May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 18, 1767).

“Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.”

George Senneff adopted a marketing strategy commonly deployed by tailors and other artisans. To imbue his services with extra cachet, he included his origins in his introduction: “George Senneff, Taylor, from LONDON.” Colonists were preoccupied with the latest trends in England, especially London, when it came to both dress and adorning private and public spaces. They experienced anxiety that they might appear pretenders in provincial backwaters as they participated in transatlantic consumer culture that changed increasingly rapidly as the eighteenth century progressed. Tailors and others in the clothing trades, as well as hairdressers and cabinetmakers, offered reassurances that their goods and services were à la mode when they asserted their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire.

Many considered announcing that they were “from LONDON” sufficient for the purpose, but Senneff treated that merely as an opening salvo in his bid to win clients concerned about wearing the latest fashions and demonstrating their awareness of the most current trends. Not only was he “from LONDON,” Senneff proclaimed that he made men’s garments of “plain and lac’d Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.” He reiterated this claim when he described the riding habits he made for women: “after the newest Fashions now worn in London.” Senneff had his finger on the pulse of changing tastes in the metropole. In turn, his clients in New York would exhibit that insider’s knowledge in their attire as they attended to business and socialized in the colonial outpost.

Senneff’s decision to repeatedly state that his garments conformed to “the newest Fashions now worn in London” may not have merely reassured customers. Instead, such intensive focus on the latest styles in that faraway city could have stoked anxiety among local consumers. Repetitively invoking current tastes in London may have prompted some potential customers to dwell on this aspect of their own apparel, encouraging them to seek out Senneff’s services since he seemed to be in the know and could provide appropriate guidance in outfitting them “after the newest and genteelest Taste.” Senneff craftily induced such uneasiness and simultaneously offered his services as an especially effective way to experience relief. His notice was no mere announcement but rather a clever attempt to manipulate potential customers into visiting his shop.

May 11

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

May 11 - 5:11:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 11, 1767).

“None but the best of Medicines.”

The mononymous Steuart, “DRUGGIST and APOTHECARY, At the GOLDEN HEAD” on Queen Street in New York, crafted an advertising campaign intended to maximize market penetration. Most advertisers inserted paid notices in only one newspaper, though enterprising entrepreneurs sometimes promoted their goods and services in multiple publications. Rarely did advertisers in New York, however, invest the effort or expense in placing advertisements in all four of the city’s newspapers in a single week in 1767. Steuart, however, advertised in the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on May 11, as well as in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy on May 7. In all except that final publication, he was fortunate that his notice appeared on the front page.

It might be tempting to conclude that a recent relocation made such advertising imperative. The advertisements indicated that he had “removed from between Burling’s and Beekman’s-Slip, to the House lately occupied by Messrs. Walter and Thomas Buchannen, in Queen-Street, (between Hanover-Square and the Fly-Market:).” The move certainly provided one motive for advertising in as many newspapers as possible, but Steuart also competed with McLean and Treat, prolific advertisers who inserted their own notices for their “Medicinal Store, in Hanover-square” in three out of four of New-York’s newspapers that same week. McLean and Treat had also been advertising in multiple newspapers for several weeks before Steuart’s notices appeared. In addition, other apothecaries and shopkeepers who sold medicines took to the public prints to promote their ware that week, including Edward Agar in the New-York Journal and the New-York Mercury; Thomas Bridgen Attwood in the New-York Journal and the New-York Gazette; and Gerardus Duyckinck in the New-York Gazette: Or, Weekly Post-Boy, the New-York Journal, and the New-York Mercury.

Steuart stated that he “hopes his Friends in Town and Country will still continue to Favour him with their Custom.” He had established a clientele and wanted them to follow him to his new location on Queen Street. While that may have been reason enough to post an advertisement in each of the city’s newspapers, Steuart also realized that he faced competition from several other druggists who advertised aggressively. Getting his share of the market required advertising. Had his notices been intended solely to inform readers of his new location, it would not have been necessary to make appeals to quality – “none but the best of Medicines” – or price – “on as low Terms as possible” – or variety recently arrived from London – “just imported … a fresh and general Assortment.”

