September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1768 Newport Gazette
Newport Mercury (September 5, 1768).

“He will clean a Clock and keep it in good Repair three Years for One Dollar.”

When Robert Proud turned to the Newport Gazette to advertise that he “cleans Clocks and Watches” late in the summer of 1768, he determined that he needed to do more than promote the low prices he charged for his services. After proclaiming that he performed his work “as cheap as any One in America,” he listed his prices and laid a service plan for prospective customers. That plan included an initial cleaning as well as keeping clocks and watches “in good Repair” for a specified period. For clocks set his rate at “three Years for One Dollar” and for watches at “Half a Dollar [for] for One Year.” Most clock- and watchmakers, like other artisans, did not publish their fees in their advertisements. Proud backed up his assertion about his low prices by putting them on display for prospective customers to assess as they made a decision about whether to visit his shop. Some of his competitors occasionally offered to undertake additional repairs if customers were not satisfied with their initial efforts, but they usually limited such guarantees to a single year. By comparison, Proud’s service plan – three years for clocks – was quite generous.

That was enough to distinguish Proud from others who cleaned and repaired clocks and watches, yet he further elaborated on the service prospective customers could expect to receive in his efforts to attract their patronage. He efficiently completed his work, completing most jobs in a single day. For items dropped off in the morning, Proud either had them ready that evening or “next Day at farthest.” Prospective customers could expect the work done in a timely manner rather than consigning their clocks and watches to linger in Proud’s workshop. Furthermore, they did not need to interact with him directly in order to receive quality service, an appeal that Proud made especially for “any Person in the Country [who] will favour him with their Work.” Anyone who chose to have their clocks and watches delivered to his workshop rather than visiting in person and interacting directly with Proud could still “depend on being as well used as if present.”

Proud concluded his advertisement with a very different sort of appeal: he noted that he had fallen on hard times. “The Business is now so small,” he lamented, “that without some Increase, he cannot a get a comfortable Subsistence for his Family.” The situation was so dire that even though he had served the Newport community for twenty years that “from Necessity, [he] must, in a short Time, leave this his native Place, to seek his Bread elsewhere.” Proud pivoted from laying out his innovative service plan to attempting to provoke sympathy from readers. It must have been difficult to acknowledge his financial insecurity in the public prints, but by pairing that disclosure with his detailed service plan Proud suggested that he did not make false promises. Instead, prospective customers could depend on him following through on efficiently repairing their clocks and watches and returning them in a timely manner. His livelihood and the “Subsistence for his Family” was at stake if he did not deliver on the services and service plan he described in his advertisement.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:15:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 15, 1768).

“A likely new Negro Boy … just got clear of the Small-Pox.”

When he wished to sell an enslaved youth in the summer of 1768, James Roach turned to the pages of the Newport Gazette. He placed a brief advertisement that announced: “To be SOLD A likely new Negro Boy, about 13 Years of Age, fit to be put to a Trade, or any other Employment, just got clear of the Small-Pox.” Roach squeezed a significant amount of information into this short advertisement. In addition to identifying the approximate age of the unnamed youth he also revealed that the “new Negro Boy” did not yet possess any particular skills or training that might make him suitable for purchase by a particular master. Instead, he was “fit to be put to a Trade, or any other Employment.” With some instruction, a prospective buyer could put the enslaved youth to work on a farm, in a household, or in a workshop. Roach also made a nod towards the slave’s origins. That he was a “new Negro Boy” meant that he was an African who had survived the Middle Passage and transshipment within the colonies rather than an African American born in the colonies.

Furthermore, the reference to surviving smallpox was not inconsequential. It was a standard element in advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children, operating as a guarantee of sorts when it came to the health of those offered for sale. Smallpox, one of the most deadly diseases of the eighteenth century, could only be contracted once. It did not discriminate; having survived smallpox then made people – whether enslaved or free – immune. In advising prospective buyers that the youth offered for sale “just got clear of the Small-Pox,” Roach assured them that this particular slave was a safe investment. Choosing to purchase the unnamed youth did not involve the risk that he might soon afterward become ill with smallpox and perhaps not survive. This small bit of medical knowledge served an important purpose, providing a safeguard on the buyer’s investment.

