January 16

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 16, 1773).

“By limiting the number of his pupils … he has a singular advantage.”

Samuel Blair ran a boarding school for boys in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the January 16, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the schoolmaster announced that he had openings for two pupils and promoted the benefits of learning in such an exclusive setting.  He explained that for the “special benefit” of his students, he limited enrollment to only twelve boys.  He advertised “whenever a vacancy occurs,” alerting parents who “choose … to have [their sons] instructed in a private family rather than a public school.”

Blair briefly outlined his curriculum, but devoted most of his advertisement to the virtues of a residential setting for a small number of students.  The course of study included “the Latin and Greek Languages, Geography, Arithmetic, and all the most useful practical branches of the Mathematics” as well as “the arts of reading, writing, spelling, and speaking English with elegance and propriety.”  His school, he suggested, produced genteel young men.

Their comportment, not just the skills they acquired and the subjects they mastered, made them genteel.  Blair asserted that “limiting the number of his pupils” allowed him to “devot[e] himself wholly to the care of their education,” including “constant intercourse and conversations with them as members of his family.”  That represented a “singular advantage” for his students compared to the attention they received from other schoolmasters.  In addition to “bringing [his pupils] on in these studies and exercises with expedition and accuracy … in such a way as shall render them most easy and agreeable to their young and impatient minds,” Blair declared that he instituted a gentle system of discipline that formed young men of character.  In the course of spending time with his students in and beyond the classroom, he took responsibility “for correcting and forming their tempers, for inspecting and regulating their general deportment, and for governing them by the milder and more successful means of argument and persuasion.”  The schoolmaster did not deploy harsh methods of correction.  Instead, he treated his students as members of an extended family.

Blair did not rely on exclusivity alone to generate interest in his boarding school.  To attract interest from the parents of prospective pupils, he described the benefits of that exclusivity.  His students not only received an education but also an upbringing that transformed them into genteel young men.  When they entrusted their sons to his care, parents could depend on them learning a variety of subjects, both practical and refined, under the watchful eye of a schoolmaster who kept order and instilled good manners without resorting to draconian means.  Blair believed that his program presented a “singular advantage” for his students … and aimed to convince parents of prospective pupils that was indeed the case.

January 9

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 9, 1773).

“A NEAT Assortment of Ironmongery, too tedious to mention.”

In January 1773, Hugh Roberts and George Roberts continued taking to the pages of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to hawk their wares.  They proclaimed that they carried “IRONMONGERY AND BRASS WARES, In their most extensive BRANCHES.”  In other words, they stocked some of everything!  They also declared that they had a “large Assortment of COPPER WARE, INDIA-METAL WARE, JAPAN’D WARE, and CUTLERY.”  The Robertses suggested that the selection would satisfy any of their customers.

They asked readers to take their word for it and, better yet, visit their “WARE-HOUSE” at the corner of Market Street and Grindstone Alley in Philadelphia to see for themselves.  They could have published an extensive catalog of their merchandise to demonstrate the range of choices available to consumers.  Many merchants and shopkeepers adopted that marketing strategy in the second half of the eighteenth century.  Instead, the Robertses inserted a note intended to tantalize prospective customers.  “The Ironmongery, Brass and the other Wares, at the said Ware-house,” they asserted, “consist of so great a variety of sizes, patterns and workmanship, that, to particularize the articles in an advertisement, would be too extensive for publication in a news-paper.”  In addition to being “too extensive,” such an advertisement may have been more expensive than the Robertses wished to pay.

Adam Zantzinger, who also sold a “NEAT Assortment of IRONMONGERY,” offered a sharper critique of what he considered excessive detail in newspaper advertisements.  In his own advertisement, Zantzinger insisted his selection was “too tedious to mention.”  Presumably prospective customers would not find browsing his store at the corner of Market and Fourth Streets “too tedious,” especially since they could acquire goods there “on the lowest and most reasonable terms.”  In contrast, Jonathan Zane and Sons ran an advertisement that filled an entire column and overflowed into another as they listed hundreds of items from among their “large assortment of IRONMONGERY, CUTLERY, BRASS WARE, SADLERY, DYE STUFFS, PAINTERS COLOURS,” and other items.  Perhaps Zantzinger directed his comments at those competitors in addition to making a general statement about advertising practices then in style.

