April 23

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

New-York Journal (April 23, 1772).

“‘Tis our sole Wish, that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen.”

John Simnet, “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” seemed to relish nothing more than sparring with an adversary in the public prints.  For eighteenth months in 1769 and 1770, he participated in a feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith in the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  After relocating to New York, he initially published advertisements that did not denigrate his competitors, but eventually found himself embroiled in a war of words with James Yeoman.

As part of that altercation, Simnet updated an advertisement that first ran in the March 19, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal.  On April 23, he removed a lengthy paragraph that cast aspersion on Yeoman in favor of a shorter paragraph meant to do the same.  In both, he addressed insults that Yeoman delivered in his advertisements, insults that the rival watchmaker was so committed to circulating that he resubmitted the copy to run for additional weeks.  (The April 9 edition of the New-York Journal included a new version of Yeoman’s advertisement, the type reset with new line breaks and the addition of the issue number in which that iteration first appeared.)  Yeoman listed his credentials for repairing “CLOCKS, ASTRONOMICAL, Musical or Plain” before concluding his advertisement with an assertion that “it is the sole Wish of the said James Yeoman, to obtain Favours only proportioned to the Knowledge he has, and the Satisfaction he affords in his Business.”

In the updated version of his advertisement, Simnet mocked Yeoman by paraphrasing his rival’s words.  “‘Tis our sole Wish,” he declared, “that the Gent who advertises in Astronomy will favour us with a Specimen of his Qualifications in that Science, for if he can cause the Planets, Eclipses, Comets, &c. to move on the Table, ‘twill save the Charge of Telescopes.”  Simnet questioned Yeoman’s ability to repair astronomical clocks, challenging him to provide examples of his work for others to examine.  Earlier in the advertisement, he mentioned the harm done to clocks and watches by “Persons not qualified to practice in this Business.”  The new paragraph more explicitly leveled that accusation at Yeoman.  Simnet seemed to hit his stride in his advertisements when he treated competitors with condescension, a tactic rarely adopted in eighteenth-century advertising.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Drew Nunnemacher

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Journal (April 9, 1772).

“A Likely young Negro Girl.”

We do not know much about this “Likely young Negro Girl” advertised in the New-York Journal except that she was around 13 years old and had been “brought up in the Country” and not in New York City.  She may have been separated from her mother and other members of her family at a young age.  Even if that was not the case, being sold would separate her from family and friends.  According to Heather Andrea Williams in an article about “How Slavery Affected African American Families,” enslaved people “lived with the perpetual possibility of separation through the sale of one or more family members.”  She also states, “Young children, innocently unaware of the possibilities, learned quickly of the pain that such separations could cost.”  This advertisement was about one girl, but it helps to tell the stories of many more children and their families who were separated because of slavery and the slave trade during the era of the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Like his peers in my Revolutionary America class, Drew had an opportunity to select any newspaper advertisement to examine in greater detail from his week as guest curator of the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  That meant that he selected from hundreds of advertisements for consumer goods and services and dozens of advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children.  In total, he identified sixty advertisements about enslaved people published in newspapers from New Hampshire to South Carolina from April 3 through April 9, 1772.  The vast majority of those ran in newspapers in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, but a significant number of them, like this advertisement for a “Likely young Negro Girl,” appeared in newspapers published in Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.  Drew could have chosen any of those advertisements to research for his entry on the Adverts 250 Project.

I suspect that he decided on an advertisement about an enslaved girl published in New York in part because he and his classmates were dismayed to learn about the extent of slavery in New England and the Middle Atlantic before, during, and after the American Revolution.  They were accustomed to thinking of slavery as a southern institution in the nineteenth century, not an integral part of daily life throughout the colonies during the eighteenth century.  Working on the Slavery Adverts 250 Project, examining entire issues of approximately two dozen newspapers published in the early 1770s, allowed them to witness the reality of slavery in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  This advertisement about a “Likely young Negro Girl” was not some sort of exceptional example.  It appeared immediately below another advertisement for a “Likely Negro Man, about 20 years of age.”  The same day, the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal both carried advertisements about enslaved people.  Throughout the week, similar advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post, the New-Hampshire Gazette, the New-London Gazette, and the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury as well as in several newspapers in the Chesapeake and the Lower South.  As an instructor, I could have gathered together examples to share with my students, but I believe that examining the primary sources themselves, seeing these advertisements in the context of the newspapers that carried them, more fully testifies to the presence of slavery and enslaved people in early America.