July 11

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

Jul 11 - 7:11:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 11, 1768).

“To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious.”

When Nathaniel Bird opened a new store on Thames Street in Newport, Rhode Island, in the summer of 1768, he stocked it with “a very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS, suitable for the Season.” Unlike many of his competitors in Newport and counterparts in other colonial cities and towns, Bird did not insert a list of merchandise in his advertisement as a demonstration of the vast choices available to prospective customers. Instead, he adopted a different strategy, one that was less common though not unknown. He advised readers that “To be Particular in the different Species of said Assortment, would be Tedious, and of Course Impertinent with the Publick.” He critiqued one of the standard practices of eighteenth-century advertising for consumer goods, the litany of items offered for sale. Depriving readers and potential customers of an extensive list, he argued, was actually a virtue. His advertisement did not intrude in the public prints any more than necessary to advise the residents of Newport and the surrounding area that he stocked an assortment of imported goods. This method also had the advantage of prompting readers to imagine how long the list might have been if Bird had instead chosen to publish it, an exercise that perhaps conjured consumer choice better than explicitly naming specific articles.

In the absence of a litany of goods, Bird developed other strategies for marketing his wares. He informed prospective customers that he “imports all his Goods direct from the Manufactories.” Some readers may have been skeptical about his ability to acquire everything in his “very large and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” directly from the producers, but others likely focused on the purpose of this pronouncement. Bird claimed that he eliminated English merchants and other middlemen who drove up prices. This was one factor that allowed him to sell his merchandise “very low, or as cheap as at Boston, or any of the other Governments.” Comparing prices in Newport to those in Boston was a particular concern of the smaller port’s merchants and shopkeepers at the time. Two columns over from Bird’s advertisement, Stephen Deblois, Jr., asserted that he sold similar goods “on as low Terms as they can be had at any Shop or Store in Boston.” Deblois also refrained from publishing a list that enumerated his inventory, but he did not offer any commentary of the sort Bird espoused concerning that decision.

Bird’s critique of list-style advertisements may have garnered additional attention for his own notice. Did consumers consider it an effective appeal? That cannot be determined from the advertisement alone, but Bird’s boldness in making the statement suggests an interest in playing with the accepted forms as a means of engaging prospective customers who might otherwise pass over advertisements that did not seem to offer any content out of the ordinary. Bird’s terse comments made his advertisement memorable, if nothing else.

April 25

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

Apr 25 - 4:25:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 25, 1768).

“John Stevens, near Liberty-Tree.”

In the spring of 1768 Charles Dunbar, a gardener, placed an advertisement in the Newport Mercuryto announce that he sold “a Quantity of choice good Garden Seeds.”  Customers could purchase “Early Charlton Peas,” “fine Madeira Onion,” “double curled Parsley,” and a variety of other seeds directly from Dunbar or from “Gilbert Stewart, the North Corner of Banister’s Row” or “John Stevens, near Liberty-Tree,” and “Caleb Earle at the upper end of the Town.”

Dunbar’s advertisement testifies to colonial understandings of urban geography and how to navigate cities, especially smaller ones.  Residences and businesses did not have standardized street numbers in the 1760s. Some of the largest American cities would institute such a system in the final decade of the century, but on the eve of the Revolution colonists relied on a variety of other means for identifying locations.  Sometimes indicating just the street or an intersection gave sufficient direction, such as “North Corner of Banister’s Row.”  Sometimes the descriptions were even more vague, such as “upper end of the Town.” Especially in towns and smaller cities, neither residents nor visitors needed much more information to locate residences and businesses.  Colonists also noted the proximity of shop signs.  In another advertisement in the same issue of the Newport Mercury, Thomas Green listed his location as “the Sign of the Roe Buck in Banister’s Row.” Advertisements from other newspapers printed throughout the colonies in the 1760s suggest that residents of Newport likely used Green’s sign as a marker to identify other locations next door to his shop or across the street or three doors down.  Although associated with particular businesses, shop signs served a purpose other than merely branding the enterprises of their proprietors.

