December 7

“EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND. Witness our Hands.”

Dec 7 - 12:7:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 7, 1769).

When colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, many also advocated encouraging “domestic manufactures,” goods produced in the colonies. In turn, readers encountered newspaper advertisements that marketed goods made locally or elsewhere in North America rather than imported from England with greater frequency in the late 1760s. Advertisers often asserted that their domestic manufactures were equal or even superior in quality to imported goods. Some even proclaimed that reputable judges had affirmed their claims.

An advertisement that ran in the December 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette included an actual testimonial for “STEEL” (or iron) produced by Humphreys and Zane. Twenty-two residents of Philadelphia signed the testimonial, collectively endorsing Humphreys and Zane’s steel for readers. One, John Fox, even included his occupation, cutler, to give greater weight to his endorsement. As an artisan who worked with metal, he was particularly well positioned to assess the quality of steel produced locally.

The testimonial first reported that the signers had “made use” of various kinds of “COUNTRY STEEL,” having good experience with some but “a great Deal otherwise” with others. After acknowledging that some steel produced in the colonies did not meet their standards, the signers declared that “upon a late Trial of the STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE, we have used it for different Kinds of Work; some of us have tried it in the very best of edged Tools, and do find that it is EQUAL, if not SUPERIOR, to any imported from ENGLAND.” Readers who needed to acquire steel or items made of iron did not have to sacrifice quality when choosing Humphrey and Zane’s steel or items made from it. This eliminated one of the potential pitfalls associated with encouraging domestic manufactures.

While other advertisers made general references to their domestic manufactures receiving accolades from qualified judges, Humphreys and Zane were among the first American advertisers to market their product with a testimonial. They did not ask prospective customers simply to trust their assurances concerning the quality of their product. Instead, they marshaled nearly two dozen artisans and others who staked their own reputations in promoting “STEEL, made by HUMPHREYS and ZANE.”

October 22

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

Oct 22 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“ELIZA BRAITHWAITE … is removed from Mrs. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s.”

Eliza Braithwaite, a milliner originally from London, inserted an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in October 1769. She informed “the Ladies, and others” that she had changed locations, moving from “Mr. Wood’s, to Mrs. M’Cullouch’s,” still on Market Street but “a few Doors higher up.” She intended to continue pursuing her trade at the new location and called on “those Ladies, who have been kind enough to employ her before she removed” to “continue their Favours.”

Relatively few female entrepreneurs placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers, certainly not in proportion to their presence in the marketplace as shopkeepers and tradeswomen. That made their advertisements notable, then and now. When they did inject themselves into the public prints, some women were bolder than others. Braithwaite took a fairly conservative approach in her advertisement, almost as though she hoped to limit the amount of attention she might receive as a result of making her business so visible. She adopted standard language that appeared in advertisements placed by tailors and milliners throughout the colonies. She did her work with “particular Care.” She charged “the cheapest Rate.” She made hats and other accessories “in the newest and genteelest Taste.” While this could indicate Braithwaite’s familiarity with the conventions of marketing in eighteenth-century America, it might also signal hesitation to distinguish herself too much from her competitors. That she conformed to the expectations of milliners, male and female, may have been the most important appeal Braithwaite wished to advance in her advertisement.

The circumstances that prompted Braithwaite to place a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to a conservative approach to advertising. She did address “the Ladies, and others,” but her primary purpose seems to have been maintaining her clientele rather than expanding it. She wanted former customers to know that she had moved so they could find her at her new location and continue employing her. Although Braithwaite’s advertisement exposed her business to much larger audiences, any invitation to new customers was implicit rather than explicit. Did Braithwaite advertise in the Pennsylvania Gazette or any of the other newspapers printed in Philadelphia on other occasions? Whether she promoted her business in the public prints at other times merits further investigation.

October 19

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

Oct 19 - 10:19:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 19, 1769).

“AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS, MANUFACTURED in Philadelphia.”