February 23

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

New-York Journal (February 20, 1772).

“Watches regulated, and such alterations which don’t require much time; gratis.”

For the past three years, the Adverts 250 Project has tracked newspaper advertisements placed by John Simnet, a “WATCH-FINISHER, and Manufacturer, of London,” first in the New-Hampshire Gazette during the period that he lived and worked in Portsmouth in 1769 and 1770 and then in newspapers published in New York after he migrated to that city.  Simnet often promoted his years of experience working in London in his advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette, but he also pursued a nasty public feud with one of his competitors.  That may have contributed to his decision to leave Portsmouth in favor of New York.

In a new city, Simnet adopted a much less aggressive approach in his advertising.  He deployed a variety of marketing strategies that did not focus on denigrating other watchmakers, though he did suggest that he possessed greater skill than any of his rivals.  In an advertisement that ran for the first time in the February 20, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, for instance, he trumpeted that he “had more practice, and general knowledge on new work [the mechanisms in watches] than any yet in this country could have.”  Drawing on his long experience and superior expertise, he provided a service to anyone considering buying, selling, or repairing watches.  Simnet offered to examine watches and inform the owners or prospective buyers of “the first cost, or value of any new, or old watch.”  Once they knew the value of watches “with certainty,” they could make informed decisions about buying, selling, or repairing watches.

To generate business and enhance his reputation, Simnet also declared that he made “such alterations which don’t require much time; gratis.”  For those jobs that did involve more time and attention, he stated that he “will clean them, fit glasses, springs, inside chains; and perform every particular article in repairing, at half the price, charg’d by any other.”  Perhaps Simnet discovered that bargain prices brought more customers to his shop “At the Dial … beside the Coffee-House Bridge” than cantankerous diatribes that insulted his competitors.  In this advertisement, he focused on his own skill, asserting that customers could depend on his work keeping their watches in good order for quite some time instead of having them become “an annual or continual expence.”  Simnet attempted to leverage his skill and experience “To the Advantage of those who wear WATCHES” as well as his own benefit in earning a livelihood through providing various services.

February 16

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

New-York Journal (February 13, 1772).

“Subscribers in the distant Provinces will be supplied as soon as possible.”

Robert Bell invested a lot of effort in promoting an “American Edition of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND” in the early 1770s.  He inserted subscription notices in newspapers from New England to South Carolina, encouraging colonizers to support the development of a distinctly American market for literature.  He inserted an update in the February 13, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, alerting the public that the second volume “will be ready for Delivery to the Subscribers of Philadelphia and New-York, on the 28th of February.”  In addition, “Subscribers in the distant Provinces shall be supplied as soon as possible.”

Bell’s notice in the February 13 edition of the New-York Journal ran on a Thursday, the only day that John Holt, the printer, distributed that newspaper.  Most American newspapers published prior to the American Revolution were weeklies, though a few printers did experiment with producing and disseminating two or three issues per week.  Daily newspapers did not emerge until after the Revolution.  That meant that printers strategically chose which days to publish their newspapers.  Most selected Mondays and Thursdays.  Holt’s competitor, Hugh Gaine, published the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury on Mondays, thus allowing readers in New York two opportunities to peruse “the freshest ADVICES, both FOREIGN and DOMESTIC” throughout the week.  Some newspapers published in smaller towns in New England appeared on Tuesdays or Fridays or Wednesdays or Saturdays, one or two days after newspapers in Boston and New York.  That allowed printers to acquire the newest editions and reprint items of interest.

