June 21

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 21, 1771).

For other new Advertisements, see Supplement.”

Most colonial newspapers consisted of four pages published once a week, though a few printers experimented with publishing multiple issues each week or regularly providing an additional half sheet that expanded an issue to six pages.  Even printers who did not regularly supply additional pages sometimes found themselves in the position of doing so, calling them supplements, postscripts, continuations, additions, and extraordinaries.  Those various sorts of supplements sometimes contained news, sometimes advertising, and sometimes both.  They usually accompanied the standard issue, but sometimes appeared in the middle of the week, especially when printers received word of events that merited immediate coverage.  The repeal of the Stamp Act, for instance, occasioned midweek supplements in several cities and towns.  Most often, however, supplements did not carry such momentous news.  Instead, advertising dominated.

Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, were among those who rarely distributed supplements.  By varying the font sizes for both news and advertising, they usually managed to fit all of their content within the four pages of their weekly standard issue.  That was not the case, however, for the June 21, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Immediately below Mendum Janvrin’s advertisement for rum, sugar, and other commodities, the Fowles inserted a short note that instructed, “For other new Advertisements, see Supplement.”  That note appeared two-thirds of the way down the final column on the third page, some of the last type set for that issue since printers typically prepared the first and fourth pages, printed on the same side of a broadsheet, and then the second and third, printed on the other.  By the time the Fowles got nearly to the end of that last column, they knew that they did not have space for all of the paid notices intended for the June 21 edition.  Presumably, the supplement accompanied the standard issue for the convenience of subscribers and other readers.

No supplement for the June 21 edition has been digitized and included in America’s Historical Newspapers.  The Fowles may have been more ambitious in planning for a supplement than time and other resources allowed.  They might not have printed the supplement at all.  In this case, however, it appears that they instead delayed publication of the supplement by a week, dating it June 28, and distributed it with the standard edition for June 28.  The Fowles used only the amount of paper necessary, printing solely paid notices that generated revenue and eschewing any additional news items.  They selected a smaller sheet, one that accommodated only two columns per page instead of the usual three.  In making those choices, they fulfilled their commitments to their advertisers, but minimized their own expenses for publishing the supplement.  Some advertisers had to wait a week for their notices to appear in print because the savvy printers avoided driving up the costs of producing the additional sheet.

Supplement to the New-Hampshire Gazette (June 28, 1771).

June 7

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 7, 1771).

“As neat, as good, as handsome, as cheap, as ever was, or can be fabricated in New England.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, James Haslett and Matthew Haslett occasionally placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Originally from Boston, the Hasletts relocated to Portsmouth.  They set up shop as leather dressers, making breeches, jackets, gloves, and other garments.  They also sometimes stocked tea, coffee, and other grocery items, their efforts as shopkeepers supplementing the revenues they generated as artisans.  Some of their advertisements were quite notable for featuring woodcuts depicting the “Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”  Other advertisements were more modest in appearance, though not in content.

Such was the case for an advertisement that ran in the June 7, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It extended only five lines, taking up much less space than some of the Hasletts’ more elaborate advertisements, but its brevity did not mean that it lacked appeals intended to entice consumers to hire the Hasletts to make breeches and other leather items.  The Hasletts proclaimed that they made and sold their wares “As neat, as good, as handsome, as cheap, as ever was, or can be fabricated in New England.”  The unique cadence of their message to prospective customers may have caught the attention of readers.  In just a few words, they made several claims about the price, quality, and appearance of their breeches and other leather goods.  They also envisioned a regional marketplace rather than a local one, declaring that consumers would not acquire superior goods or better bargains in Boston or any other town in New England.

Visually, the Hasletts’ advertisement, like so many others in eighteenth-century newspapers, may seem unremarkable, especially compared to modern graphic design standards.  The copy, however, advanced multiple appeals intended to engage consumers.  The Hasletts did not merely announce that they made and sold leather breeches and other items.  Instead, they made a series of assertions about why prospective customers should select them to provide their services, incorporating many of the most popular appeals made in advertisements of the period.

May 31

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 31, 1771).

