March 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 8, 1771).

Every City and populous Town in America have some Regulations with regard to Sled and Cart Loads of Wood.”

An advertisement for an ingenious “Table, calculated to shew the Contents … of any Sled Load or Cart Load of WOOD” ran in the March 8, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The helpful resource had been published in Boston, but Samuel Freeman sold copies at Falmouth in Casco Bay (or Maine, still part of Massachusetts at the time) and Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle also had a few copies at their printing office in Portsmouth.  The bulk of the advertisement, that portion printed in italics unlike all other advertisements in that issue, consisted of an explanation of the purpose of the table and an argument for adopting new policies for selling wood in Portsmouth.  It does not seem clear that Samuel Freeman composed the entire advertisement.  Instead, the printers may have seized an opportunity to advocate on behalf of a measure they considered useful.

Every City and populous Town in America,” explained the portion of the advertisement possibly penned by the Fowles, “have some Regulation with regard to Sled and Cart Loads of Wood, Portsmouth only excepted.”  With some dismay, the advertisement exclaimed that “now even Casco-Bay are regulating these Matters before us.”  How did this work and why was it important?  Looking to Boston, the advertisement explained that “Officers are appointed to Measure every Load” and then they gave each driver “a Certificate that the Load contains so much Wood.”  The driver then sold that load “agreeable to said Certificate & at the Market price.”  Adopting this system of invoking weights and measures to regulate those selling wood meant that if a drive “asks more” than the market price or “offers to sell [wood] without” the certificate “he is sure of being called to an Account.”  This policy protected consumers when they purchased a valuable resource for heating their homes, stores, and workshops.

Portsmouth did not have such a policy.  “How different this from the practice here may easily be seen,” the advertisement noted, before recommending that residents of the town might benefit from such a system.  The advertisement concluded with a suggestion that a similar policy might be “proposed to the Consideration of the Town, at the ensuing annual Meeting” at the end of the month.  The Fowles stood to benefit from printing and selling tables measuring wood, but that would not necessarily have been their only motivation in advocating for a policy that benefited all consumers.  Like many other advertisements, this one demonstrates that discourses about politics and policies were not confined to news accounts and editorials that appeared elsewhere in colonial newspapers.  Advertisers regularly discussed politics, endorsed nonimportation agreements, and encouraged domestic manufactures throughout the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution.  In this example, however, colonists used an advertisement to garner support for a local ordinance that would bring Portsmouth in line with other towns.

March 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 1, 1771).

“Some of our Advertising Customers are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct.”

On March 1, 1771, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, once again informed delinquent subscribers that if they did not settle accounts they would find themselves facing legal action.  Newspaper printers regularly made such threats, but the Fowles did so more often than most.  Were they more aggressive in addressing overdue accounts?  Were their customers more recalcitrant than others?  Either way, they proclaimed that “Customers for this Paper, whose Accounts are of so long standing, but not sufficient for Court Writs, may depend on being sued before some Justice in Portsmouth, unless immediately paid.”  The Fowles seemed especially exasperated with “those at the Eastward indebted for many Years Papers,” vowing to bring them “to a proper Sense of their Duty” when the court at York met in April “unless this last Hint Rouses them.”

In the same issue, the Fowles also inserted a brief note to current and prospective advertisers.  “Some of our Advertising Customers,” the printers declared, “are intreated to send their Advertisements more correct, or an Interpreter with them.”  Once again, the Fowles took an exasperated tone.  That they published the only newspaper in New Hampshire may have afforded them greater latitude in doing so than their counterparts in places with multiple newspapers.  They did not reveal what they found lacking in the copy advertisers submitted, only that they experienced difficulty in making sense of some of the notices they received from those who sent them by post or messenger rather than visiting the printing office to make arrangements for their publication.  On occasion, newspaper printers advised prospective advertisers that they would assist with writing copy.  Many other printers also may have lent an editorial eye to copy they received, helping to explain the standardized language in many advertisements.  Doing so required understanding the purpose of an advertisement and clarifying the details.  The Fowles suggested that some copy they received lacked a clear purpose, unambiguous details, or both.