Sundays were the only day that printers did not distribute their latest issues anywhere in the colonies.  In the twentieth century, the Sunday newspaper became the most coveted edition, the one that contained the most sections of specialized content as well as advertising supplements.  Today, the Sunday edition remains a distinct entity, the only issue that many readers acquire and read.  That represents an evolution in publication and reading habits.  Once a week, the Adverts 250 Project examines a newspaper advertisement published 250 years ago that week instead of 250 years ago that day because printers did not produce Sunday editions in the eighteenth century.  That remained the case even for the dailies published in the largest cities after the Revolution.

January 26

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

New-York Journal (January 23, 1772).

“The newest and neatest manner, either in the French or English taste.”

When John Burcket, a “Stay and Riding Habit-maker,” arrived in New York, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to offer his services to the “ladies of this city.”  Like many other artisans who migrated across the Atlantic, he informed prospective clients where he had previously lived and worked, hoping to bolster his reputation among those who had not yet had an opportunity to examine the garments that he made.

In Burcket’s case, he proclaimed that he “lately arrived from London and Paris,” but did not mention where he had been most recently or how long he spent in either city.  What mattered more to him (and what he hoped mattered more to the ladies that he hoped to entice to his shop) was that his connections to two such cosmopolitan cities gave him greater knowledge of the current tastes and styles in both of them.  Burcket proclaimed that made stays (or corsets) and riding habits “in the newest and neatest manner, either in the French or English taste.”  This signaled that he did more than merely produce the garments; he also served as a guide for his clients, keeping them up to date on the latest trends and giving them advice.

Burcket buttressed such appeals with other promises intended to draw prospective clients into his shop.  He pledged that they “may depend on being punctually served.”  In addition to such customer service, Burcket aimed to achieve “utmost satisfaction” among his clients, hoping that “meriting their esteem” would lead to word-of-mouth recommendations.  He was also conscious of the prices he set, stating that he made and sold stays and riding habits “as cheap as can be imported.”  His clients did not have to pay a premium for consultations with an artisan “lately arrived from London and Paris.”  Even as he incorporated several marketing strategies into his notice, he made his connections to those cities the centerpiece of his introduction to the ladies of New York.

January 16

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

New-York Journal (January 16, 1772).

“He shall receive Encouragement and Assistance from the true Friends of their Country of all Ranks.”

In an advertisement that ran in the New-York Journal for several weeks in January 1772, William Shaffer addressed both the production and consumption of paper.  He issued a call for colonizers to provide him with “all Sorts of Linen Rags and old Paper” that he could use in making new paper, offering “Ready Money” in return.  Shaffer stated that he “continues to manufacture … All Sorts of Paper … to the general Satisfaction of his Customers.”

In addition, he offered an extensive explanation about why current and prospective customers should buy his paper.  The “Establishment of this Manufactory is of great Advantage to the Country,” Shaffer asserted, “by causing the Money that otherwise would be sent out of it, for the Purchase of Paper, imported from abroad, to circulate here, among a great Number of poor People.”  In the recent past, colonizers boycotted paper and other goods imported from Great Britain because Parliament imposed duties, but then resumed trade when Parliament repealed all of the duties except the one on tea.  For Shaffer and others who encouraged “domestic manufactures,” the production of goods in the colonies, that repeal addressed only one problem.  Colonizers continued to face a trade imbalance in which they sent their money across the Atlantic instead of spending it in support of local economies.  Colonial consumers, Shaffer argued, had an obligation to purchase paper and other goods produced locally.

They also had a responsibility to contribute to the production of paper by “supplying [Shaffer] with Linen Rags and old Paper, (Articles absolutely necessary to the Support of this Manufactory, and otherwise of little or no Use).”  This was an endeavor that could be undertaken by “the true Friends of their Country of all Ranks,” though Shaffer imagined different roles based on status.  “Gentlemen and Ladies in Town and Country,” he suggested, should “give proper Orders to their Servants” to collect and save linen rags and old paper and then send it to Shaffer.  In turn, he would “supply Country Merchants, Printers and others in this and the neighbouring Governments … with Paper of all Sorts, at the most reasonable Rates.”  Colonizers did not need to depend on imported paper, Shaffer proclaimed, when he offered a viable alternative, but the production of paper in New York depended in part on their cooperation in providing the necessary materials.  Colonizers could demonstrate that they were “Friends of their Country” by participating in both the production and consumption of paper.

