September 20

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

Sep 20 - 9:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 17, 1767).

“Many other Medicines.”

In addition to working as a steward and apothecary at the Pennsylvania Hospital, George Weed sold a variety of medicines from his home “at the Corner of Arch and Front-streets” in Philadelphia. Regardless of the malady, Weed seemed to have some sort of remedy for every patient: “an excellent Syrup to cure the Bloody Flux,” “a Balsamick Syrup, which cures Colds, Coughs, Shortness of Breath, Spitting of Blood,” and other symptoms of consumption, and “a Sudorifick Elixir, which cures the Gout and Rheumatism … by a gentle Sweat.” He also peddled “Fine Cordials for Infants,” but was also prepared “to cure the Venereal Disease in all its Stages” for adult patients

In the 1770s, the apothecary assumed the title of “Dr. George Weed” in various advertisements, though this may have been a courtesy initially bestowed by patients and associates who benefited from consuming or selling his medicines. In 1767, he proclaimed that he had been “bred to the Practice of PHYSICK and SURGERY,” deploying a phrase that often denoted some sort of formal education or apprenticeship. Whatever impression such wording suggested to readers, Weed may have been referring to his “more than 30 Years Experience” during which time he “had the greatest Opportunity to gain Skill, from his own immediate Observations, and the Advice of the ablest Physicians of this Province.” If potential customers misunderstood the nature of his training, that hardly mattered compared to the “greatest Attention and Integrity” he devoted to “the Relief of the Sick, the Wounded, Infirm and Distressed.”

Weed’s employment at the Pennsylvania Hospital came to an end in 1767. Once he found himself in the position of earning a living “in a more private Station,” he may have considered his previous affiliation with the hospital sufficient for taking the title of doctor if it meant convincing more prospective customers to purchase his nostrums and tinctures. Calling himself “Dr. George Weed” bestowed additional authority as he marketed the medicines he mixed to customers in Philadelphia and exported them to other colonies. Weed did not consistently use this title in advertisements he placed during the final year of his life, but the Pennsylvania Evening Post referred to him as “Dr. GEORGE WEED” when announcing his death on February 1, 1777. For nearly a year, his widow, Elizabeth, subsequently sought to mobilize the clout associated with “Doctor George Weed” as she advertised that she continued to sell medicines he prepared before his death.

Although the apothecary did not tout himself as “Dr. George Weed” in his advertisements immediately after leaving the Pennsylvania Hospital, as more time elapsed he may have realized the benefits of shading his qualifications just slightly in order to sell his drugs. Patients who published testimonials, shopkeepers who sold his elixirs, and newspaper editors who reported his death all eventually granted him the title of doctor, perhaps out of respect for his skill and experience if not in recognition of any particular formal training.

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 3, 1767).

“Wire work of all sorts, particularly for flaxseed and wheat.”

In the September 3, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, John Sellers updated an advertisement that he had previously inserted in other issues. The copy remained the same (and does not appear to have been reset), but he added an image of a rolling wire screen for separating flaxseed and “cleansing wheat.” In and of itself, the woodcut enhanced the advertisement and likely caught the attention of more readers, especially since images were a relatively rare component of eighteenth-century advertisements. When they did appear, they tended to fall into four main categories – ships, houses, slaves, and horses – that could be used interchangeably in any advertisements related to the corresponding image. Those woodcuts belonged to printers.

On the other hand, advertisers had to commission more specialized images, which then belonged to them and were not associated with other advertisements. This made Sellers’ woodcut of a rolling wire screen all the more extraordinary in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. The advertisements in the September 3 issue and its supplement featured only six images. Three depicted ships, including one announcing that the Phoenix would soon depart for Cork and encouraging readers to make arrangements for “Freight or Passage.” Another depicted Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’ seal flanked by a bottle of mustard and a block of chocolate, the two specialty items at the center of their grocery business. The remaining two both had images of wire screens “for cleaning all sorts of Grain.”

That may help to explain why Sellers chose to spruce up his advertisement with an image of the rolling screens he produced. Even though the copy in his advertisement made stronger appeals concerning his skill and the quality of his screens, it may have been overshadowed by Richard Truman’s advertisement that simply presented the image of one of his screens and let it do most of the work in the absence appeals made over the course of many lines of dense text. Sellers may have decided that he needed to increase his investment in his marketing efforts in order to make his advertisements competitive. After all, if the competition’s advertisements got all the attention, it was not worth the expense to advertise at all. Sellers increased the likelihood that potential customers would consider the appeals made in the copy by providing some art as a hook to interest them.

Sep 3 - 9:3:1767 Truman Advert Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 3, 1767).

August 30

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement.jpg
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 27, 1767).

“JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR … UNDERTAKES to make Clothes in the neatest and newest Fashion.”