“A fine ASSORTMENT of ENGLISH GOODS … with a great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers in towns small and large emphasized consumer choice in their newspaper advertisements.  Prospective customers, they suggested, did not have to settle for goods that did not satisfy their needs, tastes, or budgets.  Instead, they could choose among a broad array of merchandise, many items cataloged in advertisements of varying lengths.

Consider the advertisements for consumer goods in the May 31, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Even the shortest ones incorporated the word “assortment” or “variety.”  George Frost, for instance, informed readers that he stocked “a fresh Assortment of English and West India Goods.”  Similarly, James King hawked “A Variety of Hatters Trimings,” Moses Frazier carried “A Large and compleat Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS,” and John Sparhawk sold “a compleat Assortment of PAPER, London Parchment, and other Stationary.”  William Appleton worked “assortment” and “variety” into his brief advertisement, promoting “A great Variety of Books, Paper, Stationary, Jewellery, Plate, Silver Watches, together with a large Assortment of Shoe Buckles of every Kind.”

Other advertisers demonstrated the choices available at their shops and stores with extensive litanies of good that still did not manage to capture their entire inventory.  Hugh Henderson advertised “A fine ASSORTMENT of ENGLISH GOODS,” listed dozens of items from textiles to accessories to housewares, and promised “a great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention.”  Thomas Achincloss took the same approach with his “Neat Assortment of Goods,” enumerating dozens of textiles and accessories before declaring he had on hand “many other Articles, too tedious for an Advertisement.”  Joseph started and ended his advertisement with invocations of consumer choice.  He stocked “A large Assortment of 3-4 & Yard-wide Irish Linens” and other textiles and “a large Assortment of Cream color’d China and Glass Ware.”

Stephen Hardy did not suggest the same range of choices when it came to the textiles available at his shop, but he did state that he sold “a good assortment of buttons, bindings, and other trimmings for Taylors.”  Advertisers, however, did not universally deploy the words “assortment” and “variety.”  Thomas Martin placed the longest advertisement in the issue.  Extending three-quarters of a column, it listed many sorts of textiles, housewares, and hardware.  That list included “hinges and files of various sorts” among the hardware, but did not attach that description to any other merchandise.  Instead, he allowed the lengthy list of goods to speak for itself in terms of the choices available to consumers.

None of these advertisements merely announced goods for sale.  Each promised prospective customers choices among the inventory in any shop or store.  Collectively, they also suggested the option of comparing the goods offered in one shop to those at another, further enhancing the ability of consumers to make decisions for themselves about what to purchase.

May 3

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 3, 1771).

“Ladies Riding Dresses made at Prices in Proportion to the above.”

Edward Griffiths, a tailor from London who migrated to Portsmouth, advertised his services in the May 3, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Like many other artisans, he promised “reasonable Rates” for his work.  He did not, however, expect prospective clients to take his word.  Instead, he published a list of what he charged for more than half a dozen items.  A “lappeled Suit,” for instance, cost one pound and eight shillings, as did a “half trimmed Suit.”  A “frock Suit” was slightly less expensive at one pound and four shillings.  Three more items – a pair of breeches, a jacket with sleeves, and a jacket with lapels – all cost four shillings and eight pence.  In contrast, Griffiths charged only four shillings for a jacket without sleeves.  In addition, he made and sold “Ladies Riding Dresses … at Prices in Proportion” to those enumerated in his advertisement.

Prospective clients knew what they should expect to pay even before they visited Griffiths’s shop.  They could assess for themselves whether he did indeed charge “the most reasonable Rates” for his garments.  Furthermore, the tailor facilitated comparison shopping.  Consumers who previously paid other tailors more for the same items could recognize a bargain among his list of prices.  That depended, however, on Griffiths actually setting prices low enough to survive such scrutiny.  Merely naming prices in his advertisement did not necessarily guarantee that he would attract customers, especially if Griffiths misjudged the local market.  This strategy also limited his ability to haggle with customers.  He could still offer discounts at the time of sale, but the published prices prevented him from setting rates any higher on the spot and then allowing clients to feel as though they negotiated significant bargains.  Providing the list of prices in his advertisement had advantages and disadvantages.  Griffiths apparently felt confident enough in his prices that he believed the advantages outweighed the disadvantages.

