June 19

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 19, 1772).

“A Subscription … for the Amusement of the Public.”

The performance of “several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory, interspers’d with Music and Singing” first advertised in the June 5, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette expanded into a series, even though the initial advertisement promoted an event for “This EVENING.”  The following week a similar advertisement appeared, with a few modifications.  It clarified that the performance would “begin at Eight o’Clock” and cautioned “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.”  That implied that the previous performance had been so popular or had incited so much interest the next performance that colonizers interested in attending needed to secure admission in advance.

The advertisement ran in a third consecutive issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, though greatly expanded with news that “the Exhibitor” had received such “great Encouragement” that he wished to satisfy “the natural Propensity the Ladies and Gentlemen seem to have [for] Dramatic Entertainments” that he created a subscription series to include “new and surprising Performances never seen in this Country, consisting of Italian Dances, and Pantomimical Interludes in Grotesque Characters, with elegant Scenes and Machinery and every other Decoration.”  The Exhibitor compared the elaborate productions to performances at the famous Sadler’s Wells Theater in London, suggesting that audiences would partake in similar cosmopolitan entertainments in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The Exhibitor, who also referred to himself as “the Projector,” listed ticker prices for both subscribers and non-subscribers.  He promised that “Tickets will be transferable,” encouraging colonizers to invest in subscriptions together if they were not interested in attending twelve performances or found the price for the entire series too exorbitant.  He assured readers that “Subscribing is only fixing the same Price,” but purchasing subscriptions had the advantage of making it possible “to put the Design in Execution.”  If the Projector did not receive “a certain Number” of subscriptions then he would not be able to stage the performances; he warned that he “cannot proceed till a sufficient Number is subscribed.”  Anyone interested in the proposed series needed to act quickly, especially since the Projector planned “to go Southward” in October.  He encouraged “Ladies and Gentlemen who are inclined to favour the above Scheme” to “be expeditious in signing.”

Residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns had an opportunity to attend a series of performances at which “no Expence will be spared to have every Decoration the Country can afford,” but only if enough of them purchased subscriptions to support the endeavor.  The advertisement’s decorative border, unique in the New-Hampshire Gazette, suggested that the Exhibitor fulfilled his promise of visual spectacles to amuse his audiences.  The Exhibitor also intended for his descriptions of upcoming acts and comparison to a renowned theater in London to incite interest in a subscription series, even among those who attended previous performances.  Today, theaters and performing arts centers market subscriptions to their patrons, but that method of selling tickets is not a recent innovation.  The practice was already in place in the eighteenth century.

June 12

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 12, 1772).

“Those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”

Many colonizers sought to demonstrate that they belonged to genteel society through their fashions, possessions, and comportment.  They participated in the consumer revolution, purchasing textiles, garments, accessories, and housewares according to the latest tastes in English cities, especially London.  They also concentrated on their comportment, putting into practice good manners and learning a variety of genteel skills, including dancing, fencing, speaking French, and playing musical instruments.  Merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and tutors aided colonizers in acquiring both the things and the knowledge necessary for displaying their gentility.

This was not solely an urban phenomenon.  Far beyond the major port cities of Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, purveyors of goods advertised their wares and consumers acquired them.  Similarly, colonizers in smaller towns had opportunities to take lessons in dancing, fencing, and other genteel pursuits.  As summer arrived in 1772, Monsieur Viart placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform the public, especially parents, that he taught “DANCING, FENCING, the FRENCH LANGUAGE, and the VIOLIN … in the most perfect and polite manner.”  He cautioned parents against overlooking the benefits of enrolling their children in his classes, arguing that his curriculum yielded “those Accomplishments which are so necessary for entring the World with Advantage.”  Even colonizers in Portsmouth, Viart declared, needed these skills.

Viart listed the tuition for each kind of lesson, both an initial entrance fee and additional payment for each quarter.  He also offered a discount if “a Scholar learns in two Branches,” encouraging pupils and their parents to sign up for more than one subject.  He anticipated the most interest in dancing and French, holding “School” for each at set times on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  He may have also provided private tutoring, but he did not mention those lessons in his advertisement.  He gave fencing and violin lessons “at such times as may be convenient for his Scholars.”

Tutors like Viart attempted to entice colonizers to become even more immersed in the consumer revolution and the culture of gentility and cosmopolitanism often associated with it.  He expected that his pronouncement that learning to dance or speak French was “so necessary” in preparing children to successfully make their way in the world that it would resonate with parents and other readers in Portsmouth and nearby towns.  Such skills, he suggested, were not reserved for the gentry in New York and Philadelphia.

