December 15

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 15, 1768).

“There may also be had at the same place … a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London.”

Joseph Wood sold a variety of textiles, apparel, and millinery goods at his shop on the corner of Market and Second Streets in Philadelphia. Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he published an extensive list of his wares to entice prospective customers. According to his advertisement in the December 15, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he stocked everything from “scarlet and other serges” and “fine and coarse broadcloths, of all colours” to “mens and womens beaver and other gloves” and “mens and womens cotton and worsted hose” to “gold and silver basket buttons” and “newest fashioned gold and silver trimmings for gentlemen and ladies hats.”

Wood did not rely on this impressive assortment of merchandise alone to attract customers. Instead, he provided an additional service: a milliner on site. “There may also be had at the same place,” Wood proclaimed, “a great variety of millinery, made up in the newest and genteelest taste, by a person lately from London, who understands perfectly every branch of that business.” Whether the unnamed milliner was an employee or a tenant was not clear, but that mattered far less than the service available at Wood’s shop. In addition to acquiring materials, customers could also receive advice about “the newest and genteelest taste” in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, and even have their hats and other accessories made by a skilled milliner who was familiar with the most recent trends by virtue of having resided there until quite recently. Furthermore, prospective customers did not need to fret about the costs. Wood assured them that “they may depend upon being served on the most reasonable terms, and as cheap as in London.” He promised the same sophistication without inflated prices. Wood played on the anxieties and desires of residents of Philadelphia eager to demonstrate that they were fashionable and genteel despite their distance from London.

Other merchants and shopkeepers made appeals to price and fashion in their advertisements. They also emphasized consumer choice with their own lengthy lists of merchandise. Wood, however, adopted a business model and marketing strategy that distinguished his shop from the competition. He realized that more readers were likely to become customers if he did more than just sell goods but instead provided services that enhanced the shopping experience.

December 8

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 8, 1768).

“THOMAS WEST … has imported in the last vessels from London and Liverpool, a neat assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

When he placed an advertisement for “a neat assortment of MERCHANDIZE” in the December 8, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Thomas West adopted a standard format for advertisements for consumer goods. The amount of variation in the graphic design of such advertisements varied from newspaper to newspaper, but tended to be fairly fixed among those placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette by merchants and shopkeepers in the late 1760s. The printers and compositors may have exercised some influence over this standardization, especially considering that the Pennsylvania Gazette featured an especially high volume of paid notices compared to its counterparts in Philadelphia and throughout the colonies. Those who worked in the printing office may have discouraged, or at least not encouraged, innovations in the visual aspects of advertisements, finding that a no-frills format streamlined setting type. Advertisers may not have insisted on introducing new design elements into advertisements, content to submit copy and leave the format to the compositors.

Consider West’s advertisement. His name, all in capital letters, served as a headline. Next his advertisement featured a short introductory paragraph that provided an overview of his location, the sorts of goods he sold, and their origins. The introduction concluded with a brief appeal to price. The remainder of the advertisement consisted of a lengthy list of his inventory, presented in a paragraph of dense text. Elsewhere in the same issue, Edward Cottrell and James Reynolds inserted advertisements that followed this format. Other advertisers of consumer goods opted for slight variations, reversing the order of the headline and introductory paragraph or placing the headline in the middle of that overview. Despite lists of merchandise that ranged from short to lengthy, Alexander Bartram, James Budden, Benjamin Gibbs, William Nicholls, Richard Parker, and Samuel Taylor all deployed one of those variations.

In this regard, the Pennsylvania Gazette was a fairly conservative newspaper, but given its extensive circulation perhaps neither printers nor advertisers considered innovative graphic design particularly imperative. Advertisements comprised of chunky blocks of text certainly appeared in other newspapers throughout the colonies. Advertisements that deviated from that standard also found their way into the Pennsylvania Gazette. In general, however, many other newspapers ran advertisements that varied in appearance to a much greater degree, incorporating different fonts and font sizes, creative use of white space, and columns within advertisements, even when they also included the advertiser’s name as the headline, an introductory paragraph, and a list of merchandise. The unvarying format of advertisements within its pages made the Pennsylvania Gazette easy to recognize at a glance, even when the masthead was not visible.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”

November 13

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

Nov 13 - 11:10:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (November 10, 1768).

“Orders from the West-Indies, or any part of America, &c. shall be faithfully complied with.”

When Richard Mason placed an advertisement for his “FIRE-ENGINES of the newest construction” in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the fall of 1768, he anticipated reaching an audience far beyond the residents of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Gazette, formerly published by Benjamin Franklin but then published by David Hall (Franklin’s partner who assumed control of the printing office upon his retirement from printing) and William Sellers, was one of the most successful and widely circulated newspapers in the colonies. It regularly included a supplement devoted entirely to advertising, sometimes two pages printing on both sides of a half sheet but often four pages that required an entire broadsheet and doubled the amount of content of a standard issue. The proportion of paid notices to other items made it clear that the Pennsylvania Gazette was a delivery mechanism for advertising that happened to carry some news.