January 5

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

New-York Journal (January 2, 1772).

“A large assortment of Goods.”

Earlier this week, the Adverts 250 Project featured several advertisements from the January 3, 1772, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy that made appeals to consumer choice by deploying words and phrases like “great assortment,” “general assortment,” “quantity,” and “all kinds.”  None of those advertisements, however, included lists of goods to demonstrate the range of merchandise available.  Almost simultaneously, merchants and shopkeepers in New York ran advertisements in the New-York Journal that not only promoted “a large Assortment of Goods” but also enumerated scores of items.

Such was the case in an advertisement inserted by Hallett and Hazard for their store on Hanover Square.  In a catalog of their merchandise, they listed everything from “Died pillows” and “Table cloths” to “Mens superfine white and marbled ribb’d worsted hose” and “Womens and childrens white and purple mitts and gloves” to “Candlesticks” and “Brass knobs.”  For some items, they used brackets to draw attention to the many varieties in stock.  For instance, Hallett and Hazard offered “Gold basket[,] Campaign and Death head” buttons and “Silk and cotton romal[,] Bandannoe[,] Mallabar[,] Barcelona[,] Printed[,] Ghenting[,] Scots and Black gauze” handkerchiefs.”  The extensive advertisement filled three-quarters of a column.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Thomas Pearsall placed a similar advertisement that also extended three-quarters of a column.  Both advertisers made their notices easier for prospective customers to navigate by creating two columns with only one or two items on each line and a dividing line running down the center.

Such advertisements certainly cost more than making declarations about “a large Assortment of Goods.”  The colophon for the New-York Journal stated that “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, … and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”  For Hallet and Hazard, that meant that their advertisements cost at least three times as much as they would have paid for a standard square of space.  The merchants presumably considered it worth the additional investment to demonstrate all the choices they offered to consumers.

December 22

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

New-York Journal (December 19, 1771).

“MUFFS, TIPPETS, ERMINE and lining for CLOAKS.”

In the fall of 1771, furriers Fromberger and Siemon placed a series of advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal.  On several occasions, an image of a muff and tippet adorned their notices, helping to draw attention to the various appeals they made concerning fashion, quality, and price.  The partners even offered ancillary services to entice prospective customers, including caring for furs “gratis for the summer season.”

The furriers apparently considered the image of the muff and tippet so effective in promoting their enterprise that when Siemon traveled to New York to conduct business there he took the woodcut with him in order to enhance advertisements he placed in newspapers published in that busy port.  He placed a notice in the December 19, 1771, edition of the New-York Journal that included both the image and copy, effectively doubling the cost.  According to the newspaper’s colophon, John Holt charged five shillings to insert “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth” for four weeks and “larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”  The woodcut doubled the length of Siemon’s advertisement, but very well may have been worth the additional expense if it aided in cultivating a clientele previously unfamiliar with the furrier.

Familiar appeals accompanied the visual image.  Siemon informed “the LADIES and others” that he brought with him “a general assortment of the newest fashion’d MUFFS, TIPPETS, ERMINE and lining for CLOAKS … now worn by the LADIES at the Court of Great-Britain,” echoing appeals to fashion, taste, and gentility advanced in advertisements that ran in newspapers in Philadelphia.  He also encouraged prospective customers to make their purchases soon because he would be in New York for a limited time.  Siemon had plans to return to Philadelphia, so would stay “a month only in this city.”  Milliners and shopkeepers who missed that window of opportunity, however, could direct orders to Fromberger and Siemon in Philadelphia.

