February 24

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 24, 1773).

“A weekly NEWS-PAPER … differing materially in its plan from most others now extant.”

James Rivington’s efforts to launch a new newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or, the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, continued in the February 24, 1773, editions of the Pennsylvania Gazetteand the Pennsylvania Journal.  Although published in New York, Rivington intended circulation far beyond the city and sought subscribers in distant towns.  His first efforts to promote the proposed newspaper in the public prints appeared as advertisements in the Newport Mercury, a shorter notice, and the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a much more extensive notice, on February 22.

Despite its length, the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not give any particulars about how readers could subscribe to Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  The advertisement in the Newport Mercury concluded with a note that “Subscriptions are taken in by MOSES M. HAYS, of Newport, and the printer hereof,” but readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not have access to similar information.  The advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal remedied that, advising that “Subscriptions are received by Mr. Nicholas Brooks, near the Coffee-House in Philadelphia.”  Given how often printers served as brokers of information that did not appear in their newspapers, prospective subscribers could have also enquired at any of the printing offices of the newspapers that carried Rivington’s advertisements.

In addition to naming a local agent, the advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journalincluded the same appeals that Rivington made in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Although readers in Philadelphia and its hinterlands already had access to four newspapers in English and two in German, Rivington asserted that he would supply something different when he entered “this Periodical Business.”  He planned to publish the usual sorts of news about current events, politics, and commerce, yet he also aimed to supplement that material with items often associated with magazines imported from London.  That meant his readers would encounter the “best modern essays,” a “review of new-books … with extracts,” and “new inventions in arts and sciences, mechanics and manufactures, [and] agriculture and natural history.”  Rivington, known for his Loyalist sympathies, offered a selection of reading material that he may have believed emphasized cultural connections within the empire as a means of counteracting what he saw as an American press that too often stoked tensions during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s.

February 17

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 17, 1773).


Nearly six weeks into the new year, James Humphreys, Jr., commenced advertising a “SECOND PUBLICATION OF THE UNIVERSAL ALMANACK, For the Year 1773” with astronomical calculations “performed with the greatest exactness and truth” by David Rittenhouse.  Humphreys had advertised the first printing of the almanac more than three months earlier with notices in the November 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet and the November 11, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Those advertisements featured identical copy, though the compositors devised very different formats.

When Humphreys advertised the second publication in Pennsylvania Gazette on February 17, 1773, he used a slightly truncated version of the original advertisement.  (Perhaps the compositor took advantage of type already set from the previous run of the notice.)  Two days earlier, however, a much shorter version, one without a list of the contents, appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet.  In the next issue, published on February 22, Humphrey’s advertisement once again included the contents of the almanac, doubling the length of the notice.  That represented some expense for Humphreys, though John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, may have given him a discount on advertising since he also sold the almanac.  Unlike the notice that ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette, one that listed only Humphreys, the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet stated that the almanac was “SOLD by JAMES HUMPHREYS junr. at his Printing-office, … and by John Dunlap.”

No matter the particulars of his arrangement with Dunlap, Humphreys took a chance on a second publication of the almanac so far into the year.  Other printers advertised surplus copies of almanacs that had not yet sold, hoping to achieve better returns on their investments for items that became more and more obsolete with each passing day.  Perhaps the initial publication did well enough that Humphreys considered printing a small number for the second publication worth the risk.  Perhaps he believed that the calculations by “that ingenious master of mathematics, Mr. DAVID RITTENHOUSE,” well known in Philadelphia, would recommend the almanac above all others.  In his first round of advertising, he asserted that “it is the only almanac published of his calculating.”  Perhaps Humphreys thought the other contents, a variety of poems, recipes, short essays, and even directions for “guarding against smutty crops of wheat,” were interesting enough to prospective customers that they would want to consult and enjoy them throughout the remainder of the year.  Perhaps he did not produce a second publication at all, but instead claimed he did in an effort to make the almanac appear popular and sell leftover copies of the first publication that he passed off as a subsequent printing.  Advertising a second publication of an almanac so far into the year was unusual, whatever Humphrey’s inspiration in doing so.

February 3

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 3, 1773).

“A LAWYER … lent the fourth volume of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES … to some gentleman whose name he hath forgot.”