And deliver advertising it did! After describing in detail the fire engines that he made and sold, Mason advised that “Orders from the West-Indies, or any part of America, &c. shall be faithfully complied with.” In addition, he “will also undertake to keep all the fire engines of this city in repair.” With a single advertisement, Mason strove to position himself in multiple markets, near and far. It comes as no surprise that he offered goods and services to residents of Philadelphia. His call for orders from the West Indies and mainland North America, however, suggests that he had a reasonable expectation that the Pennsylvania Gazette would find its way into the hands of readers and prospective customers in faraway places. Even if they did not maintain their own subscription, they might read the Pennsylvania Gazette at coffeehouses that made newspapers from Europe and the colonies available to their clients, or they might come into possession of a copy that passed from hand to hand via the networks of exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic world. Mason may not have anticipated that the bulk of his business would derive “from the West-Indies, or any part of America,” but he recognized the possibility. Another advertisement on the same page offered “Freight or Passage” aboard the Clarendon bound for “KINGSTON, in JAMAICA.” In addition to goods and people, it likely carried news, including copies of the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers, to other port cities.

October 6

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

Oct 6 - 10:6:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 6, 1768).

“Encouraging all our own Manufactures.”

Shopping became an increasingly political act during the years of the imperial crisis that culminated with the American Revolution. As a means of resisting Parliament’s attempts to overstep its authority, colonists joined nonimportation agreements in the 1760s, first in response to the Stamp Act and later in response to the Townshend Act. They hoped to apply economic pressure to achieve political goals, drafting English merchants harmed by the boycotts to advocate on their behalf. At the same time, colonists also envisioned that “domestic manufactures” would reduce their dependence on goods imported from Britain. In the late 1760s advertisers increasingly addressed this public discourse as they devised “Buy American” campaigns in their advertisements.

Much of Benjamin Jackson and John Gibbons’s advertisement for their “Mustard and Chocolate Store” in Philadelphia expressed such concerns. The partners acknowledged that “there now seems a noble and magnanimous Disposition diffused, and daily diffusing itself more and more, amongst the British Colonies in America, of encouraging all our own Manufactures.” Jackson and Gibbons joined in that call. Because they were “desirous to contribute thereto all in their Power as Individuals,” they proclaimed that they sold their “flour of Mustard … at very low Profits by Wholesale Quantities.” They considered it their civic obligation to make their product as affordable as possible, even if that meant less profit for their own business. In turn, they hoped that this would “induce the true patriotic Merchants, Masters of Vessels, &c. trading to and from New-York, Boston, West Indies, Halifax, &c. to favour them with their Orders.” Jackson and Gibbons did their part, but the scheme depended on others, especially those who supplied “Flour of Mustard” to other colonies, participating as well. If they did, Jackson and Gibbons imagined their plan “would be a Means of annually vending some, perhaps several Hundred, Bushels of Mustard-seed, that might be raised here with little Trouble, and be as a net Gain to the Province.” That would shift the balance of trade that previously favored England. Even a “trifling article” like mustard could have a significant impact on commerce and, in turn, politics if enough suppliers and consumers opted for a product produced in the colonies.

Furthermore, Jackson and Gibbons directly addressed the provisions of the Townshend Act later in the advertisement. “For the Sake of those that are not inclined to encourage the Duty on Glass,” the partners had acquired “a Quantity of neat Earthen Jars” to package their wares. This had the advantage of “helping out own Earthen Ware” industry while depriving Parliament of revenues from the taxes placed on imported glassware. This also yielded additional savings for consumers since the earthenware jars cost “One Shilling per Dozen cheaper than Glass.” The partners still offered “neat Glass Bottles, as usual,” as an option, but they encouraged consumers to make decisions that reduced the demand for those containers.

Jackson and Gibbons made many of their customary appeals to price and quality in their lengthy advertisement, but they also devoted significant space to convincing potential customers – consumers, wholesalers, and retailers – about the political ramifications of their commercial decisions. They offered a means for “true patriotic” colonists to follow through on the rhetoric so often expressed in conversation and in the news and editorial items that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.