Although printers sometimes offered assistance, advertisers possessed primary responsibility for generating copy for paid notices in eighteenth-century newspapers.  The Fowles apparently expected their advertisers to refer to notices that ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette as models when composing their own advertisements.  They may have performed some editorial work upon receiving copy, but the Fowles expected that advertisers would submit notices that needed little revision before publication.

February 22

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 22, 1771).

“&c. &c.”

Joshua Brackett placed an advertisement in the February 22, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform prospective customers that he had “Just Imported … A fresh and general assortment of MEDICINES and GROCERIES.”  He listed some of the items available at his shop in Portsmouth, but concluded his notice with “&c.” (the abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that consumers would discover much more merchandise on hand when they did business with him.  Indeed, “&c.” at the end of a paragraph about medicines and “&c. &c.” at the end of a paragraph about groceries underscored the amount of choice consumers encountered at his store.  Brackett carried so many medicines and groceries that he could not include all of them in his advertisement.

Among the medicines, Brackett listed several popular patent medicines so familiar to consumers that he did not need to indicate which symptoms each alleviated.  He stocked “Lockyer’s and Anderson’s Pills, James’s Powders, Stoughton Elexir, Jesuits Drops, [and] Turlington’s Balsam.”  For colonial consumers, these amounted to eighteenth-century versions of over-the-counter medications.  Customers might have consulted with Brackett when making selections, but they were also likely to visit his shop already knowing which medicines they intended to purchase.  The reputations of each patent medicine were already so widely known that Brackett did not need to comment on them.

Other advertisers sometimes went into greater detail, either listing many more items or offering descriptions of patent medicines and other goods.  Such notices, however, cost more due to the amount of space they filled (rather than the number of words they contained).  Brackett apparently considered it worth the investment to place a short notice in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but not a longer one.  He believed that he provided enough information to attract the attention of prospective customers, letting them know that he had an extensive inventory of popular medicines and groceries and that he charged low prices.  Brackett depended on those aspects of his advertisement to generate enough interest for readers to visit his shop and choose among his wares.

February 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 8, 1771).

“Parents and Masters may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”

Edward Emerson took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise “ENGLISH and West India GOODS,” tea, coffee, sugar, spices, and tobacco available at his shop “Opposite the Town House in YORK,” a coastal town in the portion of Massachusetts that became Maine half a century later.  In 1771, fewer than thirty newspapers served the colonies that eventually declared independence.  Accordingly, most newspapers operated on a regional scale.  As a result, the New-Hampshire Gazette, printed in Portsmouth, was the local newspaper for Emerson and other residents of York.

Emerson emphasized both price and customer service in his advertisement, proclaiming that he was “determined to sell” his wares “at the lowest Cash price.”  He also anticipated receiving new inventory “which will be Sold as low as possible.”  When it came to customer service, consumers did not need to visit Emerson’s shops themselves.  Instead, they could send representatives, especially children and servants, to do their shopping without concern that Emerson would dismiss them or treat them unfairly.  “Parents and Masters,” the shopkeeper declared, “may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”  That was a variation on promises that other shopkeepers sometimes made to prospective customers who preferred to place orders via the post.  Shopkeepers often served consumers who lived at a distance, offering assurances in their advertisements that they would be treated as well as if they visited in person.  This presumably applied to receiving both quality merchandise and the best prices.

Few eighteenth-century newspapers advertisements appeared flashy by today’s standards.  Emerson’s advertisement was not even flashy by the standards of the time, but perhaps that was not necessary in order to be effective.  Emerson sought to establish trust with prospective customers.  He offered low prices.  He allowed his clients to choose among a variety of quantities for most of his wares.  He promised to treat both customers and their representatives well rather than taking advantage of them.  If Emerson regularly perused the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette and other newspapers that circulated in the area, he certainly read advertisements with more sophisticated marketing strategies that he could have adapted for his own business.  Yet he did not.  Perhaps Emerson considered the appeals he did advance sufficient for establishing relationships with consumers seeking trustworthy purveyors of goods.

