June 16

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

Large or small Entertainments provided, in the most genteel Manner.”

Jun 16 - 6:16:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 16, 1768).

As summer arrived in New York in 1768, Josiah Davenport continued placing advertisements in newspapers published in that city to inform colonists planning to visit Philadelphia that he had recently opened a new inn and tavern “called the BUNCH of GRAPES.” This was not merely a way station for food and lodging but instead “a genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT, for travelers and others.”

Yet New Yorkers did not need to travel to Philadelphia to enjoy the sorts of amenities Davenport advertised. Starting with the June 16 edition of the New-York Gazette (number 1328), Samuel Francis (more commonly known today as Samuel Fraunces) announced that his summer resort at the edge of the city, “VAUX-HALL GARDEN,” was open for business. Naming his pleasure garden after Vauxhall Gardens of London, Fraunces opened “VAUX-HALL GARDEN” at Spring Hill, a villa located on the Hudson River, in 1767. The establishment competed with nearby Ranelagh Gardens, the site of several fireworks exhibitions in the spring of 1768. Fraunces countered the series of advertisements for the fireworks shows with his own notices, slated to appear in the New-York Gazette for at least four weeks (according to the issue numbers – “28 31” – that the compositor inserted at the end of the advertisement).

Visitors to his “House and Gardens” could experience “Large or small Entertainments … in the most genteel Manner” as they selected among “neat Wines, and other Liquors.” In addition to evening amusements, patrons could also enjoy “Breakfasting” complete with tea and coffee as well as “Cakes, Tarts, Jellies, [and] Sillibubs.” In addition, Fraunces offered catering services – “Dinners, Suppers, &c. dressed at Gentlemen’s own Houses” – for those who wished to entertain in their own homes.

In the second half of the eighteenth century an emerging leisure and hospitality industry served “such Ladies, Gentlemen, and others, who may be pleased to favour” establishments like Vauxhall Garden, Ranelagh Gardens, and the Bunch of Grapes “with their Company.” Colonists participated in a transatlantic consumer revolution that involved more than acquiring goods. Those with the time and resources also enjoyed a variety of services and entertainments presented for their amusement. For some early Americans, the culture of consumption extended to consuming experiences as well as the myriad of housewares and apparel advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers.

June 12

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

Jun 12 - 6:9:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 9, 1768).

“The Fire-Works will be disposed in the following Order.”

Colonists in New York, especially those who read the New-York Journal, were aware that “two Italian Brothers” who created fireworks shows visited the city and resided among them in the spring of 1768. To draw audiences for their shows, the brothers adopted marketing strategies similar to those deployed by other itinerant entertainers in eighteenth-century America. They initially introduced themselves to a community that considered them strangers, presenting their credentials before their first public exhibition. In advertisements published in May they described themselves as “two Italian Brothers from Turin, (Engineers to the King of Sardinia).” They also informed New Yorkers that they had previously presented “very surprising Specimens of their Abilities before the Royal Family in Spain and with great Applause before his Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and all the Nobility at Bath.” They proclaimed that colonists in New York could witness the same fireworks demonstrations that had entertained some of the most powerful and important personages in Europe.

Subsequent advertisements dispensed with such puffery in favor of local testimonials to their skills as both engineers and entertainers. They no longer needed to assert that they had performed for nobility on the other side of the Atlantic because reports of their first shows at Ranelagh Gardens in New York spread by word of mouth. Such testimonials likely evoked less skepticism since a general buzz among those who had seen the fireworks or knew someone who had seen the fireworks or even knew someone who knew someone who had attended the performance provided more certain verification about the quality and entertainment value of the show than a list of dignitaries on the other side of the ocean. Indeed, the “two Italian Brothers” trumpeted that they had “given such Specimens of their Abilities (to the general Satisfaction of the Spectators) at the Fire-Works), which they have formerly exhibited” at Ranelagh Gardens that “some of the principal Gentlemen of this City” had encouraged them to put on another show.

In that regard they also followed a script established by other itinerant entertainers in their advertisements: begin by announcing a single performance or limited time engagement but upon establishing a reputation in the local marketplace extend the stay and promise bigger and bolder spectacles to assure prospective viewers that they too could witness the same entertainments that had captured the attention of so many of their friends and neighbors. For the fireworks engineers, this meant presenting a show “more curious than either of the former,” this one composed of four parts (each described in detail) rather than the three parts that comprised their first exhibition at Ranelagh Gardens. Like other performers who traveled from city to city in the colonies, the “two Italian Brothers” attempted to manage expectations for their shows in the press, inserting advertisements that first introduced them to the public and, later, others that offered one more chance to participate (and avoid being excluded from) an event that loomed large in local popular culture.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (June 4, 1768).

