May 20

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

May 20 - 5:17:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 17, 1770).

“Their ware is equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”

Odgens, Laight, and Company, proprietors of the Vesuvius Air Furnace in Newark, New Jersey, placed an advertisement in the May 17, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to inform prospective customers that they produced and sold “all kinds of hollow ware, and other castings.”  Their inventory included forge hammers and anvils, pots, kettles, griddles, “iron stoves for work-shops and ships cabins,” and a variety of other items.  Descriptions of some of their wares testified to their quality, such as “jamb and hearth plates neatly fitting each other,” yet Odgens, Laight, and Company made more extensive appeals to quality as well.

The partners proclaimed that “their metal is of the best quality” and underscored that “the construction of their furnace” as well as “manner of working and moulding” was “the most improved.”  Accordingly, they could claim that the items they manufactured at the Vesuvius Air Furnace were “equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”  The comparison to imported goods held particular significance.  As colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea that Parliament levied via the Townshend Acts, they also advocated supporting “domestic manufactures” as an alternate means of acquiring goods they needed and desired.  Even though colonists declared their support for goods made in the colonies, newspaper advertisements suggest that consumers experienced some skepticism that those goods matched imported wares in terms of quality.  Artisans and other who promoted domestic manufactures in the late 1760s and early 1770s frequently reassured prospective customers that they would not have to sacrifice quality in service to following their political principles.  In addition to asserting that their wares were “equal if not superior” to imported goods, Ogdens, Laight, and Company singled out their hammers and anvils, explaining that “the metal … is excellently well tempered, and found on repeated trials to be in general superior English hammers.”  They did not elaborate on who conducted those “repeated trials.”  That claim echoed marketing strategies frequently invoked by other artisans:  proclaiming that others with specialized knowledge of the product vouched for it.

Ogdens, Laight, and Company offered consumers an opportunity to demonstrate their support for the American colonies in their altercation with Parliament by purchasing goods made in the colonies rather than imported from England.  In so doing, they joined other advertisers in the New-York Journal and throughout the colonies who offered domestic manufactures to prospective customers.  The appeals they made in their advertisements resonated with the news that appeared elsewhere in the newspapers.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:10:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 10, 1770).

Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China.”

Like many other colonial shopkeepers, George Ball published an extensive list of his merchandise in an advertisement he placed in the May 10, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  Most advertisers who resorted to similar lists grouped all of their wares together into dense paragraphs of text.  A smaller number, like Ball, used graphic design to aid prospective customers in differentiating among their goods as they perused their advertisements.  Ball formatted his advertisement in columns with only one, two, or three items per line, just as Abeel and Byvanck, John Keating, and Jarvis Roebuck did elsewhere in the same issue.  Ball, however, instituted a further refinement that distinguished his notice from the others.  He cataloged his merchandise and inserted headers for the benefit of consumers.

Ball offered several categories of merchandise:  “Pencill’d China,” “Burnt Image China,” “Blue and white China,” “Brown China,” “White China,” “White Stone Ware,” “Delph Ware,” “Plain Glass Ware,” “Flower’d Glass,” “Iron Ware from England,” and “Queen Pattern Lamps.”  These headers appeared in italics and centered within their respective columns to set them apart from the rest of the list.  The goods that followed them elaborated on what Ball had in stock, allowing prospective customers to more easily locate items of interest or simply assess the range of goods Ball offered for sale.  His method could have benefited from further refinement.  The items that followed “Queen Pattern Lamps” were actually a miscellany that did not belong in any of the other categories.  Ball might have opted for “Other Goods” as a header instead.  Still, his attempt to catalog his merchandise at all constituted an innovation over the methods of other advertisers.

In most instances, eighteenth-century advertisers submitted copy and compositors determined the layout.  However, advertisements broken into columns suggest some level of consultation between advertisers and compositors, at the very least a request or simple instructions from one to the other.  Ball’s advertisement likely required an even greater degree of collaboration between advertiser and compositor.

April 26

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

Apr 26 - 4:26:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 26, 1770).

“Horn combs, and ivory fine teeth’d ditto.”