After first appearing in the Pennsylvania Packet in January 1773, the curious story of the missing copy of “the fourth volume of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES, London edition,” ran among the advertisements in the February 2, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  According to the advertisement, an unnamed lawyer lent the book “to some gentleman whose name he hath forgot” and desired for the borrower to return it, not to himself but instead to bookseller Robert Bell.  Readers may have suspected that Bell created the lawyer and the story of the missing book, especially since the advertisement concluded with a nota bene that announced that later in the month the “FOURTH VOLUME of the AMERICAN EDITION of BLACKSTONE’s COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND, will be ready for the subscribers.”  How convenient that a borrower supposedly neglected to return just that volume to the unnamed lawyer!  How convenient that the narrator of the story thought that the missing book “hath been lent to several persons since it left the proprietor’s library” and called on “the second, third, or fourth borrower” to provide information about its whereabouts!

In the final third of the eighteenth century, Bell became one of the most prominent booksellers and publishers in the colonies and the new nation, working even before the Revolution to cultivate an American literary market.  He developed innovative marketing methods and attracted even more attention to them with his flamboyant personality.  While there is no way to definitively demonstrate that Bell fabricated the story of the lawyer and the missing volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries, such a ploy would not have been beyond the enterprising bookseller who spent two years marketing an American edition of all four volumes and gathering subscribers from throughout the colonies.  He made savvy use of the public prints, so it may have been possible that he initially published the story of the lawyer and the missing book in the Pennsylvania Packet to see if it generated additional interest in the complete collection of Blackstone’s Commentaries and later considered it worth the investment to disseminate the same story in another newspaper.  He updated the nota bene to indicate that publication would take place “some time this month” rather than “Sometime in February.”  The advertisement also included a date, February 2, 1773, the day before publication of that issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Bell waited more than a week after inserting the notice in the Pennsylvania Packet before submitting it to another newspaper, further suggesting that the responses he received from the initial insertion may have aided him in deciding to run the same advertisement in an additional newspaper.  Even if he planned from the start to expand the circulation of the story of the lawyer and the missing volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries, he carefully timed his advertisements to coincide with publication of the final volume.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 27, 1773).

“We find them very advantageous … and certainly is preferable to any method ever before invented.”

When Samuel Reynolds invented a machine “for raising Mill-stones, and turning them on their back, fit for dressing or washing in five minutes or less,” he took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to promote his product.  In an advertisement addressed “TO THE MILLERS IN GENERAL” in the January 27, 1773, edition, Reynolds described how millers could safely use his invention with “one hand only” to maneuver millstones for cleaning “without hurting the plaister on burr stones.”  He invited millers who wished to order the machine to contact him in Wilmington, Delaware, or any of three millers “at Brandywine mills,” Daniel Byrnes, Joseph Tatnall, and William Starr.

Rather than ask prospective customers to rely solely on the inventor’s own proclamations about his product, Reynolds included a testimonial from Byrnes, Tatnall, and Starr.  The experienced millers asserted that Reynolds “made each of [us] one of the said Machines, and we find them very advantageous, as the Mill-stone is taken up by them, with great ease and safety.”  In so doing, they reiterated the most important claims made by the inventor.  In addition, they declared that using Reynold’s new machine “certainly is preferable to any method ever before invented.”  Such an assessment bolstered the pitch made by Reynolds.

The inventor also suggested that he received advance orders or at least interest from other millers, though that may have been a marketing ploy rather than fact.  “As there has been a number made for people at a considerable distance, whose names an approbation are difficult to be collected,” he stated, “said Reynolds will be obliged to those that join in sentiment with the above, to favour him with a line for that purpose.”  In other words, he invited millers interested in the new machine to join with many others in showing their support by placing orders to acquire their own.  The savvy Reynolds sought to incite demand by demonstrating that demand already existed among experienced millers familiar with his product.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 317th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

January 13

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 13, 1773).

“MASON AND PATTON … have purchased all the remaining stock of MASON and HARTLEY.”

Mason and Hartley sold dry goods in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  When the partners went their separate ways, a new firm, Mason and Patton, positioned itself as the successor to Mason and Hartley in a newspaper advertisement that asked former customers to give them their business.  Though the new partners certainly wished to retain the patronage of the clientele that Mason and Hartley cultivated, they also had other purposes when they published their advertisement in the January 13, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Indeed, Mason and Patton commenced their notice by announcing that the “partnership of MASON and HARTLEY is now dissolved” and called on “all those indebted to the company, to make immediate payment, as their respective debts become due.”  The new partners asserted that they “are invested with the sole power to collect and settle their company books.”  In addition to customers with outstanding bills, Mason and Patton also requested that those “that have any demands against the said company … send in their accounts … for payment.”  Before promoting their new endeavor, Mason and Patton first attended to the responsible conclusion of the previous partnership.