June 7

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

New-Hampshires Gazette (June 5, 1772).

“This EVENING … will be Exhibited several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory.”

Newspaper advertisements testify to the entertainment and popular culture enjoyed in the colonies in the eighteenth century.  A notice in the June 5, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed the public that they could attend “several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory, intersper’d with Music and Singing” at the “new Assembly-Room” in Portsmouth that evening.  The sponsors created a network for distributing tickets.  Those interested in the performance could purchase tickets in advance “at the Printing-Office, at Mr. Appleton’s Book-Store, and at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.” The sponsors also included a nota bene to address potential concerns about the content of the performance: “the Public may be assured, that nothing will be delivered in the above Exhibition, but what is conducive to, and consistent with Politeness and Morality.”  Neither the “comic Pieces” nor the songs would be ribald or bawdy.

The design of the advertisement increased the chances that readers would take note of it, especially important for an “Exhibition” of oratory and music scheduled for the same day the newspaper that carried the advertisement was published.  The first line operated as a headline, announcing “This EVENING” in a font larger than any in the rest of the notice.  In addition, a decorative border, comprised of printing ornaments, encircled the advertisement, setting it apart from other content.  It was the only item in that issue, whether or news or advertising, that featured a border.  Furthermore, the printers rarely used borders in the New-Hampshire Gazette, making this advertisement even more noteworthy to regular readers.  Its placement on the page also encouraged attention.  It ran in the upper left column, the first item on the third page.  With limited time to sell tickets and attract an audience for the performance, the sponsors depended on both copy and innovative graphic design in their marketing efforts.

May 29

GUEST CURATOR: Julia Tardugno

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 29, 1772).

“The very best of BOHEA TEA.”

This advertisement immediately struck me because tea was such an important symbol during the time of the American Revolution. Parliament’s taxed tea was through the Indemnity Act of 1767, one of the notorious Townshend Acts. When the Townshend Acts went into place, the colonists were so furious that they resorted to nonimportation agreements in which they no longer purchased goods from Britain. On October 28, 1767, a town meeting took place at Faneuil Hall in Boston to discuss the Townshend Acts and their negative impact on the colonies. A broadside distributed after the meeting said that colonists decided to meet “That some effectual Measures might be agreed upon to promote Industry, Economy, and Manufacturers; thereby to prevent the unnecessary Importation of European Commodities, which threaten the Country with Poverty and Ruin.” This petition to start the nonimportation agreements was voted on unanimously and the residents of Boston listed the items that they vowed not to purchase imported goods. Instead, they would encourage “Manufacturers” in the colonies. That included “Labrador tea.” The colonists felt strongly about implementing the nonimportation agreements at first, but they put an end to the boycotts in 1770 after Parliament repealed most of the taxes on imports. The tax on tea remained. The colonists canceled the nonimportation agreements two years prior to William Elliot’s advertisement about Bohea tea, a popular consumer good. That did not mean that colonists stopped worrying about the taxes on tea. In 1773, they participated in the Boston Tea Party. Tea became an even more important symbol of the American Revolution as a result of the Boston Tea Party, but that is not the whole story.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Elliot was not alone in marketing tea to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette in the spring of 1772.  Jeremiah Libbey listed tea alongside two other beverages, coffee and chocolate, in an advertisement that also promoted an “Assortment of ENGLISH GOODS.”  In another advertisement, David Cutler and J. Cutler provided an extensive list of their “General Assortment of GOODS that came in the last Ships from London.”  The groceries they stocked included “Bohea Tea, Coffee, [and] Chocolate.”  John Penhallow published an even more extensive catalog of “GOODS … Just Imported from LONDON.”  Like his competitors, he sold “choice Bohea Tea.”  Colonizers in Portsmouth and other towns had plenty of options when it came to purchasing tea.  Throughout the colonies, merchants and shopkeepers supplemented their other inventory with tea.

