October 16

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

Oct 16 - 10:16:1767 Page 1 New-London Gazette
First Page of the New-London Gazette (October 16, 1767).

“MEIN, At the LONDON BOOK-STORE, North Side of KING-STREET, BOSTON.”

The Adverts 250 Project previously featured an extraordinary advertisement that John Mein placed in the New-London Gazette in the fall of 1767. Not only did Mein, a Boston bookseller, advertise in a distant newspaper, his advertisement occupied nearly two entire pages. That was a bold and innovative marketing strategy.

It was not a one-time gimmick. Mein placed a similar advertisement in the October 16, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette, an advertisement that was even more elaborate than the previous one. The new version extended over six columns, two entire pages (with the exception of the masthead on the first page). Mein’s advertisement accounted for half of that issue of the newspaper, limiting the amount of space for news items and prompting the printer to insert a notice that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.”

This new advertisement had another feature that distinguished it from the previous version. It appeared on the first and fourth pages of the four-page newspaper (rather than the final two pages). This meant that it was both the first and last item readers encountered when they read that issue of the New-London Gazette. In addition, if a reader held the open newspaper aloft to read the second and third pages, observers would glimpse only the first and last pages. From their perspective it would appear that the New-London Gazette contained nothing except Mein’s advertisement. Similarly, a closed copy of the newspaper sitting on a desk or table assumed the appearance of a broadsheet book catalogue since no other advertisements or news items would have been visible.

Theses visual aspects that depend on the material qualities of the newspaper might be overlooked when working with a copy bound into a volume with other issues of the New-London Gazette, a common practice for preserving and archiving eighteenth-century newspapers. Deprived of the ability to exist as a separate issue but instead reduced to four consecutive pages in a larger book, the transformed newspaper does not immediately suggest all of the visual characteristics that early American readers would have experienced. The same could also be said of digitized versions of the advertisement, each page completely disembodied from the others. The greater significance of Mein’s advertisement becomes apparent only upon contemplating how the form in which the New-London Gazette was originally delivered to readers, not just the format the issue happens to occupy in the twenty-first century.

Oct 16 - 10:16:1767 Page 4 New-London Gazette
Final Page of New-London Gazette (October 16, 1767).

 

October 2

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

Oct 2 - 10:2:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (October 2, 1767).

“WILLIAM ROGERS, a notorious villain, for shop lifting.”

In the fall of 1767, William Crossing placed an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to warn readers that William Rogers, a “notorious villain,” had escaped from his custody. According to Crossing, he had “lawful authority to hold” Rogers “for shop lifting.” Advertisements concerning theft appeared regularly in newspapers throughout the colonies. Sometimes retailers indicated that goods had been stolen from their shops. Other times advertisers reported that thieves took items from their homes. Theft, rather than purchasing, became an alternate means for some colonists to participate in the consumer revolution in eighteenth-century America.

Crossing described a particular kind of theft: “shop lifting.” While it came as no surprise that this crime existed in colonial America, the use of that particular term to describe it made me wonder when “shoplifting” entered the English lexicon. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “shoplift” was used as a noun as early as 1665 and as a verb as early as 1756 (a little over a decade before it appeared in today’s advertisement). Describing “one that steals out of shops” as a “shoplift” has fallen out of use, now described by the OED as historical and rare. The term “shoplifter,” on the other hand, has survived from the 1660s and is still in common use today.

Although “shoplift” and “shoplifter” described petty criminals in Restoration England, the OED does not include any examples of “shoplift” as a verb until nearly a century later, when it appeared in the July 22, 1756, edition of London’s Public Advertiser. The newspaper reported on fabrics stolen from a linen draper’s shop. The OED also indicates that the word “lyft” had been in use as early as 1585. In 1824, Sir Henry Ellis, a prominent antiquarian and eventually principal librarian of the British Museum, noted the meanings of several words associated with theft in Early Modern English: “ffoyste is to cutt a pocket, nyppe is to cut a purse, lyft is to robbe a shoppe.” In its original iteration, “lyft” did not need further clarification to indicate that it referred to stealing goods from a shop while pretending to be a customer. The origins of the term “shop lifting” date back to the time of Shakespeare, long before the transatlantic consumer revolution of the eighteenth century.

September 25

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

Sep 25 - 9:15:1767 Page 3 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 25, 1767).

“London BOOK-STORE, North Side of KING-STREET, BOSTON.”

