October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“ELIZA BRAITHWAITE … is removed from Mrs. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s.”

Eliza Braithwaite, a milliner originally from London, inserted an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in October 1769. She informed “the Ladies, and others” that she had changed locations, moving from “Mr. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s,” still on Market Street but “a few Doors higher up.” She intended to continue pursuing her trade at the new location and called on “those Ladies, who have been kind enough to employ her before she removed” to “continue their Favours.”

Relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, certainly not in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as shopkeepers and tradeswomen. That made their advertisements notable, then and now. When they did inject themselves into the public prints, some women were bolder than others. Braithwaite took a fairly conservative approach in her advertisement, almost as though she hoped to limit the amount of attention she might receive as a result of making her business so visible. She adopted standard language that appeared in advertisements placed by tailors and milliners throughout the colonies. She did her work with “particular Care.” She charged “the cheapest Rate.” She made hats and other accessories “in the newest and genteelest Taste.” While this could indicate Braithwaite’s familiarity with the conventions of marketing in eighteenth-century America, it might also signal hesitation to distinguish herself too much from her competitors. That she conformed to the expectations of milliners, male and female, may have been the most important appeal Braithwaite wished to advance in her advertisement.

The circumstances that prompted Braithwaite to place a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to a conservative approach to advertising. She did address “the Ladies, and others,” but her primary purpose seems to have been maintaining her clientele rather than expanding it. She wanted former customers to know that she had moved so they could find her at her new location and continue employing her. Although Braithwaite’s advertisement exposed her business to much larger audiences, any invitation to new customers was implicit rather than explicit. Did Braithwaite advertise in the Pennsylvania Gazette or any of the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia on other occasions? Whether she promoted her business in the public prints at other times merits further investigation.

September 22

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

Sep 22 - 9:22:1769 Ad 1 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 22, 1769).

“WATCHES. SIMNET, London-Watch-Maker.”

Over the course of many months, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette became quite familiar with watchmaker John Simnet and the services he provided in 1769, in large part because he engaged in a public feud with competitor Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith that played out in the advertisements. Simnet once again took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette on the first day of fall in 1769, inserting not one but two advertisements in that issue. One ran on the third page and the other on the fourth page. Like most other colonial newspapers, a standard issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette consisted of only four pages, a single broadsheet with two pages printed on each side and then folded in half. Simnet arranged to have an advertisement appear on both pages that featured paid notices, increasing the likelihood that readers would notice his marketing efforts as they perused the September 22 edition. Having recently moved to a new location, he made sure prospective clients knew exactly where to find him.

Sep 22 - 9:22:1769 Ad 2 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (September 22, 1769).

One of those advertisements was fairly short … and misspelled the mononym Simnet used in all his advertising. Still, it unmistakably promoted a watchmaker who consistently described himself as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire less than a year earlier, having previously worked alongside noted artisans in London and Dublin. He advanced those credentials often as a means of implicitly comparing himself to the local competition that did not possess the same training or experience. In the other advertisement, Simnet described himself merely as a “London-Watch-Maker” but made a nod to the reputation he had established in the local marketplace. He declared that he had “near a Year’s Trial, by the Town [of Portsmouth] and adjacent Country.” Prospective customers did not have to rely solely on Simnet’s depiction of his prior experience on the other side of the Atlantic; they could assess for themselves the quality of his work done in New Hampshire now that he had labored there for sufficient time to establish a clientele.

Advertisers rarely placed more than one notice in a single issue of a newspaper in the colonial period. Simnet was an especially aggressive advertiser, both in the tone he took toward a rival and in the frequency that he inserted new advertisements in the public prints. Although he often returned to common themes, he composed distinctive copy for each advertisement. Mere repetition of the same advertisement did not suit the brazen watchmaker. Instead, he kept his self-promotion fresh in every new advertisement.

October 14

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

Oct 14 - 10:14:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (October 14, 1768).

