August 10

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

Aug 10 - 8:10:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (August 10, 1769).

The following assortment of GOODS.”

With the exception of the “POETS CORNER” in the upper left and the colophon running across the bottom, advertisements of various lengths comprised the final page of the August 10, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. Most consisted of dense blocks of text with headlines in a larger font, but two likely attracted attention because their format differed from the others. Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement included a familiar woodcut that depicted a Windsor chair. By that time, Hampton had included the image in his advertising so often that the woodcut had been damaged through such frequent use. The Windsor chair was missing an arm. Still, Hampton continued to garner a return on the investment he made in commissioning the woodcut, apparently believing that a visual image, even a slightly damaged one, enhanced the visibility of his advertisement.

Henry Remsen, Junior, and Company’s advertisement, on the other hand, consisted entirely of text, but its layout distinguished it from other advertisements, including those by competitors who also listed scores of goods available at their shops. Remsen and Company enumerated a variety of textiles and accessories, from “Blue and red strouds” and “Striped flannels and coverlids” to “Ribbons and gimps” and “Ivory and horn combs.” They divided their advertisement into two columns with a line down the center separating them. Only one or two items appeared on each line. Remsen and Company’s advertisement included far more white space than others that presented litanies of goods, making it easier to read and locate or notice merchandise of interest. The advertisement that ran immediately below it, for instance, also provided an extensive list of inventory at a shop in New York, but it followed the most common layout for advertisements of that sort. The goods appeared one after another in a dense paragraph. This format saved space (and thus reduced the cost of advertising) and may have been easier for the compositor to set the type, but it did not make the same impression on the page as the dual columns in Remsen and Company’s advertisement. Although compositors usually made decisions about typography and layout, Remsen and Company likely submitted specific instructions, possibly even a manuscript example, for the format they desired. While not every advertiser considered the power of graphic design in the eighteenth century, some, like Jonathan Hampton and Remsen and Company, did take how and advertisement looked in addition to what it said into account.

August 3

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

Aug 3 - 8:3:1769 New-York Journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (August 3, 1769).

“79–.”

Like many other eighteenth-century printers, John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, inserted numbers at the end of advertisements. These numbers were not intended for readers but instead for those who worked in the printing office. They indicated how long an advertisement should run. For instance, an advertisement announcing that the brigantine Rebekah would sail for Jamaica appeared in the supplement that accompanied the August 3, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. The compositor inserted the numbers 85 and 88 on the final line, 85 indicating that the advertisement first ran in issue 1385 on July 20 and 88 indicating that it would make its final appearance in issue 1388 on August 10. After that, the compositor would remove it. Similarly, Jonathan Hampton’s advertisement featuring a woodcut that depicted a Windsor chair also included 85 and 88 on the final line, though an earlier iteration included the numbers 63 and 72 instead. Hampton had inserted the advertisement for ten weeks earlier in the year, apparently determined it had been worth the investment, and then inserted it again for a shorter run.

Other advertisements, however, included a single number and a dash. Samuel Francis (better known today as Samuel Fraunces) ran an advertisement that concluded with “79–“ instead of two numbers. Similarly, Jarvis Roebuck had “62–“ on the final line of his advertisement. In each case, the number indicated the issue that the advertisement first appeared: issue 1362 on February 2 for Jarvis and issue 1379 on June 8 (the same date at that opened the advertisement) for Francis. What did the dash mean? How did the compositor interpret it when deciding which items belonged in an issue and which should be removed?

The publication history of these two advertisements reveals that the dash did not indicate that an advertisement should run continuously. Francis’s advertisement ran for five consecutive issues (June 8, 15, 22, and 22 and July 6) before appearing sporadically in six more issues (July 20, August 3 and 24, September 7, and October 12 and 26). Roebuck’s advertisement ran sporadically from the start, appearing on February 2 and 9, March 2 and 30, April 13 and 27, May 25, June 1, 8, and 29, July 27, August 3, 24, and 31, September 14, and October 12. Seemingly no particular plan corresponds to the publication schedule for the sixteen insertions of Roebuck’s notice over the course of nine months.