October 2

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

Oct 2 - 9:29:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 29, 1768)

“A large and general assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

Shopkeepers and merchants frequently made appeals to consumer choice as they encouraged readers of colonial newspapers to become consumers of imported goods. Some considered it sufficient to inform prospective customers that they carried a vast array of merchandise. In the supplement that accompanied the September 29, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, one brief advertisement simply stated, “SAMUEL SANSOM, junior, HAS just imported in the Nancy, Captain Leech, and has for sale at his store, two doors above the City Vendue House, in Front-street, A fresh assortment of merchandize, on reasonable terms, for cash or short credit.” In another equally brief advertisement, Mifflin and Dean promoted “A LARGE Assortment of Fall GOODS, which they are now opening, at their Store.” Both advertisements comprised only five lines, making them some of the shortest that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

In contrast, Jonathan Zane placed one of the longest advertisements: ninety-nine lines detailing the “large and general assortment of MERCHANDIZE” at his shop “at the sign of the Crown, Cannister and Handsaw.” His advertisement extended three-quarters of a column. Zane devoted ninety lines to enumerating the goods he had “Just imported in the last vessels from London and Bristol,” everything from “iron pots, kettles, skillets, Dutch ovens, and scowered cart and waggon boxes” to “common spectacles” to “glovers and common sewing needles.” Even the descriptions of some types of merchandise promised even greater variety, including “a large assortment of Barlow’s and other penknives” and “a very large and neat assortment of brass furniture of various sizes and patterns.” Still, the list was not exhaustive. Zane concluded with “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate that prospective customers could expect to encounter even more treasures when they visited his shop.

Although Zane took the list-style advertisement to an extreme, publishing an extensive catalog of his inventory, he was not alone in presenting consumers with evidence of the choices he made available to them. Hugh Donnaldson, Robert Strettell Jones, Francis and Tilghman, James Gordon, and other merchants and shopkeepers published their own litanies of goods, though they limited the length of their advertisements to fifteen to thirty lines, plenty of space for listing dozens of items they stocked. Whether enumerating many different kinds of imported goods or simply underscoring “A large ASSORTMENT of GOODS” with no further elaboration, advertisers aimed to stimulate consumer demand by encouraging prospective customers to contemplate the many options available in the colonial marketplace.

September 22

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

Sep 22 - 9:22:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 22, 1768).

“All the branches of the American stocking manufacture.”

On the first day of fall in 1768 Thomas Bond, Jr., took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to promote the “STOCKING MANUFACTORY” he operated “at his house in Second-street.” He informed prospective customers that he “carries on all the branches of the American stocking manufacture.” In that regard, his advertisement differed from most others for consumer goods that appeared in the September 22 issue. Many advertisers sought to entice readers to purchase their imported wares, including several whose notices appeared in the same column. Williams and Elridge, for instance, advertised that they stocked “A NEAT and general Assortment of DRY GOODS” imported from London. Jonathan Browne, William and Andrew Caldwell, Maise and Miller, and Randle Mitchell similarly noted that they received their extensive inventories via ships from London and other English ports. Most of those advertisements occupied only half as much space as Bond’s notice.

To compete with merchants and shopkeepers who stocked so many imported goods, Bond purchased additional space in the advertising pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to convince prospective customers that he offered a selection of stockings and caps that rivaled what they would find in other shops. Bond had “now on hand, a quantity of excellent worsted, cotton, thread, milled yarn, and milled worsted stockings, of various colours and sizes.” In their advertisements, retailers often underscored that they offered a vast array of merchandise to their customers. Appeals to consumer choice became one of the most popular marketing strategies in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. Bond applied that strategy to his own “domestic manufactures” as he attempted to carve out his own spot in the local market. Although he did not carry the same “LARGE assortment of Goods” as other retailers, he did offer ample choices among the items that were his specialty. In advancing this claim, he encouraged colonists to conceive of the products of “the American stocking manufacture” as just as appealing as those that came from distant ports in England. He did not belabor the point, perhaps believing that current discourse in newspapers and in the streets already primed prospective customers to think about the advantages of purchasing goods produced in the colonies.

September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (September 15, 1768).

“OBSERVING an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 2064.”

Paying for advertisements to appear in newspapers gave colonists access to public forums to air grievances and engage in disputes. Those disputes sometimes extended over several issues and included advertisements responding to other advertisements. Such was the case for Andrew Crawford and Robert Scott in 1768. The two placed an advertisement in the August 25 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette in rebuttal to “an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 2064, setting forth that Andrew Crawford and Robert Scott, had escaped from the constable and gone off.”

The accused fugitives referred to an advertisement that first appeared in the July 14 edition and then again in the supplements that accompanied the July 21 and August 4 issues. It announced “TEN POUNDS Reward” for two men, Crawford and Scott, who had “ESCAPED from the Constables, some Weeks ago.” In addition to physical descriptions, the advertisement described the two as “Both apt to be drunk, ant to swear, generally work together, and commonly reside in London Britain Township, near Newark; but now are supposed to be gone to Maryland, to Harvest.” It concluded by promising a reward to “Whoever secures the said Fellows, and delivers them to Mr. JOSEPH THOMAS, Goal-Keeper, of Chester County, in Pennsylvania.”