The following Advertisement from the London Gazetteer … is inserted as a Curiosity.”

Colonial printers generated content for their newspapers by liberally reprinting items that previously appeared in other newspapers. Much of the news came from newspapers printed in other colonies, but some it also came directly from newspapers printed in London. In making their editorial decisions, printers sometimes chose items intended to inform or to educate, but other times selected items intended solely to entertain. The latter included anecdotes, poems, and even advertisements.

For instance, John Holt reprinted news from London in the Supplement to the New-York Journal distributed on June 4, 1768. He complemented the news from the Public Advertiser and Public Ledger with items intended to edify and to amuse, namely a poem “On JOHN WILKES, Esq; offering himself a Candidate for the County of Middlesex” and an “Advertisement from the London Gazetteer of the 31st of March last.” Holt explained that the advertisement “is inserted as a Curiosity” for his readers.

The advertisement offered colonists a glimpse of popular culture and entertainments available in England. It announced a spectacle that occurred every night (except Sundays) throughout the summer: “HORSEMANSHIP, performed on one, two, and three horses, by Mr. WOLTON, at St. George’s Spaw, at the Dog and Duck in St. George’s Fields Southwark.” The notice listed ten tricks performed by Wolton, including riding “two horses on full speed, standing upright with one foot on each saddle” and making “a flying leap over the bar with two horses, sitting on both saddles.” For added interest, Wolton beat a drum during some of his tricks and fired a pistol during others. To make the event even more spectacular, the proprietors supplied “Proper musick” to set the tone throughout the series of stunts.

Unless they planned a trip across the Atlantic, the readers of the New-York Journal did not have opportunities to witness Wolton’s show of horsemanship during the summer of 1768, but Holt suspected that the advertisement on its own provided some of level of entertainment. Its inclusion in the New-York Journal demonstrates how carefully the printer scoured other newspapers for content he imagined his readers would enjoy. Some colonists likely paid similar attention to the advertisements in their local newspapers, not because they were responsible for filling out the pages but instead because they sought entertainment, either by attending events like fireworks shows and musical performances or simply by reading advertisements that included curious or amusing content.

May 8

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

May 8 - 5:5:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 5, 1768).

“He likewise cleans gentlemen and ladies clothes … in as neat a manner as those done in London.”

Like many other artisans, Henry Brabazon, a “Silk-dier and Dry-scourer,” emphasized his skill in his newspaper advertisements.  Deploying formulaic language, he announced that “his customers may depend upon having their work done with dispatch and fidelity” in a notice he inserted in the supplement that accompanied the May 5, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal.  Yet Brabazon did not resort merely to standardized language that appeared in countless other advertisements placed by artisans of all sorts.  He promoted his skill by favorably comparing the results of his efforts to the work undertaken by his counterparts in England.

For instance, Brabazon proclaimed that he “cleans gentlemen and ladies clothes … in as neat a manner as those done in London.”  In addition to asserting his credentials as a dry scourer, he provided further commentary about his skills as a silk dyer, declaring that he “dies cotton velvet as fine a black, and to as good perfection, as those in Manchester.”  He expected that prospective customers in the colonies were capable of making distinctions when it came to associating specific products with particular places in England.  Note that he introduced himself as “from Europe,” but did not make general comparisons to silk dyers and dry scourers on the other side of the Atlantic.  Instead, he made targeted comparisons that associated dying with Manchester and scouring with London.

Brabazon attempted to cultivate a clientele among colonists who were savvy consumers.  Even though they resided far from the places of production in England, his prospective customers knew the market and distinguished among goods and services based on their place of origin.  Brabazon also knew that colonial consumers did not want to feel as though they had to settle for inferior goods and services merely because they resided far from the center of the empire.  They imported textiles, housewares, and other goods to keep up with fashions in England, but they also wanted services that rivaled the quality available there.  As a dyer and scourer, Brabazon skillfully assisted his customers in maintaining their textiles and garments so they would not appear second best compared to their counterparts in England.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 30, 1768).

“Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.”