Although printers provided stock images of ships, houses, horses, indentured servants, and enslaved men and women, woodcuts with images that represented specific businesses belonged to the advertisers to transfer from newspaper to newspaper as they saw fit.  Some advertisers did indeed deploy the same woodcut in multiple newspapers printed in a city, but it was much more unusual for advertisers to transport an image to newspapers published in other cities. Fromberger and Siemon did so, their advertisement running in the Pennsylvania Journal without an image on the same day that Siemon’s advertisement first appeared in the New-York Journal with an image.  Having gained some visibility in Philadelphia over the course of several months, the furriers likely aimed to achieve maximum effectiveness through using the woodcut to call attention to their advertisements in another city when one of the partners visited and temporarily conducted business there.

December 5

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

New-York Journal (December 5, 1771).

“JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER.”

Nearly six months had passed since John Simnet last placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal, but he concluded the year by placing his notice in every issue published in December 1771.  Simnet, a veteran watchmaker with decades of experience working in shops in London, did not advertise in any of the newspapers published in New York nearly as often as he had advertised in the New-Hampshire Gazette when he ran a shop in Portsmouth for about eighteen months in 1769 and 1770.  A rivalry with another watchmaker, Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith, played an important part in Simnet aggressively taking to the public prints, frequently denigrating his competitor.  Readers may have been amused by the feud between Griffith and Simnet that played out before their eyes in the New-Hampshire Gazette, though Simnet may have alienated as many prospective customers as he gained since his advertisements were often significantly more mean-spirited than those placed by Griffith.

Simnet did not even mention his time in Portsmouth after he relocated from the smaller town to the bustling port of New York.  He presented himself as “JOHN SIMNET, of London, WATCH-FINISHER,” choosing not to acknowledge that he passed through New Hampshire.  He adopted a more evenhanded tone in his advertisements in the New-York Journal, though he could not resist the temptation to make a blanket statement about “Watch-Butchers” who further damaged rather than repaired watches customers entrusted to their care when he advertised in the summer of 1771.  He eschewed such attacks when he once again ran notices in December.  He trumpeted, however, that he was the “only general Manufacturer in this Country,” dismissing the training, skill, and experience of his competitors.  Despite that interlude near the end of his advertisement, Simnet focused most of his effort on positive appeals.  He emphasized price, addressing his notice “to “those who desire to preserve their Money and their WATCHES, And avoid unnecessary Expence.”  He listed prices for some of his services, reporting that he performed “All other Repairs in Proportion, at half what is usually charged.”  The watchmaker also declared that he completed difficult jobs quickly.  Simnet may have learned that such strategies served him better than the antagonistic approach he took to marketing during the time he resided in New Hampshire.

December 1

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

New-York Journal (November 28, 1771).

Several Advertisements which came to late, will be inserted in our next.”

John Holt, the printer of the New-York Journal, devoted more space to advertising than to news in the November 28, 1771, edition.  In addition to the standard issue that consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half, Holt also distributed a two-page insert.  Of the eighteen columns spread over six pages, ten consisted of paid notices.  Yet Holt did not publish all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office.

In a brief note, the printer advised that “Several Advertisements which came to late, will be inserted in our next.”  Like other printers, Holt depended on advertising revenue to make publishing his newspaper a viable enterprise.  At the end of each issue, he listed the fees in the colophon:  “Advertisements of no more Length than Breadth are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after, and larger Advertisements in the same Proportion.”  The notices that did appear in the November 28 edition represented significant revenue, but Holt did not want to risk alienating others who sent advertisements with the expectation they would run that week.  Some printers required advertisers to pay for their notices in advance, extending credit to subscribers but not to advertisers.  Holt did not include that provision in the colophon, but advertisers might have known of such a policy through other means, especially those who previously placed notices in the New-York Journal.  If payment arrived with advertisements received too late for publication in the current issue, then Holt certainly wanted to reassure those customers that they would indeed see their notices in print at the earliest possible opportunity.

The printer may have expected his notice to resonate with prospective advertisers as well.  He demonstrated that he published advertisements in a timely manner, but encouraged them to submit items as early as possible in order to increase the chances that they would appear in the issue currently in production.  Establishing such expectations helped in preventing frustration or misunderstandings, cultivating positive relationships with customers who might otherwise choose to place their notices in another newspaper published in New York.