Nicholas Bogart sold an assortment of goods at his shop “In the Broad-Way” in New York.  He listed many of them in an advertisement that ran in the April 26, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  His inventory included “Worsted and leather womens mits,” “Broad-cloths of various colours and prices,” “A variety of Dutch books for teaching children,” and “Knee garters, various colours.”  He stocked and sold such an array of merchandise that it demanded cataloging in detail in order for prospective customers to realize the full extent.

Yet Bogart did not merely list his wares.  He deployed rudimentary graphic design principles to make them easier for readers to peruse, dividing his advertisement into two columns and mentioning only one, two, or three items on each line.  When more than one item appeared on a line, they were all related to each other.  When a category of items overflowed onto the next line, the second line was usually indented.  In comparison, most merchants and shopkeepers who enumerated dozens of items did so in dense paragraphs.  Such was the case in James Beekman’s advertisement on the same page as Bogart’s notice.  Beekman included a similar number of items, but clustered them together in a manner that required more effort to read.  As a result, Beekman’s advertisement took up only about half the space of Bogart’s.  According to the colophon at the bottom of the page, advertisers paid by the amount of space that their notices occupied, not by the number of words.  That meant that Bogart paid twice as much as Beekman even though they listed a similar number of items.

Bogart was not alone in incorporating columns into his advertisement.  Immediately above Bogart’s notice, John Keating also used columns.  Elsewhere in the same issue, Abeel and Byvanck used columns to organize their “considerable Assortment of Ironmongery and Cutlery.”  Advertisers knew that this option was available to them on request, though the dense paragraph was the default format.  The more attractive option required a greater investment, but some advertisers apparently believed they would benefit from a greater return on that investment if they made it easier for prospective customers to engage with the extensive lists of merchandise they published in newspaper notices.

April 19

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

Apr 19 - 4:19:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 19, 1770).

“TO BE SOLD … the Sign, Counters, Shelves and Drawers, and all the Shop Utensils.”

For a while, Mrs. Willett kept the shop formerly operated by her deceased husband, Thomas Charles, open.  An advertisement that listed an extensive assortment of merchandise ran in the February 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal.  It also included a note that “The business is carried on as usual,” implicitly acknowledging the death of Willett’s husband.  Two months later, however, Willett closed down the entire enterprise and prepared to sail for Europe.  She placed another advertisement in the New-York Journal in April, that one calling on “All Persons who have any Demands on the said Thomas C. Willett” to present them for payment and “those few Customers” who had not yet settled accounts to do so before she departed.  She also warned that anyone who left “Rings, Buttons, Linen,” or other goods as collateral would forfeit them if they did not pay their debts.

In addition to settling accounts, Willett also announced an eighteenth-century version of a going out of business sale.  She aimed to get rid of everything.  In addition to selling her personal belongings, she also sold the remaining inventory of the shop “at first COST.”  Consumers might have found bargains, but Willett likely hoped to attract a buyer with an entrepreneurial spirit who also wished to acquire “the Sign, Counters, Shelves and Drawers, and all the Shop Utensils” necessary to set up business.  In the absence of many contemporary visual images of the interiors of shops in eighteenth-century America, Willett’s list conjures scenes of consumption.

It also reveals that visual images associated with particular merchants and shopkeepers could be transferred from one to another.  Willett did not invoke the name of the shop sign in either advertisement she placed in the New-York Journal, but she did consider it important enough to include (and list first) among the various equipment associated with the business.  In the April 19 edition, her advertisement appeared on the same page as one of Gerardus Duyckinck’s notices featuring an elaborate woodcut that incorporated a depiction of his “Sign of the Looking Glass & Druggist Pot.”  Over the course of several years, the Looking Glass and Druggist Pot most certainly became associated with Duyckinck’s business among residents of New York.  It served as a logo of sorts that made for easy identification of his business.  Even without a similar constant reiteration in the public prints, the sign marking the Willett shop most likely became similarly recognizable to colonists who traversed the streets of the busy port.  Willett did not name the sign associated with her shop, but she considered it a valuable enough marketing tool to include among the fixtures available for purchase.  The image would no longer be affiliated with the Willett family; instead, it would come to represent another enterprise in New York’s marketplace.

April 15

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

Apr 15 - 4:12:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 15, 1770).

“Chisels … superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain.”

Abeel and Byvanck sold ironmongery and cutlery in New York in the early 1770s.  They listed an array of merchandise in their newspaper notices, but they did not merely inform prospective customers of the goods they offered for sale.  In an advertisement in the April 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, Abeel and Byvanck noted the various ways that their business bolstered the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.