March 23

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 23 - 3:23:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (March 23, 1767).

“THE METHOD and plain PROCESS FOR MAKING POT-ASH.”

Before reading this advertisement, I had not even heard of potash. After a bit of research I found an article by William Roberts III, “American Potash Manufactured Before the American Revolution.” I discovered that potash, “the principal industrial chemical of the eighteenth century,” came from wood ashes and had many different uses, from bleaching cloth to making soaps to creating dyes.[1] Nonetheless, this industry did not become widespread in the colonies until a decade before the Revolution.

One reason that the potash industry grew in the colonies was because of the great amount of trees in North America while in England there was an “early depletion of English woodlands [that] had discouraged growth of the industry.”[2] Thomas Stephens had an part in the development of the potash industry in the colonies. Around the middle of the eighteenth centruy, he claimed “to have developed a method of making potash profitably in North America” to the Board of Trade.[3]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Today’s advertisement did not attempt to sell potash itself but rather Thomas Stephens’s pamphlet detailing how to produce the commodity, The Method and Plain Process for Making Pot-Ash Equal, If Not Superior to the Best Foreign Pot-Ash. As Ceara indicates, potash production and export did not become a viable enterprise in the colonies until just before the Revolution. Until that time, Britain depended primarily on Germany and the Baltic for potash. Given the competition, it makes sense that Stephens sought to assure readers and potential potash entrepreneurs that, with the guidance offered in his book, they stood to produce a profitable commodity.

Parliament was indeed interested in cultivating an American potash industry. In response to Stephens’s claim that he had developed a method that would significantly expand potash production in the colonies, Parliament promised “the sum of £3000 whenever he had done enough promoting and publicizing to satisfy the Board of Trade and the Treasury Lords.”[4] That promoting and publicizing resulted in his pamphlet, advertisements to promote the pamphlet, and perhaps even “PROOF BOTTLES belonging to this Treatise” that contained samples to verify the quality of potash made using his “METHOD and plain PROCESS.” Selling the pamphlet may have generated some revenues for printer William Weyman, but Stephens stood to benefit from a much more significant windfall once enough copies had been distributed.

According to Carl Bridenbaugh, Stephens made a tour of several southern colonies to promote his pamphlet in 1757, beginning in Charleston and visiting more than half a dozen cities and towns in the Carolinas and Virginia.[5] Stephens returned to England that same year, but a decade after his departure his pamphlet was still advertised in American newspapers. In the early 1760s, James Stewart, dispatched from London by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, toured New England and New York. Bridenbaugh credits Stewart with being such a successful advocate that “potash became a staple commodity of New York and New England.”[6] For readers of the New-York Gazette interested in entering or improving potash production, Stephens’s pamphlet may have supplemented Stewart’s instruction.

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[1] William I. Roberts, III, “American Potash Manufacture before the American Revolution,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 116, no. 5 (October 1972), 383.

[2] Roberts, 383.

[3] Roberts, 383.

[4] Roberts, 384.

[5] Carl Bridenbaugh, The Colonial Craftsman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1950), 104.

[6] Bridenbaugh, Colonial Craftsman, 105.

March 2

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

mar-2-321767-new-york-gazette
New-York Gazette (March 2, 1767).

“THE BOSEM, OR, ORIENTAL BALSAM; FOR Preventing the APOPLEXY, SUDDEN DEATH, &c.”