Like many other advertisers, Plunket Fleeson, an upholsterer, launched a “Buy American” campaign in the late 1760s. With increasing frequency, advertisers encouraged their fellow colonists to practice politics in the marketplace as the imperial crisis intensified. The Townshend Act imposed duties on certain imported goods, including glass, lead, paint, tea, and paper. In response, merchants and shopkeepers subscribed to nonimportation agreements, seeking to exert economic pressure on British merchants and suppliers to intervene on their behalf with Parliament. At the same time that nonimportation agreements went into effect, many colonists advocated for “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to imported goods; buying items made in the colonies simultaneously helped to correct a trade imbalance, employed local workers, and made a political statement.

Fleeson joined the chorus of advertisers who encouraged consumers to consider the political ramifications of the purchases they made. In an advertisement in the October 19, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, he promoted “AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS, MANUFACTURED in Philadelphia.” His paper hangings (or wallpaper) rivaled the products that came from England. He described them as “not inferior to those generally imported, and as low in price.” Although many advertisers made similar arguments about their wares and expected prospective customers to make the right connections to current events on their own, Fleeson explicitly spelled out the stakes for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette. “[A]s there is a considerable duty imposed on paper hangings imported her,” he explained, “it cannot be doubted, but that every one among us, who wishes prosperity to America, will give a preference to our own manufacturers.” Doing so did not have to be a sacrifice. Fleeson underscored that his paper hangings were “equally good and cheap” compared to imported paper hangings. Purchasing them did not put consumers at a disadvantage. They did not pay more, nor did they acquire inferior merchandise. That being the case, there was no reason not to “give a preference to our own manufacture” and aid the American cause in doing so.

Fleeson also listed a variety of other goods available at his upholstery shop, but devoted half of his advertisement to making a political argument about the meaning associated with the “AMERICAN PAPER HANGINGS” he sold at his shop on Chestnut Street. He was one of many advertisers in the late 1760s and early 1770s who aimed to convince prospective customers that their decisions about consumer goods were imbued with political significance.

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For a case study on advertisements for paper hangings in the 1760s through the 1780s, see Carl Robert Keyes, “A Revolution in Advertising: ‘Buy American’ Campaigns in the Late Eighteenth Century,” in Creating Advertising Culture: Beginnings to the 1930s, vol. 1, We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life … And Always Has, ed. Danielle Sarver Coombs and Bob Batchelor (Praeger, 2014), 1-25.

October 5

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

Oct 5 - 10:5:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 5, 1769).

“For the Encouragement of those who are willing to promote American Manufactories.”

While the Townshend Acts remained in effect, imposing duties on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea imported in the American colonies, the number and frequency of newspaper advertisements promoting “American manufactories” increased. The partnership of Gilpin and Fisher joined the chorus of advertisers encouraging colonists to “Buy American” in the late 1760s. In an advertisement for their “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” in the October 5, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Gilpin and Fisher extolled the quality of their product. They proclaimed that they “spar[ed] no Pains or Expence to render” their snuff “equal to any made here” or, more significantly, “imported from abroad. That was not merely their own puffery but rather the assessment of “some of the best Judges,” though Gilpin and Fisher did not publish their “concurrent Testimonies” nor name those “Judges.” Still, they made their point: consumers did not have to sacrifice quality when purchasing from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” instead of buying imported alternatives.

Elsewhere in the advertisement, they incorporated another popular element of the “Buy American” motif that emerged in response to an imbalance of trade with Britain, the Townshend Acts, and nonimportation agreements adopted in cities and towns in several colonies. According to many editorials and advertisements, American consumers had a moral imperative to purchase goods produced in the colonies. Doing so would correct the trade imbalance while simultaneously exerting economic resistance to Parliament’s attempts to tax the colonies via import duties. Joshua Fisher and Sons sold the snuff “by the Bottle, Dozen, or Gross,” offering discounts to those who bought in bulk. To convince both consumers and retailers to take advantage of such deals, the tobacconists called on those “willing to promote American manufactories.” The two appeals buttressed each other: purchasing “domestic manufactures” was good politics but also savvy business when getting a bargain for doing so. The “Considerable Allowance” promised to those who purchased by volume likely made products from Gilpin and Fisher’s “SNUFF MANUFACTORY” even more enticing for prospective customers who wanted to practice politics through their decisions in the marketplace.

