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).”

June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:25:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 25, 1767).

“I informed you of my Design of establishing a Boarding School in this City.”

As spring gave way to summer in 1767, Mary McCallister published proposals for opening a boarding school for young women in Philadelphia. She addressed her announcement to “the LADIES of PENNSYLVANIA, and the adjacent Provinces.” Although she may have been addressing prospective students, it was equally likely that she also intended for their mothers to peruse her advertisement and contemplate sending their daughters to her boarding school. Notably, she confined her audience exclusively to women, suggesting she believed that if she could convince daughters and wives to choose her school that would be sufficient to sway fathers and husbands concerinf “the many Advantages arising from a Boarding School Education.”

The curriculum she outlined in her advertisement likely played a role in excluding men from McCallister’s efforts to market her academy. It differed significantly from the course of study described in notices about boarding schools for male scholars. McCallister supplemented instruction in “the English and French Languages” with “Needle Work in Silks, Worsted and Linens.” Her pupils could expect to become proficient in embroidery on several fabrics. Once a week, McCallister also assisted her students to cultivate their baking skills, focusing on “Pastry” in particular. In addition, she planned to rotate through lessons “in the Arts of Painting on Glass, Japanning with Prints, [and] Wax and Shell Work, in the newest and most elegant Taste.” McCallister taught all of these subjects herself, but she indicated that the curriculum could be supplemented with “Writing, Arithmetic, Music, or Dancing,” taught by “proper Masters” who would visit the boarding school at appointed times.

McCallister envisioned a school for the local gentry and middling sorts who aspired to join their ranks. Accordingly, this was not a school devoted to general education in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic with some sewing thrown in for good measure. Instead, it was an academy for young ladies of a certain status to learn skills in the decorative arts and other genteel pursuits that would allow them to demonstrate their affluence, leisure, and, especially, refinement to other colonists.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:11:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 11, 1767).

“He is so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts.”

Recently arrived in Philadelphia from Saint Domingue, surgeon-physician Louis Colin did not place an advertisement in search of patients, though that may have been his ultimate goal. For the moment, two obstacles prevented him from offering his services to the residents of Philadelphia. He did not speak English fluently, nor had he cultivated a reputation for skill and expertise in his profession. He placed a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette to set about overcoming both.

Colin realized that many readers were likely to be skeptical of any new medical practitioner who arrived in town. Too many itinerant doctors made promises and did not deliver. Too many peddlers sold patent medicines that had no effect. To allay suspicions of those sorts, he asserted that he was “so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts, that he utterly despises all Charlatanry.” He did not conjure preposterous diagnoses, prescribe ludicrous treatments, or hawk potions to desperate customers. Instead, his work with patients was grounded in years of training in Europe followed by years of experience in the Caribbean. He offered his credentials to make the point, noting that he studied “in one of the greatest Hospitals” in Paris for nine years before migrating to Saint Domingue. There, Count d’Estaing, the governor general of the colony, “had great Confidence in him, and placed him at the Head of the Hospital of Cape Francois.” Unfortunately for Colin, the climate did not agree with him, so he opted to migrate once again, this time to Philadelphia.

Readers did not need to merely trust that Colin accurately related his credentials. Rather than seeking patients, he placed his advertisement in hopes of making acquaintance with “the Gentlemen Physicians and Surgeons of this City,” provided that they could speak Latin or French. In the course of their conversations with Colin, other medical professionals could assess whether he truly possessed the knowledge and skills he claimed. If he had made false claims, surely local physicians and surgeons already known and trusted by the community would expose him as a fraud, the sort of “Quack Doctor” he disdained. In the course of socializing with his professional peers, Colin could also further develop his ability to speak English, though he assured readers he “assiduously applies himself” to studying the language.

As a newcomer to Philadelphia, Colin made an astute decision about what sort of advertisement to place in the local newspaper. He was not yet ready to solicit patients, but he realized that he would benefit in the long run by introducing himself to the community, especially fellow physicians and surgeons, as a means of gaining familiarity and building his reputation. This would only make recruiting patients that much easier when the time came.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:4:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 4, 1767).

“He will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts.”

William Fooks of Philadelphia was quite chatty in an advertisement offering his services as “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK, for the French and Spanish Languages” to the “Gentleman Traders of this City.” To counter the effusiveness of his advertisement, he assured potential clients that of the “Secrecy, Prudence, and Intelligence” that defined his character and how he pursued his occupation. Those qualities, he asserted, “render him worthy of the Confidence of those who please to employ him.”