Perhaps the dash indicated that the compositor had carte blanche to insert the advertisement when necessary to complete a page. These two advertisements were the final items in the August 3 supplement, though they did not always appear at the end of an issue or supplement. Moderate in length, they may have been convenient filler when the compositor estimated that an issue or supplement ran short of other content. Paired numbers, like “85 88,” streamlined bookkeeping and production of the New-York Journal, but this arrangement for continued yet sporadic insertions required careful attention to bookkeeping. The printer or another employee in the printing office would have had to peruse each issue to see which advertisements with dashes appeared and then update the ledger accordingly.

What role did advertisers play in this process? Could they instruct the printing office to insert an advertisement on a week-by-week basis? If compositors made decisions about including advertisements, did advertisers pay for every insertion? Did advertisers receive any sort of discount for this arrangement? Did advertisements every run after advertisers no longer wished for them to appear? It seems unlikely that Francis would have been enthused about an advertisement promoting the summer entertainments at Vauxhall Gardens to appear in the New-York Journal in late October.

Some of the numbers compositors inserted at the end of advertisements clearly indicated their purpose in the operation of a printing office and the production of colonial newspapers. Other notations, however, only hinted at their purpose and now raise tantalizing questions about how printers, compositors, advertisers, and others used them. The dash at the end of some advertisements certainly served some purpose; otherwise compositors would not have taken the time to include such notation. A more systematic survey of advertisements combined with careful examination of printers’ ledgers may reveal some of the practices that printers found efficient and effective in running their shops in the eighteenth century.

July 20

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

Jul 20 - 7:20:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 20, 1769).

“Violaters of the Non-importation Agreement.”

An advertisement concerning violations of the nonimportation agreement in New York, one “Of greater Importance to the Public, than any which has yet appeared on the like Occasions,” ran in the July 20, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. It detailed the indiscretions of Simeon Cooley, “Haberdasher, Jeweller and Silversmith,” who had moved to New York from London a few years earlier. Cooley had done well for himself, benefitting “so much by the Favour of his Customers” that he had managed to purchases a house in the city, near the Merchants Coffee House. When it came to the politics of nonimportation, Cooley initially displayed “a Disposition to co-operate with his Fellow Citizens, in the Measures thought necessary to be pursued for the Recovery and Preservation of their common inestimable Rights and Liberties.”

Yet Cooley did not abide by the nonimportation agreement that he had willingly signed. He was one of the first residents of New York suspected of having broken the pact, yet he explained that his goods did not fall under the agreement because they had been ordered before it went into effect. They arrived later than expected, but he had not submitted new orders since signing the agreement. Seemingly to his credit, he agreed to place those goods in storage while the agreement was still in effect, but that was just a ruse that took advantage of the leniency of the committee responsible for enforcement. Cooley attempted to salvage his reputation; the committee did not realize his “knavish Jesuitical Intentions.” He insisted that his goods would be ruined “unless they were opened and well cleaned.” Under that subterfuge, the “vile Ingrate” did not return all of the offending goods to the storehouse.

Even more boldly, he more recently imported other goods in the Edward, the “last Ship from London.” A record of the Edward arriving in New York appeared in the shipping news on the same page as the advertisement detailing Cooley’s transgressions. Cooley had finished pretending to submit to the nonimportation agreement: “he hesitates not to declare, that he has not at any time with-held his Orders for Goods, that he has already sold Part of those so treacherously and fraudulently obtained out of the Public Store, as before mentioned, that he will continue to sell the Remainder, together with those which arrived since, and all such as may arrive hereafter.” Cooley had no regard for anything stated in the nonimportation agreement, even though he had willingly signed it.

In response, the advertisement called on “the virtuous Inhabitants of this Colony” to exercise the appropriate “spirited and patriotic Conduct” when it came to Cooley and his “contemptuous Machinations.” This was not merely a matter of refusing to buy and sell from “so contemptible a Reptile and Miscreant” but also refusing to “have the least Intercourse with him on any Pretence whatsoever.” In other words, those who supported “so righteous a Cause” as the nonimportation agreement were instructed to shun Cooley. Furthermore, it was necessary to make an example of Cooley to keep his contagion from spreading. The advertisement demanded that he should “be treated on all Occasions, and by all legal Means as an Enemy to his Country, a Pest to Society, and a vile Disturber of the Peace, Police, and good Order of this City.”