For quite some time John Baker, “SURGEON DENTIST,” had advertised his services to the better sorts and others and other residents of Boston in the newspapers published there, but in the spring of 1768 he migrated to New York and informed “the gentry” that “he will wait on receiving their commands.” He announced that he “cures the scurvy in the gums” and “makes artificial teeth,” just a few of the many aspects of dental hygiene and health he addressed in the lengthy notice he inserted in the New-York Journal.

In addition to those various services, the itinerant surgeon dentist also hawked a product that readers could purchase with or without undergoing any of the procedures he performed. A manicule drew attention to Baker’s “Dentrific … for preserving the teeth and gums.” Here Baker used an alternate spelling for “dentifrice,” a precursor to toothpaste described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a powder or other preparation for rubbing or cleansing the teeth.” Baker provided “proper directions,” presumably a printed sheet or pamphlet, with each purchase.

He also realized the potential for counterfeits to circulate in a marketplace with little regulation of medicines. To that end, the inserted a nota bene to announce that “Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.” Whether Baker actually anticipated spurious dentifrices attributed to him, this proclamation enhanced his marketing efforts. It implied that his dentifrice was so effective that others would indeed attempt to peddle substitutes that they passed off as authentic. It also allowed him to assert that he possessed his own coat of arms, which now doubled as a trademark to readily identify his product. Earlier in the advertisement he declared that he had provided his services “to the principal nobility, gentry, and others of Great-Britain, France, Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe.” Invoking his own coat of arms accentuated that claim, suggesting that his treatments were so effective that clients of means and influence had obtained his services and been satisfied with the results. As a newcomer to New York, Baker could not rely on a reputation built over time through extended interactions with local residents as a means of attracting new patients. Instead, he used his dentifrice, his coat of arms, and his own reports concerning his previous clients to achieve recognition and encourage prospective patients to engage his services in a new city.

April 22

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

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 22, 1768).

“LETTERS from a FARMER in PENNSYLVANIA, to the INHABITANTS of the BRITISH COLONIES.”

Guest curator Zachary Karpowich recently examined an advertisement promoting the “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.”  David Hall and William Sellers inserted this advertisement for a pamphlet they had published in their own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Yet Hall and Sellers were not the only printers to collect the twelve “Letters” together into a single pamphlet, nor was the Pennsylvania Gazette the only newspaper to carry advertisements for those pamphlets.  Just as the “Letters” spread from colony to colony as they were reprinted from newspaper to newspaper in late 1767 and well into the spring of 1768, colonists had access to a variety of pamphlets that collected the series of essays under a single cover for their convenience and continued reference.

The American Antiquarian Society’s catalog indicates that at least four printing houses published their own edition of the “Letters” in pamphlet form in 1768.  According to the imprints, residents of Philadelphia could purchase an edition “Printed by David Hall, and William Sellers” published in the spring and a second edition released later in the year.  That Hall and Sellers printed more than one edition testifies to the popularity of the pamphlet.  Colonists in New York could purchase an edition “Re-printed by John Holt, near the Exchange,” while residents of Boston could choose between competing editions, one “Printed and sold by Edes & Gill, in Queen Street” and another “Printed by Mein and Fleeming, and to be sold by John Mein, at the London Book-Store, north-side of King-Street.”  Each of these printers also published newspapers that had reprinted the “Letters” over a series of weeks:  Holt, the New-York Journal; Edes and Gill, the Boston-Gazette; and Mein and Fleeming, the Boston Chronicle.  At least one other edition appeared in Philadelphia in 1769, that one described as a third edition “Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, at the London Coffee-House.”  That the Bradfords produced yet another edition for readers in Philadelphia suggests that printers cultivated demand for the pamphlet and successfully disseminated the arguments about Parliament overstepping its authority advanced by John Dickinson.

Colonists beyond the major port cities could also purchase the pamphlet.  Today’s advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, published in Portsmouth by Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle.  It specified two locations where readers could purchase the pamphlet:  “at the LONDON BOOK STORE, North Side of King Street, BOSTON, and at the Printing Office in Portsmouth.”  The Fowles likely stocked the edition printed by Mein and Fleeming, considering that their advertisement reiterated the location listed in the imprint from that edition.  Just as they had reprinted the “Letters” in a series of issues, the Fowles also reprinted significant portions of an advertisement previously published in another newspaper, drawing from the notice for Hall and Sellers’s edition of the pamphlet in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

