September 15

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 12, 1771).

“Just Published … POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772.”

It was a familiar sign of the changing seasons when advertisements for almanacs first appeared in colonial newspapers in the fall.  Two such advertisements ran in the September 12, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  The printers of that newspaper, David Hall and William Sellers, hawked “POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK, for the YEAR 1772,” the popular almanac they published.  Isaac Collins advertised the “BURLINGTON ALMANACK” available at his printing office in Burlington, New Jersey.

Neither advertisement provided much additional information, the printers likely not considering it necessary at the time.  After all, prospective customers had more than four months to purchase copies before the new year began.  The brief advertisements drew attention to these almanacs before competitors began marketing their own publications.  John Fleeming adopted a similar strategy for “Bickerstaff’s Almanack For the Year 1772” when he placed an advertisement in the August 15, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter to announce that the almanac “Will be published in September next.”  As fall progressed, more advertisements for almanacs would appear in newspapers from New England to South Carolina.  Each year, printers placed increasing elaborate advertisements in October, November, and December as competition for customers intensified.

For the moment, however, Hall and Sellers simply announced that they “Just publishedPoor Richard’s Almanackat theNew Printing-Office, in Market-street, Philadelphia.”  Collins offered a little more information, stating that his almanac contained “besides the usual astronomical Calculations, a Variety of useful and entertaining Matter, both in Prose and Verse.”  Collins also declared that he sold the Burlington Almanac “Wholesale and Retail,” encouraging booksellers, shopkeepers, and others to acquire copies to retail in their own shops.  Although Hall and Sellers did not mention wholesale transactions, alerting customers that they could add Poor Richard’s Almanack to their inventory may have been one of the primary purposes of publishing the almanac and advertising its availability so early.

Daylight hours diminished in September compared to the summer months.  Temperatures became colder.  Yet the natural world did not offer the only evidence that fall would soon arrive.  Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers began encountering advertisements for almanacs for the coming year, another sure sign that summer was in its final days.

September 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 12, 1771).

“OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE.”

William Ibison offered his services as a broker to prospective clients who saw his advertisement in the September 12, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He informed them that he established an “OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE” on Front Street in Philadelphia.  At that time, he could provide information about “Boys to go Apprentices to different Trades,” “A Number of Houses” for sale “in this City and the Suburbs,” and “Merchandize of all Kinds.”

Realizing that some readers might not have been familiar with the work of a broker or, as Ibison called himself, an “Intelligencer,” he offered an overview of his services.  For a small fee, he collected information about goods for sale from “Merchants, Masters of Vessels, or others,” and then introduced them to prospective buyers.  He also facilitated selling houses and ships, renting lodgings and shops, and selling indentured servants and enslaved laborers.  In addition, Ibison oversaw loans and investments, placed men and women seeking work into jobs, and introduced masters and journeymen “in all Professions.”  For each of those services, he charged “moderate Commissions” or small fees.

Ibison presented his “OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE” as the hub of an information network.  Some of that information he collected directly from clients, but he also relied on newspapers.  The broker announced his plan “to take in a News-Paper published in every capital Town on the Continent and settle a Correspondence there.”  Doing so would allow him to keep track of “current Prices of Goods in these Places” in order to pass along the intelligence to his clients.  Unlike his other services, he offered that information “gratis.”  He likely hoped that colonists who called on him for that information would be more likely to share information of their own or hire him for other ventures once they discovered how useful it could be to work with a broker who made it his business to collect, collate, and assess information from so many different sources.

The “Intelligencer” declared that “the Nature of the Office is such, the more it is encouraged the more useful it becomes to the Community.”  His services, he asserted, benefited more than just his clients.  That being the case, he “earnestly requests the Public’s Favours in general.”  Only in combining a growing clientele with correspondents and newspapers from other cities could his “OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE” achieve its full potential in assisting others in acquiring whatever information they needed to successfully pursue their own endeavors.

August 1

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 1, 1771).

At the GOLDEN LION.”