The ubiquity of tea makes it an ideal commodity for examining a variety of interlocking topics in my Revolutionary America class.  We discuss trade and commerce; consumer culture and rituals that helped build a sense of community; and boycotts, politics, and protests.  I introduce students to the traditional narrative about tea and taxes, but we also take into consideration details that complicate that narrative.  As Julia notes, colonizers rescinded the nonimportation agreements when Parliament repealed the duties on most imported goods even though the tax on tea remained in place.  Some colonizers advocated for holding firm until they achieved all of their goals, but most merchants wanted to resume trade and bring an end to the disruption in transatlantic commerce.  We examine how women participated in politics as consumers, especially as consumers of tea, when they made decisions about whether they would purchase imported goods.  In October 1774, women in Edenton, North Carolina, formalized their position by signing a petition in which they resolved to boycott tea and other imported goods.  In response, engraver Philip Dawe created a print that critiqued those women who did not seem to know their place … and, by extension, their male relations incapable of exercising proper authority within their households.  We also read Peter Oliver’s account of the “Origins & Progress” of the American Revolution, including his accusation that women devised various strategies for gathering together to drink tea and cheating on the boycott.  In addition, we discuss T.H. Breen’s descriptions of colonizers destroying tea at public gatherings and enforcing compliance with boycotts.  Many students initially view tea as a quaint vestige of the eighteenth century, associating it primarily with the Boston Tea Party.  Throughout the semester, we repeatedly return to tea so they gain a better understanding of the intersection of colonial culture and politics during the era of the American Revolution.

May 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 8, 1772).

“A good Assortment of GOODS, / suitable for the Season, lately imported, / from Great-Britain and Ireland.”

When John McMasters and Company “removed from Col. Wallingford’s, to Mr. David Moore’s Store, North-End” in Portsmouth in the spring of 1772, they placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform current and prospective customers of their new location.  They incorporated a variety of marketing appeals into their notice.  They promoted their “good Assortment of GOODS,” suggesting plenty of choices for consumers, and then listed several of the items they imported from Great Britain and Ireland, including “Broad Cloths of different Prizes; A great Variety ofRIBBONS, Irish Linnens of all Prizes, Shalloons, Tammies, and Callamancoes.”  McMasters and Company set low prices and offered “short Credit.”  They also emphasized customer service, pledging that “their Customers in Town and Country … may depend on being as well used as they could be at any Warehouse in BOSTON.”  In making that assertion, McMasters and Company acknowledged that they operated in a regional marketplace rather than competing solely with local merchants and shopkeepers.  They realized that consumers looked to the bustling port of Boston for extensive selections of merchandise at bargain prices, but assured them that they did not need to travel or send away for the goods they wanted.

McMasters and Company made familiar appeals in their advertisement.  Purveyors of goods and services consistently mentioned consumer choice and low prices in their newspaper notices.  Many also highlighted customer service.  As a result, the format of McMaster and Company’s advertisement was its most distinctive feature.  Decorative type embellished John McMasters’s name, drawing attention to the advertisement.  Very few visual images appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially compared to newspapers published in larger port cities.  A crude woodcut depicting an enslaved man who “Deserted from his Master” adorned another advertisement in the May 8, 1772, edition, but otherwise no other notices included images or decorative type.  Each advertisement had a standard paragraph format, with the exception of McMasters and Company’s notice.  They opted to divide their copy into shorter lines and center each line to create a unique shape compared to the blocks of text in the news and other advertisements.  The innovative use of white space in combination with the decorative type likely attracted attention, increasing the chances that consumers saw McMasters and Company’s appeals to price, choice, and customer service.  Graphic design enhanced their marketing efforts.

May 1

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (May 1, 1772).

“Clocks & Watches Clean’d in the Cheapest and best Manner.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith made brief appeals to price and quality in an advertisement that ran in the May 1, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He succinctly informed prospective customers that he “Clean’d” clocks and watches “in the Cheapest and best Manner” at his shop in Portsmouth.  In addition, he sold “Silver plated Shoe and Knee-Buckles” and other goods.

While this advertisement may not seem noteworthy when considered alone or alongside other notices that ran in the same issue, regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely remembered other advertisements placed by Griffith or that mentioned Griffith.  For a period of eighteen months, Griffith participated in a feud with another clock- and watch-maker, John Simnet, an exceptionally public disagreement undertaken in advertisements in the colony’s only newspaper.  Simnet had relocated to New Hampshire after several decades working in London.  Like many artisans who crossed the Atlantic, he attempted to leverage his training and experience in the cosmopolitan center of the empire to woo customers unfamiliar with his work.  His competitors, including Griffith, benefited from having established a reputation among local consumers.  Simnet adopted more aggressive tactics than most artisans, not only promoting his own credentials but also proclaiming that his rivals did inferior work that actually damaged the clocks and watches they pretended to repair.  He singled out Griffith in particular, eventually denigrating his character and intellect as well as his skill.  For his part, Griffith accused the newly-arrived Simnet of being an itinerant likely to abscond with the watches that colonizers entrusted to him.  In general, however, Griffith was much less abusive toward Simnet than Simnet was toward him, at least in the public prints.