In so doing, they used the same advertisement “to acquaint the public, that they have purchased all the remaining stock of MASON and HARTLEY, … which they will sell on the most reasonable terms.”  That inventory included a “compleat assortment of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS.”  The new partners retained the location formerly occupied by Mason and Hartley.  They hoped that the continuity in the merchandise and the location would prompt “the continuance of the customers of Mason and Hartley.”  To entice both former and prospective new customers, Mason and Patton proclaimed that they “intend to pursue the Dry Goods Business in a very extensive manner,” touting their “constant fresh supplies from Europe.”  Although they acquired the remaining stock of the former company, that did not mean that customers would select only among goods that lingered on the shelves.  Mason and Patton promised choices to consumers, both returning customers and “the public in general.”

December 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (December 30, 1772).

“The threatening destruction of orchards by catterpillars.”

Rudolph Hains and Jacob Hains operated a tree nursery “near the Red Lion, in Uwchland township, Chester county,” about twenty-five northwest of Philadelphia, in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the December 30, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, they related their story of having “for many years past, followed the business of raising young apple-trees, of grafted fruit, of divers sorts, for sale.”  Throughout that time, they “planted many orchards, both for themselves and others.”

Yet the Hains did not place this notice merely to make a sale pitch.  Instead, they framed it as a public service announcement, stating that through their long experience they “found that Catterpillars are some of the worst enemies to Orchards.”  Indeed, the headline for the advertisement proclaimed, “To DESTROY CATTERPILLARS,” inviting readers to peruse it for advice and guidance.  Along the way, prospective customers learned a little more about the Hainses and their business, including Rudolph’s nearly thirty years of experience.  In telling their story, the Hainses warned that “they find a far greater number of [caterpillar] eggs this fall, than either of them ever seen before.”  The problem was so severe that just days earlier Rudolph “gathered upwards of 300 of such Lumps of Eggs” in his orchard in the course of just a few hours.  As a result of a widespread infestation, the Hainses anticipated that “much more damage will be done by them next summer, if not by some means prevented.”  As a remedy, they recommended that readers “pull or cut off their eggs with some instrument for that use … and burn them.”  This required inspecting trees, but the eggs “are easy to be seen sticking on the small limbs of the tree.”

The Hainses offered this advice “for the good of the public” in general as well as for “their customers in particular, who have bought trees of them, or may yet buy.”  There the sales pitch became more blatant.  The Hainses announced that they “purpose to continue said business.”  This public service announcement enhanced their visibility to prospective customers.  It also suggested that customers could depend on an additional service, consultation and advice from the Hainses beyond the initial transaction.  The Hainses concluded their advertisement by asserting that “they thought it their duty to publish this” in order to avoid “the threatening destruction of orchards by catterpillars.”  They invited readers to contact them directly for more information, while also noting that a “sample of the EGGS maybe seen at the New Printing-Office, in Market-street,” where the newspaper that carried the advertisement was published.  This notice served the interests of the entire community.  The Hainses, savvy marketers, hoped that their public service announcement would generate customers for their tree nursery.

December 23

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 23, 1772).

“Repeated INSULTS the City has lately received, by damaging, and taking away, the Public Lamps.”

On one of the shortest days of the year, the “WARDENS of the CITY” of Philadelphia offered a significant reward “for discovery of the person or persons, who … TOOK AWAY, one of the PUBLIC LAMPS” on Fourth Street.  To draw attention to this act of vandalism and theft, the wardens placed advertisements in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on December 23, 1772.  The wardens had determined that someone removed and stole the lamp sometime between ten and eleven on Saturday night.  That they could pinpoint the time that precisely suggested that members of the public took enough notice of the light provided by the lamps to notice when that particular lamp was lit for their safety and convenience and when it disappeared.

The wardens considered the removal of the lamp more than an act of vandalism.  They framed it as an assault on the city and its residents.  “The repeated INSULTS the City has lately received, by damaging, and taking away, the Public Lamps,” the wardens proclaimed, “WILL, doubtless, be PROPERLY RESENTED by the INHABITANTS.”  That being the case, the wardens “Request the ASSISTANCE of their FELLOW-CITIZENS, in order to a discovery of the Perpetrators of those infamous practices, that a check may be put, to a growing evil, of the most dangerous tendency.”  Public works, like street lamps, only benefited the public when they remained in place and optional.  The entire community, the wardens argued, shared the responsibility of identifying the vandals, just as the entire community benefitted from the installation of “Public Lamps” to light the streets during the winter months.