Today’s advertisement offered “BOSEM, OR, ORIENTAL BALSAM,” described as a “CEPHALIC CORDIAL Medicine” that imbued the user with strength and energy for the heart, body, and spirit as well as cured certain diseases. This product supposedly revitalized the nervous system and dealt with ailments gained from old age like poor sight, dizziness, weak joints, shaking limbs, and loss of strength. The medicine was used for to treat fainting, strokes, epilepsy, and other diseases affecting the brain. D. Ingram also claimed that it helped reduce dangers both prior to pregnancy and those that arose after giving birth. The Bosem was also useful for dealing with tropical diseases picked up in the West Indies.

This sort of product was commonly referred to as patent medicine, a trend dating back to medieval Europe. A patent medicine was a product advertised by swindlers and apothecaries, whose “noisily hawking, or ‘quacking,’” gave rise to the term quack. Americans brought patent medicines over from Europe, and even developed their own home grown varieties, although there was preference for European products. Patent medicine had strong ties to newspaper advertisements, sometimes purchasing much of the advertising space, thus filling both the swindler and editor’s pockets.

Jim Cox states that the appearance of patent medicines actually held more credibility than the contents, with American producers reusing old bottles of European products and refilling them with either addictive or foul tasting substances before selling them off as the original product. The bosem advertised here originated in the ancient world as a perfume, although later apothecaries used it in medicines in the Far East before, if the advertisement is to believed, it spread throughout the British empire in the 1760s.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Providers of goods and services who resided in England rarely placed advertisements in American newspapers. Among the exceptions, purveyors of patent medicines most commonly hawked (or quacked about) their wares in colonial publications – or at least seemed to do so. Although all but the final two lines of this notice seem to have been composed by D. Ingram, “Man Midwife, Professor of Surgery and Anatomy, and Surgeon to Christ’s Hospital” in London, McLean and Treat most likely made the arrangements with the printer of the New-York Gazette to insert the advertisement. Note that the description of the medicine was dated October 1, 1765, more than a year before this appearance among advertisements in the New-York Gazette. Ingram likely distributed the same copy to newspapers in London as well as agents in the English provinces and American colonies whenever he made arrangements to enter new markets.

As Sam explains, patent medicines were particularly susceptible to counterfeiting. Producers and sellers of these nostrums worked out various means to assure potential customers who read their advertisements that they would indeed acquire authentic medicines. As this advertisement suggests, one method was making their concoctions available exclusively from select agents. In the case of Ingram’s Bosem, this notice informed residents of New York that it was “Sold by M‘LEAN, and TREAT only.” Similarly, Dr. Hill, who peddled a variety of medicines (each for different symptoms – none seemed to be the cure all Ingram purported the Bosem to be), placed a notice in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette announcing that he had “appointed Messrs. CARNE and WILSON my agents, for the sale of my medicines in CAROLINA.” Limiting the number of sanctioned sellers of particular patent medicines allowed producers to exert control over the distribution of their products, protecting their reputation from fraudulent imitators. It may have also allowed the designated agents to charge a premium thanks to their exclusive access to the product.

February 2

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

feb-2-221767-new-york-gazette
New-York Gazette (February 2, 1767).

“Said M‘Queen, continues his Business as usual, to make all sorts of Stays for Ladies.”

John McQueen pursued multiple branches of the staymaking business at his shop “At the Sign of the Stays … in Smith-Street” in New York. He sold stays (or corsets) recently imported from London, but stated that he made “all sorts of Stays” as well. McQueen described himself as a “Stay-Maker” rather than a shopkeeper, although he also engaged in retailing “every Article for Stay-Makers” to others who practiced the trade. He sold textiles and accessories, like many shopkeepers, but the landmark that identified his shop, “the Sign of the Stays,” testified to his primary occupation and merchandise.

Even though he possessed the skills “to make all sorts of Stays,” McQueen may have considered it necessary to stock and advertise inventory imported from London. In addition to keeping up with demand that might have exceeded the number of garments he could produce in his shop, this also allowed him to assert that customers who purchased his stays could be certain that they made stylish choices that kept with those made by genteel women who resided across the Atlantic in the metropolitan capital of the British empire. McQueen had a habit of concluding his advertisements with declarations that he made stays “in the newest Fashions that is wore in London,” as he did in a nota bene that accompanied today’s advertisement. In an advertisement published nearly a year earlier, he resorted to even more grandiose language, proclaiming that he made stays “in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France, &c. &c.” In that case, he also reported that he imported stays “directly from London.”

