January 19

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

Jan 19 - 1:19:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 19, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD AT William Scott’s Store.”

When it came to disseminating his advertisements widely, William Scott was more industrious than most merchants, shopkeepers, and others who placed newspaper notices promoting consumer goods. His advertisements for a variety of textiles available “Wholesale & Retail” at his store on the “North-side of Faneuil-Hall” ran in the January 19, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, shortly after appearing in the Essex Gazette (published in Salem, Massachusetts) and four out of five of Boston’s newspapers. His advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette listed “Irish LINNENS,” “Diaper and Damask Table Cloths,” “Cambricks,” “Lawns,” and all of the other fabrics enumerated in the other newspapers, lacking only a note about “a great Variety of English, Irish and Scotch Goods, by Retail” that concluded those advertisements.

That may have been the result of the advertisement’s position on the page in the New-Hampshire Gazette. It appeared in the lower right corner, the last item on the third page. The compositor had sufficient space to include the main body of the advertisement while still achieving columns of equal length, but not the additional note. Using a smaller font for Scott’s name would have yielded the necessary space to print the entire advertisement, but the compositor did not make the choice. Comparing Scott’s notices as they appeared in all six newspapers reveals that compositors exercised considerable discretion when it came to the format of advertisements. That discretion likely even extended to occasional minor adjustments to the copy. Scott generated the copy for his advertisements and submitted it to several printing offices, but compositors adopted very different approaches to how that copy appeared on the page when it came to font sizes, capitalization, italics, line breaks, and other typographical elements. Variations in spelling (“LINNENS” or “Linens”) and fractions (“Three quarter” and “3-4”) may have originated with the advertiser or the compositor.

Scott intended to engage as many prospective customers as possible by inserting the same advertisement in six newspapers published in three port cities in New England. His marketing efforts reveal testify to a division of labor in the production of advertisements for consumer goods. Advertisers generally took responsibility for composing copy, while compositors who worked in printing offices designed the format of advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

January 5

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

Jan 5 1770 - 1:5:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 5, 1770).

“Ran away last Wednesday … an Apprentice Boy.”

The format and placement of Benjamin Mackay’s advertisement suggests that it was a late addition to the new edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Mackay reported that his apprentice, John Bowler, “Ran away last Wednesday” on January 3, 1770. The aggrieved master scrambled to insert an advertisement in the next issue of the colony’s only newspaper, published just two days later on Friday, January 5. Failing to do so would have forced Mackay to wait another week to alert the community by disseminating information about the runaway apprentice in print since the New-Hampshire Gazette, like most other American newspapers published in the early 1770s, appeared only once a week.

Mackay apparently delivered his advertisement to the printing office too late for inclusion in any of the next issue’s twelve columns, three on each of four pages. The compositor had already set the type … but that did not mean that there was not any space for Mackay’s new and urgent advertisement. Compositors sometimes placed short advertisements and news items in the margins, an innovative strategy used only occasionally to include additional content. Mackay’s advertisement ran on the third page of the January 5 edition, running in the bottom margin across all three columns. The unique format possibly attracted the attention of some readers, but it also limited the number of details that Mackay could publish in that particular advertisement. Brevity allowed for speedy publication, but forced Mackay to carefully select which information to circulate to other colonists.

With more time to plan, he remedied that situation in the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. He published another advertisement, nearly three times the length, that provided a much more extensive description of Bowler, including his approximate age, notable physical characteristics, and description of his clothing. In addition to offering a reward for apprehending and returning the apprentice, that second advertisement warned others against “entertaining or carrying off” Bowler.

That Mackay published a second advertisement at all suggests that the first was not successful, at least not in the short time between its publication and the compositor preparing the next edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Still, it had no chance of success if it had not appeared in the January 5 issue at all. By resorting to an innovative format for the advertisement, the compositor helped Mackay distribute time-sensitive information in the public prints as quickly as possible.

December 15

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

“Stript Camblets     |     Knee Garters     |     Brass Ink Pots.”

Dec 15 - 12:15:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 15, 1769).