April 26

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 26, 1771).

“Wesley’s SERMONS, on the Death of … GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

In the fall of 1770, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, extensively covered the death of George Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening.  In addition to news coverage, the Fowles published poems written in memory of the minister and vigorously advertised a variety of commemorative items.  Whitefield died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30.  For the next several months, the Fowles regularly printed and reprinted news accounts, memorials, and advertisements related to his death.

They commenced advertising Whitefield memorabilia again in the spring when vessels from England arrived in American ports.  Those vessels carried newspapers that reported on public reaction to Whitefield’s death on the other side of the Atlantic.  They also carried new commemorative items already marketed in England, including Whitefield’s will and the funeral sermon preached by John Wesley.  The Fowles were the first printers to advertise both items in their newspaper.  On April 19, they advertised “The Last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD,” stating that it “will be published” in a few days.  The Fowles indicated that they printed their own edition rather than acquiring copies of an American edition that Richard Draper, printer of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter, published after receiving an English edition in “the last Ships from London.”

A week later, the Fowles once again advertised Whitefield’s will, updating “will be published” to “Just published.”  In a separate advertisement they informed prospective customers that “Rev. Mr. Wesley’s SERMONS … preached at [Whitefield’s] Tabernacle, and Tottenham Court Chapel … to a very crouded and afflicted Audience” had “Just come to Hand.”  In this case, they probably sold an American edition that John Fleeming advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter a week earlier.  Just as John Holt printed copies in New York and distributed them to printers and booksellers in other towns, so did Fleeming.  As these commemorative items became more widely available and advertisements in newspapers proliferated, colonists experienced another round of the commodification of Whitefield’s death.  These items from England counted as news since they delivered information previously not available in the colonies, but they also represented opportunities for printers and booksellers to generate revenues as they participated in rituals of mourning for an early American celebrity.

April 21

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 19, 1771).

“The last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

After fading from American newspapers for a time during the first few months of 1771, George Whitefield once again became a subject of interest in the spring.  Whitefield, one of the most prominent ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on September 30, 1770.  For the next three months, newspapers from New England to Georgia printed and reprinted news of his death and reactions to it in various towns throughout the colonies.  Those same newspapers also carried advertisements for an array of commemorative items produced in memory of the minister.  Eventually, both coverage of his death and marketing of memorabilia tapered off.  The renewed interest in Whitefield in the spring of 1771 coincided with the arrival of ships carrying news from England.  Printers now had access to coverage of Whitefield’s death in England, coverage that they shared with colonial readers.

Sometimes that coverage took the form of reprinting advertisements that ran in the London press.  John Carter did so in the Providence Gazette on April 13 with an item about “The works of the Rev. GEORGE WHITEFIELD” among the news from London.  Six days later, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle included the same item in the New-Hampshire Gazette, either drawing it from newspapers they received from London or reprinting it from the Providence Gazette.  Readers of their newspaper learned that Whitefield’s sermons and letters, along with an engraved portrait, “Speedily will be published” and sold in London.  Like many other American printers, the Fowles seized the opportunity to produce and market commemorative items in the wake of receiving news about Whitefield from the other side of the Atlantic.  In an advertisement on the next page of the April 13 edition, they announced that “Next Monday will be published, and sold at the Printing Office … The last Will and TESTAMENT of the late Reverend and worthy GEORGE WHITEFIELD, which came in the last Ships from London.”  More than six months after the minister’s death, the Fowles estimated sufficient interest in Whitefield to justify not only additional news coverage but also yet another commemorative item.  They believed that demand existed or could be incited for copies of Whitefield’s will among local consumers who had already been offered a variety of memorabilia in the fall.

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 12, 1771).