Which merchandise comprised the bulk of McQueen’s business? Imported Stays or those he made in his own shop? Either way, he needed to establish some sort of connection – some sort of awareness of – current fashions in London and other cosmopolitan cities in Europe to help move any of his inventory made in his own shop. In the coming years many colonists would increasingly turn to homespun and look askance at goods and styles transported across the Atlantic for England, but for the moment most were still invested in expressing British identity through the Anglicization of the goods they purchased and clothing they wore.

September 30

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

sep-30-9301766-supplement-new-york-gazette
Occasional Supplement to W. Weyman’s Gazette of Yesterday [New-York Gazette] (September 30, 1766).
“LINENS and SHEETINGS, … Russia Iron, … Ware’s Snuff.”

Today’s advertisement features Greg, Cunningham, & Company and their vast assortment of all different types of goods recently “imported in the last Vessels from Europe.” Fairly unlike any other advertisements I have looked at this week, this shop offered more than a surplus of different textiles and clothing materials, such as “LINENS and SHEETINGS,” laces, velvets, and handkerchiefs, Greg, Cunningham, and Company also carried products that would be found in a modern hardware and sporting goods store. Materials like “Russia Iron,” gunpowder and musket balls were available as well as “Plate Copper” and “dry White Lead.” I had not seen these products advertised before; they stood out because they show that colonists needed supplies that allowed for expansion, growth, and opportunities for new development. From the hardware products to clothing to even a selection of medicines, Greg, Cunningham, and Company offered a diverse selection of goods to consumers.

The advertisement also listed “Ware’s Snuff.” Since it was listed with “middling pipes” and different alcoholic beverages, at first glance I assumed “Ware’s Snuff” was just another pleasure for adults. In fact snuff was extremely popular among men, not only as a product to enjoy, but as a social measure as well. According to Edwin Tunis, “Nearly every man carried the most expensive [snuff box] he could afford.” Some had a different box for every day. Even women took advantage of the readily available product, but only in private.[1] However, after researching further, I found that “Ware’s Snuff” was actually used as a cure for some sicknesses as well. Taking this up the nose would often lead to “a very large discharge of mucus.”[2]

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Nick focused on the content of the advertisement he selected for today, but I am also interested in the context in which it appeared. Today’s advertisement was included in a half sheet Occasional Supplement to W. Weyman’s Gazette of Yesterday. Like nearly half of colonial American newspapers published in 1766, William Weyman distributed the New-York Gazette on Mondays – and, usually, only Mondays. Typically, each issue consisted of four pages, two printed on each side of a broadsheet that was then folded in half. In most cases, that was the extent of the news and advertising made available by any particular newspaper during any particular week.

At this time the Pennsylvania Gazette did provide a notable departure. It frequently inserted an additional half sheet in its standard four-page issue, bringing the entire issue to a total of six pages. Even with this additional content, however, the Pennsylvania Gazette did not attempt to distribute additional full issues more than once a week. In the 1770s some newspapers experimented with printing two or three issues per week, but it was not until after the Revolution that newspapers in the largest cities began daily publication.

