May 14

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

May 14 - 5:14:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 14, 1770).

“She has had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”

Mary Morcomb did not indicate how recently she had arrived in New York in her advertisement, but it was recently enough that she described herself as a “Mantua-Maker, from London.”  After migrating to the colonies, she hoped to establish a new clientele.  To that end, she informed readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury that she made “all sorts of negligees, Brunswick dresses, gowns, and every other sort of lady’s apparel.”  In addition, she extended her skills working with textiles to “cover[ing] UMBRELLOES in the neatest and most fashionable manner.”  Invoking her London origins testified to her access to the latest styles and taste, reassuring prospective customers that she did indeed produce both garments and umbrellas, a new and exotic accessory in the early 1770s, in the “most fashionable manner.”

As a newcomer who could not depend on a reputation established through interacting with clients and acquaintances over time, Morcomb instead attempted to accelerate the process.  She claimed that she already “had the honour of being employed by several ladies in this city.”  Those ladies, Morcomb reported, were satisfied with the garments she made for them and had “declared their approbation of her work.”  This was a secondhand testimonial, delivered by the provider of the goods and services, yet Morcomb hoped it would be sufficient to garner “encouragement from the ladies, in her business.”  She concluded by pledging that if prospective clients put their trust in her that they “May depend upon having their work done with all possible care and dispatch.”

In her effort to attract new customers, Morcomb deployed strategies often used by artisans, especially those in the garment trades, who only recently arrived in the colonies.  Many emphasized their connections to cosmopolitan cities where they had access to the latest fashions and then suggested that this already translated to serving select clients in their new location.  Although unfamiliar to many residents in their communities, Morcomb and other artisans attempted to incite demand by asserting that their services were already in demand.  Prospective customers should be eager to hire them, they proposed, because they had already successfully demonstrated their proficiency at their trades.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 7, 1770).

“Mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city.”

Upon the occasion of moving to a new location, jeweler and goldsmith James Bennet placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He informed former and prospective customers that he no longer ran a shop on Maiden Lane.  Instead, the “public in general” could find him at his new shop at “the house next to Mr. Peter Goelet’s, the sign of the Golden Key, near the Old-Slip Market, Hanover-Square.”  In an era before standardized street numbers, Bennett provided plenty of landmarks to help customers find his new location.

He opened his advertisement by expressing appreciation for “those ladies and gentlemen who have been so kind as to favour him with their custom.”  He hoped that they would continue as customers.  Acknowledging their prior support for his business also alerted prospective new customers that even though he set up shop at a new location this was not a new endeavor.  Bennett already had experience pursuing his trade in New York.  In thanking former customers, he also sought to demonstrate demand for his services among readers who had not yet visited his shop at any location.

To further capture their interest, he briefly described his services, stating that he continued “to make, mend, [and] sell … all sorts of jewellery and goldsmith’s work.”  He embellished that rather plain overview with a much more enticing offer, claiming that he “makes mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city, and with the greatest expedition.” An advertisement for a jeweler and goldsmith moving from one location to another was pretty standard fare among the notices that ran in colonial newspapers.  A declaration about the lowest prices possible for a popular piece of jewelry, on the other hand, challenged consumers to visit his shop to see for themselves.  If that managed to get customers through the door, it gave Bennett opportunities to secure other sales.  Even if readers were skeptical of his claim, they could not know for certain unless they investigated on their own.  Rather than merely announce that he moved to a new location, Bennett enticed prospective customers with a bold claim intended to grab their attention.

March 19

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

Mar 19 - 3:19:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 19, 1770).

“Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine.”

It was a familiar appeal, one that became even more urgent when colonists boycotted imported paper in response to duties imposed on it (along with glass, lead, paint, and tea) in the Townshend Acts.  Newspaper printers throughout the colonies regularly issued calls for readers to collect and contribute “old Rags” that could be transformed into paper, offering “Ready Money” in exchange.  Readers of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury encountered it not once, not twice, but three times in the March 19, 1770, edition.