The imperial crisis and American reactions to it did not unfold solely in the news items and editorials in colonial newspapers. Instead, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and others addressed the political issues of the day in their advertisements. The appeals they made to consumers helped to shape American resistance to Parliament’s attempts to raise revenues and regulate commerce in the colonies.

October 1

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

Oct 1 - 9:28:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 28, 1769).

“A likely healthy Negroe … to dispose of.”

Shopkeeper Magdalen Devine occasionally advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late 1760s. She usually promoted “A LARGE assortment of dry GOODS,” as she did in the September 28, 1769, edition. Her advertisements were notable because they sometimes included a woodcut that depicted some of her wares, two rolls of fabric and two swatches unfurled to display the patterns. Devine relied on images rather than an extensive list of merchandise to communicate the choices available at her shop. Woodcuts commissioned by merchants and shopkeepers were relatively rare in early American newspaper advertisements. Devine was one of an exceptionally small number of women who deployed visual images in her marketing.

Yet Devine sought to accomplish more than just selling dry goods in some of her advertisements. The notice she ran in late September 1769 included a nota bene seemingly unrelated to her merchandise: “She has a likely healthy Negroe wench, about 18 years old, to dispose of, having no cause to part with her but want of employment.” Although most eighteenth-century readers would have found nothing notable about attempting to sell both textiles and an enslaved woman in a single advertisement, modern readers might find this notice particularly striking for the casual manner in which Devine treated another woman as a commodity.

Furthermore, the advertisement testifies to the presence of enslaved men and women in urban ports like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston during the era of the American Revolution. Throughout the colonies and throughout the Atlantic world, consumer culture and enslavement were inextricably linked. Commerce depended on the transatlantic slave trade as well as the skills and involuntary labor of enslaved men, women, and children. The advertisements for consumer goods that filled eighteenth-century newspapers, many of them listing dozens of items offered for sale, usually did not make direct reference to slavery, but colonists had access to those wares, the “LARGE assortment of dry GOODS” advertised by merchants and shopkeepers like Devine,” thanks to networks of exchange that included the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved labor, and the profits from both as an integral component. It was practically impossible to be either a retailer or a consumer in the eighteenth century without perpetuating slavery, directly or indirectly. More readily than most others, Devine’s advertisement makes clear that was the case.

September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 7, 1769).

At the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.”

In an advertisement that ran in the September 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, boot- and shoemaker James Kedmon reported that he had “lately arrived from Europe” and opened a shop on Water Street in Philadelphia. The newcomer certainly knew how to make his presence known in the public prints. His advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a boot flanked by two shoes. The woodcut occupied approximately the same amount of space as the copy for Kedmon’s advertisement, representing a significant expense. In addition, the shoemaker had to commission the woodcut in the first place, but he apparently anticipated a return on his investment.

After all, this visual image distinguished his advertisement from all of the others that ran on the same page. None of them included visual images. Only two other images appeared elsewhere in the same issue. An advertisement on another page included a smaller woodcut that depicted a ship at sea, a stock image that would have belonged to the printers rather than being created for the exclusive use of an advertiser. Eighteenth-century readers regularly encountered multiple variations of such images of ships in a single issue of a newspaper. The masthead also included a familiar image inspired by William Penn’s coat of arms; it appeared in every issue. The September 7 edition, like every other, consisted almost entirely of text. As a result, readers’ eyes would have been drawn to the woodcut of the boot and shoes, a unique feature, when perusing the Pennsylvania Gazette.

A border enclosed that boot and shoes, transforming the woodcut into a depiction of a shop sign rather than just the merchandise Kedmon offered for sale. The shoemaker informed prospective customers that they could find him “at the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.” The woodcut may have faithfully replicated the sign that marked Kedmon’s shop; even if it did not, it suggests the type of images colonists would have seen as they traversed the streets of Philadelphia and other cities and towns. The consistent use of text and images invoking “the Sign of the Boot and Shoe” represented an eighteenth-century attempt at branding. Kedmon sought to make his presence in a new location known not only through newspaper advertisements but also through careful coordination with the images he displayed at his ship on Water Street. His newspaper advertisement with a striking woodcut was part of a larger campaign to attract customers.