February 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 1, 1771).

“If they will now Subscribe and pay Twelve Shillings, they shall have a Book at the same price of the Government.”

Advertisements helped to incite demand, but in the case of subscription notices they also helped to gauge demand.  Before taking books to press, printers distributed subscription notices in which they asked customers (or subscribers) to indicate the number of copies they wished to purchase and make a deposit in advance.  That allowed printers to estimate the total number to print, allowing for some surplus to sell to meet further demand among those who neglected to subscribe, but not so much as to cut into revenues too dramatically.  The deposits also helped to defray the costs of printing, thus making ventures less risky for printers.

Such was the case when Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a subscription notice for “a NEW EDITION of the PROVINCE LAWS” in the February 1, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  The Fowles proclaimed that the books “have been ordered by the Government to be publish’d; and a certain Number to be printed.”  While that order was secure, the Fowles anticipated additional demand for this publication, stating that they believed those ordered “by the Government” likely “will not be sufficient for supplying every particular Person, who may be desirous of having a LAW BOOK.”  In their subscription notice, they called on other prospective customers to “now Subscribe and pay Twelve Shillings” in order to have a Book at the same price of the Government.”

The Fowles also issued a warning to interested parties who did not act quickly.  “Those who neglect giving in their Names and paying their Part at the Time of Subscribing,” the printers cautioned, “will not only run the risqué of not having a set, as very few will be printed, exclusive of what the Court and others take off, but also have a quarter part more to pay for those few, than Subscribers.”  In other words, the Fowles planned to print only a limited number of additional copies, creating a scarcity in the market after fulfilling the orders received in advance.  They also planned to charge a higher price, fifteen shillings instead of twelve, for those surplus copies.  Subscribers received a discount by ordering in advance so the Fowles would know how many copies to print.

The Fowles sought to achieve two goals simultaneously.  They hoped to incite demand in the book they would soon publish while also estimating demand in order to make informed decisions about how many copies to print.  Subscription notices allowed printers to conduct a rudimentary form of market research in the eighteenth century.

January 25

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 25, 1771).

“A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a brief notice at the bottom of the final column on the second page of the January 25, 1771, edition.  “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston,” the Fowles advised prospective buyers, “are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  Readers did not require further explanation identifying “the SOLDIERS in Boston” to know that the Fowles referred to the men who fired into a crowd on the night of March 5, 1770, the perpetrators of an event now known as the Boston Massacre.  The printers advertised a recently published account of the court proceedings in which six of the soldiers were acquitted and two found guilty of manslaughter.  The latter pleaded benefit of clergy to have their sentences reduced to branding on the thumbs in open court.

Some readers may have already been aware of this pamphlet if they happened to read newspapers published in Boston that circulated far beyond that busy port.  John Fleeming announced his intention to publish an account of the trial in the January 14 edition of the Boston Evening-Post, prompting Thomas Fleet and John Fleet, the printers of that newspaper, to once again advertise “A short Narrative of the horrid MASSACRE in BOSTON.”  A week later, in a much more extensive advertisement, Fleeming notified the public that he had “JUST PUBLISHED” the pamphlet and listed its various contents.  In addition to purchasing the account of the trials directly from Fleeming, buyers could also acquire copies from the Fleets.  They also continued to advertise the “short Narrative,” attempting to direct demand for one pamphlet into demand for both.

Both of these pamphlets served as auxiliary sources of information that supplemented coverage in the newspapers.  They kept readers better informed of current and recent events.  They also likely played a role in shaping the politics of many colonists, the one documenting a “horrid MASSACRE” and the other demonstrating that most of the soldiers involved in the incident were not at fault.  In addition, these pamphlets were part of larger process of commodifying the American Revolution that began years before shots were fired at Lexington and Concord.  Fleeming and the Fleets sold copies of an account of the trials to consumers in Boston and other towns in Massachusetts, but that was not the extent of the potential market.  The Fowles gave consumers in New Hampshire an opportunity to participation in the commemoration of such a significant event by purchasing their own copies of the account of the trials.