Either Hugh Gaine, “Printer, Bookseller, and Stationer, at the Bible and Crown,” or a compositor who worked in his printing office inserted similar notices on both the third page and the fourth page.  One stated, “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine,” and the other “Ready Money for Linnen Rags.”  In both instances, these brief notices appeared at the bottom of the final column, completing the page and producing columns of equal length.  Yet they were more than convenient filler.  After all, Gaine or the compositor could have inserted other sorts of notices.  Eighteenth-century printers often hawked printed blanks in any leftover space.  Another one-line advertisement did run at the bottom of the second column on the third page, advising readers of “The Ten Pound Act, sold by H. Gaine.”  The notice about linen rags likely appeared more than once out of a sense of pressing need that outweighed promoting pamphlets and printed blanks for sale at the printing office.

John Keating’s lengthy appeal on behalf of “the Paper Makers” once again ran in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, calling on “Friends to their Country” to save “clean RAGS” as a means of “preserv[ing] the Rights and Liberties” of the colonists.  Keating framed collecting rags to manufacture into paper as a patriotic duty.  His petition ran week after week in Gaine’s newspaper, inflecting the printer’s much more humble calls for rags with additional meaning because, as Keating explained, none of the items taxed by the Townshend Acts were “more necessary and considerable than Paper.”  A single line that lends the impression of filler at first glance – “Ready Money for old Rags by H. Gaine” – overflowed with political meaning when considered in the context of current events.

March 12

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

Mar 12 - 3:12:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 12, 1770).

“… from a Principle of Love to their Country.”

John Keating became a familiar figure in advertisements that appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and other newspapers in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  He operated a paper manufactory and presented his enterprise as providing a patriotic alternative to paper imported from Britain.  He objected to the duties that Parliament levied on imported paper in the Townshend Acts while simultaneously noting that consumers could foil such attempts to tax them by purchasing paper made locally.  He also frequently took the pages of the New York’s newspapers to encourage colonists to participate in the production of paper by collecting rags and turning them over to him to be transformed into paper, as he did in the March 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.

His entreaty commenced with a prologue that could have been part of a political tract rather than a newspaper advertisement: “THE Imposition of a Tax upon Goods imported from Great-Britain to her Colonies, altho’ a palpable Violation of their most sacred Rights, was not more injurious to them, than in itself impolitic, absurd and detrimental to Great-Britain, herself: Yet, notwithstanding the Absurdity of the Measure, the Contrivers of it had Cunning enough to lay the Tax upon Articles of necessary to us, that it was with Reason supposed we could not do without them, and therefore should be compelled by our Wants, to submit to the Imposition.”  From there, Keating outlined the nonimportation agreements that went into effect in several colonies, noting that “Friends to their Country” could play an important role in continuing to make paper available if only they would collect their rags and turn them over to the paper manufactory.  Keating estimated that there “are Rags abundantly sufficient for the Purpose” that colonists should save “from a Principle of Love to their Country.”

Keating frequently made such appeals, but on this occasion his exhortation may have gained additional urgency.  It ran next to a news item dated “BOSTON, March 1” that reported “the melancholy Affair at the North End.”  The Massachusetts Historical Society provides this summary of events that took place on February 22: “Ebenezer Richardson, a customs informer, fired a musket through a broken window in his house at a crowd of young men and boys who had been taunting customers of a store selling British imports.”  In addition to wounding others, Richardson killed Christopher Seider, age eleven.  His funeral on February 26 was a significant event.  According to the report in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, “a great Multitude of People assembled in the Houses and Streets to see the Funeral Procession, which departed “from Liberty-Tree.”  Killed less than two weeks before the Boston Massacre, Seider could be considered the first casualty of the American Revolution.  News of that “Bloody Massacre,” as Paul Revere labeled it, did not yet appear in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but the death of Seider may have been sufficient to put Keating’s calls for colonists to collect rags into new perspective.  He offered a practical means for “Service they would do their Country, in whose Welfare their own is involved.”

**********

For a more complete accounting of the death and burial of Christopher Seider, see the series of articles by J.L. Bell on Boston 1775.

