September 15

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 15, 1773).


It was a sign of the changing seasons, the arrival of fall, for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  On September 15, 1773, James Adams published one of the first advertisements for almanacs for 1774.  Soon, many other printers and booksellers would advertise other almanacs in the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Pennsylvania Journal, and other newspapers throughout the colonies.  That would include Hall and Sellers, the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette, and William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, inserting advertisers for almanacs they published.  The next day, Clementina Rind, printer of the Virginia Gazette, ran an advertisement for the Virginia Almanack for the Year of Our Lord 1774, drawing readers into the same annual ritual of marketing, selecting, and purchasing the popular pamphlets.

For readers in Philadelphia and its hinterlands, James Adams advertised two almanacs that came off the presses at his printing office in Wilmington, Delaware.  Both included the kinds of information that made almanacs both entertaining and useful.  The Wilmington Almanack, for instance, contained the usual astronomical observations as well as extracts from The Family Physician, “shewing people what is in their own power both with respect to the prevention and cure of diseases,” an “address to the Ladies, on the present fashions” (conveniently ignoring that men just as eagerly participated in consumer culture), and both “jests” and “wise sayings.”  The reference material included “tables of interest at 6 and 7 per cent,” schedules for courts, fairs, and “Friends yearly meetings,” and descriptions of roads in the region.  Adams also sought to compete with printers in Philadelphia by publishing his own Pennsylvania Town and Country-Man’s Almanack.  Like the Wilmington Almanack, its contents included astronomical observations, schedules for courts, fairs, and Quaker meetings, descriptions of roads, and tables of interest.  For the edification of readers, it also featured “two extraordinary letters, one of them from Sir Walter Rawleigh, to his wife, after his condemnation; the other from James Earl of Marlborough, a little before his death, to his friend” as well as “memoirs of several other great and worthy men” and an essay “concerning casualties and adversities.”  Adams listed Jonathan Zane and William Wilson, both on Second Street in Philadelphia, as local agents who sold the Pennsylvania Town and Country-Man’s Almanack.

Throughout the fall, the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Pennsylvania Journal, and other colonial newspapers would become increasingly crowded with advertisements for almanacs.  As the new year approached, printers and booksellers would offer dozens of titles for consumers to select.  Some printers would also market discounts for purchasing in volume, hoping to enlist shopkeepers in town and country in selling and distributing almanacs.  As much as changes in the weather and fewer hours of daylight, the appearance of advertisements for almanacs signaled the arrival of fall for the reading public.

September 1

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 1, 1773).

“He expects in a general Assortment of other Goods, by the first Ships from London, Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow.”

Abraham Usher wanted prospective customers to know that he had new inventory at his store on Front Street in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement that ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on September 1, 1773, the merchant informed readers that he “just imported, in the Charming Nancy, Captain Tyrie, and the Caesar, Captain Miller, from LONDON, a large and general Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Fall Sale” as well as “an Assortment of Birmingham and Sheffield Wares.”  Merchants and shopkeepers often opened their advertisements with a narrative about which ships transported their merchandise across the Atlantic.  Stephen Collins began his own advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette with “JUST IMPORTED, in the Caesar, Captain Miller, from London.”  This technique allowed consumers to make their own assessments about how recently the sellers acquired their goods, knowing from their own observation, word of mouth, or the entries from the customs house published in the newspaper when vessels arrived in port.

Usher did not merely promote goods that he recently stocked at his store.  He also attempted to create a sense of anticipation around the imminent arrival of new inventory.  He confided that he “expects in a general Assortment of other Goods, by the first Ships from London, Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow.”  Customers did not need to wait to glimpse another advertisement in the public prints before visiting Usher’s store.  There was a good chance he would have even more new inventory on hand whenever shopkeepers and others contacted him about acquiring goods for the fall season.  Usher likely hoped that previewing those arrivals would give him an advantage over his competitors.  Most did not advertise merchandise that had not yet arrived, but that was not the case for all of them.  William Miller, who also placed notices about goods “suitable for the approaching season” in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, similarly stated that he “daily expects a further supply in the first vessels from London, Liverpool and Bristol.”  Given that every newspaper published in Philadelphia at the time came out only once a week, Miller suggested that he could have new wares on the shelves before prospective customers even saw the next edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette or the Pennsylvania Journal.  As other merchants highlighted goods recently added to their inventory, Usher and Miller sought to eclipse their advertisements with promises of even larger selections that would soon be available to customers.