John Holliday and his wife ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout most of 1767. The Adverts 250 Project previously featured that advertisement, examining how the couple surreptitiously inserted information about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing unwanted facial hair at the end of an advertisement that, at a glance, focused primarily on John’s services as a tailor.

The Hollidays’ advertisement demonstrates one strategy female entrepreneurs used to promote their participation in the marketplace without independently publishing newspaper notices, yet the initial portion dedicated to John’s enterprise includes fairly rare commentary on attitudes about the effectiveness of advertising in eighteenth-century America. “Mr. Holliday humbly begs Leave to refer to those Gentlemen who have favoured him with their Commands, since the Commencement of this Advertisement, as their Approbation has been equal to his highest Expectation.” In other words, Holliday acknowledged that business had increased since first placing the advertisement and he attributed that development to his marketing efforts rather than other circumstances. Perhaps Holliday’s advertisement had been successfully because he did not merely announce that he had set up shop. Instead, he listed his qualifications, noting that he had previously been employed as “Foreman and Cutter-out to some of the most eminent Master-Taylors in London.” Such a pedigree likely caught the attention of status-conscious residents of the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the colonies!

Furthermore, Holliday attempted to use his new clients to incite additional demand for his services. Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia from London, he promised that “any Gentlemen that shall be pleased to favour him with their Commands … will not be disappointed” with the garments he made “in the neatest and newest Fashion.” According to this advertisement, several “Gentlemen” indeed “favoured him with their Commands” and thought so highly of the work he completed for them that other potential clients should consider that sufficient testimonial to also engage his services.

August 20

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

Aug 20 - 8:20:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 20, 1767).

“A considerable number of rolling screens for cleansing wheat.”

John Sellers and Richard Truman both advertised their “SCREENS for cleaning all sorts of Grain” in the August 20, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Truman devoted more than half of the space in his notice to a woodcut depicting a machine that used one of the screens he made. This strategy likely garnered a fair amount of attention since visual images were relatively rare in eighteenth-century newspapers; even the most humble woodcuts distinguished the advertisements they adorned from the vast majority of others.

Sellers purchased the same amount of space, but, like most advertisers, densely filled it with text. He used that space to develop two marketing strategies: an appeal to unparalleled expertise in his field and roll call of existing customers who could testify to his abilities and their experience using the screens he made.

Sellers not only “MADES and sold” screens for cleaning flaxseed and wheat, he claimed to be “the original inventor and institutor of that branch of business in America.” Furthermore, he protected his trade secrets by not sharing his techniques with anyone else. As evidence that former customers recognized the quality and utility of his “wire work of all sorts,” Sellers argued that he had made “all the wire boults used in the cities of Philadelphia and New-York” as well as a “considerable number” of rolling screens akin to those advertised by Truman. Due to his “long experience” and status as “the best master of the work,” he believed that he was “best intitled” to the patronage of those who needed to purchase such equipment.

Potential customers did not need to take Sellers’ word. Instead, he listed eight associates in Philadelphia and another eight in New York, encouraging readers to enquire of them for further endorsements. Realizing that consumers would rightfully be skeptical of what amount to nothing more than braggadocio, Sellers made it possible for them to independently verify his claims by speaking with satisfied customers.

Without a woodcut decorating his advertisement, John Sellers instead worked to convince potential customers of the superiority of his product over others marketed and sold by his competitors. Richard Truman’s advertisement was rudimentary in comparison. It included an eye-catching visual image, but did little beyond announcing that he sold fans and screens for cleaning grains. In contrast, Sellers explained why customers should prefer the products he made and sold. In addition, he directed them to satisfied customers who could speak authoritatively about his screens.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 13, 1767).

“I likewise frame, gild and glaze Pictures at the cheapest Rates.”

According to his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Robert Kennedy provided a variety of goods and services at his “Copper-plate Printing Office, in Third-street, Philadelphia.” To entice potential customers, he extolled both the wares he sold and personal attributes that qualified him to pursue his occupation. Kennedy was no mere middleman who shuttled imported goods through his shop; instead, he was a craftsman who altered and improved his merchandise to conform to the tastes and desires of his customers.

Kennedy stocked a “general Assortment of Maps and Prints” that were “neatly framed and glazed” in a variety of sizes and fashions. Customers could choose among these items to decorate their homes. Alternately, they could bring their own prints to Kennedy’s shop for him to “frame, gild and glaze” and otherwise prepare them to be exhibited in homes, either as “Houshold Furniture” or in “Cabinets of the CURIOUS.” His other services included cleaning, repairing, and gilding paintings and looking glasses as well as painting houses and installing windows.

Lest potential customers fear that he might irreparably damage their irreplaceable possessions, Kennedy assured them that he “had several Years Experience.” During that time he “acquired such a Degree of Knowledge of the Branches of my Profession” that he would be able to “give Satisfaction” to any of his customers. Notably, Kennedy underscored his expertise in various “Branches” of preparing paintings and prints for display. He did not want prospective clients to worry or suspect that he specialized in one task and dabbled in the others. Instead, through years of experience he had developed expertise in each of the services he offered.