February 26

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

Feb 26 - 2:26:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 26, 1770).

Advertisement to the Ladies.”

Like other auctioneers and vendue masters, Moore, Lynsen, and Company used newspaper advertisements to alert prospective bidders to upcoming sales.  In an advertisement that appeared in the February 26, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, they noted upcoming auctions of Irish linens, gloves, and sugar.  Moore, Lynsen, and Company also indicated that they handled a portion of the estate of “his late Excellency Sir HENRY MOORE, Baronet,” the royal governor of New York who had passed away the previous September.  Among the items for the Moore estate, the auctioneers advertised “Genuine old Madeira WINE of the first quality” and “A COACH, CARRIAGE, HORSES, AND SADDLERY.”  Those items were slated for sale the following day.

Rather than conducting a single estate sale, Moore, Lynsen, and Company scheduled a second auction, that one to be begin more than a week later on March 6 and “continue every morning” until everything was sold.  For that “great auction,” the vendue masters inserted a special “Advertisement to the Ladies.”  They called attention to the “great variety of the genteelest furniture, made by the first workmen,—all new, and in the best order” as well as “PLATE, CHINA, &c. &c.”  The double “&c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) promised a vast assortment of goods.  In addressing “the Ladies” in particular, Moore, Lynsen, and Company made a relatively rare appeal.  Editorials that appeared in other parts of eighteenth-century newspapers frequently accused women of becoming too enamored of the consumer revolution, asserting that female consumers surrendered to the vice of luxury.  Yet purveyors of goods and services rarely targeted women exclusively when they marketed the “genteelest” merchandise.  Eighteenth-century advertisements suggest that despite the rhetoric of gendered consumption that circulated widely, those who sold goods pursued customers of both sexes and anticipated that men were as likely as women to make purchases.  Moore, Lynsen, and Company were relatively unique in their assertion that “the Ladies” would be most interested in the “genteelest” wares that they put up for bid.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 5, 1770).

“All the Books in this Catalogue are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.”

Robert Bell, one of the most industrious booksellers in eighteenth-century America, owed his success in part to savvy advertising. His advertisement for an “Auction of Books” in the February 5, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, for instance, incorporated two significant marketing strategies intended to incite consumer demand.

Bell began by announcing that he had just published a “CATALOGUE of new and old BOOKS” that prospective customers could acquire “gratis at the Place of Sale.” Bell likely intended that distributing the catalog would get people through the door. When they came to pick up a catalog many might decide to view the merchandise. Then they carried away a catalog as a reminder of the books they had examined. In passing out catalogs, Bell also enhanced the dissemination of information about his merchandise beyond the reach of his newspaper advertisement. Prospective customers who obtained catalogues could share them with members of their household as well as friends and neighbors. Bell did not rely on a single medium to attract attention to his “Auction of Books.” Instead, he had multiple marketing media in circulation.

He also addressed the politics of consumption, concluding his advertisement with a note about the origins of the books he offered for sale. “[A]ll the Books in this Catalogue,” he assured prospective customers, “are either American Manufacture, or imported long before the Non-Importation Agreement.” Although colonial printers produced some American imprints, the most books in the colonies were imported from England prior to the American Revolution. Bell sought to mediate that reality by focusing on the fact that his books had been imported before merchants, shopkeepers, and others enacted a boycott of imported goods to protest the duties levied on certain imported goods in the Townshend Acts. Rather than focus on where those volumes had been produced he instead emphasized when they had arrived in the colonies. Still, he did make an appeal to the place of production when he could, noting that some of his books were indeed “American Manufacture.” To underscore the importance of these distinctions, he addressed prospective customers as “Lovers and real Practisers of Patriotism,” challenging all readers to consider the political meanings of consumer goods.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements have sometimes been dismissed as mere announcements that made no effort at marketing. Bell’s notice, however, demonstrates that some advertisers engaged in savvy marketing campaigns … and that consumers were exposed to their efforts to shape the colonial marketplace.

January 22

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

Jan 22 - 1:22:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 22, 1770).

He has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character.”