In that regard, shop signs operated as landmarks, another common method for indicating location … and some landmarks communicated more than just location.  Dunbar indicated that prospective customers could find his associate John Stevens “near Liberty-Tree,” a landmark that could not be separated from its political symbolism even as the advertiser used it to facilitate commerce.  As a result, politics infused Dunbar’s advertisement, prompting readers to consider more than just their gardens as they contemplated which seeds to purchase and plant.  Dunbar’s notice was not an isolated incident.  In the wake of both the Stamp Act and, later, the Townshend Act, colonists designated Liberty Trees and quickly incorporated the symbolism into their understanding of urban landscapes.  Advertisers in Boston most frequently invoked the city’s Liberty Tree as a landmark to aid prospective customers in finding their businesses, but Dunbar’s notice demonstrates that advertisers in other cities adopted the same strategy.  Some advertisers in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, took similar steps when they stated their location in relation to “Liberty-Bridge.” Even if advertisers did not actively endorse particular political positions, their use of these landmarks demonstrates how quickly residents of their cities integrated symbols of resistance into their points of reference for navigating urban centers.

February 8

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

Feb 8 - 2:8:1768 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (February 8, 1768).

“ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings.”

In addition to the masthead on the first page, most eighteenth-century newspapers also included a colophon that listed publication information on the final page. At the very least the colophon usually indicated the name of the printer and the place of publication, but many printers inserted much more extensive information in their colophons, often transforming them into advertisements for the goods and services they provided. For instance, in the colophon for the February 8, 1768, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy James Parker announced that he accepted “Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper” at his printing office on Beaver Street. On the same day, Peter Timothy similarly invited readers of the South Carolina Gazette to submit subscriptions and advertisements, but his colophon also stated that “all Kinds of useful Blanks sold, and all Sorts of Printing-Work is done with Accuracy and Dispatch” in his shop.

Like Parker and Timothy, many printers frequently solicited advertisements in their colophons. After all, advertising generated greater revenues than subscriptions. Far fewer printers, however, indicated how much they charged advertisers to have their notices inserted in the newspaper. In the colophon of the Newport Mercury Samuel Hall did publish such rates: “ADVERTISEMENTS, not exceeding Sixteen Lines, are inserted Three Weeks for Three Shillings, lawful Money, and Six Pence for each Week after.” This schedule indicates how much advertisers paid for both space in the newspaper and the time and labor involved in setting the type. Each advertisement required a minimum payment of three shillings (or thirty-six pence). Hall determined that the space taken up by an advertisement was worth six pence per week. Since the original order had to cover three weeks, that meant that eighteen pence went toward the space the advertisement occupied on the page. The remaining eighteen pence then covered the time and labor involved in setting the type. This sort of payment structure was common among printers who revealed advertising rates in their colophons. Once an advertiser made it worth their time to set the type (usually three weeks, but occasionally four), they continued to publish an advertisement for just the cost of the space. Running an advertisement for even a short time often exceeded the cost of a subscription to the newspaper, making paid notices lucrative for printers.

October 26

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

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Champlin Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).

“To be SOLD, by CHRISTOPHER CHAMPLIN.”

Regular readers of the Newport Gazette would not have been surprised to see an advertisement from Christopher Champlin on the first page of the October 26, 1767, edition. Champlin regularly turned to his local newspaper to promote the “neat Assortment of European and India GOODS” he imported and sold. Readers may have been surprised, however, to encounter a second advertisement from Champlin on the third page. That deviated from standard marketing practices prior to the American Revolution. Given that newspapers usually consisted of only four pages, advertisers rarely inserted more than one commercial notice in an issue. Was Champlin attempting to gain even more attention for his shop “At the Sign of the Golden Ball” by saturating the Newport Gazette with his advertisements? Did he even intend to publish more than one advertisement that day?

While it is possible that Champlin experimented with running multiple advertisements simultaneously, this situation may have instead resulted from decisions made by the printer in the production of that week’s issue. Note the date on the advertisement on the third page: October 26, 1767. It corresponded exactly to the date of that issue. Compare it to the date on the advertisement on the first page: September 14, 1767. Champlin previously placed this notice, intending that it run for several weeks.

Oct 26 - 10:26:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (October 26, 1767).

Now consider the production process for a weekly newspaper. Printers created the standard four-page newspapers of the colonial period by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half, transforming a single sheet into four pages. This required printing the first and fourth pages on one side at one time and the second and third pages on the other side at another time. This meant that the material on one side of the sheet could have been older, the type could have been set earlier, than the content on the other side.