For instance, their inventory included chisels “superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain, and at a less Price.”  The partners did not explicitly state that the chisels were produced in the colonies, but the implication was clear.  In presenting the chisels for consideration, Abeel and Byvanck made appeals commonly advanced by others who marketed “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods.  They assured consumers that they did not have to sacrifice quality for political principles.  While some artisans and shopkeepers declared their merchandise produced in the colonies equal to any imported, Abeel and Byvanck made an even bolder statement when they asserted their chisels were “superior.”  Yet customers did not have to pay a premium for that quality.  Instead, they could acquire chisels produced in the colonies for lower prices than imported ones.  Everything about these chisels seemed to work to the advantage of both consumers and the American cause.

Those chisels may have come from “the Manufactory in this Province.”  Abeel and Byvanck noted that they would soon stock “a large Parcel of Sithes [Scythes]” currently under production there.  Like the chisels, those scythes were “superior in Quality to those imported.”  The partners did not comment on the price, but they had previously framed their entire advertisement in terms that favorably compared the prices they charged in April 1770 to what they charged prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect.  They declared that they set prices “Upon as reasonable Terms, as they sold before the Agreement for not importing Goods from Great Britain.”  In other words, Abeel and Byvanck did not engage in price gouging after merchants and shopkeepers ceased replenishing their inventories with imported goods.

Nonimportation agreements ratified in New York and other colonies were the subject of press coverage in the 1760s and 1770s, but that coverage was not confined to news items and editorials.  Instead, advertisements for consumer goods and services also endorsed and promoted nonimportation agreements, encouraging colonists to understand the connections between consumption and politics.

April 8

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

Apr 8 - 4:5:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 5, 1770).

“A few Casks of Liverpool Ale, imported before the Non-Importations Agreement.”

For four weeks in March and April 1770, John, Thomas, and Samuel Franklin inserted an advertisement for “BEST Spermaceti Candles,” “a few Boxes of Tin Plate,” and “red, green and scarlet Rattinets,” along with other goods, in the New-York Journal.  Among their wares, they listed “a few Casks of Liverpool Ale, imported before the Non-Importation Agreement.”  In so doing, they acknowledged the political movement to boycott goods imported from Britain for as long as Parliament continued to impose duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  Neither the Franklins nor anyone else in New York knew it for certain at the time, but a partial repeal of the Townshend Acts was in the works on the other side of the Atlantic.

On March 5, Lord North, the new prime minister, presented a motion in the House of Commons.  It called for a repeal of the Revenue Act of 1767, eliminating the duties on paper, glass, paint, and lead.  When this Repeal Act received royal assent on April 12, only the duty on tea remained in place.  It would take weeks for news to arrive in the colonies.  When it did, the merchants and traders who signed the nonimportation agreements, associations, and resolutions in New York and other colonies considered this sufficient victory to justify discontinuing the boycott, just as they previously ended another boycott of British goods when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.

For a time, marketing strategies shifted as purveyors emphasized that their goods had not recently arrived in the latest ships from London but instead had been on hand for months or even years.  “Just Imported” had been a standard part of many advertisements for consumer goods prior to the boycotts, a signal that customers did not have to settle for leftover merchandise that had lingered on the shelves.  Commentary on nonimportation and domestic manufactures became a familiar aspect of advertising, reflecting the editorials and current events covered elsewhere in newspapers.  As the political situation shifted and merchants and shopkeepers once again acquired goods from Britain, the language of advertising reverted back to the appeals that had been much more common before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.

March 1

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

Mar 1 - 3:1:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (March 1, 1770).

“Sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”

On the first day of March 1770, an advertisement in the New-York Journal informed prospective customers that a “large Assortment” of goods “Remains for SALE, at WILLIAM NEILSON’s STORE.”  Those goods consisted primarily of textiles, everything from “stript and printed linens” to double milled linseys” to “flower’s and border’d printed handkerchiefs.”  Neilson asserted that consumers could have any of this merchandise “Cheap for READY MONEY.”

