April 11

GUEST CURATOR:  Sean Sullivan

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

Apr 11 - 4:11:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 11, 1768).

“BOHEA TEA in large Chests, HYSON TEA in small Chests or Cannisters.”

Tea was an established part of life in the colonial America, consumed both in metropolitan centers along the coast as well as further inland, nearly ubiquitous across the British colonies. This advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle mentioned two varieties, Bohea and Hyson. Bohea was a more expensive black tea while hyson was a cheaper and more common green variant. However, savvy merchants likely would not have hindered themselves with selling one variety and thus limiting their potential clientele. By importing both varieties of tea, Christopher and Charles Marshall appealed to the widest market available, increasing both potential profits and their presence in the sphere of public business. Such an action would be in the best interests of any aspiring entrepreneur, as the tea market in colonial America was massive not only economically but, as Rodris Roth argues, as a part of the wider culture. Colonial customs were highly reflective of trends prominent in Europe, and the consumption of tea was among the most significant of these trends. By the middle of the eighteenth century, tea had become the social lubricant of choice. Anyone in the mercantile realm who could find a steady market for tea would therefore be almost guaranteed a lucrative business.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Tea was indeed a major commodity consumed throughout the British colonies in the eighteenth century.  Many assume that tea was a luxury in colonial America, but that interpretation reflects its position when it was first introduced to consumers rather than the position it eventually held in the marketplace and in the social lives of colonists.  As Rodris Roth reports, “During the first half of the eighteenth century the limited amount of tea, available at prohibitively high prices, restricted its use to a proportionately small segment of the population.  About mid-century, however, tea was beginning to be drunk by more and more people, as supplies increased and costs decreased, due in part to the propaganda and merchandising efforts of the East India Company.[1]  The expanding market for tea placed it at the center of the consumer revolution that took place throughout the British Atlantic world in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, tea might be considered emblematic of colonists participating in the consumer revolution since consuming it required acquiring a variety of other goods, some of them for its preparation and some considered necessary for the social rituals associated with consuming the beverage. Shopkeepers advertised and colonists purchased elaborate tea sets that included cups, saucers, teapots, sugar bowls, containers for cream or milk, waste bowls, tongs, strainers, canisters for storing tea, spoons, and other items.  Yet the equipage did not end there.  Depending on their means, colonists also bought tea tables and chairs as well as trays and tablecloths.  Whether made of metal or imported porcelain, the popular styles for tea sets changed over the years, just as the fashions for garments shifted. Merchants and shopkeepers noted such changes in their advertisements, spurring potential customers to make additional purchases and further fueling the consumer revolution.  Yet consuming tea contributed to importing other goods, especially sugar.  No matter how genteel the setting for socializing while sipping tea, colonists were enmeshed in networks of exchange that depended on the involuntary labor of enslaved men and women who worked on sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

Today’s advertisement for tea may appear rather simple at first glance, yet upon closer examination it tells a much larger story about the consumption and culture in eighteenth-century America.  For even more information, see Rodris Roth’s “Tea-Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” available in its entirety via Project Gutenberg.

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[1]Rodris Roth, “Tea Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” in Material Life in America, 1600-1860, ed. Robert Blair St. George (Boston:  Northeastern University Press, 1988), 442.

February 15

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

Feb 15 - 2:15:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 15, 1768).

“She continues to sell … the genuine flour of mustard.”

Mary Crathorne advertised the mustard and chocolate she “manufactured” at “the Globe mill on Germantown road” in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in February 1768. She inserted one notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 11 and another in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on February 15. Although they featured (mostly) the same copy, the visual aspects of the tow advertisements distinguished one from the other.

A headline consisting of her name, “Mary Crathorne,” introduced the advertisement in the Chronicle. Such design was consistent with that in other advertisements placed by purveyors of goods and services, including Robert Bass and John Lownes. It added readers in identifying the advertisement, but did not call special attention to it. In contrast, her advertisement in the Gazette featured a woodcut depicting a seal for her company flanked by a bottle of mustard on one side and a pound of chocolate on the other. It was the only advertisement in that issue of the Gazette (including the two-page supplement devoted entirely to advertising) that incorporated a visual image, distinguishing it from all others. On the other hand, Crathorne’s advertisement in the Chronicle ran on the same page as four advertisements that included woodcuts (a house, a ship, a male runaway servant, and a female runaway servant). In addition to those stock images that belonged to the printer, elsewhere in the issue Howard and Bartram’s advertisement featured a woodcut of dog with its head in an overturned bucket. The “Copper-Smiths from London” ran a shop at “the sign of the Dog and Golden Kettle, in Second-Street.” They effectively deployed the visual image in multiple media, the newspaper advertisement and the shop sign, to create a brand for their business.