Through his own actions, Cooley had damaged his reputation. He neglected to learn from his mistakes and refused to back down when discovered. This lengthy advertisement documented his violations of the nonimportation agreement and recommended punishments appropriate to the egregious manner he conducted himself. The repercussions were not confined to the realm of commerce but instead extended to his everyday interactions with the “virtuous Inhabitants of this Colony” as they shunned him for his violations. Cooley had earned the “Hatred of the Public.”

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:6:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (July 6, 1769).

“Ready Money, for clean Linen RAGS.”

By the first week of July in 1769, John Keating’s advertisement for the “NEW-YORK Paper MANUFACTORY” became a familiar sight in the New-York Journal. Keating called on colonists, especially “ALL Persons who have the Welfare of their Country at Heart,” to collect clean linen rags and turn them over to the paper manufactory to be made into paper. He offered “Ready Money” for rags, but encouraged readers to deliver rags “not so much for the Money they will immediately fetch” but instead for “the Benefit which will accrue to the Public in general” if the manufactory received enough rags “to make a sufficient Quantity of Paper, for our own Consumption.”

This was particularly important in the late 1760s because the Townshend Acts levied duties on imported paper. As part of their resistance efforts, colonists boycotted a vast array of imported goods, not just those subject to the new taxes, and encouraged “domestic manufactures” or local production as an alternate means of acquiring goods while simultaneously bolstering the colonial economy. Keating argued that consumers who purchased paper from the New-York Paper Manufactory kept “Sums of Money” in the colony that were otherwise “annually remitted” across the Atlantic. Furthermore, the manufactory employed “Numbers of poor People” who kept that money “in a circulating State” in the colony, rather than lost to merchants, manufacturers, and Parliament in Britain. Keating deployed a “Buy American” campaign during the imperial crisis, before thirteen colonies declared independence.

In its most recent iteration, Keating’s advertisement appeared in the New-York Journal at least once a month since its first insertion on February 9, 1769. It also ran on February 16, March 23, April 20, May 18, June 8, and July 6. This copy for this iteration, for the most part, replicated a similar advertisement that ran in the summer of 1768. Over the course of a year, Keating was consistent in the message he communicated to colonists, encouraging them to participate in both the production and consumption of paper from the New-York Paper Manufactory.

The sporadic appearance of his advertisement in the New-York Journal raises questions about the arrangements Keating made with John Holt, the newspaper’s printer. Holt and others who worked at his printing office kept the type set over the course of several months, intending to insert the advertisement repeatedly. It ran once a month, but not on a regular schedule, such as in the first issue of the month. Did it appear when Keating ran low on rags and instructed Holt to run the advertisement once again in hopes of obtaining the materials he needed to operate his business? Did Holt insert Keating’s advertisement when running low on other content and needing to fill space? Did the two offer in-kind services to each other, such a supply of paper in exchange for advertising? Did Holt charge reduced advertising rates for Keating? After all, as a printer, Holt had a particular interest in having access to paper that may have prompted him to cultivate a relationship with the proprietor of the New-York Paper Manufactory.

By itself, any insertion of Keating’s advertisement tells a story of politics and the production and consumption of paper when colonists answered the Townshend Acts with nonimportation agreements. The repeated insertion of the advertisement, however, hints at another story about the business practices at both the New-York Journal and the New-York Paper Manufactory. Ledgers and correspondence, if they still exist, might shed more light on Keating’s advertising campaign. Without additional sources, the sporadic yet frequent insertion of the same advertisement for the New-York Paper Manufactory in the New-York Journal over the course of several months testifies to a message regularly communicated to readers while obscuring some of the decisions made by both the printer and the paper manufacturer in the process of presenting arguments in favor of supporting this local enterprise.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 6:29:1769 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 29, 1769).

“Doing so was contrary to the Non-Important Agreement.”

The success of the nonimportation agreements adopted during the imperial crisis depended not only on the cooperation of merchants and consumers but also on surveillance and enforcement, both formal and informal. Committees of merchants and traders devised the nonimportation agreements and then set about policing themselves, but colonists also observed their friends and neighbors to assess whether they complied and, when necessary, shame them in public and deprive them of business as punishment for not adhering to the agreement.