After a year and a half in Portsmouth, Simnet relocated once again, this time to New York.  He placed fairly neutral advertisements in the newspapers published in the bustling port, at least at first, but eventually found himself embroiled in another argument with a competitor.  His advertisements became increasingly colorful as he devised new ways to denigrate clock- and watchmaker James Yeoman.

Back in Portsmouth and its environs, many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely remembered the altercation between Griffith and Simnet when they encountered new advertisements from Simnet, no matter how brief or neutral.  Did those memories influence whether they hired Griffith?  Did they think about some of the insults that Griffith leveled at Simnet?  Did they put any stock in Simnet’s accusations against Griffith or dismiss the cantankerous rantings of the interloper?  Did they credit Griffith for the restraint he showed when he eventually decided that the best response to Simnet was to ignore him?  Did they recall being entertained by the vitriolic exchanges, even if they had no need to hire artisans to clean or repair their clocks and watches?  Griffith’s brief announcement published in the spring of 1772 was just one notice among a series of advertisements that likely shaped public perceptions of his business.

March 27

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

New-London Gazette (March 27, 1772).

“To teach reading, and all Kinds of Needle-Work.”

As spring arrived in 1772 advertisements for boarding schools for girls and young women appeared in several newspapers in New England.  Mary Homans took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform readers that “she shall open a BOARDING SCHOOL for Misses, the first of April.”  Her pupils would “be taught any Sort of Needle Work,” but that was not the extent of the curriculum.  She concluded her advertisements with “Likewise Reading and Spelling.”

Elizabeth Hern’s advertisement in the New-London Gazette suggested a similar course of study for young ladies.  Although she stated that she “would take Children from other Towns, and Board and School them, at a very reasonable Rate,” her description of her curriculum made it clear that she taught skills intended for female students.  Like Homans, she planned to open her school on April 1.  She listed reading first, but then added “all Kinds of Needle-Work, viz. working on Pocket-Books and Samplars, Embroidery on Canvass or Muslin.”  Hern further elaborated that her pupils would “also learn Wax Work, or to paint on Glass.”

Reading and some forms of needlework were practical skills, but Homans and Hern sought students whose families desired more than just a practical education for their daughters.  They wished for those young ladies to become proficient in feminine activities associated with gentility and leisure that would testify to their social standing.  Notably, they did not open schools in Boston or New York or any of the other major urban ports.  Instead, they served students in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and New London, Connecticut, and “other Towns.”  Just as colonizers throughout the countryside participated in the consumer revolution, acquiring the various imported goods so often advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette, they also cultivated manners and learned skills intended to enhance their status.  For young women, that sometimes meant that learning “to paint on Glass” had as much cultural significance as learning to read.

March 13

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1772).

Choice Bohea TEA.”

When Stephen Hardy, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the March 13, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, his name served as the headline.  Such was the case in many advertisements for consumer goods and services in newspapers published throughout the colonies.  The names of the purveyors appeared first or appeared in larger font than the goods and services offered for sale or both.  As a result, colonizers skimming advertisements encountered a litany of names of merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans rather than products.

On occasion, however, headlines for advertisements did identify products.  In that same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, one advertisement promoted “Choice Bohea TEA TO BE SOLD BY DANIEL PEIRCE, junr.”  The body of the advertisement listed other items for sale as well, but the headline, “Choice Bohea TEA,” appeared in the same size font as “Stephen Hardy” elsewhere on the page, making those two headlines the most noticeable content on the page.  Although Peirce’s name ran in all capital letters, the font size did not distinguish it from the rest of the content of his advertisement.  Indeed, the decision to also print “ENGLISH, & WEST INDIA GOODS,” “GROCERIES, NAILS, GLASS,” “PEPPER,” “GINGER,” and “SHOES” in all capital letters of the same size as “DANIEL PEIRCE” made it harder to spot the name of the advertiser.  “Choice Bohea TEA” was the focal point of Peirce’s advertisement, just as “Stephen Hardy” was the focal point of the tailor’s advertisement.

Other advertisements deployed a similar strategy.  Gilliam Butler’s advertisement for “ENGLISH and WEST INDIA GOODS” also used “Choice Bohea TEA” in a larger font as its headline.  Peter Pearse’s advertisement promoted “Shushong, Hyson, Congo, and Bohea TEA,” with “Sushong, Hyson” in a larger font, occupying the first line, and operating as an abbreviated headline.  Neal McIntire’s advertisement had a similar structure: “Tar, Pitch” led a list of commodities for sale, appeared in a larger font on the first line, and displaced the seller’s name as a headline.  In an advertisement for textiles, “Russia Duck” instead of “THOMAS MARTIN” served as the headline.