January 18

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (January 18, 1771).

“A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”

When George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died on September 30, 1770, it did not take long for printers, booksellers, and others to market commemorative items that celebrated the life of the minister and mourned his passing.  Within a week, advertisements for merchandise ranging from poems to hymns to funeral sermons began appearing in colonial newspapers.  While the commodification of Whitefield’s death was concentrated in New England, consumers in other regions also had opportunities to purchase memorabilia.

Those advertisements ran regularly for several months, but then tapered off at the end of the year.  As part of that process, printers and booksellers incorporated Whitefield commemorative items into advertisements promoting other items for sale.  For instance, printers Thomas Fleet and John Fleet inserted an advertisement for four pamphlets in the January 7, 1771, edition of their newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post.  “Dr. Whitaker’s Sermon on the Death of Mr. WHITEFIELD” was the third of those four items.  Previously, Whitefield commemorative items merited advertisements of their own in the Boston Evening-Post.

Such was the case in a brief advertisement in the January 18 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle advised prospective customers that “A few Almanacks, and several Pieces on the late renowned WHITEFIELD, &c. may be had at the Printing Office.”  Whitefield’s death and the ensuing commemorations and mourning rituals were no longer breaking news, so the Fowles, like the Fleets, devoted less advertising space to marketing memorabilia.  Yet they still had inventory available, surplus copies that diminished any potential profits gained from the commodification of the minister’s death.  Advertising excess copies of almanacs in January was an annual custom for printers throughout the colonies.  The Fowles folded their Whitefield commemorative items into that practice, attempting to draw on remaining demand without giving over a significant amount of space to their advertisements.

December 28

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 28, 1770).

“Manufactured in AMERICA.”

Even before thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain and formed a new nation, advertisers deployed “Made in America” marketing strategies.  Those efforts gained popularity in the 1760s and 1770s, the period of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution, as advertisers, producers, and consumers all recognized the political meanings inherent in the buying and selling of goods.  They became especially pronounced whenever the crisis intensified, such as in response to the Stamp Act or the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  In a series of nonimportation agreements, colonists boycotted goods made from Britain with the intention of harnessing commerce to achieve political goals.  They declared that they would resume importing and consuming those goods only once Parliament took the actions they desired, such as repealing the Stamp Act or repealing the Townshend duties.  Simultaneously, colonists sought alternatives and encouraged “domestic manufactures,” the production and consumption of goods made in the colonies.

Newspaper advertisements published in the 1760s and 1770s did not need to be long and elaborate to draw on the discourse of politics and commerce.  After all, news items and editorials rehearsed the disputes with Parliament and debated the appropriate remedies, so readers who encountered “Buy American” advertisements usually did so in the context of politics and current events covered elsewhere in the newspaper.  As a result, advertisers like W. and J. Whipple of Portsmouth did not consider it necessary to explain all the reasons why consumers should purchase their “Choice FLOUR of MUSTARD” when they advertised in the December 28, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  They simply informed prospective customers that their product was “Manufactured in AMERICA.”  Either the Whipples or the compositor considered that an important enough recommendation for “AMERICA” to appear in all capital letters, like other key words in the advertisement.  The Whipples expected that readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would understand the significance of proclaiming that their flour of mustard was “Manufactured in AMERICA” without needing additional explanation or encouragement to buy it.

The short phrase “Manufactured in AMERICA” may seem like a minor component of a relatively short advertisement, but part of its power derived from the brevity of the notice.  The Whipples communicated quite a bit about the intersection of politics and commerce in that short phrase.  The repetition of that phrase and similar phrases was also powerful.  The Whipples were not outliers or extraordinary in resorting to “Made in America” appeals to consumers.  Instead, advertisers in New Hampshire and throughout the colonies regularly incorporated such sentiments into their newspaper notices in the 1760s and 1770s, doing their part to transform decisions about consumption into political acts.