The compositors for the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal did their part in alerting the public to this call to action from the wardens of the city.  In the former, the notice ran immediately below the shipping news from the customs house.  As readers finished perusing news items, they encountered the advertisement offering “TWENTY-FIVE POUNDS REWARD” upon the conviction of the vandals.  Even if they did not closely examine other advertisements in the remainder of the issue, readers interested in the news likely saw this notice.  In the Pennsylvania Journal, the compositor placed the notice at the top of the first full column of advertising in the issue.  In the upper right corner of the third page, it appeared next to local news from Philadelphia.  For added measure, the compositor added a manicule to direct readers to the advertisement, the only manicule anywhere in that issue.

December 16

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 16, 1772).

“Physicians prescriptions, or family receipts put up in the most careful manner.”

Moses Bartram ran a shop that he called “the OLD MEDICINAL STORE.”  In December, 1772, he ran a newspaper advertisement advising residents of Philadelphia that he “CONTINUES to carry on the business in its various branches” and offered a variety of goods and services.  He stocked “a fresh and general assortment of DRUGS and MEDICINES, Chymical and Galenical preparations of the best quality.”  He also carried patent medicines and, like many apothecaries, both “shop furniture for Practitioners” and “painters colours for either oil or water.”  Bartram filled “orders from town and country.”  He also prepared “Physicians prescriptions” and “family receipts” or remedies “in the most careful manner.”

In marketing the goods and services available at the Old Medicinal Store, Bartram placed his advertisement in three of the five newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  Doing so helped him achieve greater market saturation with his notices.  His notice first appeared in the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, a German-language newspaper, on December 15.  A note that ran across the bottom of the masthead advised “All ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.”  The following day, Bartram’s advertisement ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.

Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (December 15, 1772).

The apothecary chose not to place his advertisement in the two newest newspapers published in the city, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Packet.  Both of them had a healthy number of advertisements each week, suggesting that other advertisers had confidence in the circulation numbers for those newspapers.  The Pennsylvania Packet frequently distributed a two-page supplement to accommodate all of the advertisements submitted to the printing office.  In making his choices about where to advertise, Bartram clustered the dissemination of his notices on Tuesdays (Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote) and Wednesdays (Pennsylvania Gazette and Pennsylvania Journal).  He could have spread out the days by placing his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet, published on Mondays, or the Pennsylvania Chronicle, published on Saturdays.

Given that all of these newspapers were published only once a week rather than daily, allowing readers more time to peruse the contents before discarding an earlier issue in favor of the newest one, Bartram may not have considered it necessary to spread out the days that his advertisements initially appeared in print.  Other factors, including price, his existing relationships with the various printers, and his perceptions of the circulation of each newspaper, may have been more important to Bartram in choosing where (and when) to advertise.

November 18

Who was the subject of an advertisement in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 18, 1772).

“I AM very sorry for advertising my Wife.”

Marital discord in the Elwell household spilled over into the public prints in the fall of 1772.  In a notice dated October 20, John Elwell of “Salem County, West New-Jersey” revealed some of those difficulties to the readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  His advertisement ran a week later in the October 28 edition, stating that “MARCEY ELWELL, my Wife, hath eloped from me, and I am apprehensive that she will run me in Debt.”  Accordingly, he placed the notice “to forewarn all Persons not to trust her on my Account, as I am determined not to pay any Debts of her contracting, after the Date hereof.”  Elwell used formulaic language that appeared in many similar advertisements published throughout the colonies.  As in almost every other instance, the notice told only a portion of the story without any commentary from the wife who reportedly “eloped” from her husband.  Only in rare instances did women publish rebuttals.

Marcey Elwell was not one of those wives who found the resources to run her own advertisement, but a short time later her husband apparently had a change of heart.  In a notice dated November 2, he rescinded his previous statement.  “I AM very sorry for advertising my Wife,” he wrote, “it being done through the Heat of Passion and Inconsideration; which I now retract.”  It took longer for that advertisement to reach the printing office in Philadelphia than the initial one.  The updated notice ran in the November 18 edition, more than two weeks after John wrote it.  By that time, news that the Elwells reconciled may have spread via word of mouth in their local community.  The second newspaper notice served as an update and conclusion for the broader public, alerting shopkeepers, artisans, and others that they could once again do business with Marcey.  Although John did not discuss the particulars in either advertisement, the second notice may have also been part of his penance in convincing his wife to return to him.  The husbands who placed such advertisements sought to shape the narratives about what occurred in their households, though readers knew that the wives had their own perspectives about what happened.  Marcey’s side of the story did not appear in print, but her husband did make a rare public acknowledgment that it was he who had given in to “the Heat of Passion and Inconsideration.”  Few wives received such apologies in the public prints.