The June 26, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal carried an advertisement that testified to the stakes of following the nonimportation agreement. It told a story about Peter Clopper, “Merchant of this City, whose Zeal for promoting he good of his Country, has never been called in Question.” To that end, he was one of the first merchants in New York to sign the nonimportation agreement. About two weeks before the advertisement ran in the New-York Journal, Clopper traveled to Philadelphia to attend to “Business of Importance” and, while there, purchased “one Piece of Callico, two Pieces of coloured, and one Piece of black Persian.” He did not intend to sell these fabrics in New York, instead acquiring them “principally for the Use of his Family.” Still, this violated the nonimportation agreement, as Clopper soon realized. He then packaged up the textiles and sent them back to Philadelphia, yet that was not the end of atoning for his transgression. He voluntarily approached the Committee of Inspection into the Importation of Goods to relay the entire story and received credit for his honesty since the infraction “otherwise in all Probability never [would have] come to Light.”

In response to this incident, the committee determined that Clopper’s purchase was an “involuntary Transaction” that “ought not to be imputed to him as a Crime.” Having returned the merchandise and then presented himself to the committee of his own accord, he was “intitled to the Favour of the Committee for his candid Behaviour.” Yet Clopper did not seek the “Favour of the Committee” alone. He also wished to defend and maintain his reputation among the residents of New York, colonists who were also current and prospective customers. The introduction to the account of Clopper’s indiscretion and remedy depicted the alternatives. On the one hand, “it must afford great Satisfaction to every Friend of the American Colonies” to know the “Indignation and Abhorrence” that would be incurred by anyone who “willfully and personally” behaved in a manner “to counteract the Agreement entered into” for the “common Preservation” of the entire colony. On the other hand, “it must also give them Pleasure to know how cautious and fearful Individuals are of incurring the Censure of the Public.”

The merchants and traders who signed and enforced the nonimportation agreement were not Clopper’s only concern when he took action to fix his supposedly inadvertent mistake. He also worried about maintaining his reputation among the general public and avoiding the “Censure of the Public” that could spell ruin for his business. Yet it was not only commerce at stake. Clopper realized that his error could also affect his social relationships with friends and neighbors who supported the nonimportation agreement. When it came to adhering to that pact, political acts had personal ramifications. The purpose of the advertisement in the New-York Journal was to diffuse those ramifications for Clopper, given his eager cooperation once he realized his transgression, as well as remind others of the consequences if they willfully tried to evade the nonimportation agreement.

May 28

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

May 28 - 5:25:1769 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 25, 1769).

Family Physician, or Primitive Physic, just published.”

The supplement that accompanied the May 25, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal concluded with an advertisement for a handy reference manual, “THE Family Physician, or Primitive Physic.” Prospective customers could acquire copies “at the Printing-Office, at the Exchange.” In other words, John Holt, the printer and publisher of the New-York Journal, sold this book to supplement his income. In so doing, he competed with druggist Thomas Bridgen Atwood, who advertised elsewhere on the same page of the supplement. Atwood and Holt, however, provided different goods and services.

Atwood, who advertised regularly, sold a “general Assortment of Drugs and Medecines.” In addition to selling patent medicines and other remedies prepared in advance by others, he also compounded new prescriptions. Holt, on the other hand, offered a means for prospective customers to avoid consulting (and paying) “a Physician or Surgeon” or an apothecary. The book he peddled would allow buyers to act as doctor and pharmacist in treating “most kinds of common Diseases” since it contained “Receipts [recipes] for preparing and applying a great Number of Medicines.” Prospective customers did not need to worry about any lack of expertise or access to the necessary materials. Holt pledged that most of the “Receipts” were “simple” to prepare and their elements “easily procured.”

To underscore the utility of the book as a substitute for consulting physicians and apothecaries, Holt noted that consumers considered it “so generally useful and acceptable to the Public” that it had been reprinted thirteen times in the course of just a few years. For his final pitch, he proclaimed that “every Family, especially in the Country, ought certainly to be furnished with one of these Books.” In promoting this reference manual to prospective customers who lived outside of the city, he suggested that procuring a copy was not merely a means of saving money on consultations with physicians and druggists. The book provided greater access to the world of medicine, especially the most common and basic remedies, for those who did not have doctors and apothecaries residing in close proximity.

