December 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 27, 1771).

“WATCHES and CLOCKS are clean’d and kept in Repair.”

As 1771 came to an end and a new year loomed, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns that he “clean’d and kept in Repair” both clocks and watches.  He also sold “all Sorts of Watch Materials lately imported” and “performs gilding Work, either with Gold or Silver.”  He pledged that he performed all of these services “in the cheapest and best Manner.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette may have remembered that not so long ago another clock- and watchmaker, John Simnet, frequently placed advertisements that accused Griffith of damaging watches rather than cleaning and repairing them.  Sometimes Simnet identified Griffith by name, but other times he merely made insinuations.  For his part, Griffith expressed less interest in fueling a feud in the public prints, preferring instead to bolster his own business rather than denigrate a competitor.  That did not prevent him, however, from suggesting that Simnet, who had recently relocated to Portsmouth from London, was an itinerant as likely to steal watches as repair them.  In a series of advertisements, Simnet trumpeted his decades of experience in some of the best workshops in London, proclaiming his superior skill.  In addition to pointing out that Griffith lacked formal training, he also implied that his competitor possessed a defective intellect.

Griffith and, especially, Simnet staged quite a performance in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette before the newcomer decided that Portsmouth was not the place for him.  After a year and a half of sparring with Griffith, Simnet moved to New York.  He once again touted the skill and experience he gained on the other side of the Atlantic, but he did select any local competitors to target for abuse.  Perhaps he learned in Portsmouth that some consumers did not appreciate marketing strategies that pivoted on abusing others.  Free of the cantankerous Simnet, Griffith continued placing occasional advertisements that conformed to the standards of the period.  He made positive appeals, such as asserting that he did his work “in the cheapest and best Manner,” but did not make any direct comparisons to other artisans.

December 20

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 20, 1771).

Every Gentleman who holds and Office … ought and will furnish himself with one.”

A week after first advertising “A Civil, Military & Ecclesiastical REGISTER of the Province of New-Hampshire, for the YEAR 1772” in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle updated their advertisement.  The original version announced publication of the pamphlet and listed its contents, but did not make any direct appeals to prospective customers.  The Fowles remedied that in the subsequent iteration by adding six new lines following the contents.  On one line, they advised readers, “Price half a Pistereen only,” letting them know that acquiring a copy was indeed affordable.

The other appeal addressed the many officeholders whose names appeared in the Register, everyone from “Judges and Officers of the Superior Court, and Courts of Admiralty” and “Justices of the Peace through the Province and for each County” to “Custom House Officers and Notaries Public” and “Sheriffs, Judges and Registers of Probate, Recorders of Deeds and Treasurers of each County” to “Field Officers of the several Regiments in each County” and “Ministers … of the several Denominations in each County.”  The Fowles decreed that “Every Gentleman who holds and Office, and has the Honor of having it recorded in the above Register, undoubtedly ought and will furnish himself with one.”  For local officials, this was an opportunity to see their names listed alongside those of “the Governor, Council and House of Representatives.”  The Fowles saw the various officeholders as a likely customer base for the publication, but they also encouraged others to purchase a copy “in order rightly to know their Superiors.”  The Fowles probably did not mean, at least not exclusively, that colonists needed to recognize the officeholders among them in order to show proper deference; instead, “rightly [knowing] their Superiors” may have also referred to knowing who to contact with concerns and requests in order to maintain good government throughout the colony.

Apparently, neither those who held office nor “other Persons” heeded the call to buy their own copies in sufficient numbers to convince the Fowles to publish a Register for 1773 or any subsequent year.  The disruptions of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution may have also played a role in such decisions.  They experimented with offering a product to consumers, but even after tinkering with their advertising did not manage to generate a robust market for it.

December 13

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 13, 1771).

“A Civil, Military & Ecclesiastical REGISTER of the Province of New-Hampshire, for the YEAR 1772.”

Each year as fall turned to winter, readers regularly encountered advertisements for almanacs in colonial American newspapers.  Printers often listed the contents as a means of enticing prospective customers to purchase particular titles, emphasizing the range of useful or entertaining items included in one publication or another.  In 1771, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette gathered together a variety of useful information that might otherwise have appeared in an almanac in a separate pamphlet.  They advertised their “Civil, Military & Ecclesiastical REGISTER of the Province of New-Hampshire, for the YEAR 1772” in their newspaper.

The bulk of their advertisement consisted of an enumeration of the contents, everything from a “List of the Governor, Council and House of Representatives” and “Judges and Officers of the Superiour Court, and Court of Admiralty” to “Barristers of Law and Practising Attornies with their respective Places of Residence” and “Custom House Officers and Notaries Public” to “Trustees and Officers of Dartmouth-College” and “Ministers, Churches and religious Assemblies of the several Denominations in each County.”  The pamphlet also included directions along several roads “with the most noted Houses of Entertainment” for those who needed to travel within the colony for one reason or another.