In his description of framed maps and prints as “Houshold Furniture,” Kennedy revealed the value colonists placed on these items. They were part of a culture of conspicuous consumption that included the exhibition of consumer goods to signal taste and status. In addition to clothing, housewares, and furniture, colonists displayed framed maps, prints, and paintings as testaments to their gentility and adherence to current fashions. These decorative items needed to withstand keen observation, which made Kennedy’s experience and expertise all the more important. Part of the “Satisfaction” that he marketed to customers was confidence that the quality of his work would impress their visitors who viewed the items he framed, gilded, and repaired.

August 2

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

Aug 2 - 7:30:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 30, 1767).

“The following Goods, which will to be sold … by JOHN SHEE.”

Consisting of a block of densely formatted text with little white space and almost no variation in font size, John Shee’s advertisement certainly would not have been considered flashy, but that did not necessarily mean that it was ineffective by eighteenth-century standards.

Shee observed many of the conventions of the day. He made an appeal to price (“sold on the most moderate terms”) and offered more than one option for payment (“cash, or the usual credit”). In noting that his merchandise had been “Imported in the last vessels from England,” he reminded potential customers that they were participating in transatlantic consumer culture that linked them to their counterparts in London and the English provinces. That these goods arrived via the “last vessels” also suggested that they were the most current fashions available.

Shee expended the most effort in detailing the assortment of items he stocked, everything from textiles and adornments (comprising more than half the advertisement) to coffee mills to pen knives to gunpowder and shot. Even then, he had not exhausted his inventory. Eighteenth-century readers knew that the “&c. &c.” that concluded his list meant “etc. etc.,” a promise that potential customers could examine an even greater array of goods upon visiting Shee’s shop. By listing dozens and dozens of items, Shee made an appeal to consumer choice. He invited potential customers to imagine acquiring, wearing, admiring, using, displaying, and possessing the goods he sold. He also offered them independence, the ability to make their own decisions about which items to purchase to fit their own tastes or to distinguish themselves from friends and neighbors. Such a lengthy list meant that customers did not have to content themselves with whatever happened to be on the shelves. A nota bene appended to the conclusion even suggested that the shopkeeper was constantly adding new merchandise to the selection he offered for sale.

In terms of the graphic design elements, Shee’s advertisement replicated others in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Short of paying extra for a woodcut to accompany his advertisement, he likely had little control over the layout. Instead, he accepted the standard format adopted by a compositor who squeezed as much content as possible onto the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette. It was not the visual appeal of their advertisements that Shee and many of his counterparts were convinced would sell their goods. Instead, they relied on careful attention to a set of appeals they believed resonated with consumers. In the absence of varied graphic elements, Shee and other shopkeepers expected potential customers to approach their advertisements as active readers.

July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:2:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 2, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”

In an advertisement in the July 2, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Philip Wilson announced that he sold “A NEAT assortment of Merchandize” at his store on Front Street, just three doors down from “the Tea-pot, at Chestnut-street Corner.” He listed more than a dozen specific items, but also indicated that he carried “a Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”

This note near the end of the Wilson’s advertisement suggests how he imagined colonial consumers interacted with advertisement in their local newspapers. Most likely he did not expect readers to remember the particulars of his advertisements published two months earlier, not given that during that time the Pennsylvania Gazette regularly included a four-page supplement devoted exclusively to advertising in addition to all of the advertising in each standard issue. In addition, residents of Philadelphia were also exposed to advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal. The proliferation of newspaper advertising that occurred in Philadelphia by the 1760s made it unlikely that readers would remember Wilson’s original notice unless it included especially noteworthy or innovative appeals to distinguish it from others. (It did not.)

Jul 2 - 5:14:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette.jpg
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

Instead, Wilson assumed that his potential customers were active readers – very active readers – who had access to issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette published and distributed weeks earlier. In mentioning that he had previously advertised and listed a greater assortment of merchandise, he offered directions for locating a more complete accounting of his wares, anticipating that at least some readers would take the time and make the effort to do so. In turn, Wilson’s reference to his advertisements in previous issues suggests that some subscribers held onto their newspapers for some time before discarding them. Some of those subscribers may have included proprietors of coffeehouses, establishments known for providing newspapers among the many amenities offered to patrons.

Wilson was not alone in making assumptions that readers would look for advertisement inserted in previous issues.  Samuel Nightingale, Jr., deployed a similar technique in the Providence Gazette the previous November, though he directed readers to specific issues by number.

The masthead of the Pennsylvania Gazette proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the Freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic,” but some subscribers and coffeehouses likely created small archives of what was becoming old news (and advertisements), at least going back a few months, for perusal and reference. Philip Wilson assumed potential customers had some way to access a list of the “Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”