That was not the only appeal that Neilson made to price.  He concluded the advertisement with a nota bene that informed both prospective customers and the rest of the community that “The above goods will be sold on as low terms, as before the non-importation took place.”  In other words, Neilson did not take advantage of the current political situation to inflate prices.  To protest duties levied on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants and shopkeepers in New York signed nonimportation agreements, pledging to abstain from importing a much wider array of goods from England for as long as Parliament left those duties in effect.  Neilson’s use of the phrase “Remains for SALE” could have implied that he received all of his merchandise prior to the nonimportation agreement; the nota bene much more explicitly invoked the intersection of commerce and politics.

Colonists suspected some merchants and shopkeepers stocked up on imported goods in advance of the agreement.  Some purveyors of goods may have seen the boycott as an opportunity to reduce surplus inventories, making a virtue of purchasing goods that had lingered on shelves and in storehouses for quite some time.  If this did contribute to a scarcity of goods over time, it had the potential to result in higher retail prices.  That Neilson found it necessary to include his nota bene suggests that conversations about those very circumstances were taking place in New York at the time he placed his advertisement.  Participating in the nonimportation agreement required sacrifices of both purveyors of goods and consumers.  Neilson proclaimed that paying higher prices need not be one of the sacrifices made by his customers.

February 25

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

Feb 25 - 2:22:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 22, 1770).

“The Best accounts of fashions have been sent over by every packet.”

Thomas Charles Willett listed “A Great Variety” of garments, textiles, adornments, and accoutrements in the advertisement he placed in the New-York Journal in February 1770.  He stocked everything from “scarlet cloth cloaks” to “Striped Lutestrings” to “French pearl, garnet and jet necklaces and ear rings” to “Italian hair powder.”  He concluded his catalog of merchandise with “Bonnets and other fashionable goods.”  In his line of business, fashion mattered, especially his ability to convince prospective customers that he was familiar with the latest fashions and would offer appropriate guidance as they made their selections.

To that end, Willett made a special appeal at the conclusion of his advertisement.  He informed potential clients that “the best accounts of fashions have been sent over by every packet.”  In other words, the vessels that sailed from London and other English ports to New York delivered news of the latest fashions to Willett.  He may have maintained correspondence with friend and business associates in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, or received magazines with descriptions of the latest tastes.  Regardless of his source, Willett had his eye on the other side of the Atlantic … and he expected that prospective customers did as well.

This stood in stark contrast to the political ideology of the period that called for boycotting goods imported from England.  In protest of the duties leveled on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts, merchants, shopkeepers, and other signed nonimportation agreements.  They pledged not to do business with their counterparts in England until Parliament repealed the duties, just as the Stamp Act had been repealed.  That did not prevent Willett and other retailers from selling goods ordered or delivered before the nonimportation pact went into effect, not did it prevent consumers from looking to England when they wished to display their own gentility and cosmopolitanism.  Willett stocked a variety of textiles and adornments.  How were they to be transformed into garments and combined together to make a statement?  As the answer to that question changed, Willett offered assistance from “the best accounts of fashions” he continued to receive.  He imported information for his customers to consume even when they collectively declined to import or purchase goods.

February 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (February 15, 1770).

“The Sons of Liberty in general, might there commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.”

As the fourth anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act approached, the Sons of Liberty in New York prepared to commemorate the occasion. They encountered some obstacles, however, in planning their celebration. Newspaper advertisements first announced one plan, then later clarified a different one.

The first public notice appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy on Monday, February 5.   Advertisements in both newspapers extended a brief invitation: “THE sons of LIBERTY, are desired to meet at the house of Mr. De La Montanye’s, on Monday the 19th day of March next, to celebrate the repeal of the detestable and inglorious STAMP-ACT.” A slightly longer version appeared in the New-York Journal three days later. It advised that the “friends to Liberty and Trade, who formerly associated together at Barden’s, Jones’s and Smith’s to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Are requested to meet for that purpose on Monday the 19th of March next, at the house of Mr. Abraham De La Montagnie.”

Plans for a celebration were off to a good start, except that apparently no one had consulted with de la Montaigne about gathering at his house. He inserted his own advertisement in the February 8 edition of the New-York Journal in response to “AN Advertisement having appeared in last Monday’s papers, inviting the Sons of Liberty to dine at my house … to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.” De la Montaigne did indeed plan to host a celebration, but not for those who had placed an advertisement without his knowledge. He asserted that his establishment had already been booked “by a great number of other gentlemen” and, as a result, he “shall not be able to entertain any other company than those gentlemen and their connections who engaged my house for that day.” The compositor thoughtfully positioned the two advertisements, with their conflicting information about an upcoming gather of the Sons of Liberty, one after the other.