December 21

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 21, 1770).

“He has removed from his SHOP … to the Shop lately improved by Mr. James M’Donough.”

George Craigie’s advertisement in the December 21, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette got cut short.  Craigie informed the public that he carried “a good Assortment Of English GOODS, Suitable for the Season,” but his advertisement ended with a note that the “Particulars of which will be inserted in our next.”  In other words, someone decided to truncate a longer version of the shopkeeper’s advertisement that would run in the next issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It could have been Craigie himself if he had not had time to prepare a list of his merchandise.  More likely, either the compositor or the editor made the decision due to lack of space for the lengthy advertisement.  When it ran the following week, Craigie’s notice occupied more than half a column, listing everything from textiles to housewares to groceries to writing paper.

Although a catalog of his inventory was an important means of inciting interest among prospective customers, Craigie likely did not consider it as important as the portion of his advertisement that did appear in print on December 21.  The shopkeeper took the opportunity to inform the public “that he has removed from his SHOP near the Market House, on Spring Hill, Portsmouth, to the Shop lately improved by Mr. James M’Donough, in the Pav’d Street, leading from the State House to the Market.”  Craigie did not want to lose any customers because they were unaware of his new location.  The “Particulars” held until the next issue did not matter if shoppers had difficulty finding him following his move from a familiar location to one previously associated with someone else.  In addition, the promise of a more complete accounting of Craigie’s goods in the next issue may have prompted some anticipation and curiosity among readers, another benefit of a shorter advertisement that made his enterprise more visible compared to no advertisement at all in that issue.  By the time the more elaborate advertisement appeared, Craigie already encouraged interest in both his new location and his inventory.

December 14

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 14, 1770).

“Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses.”

William Winter offered his services as a notary in an advertisement in the December 14, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He declared that he drew up various kinds of legal documents “with Fidelity and Dispatch” and “at a reasonable price.”  In addition, he was “also a Public AUCTIONEER.”  Although William’s name appeared as the headline for the advertisement, in a font larger than any on that page, he was not the only member of the Winter household who contributed to the family’s income.  The advertisement included a nota bene that outlined Mrs. Winter’s entrepreneurial activities.

William asked readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to take note that “Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses, Ladies silk, worsted, and thread Mitts.”  In addition, she also made “silk and thread Cauls for Wigs, as neat and good as any made in England.”  Furthermore, she sold them “cheaper for the Cash, than they can be bought in the Government.”  Did Mrs. Winter compose that portion of the advertisement?  Did William?  Did they collaborate on it?  Whoever was responsible for the content incorporated marketing strategies that did more than merely announce that Mrs. Winter made and sold purses, mitts, and linings for wigs.

Appeals to quality were common in eighteenth-century advertisements for goods and services.  In the era of the American Revolution, producers of goods made in the colonies and retailers who sold them increasingly compared the quality of those goods to imported alternatives.  In the wake of nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, comparing the quality of “domestic manufactures,” good made in the colonies, to imported items had a political valence.  Such appeals underscored to consumers that their choices in the marketplace had consequences in the dispute with Parliament.

Appeals to price were also common in advertisements of the period.  The Winters did not make generic statements about Mrs. Winter’s prices.  As they had done with the appeal to quality, they also embellished this appeal by proclaiming that she charged the lowest prices that could be found “in the Government” or in the entire colony.  In the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, James Haslett and Matthew Haslett, leather dressers who made and sold breeches and gloves, asserted that they set prices as low “as any in New England.”  Most advertisers usually were not so bold when comparing their prices to their competitors.  In these instances, the Winters and the Hasletts made significant claims about their prices in order to distinguish their goods from others.

Mrs. Winter’s portion of the advertisement did not benefit from the same prominence on the page as the segment in which William offered his services as notary and auctioneer.  It did not, however, lack substance.  The Winters devised a sophisticated advertisement that did more than rely on common marketing strategies.  When it came to both quality and price, they enhanced the standard appeals that appeared in other advertisements.