Why did so many advertisements in that issue deviate from using the name of the advertiser as the headline?  Did purveyors of goods and services who placed notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette adopt different standards for writing copy than advertisers in other towns?  That may have been the case, especially if they consulted advertisements that previously ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette when writing their own notices.  The printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, may have also played a role.  On occasion, printers noted that they aided in composing advertisements.  Perhaps Peirce, Butler, Pearse, McIntire, and Martin received advice from the Fowles, encouragement to place their products first and their names later in their advertisements.  Whatever the explanation, the advertising pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette often had a distinctive look in the early 1770s because the headlines name products instead of purveyors.

March 6

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (March 6, 1772).

“A few of the New-Hampshire Registers … may be had at the Printing-Office.”

The “Civil, Military & Ecclesiastical REGISTER of the Province of New-Hampshire, for the YEAR 1772” apparently did not sell as well as the printers, Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, hoped.   They first advertised the volume in their newspaper, the New-Hampshire Gazette, on December 13, 1771.  That notice included a lengthy list of the contents.  A week later, they supplemented the original copy with an explanation intended to convince colonizers to purchase a copy of their own.  “Every Gentleman who holds an Office,” the Fowles declared, “and has the Honor of having it recorded in the above Register, undoubtedly ought and will furnish himself with one.”  Furthermore, “other Persons should have them, in order rightly to know their Superiors.”  From the “Governor, Council and House of Representatives” to “Justices of the Peace through the Province and for each County,” the Register listed officials throughout the colony.

Nearly three months after first advertising the Register, the Fowles inserted a shorter notice (but in much larger type) to alert prospective customers that “A few of the New-Hampshire Registers, very necessary for all sorts of People, may be had at the Printing-Office.”  They continued to insist that they sold an invaluable resource for colonizers to consult in a variety of circumstances, but they no longer devoted as much space to making that assertion.  Prospective customers likely needed more convincing.  The Fowles did not publish an updated register in 1773 nor in any subsequent year.  Other printers did so in 1779 and 1787, but the Fowles seemingly did not encounter enough success with the project in 1772 to justify making another attempt.  Perhaps more extensive advertising might have helped to create a more robust market, but the Fowles may have determined that no amount of marketing would so significantly improve sales to make another edition worthy of the time and expense necessary to produce it.  Even with their access to the press and ability to run as many advertisements as they wished, the Fowles had surplus copies of the register that cut into any profits they might have earned.

February 7

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 7, 1772).

“Ames’s Almanack, for 1772, may be had at the Printing-Office.”

Colonial printers usually began advertising almanacs for the coming year in the fall, first alerting prospective customers of their intentions to take certain popular titles to press and later informing them that they could purchase copies.  Occasionally printers made initial announcements in the summer, but most appeared in colonial newspapers in October and November.  Starting in November, printers proclaimed that they “just published” almanacs and called on consumers to acquire copies of their favorites.  Many also offered discounts to retailers who bought in bulk.  Not surprisingly, the greatest number of advertisements for almanacs ran in newspapers in November and December as the new year approached.  During those months, practically every issue of every newspaper printed in the colonies carried at least one advertisement for almanacs, those published by the printer of that newspaper, and many carried multiple advertisements.  Almanacs generated significant revenues for printers.

Advertising for almanacs continued in January, but tapered off over time.  By February, most advertisements disappeared, though some printers continued to run short notices to attract stragglers.  Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette, inserted a brief notice in the February 7, 1772, edition.  It announced, “Ames’s Almanack, for1772, may be had at the Printing-Office.”  The Fowles apparently had surplus copies that reduced any profit they earned on the venture.  They exercised their prerogative as printers in making decisions about the format and placement of the advertisement.  Even though it extended only two lines, the words “Ames’s Almanack” featured some of the largest type on the final page of the newspaper.  The Fowles placed the notice at the top of the center column, likely in an attempt to draw even more attention to it.  In contrast, their advertisement for “BLANKS of most Sorts, for respective Counties, sold by the Printers” ran at the very bottom of the final column on the third page, seemingly filler as much as intentional marketing.  The advertisement for “Ames’s Almanack” may have functioned in part as filler as well, but its format and placement suggest that the Fowles made deliberate decisions beyond merely seeking to complete a column or fill a page.