April 6

Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 6, 1769).

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

“MICHEAL POREE, SURGEON DENTIST.”

The professions of surgeon, dentist, and barber were once the same. The familiar rotating pole of red and white symbolizes their past. However, Michael Poree only advertises as a dentist in the New-York Journal.

His advertisement made me wonder about the differences between medicine, especially surgery, in early America and today. Surgeries are conducted frequently today because anesthesia is available, but that was not the case in colonial America. Another reason why surgeries were conducted infrequently was because doctors did not know as much about what was inside the human body. Giles Firmin, an English surgeon and dentist who arrived in Massachusetts in 1630 believed that better understanding was necessary. According to William C. Wigglesworth, “Firmin’s insistence on the necessity of accurate anatomic knowledge led him, in 1647, to argue that the General Court should pass a resolution providing that ‘such as studies of physic or chirugery may have liberty to reade anatomy, and to anatomize once in foure years some malefactor in case there be such, as the Court shall afford.’ Nevertheless, not until 1834 would the General Court legalize dissections of unclaimed bodies, at the urging of the Massachusetts Medical Society.”  To learn more, visit “Surgery in Massachusetts, 1620-1800.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Michael Poree, a surgeon dentist, offered a variety of services “to remedy the various complaints incidental to the teeth and gums” in his advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the April 6, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal. Yet those services may not have been the primary source of his income. He devoted far more space in his notice to hawking patent medicines, some of them related to dentistry but others intended for other afflictions.

One “PREPARATION” that he sold had multiple purposes, as did many other patent medicines promoted in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. Poree recommended it “for cleaning and preserving the teeth and gums,” but also noted that it cured scurvy. He peddled another “potion” that he trumpeted as “excellent for curing all disorders in the mouth, eradicating every degree of scurvy in the gums; preserving the teeth from decaying, and rendering them beautiful, white and sound.” The surgeon dentist had an eye for the cosmetic aspects of his occupation. In addition to helping patients maintain teeth that were white and beautiful, he promised that his artificial teeth “appear as well … as real teeth.”

Poree also attempted to enhance his own authority as both a surgeon dentist and, especially, a purveyor of patent medicines by invoking his relationship with a doctor who had achieved some renown in the region. Dr. Forget had attracted so many patients in Philadelphia that it “prevents his visiting the different parts of North-America,” a situation that allowed Poree to serve as Forget’s surrogate in New York. The doctor had sent to him “some general medicines” to sell to patients who were not able to travel to Philadelphia. These included “an apozem” or infusion for combatting a variety of fevers, “a potion for removing all obstructions of the viscera and womb,” and “a water” or tincture for “every disorder of the eyes” that made surgery unnecessary.

When it came to surgery, Poree specialized in dentistry, but he expanded his practice by selling patent medicines for maladies beyond those that affected the teeth and gums. As he dispensed preparations, apozems, potions, and waters, he likely consulted with patients and clients on a broad range of medical concerns. The nota bene that concluded his advertisement also suggests that he referred people to Forget for situations that were too far beyond his own area of expertise. Yet he first attempted to capture as much of the market for medical attention as possible by selling patent medicines in addition to providing his services as surgeon dentist.

March 26

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 23, 1769).

“A HARPSICHORD, completely fitted, Maker’s Name (Mahoon, London:).”

This brief advertisement offered a harpsichord for sale. Harpsichords are often referred to as the “predecessor” of the piano. When Romance music started to come about at the beginning of the nineteenth century, everyone started to move over to pianos. This was due to the fact that pianos were more expressive and had more dynamics. This became even more true when Beethoven started working with piano builders in the early nineteenth century to make louder pianos before he went completely deaf. One of the main drawbacks to the harpsichord, that the piano did not have, was that no matter how softly or forcefully a musician pushed down on a key of a harpsichord the volume rang with the same amount of sound at all times.

