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.

July 19

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 19, 1771).

“Stage-Coach, Number One.”

John Stavers faced competition for clients … and he did not appreciate it.  In the late 1760s and early 1770s, Stavers operated a stagecoach between Portsmouth and Boston.  For a time, he enjoyed a monopoly on the route, but he tried to convince the public that did not necessarily amount to an unfair advantage.  Instead, Stavers contended, he provided an important service to the community “at a very great Expence” to himself when no one else did.  In an advertisement in the July 19, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, he asked prospective customers to take into account the “Difficulty, Expence, Discouragements, and very little, if any profit” he experienced “when no other Person would undertake” the route.  He did so in service not only to his passengers but also to deliver “the Mails of Letters and News Papers.”

Stavers depicted that as a heroic effort.  His stagecoach had already “surmounted every Obstruction, and through Heat and Cold, Rain and Snow Storm, push’d forward, at Times when every other Conveyance fail’d.”  Regardless of any kind of difficulty, his operation previously ran like clockwork … and would continue to do so.  The stagecoach set off from Stavers’s tavern in Portsmouth on Tuesday morning and departed Boston for the return trip on Friday mornings.  Stavers hired a “careful Driver” and kept the carriage and horses “in such Order, that Nothing bit some unforeseen Accident, shall at any Time give Hindrance, or by any Means retard the Journey.”  Through experience, Stavers was prepared for any obstacle.

Accordingly, he felt “intitled to” the patronage of travelers now that he faced an upstart who challenged him for business.  Stavers requested that the public “now give his Coach the Preference” rather than hire a competitor “whose Drivers, big with Importance, new and flaming Coaches, expect mighty Things.”  Stavers made clear that he did not believe the competition could live up to its promises, especially in the face of “the first Snow Storm” when the seasons changed. Moreover, he felt annoyed that his rival plied the same route and schedule.  Stavers feigned best wishes for the competition, but simultaneously declared his enterprise “Stage-Coach, Number One,” seeking to establish a ranking to influence prospective clients.  Simultaneously, he asked those prospective clients to take his past successes and sacrifices into consideration when choosing which stagecoach service to hire for trips between Portsmouth and Boston.

July 12

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

“INN at Newbury-Port.”

New-Hampshire Gazette (July 12, 1771).

When Robert Calder became the proprietor of an inn in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in the early 1770s, he turned to the New-Hampshire Gazette to promote his new venture to travelers and other prospective patrons.  He hoped to benefit from the reputation achieved by the former proprietor, William Lambert.  Although Lambert operated a “noted INN,” Calder made improvements for the comfort of his guests, declaring that the establishment “is now further repair’d and furnish’d with convenient Accommodations for Travellers.”  In addition, the inn provided “good Stabling for Horses.”  Calder also promised “the best Entertainment” and “diligent Attendance” for patrons.

Calder did not indicate that he possessed prior experience serving “Travellers and others” at an inn, tavern, coffeehouse, or similar establishment (though he previously advertised a coffeehouse), but he prominently listed another credential intended to assure prospective patrons that he was prepared to attend to their needs.  He introduced himself as “late Servant to his Excellency GOVERNOR WENTWORTH,” suggesting that he previously earned the trust of the official who had served as governor of New Hampshire since 1767 (and would continue to do so until the colony became a state in 1775).  Having served the governor, Calder contended that he could competently run an inn.

Calder did not rely on the New-Hampshire Gazette alone when it came to promoting his inn in the public prints.  In early July 1771, he placed the same advertisement in the Essex Gazette, published in Salem, Massachusetts, and a slightly different version in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  In so doing, he pursued a regional marketing campaign, an appropriate strategy for an entrepreneur seeking to provide services to travelers.  He limited the scope to newspapers from towns nearest to the inn, figuring readers of those publications might have occasion to visit or pass through Newburyport.  Some may have already been aware of the inn formerly run by Lambert, but Calder aimed to give added incentive to eat, drink, and sleep at his place.

June 28

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 28, 1771).

“&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”

Colonial merchants and shopkeepers frequently published lengthy lists of merchandise, demonstrating the range of choices they made available to consumers.  Even then, they claimed that they did not have enough space in their advertisements to advise prospective customers of all the goods on hand at their stores and shops.  In the June 28, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, for instance, David Cutler and Joseph Cutler proclaimed that they carried a “fresh Assortment of GOODS” and enumerated more than one hundred items.  The Cutlers identified all sorts of textiles as well as various dinnerware, housewares, hardware, and groceries, yet they also promised “many other Articles” that did not appear in their advertisement.

Robert Robertson adopted a similar approach, declaring that he sold “a general Assortment of English and West India GOODS.”  He provided a shorter list than the Cutlers, though it still amounted to dozens of items, and concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”  By repeating the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, Robertson suggested that his advertisement mentioned only a fraction of his wares.  William Cooper, Jr., refused to be outdone by his competitors.  He composed an even more verbose description of his “neat and genteel Assortment of English and India GOODS” and then listed as many items as the Cutlers did in their notice.  He also ended his advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”  The exaggerated use of “&c.” underscored the vast array of choices awaiting customers at his shop.

Advertisements containing lists of goods with promises of “many other Articles” may have also signaled to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that local merchants and shopkeepers provided them with as many choices in Portsmouth as consumers in Boston and other urban ports enjoyed.  The consumer revolution extended beyond the cities and into towns, villages, and the countryside.  Advertisements like those placed by the Cutlers, Robertson, and Cooper reassured colonists that they had full access to participate in the rituals of consumption.

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.