The Fowles were not the only printers to advertise an edition of this pamphlet on April 22, 1768. John Holt ran an advertisement for his edition in a midweek supplement to his newspaper, the New-York Journal.  He composed his own copy, however, advising potential customers that the pamphlet “fully explains and unanswerably defends the Rights of the British Colonies.”  He reported that he had gathered the essays into a pamphlet “upon the Suggestion of many of the Inhabitants” of New York who recommended “that it ought to be kept in every Family, and be thoroughly consider’d, understood, and taught to the rising Generation.”  Holt stressed that reading the “Letters” would inculcate a particular set of values among youth; studying the pamphlet was not the sole domain of the current generation of colonial leaders.  Yet he also lamented that “the Sale of these useful Pamphlets, has hitherto been very inconsiderable, so that they are like to be a great Loss to the Printer” even though he indicated that they had been “Just published.”  Holt may have exaggerated as a way to jumpstart sales, a strategy that could have been effective once he advertised that he stocked copies of the pamphlet at his printing office.

Throughout the colonies printers encouraged customers to purchase – and read – the “Letters” in order that “the Principles of our happy Constitution may be universally known and established.”  The stakes were too high not to become familiar with Dickinson’s explication of the proper relationship between Parliament and colonies.  Turning a blind eye to such wisdom meant that the colonists would not be prepared “to assert and maintain the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.”

Apr 22 - 4:22:1768 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 22, 1768).

April 9

GUEST CURATOR:  Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 9 - 4:9:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 9, 1768).

“Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment for a considerable Quantity of said Wine.”

Thomas Durham placed this advertisement for “Teneriffe Wine” in the New-York Journal on April 9, 1768. Durham sold a special type of wine from the Canary Islands. However, a more interesting part of the advertisement appeared in a note dedicated to forms of payment:  “Pipe Staves will be taken in Payment.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, pipe staves were “hooped together to make a cask.” In simple terms, they were the pieces of wood put together to construct a cask.

Apr 9 - Parts of Barrel
Parts of a Barrel (Courtesy Colonial Sense).

In the colonial period in America there was a system that was put in place of credits and alternatives to paying. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, “A shortage of money was a problem for the American colonies.  …  Without enough money, the colonists had to barter for goods.” This advertisement provides evidence of the barter system. Thomas Durham offered a deal in which a customer could provide staves to count as payment for the wine. This tells of the larger cycle of consumption and production in which customers were allowed to trade or barter items related to what they were trying to obtain. Economic arrangements of this sort show the diversity of ways that colonists conducted business.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Today’s advertisement appeared in a four-page supplement to John Holt’s New-York Journal, a supplement published on Saturday, April 9, 1768.  Holt, however, distributed the standard issues of the New-York Journal on Thursdays, yet he had sufficient content – news, letters to the printer, and advertisements – to justify printing and distributing what amounted to a second issue for that week.

Why this merits notice requires an overview of newspaper publication practices in the colonial period. Printers typically published one issue each week.  Each issue consisted of four pages, created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half.  The balance of news items and advertising varied, but among newspapers printed in the busiest urban ports – Boston, Charleston, Newport, New York, and Philadelphia – news comprised about half of each issue and advertising the other half. Printers sometimes found that they had sufficient content to require a supplement, usually two pages bearing the same date as the regular issue and distributed with it.  By the late 1760s the Pennsylvania Gazette so often included a two-page supplement that even though it clearly bore the title “Supplement” many subscribers likely expected to receive a six-page newspaper each Thursday. On occasion, however, printers distributed supplements later in the week, especially if particularly important news arrived that could not wait for the next issue.  When ships entered port with news that Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act, for instance, many printers published supplements to spread the word as quickly as possible.  In general, supplements usually amounted to two pages.

Yet the supplement that carried today’s advertisement consisted of four pages distributed later in the week than the newspaper’s usual publication day.  This happened quite frequently in 1768.  Throughout the year Holt distributed no fewer than eighteen supplements to the New-York Journal on days other than Thursday, in addition to fifty-two regular issues and sometimes additional supplements on Thursdays.  Between politics and the economy, Holt determined that his readers needed access to more information that traditional publication practices allowed. Historians of print culture and journalism often refer to an explosion of print that took place after the American Revolution as citizens of the new nation consumed greater amounts of information, believing that they could safeguard the young republic by becoming as informed as possible.  The number of newspapers expanded.  Many moved to semi-weekly, tri-weekly, and, by the end of the eighteenth century, daily publication.  John Holt’s publication schedule for 1768 serves as a precursor to that expansion of the press, a harbinger during the imperial crisis of the extensive publication and distribution of newspapers after the American Revolution.