August 11

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 11, 1773).

“Weaver’s Reeds or Shuttles.”

Eighteenth-century readers would have recognized the image that adorned George Lechler’s advertisement in the August 11, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, even though it does not possess the same familiarity for modern readers.  Lechler described himself as a “WEAVER AND REED-MAKER.”  The image that ran across the top of the notice, a long narrow rectangle divided by vertical lines at close intervals, depicted a reed.  As described by the Oxford English Dictionary, a reed is “part of a loom consisting of a set of evenly spaced wires known as dents (originally slender pieces of reed or cane) fastened between two parallel horizontal bars used for separating, or determining the spacing between, the warp threads, and for besting the weft into place.”  A reed also aids in guiding a shuttle across the loom.  Though the woodcut likely looks like a geometric design to most readers today, colonizers easily recognized a piece of equipment used when weaving.

That image helped draw attention to the lively copy that constituted the remainder of the advertisement.  Lechler expressed some exasperation that he “F[OU]ND myself once more under the necessity to acquaint the Public where in Philadelphia I live, since there are persons who say that I am removed.”  Such stories, he asserted, were “entirely false, as I live in the same house where I have lived these 12 years past, and shall continue in it till I move into eternity.”  Lechler had no intention, now or ever, of moving to another location.  Furthermore, following his death, “there will be another Lechler, who will continue to live there, as the house is my own, and he will make work as good as his father.”  The weaver demonstrated pride in owning his house and workshop, as sign of success, as well as pride in his own abilities and pride in the skills of his son who would continue the family business.  Yet he did not consider it necessary to go into greater detail about the “Weaver’s Reeds or Shuttles” that he made, stating that “it is not necessary for me to praise my work, for the work itself will praise the master.”  Customers who needed reeds and shuttles, Lechler declared, “may depend on getting them as good of me, as in any part of the world,” whether imported or made in the colonies.

The weaver had “a parcel of good Reeds ready made …for sale” at his house on Market Street, “the third door above the sign of the Three Kings.”  He intended for the image of the reed and the slightly cantankerous advertisement to entice weavers to acquire equipment from him at the usual place rather than trust in idle gossip (or perhaps even deliberate attempts to undermine his share of the market) that he had moved to another location.  He also encouraged the public to think of his workshop as a family business that would continue after his death, promoting customer loyalty among those satisfied with the reeds they purchased from him.

July 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 28, 1773).

“The Germantown Stage plies from said Town to Philadelphia Wednesdays and Saturdays.”

In the summer of 1773, George Zeller placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to announced that he moved to a new location “where he has erected a commodious LIVERY-STABLE, and purposes taking in HORSES, at the most reasonable rates.”  In addition, he built a “large shed” for “Accommodations for Waggons and Horses.”  He hoped that prospective customers would seek out those services at that new location.  In addition, he promoted another service.  The “Sign of the “GERMANTOWN STAGE” marked the stable.  Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the stage transported passengers and freight from Germantown to Philadelphia, returning to Germantown on the same day.  Colonizers interested in engaging those services needed to “Apply to said Zeller.”

Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (July 28, 1773).

The savvy Zeller supplemented his notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette with the same advertisement, though in German, in the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, the newspaper published by Henry Miller in Germantown.  Given his affiliation with the Germantown Stage, “der Germantauner Reisewagen,” as well as his surname, Zeller may not have required Miller’s assistance in translating his notice.  All the same, a nota bene in the masthead of the Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote stated that “All ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.”

By advertising in newspapers printed at both ends of the stage route, Zeller aimed to generate business for both the stagecoach and, especially, his stable.  Passengers in Germantown would have made arrangements with an operator on that end, but travelers making the journey on their own needed a place to stable their horses once they arrived in Philadelphia.  Zeller signaled to those travelers that he offered not only a “commodious” stable and low prices but also the convenience of conducting business with a provider who regularly engaged with customers who spoke German as their preferred language.