Crathorne attempted something similar with her own woodcut in the Gazette, noting that “All the mustard put up in bottles, has the above stamp pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the said stamp thereon.” She had to revise the copy, however, for inclusion in the Chronicle without the woodcut. “All the mustard put up in bottle has a stamp” (rather than “the above stamp”) “pasted on the bottles, and also the paper round each pound of chocolate has the same stamp thereon.”

Apparently Mary Crathorne (or her late husband who previously ran the business) had commissioned only one woodcut of this trademark image. That made it impossible to publish advertisements featuring the same image in multiple newspapers simultaneously. The aspect that most distinguished her advertisement in the Gazette was completely missing in the Chronicle, where other advertisers treated readers to a series of woodcuts that dressed up their notices. Crathorne engaged in innovative marketing efforts by associating a specific image with her products to distinguish them from the competition, but she did not consistently advance that campaign by inserting the image in all of her advertisements that appeared in print. She recognized that branding could be useful in selling her wares, but she did not apply the strategy to full effect. That required further experimentation by other advertisers.

January 18

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

Jan 18 - 1:18:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (January 18, 1768).

“THE Publisher of this Paper … shall ever esteem it his Duty to serve and oblige them.”

As was his privilege as the printer and publisher, William Goddard placed his advertisement first among those inserted in the January 18, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, which happened to be issue “NUMB. 53” of its publication. The newspaper had just completed its first full year! Goddard used the occasion for reflecting on publication and distribution during the previous year and promoting the newspaper, especially certain improvements, as he continued to supply the public with new issues.

Goddard opened his advertisement with an expression of gratitude to subscribers and other readers for their “generous Encouragement,” especially recommendations for “the Improvement of his Paper.” He pledged to continue serving them “to the utmost of his Ability” and offered “Proof” that he listened to their suggestions. He pledged to continue publication “upon the same extensive Plan” in terms of content and schedule, but planned to alter the dimensions of each issue to “Quarto Size … which will render it much more convenient … to his kind Readers and Friends.” Goddard suggested that the smaller size would make the issues much more manageable for reading than the broadsheet issues distributed by competitors. He requested that potential subscribers enthusiastic about this modification “transmit their Names and Places of Abode, as soon as possible” so he could print sufficient copies to meet demand for future issues.

Goddard also acknowledged that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had faltered at various times during its first year of publication. He noted that he had experienced difficulty “obtaining faithful and capable Journeymen” to work in his printing office. As a result he had hired “the most inartifical of the Profession … which made it impossible for him to execute or dispatch the Paper in the Manner he could have wished.” Goddard resolved to improve on that. He had just hired, “at a great Expence, a regular and valuable Set of Hands” with the necessary skill and experience that would allow him to publish and deliver the newspaper “with much greater Regularity and Expedition.”

The publisher concluded by offering premiums to his customers. Realizing that some had “preserved the Paper for binding” rather than discarding issues after reading them, he promised to issue a title page and print a notice “when it is ready to be delivered.” He also proposed, but did not promise, a table of contents, “if Time permits.” He also offered back issues for free, allowing anyone who had misplaced one to complete the set before sending it off to the binder. In making it possible for readers to compile complete runs of the first year of publication Goddard also encouraged them to continue to purchase subsequent issues in order to maintain their collections.

All in all, Goddard proclaimed that the Pennsylvania Chronicle had experienced a good first year. Yet he also proposed improvements that would allow his newspaper to compete with the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both of which had been published in Philadelphia for decades. He acknowledged some of the difficulties that had an impact on serving customers to the best of his ability, but bookended that portion of his advertisement with plans to publish a more convenient size at the start and premiums, both title pages and back issues, at the conclusion. Goddard knew that colonists passed newspapers from hand to hand, sharing issues beyond just the subscribers. As he commenced a new year of publication, he worked to retain his initial subscribers as well as attract new subscribers who previously read copies acquired from others.

December 14

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

Dec 14 - 12:14:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (December 14, 1767).