“A suit of Broad Cloth, full trim’d.”

By the time he “opened a Taylors Shop” in Portsmouth late in the summer of 1768, Richard Lowden was already familiar to many colonists in New Hampshire. More than a year earlier he had advertised that “the Co-Partnership between him and Robert Patterson … was Dissolved,” but Lowden “still continues to carry on the Taylors Business.” At the time, he had his own shop “near the Town-School in Queen-street.” He apparently changed locations in 1768, through he remained on Queen Street, his shop “almost adjoining to that of Messi’rs Williams and Stanwood, Barbers.” Although in a news shop, he continued to pledge that his clients “may depend on being faithfully and punctually served.”

The format of Lowden’s advertisement made it stand out from others published in the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, particularly a table that listed the prices for several of the garments he made. Prospective customers could expect to pay one pound for “A suit of Broad Cloth, full trim’d,” but only eighteen shillings for “A plain suit of Cloaths” and nine shillings for “A Coat only.” These prices set the baseline for children’s apparel. Lowden charged “in the same proportion” for those items.

Relatively few advertisers who offered consumer goods and services published prices in the 1760s, though general appeals to low prices were among he most common marketing strategies throughout the eighteenth century. Sometimes merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans highlighted special prices for particular items, but rarely did they specify how much they charged for everything listed in their advertisements. Taking this approach may have given Lowden an advantage over other tailors in Portsmouth. Publishing his prices served as a guarantee of sorts, a maximum price that prospective clients could expect to pay. This also presented opportunities for Lowden to bestow bargains on some customers, both those who loyally visited his shop and others who negotiated for better deals. Lowden could underscore to both constituencies that they received a deal, though he could also hold the line with the latter by stating that the published price were the final prices.

Advertisers throughout the colonies realized that making appeals to price made their goods and services more attractive to consumers. Lowden further experimented with that concept, inserting the prices for his garments in order to engage potential clients. He transformed vague assertions about price into specific amounts that he charged for the garments made in his shop.

May 17

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

May 3 - 5:3:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 17, 1768).

“He has removed from Dorchester to Charles-Town.”

William Proctor, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal when he relocated from the small town of Dorchester on the Ashley River to the bustling urban port of Charleston. He addressed his notice to both “his Friends in particular, and the Public in general,” a strategy intended to maintain any clients who wished to patronize him at his new location as well as introduce him to the residents of Charleston.

Given that Dorchester, a town already in decline and abandoned after the American Revolution, was eighteen miles from Charleston, Proctor probably had few existing customers in his new city. After all, residents could choose from among many tailors and others who worked in the garments trades in one of the largest ports in the American colonies. Still, acknowledging “his Friends in particular” in his advertisement served an important purpose. It signaled to prospective clients that he had experience pursuing his trade, that he had previously cultivated a clientele in Dorchester and thus deserved their consideration now that he set up shop in Charleston.

He enhanced that appeal by underscoring that “he continues to make it his Study to carry on the Business to the Satisfaction of all who please to favour him with their Commands.” Proctor provided his own testimonial about the quality of the garments he made and the level of customer satisfaction he previously achieved, promising that new clients would not be disappointed if they engaged his services. In case some prospective customers remained skeptical about the clothing he produced, the tailor proclaimed that he constructed garments “in the newest Fashion, and genteelest Manner, not inferior to any in America.” In so doing, he cautioned readers not to dismiss him as a backwoods amateur merely because he had lived and worked outside the colony’s largest city. Instead, he pledged that he was as familiar with current trends – and capable of replicating them – as tailors from Charleston as well as Philadelphia and New York. That he made such a claim at all suggested that he was prepared for prospective clients to assess his efforts and reach their own conclusions, realizing that word of his ineptitude would spread if he did not manage to achieve “the Satisfaction of all who please to favour him with their Commands.” Proctor’s advertisement established a narrative about his skills and the types of garments he created, but consumers possessed the power to verify or discredit the reputation he attempted to construct.