July 21

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 21, 1773).

“At the Hunting Side Saddle.”

Elias Botner, “Sadler and Harness-maker,” ran a workshop “at the Hunting Side Saddle, next door to the London Coffee-house” in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the July 21, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he informed prospective customers that he made and sold various kinds of saddles for gentlemen and ladies as well as saddlebags, “jockey caps, of all sizes,” holsters, and fire buckets.  He declared that he made his saddles and “saddle-furniture” (or equipment) “in the newest and neatest fashion” to match the tastes of his discerning customers.  In addition, he marketed his fire buckets as the “strongest perhaps made in this city.”  He offered discounts to customers who purchased “a quantity” of fire buckets, while also promising “the lowest terms” for his other merchandise.

To draw attention to these various appeals, Botner adorned his advertisement with a woodcut that depicted a saddle.  That image distinguished his advertisement from the other paid notices in the same issue.  Four of them featured stock images of ships at sea, supplied by the printers, but all of the other advertisements relied solely on text without images.  Botner’s advertisement was the only one with an image commissioned for the exclusive use of that business.  It was not the first time, however, that the saddler deployed the image, though it had been a while since it appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  More than three years earlier, Botner ran an advertisement in the Postscript Extraordinary to the Pennsylvania Gazette on May 3, 1770, adorning his notice with the woodcut and invoking the sign that marked the location of his shop.  That sign remained a constantly visible marker for residents and visitors who traversed the streets of Philadelphia in the intervening years, even though the woodcut disappeared from the public prints during that time.  Like many other entrepreneurs, Botner utilized visual images to promote his business, but used some, like his shop sign, consistently and others, like his woodcut in his newspaper advertisements, sporadically.  Botner and others experimented with the power of images in their marketing efforts, sometimes assuming additional costs for the advertisements they placed in colonial newspapers.

June 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 23, 1773).

“Now selling at prime coast, at the house of the late Mrs. MARY SYMONDS, deceased.”

In June 1773, James Reynolds, the executor of the estate, ran a newspaper notice concerning the sale of a “LARGE and general assortment of MILLINERY and other GOODS” at “the house of the late Mrs. MARY SYMONDS, deceased,” in Philadelphia.  While many female shopkeepers, milliners, seamstresses, and other entrepreneurs did not promote their businesses in the public prints in the eighteenth century, Symonds was an exception who regularly advertised her wares. Compared to the brief estate notice that listed about a dozen items and summarized the rest of her inventory as “a great variety of other genteel articles,” Symonds published extensive advertisements that rivaled in length those of her male competitors.  In March 1766 and May 1768, she inserted advertisements that each included an extensive catalog of her merchandise in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Symonds did not limit her marketing efforts to newspaper notices.  She also distributed an engraved trade card, one of the finest known example of this format belonging to a woman who ran her own business in eighteenth-century America.  In Boston, Jane Eustis also provided her customers with engraved trade cards.  The only known copy of Symonds’s trade card survives among the Cadwalader Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania because Symonds used the reverse to write a receipted bill for purchases made by Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader in October and November 1770.  Based on those manuscript additions, Symonds’s trade card has been dated to circa 1770.  The text so closely replicated her advertisements that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1768 (or perhaps the text of the newspaper advertisement closely replicated the trade card) that it seems almost certain that Symonds commissioned the trade card by the late 1760s and distributed it to customers for several years.  In so doing, she joined the ranks of other entrepreneurs, most of them men, who demonstrated the elegance and sophistication of their goods and services with marketing materials – engraved trade cards and billheads – that resembled those that commonly circulated in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire.  The notice about the estate sale that her executor placed in the Pennsylvania Gazettedid not do justice to Symonds’s acumen as a marketer responsible for promoting her own business during her lifetime.

June 9

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 9, 1773).

“If any on Trial should not answer the Purpose intended, he engages to take them back, and to supply the Parties with others.”