In an era when many merchants and shopkeepers sought to demonstrate the array of choices that they provided for consumers by imbedding lengthy lists of merchandise in their newspaper advertisements, some advertisers rejected such methods in favor of making simple promises that they carried items prospective customers wanted or needed.  Their strategy may have been motivated in part by the cost of advertising, but that did not prevent them from making appeals that they believed would resonate with consumers, including highlighting their large selection and low prices.

January 3

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 3, 1772).

“Blanks and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”

Some colonial printers used the colophon at the bottom of the final page of their newspapers merely to give publication information.  Such was the case in several newspapers during the first week of 1773.  The colophon for the New-Hampshire Gazette succinctly stated, “PORTSMOUTH, Printed by Daniel and Robert Fowle.”  Similarly, the colophon for the Boston-Gazette simply read, “Boston: Printed by EDES & GILL, in Queen-Street, 1773.”  Beyond New England, the colophon for the Pennsylvania Gazette gave similar information: “PHILADELPHIA: Printed by HALL and SELLERS, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE, near the Market.”

In contrast, many printers treated their colophons as perpetual advertisements for the goods and services they provided at their printing offices.  In many instances, those colophons included the most readily accessible information about subscription prices, advertising fees, or both.  Consider the colophon for the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  It opened with the same information that appeared in concise versions in other newspapers: “PHILADELPHIA: Printed by WILLIAM GODDARD, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Front-Street, near Market-Street, on the Bank Side, and almost opposite to the London Coffee-House.”  In a bustling city where printers published four other newspapers, Goddard wanted to make sure that subscribers, advertisers, and other customers could find his printing office.

From there, the printer noted that “Subscriptions, (at TEN SHILLINGS per Annum) Advertisements, Articles and Letters of Intelligence are gratefully received for this paper.”  In addition to generating revenue through subscriptions and advertising, Goddard encouraged an eighteenth-century version of crowdsourcing for content that he might choose to include in his publication.  In addition to publishing the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Goddard also accepted orders for job printing.  In the final lines of the colophon, he asserted that “all Manner of Printing Work is performed with Care, Fidelity and Expedition,” adding that “Blanks [or printed forms] and Hand-Bills, in particular, are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”  That Goddard and other printers so often mentioned handbills in their colophons suggests that many more of those ephemeral advertisements came off of colonial presses than the relatively few that survived might suggest.

Eighteenth-century printers introduced a variety of variations into their colophons.  Some included only brief publication information, while others consistently used their colophons as advertisements to promote their businesses.  Those who took that approach were the most consistent advertisers of the period, disseminating at least one advertisement in each issue they printed.  Even the most prolific advertisers among the merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who placed paid notices did not advertise at that rate.

January 2

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 2, 1772).

“AMERICAN MANUFACTURE.”

Pelatiah Webster advertised a variety of goods available at his store on Water Street in Philadelphia at the end of 1772 and the beginning of 1773.  Although he mentioned some imported items, he emphasized that he carried several items made in the colonies.  He deployed a version of “Made in America” or “Buy American” even before the American Revolution.  Purveyors of goods and services did so at various times during the imperial crisis that eventually resulted in thirteen colonies declaring independence from Britain, most frequently during periods when colonizers adopted nonimportation agreements as political leverage.  That did not mean, however, that advertisers did not encourage consumers to purchase “domestic manufactures” at times of relative calm.

Webster apparently believed that highlighting the American origins of many of his wares would aid in attracting customers.  He may have also hoped that this strategy would remind consumers that they could make choices in the marketplace that had political ramifications.  He opened his advertisement with a “NEAT assortment of BOSTON SHOES,” trumpeting their “excellent quality” and the “variety of colours.”  Merchants and shopkeepers throughout the colonies often listed dozens of different kinds of imported textiles, hoping to match the tastes and budgets of prospective customers.  Webster, on the other hand, stocked “a variety of coarse woollens, cottons, check flannels, &c. AMERICAN MANUFACTURE, very serviceable, at 2s. and 2s6 per yard.”  Those textiles were not as fancy as imported alternatives, but Webster considered them both practical and, at two shillings or two shillings and six pence per yard, quire reasonable.  For many colonizers, using such homespun fabrics became a badge of honor, a visible testimonial of their politics or commitment to supporting the local economy or both.