During the eighteenth century many of the wealthy and elite had a harpsichord in their homes for entertainment. Ed Crews writes that “harpsichords were expensive in Great Britain and its North American colonies. During the 1700s … most harpsichords in America were made in Great Britain. Because of the cost, the instrument was a status symbol. The powerful, the refined, and the wealthy made sure they had one in their homes.” The harpsichord in this advertisement was made in London. Poorer colonists sometimes learn to sing in church or learned to play instruments that were less costly and of lower overall quality compared to the harpsichords owned by their wealthier counterparts.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Working with undergraduate guest curators sometimes offers a brief respite from examining the featured advertisements in favor of reflecting on pedagogy. All of the guest curators currently working on the Adverts 250 Project are currently enrolled in my upper-lever Revolutionary America, 1763-1815, course at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. As long as they abide by the methodology for the project they may examine whichever advertisements they wish. However, as project manager I reserve the right to review and approve all advertisements included in the project. I encourage guest curators to submit their proposed advertisements for approval before they conduct further research or begin writing about them.

This results in guest curators frequently choosing advertisements that I would not have considered or passing over advertisements that I would like to include in the project. When Sean presented this exceptionally brief advertisement for my consideration I initially attempted to wave him off of it and on to another advertisement. I thought that it might be a difficult choice for someone working as a guest curator for the first time. As an alternative I directed him to an advertisement in the same column of the March 23, 1769, edition of the New-York Journal, a subscription notice for printing “AN HISTORICAL JOURNAL OF THE CAMPAIGNS IN NORTH AMERICA, For the Years 1757, 8, 9, and 60 … By CAPTAIN JOHN KNOX.” We covered the Seven Years War at the beginning of the semester, so I reasoned that Sean could readily make connections between course content and that advertisement.

Sean, however, explained that he had intentionally chosen the advertisement about the harpsichord. As a Music minor, he previously enrolled in a course that examined the history of music. He wanted to draw together material from classes in different disciplines. Once I heard Sean’s explanation I enthusiastically approved the advertisement for the harpsichord. His choice achieved one of my goals for incorporating undergraduate guest curators into the project to fulfill the requirements of my Revolutionary America course: challenging students to consider connections between the material they encounter in my class and what they have learned in other History courses and classes offered by other departments. In addition, Sean demonstrated another point that I make to guest curators when we first discuss the project. The advertisement for the harpsichord was deceptively brief. At the beginning of the semester most of Sean’s peers may have passed over it, questioning its significance. Yet Sean used it to tell a robust story about entertainment, status, and changing technologies in the era of the American Revolution.

March 16

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

New-York Journal (March 16, 1769).

“NEW-YORK distill’d rum … by the hogshead or barrel.”

This advertisement features “NEW-YORK distill’d rum,” a few other kinds of alcohol, and various other goods offered for sale. The different kinds of alcohol included white wine and “cordials of the best quality.” Some of the terminology used in this advertisement was new to me, such as words like “hogshead” and “cordial.” A hogshead is a unit of measurement used for beer and wine and was equivalent to about 64 gallons. Jeremy Bell states, “A hogshead is a unit of measurement used more commonly in colonial times than today. And why is that? The easy answer is that the average person today does very little with barrels.” However, this unit of measurement is still sometimes used today, even though it is not as familiar to most people as it was in the eighteenth century. This advertisement helps to show how the English language has evolved over the past two and a half centuries.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Luke raises an interesting point about how readily colonial consumers recognized units of measurement that are largely unfamiliar today. Advertisements in colonial newspapers regularly offered commodities by the firkin, tierce, hogshead, and pipe. Such denominations would send most modern readers to a dictionary or some sort of online encyclopedia to find out how much they contained, but colonists who saw Manuel Myers’s advertisement in the New-York Journal knew how much rum a hogshead held … more or less.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a hogshead as “a large cask, esp. for storing liquids; spec. one of definite capacity, varying according to the commodity held.” It further elaborates that the quantity sufficient to fill a hogshead varied “over time and according to locality and commodity.” As Luke indicates, a hogshead held 64 gallons in the eighteenth century.