When John Girault, “A Native of FRANCE,” arrived in New York, he turned to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to introduce himself to the residents of that city. He also sought employment, stating that he “proposes to teach the French Language.” His origins testified to his knowledge of the language, but also raised suspicions. Less than a decade had passed since the Seven Years War concluded. That war began in the Ohio River valley, contested territory claimed by both Britain and France, but spread far beyond North America. Battles took place around the globe in what became a great war for empire that resulted in France ceding its claim to territory in North America. Yet the enmity between Britain, a Protestant nation-state, and France, a Catholic nation-state, extended back centuries. Colonists in New York had long been suspicious of French and Catholic threats to their colony as well as anxious that strangers from nearby New France would attempt to infiltrate the bustling port city for nefarious purposes.

Girault understood that he faced such suspicions when he migrated to New York. As part of his introduction, he announced that he “has brought with him ample Certificates of his Character, from the Consistory of a Protestant Congregation at Poitou in France, of which he was an Elder, and from the Consistory of a French Church in London, where he has resided for several Years.” As a “Stranger” in the colony, he offered reassurances that he was not a threat, but he did not merely ask his new neighbors to take him at his word. He arrived with documents that they could examine for themselves, in addition to offering “Messrs. James Buvelot, and Francis Bosset” as local references. At the same time that he declared himself “A Native of FRANCE” to establish his qualifications “to teach the French Language,” he also distanced himself from his place of origin by noting that he had lived in London for several years. Perhaps most importantly, he proclaimed himself a Protestant, hoping to alleviate suspicion about what might be his true purpose in the city. Even as New Yorkers and other colonists vied with Parliament over the Townshend Acts, they continued to have other concerns as members of the British Empire. Girault did what he could to address them in order to settle peacefully and to encourage students to take lessons from him.

For more on New Yorkers’ anxieties about French infiltrators in the first two thirds of the eighteenth century, see Serena R. Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:27:1769 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (November 27, 1769).

“The above Agreement was signed by almost all the Merchants in this City.”

Eighteenth-century newspapers regularly carried several types of content. Most included news, editorials, and advertisements. Some often included a poem on the final page. Others included shipping news from the customs house or a list of prices current for commodities among the news items. Some items, however, did not neatly fit in any particular category. This notice that ran in the November 27, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury was part news, part editorial, and part advertisement.

The notice offered an overview of recent developments concerning nonimportation agreements adopted by many colonists in an effort “to defeat the iniquitous Purposes of the oppressive Act of Parliament, imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, [and] Tea.” Such measures had been adopted widely in “all the middle Colonies of America, except the Colony of Rhode-Island.” This so angered that merchants of New York that most signed an additional agreement, that one targeting “any Person or Persons dwelling and residing in the said Colony of Rhode-Island,” pledging not to do business with them “until they shall fully come into the Agreement subscribed by the Merchants of Boston, New-York and Philadelphia, not to import Goods from Great-Britain until the Act imposing Duties on Paper, Glass, Tea, &c. is repealed.” In addition, New York’s merchants demanded that their counterparts in Rhode Island place in storage goods they recently imported and not sell them until after new goods arrived in the wake of the repeal of the Townshend Acts. Not only did they seek to compel Rhode Island to fall in line with the nonimportation agreement, they also sought to level the playing field when it came time to return to business as usual if they managed to make Parliament relent.

Usually such items appeared among the news and editorials in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, but for some reason it was situated among the advertisements in the November 27, 1769, edition. News and editorials filled the first two pages and spilled over to the third. The remainder of the third page and the entire fourth page consisted entirely of advertisements, with the exception of this notice sandwiched between two advertisements for real estate. The compositor could have just as easily placed it among or at the end of the news that ran on the same page, but instead chose to transition from the news to a dozen advertisements before inserting this notice. Why? Was it a paid notice? Did the printer not consider it news? Did the printer suspect that it would garner greater attention in the section of the newspaper intended primarily for advertisements? Its place in the issue deviated from the order otherwise imposed on the various contents. Whatever the explanation, this notice demonstrates that even in newspapers that usually adhered to a particular structure or organization for news items, editorials, and advertisements, colonists sometimes encountered news among the paid notices. Advertising often served as an important supplement to news and editorials when it came to staying informed about current events in the era of the American Revolution.