In the January 2, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Webster’s advertisement ran in the first column on the final page, below George Weed’s advertisement for medicines he compounded at shop on Market Street, alternatives to patent medicines imported from London.  The middle column consisted entirely of an advertisement in which Jonathan Zane and Sons cataloged a “large assortment of IRONMONGERY, CUTLERY, BRASS WARE, SADLERY, DYE STUFFS, PAINTERS COLOURS” and more that they acquired “at the manufactories of Great-Britain and imported in the last vessels from London and Bristol.”  In the final column, John Marie’s advertisement ran once again, offering the services of a “TAYLOR, from PARIS” who had previously clothed “some of the most respectable Gentlemen in London.”  That constellation of advertisements and marketing strategies on a single page testified to some of the tension inherent in consumer culture during the era of the American Revolution.  Consumers navigated competing messages about the meanings of goods and services and how they should participate in the marketplace.

December 26

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (December 26, 1772).

Doctor GEORGE WEED … was a regular bred Physician, in New-England.”

George Weed, an apothecary, served patients in Philadelphia for decades in the middle of the eighteenth century.  In his advertisements, he styled himself as “Doctor GEORGE WEED.”  On occasion, he provided credentials to justify using that title.

For instance, in an advertisement hawking a variety of medicines in the December 26, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Weed provided an overview of his training before describing his “SYRUP of BALSAM” for coughs and colds, his “ROYAL BALSAM” for wounds, bruises, and sores, his “BITTER TINCTURE” for dizziness and upset stomach, and other medicines that he compounded at his apothecary shop.  Weed asserted that he “was a regular bred Physician, in New-England, and served his time with Ephraim Warner, a licenced Doctor.”  In other words, he received training from “one of the greatest and most successful Practitioners of Physic, in New England, in his day.”  Rather than ask the public to take his word for it, Weed concluded his advertisement with an affirmation from a minister.  Thomas Lewis declared, “That Doctor GEORGE WEED, living in Newtown Township, was under the Instructions and Directions of a judicious Practitioner of Physic, in New-England, for some Years, is certified by me.”  Careful readers may have noted that the affirmation was nearly two decades old, dated October 6, 1753.  Weed apparently believed that it served his purpose in helping to convince prospective patients to purchase his medicines.

To strengthen his pitch, Weed noted that he had “above 34 years successful practice,” including serving as “Apothecary to the Pennsylvania Hospital.”  He no longer held that position, instead operating his own shop on Market Street.  Through his long experience, he proclaimed, Weed “brought to perfection, some medicines, which have proved extraordinary in curing many diseases.”  Although the apothecary mentioned that he carried a “general assortment of Medicines,” he emphasized those that he made himself.  Other apothecaries, retailers, and even printers imported, advertised, and sold a variety of patent medicines produced in England.  Weed suggested to consumers in Philadelphia that the combination of his training and long experience serving patients in the colonies resulted in creating better products to cure common maladies.  They did not need remedies produced elsewhere when they could consult directly with a skilled apothecary who compounded medicines to order.

December 12

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (December 12, 1772).

“He has had the Pleasure of pleasing some of the most respectable Gentlemen in London.”

John Marie, a tailor, wanted the better sort to know that he was well qualified to serve them at the shop he ran out of his house in Gray’s Alley in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the December 12, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, he introduced himself as a “TAYLOR, from PARIS.”  He intended that his connection to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe, a city where the fashionable often set tastes adopted in London, the most cosmopolitan city in the British Empire, would recommend him to genteel consumers in the largest and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the colonies.  He made clear that he sought a particular kind of client by addressing “the Gentry and Public.”  Consumers and tailor would mutually benefit from their association as Marie enhanced the appearances of his clients and those clients gained the cachet of being dressed by a French tailor.

To demonstrate that he was prepared to work with the local gentry, Marie heralded his previous experience.  The tailor proclaimed that he “has had the Pleasure of pleasing some of the most respectable Gentlemen in London,” though he was too discreet to mention names.  That he served “respectable Gentlemen” suggested that he kept them outfitted according to the latest styles but did not resort to anything too frivolous or outrageous.  Prospective clients could depend on him dressing them well without transforming them into the macaronis who were the target of so much derision in both London and Philadelphia in the 1770s.  In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman explains that the term macaroni “applied to elaborately powdered, ruffled, and corseted men of fashion” whose “suits were opulent and closely cut, with incredibly slim silhouettes.”[1]  A series of prints published in London depicted all sorts of men, “from farmers to barristers,” as macaronis.  Thus, Haulman argues, “macaroni could apply to any man who followed fashion to ape high status.”[2]  Marie suggested that he did not seek to serve such pretenders.  The gentry in Philadelphia could depend on him to dress them as “respectable Gentlemen,” just as he had done for his clients in London.