John Mein, prominent bookseller in Boston, placed an extraordinary advertisement in the September 25, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. A regular advertiser in Boston’s newspapers, Mein previously experimented with a full-page advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette two months earlier. The length of his advertisement in the New-London Gazette, however, far exceeded that previous notice: it extended nearly two full pages and amounted to almost half of the entire issue. Mein’s advertisement for “A very GRAND ASSORTMENT of the most modern BOOKS, in every Branch of polite Literature, Arts and Sciences” filled the entire third page and all but the second half of the final column on the fourth page. It took up so much space that Timothy Green, the printer, inserted a notice at the bottom of the second page to assure readers (and advertisers whose notices had been squeezed out to make room for Mein) that “Advertisements omitted will be in our next.” Although not unknown, full-page newspaper advertisements were not common in the 1760s. When they did appear they merited special notice, yet they seemed restrained compared to Mein’s nearly-two-page advertisement.

Mein’s extensive advertisement qualified as exceptional for another reason: he operated the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” on King Street in Boston, yet he supplemented his marketing efforts in local newspapers with a newspaper notice in faraway New London, Connecticut. Retailers frequently acknowledged that they served customers in the hinterlands that surrounded their own cities and towns, but they rarely placed advertisements in newspapers published in other colonies if they had local alternatives. Retailers in Boston, for instance, expected that when they advertised in any of the city’s four newspapers that they would attract customers from other parts of Massachusetts beyond the busy port. They typically did not, however, insert advertisements in newspapers printed in other towns, each with their own hinterlands in other colonies. Mein deviated from standard practices related to newspaper advertising, apparently considering the opportunity to enter new markets worth the investment. He had previously published book catalogs that may have been distributed far beyond Boston. Any customers they generated may have encouraged him to consider advertising in newspapers in distant cities. He acknowledged customers who resided outside Boston in the final paragraph of his advertisement: “Gentlemen, Traders, &c. who send Orders, may depend on being served with the utmost Fidelity and Dispatch, and as cheap as if present.” In his efforts to gain customers from markets beyond Boston, Mein anticipated and addressed potential obstacles that might prevent them from patronizing his business.

Sep 25 - 9:15:1767 Page 4 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 25, 1767).

September 18

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

Sep 18 - 9:18:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 18, 1767).

“Stolen from the subscriber … a plaid jacket.”

Peter Bulkley was the victim of a theft! In an advertisement in the New-London Gazette, he listed several items (mostly clothing, but also some cash) stolen on the night of September 13, 1767. He accused John Nicholas, “a Frenchman,” of stealing a hat, a coat, a jacket, a shirt, a pair of breeches, a pair of trousers, a pair of stockings, a pair of shoe buckles, and a pair of knee buckles. Nicholas made off with an entire outfit!

What did the thief intend to do with these items? He may have been on the move to another town or another colony, somewhere that he could wear the clothes himself without attracting notice (provided others did not see Bulkley’s advertisement). Alternately, he might have planned to sell the clothes, either one piece at a time or as a package. If the latter, he may have known someone who received secondhand (sometimes stolen) goods with the intention of reselling them. In Dangerous Economies, Serena Zabin describes an informal economy in eighteenth-century America, an extralegal marketplace that included fences who worked with thieves in the redistribution of consumer goods.[1]

Bulkley was not alone in advertising that someone stole an assortment of goods from him. Throughout the colonies, victims of theft placed advertisements describing the stolen items and offering rewards for the return of their goods and the capture of the thief. Whether Nicholas planned to keep or sell the stolen clothing, Bulkley’s advertisement and the many others like it provide evidence that some colonists devised alternate methods for participating in the consumer revolution. Rather than read the lengthy advertisements listing all sorts of imported goods and then purchasing them from merchants and shopkeepers, some colonists – especially those without the means to purchase new items – instead resorted to theft or buying secondhand goods of uncertain origins.

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[1] Serena R. Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009). See especially chapter 3, “The Informal Economy.”

September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:11:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 11, 1767).

“Choice MADEIRA, TENERIFE, and FAYAL WINES.”

Some newspaper advertisements presented consumers with lengthy lists of manufactured goods imported from England, but others promoted foods and beverages that originated in places outside Britain’s global empire. In the September 11, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette, for instance, Winthrop and Roswell Saltonstall announced that they sold “Choice … WINES” imported from islands in the eastern Atlantic. Madeira and Fayal wines came from Portuguese outposts. Madeira, a fortified wine, derived its name from the main island in the Madeira archipelago. Fayal (an English variation of Faial) wines came from one of the islands in the central group of the Azores, an archipelago consisting of nine islands. Tenerife wines came from the largest of the seven Canary Islands, conquered and colonized by Spain. In consuming wines from Madeira, Tenerife, and Fayal, colonists participated in vibrant networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic. Such networks often crossed imperial boundaries, even as nation-states attempted to enforce mercantilist policies.