The Civil, Military and Ecclesiastical Register apparently did not meet with as much success as the Fowles hoped.  They did not update it and publish a new edition for 1773 nor for any subsequent year.  Thomas Fleet and John Fleet printed and sold a register for New Hampshire in 1779, folding it into A Pocket Almanack for the Year of our Lord 1780 … Calculated for the use of the State of Massachusetts Bay in New-England.  Following the American Revolution, George Jerry Osborne published Osborne’s New-Hampshire Register with an Almanack, for the Year 1787, yet another pamphlet that merged the elements of an almanac with those of a register.  Osborne published registers with almanacs for 1788 and 1789.  Others also appeared on the market before the end of the century.  Perhaps the Fowles would have attempted to revive their register if it had not been for the disruptions of the American Revolution.  The register for 1772 testified to their interest in such a project, provided that it found enough buyers willing to purchase it.

December 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 6, 1771).

“The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”

When shopkeeper Hugh Henderson moved to a new location in Portsmouth, he placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to notify “HIS CUSTOMERS AND OTHERS.”  He also took the opportunity to promote the “assortment of English Goods” available at his shop, listing several dozen items.  Henderson carried a variety of textiles as well as “Mens and Womens Stockings,” “Trimings for Ladies Cloaks,” lace, ribbons, and “Writing Paper.”  Having enticed prospective customers with that catalog of goods, he also offered a “Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”  Like many other shopkeepers in New Hampshire and throughout the colonies, Henderson emphasized consumer choice.

He also made note of his prices, deploying another means of luring prospective customers into his shop.  In the introduction to the list of goods, Henderson pledged to sell them “very cheap.”  He concluded his advertisement with a nota bene that advised readers that “The above Goods will be sold as low as at any other Store in Town.”  He called attention to his competitive prices both before and after listing his wares, helping readers to imagine acquiring them at prices they could afford.  Henderson even hinted at price matching, inviting customers to haggle for the best deals if they did some comparison shopping around town.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Gilliam Butler described his prices for “an Assortment of English GOODS” as “Cheap,” while William Elliot declared that he sold “English and West India GOODS, at a reasonable rate.”  Henderson’s nota bene suggested that he stayed informed about prices in the local market in order to set his own as “cheap” and “reasonable” as those charged by Butler, Elliot, and other shopkeepers.

Henderson depended on two of the most common appeals made to consumers in eighteenth-century newspapers:  choice and price.  He did not, however, make generic appeals.  Instead, he enhanced each with additional commentary, asserting that he carried other items “too tedious to mention” and that he sold his entire inventory “as low as at any other Store in Town.”  For some readers, such promises may have distinguished Henderson’s advertisement from others in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette.

October 4

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 4, 1771).

“N.B. Said Griffith / continues to carry one / the Goldsmith’s Business as usual.”

Like many other advertisements for consumer goods and services that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers, William Knight’s notice in the October 4, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette featured a dense paragraph of text that listed the many items available at his shop.  George Taylor, a tailor, published an advertisement similar in appearance, though shorter.  Each included the advertiser’s name in larger font for a headline and capitalized a few key words to guide readers through the content, but neither relied on graphic design to capture the attention of prospective customers.

The format of David Griffith’s advertisement, on the other hand, distinguished it from most others in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It included formulaic language, such as “Just Imported from LONDON” and “A large Assortment of English Goods,” but either Griffith or the compositor decided to break many of the phrases and sentences into shorter lines and center them.  “Just Imported from LONDON,” for instance, occupied three lines as “Just / Imported / from LONDON.”  A nota bene at the end of the advertisement informed readers that “Said Griffith continues to carry on the Goldsmith’s Business as usual, at the same House, Likewise, as low as is done or can be had in this Town, or Boston, &c.”  Text that could have fit in three lines extended over nine, some of them featuring only one or two words, to create an irregular shape with copious white space.  The design gave Griffith’s advertisement a very different appearance compared to Knight’s notice immediately to the right.

Yet Griffith was not committed to innovative graphic design as a matter of principle or consistent marketing strategy.  His advertisement advised that “The Particulars” about the imported goods “will be in our next” newspaper.  The format of that advertisement replicated Knight’s advertisement and so many others, a dense paragraph of text that listed dozens of items.  That advertisement extended an entire column and overflowed into a second column.  Purchasing the space that would have allowed for a more innovative format may have been prohibitively expensive.  Between the two advertisements, Griffith demonstrated what was possible and what was probable when it came to graphic design for eighteenth-century newspaper notices.

September 27

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 27, 1771).

“As the Owner is returning immediately to ENGLAND, he will sell them on very low Terms.”