Print depicting a macaroni and his perplexed father. “What is this my Son Tom” (London: R. Sayer and J. Bennett, 1774). Courtesy Library of Congress.

[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 635

[2] Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars,” 636.

November 14

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (November 14, 1772).

“BALTIMORE COFFEE-HOUSE and TAVERN.”

In the fall of 1772, William Goddard proposed publishing a newspaper in Baltimore as soon as he recruited enough subscribers.  Robert Hodge and Frederick Shober also announced their intention to establish a newspaper in Baltimore.  Hodge and Shober left the city just a couple of months later.  Goddard did not take the Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser to press until August 1773.  Until then, the town did not have its own newspaper.  Instead, residents relied on the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis, and the various newspapers published in Philadelphia as their local newspapers.

That meant that advertisers in Baltimore sent their notices to printing offices in other towns.  Goddard, the printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, may have determined that Baltimore could support its own newspaper in part as a result of the number of advertisements he received from that town.  The November 14, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, for instance, carried several advertisements that concerned Baltimore, including two on the front page.  In one, Sarah Chilton invited prospective patrons to the “BALTIMORE COFFEE-HOUSE and TAVERN,” an establishment she recently opened in a “large and commodious brick house” and kept stocked with “excellent liquors and other necessaries.”  In another, John Gordon described Robert Lewis, an indentured servant who ran away before his contract ended, and offered a reward for his capture and return to Gordon’s residence on Gay Street in Baltimore.  Recognizing both Lewis’s mobility and the reach of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Gordon adjusted the award depending on whether Lewis was “within ten miles” of Baltimore, “out of the county,” or “out of the province.”  A third advertisement promoted a “STAGE from the city of Philadelphia to Baltimore-Town” and provided a schedule, including the transfers between the “stage-waggon” and the “stage-boat,” for travel in both directions.

Even if Baltimore had its own newspaper in 1772, each of these advertisements would have been of interest to many readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle in Philadelphia and other towns.  The coffee house and the stage, however, also testified to the growth of Baltimore as a commercial center that had the potential to support its own newspaper, especially if a publisher could enlist merchants and shopkeepers to advertise their wares and other residents to submit the various kinds of notices that comprised a significant portion of the content of newspapers published in other cities and towns.

October 17

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 17, 1772).

“It is needless to mention a long list of peoples’ names … [and] what great benefit they have received by the proper use of this Balsam.”

Advertisements for patent medicines frequently appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.  The Pennsylvania Chronicle carried them, including a notice promoting “Dr. HILL’s American Balsam” on October 17, 1772.  William Young provided a brief and enthusiastic overview of the remedy’s effectiveness, boldly proclaiming that “IT is known, by experiment, that this Balsam is one of the most excellent medicines ever before prepared since the creation of the world, for colds, coughs, consumptions, swimming in the head, rheumatism, pain, gravel, sore throat,” and many other ailments.

Young indicated that he could have produced testimonials, but he considered doing so unnecessary given the reputation of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam.  He reported that “great numbers of people in this and the neighbouring provinces” who had “made trial” of the medicine could confirm its efficacy, yet be believed it “needless to mention a long list of peoples’ names and their residences, who have earnestly desired it might be published for the good of their fellow-creatures.”  Instead, Young underscored “what great benefit they have received by the proper use of this Balsam, when all other medicines have been used in vain.”

That strategy differed from the one deployed by Nicholas Brooks in promoting Maredant’s Drops in the Pennsylvania Gazette earlier in the year.  Brooks published the names of several people “cured by Maredant’s drops” as well as detailed testimonials written by two satisfied customers.  In contrast, Young suggested that there were so many customers whose symptoms had been alleviated by Dr. Hill’s American Balsam that listing their names would have been superfluous.  Whether or not he could have published such a list seemed less important to him than asserting how many people supposedly encouraged him to do so.  That left it prospective customers to imagine for themselves how many patients benefited from the medicine.  In choosing not to publish any specifics, neither names nor testimonials, Young invited readers to envision even grander stories about the effectiveness of Dr. Hill’s American Balsam than he could have compiled in a newspaper advertisement.