Although the term “tabellion” has declined in use today, residents of England and its colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have readily recognized this description of the scrivener’s vocation, an occupation closely associated with (and sometimes overlapping) the duties performed by notaries. In taking on both titles – “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK” – to describe his work Fooks underscored the level of expertise he possessed. This was particularly important given both his line of work and, especially, the differences in language and legal customs inherent in doing business in French and Spanish colonies. That may explain why he composed such an extensive advertisement. Special circumstances required that he underscore and reiterate his skill and experience as a means of convincing potential clients, those “Gentleman Traders,” that they could trust and depend on his work.

To that end, Fooks stated that “he will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts, and state them in the most proper Methods and Uses of those Countries, and in the most mercantile and accurate Manner.” He repeated this promise later in the advertisement, again noting that he drew up documents “according to the Laws, Uses, and Customs, of those Nations.” He was particularly qualified to do so as a result of the experience gained through “his long Residence in those Colonies” (though the otherwise verbose Fooks did not elaborate on which colonies or the length of his residence).

Fooks provided very specialized services that could have had significant ramifications in the lives and fortunes of his clients. He may have believed that his turgid prose was necessary to convince prospective clients to entrust him with sensitive and substantial matters. They may not have viewed his notice as chatty but instead as reassuring about the professionalism Fooks brought to his occupation.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:28:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 28, 1767).

“WADE and HEMPHILL’s NEW STORE, in Wilmington, will be continued as usual.”

Francis Wade ran two shops, one on Second Street in Philadelphia and another in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. The latter he operated in partnership with William Hemphill. Wade intended to “leav[e] off the retail business,” and placed an advertisement to that effect. He sought to liquidate his merchandise in an eighteenth-century version of a going out of business sale, “selling off all his stock in trade, at prime cost … for cash only.” He also called on former customers to settle their accounts or else face legal action.

Although the Philadelphia location was closing, “WADE and HEMPHILL’s NEW STORE, in Wilmington, will be continued as usual by William Hemphill.” In the final paragraph of his advertisement, a paragraph devoted to the Wilmington location, Wade outlined some of the common commercial practices that allowed many colonists, especially those who lived in the hinterlands beyond the major urban ports, to participate in the consumer revolution.

Wade and Hemphill purchased surplus crops from country farmers who transported wheat, flaxseed, and produce to ports as part of an export market directed to other North American colonies and the Caribbean. Although the partners paid “the highest prices … in cash,” they anticipated that farmers and their families would spend at least some of that money on merchandise in their store.

To facilitate such trading, Wade underscored some of the advantages that benefited farmers in Philadelphia’s hinterland who chose to deal with Wade and Hemphill’s New Store in Wilmington. The partners purchased wheat and flaxseed “at the Philadelphia prices,” so farmers would not lose any money by opting for the smaller port. In fact, many of them would save valuable time and money because “the road from Lancaster county is 15 miles shorter to Wilmington than Philadelphia, and no ferriage.” Wade offered this information as “an inducement for the wagons to come that way with their loading.” If he managed to convince farmers in the countryside, Wade stood to attract more customers and obtain larger quantities of produce to export for profit.

Wade’s advertisement suggests that colonists did not engage solely in sustenance farming, growing just enough to meet the needs of their family. Instead, they intentionally raised agricultural surpluses with the intention of taking them to market for export elsewhere in the Atlantic world. In turn, they used some of the revenues generated from such sales to purchase both necessities and imported goods they merely desired. Merchant-shopkeepers like Francis Wade and William Hemphill facilitated such transactions, giving many colonists – even those beyond major port cities – access to consumer culture.

May 17

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

May 17 - 5:14:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

“Imported … by MAGDALEN DEVINE … the following goods.”

Compared to their male counterparts, female shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers (and turned to other forms of marketing media, such as magazine wrappers, trade cards, and broadsides, even less often). Women’s participation in the marketplace as retailers rather than consumers was disproportionately underrepresented among advertisements in colonial and Revolutionary-era newspapers.

Magdalen Devine’s lengthy list-style advertisement was notable, however, not only because she was a female entrepreneur who turned to the public prints to promote her business. To draw attention to her notice, Devine included a woodcut that depicted the sorts of textiles she imported and sold at her shop on Second Street near the Quaker Meetinghouse. A border surrounded two rolls of cloth positioned next to two swatches, all of them arrayed to demonstrate four different patterns. This visual image reinforced the work done in Devine’s dense list of merchandise: customers could expect to make choices among the assortment of dry goods she stocked.