This brings us back to Greg, Cunningham, and Company’s advertisement and the Occasional Supplement to the New-York Gazette in which it appeared. Why deviate from the usual publication schedule? Considering the amount of labor involved in producing an additional half sheet, why have an Occasional Supplement appear just one day after Monday’s regular issue, rather than later in the week? The “Subject of the Day is quite altered,” the first line of the Occasional Supplement proclaimed, due to “the Arrival of the Lord Hyde Packet” and the news it carried “with regard to the Change in the Ministry.” At the end of July, Lord Rockingham had been dismissed as prime minister. The king instructed William Pitt the Elder to form a government and granted him a title, making him the first Earl of Chatham. Pitt was popular among American colonists, both for his incisive leadership during the Seven Years War and, especially, for his opposition to the Stamp Act. Yet the Occasional Supplement noted that in Britain “there is pro and con, for and against Mr. PITT.” Weyman selected excerpts from letters that arrived on the packet ship “to give both Sides a Chance, and must leave our Readers to judge for themselves.” This news was too significant to wait an entire week to report it in the next issue of the New-York Gazette, hence Weyman’s decision to rush to press with an Occasional Supplement.

This news filled almost the entire first page of the Occasional Supplement, but the other side featured advertisements (including Greg, Cunningham, and Company’s advertisement) exclusively. Sometimes supplements and additional half sheets (like those that accompanied the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1766) were mechanisms for distributing additional advertising, the demand for advertising space exceeding the what was available in regular issues. In this case, however, we see that political reporting opened an opportunity to distribute greater numbers of advertisements. Weyman and others who worked in his shop could have cut their work in half by printing a broadside that reported the news, but instead chose to print advertising on the other side before distributing the Occasional Supplement on September 30, 1766.

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[1] Edwin Tunis, Colonial Craftsmen and the Beginnings of American Industry (New York: World Publishing Company, 1965), 53.

[2] Thomas John Graham, Modern Domestic Medicine (London: Published for the Author, 1827), 369.

September 1

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

Sep 1 - 9:1:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (September 1, 1766).

“THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767. Is in the Press at W. Weyman’s.”

When it came to the printers and booksellers in colonial America, almanacs were a staple among the merchandise they produced and sold. These inexpensive pamphlets were in great demand, finding their way into the hands of readers from all kinds of backgrounds, from the elite to the most humble. In the 1960s Milton Drake compiled a bibliography of hundreds of almanacs printed in America in the eighteenth-century. Printers met the high demand for these calendars that doubled as reference periodicals by delivering an extensive supply to colonial customers, competing with each other in the process.

Given the diversity of almanacs available for public consumption, printers (as well as the authors of the almanacs themselves) needed to direct potential customers to the volumes they produced. Among the most common appeals, they promoted the accuracy of their almanacs, sometimes underscoring the education or other qualifications of the author or compiler. Benjamin Franklin’s almanacs, authored under the pseudonym Richard Saunders or Poor Richard, gained popularity for the aphorisms the astute printer inserted. (Arguably, those aphorisms made Franklin’s almanacs the most famous of the eighteenth century. Poor Richard’s almanacs remain well known in popular culture today, not just among scholars of early American print culture, thanks not only to their connection to one of the founders but also because the aphorisms have become nuggets of wisdom passed down from one generation of Americans to the next.) The authors and compilers of almanacs, like “Poor Richard,” became brands in and of themselves, contributing to the popularity of certain almanacs and forging a loyalty that predisposed colonists to continue purchasing familiar publications.

William Weyman devised another strategy for placing his almanacs in the hands of readers. He advertised them early (indeed, very early!), which allowed him to bring his almanacs to the attention of potential customers before they even considered others printed by competitors. “THOMAS MORE’S ALMANACK, For the Year 1767” was not yet ready for sale at the time that Weyman placed today’s advertisement. It was merely “in the Press … and will be published in due Time.” This advertisement appeared on September 1, a full four months ahead of the year covered in the almanac, but Weyman was priming customers to consider his almanac. They might not have needed it yet, but it was a product many of them knew that they would purchase eventually.

Modern retailers engage in similar practices. This year many stores started stocking Halloween items in August. Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise will be available soon, if it is not on shelves already. Today’s merchants did not invent promoting seasonal goods well before customers needed them. William Weyman and others were already doing that in the eighteenth century.