February 25

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 25, 1771).

“Just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”

Thomas Hartley made stays or corsets for “the LADIES” of New York in the early 1770s.  In his efforts to cultivate a clientele, he placed an advertisement in the February 25, 1771, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, advising prospective customers that “he makes STAYS OF ALL SORTS, in the newest and best fashion.”  Staymakers as well as tailors, milliners, and others who made garments frequently emphasized that they followed the latest fashions, assuring clients that they did not need to worry about appearing behind the times and out of style after visiting their shops and hiring their services.

Hartley enhanced such appeals with additional commentary in his advertisement, first describing himself as “LATE FROM LONDON” in a portion of his advertisement that served as a headline.  Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions.  The gentry in New York and other colonies sought to demonstrate their own sophistication by keeping up with styles popular in London.  In proclaiming that he was “LATE FROM LONDON,” Hartley established a connection that suggested he had special insight into the current trends in the metropolis.  Later in the advertisement, he extended “humble thanks to all ladies that have favoured me with their commands,” calling into question just how recently he had arrived in New York.

The staymaker, however, suggested that something else mattered more.  After migrating across the Atlantic, he maintained contact with correspondents who kept him informed about the newest styles.  He trumpeted that he had “just received advice from London of the fashions advanced for the court ladies this year.”  As a result, Hartley felt confident that he could “give universal satisfaction” to his clients.  In making a pitch to “the LADIES” of New York, he claimed to have access to information about the garments the most elite women in London would be wearing in the coming months.  Prospective clients in New York could not expect anything more cutting edge than that!

Fashion often played a role in the appeals made by staymakers, tailors, milliners, and others.  In some instances, advertisers included generic statements using formulaic words and phrases, a shorthand intended to reassure prospective clients that they understood their trade and provided satisfactory services.  Hartley, on the other hand, elaborated on his appeal to “the very newest and best fashion,” seeking to convince customers that he did indeed possess special insights into current trends in the most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

December 17

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 17, 1770).

“Beds and window curtains in the newest taste, as practised in London.”

An array of merchants and shopkeepers placed advertisements for imported goods in the December 17, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  For instance, John Schuyler, Jr., announced that he “just imported in the last vessels from London and Bristol, a neat assortment of goods.”  Many of them asserted that their new inventory reflected current fashions in England.  Artisans who offered their services to colonial consumers made similar appeals in their advertisements.

George Richey, who described himself as an “UPHOLSTERER and TENT-MAKER,” did so.  He informed “ladies and gentlemen that will favour him with their custom” that he “MAKES all sorts of upholstery work in the newest fashions” for beds, chairs, couches, and other furniture.  He also made curtains for both windows and beds, stressing that his wares followed “the newest taste, as practised in London.”

Richey and others who advertised consumer goods and services in the 1760s and 1770s frequently assured prospective customers that they provided products that matched current fashions in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  Such appeals tapered off when nonimportation agreements went into effect, but they were quite common at other times.  Even as colonists sparred with Parliament over increased regulation of commerce, collecting duties on certain imported goods, quartering soldiers in port cities, and other matters, they continued to look to London for the latest fashions.

Newspaper advertisements published throughout the colonies made overtures concerning current trends and tastes in London, but such appeals most often appeared in advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in the largest port cities.  Residents of Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia experienced urban life, though on a much smaller scale than their counterparts in London.  Still, advertisers sought to assure potential clients and customers that they could acquire the same goods and, in the process, embody the same sophistication even though they lived on the other side of the Atlantic.  Richey the upholsterer joined a chorus of advertisers who invoked “newest fashions” and “newest taste, as practised in London.”

December 12

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 10, 1770).

“Goods of the best qualities, and newest patterns.”

George Fenner stocked a variety of textiles and clothing at his store on Broad Street in New York.  In an advertisement that he inserted several times in both the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal in November and December 1770, he listed “PRINTED cottons and lines of the finest colours,” “handkerchiefs of all sorts,” “linen and cotton checks,” “men and boys ready made clothes,” “womens scarlet cardinals,” and “felt and castor hats” along with an array of other merchandise.  Yet that was not an exhaustive catalog of his inventory.  Fenner advised prospective customers that he also carried “many other articles in the linen and woollen draper, too tedious to insert.”  If readers wanted to know what other items the merchant made available then they would have to visit his store.  He whetted their appetites by mentioning only some of his wares.

Fenner directed his advertisement to shopkeepers and others who wished to purchase by volume.  He noted that he sold his goods wholesale “at a very small profit.”  In other words, his markup was low enough that his buyers could still charge competitive retail prices at their retail shops.  He also attempted to incite interest in his merchandise by declaring that his customers “may depend upon having goods of the best qualities, and newest patterns.”  He realized that retailers would reiterate such appeals to their own customers when they marketed clothing and textiles.  To convince prospective buyers that he did indeed provide the “newest patterns,” Fenner opened his advertisement with a proclamation that he had “Just arrived from LONDON,” the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.  Accordingly, he had been on the scene to assess for himself which patterns were currently in fashion.  Retailers who dealt with him could assure their own customers that they could choose from among the latest trends.

Fenner had several goals in constructing his advertisement.  He sought to convince retailers that he had an impressive inventory that warranted a visit to his store to select among the clothing and textiles he offered at wholesale prices.  At the same time, he needed to convince prospective buyers that these wares had good prospects for retail sales.  In so doing, he made appeals to price, quality, and fashion to reassure retailers that they would be able to sell these items to consumers.

December 24

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

Dec 24 - 12:24:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (December 24, 1767).

“Newest fashioned hat trimmings.”

At his shop on Hanover Street in New York, Henry Wilmot stocked an impressive array of goods “imported in the last Vessels from LONDON.” His advertisement in the December 24, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy described all kinds of personal adornments, from lace and ribbons to hairpins and combs to jewelry and gloves. To incite demand for these baubles from Britain, Wilmot deployed one of the most common marketing strategies of the period, an appeal to fashion. Many shopkeepers made general statements about the fashionable qualities of all of their wares, but Wilmot instead reiterated this point throughout his advertisement. He repeated some variation on the phrase “newest fashion” five times in the list of his inventory: “newest fashioned coloured ribbands,” “newest fashioned hat trimmings,” “Leghorne, Dunstable and Skelliton hats trimmed in the newest fashion,” “new-fashioned combs,” and “new-fashioned bindings and laces.”

This method may have been intended to convey to potential customers that Wilmot exercised careful attention to detail when it came to keeping abreast of the latest trends in London. Rather than make sweeping claims about all of his merchandise, he highlighted particular items that consumers could trust reflected tastes currently on display in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. In turn, this suggested that he could provide guidance in selecting from among his other merchandise, steering customers away from items too far out of style in favor of those that suitably complemented the “newest fashioned” garments and adornments. At the very least, repeating the phrase “newest fashion” may have induced potential customers to associate all of Wilmot’s merchandise with current styles, as did the use of adjectives like “best” and “elegant.”

Colonial consumers often worried that shopkeepers hawked whatever merchandise they could acquire, that English merchants sent castaways no longer popular in the London market. Wilmot addressed those suspicions with repeated assertions that he stocked and sold goods of the “newest fashion,” stylish items that had not been lingering in his shop but instead arrived on the vessels that most recently entered port.