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.

July 3

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

Jul 3 - 7:3:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (July 3, 1767).

A Passage-Boat fitted in the best Manner for the Reception of Passengers.”

Samuel Beebe and Ebenezer Webb were competitors. Both operated a ferry service, or “Passage-Boat,” between New London, Connecticut, and Long Island, New York, but they did not follow the same route. In his advertisement, which appeared immediately above Beebe’s notice, Webb allowed that “Passengers may be landed on any Part of the East End of the Island,” but then claimed that “Sterling is preferable for a Landing Place.” Beebe, who delivered passengers to Oyster Point Pond at the easternmost tip of Long Island, disagreed. “Passengers, by being landed on the East End,” he argued, “saves more Time than the Distance between there and Sterling.” Beebe admitted that his passengers disembarked at a location farther from New York than if they sailed to Sterling with Webb, but there were other factors that they needed to take into account. “[F]or while a Boat is beating Seven Miles to windward,” Beebe explained, “a Traveler may go Twenty Miles on Shore.” Travelers needed to be well-informed and discerning about the relative advantages of transport via land versus over sea. Webb pointed out that by taking his ferry passengers “must save 50 Miles” compared to traveling only by land around Long Island Sound, but Beebe countered that sometimes traveling by land might be the faster option, especially since “a level plain Road” ran the 120 miles between Oyster Point Pond and New York.

Although Beebe and Webb focused primarily the advantages of their route, both enhanced their advertisements by mentioning other amenities to attract potential clients. In so doing, they marketed transportation services as a travel experience. They invited customers to consider the overall package, not just the route. Webb, for example, delivered copies of the New-London Gazette to subscribers on Long Island. When Beebe began advertising that “he keeps a House of Entertainment for Man and Horse” at Oyster Point Pond, an establishment where “Gentleman Travellers may be well used,” Webb updated his advertisement with a final note that “Good Entertainment for Travellers may be had at the Subscriber’s House.” Both indicated that their ferries operated “Wind and Weather permitting.” Should acts of nature delay departures, passengers could depend on comfortable lodgings while they waited. Time, distance, and comfort all played a role in convincing travelers which “Passage-Boat” to sail.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:26:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (June 26, 1767).

The Subscribers are desired speedily to send for their Books.”

It took some time for Timothy Green to publish Joseph Fish’s book of nine sermons inspired by Matthew 26:18, but much of the responsibility for the delay belonged to the author. Fish continued to write, revise, and add material to the manuscript “After the Proposals for Printing these Sermons by Subscription, were sent abroad.” Six months before announcing that the book had been “JUST PUBLISH’D,” Green issued an advertisement requesting that those who accepted subscriptions forward their lists to him so he could determine how many copies to print.

In the interim, the book expanded. That, in turn, raised the cost of production and, ultimately, the retail price, even for subscribers. Earlier subscription notices marketed the book for 1 shilling and 10 pence, but the additional material made it necessary to increase the price by 4 pence to a total of 2 shillings and 2 pence if “stitch’d in blue Paper.” Reader who desired a volume “bound in Leather” rather than the basic wrapper could pay an additional shilling. Green catered to different tastes and price points.

He also realized that it was problematic to raise the price of Fish’s Sermons by nearly 20% after customers subscribed at a lower cost. To counter objections, he argued that “even with that Addition they will be uncommonly Cheap, as the Book contains upwards of 200 Pages.” (The reverend Fish might have been dismayed that the printer made an appeal to quantity over the quality of the contents.) In addition, Green reported that many others who had not previously subscribed were so keen on acquiring the book that they stood ready to purchase it at the higher price. The printer gave subscribers an opportunity to opt out by requesting that they send for their books soon. Any not claimed, he warned, would be sold to others who eagerly stood ready to purchase any surplus copies. Rather than apologize for raising the price and breaking the conditions set forth in the subscription notices, Green instead lectured subscribers. Even considering the higher price, they could hardly argue with the value, he admonished. After all, other prospective customers certainly acknowledged that this was a good deal. The original subscribers needed to obtain their copies as quickly possible or else risk losing out as others swooped in and claimed their books.

May 29

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

May 29 - 5:29:1767 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (May 29, 1767).

Cheaper for Cash than can be had at Capt. Nathl. Backus’s, or any Store in Norwich.”

Ebenezer Coburn sold “All Sorts of Iron-Mongery, and Cutlery Ware … at his Shop … at the Sign of the Black Horse, at Norwich-Landing” in Connecticut. In marketing his wares, he resorted to one of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements, low prices, promising that customers could purchase his merchandise “cheaper for Cash” from him than from “any store in Norwich.” Merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies frequently made similar claims. Many simply stated that they had low prices, but others specified that they offered the best prices in town and would not be undersold by any of their competitors. A few even boasted that they offered the lowest prices in the entire colony or the region, especially in New England.

In that regard, Coburn’s notice replicated standard advertising practices. Yet he deviated from most other advertisements in one significant way: he named one of his competitors and explicitly stated that his prices were lower. Before even mentioning other shops in Norwich, Coburn singled out Captain Nathaniel Backus. In their advertisements, most shopkeepers either graciously pretended that their competitors did not exist or politely acknowledged them by indicating that their own shop had the best prices. Coburn, on the other hand, fired a shot in a price war with Backus, challenging consumers to take special note of what the captain charged for his wares.

Why did Coburn take aim at Backus in particular? Was the captain the most prominent trader in Norwich and thus Coburn’s most significant competitor? Had Backus established a reputation for especially low prices that Coburn hoped to turn to his advantage? Did some sort of personal, rather than professional, animosity exist between Coburn and Backus? The captain was a man of some prominence in Norwich, a descendent of the founders of the town and one of only six men who owned his own carriage prior to the Revolution. He exercised some clout in the local marketplace.

Something happened relatively recently that caused Coburn to compare their prices. Two weeks earlier he had published a nearly identical advertisement in the New-London Gazette; it did not mention Backus or that Coburn sold “by Wholesale or Retail.” Given the number of vessels that had “Entered In” according to the recent shipping news, Backus very well may have recently received a large shipment of imported goods, enough to seemingly flood the local market in Norwich. By naming Backus in particular, Coburn may have been trying to gain ground on his most prominent and most significant competitor, one who commanded the attention of local consumers even without advertising in the New-London Gazette.