Given that few male advertisers, whether shopkeepers, artisans, or others, commissioned woodcuts to include in their marketing efforts, Devine’s advertisement was quite extraordinary. To paraphrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s analysis of gendered women’s activities in colonial New England, Devine’s advertisement demonstrates what was possible rather than what was probable when women took on some of the same tasks and responsibilities most often reserved for or associated with men.

Three other women played a role in advertisements that appeared in the same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notice placed by “JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR,” included a final paragraph about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing hair. Unlike her husband, Mrs. Holliday’s name did appear in all capitals. “WILLIAM SYMONDS” and “MARY SYMONDS, Millener,” cooperated in placing an advertisement, though Mary seems to have been the driving force. The advertisement briefly noted that William “has just imported in the last vessels, a neat assortment of merchandize.” Mary, on the other hand, provided a list of her “neat assortment of millenery goods” that exceeded Devine’s in length. (Symonds was one of the few female entrepreneurs who distributed her own trade card in eighteenth-century America, though she would not do so for another decade.) Finally, “ANN PEARSON, MILLENER,” also inserted a list-style advertisement, seemingly of her own accord. It did not mention any male relatives who might have overseen her participation in the marketplace.

The woodcut that accompanied Devine’s advertisement made her marketing memorable. The May 14 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette consisted of eight pages (the four-page standard issue as well as a four-page supplement) with nearly seven of them devoted to advertising. Only two other advertisements included woodcuts, a generic ship with Alexander Lunan’s notice about freight and passage on a ship about to sail for South Carolina and an extended hand with dyer Joseph Allardyce’s advertisement for his shop “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” Although men most actively advertised consumer goods and services in early America, women also adopted marketing innovations and experimented with various methods for marketing their wares.

May 10

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

May 10 - 5:7:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 7, 1767).

“KEARNY and GILBERT, At the sign of the Snuff Bottle, and their names over the store door.”

Newspaper advertisements from the period suggest visual elements of marketing erected in eighteenth-century cities and villages. Residents and visitors alike encountered an array of shop signs that retailers used to identify their businesses. Such was the case in the first issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette published in May 1767. Although their signs have been lost to time, several advertisers included descriptions of them alongside other directions intended to guide customers to their shops.

Nathaniel Tweedy, a druggist, announced that he could he sold medicines “At the Golden Eagle, in Market-street, near the Court-house.” Dyers Joseph Allardyce and Company practiced their trade “at the Sign of the Blue Hand, in Race-street, between Front and Second Streets.” Edward Penington, an attorney, advertised a real estate auction to be held “at the house of John Biddle, at the sign of the Indian King, in Market-street.” William Dawson, a cutler, not only stated that he made a various kinds of knives and other implements “At the sign of the Scythe and Sickle” but also included a woodcut depicting those instruments suspended from a signpost. Each of these, especially Dawson’s advertisement, hints at the rich visual cityscape of marketing in Philadelphia in the decade before the Revolution.

In many instances, such signs provided the sole means of identifying a shop or tavern, but other advertisers stated that they also labeled their places of business with their own names. Kearny and Gilbert, for instance, stocked an array of merchandise “At the sign of the Snuff Bottle … in Water Street.” To alleviate any potential confusion, customers could also look for “their names over the store door.” George Frederick Boyer, one of Dawson’s competitors in the cutlery business, displayed “a Sign in Front-street, and another in Water-street, with his Name thereon, and on which are painted Swords, Knives, Lancets, Razors, and Grinding Tools.”

How often did eighteenth-century shopkeepers, artisans, and other entrepreneurs label their locations with their own names or include them on their fanciful signs? Did most signs provide visual identification exclusively? Or did they also tend to incorporate at least a minimal amount of text, even if just the name of the proprietor? In the absence of devices like the Golden Eagle or the Blue Hand, did others at least post placards with their names so potential customers knew they had arrived at the correct destination? Or did they assume the extensive directions provided in advertisements sufficed?

I do not have satisfactory answers to these questions, but they remind me that the history of advertising in eighteenth-century America requires research along multiple trajectories, utilizing multiple sorts of sources. Newspaper notices and other printed ephemera (magazine wrappers, broadsides, trade cards, catalogs) tell much of the story, but material culture (such as shop signs or packaging materials, both more likely in museum collections rather than archives) reveals other important aspects of how marketing worked in early America.