October 3

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (October 3, 1772).

“To particularize the Articles, in an Advertisements, would be too extensive for Publication in a News-Paper.”

Lengthy advertisements often appeared in the pages of colonial newspapers.  Merchants and shopkeepers promoted the choices they made available to customers by listing many of the goods that they stocked.  In some cases, those lists were so extensive that they operated as catalogs embedded in newspapers.  For instance, George Bartram listed scores of items available at his “Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE” in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Chronicle several times in the fall of 1772.  It filled half a column.

Not every advertiser, however, adopted that strategy.  In their own advertisement in the October 3, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Hugh Roberts and George Roberts declared that they carried “Ironmongery and Brass Wares, In the most extensive Branches” as well as “A LARGE ASSORTMENT OF Copper Ware, India Metal Ware, Jappanned Ware, and Cutlery” at their “WARE-HOUSE” in Philadelphia.  Like Bartram, they oversaw a warehouse rather than a shop or store, such a name suggesting vast arrays of merchandise gathered in one place.  Unlike Bartram, the Robertses did not go into more detail about their merchandise.  Instead, they proclaimed that the “Ironmongery, Brass, and other Wares, at the said Warehouse, consist of so great a Variety of Sets, Patterns, and Workmanship, that, to particularize the Articles, in an Advertisement, would be too extensive for Publication in a News-Paper.”  Even an abbreviated list, like the one in Bartram’s advertisement immediately below the Robertses’ advertisement, would have been inadequate.

The Robertses challenged readers to imagine what they might encounter on a visit to their “WARE-HOUSE” to browse their “LARGE ASSORTMENT” and “extensive inventory,” hoping that would be as effective as publishing a lengthy list.  This clever strategy may have also been a means of saving money on advertising.  After all, advertisers paid by the amount of space their notices occupied.  The Robertses’ advertisement accounted for approximately a third as much space as Bartram’s notice.  Both strategies did more than merely announce the availability of goods.  They made consumer choice a central component of shopping at both warehouses in Philadelphia.

September 26

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 26, 1772).

Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE, At the sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD.”

In the fall of 12772, George Bartram advertised a “very large assortment of MERCHANDIZE” recently imported via “the last vessels from Britain and Ireland.”  To entice prospective customers, he provided a list that included “Dark & light drabs or cloth colours, suitable for women’s cloaks,” “Cinnamon, chocolate and snuff colours, with a variety of mixed elegant coloured cloths,” “Scotch plaid, suitable for littler boys short cloths, gentlemen’s morning gowns,” “A COMPLETE assortment of man’s wove and knit silk, silk and worsted, worsted, cotton and thread HOSE,” and “Men & women’s silk, thread and worsted gloves.”  The extensive list, however, did not exhaust Bartram’s inventory.  He proclaimed that he carried “a great variety of other articles in the woollen and linen drapery, and hardware branches.”

With such an array of goods, Bartram did not purport to run a mere shop.  Instead, he promoted his business as a “Woollen-Drapery and Hosiery WAREHOUSE, At the sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD” on Second Street in Philadelphia.  The header for his advertisement in the September 26, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle had the appearance of a sign, with Bartram’s name and address within a border of decorative type.  The merchant already had a record of using visual devices to draw attention to the name he associated with his store.  In the January 22, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, for instance, the words “GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE” flanked a woodcut depicting a “GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD.”  He previously kept shop “at the Sign of the Naked Boy.”  Newspaper advertisements Bartram placed between 1767 and 1770 featured a woodcut of a shop sign with a naked boy holding a length of cloth in a cartouche in the center, rolls of textiles on either side, and “GEORGE” and “BARTRAM” flanking the bottom of the cartouche.

Many merchants and shopkeepers published lists of their merchandise.  Bartram enhanced such marketing efforts by associating a distinctive device, first the Naked boy and then the Golden Fleece’s Head, with his business, giving his shop an elaborate and memorable name, and using visual images, both woodcuts and decorative type, to distinguish his advertisements from others.  He did not merely announce goods for sale.  Instead, he experimented with marketing strategies.