According to the advertisement he placed in the December 15, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, Jacob Treadwell sold an assortment of goods at his shop in Portsmouth. He carried everything from textiles to tea kettles to “Locks & Latches.” His advertisement listed more than 120 items and promised even more, concluding with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera). Enumerating his inventory served to demonstrate to prospective customers the extent of the choices Treadwell offered them. He did not have just a couple kinds of fabric in stock. Instead, he listed dozens of options available at his shop. He did not make general assertions about carrying housewares or hardware. Instead, he named an array of goods he sold, prompting consumers to imagine acquiring specific items.

Treadwell’s advertisement served as a catalog of his wares. The advertisement’s format, three neatly organized columns, helped prospective customers navigate that catalog. Publishing an extensive list of merchandise was a common marketing strategy in early America. Most advertisers who adopted that approach lumped their goods together in dense paragraphs of text that made it difficult for readers to distinguish among the multitude of items the advertisement included. Some advertisers, however, experimented with other formats, incorporating graphic design into their marketing efforts. Treadwell advertised the same items as other eighteenth-century retailers, but he made his inventory more accessible with the use of columns and white space.

Doing so liked incurred additional expense since most newspaper printers sold advertising by the amount of space it occupied rather than the number of words. Treadwell’s advertisement extended half a column as a result of its design. Had he opted for the paragraph format instead, the advertisement would have taken up a fraction of the space. Treadwell apparently believed that the potential return on his investment merited the additional expense. In making his advertisement easier for readers to peruse, he augmented the chances that they would become customers.

December 8

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

Dec 8 - 12:8:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 8, 1769).

“WATCHES … preserv’d in perfect Repair … by JOHN SIMNETT.”

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have already been familiar with John Simnett’s work by the time he placed a short advertisement in the December 8, 1769, edition. For nearly a year he had advertised regularly, but, more significantly, he had also engaged in a feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the public prints. Although the two watchmakers usually refrained from mentioning the other by name, their advertisements made clear that neither much liked the other. Most of their advertisements included some sort of insult in addition to promoting their own work.

On occasion, however, one or both placed advertisements that did not include a negative characterization of the other. Such was the case with Simnet’s notice in the December 8 issue. Relatively brief compared to many of his others, it simply stated: “WATCHES For Two and Six Pence Sterling per Year, preserv’d in perfect Repair, (Accidents excepted) by JOHN SIMNETT, near the Parade.” Simnet introduced his trade, set the rate for the service he provided, clarified the terms, and informed prospective clients of his location, all without taking a swipe at Griffith.

Many readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette might have noticed other variations that made this advertisement different from most of Simnet’s others. The watchmaker usually identified himself only as “Simnet.” Dancing and fencing masters most often adopted a mononym in their newspaper advertisements, but this watchmaker who migrated from London after pursuing his trade there for two decades determined that he merited the flair of going by a single name in the press. He presented himself as much more capable than competitors who had trained and worked exclusively in the colonies, thus meriting the mononym as a proclamation of his illustriousness. Why did he include both his first name and surname in this advertisement, departing from his usual marketing strategy? Did he react to comments from others about his tone and demeanor in his advertisements?

December 1

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

Dec 1 - 12:1:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (December 1, 1769).

“A Stage from Portsmouth to Boston.”

When Joseph S. Hart established “a Stage from Portsmouth to Boston,” he inserted an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to provide the particulars to prospective clients. He offered to carry passengers, but also acknowledged that he accepted freight as well. Hart included a schedule, informing readers that he departed Portsmouth for Boston on Fridays and then departed Boston for the return trip on Tuesdays. Each journey began at “about Eight o’Clock in the Morning” in order to allow for a full day of travel.

Although Hart’s stage began or ended each trip at either his house in Portsmouth or “Thomas Hubbart’s in King Street, Boston, at the Sign of Admiral Vernon,” he allowed for other destinations for the convenience of his clients. He pledged to deliver passengers wherever they wished to go. Similarly, those shipping “Bundles” could send them wherever they wished, rather than having to arrange for recipients to retrieve them from Hubbart at the Sign of Admiral Vernon. He did not, however, indicate that he picked up passengers or packages in Boston or Portsmouth, though that may have been negotiable upon contacting Hart to engage his services.