In the summer of 1773, Isaac Melcher sold a “compleat and warranted Assortment of BOULTING-CLOTHS, Suitable to every Branch of that Business” to millers in and near Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the June 9 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he announced that he had “lately imported” those items and sold them “on the lowest Terms for Cash.”  In an effort to generate demand, Melcher pledged that “Considerable Allowance will be made to those that take a Quantity.”  In other words, he offered discounts for purchasing in volume.

Melcher deployed another marketing strategy to entice prospective customers, offering to replace the “warranted” bolting cloths with other items if buyers tried them and were not satisfied.  “If any on Trial should not answer the Purpose intended,” Melcher pledged, “he engages to take them back, and to supply the Parties with others in their Room.”  The option of exchanging merchandise, however, came with a condition.  Buyers had to return bolting cloths that did not meet their needs “without Damage” to qualify for that provision.

At a glance, Melcher’s advertisement may not appear very flashy to modern eyes.  Like almost every other advertisement that appeared in that issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, it consisted entirely of text without any images.  (One advertisement seeking freight and passengers included a stock image of a ship at sea.)  Yet Melcher did not merely announce that he had bolting cloths for sale and then hope that prospective customers would do business with him.  Instead, he incorporated two marketing strategies intended to motivate millers not only to purchase bolting cloths but to acquire them from him rather than any of his competitors.  He promised discounts for large orders while also allowing for exchanges after customers tried his bolting cloths.  That attention to customer satisfaction made purchases more than perfunctory transactions.  While not as sophisticated as modern marketing practices, advertisements like those placed by Melcher should not be dismissed as mere announcements of goods for sale.  After all, Melcher devised strategies to engage prospective customers.

June 2

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 2, 1773).

“The following Lines be pleased to read, / And they will shew the Cause indeed.”

Henry Funk and Christian Carpenter wanted to increase the chances that readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette took note of their advertisement offering a reward “For securing JOHN FARRAN, in Lancaster Goal” for stealing horses.  Except for the headline at the top and their signatures at the bottom, the entire advertisement consisted of rhyming couplets that described Farran and the offense he committed.  Other advertisements in the June 2, 1773, edition offered rewards for capturing runaway indentured servants or enslaved people who liberated themselves, but each of them featured a paragraph of dense text.  In contrast, Funk and Carpenter’s notice had plenty of white space to draw the eye and an entertaining poem to hold readers’ attention.  The aggrieved advertisers certainly put more effort into composing it than their counterparts did in writing formulaic notices that described indentured servants and enslaved people.

Funk and Carpenter offered an overview of the situation.  “In April last was stole away, / From each of us (we’re bold to say) / Two stately Horses, stout and strong, / And Farran did the cruel Wrong.”  He escaped into the woods with the horses, saddles, and other goods, but “The honest Neighbours round about, / Did hunt and find the Villain out.”  Farran managed to escape and “Where he is gone, we cannot say, / But he’s a Rogue, by Night and Day.”  According to Funk and Carpenter, that had not been the thief’s first infraction.  Instead, he had a history and “This Rogue is known both far and near, / To steal and sell, from Year to Year.”

To aid in identifying the fugitive, Funk and Carpenter offered a description, a bit disjointed in order to achieve the rhymes.  For instance, they interspersed a warning that Farran might change his name with information about his age and appearance.  “To tell his Marks we do incline, / His Age may be full Thirty-nine; / He’ll change his Name too, now and then, / His Height may be full five Feet ten.”  Similarly, they muddled together other aspects of his physical description with his speech patterns and their suspicions that the thief would attempt to disguise himself.  “His Hair is black, Complexion too, / And as it suits, says Thee, or You; / To tell his Clothes, it will us fail, / For them he’ll Change, or more will steal; / He is a stout and well made Fellow, / And in his Colour something Yellow.”

While no great work of literature, Funk and Carpenter’s advertisements likely achieved one of its intended purposes.  The rhyming couplets, though awkward, presented a more engaging and a more memorable story than if they had settled for a standard notice.  That, in turn, may have put more colonizers on the lookout for the notorious Farran, increasing the chances of capturing him and securing him in the Lancaster Jail.

May 19

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (May 19, 1773).

“STOPPED, from a Person (supposed to be stolen) a SILVER TABLE-SPOON.”