An anonymous advertiser informed readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that he offered great bargains on an assortment of textiles and other imported goods because he planned to sail “Immediately to ENGLAND.”  On September 27, 1771, the advertiser encouraged prospective customers to act quickly because “he will stay but a Fortnight in Town.”  Since he was such a motivated seller, he was willing to part with his goods “on very low Terms,” so retailers and consumers alike would “find it to their Advantage in dealing with him.”  He did not give his name, instead merely stating that he offered the goods for sale “at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern in Portsmouth.”

To whet the appetites of potential buyers, the anonymous advertiser listed many of the items, including an “Assortment of strip’d and flower’d border’d Lawn Handkerchiefs,” a “variety of Gauze Handkerchiefs and flower’d Gauze Aprons,” and an “elegant Assortment of Fashionable Ribbons.”  Reiterating “assortment” and “variety” underscored that his customers benefited from an array of choices in addition to low prices.

At the end of the notice, the advertiser also listed “a few Setts of Doctor HEMET’s Famous Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifice for the Teeth, with proper Brushes and Directions.”  Readers encountered a more extensive advertisement for that product further down the column, though that advertisement indicated that Hemet, a dentist in England, had appointed William Scott in Boston and W. Bayley in London as local agents for wholesale and retail sales.  The advertiser did not indicate where he acquired Hemet’s dental care products, but he offered consumers in Portsmouth greater convenience than sending away to Scott in Boston.  Scott’s advertisement providing more detail about the products bolstered his own marketing without incurring additional expense.

The anonymous advertiser attempted to capture the attention of readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette with a “limited time only” offer, suggesting that his imminent departure for England put them in a good position to negotiate for low prices.  If that was not enough to entice prospective customers, he also promoted extensive choices and even the convenience of acquiring a product otherwise available only in Boston.  Appeals to price and choice were standard elements of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, but this anonymous advertiser further enhanced those strategies in his efforts to engage customers.

September 20

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (September 20, 1771).

“Sold (by appointment of Mr. Hemet) … at William Scott’s Irish Linnen Store … in New England.”

Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette learned that Jacob Hemet, “DENTIST to her Majesty, and the Princess Amelia,” compounded an “Essence of Pearl, and Pearl Dentrifice,” a paste or powder for cleaning teeth, “which he has found to be so greatly superior not only in elegance, but also in efficacy, to any thing hitherto made use of for complaints of the Teeth and Gums” when they perused the September 20, 1771, edition.  That information appeared in an advertisement that provided additional details about how Hemet’s products contributed to both health and beauty.

At a glance, it may have appeared that Hemet placed the advertisement.  His name served as the headline, a common practice among purveyors of goods and services when they placed notices in eighteenth-century newspapers.  A short paragraph at the end of the advertisement, however, revealed that Hemet designated local agents to hawk his products on his behalf.  Interested parties could purchase Hemet’s Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentrifice “wholesale and retail” from “W. Bayley, in Cockspur street, near the bottom of the Hay market, London” as well as “at William Scott’s Irish Linnen Store, near the Draw Bridge, Boston, in New England.”  Hemet may have written the copy for the advertisement and transmitted it to Bayley and Scott, but he probably did not arrange for running the advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

Instead, he likely left those details to Scott following his “appointment” as an agent in the colonies.  Scott placed the advertisement in the Boston-Gazette on September 16.  Taking advantage of his exclusive access to Hemet’s products, he aimed to expand the market by advertising in nearby New Hampshire as well.  Yet the advertisement did not suggest a local or regional market but instead encouraged consumers to think of themselves as participating in a transatlantic market that connected them to the heart of the empire.  Scott made available to them products that residents of London presumably purchased, products that Hemet supplied to members of the royal family.  Prospective customers skeptical of the efficacy of Hemet’s Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentrifice may have been more willing to take a chance on products supposedly distributed to consumers in London, grateful that the dentist opted to select an agent in the colonies who could provide them with the same products used by Hemet’s most elite clients.

August 30

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 30, 1771).

“[*Immediate Settlement*]”

Like many other printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, publishers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, periodically placed notices calling on subscribers, advertisers, and others to settle accounts.  Some printers tied such notices to important milestones in the publication of their newspapers.  Most often they announced that a newspaper completed another full year of publication and simultaneously asked readers to mark the occasion by paying any debts that had been on the books for more than a year.  Doing so allowed them to underscore the longevity of the newspaper while also collecting revenues necessary for continued operations.  Rarely did they ask subscribers, advertisers, and others to bring their accounts completely up to date; instead, most printers continued to allow credit for more recent transactions.