The first and fourth pages included two standard parts of any issue, the masthead on the first page and the colophon on the last. Except for updating the date and issue number in the masthead, these items did not change from week to week. In the October 26 issue, advertisements that previously appeared in earlier issues filled the fourth page. The type had been set well in advance and simply reused. The first page had other advertisements that continued from previous issues, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. The first page also had two excerpts reprinted from other colonial newspapers, one from the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the other from the New-Hampshire Gazette, dated October 16. All the material on the first and fourth pages could have been prepared and printed early in the week.

The printer likely selected the contents of the second and third pages later in the week, setting the type and printing those pages after the first and fourth pages had been determined. The second page featured news “By several Vessels from London, arrived at Philadelphia and Boston” and then disseminated to other colonies. Given the amount of time it took for ships to cross the Atlantic, the printer likely waited as long as possible to choose the contents of the second page in order to publish the most recent news. The third page had news items from other colonies in the Middle Atlantic and New England, many of them dated after the previous issue of the Newport Gazette. This news had only arrived in the past week. Several advertisements also appeared on the third page, including Champlin’s advertisement dated October 26 and two others dated October 24.

Careful consideration of the contents of the October 26 edition of the Newport Mercury suggests that Champlin may not have intended to run multiple advertisements in that issue. By the time he submitted his new advertisement the printer might have already printed the first and fourth pages, including Champlin’s advertisement dated September 14. Champlin may not even have paid for that advertisement; the printer may have included it as filler in order to complete the page. The shopkeeper certainly wanted to promote his new merchandise he had “Just imported.” Right before the newspaper went to press, he submitted a new advertisement to appear alongside the most recent news.

Christopher Champlin may have attempted an innovative advertising campaign by placing more than one advertisement in a single issue of the Newport Mercury. Taking into consideration the production process for colonial newspapers, however, suggests that this was an accidental rather than intentional aspect of Champlin’s marketing efforts. His advertisements must be considered in the larger context of where they appeared on the page and within the newspaper.

June 29

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

Jun 29 - 6:29:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 29, 1767).

“Those Persons who will send their Victuals, ready prepared, may depend upon being well served.”

John Jent, a baker in Newport, sold pies that he made, but that was not the primary purpose of the advertisement he placed in the Newport Mercury in June 1767. Jent informed local residents that he had a “good Oven” for baking “any Sort of Victuals” delivered to him “ready prepared.” The baker heated his oven twice daily to accommodate midday and evening meals.

Like many other advertisers, Jent promised good service and low prices, but that was not the extent of the benefits he afforded his customers. He also provided convenience, though he did not elaborate on that quality of his business. In the 1760s various advertisers played with the idea of convenience without fully developing the concept. They hinted at it, anticipating larger scale articulations that emerged as marketing evolved.

Some shopkeepers, for instance, published lengthy lists of merchandise. Most emphasized consumer choice, but a few began to suggest that large inventories meant customers could enjoy one-stop shopping rather than traipsing from one shop to another. To that end, Thompson and Arnold asserted that “they have been at great Cost and Pains to supply themselves with as great a Variety of articles as can be found in any one Store in New-England.” Lest potential customers miss their meaning, the partners explicitly stated, “As their Assortment is so large they hope to save their Customers the Trouble of going through the Town to supply themselves with the Necessaries they may want.” Others emphasized the locations of their shops, noting that patrons could visit them more easily and expend less time and energy than traveling to other shops. Such was the case when James Brown and Benoni Pearce informed readers of the Providence Gazette that “Customers coming form the Westward may save both Time and Shoe-Leather by calling at their aforesaid Shops” rather than crossing the Great Bridge to the other side of the city. Some advertisers invited customers to send orders by mail. Peter Roberts, who sold imported “Drugs & Medicines,” advertised in the Boston-Gazette that “Orders by Letters from Practitioners and others, in Town or Country, will be as faithfully complied with as if they were present.”

John Jent provided another form of convenience to customers, sparing them the time and resources necessary to bake “Pies, Puddings, &c.” on their own. Instead, they could go about the rest of their daily business and pick up meals ready to eat at times that fit their own schedules.