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

In the April 12, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle inserted a short notice informing prospective customers that “A few of the TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston, are just come to Hand, and may be had of the Printers hereof.”  Readers knew that the Fowles referred to an account of the trial of the soldiers involved in the Bloody Massacre or Preston’s Massacre, as the Boston Massacre was known at the time.  John Fleeming, the printer of the volume, began advertising it in the Boston Evening-Post in the middle of January.  It did not take long for advertisements to appear in other newspapers in New England and as far away as South Carolina as a network of printers and booksellers received copies to sell in their local markets.  Indeed, the Fowles alerted readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that they carried the book at their printing office in Portsmouth on January 25.

Nearly three months later, they still had “A few of the TRIALS” available.  They ran the advertisement once again, though regular readers knew that the Fowles’ copies had not “just come to Hand.”  The placement of the advertisement suggests one of the reasons the printers decided to promote the book once again.  It appeared at the bottom of the final column on the last page.  Immediately to the left ran another notice inserted by the printers: “BLANKS of most sorts, &c. With a Number of Books, Sold at the Printing Office.”  In addition to inviting consumers to acquire goods from the Fowles, these advertisements also completed two of the three columns on the final page of the April 12 edition.  One of them extended three lines and the other only two, making them a convenient sort of filler that did not require the compositor to set additional type.  Creating columns of the same length played a role in the Fowles’ decision to advertise an account of the “TRIALS of the SOLDIERS in Boston.”  The printers sought to inform consumers about recent events, commemorate the Bloody Massacre, and generate revenues, but those were not the only factors that explained the timing of this advertisement.  The mundane details of setting type to complete a page contributed as well.

April 5

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 5, 1771).

“… till she behaves more like an obedient Wife.”

From New England to Georgia, runaway wife advertisements frequently appeared in early American newspapers.  Aggrieved husbands warned the public against extending credit to wives who departed their households.  Although these advertisements framed the women as spouses who abandoned both their household responsibilities and good social order, they also testified to one means at women’s disposal for exercising power in a society that granted so much authority to husbands.  Almost certainly, women were not always solely to blame when marital discord that became so severe that wives fled from husbands.  Men shaped the narrative when they published runaway wife advertisements, but they told only part of the story.

Such advertisements ran so often in colonial newspapers that they sometimes featured standardized or formulaic language, as in the case of Samuel Richardson’s notice in the April 5, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  “I forbid all Persons,” he stated, “trusting my Wife, Mary Richardson, any Thing on my Account.”  Although the conflict in the Richardson household may have attracted attention, the wording that Samuel chose did not merit particular notices.  Benjamin Wills, on the other hand, opted for language that did not regularly appear in this genre of advertising.  “Edea, the wicked Wife of me the Subscriber,” he proclaimed, “makes a constant practice of squandering away my Substance, and spends the most of her Time in running from House to House, chatting about those Things of neither Advantage nor Profit, running me in Debt, wherever she can get credit, and takes no care of my House nor Family.”  Benjamin catalogued specific grievances against his wife in the process of informing the community that he would “pay no Debts contracted by her … till she behaves more like an obedient Wife.”

Benjamin resorted to more colorful language than what appeared in most runaway wife advertisements.  Was this evidence of greater discord in the Wills household compared to others with husbands who placed such advertisements?  Did literacy play a part in the variations that made Benjamin’s advertisement so different from the standardized language of Samuel Richardson’s notice?  Wills signed his advertisement with “his + Mark,” an indication that he did not write it, though he very well may have dictated it.  Wills may have been able to read even if he could not sign his name, but he may have been familiar with runaway wife advertisements without regularly reading them and absorbing the formulaic wording.  He understood their function even if he did not replicate their usual form.  Realizing that such notices usually leveled accusations against willful wives, he may have done his best to explain why he found it necessary to publish the advertisement even though he did not have ready access to the usual words and phrases.

That Wills signed with “his + Mark” raises questions about the production of his advertisement.  Did he visit the printing office?  If so, did the printers offer any assistance in choosing the language or did they merely transcribe what Wills dictated?  Did Wills instead entrust someone in the town of Lee with transcribing the advertisement for him and then sent it to the printing office in Portsmouth?  If so, the printers did not have the opportunity to suggest the standardized words and phrases that so often appeared in runaway wife advertisements.  The variations in Wills’s advertisement may have been the result of his level of literacy and the process of producing the notice for publication.