In addition to offering such convenience to passengers and other clients, Hart imbued his entire enterprise with an atmosphere of good service. He carried passengers and goods “with Dispatch” and promised that “All Persons who favour me with their Custom may depend upon being well used.” In making such assertions, Hart repeated sentiments often deployed in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services. Although he used formulaic words and phrases, he also communicated to prospective clients that he understood their expectations and that they should anticipate the same attention and quality service from him that they received from other entrepreneurs who had been established for quite some time. Indeed, for this new endeavor Hart assured prospective clients that he would deliver a pleasant experience as part of delivering them to their destinations.

November 24

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

Nov 24 - 11:24:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 24, 1769).

“HAIR ROLLS for LADIES.”

A very short advertisement in the November 24, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed readers of “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood in Portsmouth.” Although brief, this advertisement demonstrated the reach of fashion beyond the major port cities to smaller towns in the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman documents clothing and hairstyles favored by the elite in the largest urban port, but such styles were not confined solely to places like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Williams and Stanwood made “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES” available to the better sorts (and anyone else willing to pay their fees) in Portsmouth and its hinterlands.

Haulman offers a description of styles adopted by ladies in Philadelphia. “At tea tables, assemblies, and even in city streets, ladies’ hoops grew wider, and heads appeared larger with high rolls. Fashionable hairstyles for women began to grow in the late 1760s, and with them rose the ire of social critics.”[1] The high roll became popular at the same time that many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements as a means of resisting the duties that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, tea, and other good in the Townshend Acts. Women who chose high rolls to express themselves emulated fashions “that English ladies all too eagerly copied from their French counterparts.”[2] For many, the high roll became a symbol of luxury that contradicted the spirit of sacrifice that patriots practiced when they abided by nonimportation agreements. Furthermore, the high roll testified to continued cultural dependence on and deference to England. As Haulman notes, residents of Philadelphia “asserted the city’s, and their own, stylish, cosmopolitan character through fashion even as the imperial ties that engendered those cultural forms began to unravel.”[3]

Such inconsistencies did not occur only in Philadelphia, though they may have been most visible in large port cities. Hairdressers, wigmakers, and others did not limit their efforts to market high rolls and other fashionable styles to the gentry in urban centers. Instead, colonists in Portsmouth as well as nearby towns and villages had access to “HAIR ROLLS for LADIES, Made by Williams and Stanwood.” Opportunities to purchase (or not) such items as well as other garments and goods allowed them to express their own personal style and political principles while grappling with any incongruities between the two.

**********

[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 638.

[2] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 638.

[3] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 640.

November 10

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

Nov 10 - 11:10:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 10, 1769).

“He will also tend School in the Evenings … if reasonable Encouragement be allowed for keeping a Fire.”

In November 1769, Samuel Noldred placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to remind residents of Portsmouth and the surrounding area that he “Continues to keep school” at a house on Queen Street. Unlike many other schoolmasters who advertised during the era of the American Revolution, Noldred did not emphasize that he offered an extensive curriculum of reading, writing, arithmetic, and other subjects. Instead, he focused specifically on teaching “the several Branches of Navigation” to “young Gentlemen and others.” He aimed for his pupils to become “capable of conducting a Ship to any part of the known World.” Noldred emphasized practical knowledge for “young Gentlemen” who lived in a port city. To that end, he also taught “ARITHMETIC, as far as is useful in Navigation, if required.” Clearly, Noldred anticipated that many prospective students had already acquired some proficiency in arithmetic. He did not intend to teach the subject in depth, only what was necessary to master the navigation lessons.