“Webster has had the honour of working, with applause, for several of the nobility and gentry.”

John Webster, an “Upholsterer from London,” knew that establishing his reputation in Philadelphia would help build the clientele for his endeavors in his new location. To that end, he reported in an advertisement in the December 14, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle that he previously “had the honour of working, with applause, for several of the nobility and gentry, both in England and Scotland.” While providing credentials always helped artisans to promote their businesses, Webster probably did not need to reside in Philadelphia very long to realize that even in the largest city in the colonies the residents experienced anxiety about being perceived as backwater provincials by the better sorts in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. He depended on potential customers responding to his pledge of “having their work executed in the best and newest taste,” but indicating that he previously served prominent clients testified to his ability to deliver on that promise.

Yet Webster did not want to give the impression that he had experience only on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition, potential customers may have been skeptical about how extensively he had worked with “several of the nobility and gentry” before arriving in the colony. To alleviate such concerns, Webster extended “his most grateful thanks to those good gentlemen and ladies who have been pleased to honour and favour him with their custom, since he came to Philadelphia.” While this could have also been a ploy, the upholsterer implied that he had already attracted local clients satisfied with his work. Webster created the impression that genteel “ladies and gentlemen” sought after his services. Potential customers who had not yet hire him risked being excluded if they did not contact him before he took on too many other projects.

Webster attempted to attract clients to his upholstery business by creating a buzz among the residents of Philadelphia. Even the location of his new shop, “facing the London Coffee-House,” increased his visibility in the city. His report that he previously served “several of the nobility and gentry” in England and Scotland before working for the “good gentlemen and ladies of Philadelphia” suggested his popularity to colonists concerned with demonstrating their taste and status through the goods they acquired. Implicitly playing on those anxieties, he encouraged them to contract his services in order to keep up with their friends and neighbors.

November 11

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

Nov 11 - 11:11:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle Extraordinary
Pennsylvania Chronicle Extraordinary (November 11, 1767).

“She is a new Vessel, has excellent Accommodations for Passengers.”

The various commodities marketed in eighteenth-century newspapers testify to the networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic, but the advertisements also reveal the movement of people. Almost every advertisement in the November 11, 1767, extraordinary issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, for instance, featured some element of mobility.

Six advertisements offered passage from Philadelphia to faraway places, including Cape Fear, North Carolina; Grenada; Barbados; Londonderry; and London. Half simply stated that readers could arrange either “Freight or Passage,” but the others promoted their “excellent Accommodations for Passengers” to attract travelers. Due to the size of the port city, newspapers published in Philadelphia regularly carried such advertisements, but similar advertisements also appeared frequently in newspapers from smaller cities and towns.

Some colonists used advertisements to announce their arrival. For instance, one “YOUNG MAN … lately arrived from England” placed an employment notice in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, informing his new neighbors that he “would be glad to serve any Gentleman as Clerk.” The anonymous ‘YOUNG MAN” requested that anyone interested in hiring him “Inquire of the PRINTER.” He also indicated his willingness to extend his journey when he expressed interest in positions available “either in Town or Country.”

Three additional advertisements documented recent departures of indentured servants who absconded from their masters. One reported that Abraham Weaver, am English linen weaver who ran away from Amos Garrett in Swan Creek in Maryland, had been seen with a widow who might attempt to pass as his wife. Garrett suspected that “they may make for Philadelphia or the eastern-shore of Maryland.” John Odenheimer of Philadelphia indicated that his servant, a German named Eberhard Hirschman, had been “seen in Lancaster, at the Sign of the Highlander” the previous week. These runaways attempted to put considerable distance between themselves and their masters.

Newspaper advertisements like these depicted a flurry of movement of people, not just commodities, throughout the Atlantic world and beyond in the eighteenth century. Those who purchased passage on ships traveled for various reasons, commercial and personal. Some, like the “YOUNG MAN … lately arrived from England,” embraced mobility as a means of encountering new opportunities, but others, including many indentured servants, found that their experiences in new places did not live up to their expectations. They made new departures, frustrating masters who had bought their services for a period of years. American colonists lived in an extremely mobile society. Advertisements for consumer goods and services often insinuated social mobility, but other paid notices revealed significant geographic mobility as well.

September 21

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

Sep 21 - 9:21:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 21, 1767).

“New Shop at the Sign of the Naked Boy.”