March 29

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 29, 1771).

“REPAIRS and cleans WATCHES in a faithful Manner.”

It had been several months since Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith last advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette when his notice ran in the March 29, 1771, edition, but the “Clock and Watch-Maker in Portsmouth” was likely a familiar figure to regular readers of that newspaper.  For about a year and a half, throughout most of 1769 and well into 1770, Griffith and rival watchmaker John Simnet participated in a feud in the public prints.  Although they rarely named each, their advertisements made clear the contempt each felt for the other.  Simnet, a newcomer in New Hampshire, migrated from London and made his decades of experience in England central to his marketing efforts.  He accused local watchmakers, Griffith included, of lacking the skill and expertise he possessed.  In turn, Griffith asserted that Simnet was an itinerant just as likely to steal watches as repair them.  In general, Simnet adopted the more abusive approach, regularly jabbing at Griffith even when Griffith declined to reciprocate.

This bit of entertainment, all of the proclamations and even poems that caricatured Griffith, came to an end when Simnet departed New Hampshire and set up shop in New York near the end of the summer of 1770.  He placed advertisements in the New-York Journal, but then remained fairly quiet.  If he had disagreements with other watchmakers, he chose not to air those grievances in advertisements.  In turn, Griffith advertised less frequently in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  His subsequent advertisements did not feature the bluster incorporated into many he published during the time Simnet kept shop in Portsmouth.  For instance, his advertisement from late March 1771 simply informed prospective clients that he “REPAIRS and cleans WATCHES in a faithful Manner” and that he sold “all sorts of Watch Ware, such as Springs, Chains, Seals, Keys,” and other items.

Eighteenth-century advertisers rarely mentioned their competitors or engaged with them directly in the public prints.  For a time, Griffith and Simnet were exceptions, but both reverted to standard practices after Simnet relocated to another market.  He made a fresh start with prospective clients unfamiliar with his war of words with Griffith in New Hampshire.  What about Griffith?  What kind of lasting effects, if any, did his public feud with Simnet have on his business in Portsmouth and nearby towns?  Did that feud continue to shape how prospective customers viewed the watchmaker?

March 22

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 22, 1771).

“A Table, calculated to shew the Contents … of any Sled Load or Cart Load of WOOD.”

In March 1771, Samuel Freeman of Falmouth, Casco Bay, took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise “A Table, calculated to shew the Contents (in Feet and twelfth Parts of a Foot) of any Sled Load of WOOD.”  An extended version ran on March 8.  It mentioned that the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette also sold that table at their office in Portsmouth.  In addition, it explained the purpose of such a table to readers who may have been unfamiliar with a practice from “Every City and populous Town in America …, Portsmouth only excepted.”  Even Falmouth in Casco Bay (Maine today, but then still part of Massachusetts) had regulations for appointing officials to measure loads of wood and issue certificates for buyers to consult during their transactions with sellers.  The advertisement advised that the residents of Portsmouth might wish to consider such a system at the town’s annual meeting at the end of the month.

The explanation and the commentary did not appear in subsequent iterations of the advertisement.  Instead, an abbreviated version ran on March 15, 22, and 29.  It did not mention copies of the table available at the printing office.  It looks as though Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the Portsmouth Gazette, saw an opportunity to insert an editorial, not among the news items, but instead appended to an advertisement submitted by one of their customers.  Doing so provided context for Freeman’s advertisement, but it also transformed the first iteration into more than the advertiser may have intended.  Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette were accustomed to encountering all kinds of information among the advertisements.  That publication featured a higher proportion of legal notices than most other newspapers published in the early 1770s, perhaps prompting readers to peruse the advertisements for updates about current events.  The printers did not take such liberties with Freeman’s advertisement each time it ran.  After the Fowles made their pitch in its initial appearance it reverted to the copy that the advertiser submitted to the printing office.