Like other schoolmasters, he listed the hours he taught: “from Eight o’Clock in the Morning till Noon, then from Two o’Clock Afternoon till Sun set.” These were hours, however, that many “young Gentlemen and others” may not have been available for navigation lessons. Their families or employers may have relied on their labor and attention during the day. For those prospective students, Noldred proposed evening classes “from 6 o’Clock till 9,” but he also stated that he would teach during those hours only “if reasonable Encouragement be allowed for keeping a Fire.” Noldred did not specify how much he charged for tuition for day classes, but he did make clear that students who attended night school should expect to pay additional fees to cover the cost of heating and lighting the schoolroom. The convenience of evening classes came at a price. Newspaper advertisements placed by schoolmasters reveal some of the contingencies involved in providing instruction in colonial and revolutionary America.

November 3

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

Nov 3 - 11:3:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 3, 1769).

“Tickets for Admission to be had … at the Printing-Office.”

The tour continued! In the fall of 1769 an itinerant performer traveled from city to city in New England, advertising in local newspapers at each stop along the way. His notices first appeared in the Providence Gazette on September 16, then in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28, and again in the Essex Gazette on October 10. To entice patrons, he announced that “His Stay will be short” when he arrived in Salem. An advertisement in the November 3 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette revealed that his stay had indeed been short. Just a few weeks later he was performing, in his own distinctive fashion of reading portions and singing others, “An OPERA, call’d Love in a Village” at “Mr. Stavers’s Long ROOM” in Portsmouth. As usual in his advertisements, he informed local audiences that he “personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions, as they change from one to another throughout the Opera.”

The performer also included another standard element of his advertisements, instructions for prospective patrons to obtain “Tickets for Admission” either at the venue or at the local printing office. Printers played an integral role in his tour “of the great Towns in America.” They not only published the advertisements that informed audiences about upcoming performances, they also took served as an auxiliary box office, selling tickets and collecting money on behalf of the performer. Printing offices were hubs of activity in eighteenth-century America, places where colonists exchanged information in print, in manuscript, and in conversation … yet they exchanged more than just information in those busy spaces when printers took on additional responsibilities for their clients. Sometimes they served as local agents when colleagues issued subscription notices for proposed books. Other times they sold tickets and collected money on behalf of itinerant performers. The services provided by printers extended beyond the publications that came off their printing presses. Colonists regularly had to “enquire of the printer” for purposes other than acquiring information.

October 27

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

Oct 27 - 10:27:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 27, 1769).

“Any Clock or Watch, sent to said Griffith, will be speedily refitted.”

Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, a “CLOCK and WATCH MAKER” from the colonies, and John Simnet, a “LONDON WATCH MAKER” who had migrated to Portsmouth nearly a year earlier, both placed advertisements in the October 27, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Neither advertisement ran for the first time; both appeared sporadically over the course of several weeks that fall. The rival watchmakers each attempted to keep their name visible to the general public and, especially, prospective customers.

The series of notices that Griffith and Simnet inserted in the New-Hampshire Gazette tell a fairly unique story about advertising in early America. Most advertisers sought to attract customers to maintain or even increase their own share of a crowded market. Most advertisers, however, did not deploy advertising as a means of depriving specific rivals of their own ability to participate in the marketplace. On the other hand, Griffith and Simnet almost certainly saw advertising as a zero sum game; any benefit that accrued to one necessarily occurred to the detriment of the other.

Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette watched their feud unfold over the course of many months. Even though the watchmakers did not mention each other by name, their advertisements often included very pointed references that made clear their disdain for the competition. Their advertisements sometimes took a remarkably adversarial tone as Griffith and Simnet each critiqued and denigrated both the skill and the character of their rival. Even though neither advertisement in the October 27 edition leveled any accusations against the other watchmaker, readers likely would have found it impossible to peruse those notices without taking into consideration the usual enmity that motivated the two men.

Modern advertising frequently plays on unspoken rivalries. Commercials for fast food franchises and brands of soda, for instance, often rely on consumers taking into account the competition, even without making any direct reference to that competition. Griffith and Simnet developed a similar strategy in the eighteenth century. Promoting their own businesses included efforts to reduce the market share of their rival, sometimes launched explicitly but other times implicitly incorporated into their marketing.