A week later the organizers announced a new plan to “commemorate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act.” When they discovered that de la Montaigne’s house was not available, a “Number of the Sons of Liberty in this City” set about “purchasing a proper House for the Accommodation of all Lovers of freedom on that Day, and for their Use on future Occasions, in the Promotion of the Common Cause.” They acquired a “Corner House in the Broad-Way,” appropriately located “near “Liberty-Pole.” In contrast to the event slated for de la Montaigne’s house, the celebration at this corner house was open “without Discrimination” to “all the Sons of Liberty … who choose to commemorate that Glorious Day.” In addition, the advertisement extended an invitation to “Sons of Liberty” to meet at the house on Tuesday evening as well, presumably to continue organizing against abuses inflicted on the colonies by Parliament.

This series of advertisements in New York’s newspapers demonstrates some disorder when it came to marking the anniversary of such an important event at a time when colonists in that city and elsewhere worked for the repeal of the Townshend Acts that infringed on their liberty much like the Stamp Act had done. One cohort of celebrants confined their event to a small number of gentlemen, while organizers of another event emphasized that all were welcome to participate in the “Promotion of the Common Cause.” Who participated in these two commemorative events? Was the one at de la Montaigne’s house limited only to the better sorts who claimed leadership of the Sons of Liberty? Did patriots from humble backgrounds plan and participate in the commemoration at the corner house “near Liberty-Pole”? Did participants in the two events share a vision of what they hoped to accomplish in their struggle against Parliament? These advertisements suggest that New Yorkers may have attached different meanings to the repeal of the Stamp Act and what they hoped to accomplish as they pursued further resistance efforts in the early 1770s.

January 25

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

Jan 25 - 1:25:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (January 25, 1770).

“A new Non-Importation Agreement.”

“A Likely Negro Man and a Wench.”

The first two advertisements that appeared in the January 25, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal tell very different stories about the era of the American Revolution. The first addressed efforts to resist the abuses of Parliament, the figurative enslavement of the colonies. The second offered a Black man and woman for sale, perpetuating their enslavement rather than setting them free. That one advertisement followed immediately after the other testifies to the uneven rhetoric of the era as well as the stark tension between liberty (for some) and slavery (for many) at the time of the nation’s founding.

The first advertisement called on the “Signers of the Agreement relative to the Traders of Rhode-Island” to meet and discuss how to proceed in their dealings with the merchants in that nearby colony. The trouble arose when Rhode Island did not adhere to nonimportation agreements adopted throughout the rest of New England as well as in New York and Pennsylvania. In response, merchants, shopkeepers, and others in New York decided that they would no longer engage in trade with their counterparts in Rhode Island, broadening the nonimportation agreement to include fellow colonists who acted contrary to the interests of the colonies. When New York received word from Newport of “a new Non-importation Agreement, lately come into at that Place,” those who had ceased trade with the colony met to reconsider once the merchants there had been brought into line.

The second advertisement presented “A Likely Negro Man and a Wench,” instructing “Any person inclining to purchase them” to enquire of the printer. The unnamed advertiser described the enslaved man and woman as “fit for a Farmer, or any private Family” and offered assurances of their health by noting that they “both had the Small-Pox and Measles” so would not contract those diseases again. The advertiser added a nota bene asserting that the man and woman treated no differently than commodities were “Both young,” one more attempt to incite interest from potential buyers. The anonymous enslaver opened with advertisement with an explanation that that Black man and women were “To be sold, for no Fault, but Want of Cash.” In other words, they were not disobedient, difficult to manage, or ill. The enslaver simply needed to raise some ready money; selling the man and woman provided a convenient means of doing so.

One advertisement addressed a widespread movement to use commerce as a political tool to prevent the colonies from being enslaved by Parliament. The other depicted the continued enslavement and disregard for a “Negro Man and a Wench” not entitled to the same liberty that white New Yorkers claimed for themselves. The colonial press, in collaboration with colonists who placed newspaper notices, maintained and even bolstered the contradictory discourse contained in the two advertisements.