August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:10:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 10, 1769).

“At present it seems peculiarly the interest of America to encourage her own manufactories.”

In August 1769, Richard Wistar took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to advertise the products he manufactured at his “GLASS-WORKS” in Philadelphia. His inventory included “BOXES of WINDOW GLASS, consisting of the common sizes” as well as “most sorts of bottles,” containers for mustard and snuff, and other specialty glassware. Wistar also offered to cut glass windows of “uncommon sizes.”

To encourage prospective customers to purchase his wares, Wistar emphasized that “the abovementioned glass is of American manufactory” and then launched into a political lesson that matched the discourse circulating throughout the colonies in newspapers and in conversations in taverns, coffeehouses, and town squares. Glass produced in the colonies was “consequently clear of the duties the Americans so justly complain of,” duties imposed on certain imported goods by Parliament in the Townshend Acts. Wistar continued his lecture: “at present, it seems peculiarly the interest of America to encourage her own manufactories, more especially those upon which duties have been imposed, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue.” Those goods included paper, tea, lead, paints, and, most significantly for Wistar, glass.

In response, colonists revived a strategy they had previously pursued to resist the Stamp Act: merchants and shopkeepers vowed not to import goods from Britain. In order for their economic resistance to have greater political impact, they did not limit their boycott to only those goods indirectly taxed by the Townshend Acts. Instead, they enumerated a broad array of goods that they would not import or sell until the duties had been repealed. Simultaneously, they issued calls for the encouragement of “domestic manufactures” and argued that consumers could demonstrate their own politics in the marketplace by making a point of purchasing goods produced in the colonies. Neither producers nor consumers alone would have as much of an impact as both exercising their civic virtue through “encourage[ing] her own manufactories,” as Wistar reminded readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Colonists certainly imbibed political arguments in news articles and editorials in newspapers, but they also encountered them in advertisements. In the service of selling goods and services, savvy entrepreneurs mobilized politics during the period of the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution. They directed consumers away from some products in favor of purchasing others, challenging them to consider the ramifications of their activities in the marketplace.

July 13

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

Jul 13 - 7:13:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 13, 1769).

“At Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’S … in Lancaster, by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON, Surgeon Dentist.”

At the same time that advertisements for Mr. Hamilton’s amazing tincture for curing toothaches and other maladies ran in multiple newspapers in New York in July 1769, it also appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a newspaper published in Philadelphia with circulation far beyond that city. The copy in the Pennsylvania Gazette matched the New York advertisements almost exactly – including the guarantee of “No CURE No PAY” – except for instructions about where customers could acquire the tincture for themselves. Readers of newspapers printed in New York were directed to “Mrs. Buskirk’s, the corner of Wall-Street, near the Coffe-house,” where they could consult directly with Mr. Hamilton, “Surgeon Dentists and Operator for the Teeth from LONDON.” The variant in the Pennsylvania Gazette, on the other hand, gave directions to local agents in Pennsylvania. Readers could purchase the tincture “at Mrs. [illegible], next door to the Indian Queen, in Fourth-street, Philadelphia; and, at Mr. JOSEPH SOLOMAN’s, in King-street, near the Court-house, in Lancaster.” Purveyors of the tincture in Pennsylvania stocked and sold it “by the appointment of Mr. HAMILTON.”

Inserting advertisements in all of the newspapers published in New York was ambitious on its own, but designating local agents and branching out to yet another newspaper in another colony was even more innovative. In eighteenth-century America, most providers of goods and services confined their marketing efforts to newspapers that served their own city or town. Printers and publishers were an important exception; they frequently placed subscription notices in newspapers throughout the colonies to gauge the market and generate sufficient interest to move forward with printing a book, magazine, or other publication. This involved designating local agents to receive subscriptions, collect payment, and distribute publications after they went to press, but those agents were usually fellow printers who already participated in networks for exchanging newspapers and information. Still, this was a model that need not work for printers exclusively. Hamilton experimented with designating local agents in Philadelphia and Lancaster as a means of enlarging the market for his tincture.