On occasion, however, some printers did request an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” in the notices they placed in their newspapers.  Such was the case in August 1771 when the Fowles asked “THOSE of our Eastern Customers, from Kittery to Falmouth, &c. who received the New Hampshire Gazette, of Mr. James Libbey, late Post Rider, deceased … to settle immediately with the Printers.”  They did not ask that all customers settle accounts, only those served by the former post rider.  Libbey’s death may have disrupted distribution of the New-Hampshire Gazette in eastern towns located in the portion of Massachusetts that eventually became Maine.  If they were uncertain when another reliable post rider would cover the route, the Fowles may have considered the time right to get accounts in order with subscribers in that region.

To lend their request some urgency, the printers designed a headline intended to attract attention.  The Fowles sometimes enclosed headlines for advertisements, especially legal notices, within brackets, a practice peculiar to their newspaper.  In this instance, they supplemented brackets with asterisks to make clear that they desired an “[*Immediate Settlement*]” without delays.  They deployed graphic design to distinguish their notice from others as they grappled with a transition within the operations of their printing office and the distribution of their newspapers.

August 9

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (August 9, 1771).

“Griffith is now well settled in Business.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith frequently advertised his services as clock- and watchmaker in the New-Hampshire Gazette in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  For eighteen months in 1769 and 1770, he placed many of his notices in response to advertisements inserted by John Simnet, a rival who migrated to Portsmouth after gaining decades of experience as a clock- and watchmaker in London.  Simnet repeatedly denigrated colonial clock- and watchmakers in general and Griffith in particular, claiming that those who did not receive their training in England did more harm than good when they attempted to fix broken clocks and watches.  For his part, Griffith sometimes refused to take the bait, but on other occasions published pointed responses to the Simnet, accusing him of being an itinerant just as likely to steal watches as repair them.  Readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette observed their feud for months.  When Simnet departed for New York, Griffith continued advertising, but returned to positive messages.

Such was the case in an advertisement that ran in the August 9, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette (though the notice was most likely misdated July 8).  Griffith announced “CLOCK and WATCHES, clean’d & repair’d as usual in the neatest compleatest and cheapest manner.”  Like other artisans, he emphasized quality, skill, and price.  He also made a nod toward customer service, stating that “his Customers and others may depend on being well used, with Punctuality.”  Griffith also mentioned that he was “now well settled in Business,” testifying to his experience without having to draw comparisons to a competitor with decades of experience who formerly mocked him in the public prints.  A year after Simnet removed to New York, many readers likely still remembered the war of words between the watchmakers that regularly played out in the newspaper.  Griffith likely experienced some relief at no longer being at the receiving end of Simnet’s harangues.  No longer debating whether he needed to respond to Simnet or how vociferously, Griffith ran advertisements that promoted his business without launching attacks on his competitors.  That may have suited him just fine, but readers lost out on one source of entertainment that formerly appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette.

July 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 26, 1771).

“Hatts of all kinds.”

John Beck, a hatter, placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette on multiple occasions during the summer of 1771.  Although the copy remained consistent, the format varied, an unusual situation when it came to early American advertising.  Printers and compositors usually conserved time and effort by setting type for advertisements just once and then running them in that format for as long as advertisers wished for them to continue to appear.  For some reason, however, that was not the case with Beck’s advertisement.

When the advertisement appeared in the July 5 edition, it occupied only three lines.  In its entirety, it informed readers of “HATTS of all Kinds, made and Sold by JOHN BECK, as usual, at the Sign of the HATT and BEVER, in Queen Street, Portsmouth.”  The advertisement did not run again until July 26.  It did not appear in the same format.  The copy remained the same, including the variations in spelling, but the new version made use of larger fonts, distributed the copy across five lines that occupied twice as much space as the previous iteration, and discontinued the use of italics.  The revised version then ran several times in August.

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 5, 1771).

Who made decisions about changing the format of the advertisement, someone in the printing office or the advertiser?  Unfortunately, that question is impossible to answer from the sources available.  Certain aspects of the advertisements allow for reasonable conjectures about a portion of the process, but not all the details.  The identical copy, for instance, testifies to an attribute seen in other advertisements placed in multiple newspapers.  Advertisers usually exercised control over the copy.  Advertisements with identical copy placed in multiple newspapers also demonstrate that compositors usually made decisions about format, including font size and the use of capitals and italics.  This instance, however, concerns an advertisement placed multiple times in one newspaper, not an advertisement placed in multiple newspapers.  It presents the possibility that Beck, dissatisfied with the original advertisement, negotiated for a different format.  Yet that may not have been the case at all.  Alternately, the compositor may have inadvertently broken down the type after Beck’s advertisement ran the first time and then someone had to set it again, making new choices in the process.  Or something else altogether may have occurred.  Something unusual happened, deviating from the standard practices for producing newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century.  This raises questions about the roles of the advertiser and the compositor, the influence of each, but no definitive answers that might better illuminate the evolution of business practices associated with advertising in early America.