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1769 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (October 9, 1769).

“NO DUTIES HERE!”

It was hard to miss the appeal to patriotism in an advertisement for the “new Glass-House” that ran in the October 9, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. A nota bene proclaimed, in all uppercase letters, “NO DUTIES HERE!” Readers readily understood that the advertisement referred to the Townshend Acts and the taxes it imposed on several imported goods, including paper, lead, paint, tea, and glass. In response to Parliament overreaching its authority, colonists adopted nonimportation agreements that encompassed a wide array of items, not just those targeted by the Townshend Acts. They also encouraged “domestic manufactures,” producing goods in the colonies as alternatives to imported goods. This offered colonists opportunities to practice politics when they made decisions as consumers. Purchasing glass made in the colonies, for instance, became an act of patriotic virtue.

Producers of many domestic manufactures did not look to their fellow colonists solely as consumers. Some also enlisted them as suppliers of the materials they needed to produce their wares and make them available in the American marketplace. Paper manufacturers, for instance, frequently placed advertisements calling on colonists to supply them with rags, an essential component for making linen paper. Garrit Rapalje, the proprietor of the “new Glass-House,” requested that colonists turn over their “Broken FLINT GLASS” so he could melt it down and transform it into new glass. To underscore the political ramifications of the entire enterprise, he directed his notice to “all Lovers of American Manufacture,” informing them that they had a duty to do “do what lies in their Power, and particularly in this Instance save, collect, and send such broken Glass” as described in the advertisement. Rapalje presented an opportunity to move beyond rhetoric and more actively participate in acts of economic resistance to the political controversies of the period. Broken glass, like linen rags, acquired political meaning in the colonies in the wake of the Townshend Acts.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 21, 1769).

“These are Manufactures America can have within herself.”

When George Traile advertised his “Manufactory of Snuff and Tobacco” in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury in August 1769, he provided a short history of his business. Formerly located in New Rochelle, the manufactory had recently moved “to the Snuff Mills in the Bowery” in New York. Traile promoted the quality of his snuff, but he also had an eye for current tastes that ventured far beyond the American colonies. He proclaimed that he made and sold “all Sorts of Rappee now in Vogue in Great-Britain and Ireland, France and Holland.” Local consumers could acquire the varieties of snuff currently in fashion in some of the most cosmopolitan places in the Atlantic world without having to import it!

That assertion served as the backbone of Traile’s advertisement. After making brief comments about quality and fashion, he devoted most of his advertisement to a lesson in politics. He likely assumed this strategy would resonate with colonists currently participating in nonimportation agreements as economic acts of resistance to the taxes on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea levied by the Townshend Acts. As far as his Traile’s tobacco was concerned, “These are Manufactures America can have within herself, as good and as cheap as they can be imported.” Customers did not need to sacrifice quality or pay higher prices when they allowed politics to guide their purchases.

Traile charged true patriots with a duty to buy his snuff: “the Encouragement of this Branch of Business in the Colonies, will be found an Object highly worth the Attention of every real Patriot.” Furthermore, “as the popular Prejudices to the Snuff of this Country, are pretty much subsided all over the Colonies, he flatters himself he will meet with that Encouragement the Quality of his Commodities shall deserve, from every well Wisher to America.” In other words, colonists near and far preferred snuff produced in the colonies, provided it was quality merchandise, so anybody who had the best interests of the colonies at heart should eagerly purchase Traile’s snuff since he endeavored to provide the best product available. This was not an insignificant matter. Traile asked prospective customers who counted themselves among “the thinking Part of Mankind” to consider the annual expenses for snuff incurred by “Three Millions of People now computed to be upon this Continent.” Traile presented a vision of each consumer acting separately yet contributing to a collective action in defense of the rights and liberties of the colonies. He encouraged concerned colonists to practice politics through their participating in the marketplace, purchasing the right tobacco from his manufactory in New York City.