George Bartram launched a new venture in 1767, opening his own shop “at the Sign of the Naked Boy” on Second Street in Philadelphia. To let both former and potential new customers know about his new location, he published an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Bartram promoted the “general Assortment of dry Goods, imported in the last Vessels from Great-Britain and Ireland,” but he did not confine himself to merely describing the goods he stocked. Instead, he included a woodcut that featured some of the textiles he imported and hoped to sell to consumers in the port city. A cartouche in the center depicted a naked boy examining a length of cloth, encouraging potential customers to imagine themselves inspecting Bartram’s merchandise. That the boy held the fabric close to his naked body suggested quality and softness, enticing readers to anticipate the luxurious pleasures that awaited them at Bartram’s shop. Many rolls of fabric flanked the central cartouche, testifying to the “general Assortment” of merchandise. What kinds of tactile sensations might shoppers experience when they compared the weave of one fabric to another? The naked boy surrounded by textiles of all sorts invited colonists to visit Bartram’s shop, where they did not need to confine themselves merely to window shopping but could indulge their sense of touch as well as sight.

The woodcut also included the proprietor’s name on either side of the cartouche, an unnecessary flourish in an advertisement that featured Bartram’s name as a headline. Its inclusion may have been necessary, however, if the woodcut doubled as an accurate representation of the “Sign of the Naked Boy” that marked Bartram’s shop. The shopkeeper had previously conducted business at a “Shop lately occupied by Bartram and Lennox.” To mark his new shop as exclusively his own, Bartram may have instructed the painter or carver who made his sign to include his name as well as the device he intended to serve as his brand. Eighteenth-century advertisements regularly indicate which shop signs marked which businesses, but few of those signs have survived. Woodcuts like the naked boy in Bartram’s advertisement suggest what colonists may have seen as they traversed the streets and visited retailers and artisans who used signs to mark their businesses.

August 24

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

Aug 24 - 8:24:1767 Advert Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 24, 1767).

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Aug 24 - 8:24:1767 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 24, 1767).

I am obliged to take this public Method to forewarn all Persons from trusting her on my Account.”

“I am obliged to take this method solemnly to declare, that those charges against me have not the least foundation in truth.”

Joseph Perkins’ advertisement concerning the misbehavior of his wife, Elizabeth, made its second appearance in the August 24, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, having previously appeared in the issue with the same date inserted at the end of the notice, August 17. More elaborate than many “runaway wife” advertisements, this one was particularly notable because it garnered a response in print from its subject. Most such advertisements went unanswered in the newspapers, but occasionally bold women refused to allow their husbands to exercise exclusive control over shaping the narrative presented to the public.

Elizabeth may have anticipated that her husband would publish this sort of advertisement and checked Philadelphia’s newspapers for it. At the very least, she read or heard about it within days of its publication and set about responding to it with her own advertisement, dated August 22. Readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle could piece together the story, encountering Eliazabeth’s response on the third page and the original notice reprinted on the fourth and final page. (In the next issue, either the editor or compositor made a decision to run the related advertisements one after the other. They appeared as the final two items in the August 31 edition, Joseph’s initial notice first, followed by Elizabeth’s rebuttal. Instead of a series of advertisements unrelated to each other, that issue concluded with a narrative drama.)

Joseph had leveled the usual accusations against his wife: she “behaves in a very unbecoming Manner towards me” and “she may endeavor to run me in Debt.” Elizabeth turned the tables by “solemnly” declaring “that those charges against me have not the least foundation in truth.” She went on to describe “disorderly company” that her husband invited into their home and the “notorious scenes of disorder” his guests created. To underscore the point, she deployed racialized language, asserting that she had been subjected to treatment “that would have shocked a savage of the Ohio.” To escape this abuse, she had taken the only option available to her: she fled to her mother’s house.

Historians of early American often read runaway wife advertisements as evidence of women’s agency. Even though written and published by men, they demonstrate that women did not always bow to the patriarchal order within their households. At the same time, however, the very nature of runaway wife advertisements, especially the warnings not to engage in commercial exchanges with runaway wives, suggest a rather constrained agency in which men continued to exert control over women’s access to credit and consumer goods. That did not have to be the end of the story. Some runaway wives, like Elizabeth Perkins, also turned to the public prints, to offer alternate accounts that further illuminated the circumstances of their departure.