Given that the Saltonstalls advertised these wines in the public prints, they most likely had imported them legally. Yet a variety of commodities – sugar, molasses, rum, foodstuffs, and wine – found their way to colonial markets via smuggling. “The case of wine is a good example,” according to David Hancock. “Not just in war but also in peace, the varieties and amounts of wine available in British America were greater than those allowed by law and recorded at the customs house.”[1] As the Saltonstalls’ advertisement suggests, colonists could identify many types of wine and made associations with their places of origin. Just as they were accustomed to extensive choices when it came to textiles and housewares, they expected wine merchants to present an assortment so they could make their own selections. Without going into elaborate detail, the Saltonstalls listed three different wines to signal the diversity of their stock to prospective customers.

[1] David Hancock, “Rethinking The Economy of British America,” in The Economy of Early America: Historical Perspectives and New Directions, ed. Cathy Matson (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), 81.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 31, 1767).

“Intending to carry on my former Business …”

Charles Jeffery had been away from New London for a while, having left “to settle sundry Accounts of long standing,” but, “having almost compleated the same,” he was back and ready to resume the business he had allowed to lapse during his absence. To make sure that “all good old Customers” knew of his return, he placed an advertisement in the New-London Gazette.

Jeffery reminded readers of the various branches of the business he formerly pursued: “Butchery,—Baking Loaf and Ship Bread,—Butter Bisket, Tallow-Chandling;—Also brewing SHIP BEER, &c. &c. &c.” He did not elaborate on the goods he offered for sale, neglecting to make any of the common appeals to price or quality. He did, however, make a nod toward the sort of customer service that readers could expect; they could “depend on being used in the neatest and best manner, by their humble Servant.” He aimed this promise directly at “all good old Customers.”

Despite the hiatus in his business, Jeffery anticipated that readers of the New-London Gazette were sufficiently familiar with him and the commodities he sold that he did not need to do much by way of attempting to convince them to resume trading with him. In that regard, his advertisement resorted more to announcing his enterprise instead of marketing it. He did not even seem particularly interested in attracting new customers but rather desired to revive relationships with former associates, those “good old Customers” who made purchases from him in the past.

Jeffery may have felt little need to engage in much marketing, perhaps assuming that he had already achieved prominence and a positive reputation among residents of New London and its hinterland. In addition, he likely faced less competition than his counterparts in larger port cities, like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Had he temporarily suspended business in any of those locales, he may very well have posted a rather different sort of advertisement when he sought to return to the marketplace.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:17:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 17, 1767).

“CASH is given for clean Linen RAGS.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers were peppered with calls for rags. In any given issue, the printer might insert this sort of notice among the advertisements or use it to complete a page featuring primarily news items. These pleas for rags, however, were not merely filler. They played a vital role in the production of paper in colonial America. At the time, paper was made of linen rather than wood pulp. As a result, the rags that colonists turned over to the “Paper Manufactory” became the paper printers used to publish books, newspapers, almanacs, and anything else that came off their presses.

In 1767, printers throughout New England dressed up their usually plain calls for rags with a short poem that extolled the virtues of rags. In four rhyming couplets, it explained:

  • RAGS are as Beauties, which concealed lie,
  • But when in Paper, how it charms the Eye!
  • Pray save your Rags, new Beauties to discover,
  • For Paper truly, every one’s a Lover.
  • By th’ Pen and Press such Knowledge is display’d,
  • As wou’dn’t exist if Paper was not made.
  • Wisdom of Things, mysterious, divine,
  • Illustriously doth as PAPER shine!

Every rag possessed hidden beauty just waiting to emerge when rags were transformed into paper. In their current form, rags were deceptive, hiding their potential to convey the “Wisdom of Things” far and wide once they became paper. Not to be discarded as trash, rags were actually a treasure beyond value.

Rags currently in the possession of readers of the New-London Gazette could eventually become future issues delivered to them, but only if subscribers turned their rags over to one of the many men listed in the extensive network of local agents who collected rags for the Paper Manufactory. Colonists who wished to continue receiving news and advertisements via the New-London Gazette (or any of the other newspapers that published this poem along with a similar announcement) had to assume responsibility for that portion of the paper production process.

Although printers exercised considerable discretion in the content of newspapers, their readers played a significant part in producing the material that became the text. The dissemination of print in early America depended in part on average colonists surrendering their rags, a rather humble start considering the tapestry of colonial life recorded in the pages of newspapers and other publications that came off American presses in the eighteenth century.