Today we often use the word “barrel” to refer to a cask of any size, adopting the name that denoted a specific quantity in the British Atlantic world during the early modern period. A barrel held thirty-two gallons or half of a hogshead. Colonists adeptly doubled or halved the volume contained in casks when they considered the relative amounts held by firkins (8 gallons), kilderkins (16 gallons), barrels (32 gallons), hogsheads (64 gallons), pipes (128 gallons), and tuns (256 gallons). Other casks held quantities that did not follow this progression. A tierce, for instance, held approximately 42 gallons or one-third of a pipe.

Colonists spoke a language of consumption that may seem unfamiliar to most modern readers. Just as they recognized the distinctions between textiles in other advertisements in the New-York Journal – lutestrings, cambricks, taffaties – they also understood the relative quantities held in the hogsheads and barrels of rum advertised by Myers. For colonists, it hardly required a second thought to realize that hogsheads were larger than barrels. These words have not disappeared from the English language, but they have faded over time.

March 4

GUEST CURATOR: Olivia Burke

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

Supplement to the New-York Journal (March 4, 1769).

“PAINT STORE … Yellow oaker … Prussian blue.”

This advertisement for a paint store can gives a look into status in colonial America by listing different color paints. In eighteenth-century America, some paint colors represented wealth and high social standing, but others did not. Some pigments were easier to produce so were therefore cheaper. For example, iron oxide pigment created a dark red color and was readily available and primarily used by people of a lower status. Other paint colors were hard to achieve, like “Prussian blue” and “Yellow oaker” (ochre), both in this advertisement.

When the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was working on restoring their historic buildings, historians had to figure out what the original colors of some of the historic buildings were to return them to how they appeared in the eighteenth century. However, not all the buildings survived and some that did did not have paint residues left on them. Historians had to make educated guesses as to what the original colors were. To figure this out, they looked to the houses’ values in the eighteenth century. One house was valued at 1100 pounds in 1790, a very large amount. “This indicated a higher-status structure,” according to Paul Aron, causing the team to choose yellow ochre, an expensive and sought-after color of the gentry. Another house, only valued at 70 pounds, was painted brown, a cheaper pigment that was readily available for the lower sorts. The paint types being sold in the advertisement would be primarily only available to the middling and better sorts. Just by the color, a house and therefore a family could display their wealth and social standing. Paint colors help to tell the story about how colonists made distinctions between social classes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

March 4 fell on a Saturday in 1769. The New-York Journal was not usually published on Saturdays, but John Holt, the printer, made an exception when he distributed a two-page supplement just two days after the newspaper’s usual publication date. Supplements usually appeared on the same day as regular issues, especially when printers already had the news in hand. Breaking news that could not wait until the next issue sometimes merited speedy publication in a midweek supplement or extraordinary issue, such as news of the repeal of the Stamp Act in the spring of 1766.

Yet this supplement did not deliver breaking news, suggesting that Holt just did not have enough time to print the supplement for distribution on Thursday. He offered a brief description of its contents at the top of the first column on the first page: “[Further Advices by Capt. Berrian, left out, on Thursday last for want of Room.]” Those “Advices” from Berlin and London, a series of news items, filled the entire first page and most of the second. To complete the supplementary issue, Holt inserted brief updates from Charleston and Boston, a little bit of local news from New York, and four advertisements. L. Kilburn’s notice concerning his “PAINT STORE, at the White-Hall” was one of those advertisements.

That advertisement, or any other advertisement from the New-York Journal, usually would not have been an option for Olivia to analyze. As I explained in a recent entry about the Adverts 250 Project’s methodology and the distribution of newspaper publication throughout the week in 1769, the Providence Gazette was the only colonial newspaper published on Saturdays in 1769 (which correspond to dates that fall on Mondays in 1769). During most other weeks, the methodology would have prescribed that Olivia choose from among the advertisements in the Providence Gazette, a newspaper overrepresented in the project because it was the only one published on Saturdays.

In selecting an advertisement from the Supplement to the New-York Journal, Olivia continues a practice that I had previously instituted: choosing advertisements from midweek supplements whenever possible as a means of addressing the overrepresentation of the Essex Gazette (published on Tuesdays in 1769), the Georgia Gazette (Wednesdays) and the Providence Gazette (Saturdays).