Newspaper advertisements promoted a variety of new merchandise in the eighteenth century, encouraging colonizers to participate in a transatlantic consumer revolution.  In the May 19, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, for instance, Owen Biddle advertised a “large and neat ASSORTEMNT of EUROPEAN & EAST-INDIA GOODS” recently imported from London and Bristol.  He listed dozens of textiles and housewares available at his shop.  Similarly, John McCalla and Son and other merchants and shopkeepers attempted to incite demand for their own “neat Assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

Colonizers also participated in the consumer revolution by acquiring secondhand goods, sometimes at auctions and other times through estate sales.  Other sales took place through less formal mechanisms.  That led to more possibilities for participating in the consumer revolution, through theft and fencing stolen goods and knowingly or unknowingly buying stolen goods.  Historian Serena Zabin has described those exchanges as part of an informal economy that operated parallel to the legitimate marketplace.  The informal economy made space for indentured servants, free and enslaved Black men and women, and the poor to acquire goods, whether secondhand or stolen.

This also caused many colonizers to remain vigilant about secondhand goods offered for sale, prompting them to seize items when not satisfied with explanations about how the sellers acquired them.  Such was the case for a “SILVER TABLE-SPOON, marked T.P.A. and three Silver Tea-Spoons, marked A.H. in a Cypher.”  Among the advertisements for new goods in the May 19 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, another notice described those spoons and stated that they had been “STOPPED” or confiscated on suspicion of being stolen.  Whoever “STOPPED” the spoons informed the rightful owner or owners that they could reclaim them “on proving their Property, and paying Charges” (most likely, paying for the advertisement).

Newspaper advertisements chronicled the consumption and circulation of goods, whether the newest and most fashionable items just imported or secondhand goods sold at auctions and estate sales or stolen items that thieves attempted to fence.  Colonizers from many backgrounds devised numerous ways to participate in the consumer revolution.

May 12

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 12, 1773).


When an anonymous musician offered “to teach the art of playing on the Guittar, in the best and newest taste” and “likewise teaches the German flute,” he adorned his advertisement in the May 12, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette with an image of a guitar, a flute, and a sheet of music.  The woodcut accounted for half of the space occupied by the advertisement.  The combination of visual image and advertising copy likely drew the attention of readers, especially since most advertisements did not feature any sort of image.

Some did have a stock image in the upper left corner.  For instance, four advertisements that sought passengers and freight for ships preparing to depart for other ports incorporated woodcuts of vessels at sea, perhaps the most common image that appeared in a newspaper published in the bustling urban port of Philadelphia.  In contrast, images depicting enslaved people appeared about as often as images of ships in advertisements in newspapers published in Charleston.  The May 12 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette did not have any images of enslaved people, even though it included advertisements about enslaved men, women, and children for sale as well as notices describing enslaved people who liberated themselves and offering rewards for their capture and return.  That issue did feature one advertisement with a woodcut depicting an indentured servant who absconded.  Two advertisements for stallions “to cover” (or breed with) mares had woodcuts of horses.

Pennsylvania Gazette (May 12, 1773).

In addition to those stock images supplied by the printers, three images commissioned by advertisers to correspond to the goods and services they marketed adorned advertisements in that issue.  A woodcut depicting a stagecoach drawn by two horses enhanced the notice for the route that connected Philadelphia and New York, operated by Charles Bessonett and Company.  An image of a sickle accompanied the advertising copy in Jacob Eckfelt’s notice.  Finally, the woodcut depicting the guitar, flute, and sheet music distinguished the anonymous musician’s advertisement from others that consisted solely of text.

To varying degrees, eighteenth-century advertisers experimented with images in their newspaper notices, sometimes opting for stock images provided by the printers and other times commissioning woodcuts for their sole use.  Although the majority of advertisers did not incorporate images into their notices, enough did so to demonstrate both curiosity about the practice and a suspicion or even a belief that images were worth the additional investment.  While these images may seem quaint or rudimentary when viewed through modern eyes, they likely resonated with eighteenth-century readers who usually encountered images in advertisements and nowhere else in newspapers, with the exception of the image that appeared in the masthead on the first page of each issue.