colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to establish locations and give directions. Sometimes these instructions were short, simply referencing the name of the street. In other cases, they were quite lengthy (and even rather convoluted from the perspective of modern readers accustomed to precise street numbers designating the locations of homes and businesses), as was the case when Beal listed his new location in his advertisement.

Among the landmarks he invoked, Beal noted that his new shop was “near Swing or Liberty Bridge.” This description reveals that colonists in Portsmouth were in the midst of reconceptualizing the meaning they attributed to a local landmark. On January 6, 1766, the Sons of Liberty had paraded an effigy of George Grenville around Portsmouth in protest of the Stamp Act. They burned the effigy of the prime minister and, like several other cities and towns in the colonies, erected a liberty pole that flew a flag that read “LIBERTY, PROPERTY, and NO STAMPS,” according to an account that appeared in the January 20, 1766, edition of the Boston Evening-Post. That same account reported that the pole and flag were “now fixed near LIBERTY-BRIDGE.”

Some advertisers in Portsmouth quickly adopted the name, indicating that they and other colonists continued to commemorate the protest by associating new significance with the Swing Bridge that predated the protest. Yet this process was not universal among those who resided in the area. The bridge now had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” among the inhabitants of Portsmouth. An older way of describing the urban landscape did not disappear just because some colonists now preferred a new designation for one landmark. Even those who supported protests against the Stamp Act and, more recently in the summer of 1768, the Townshend Act likely discovered that they sometimes had to consciously correct themselves when it came to associating names with political significance with landmarks previously known as something else. In Portsmouth, that meant that one landmark simultaneously had two names, “Swing or Liberty Bridge,” as colonists collectively reconceptualized their descriptions of their environs.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 10, 1768).

“The Particulars would be too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.”

William Appleton, a frequent advertiser in the New-Hampshire Gazette, promoted “A very valuable Collection of BOOKS & STATIONARY” in the June 10, 1768, edition. Appleton did not deploy to a marketing strategy frequently used by booksellers and others who stocked books and stationery in their advertisements published in newspapers throughout the colonies: inserting an extensive list of the titles available and the various sorts of paper and other writing accouterments. Instead, he simply stated that “The Particulars would be too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.” Appleton left it to the imaginations of prospective customers to conjure his wares. He encouraged their curiosity, hoping that he had sufficiently enticed potential patrons to visit his shop.

By the time readers encountered Appleton’s advertisement on the final page of the June 10 issue, they had likely noticed Richard Champney’s lengthy advertisement, extending two-thirds of a column, listing scores of goods on the first page. Elsewhere on the same page as his notice, Thomas Martin ran an advertisement approximately twice as long as Appleton’s, most of it devoted to naming his merchandise. Martin stocked everything from “Loaf Sugar” to “Childrens Shoes and Stockings” to Hollow Iron Ware.” Two advertisements of similar length flanked Appleton’s notice on the right and left. Even in those Henry Appleton enumerated more than a dozen items and Peter Pearce twice that number. Presenting consumers with an array of options intended to please and entertain accounted for one of the most popular marketing strategies in eighteenth-century advertising.

Appleton made a nod in that direction in the second half of his advertisement, noting that he also sold “Silver WATCHES of the best sort – Silver & gilt Shoe and Knee BUCKLES, NECKLASSES, and EARINGS, for the Ladies.” This, however, was a truncated list. Appleton concluded by more broadly invoking “a general Assortment of Jewelry Ware, &c. &c. &c.” Once again, he encouraged prospective customers to imagine the possible treasures among his inventory when he inserted the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera (&c.) three times in succession.

Appleton operated his business in a crowded marketplace. To distinguish his advertisement from others, he departed from one of the most common strategies for inciting demand among potential customers. His competitors and others provided lists of their inventory; no matter how lengthy, however, those lists seemed starkly finite compared to Appleton’s assertion that “The Particulars would be too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.” He made an appeal to consumer choice that required purchasing less rather than more space in his local newspaper.