Doing so required prospective customers to place trust in the local agents in addition to Hamilton, especially when it came to the “No CURE No PAY” guarantee. Clients in New York used the tincture under the direction of Hamilton and could appeal to him directly if the medicine did not produce the desired effect. Clients in Philadelphia and Lancaster, in contrast, had to depend on fair dealing by local agents who may not have possessed Hamilton’s experience or expertise. After all, the advertisement described Hamilton as a “Surgeon Dentist,” but did not indicate the occupations of his local agents in Pennsylvania. Other portions of the advertisement may have alleviated some concerns by presenting a portrait of Hamilton’s character. In addition to describing Hamilton’s tincture, the advertisement provided an overview of the services he provided in New York. Hamilton “cleans and beautifies teeth” and “makes and sets in artificial teeth.” He served his clients “with dispatch and secrecy.” The advertisement concluded with a nota bene that depicted Hamilton as a humanitarian: “the poor, afflicted with the tooth-ach, cured gratis, every morning, from 8 to 10 o clock.” Was such information about Hamilton’s practice in New York superfluous in an advertisement placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette? Readers in Philadelphia and, especially, Lancaster were unlikely to travel to New York to have Hamilton clean their teeth or fit them with artificial teeth. The poor were even less likely to make such a journey. Hamilton could have reduced the costs of advertising in the Pennsylvania Gazette if he had eliminated that portion of the advertisement, yet that information was not superfluous. It testified to Hamilton’s competence and professional demeanor, allowing him to cultivate a reputation that might have made faraway readers more inclined to trust his description of his toothache tincture and, in turn, deal with local agents who sold it on his behalf.

July 6

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

Jul 6 - 7:6:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 6, 1769).

“DANIEL GRANT … HAS now opened a HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT.”

A nascent hospitality and tourism industry emerged in America in the late eighteenth century. Its expansion occurred, in part, as a result of advertisements that encouraged consumers to partake in a variety of leisure activities at venues in their own towns and in places located some distance away. On July 6, 1769, Samuel Francis (better known today as Samuel Fraunces) inserted advertisements in the New-York Chronicle and the New-York Journal to invite visitors to Vauxhall Gardens to enjoy coffee, tea, and pastries “at any Hour in the Day,” evening concerts, a ballroom for parties, “Dinners or Suppers dressed in the most elegant Manner,” and, of course, the gardens “fitted up in a very genteel, pleasing Manner.” Advertisements for Vauxhall Gardens became a familiar sight in New York’s newspapers in the late 1760s.

On the same day, Daniel Grant advertised his own “HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT, at the Sign of the Buck” in Moyamensing on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Grant first presented his credentials for opening his own establishment, asserting that he worked for seven years as “a Bar-keeper to Mr. John Biddle, at the Indian King.” He had gained the requisite experience to launch his own enterprise. Grant offered many of the same amenities at the Buck as Francis did at Vauxhall Gardens. The spacious house had three rooms on each floor as well as “a large hall in each story.” In addition to those accommodations, guests could also enjoy the gardens and “summer-houses” that, in particular, made the Buck “an agreeable place to resort in the summer season.” Grant served “the best tea, chocolate, [and] coffee” for breakfast and in the afternoon, but he also had on hand “the best liquors of all kinds.” He invited prospective customers to plan parties or “large entertainments” at his venue, assuring them that events could be arranged “by giving short notice.” As was the case for anyone working in hospitality, service was a cornerstone for Grant’s business. He pledged to “make it his constant endeavour to give the best attendance to those who please to favour him with their company.” Accommodations, amenities, and service: Grant offered a complete experience to guests at his “HOUSE of ENTERTAINMENT.”

Today, many Americans are celebrating the Independence Day weekend with excursions to all sorts of venues that are part of the modern hospitality and tourism industry. Advertising plays a significant role in enticing guests to partake in leisure activities, encouraging them to purchase experiences rather than things. That strategy has origins that date back to a time before Americans declared independence. Entrepreneurs like Grant and Francis promoted themselves as purveyors of entertainment and leisure activities as they welcomed guests to venues like the Buck and Vauxhall Gardens in the eighteenth century.