Crawford and Scott took exception to that advertisement. In their response, they acknowledged the reward, but claimed the notice did not indicate any “person obliged to pay it, nor is there any signer to said advertisement.” The accused fugitives seemed to be perpetrating the eighteenth-century version of trolling the original advertiser. Even though the advertisement announcing their escape did not feature a final line listing the name of the advertiser, the final sentence made it reasonably clear that “Mr. JOSEPH THOMAS, Goal-Keeper, of Chester County, in Pennsylvania” sought to recover Crawford and Scott and would pay the reward.

Crawford and Scott, on the other hand, chose to ignore that plain reading of the notice. Instead, they insisted that “it must be the product of some secret, evil, and malicious mind.” They further taunted Thomas by stating that they resided “at the house of Joseph Ralston, near Newark, where any person may meet with, and take us if they please.” In an even more brazen move, they offered a reward of their own: “FIVE POUNDS, to any person or persons that will make evidence, or information, who was the author of the aforesaid advertisement.” In addition to its original appearance on August 25, their response ran in the supplements for September 1 and 15.

Apparently nobody successfully attempted to capture Crawford and Scott after they first announced their whereabouts, but Thomas did see their advertisement and published a response of his own. It first appeared in the supplement to the September 15 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, one column over and almost immediately beside Crawford and Scott’s advertisement. Thomas left the first half of his original advertisement alone, but revised the second half to take into account the new information that Crawford and Scott had published. He reported that “they generally make their home at one Ralston’s, near Newark.” He also adjusted the final line to include a signature, indicating that the reward would be “paid by JOSEPH THOMAS, Goaler.” He repeated the physical description without change and continued to describe the two as “apt to swear, and get drunk,” but he also added “very quarrelsome,” perhaps out of exasperation with their thick headed and impudent response to his first advertisement.

Although advertisements for runaway wives sometimes elicited responses from women who defended their actions in the face of abusive or overbearing husbands, very few runaways of other sorts – servants, slaves, prisoners – published responses to advertisements that offered rewards for their capture and return. They usually attempted to keep a low profile to evade detection. Crawford and Scott, on the other hand, were cheeky or stupid or both, choosing to place an advertisement intended to make Thomas appear foolish and incompetent. As an alternative to pursuing their dispute in person, the jailer and the fugitives resorted to advertisements in the public prints to antagonize each other.

September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (September 1, 1768).

“Under the inspection of Mrs. BROADFIELD, whose knowledge and experience in that branch of business is well known.”

Margaret Broadfield was not exceptional for having placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late summer of 1768, though female entrepreneurs were certainly disproportionately underrepresented among advertisers in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Especially in bustling port cities, women pursued a variety of occupations but relatively few promoted their businesses in the public prints. Still, female shopkeepers, milliners, seamstresses, and others placed advertisements frequently enough that readers were accustomed to seeing women appearing alongside men among the paid notices in colonial newspapers, just as they were accustomed to encountering women working alongside men when they traversed the streets of cities and towns.

What did make Broadfield’s advertisement exceptional was the authority she asserted over a male colleague. When women and men appeared together in eighteenth-century advertisements, the copy often suggested that women played subordinate roles to their male counterparts. Such advertisements implied that women in business labored under appropriate supervision by husbands, sons, or other male relations. That was not the case with Broadfield. She made it clear that she exercised authority over a male associate, Elijah Bond, at least when it came to preparing sturgeon for the market.

For many years Broadfield had “made it her business to cure STURGEON in North-America.” The quality of her product had been widely acknowledged. Local consumers, according to Broadfield, considered her sturgeon and its associated products “preferable to any manufactured by other persons.” Those products included pickled sturgeon, caviar, glue, oil, and isinglass (a gelatin used in making jellies and glue and for clarifying ale). Yet it was not just customers in the colonies who had recognized the quality of the various commodities she marketed. Broadfield had “obtained the first premium of Fifty Pounds sterling, from the society of arts and commerce in London” for her abilities in “manufacturing sturgeon in the several branches.”

Broadfield was preparing to leave the colonies. She advertised in hopes of finding a successor to take over her business permanently, either a “sober industrious person” or a family whom she could teach “the whole art, secret, and mystery of manufacturing sturgeon in the several branches.” For the moment, however, one of her suppliers, Elijah Bond, carried on her business in addition to operating his own fishery near Trenton. He did so “under the care and inspection of Mrs. BROADFIELD, whose knowledge and experience in that branch of business is well known.” It was Broadfield’s expertise that gave value to the sturgeon products offered for sale, whether purchased from Bond near Trenton or from shopkeepers in Philadelphia. Few advertisements depicted women exercising such authority over male associates in eighteenth-century America, but they were not completely unknown. Broadfield deemed her own skill and reputation the most important elements for selling her products and, ultimately, transferring her business to another entrepreneur.