In the early 1770s, John Carnan, a goldsmith and jeweler, ran a shop at the corner of Second and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.  He promoted his “GOLD, SILVER and JEWELLERY WORK” in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette, assuring prospective customers that he made his wares “in the best and newest taste.”  Like many other purveyors of goods, he provided an overview of his inventory in a dense paragraph of text.  Carnan listed everything from “TANKARDS, cans, tea, coffee and cream pots” to “gold, silver, gilt, enamelled, Scotch pebble, moco, chrystal, paste and glass sleeve buttons” to “silver and enamelled snuff-boxes [and] silver mounted decanter corks.”  In addition, he offered customers the opportunity to select among “sundry other articles, too tedious to mention.”  In terms of advertising copy, Carnan’s notice very much resembled others placed by purveyors of goods and services in Philadelphia and other American towns and cities.

The woodcut that adorned Carnan’s advertisement, however, distinguished it from others.  Carnan marked his location with a sign depicting a golden lion.  A woodcut that also depicted a lion appeared in the upper left corner of his advertisement.  (Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project will likely recognize this lion as the image that has appeared on its home page since its inception.)  The woodcut in the advertisement may have replicated Carnan’s shop sign, serving as a logo or brand that identified his business.  Even if the woodcut did not resemble the sign, incorporating an image of a lion likely helped consumers associate the regal animal with the goldsmith and jeweler, making his shop all the more memorable.  Unlike the woodcuts depicting ships at sea, the only other images in the August 1, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette beyond the masthead, the woodcut of the lion belonged to the advertiser rather than the printer.  Carnan invested in an image reserved for his sole use.  Over time, he included the image in other advertisements, providing consistency via the image even as he generated new copy for his notices.  Inserting the same woodcut in multiple advertisements also allowed him a greater return on his investment.  Not every advertiser who commissioned unique woodcuts used them more than once.  Carnan, however, recognized the potential for enhancing his marketing efforts with an image that represented his business and attracted attention among prospective customers.

July 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (July 25, 1771).

“JAPANED WARE … now made and sold by TIMOTHY BERRET, and COMPANY.”

Advertisements for domestic manufactures, goods produced in the colonies, appeared in colonial newspapers with greater frequency when nonimportation agreements remained in effect in response to the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and the Coercive Acts in the 1760s and 1770s.  They tapered off, but did not disappear altogether, when colonists resumed regular trade with merchants in Britain.  Some advertisers continued to encourage consumers to acquire domestic manufactures, even if doing so did not have the same political valence when tensions between colonists and Parliament eased.

In the summer of 1771, for instance, Timothy Berret and Company advertised “JAPANED WARE” made in Pennsylvania.  The partners recognized the popularity and demand for fashionable housewares with patterns carved into thick black varnish, following styles and techniques that originated in Japan.  Such items testified to commercial networks that extended far beyond the Atlantic as well as to the cosmopolitanism of consumers who acquired and displayed “JAPANED WARE,” no matter whether made in Britain, the colonies, or elsewhere.  Berret and Company adamantly proclaimed their merchandise “Equal in quality to any that can be imported from Great-Britain.”  They underscored the point, declaring their wares “no way inferior, either in neatness of workmanship, japaning, painting, or polishing, to any that is made in England.”  For those consumers skeptical that Berret and Company achieved the same quality as imported items, the partners had on hand “very neat bread-baskets, tea-boards, and waiters” for sale and inspection.

In an effort to gain more orders for their “new Manufactory,” Berret and Company sought buyers among retailers as well as end-use consumers.  They offered discounts, a “great allowance,” to shopkeepers and others “who buy to sell again.”  In addition to quality that matched imported goods, they passed along bargains to their customers with prices “as cheap as in England.”  Purchasers did not have to pay a premium when acquiring domestic manufactures from Berret and Company instead of imported goods produced in greater quantities.

The “young beginners” in Philadelphia refrained from inserting political commentary into their advertisement, instead choosing to reassure hesitant buyers that the quality and price of their “JAPANED WARE” rivaled anything imported.  For many advertisers and consumers, politics did not matter as much in 1771 as they did in 1766 or 1769 or would again in 1774.  Several times in the 1760s and 1770s, the marketing appeals in newspaper advertisements, the arguments in favor of purchasing domestic manufactures, shifted depending on current events and the relationship between Parliament and the colonies.

July 4

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

Pennsylvania Journal (July 4, 1771).

“RUN-AWAY … a Mulatto Woman Slave, named VIOLET.”

On July 4, 1771, Philip Kearney told the story of Violet, an enslaved woman who liberated herself, though he certainly did not do so in celebration of her fortitude and courage.  In an advertisement that ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazetteand the Pennsylvania Journal, Kearney provided a brief account of what he knew about Violet’s whereabouts for the past decade.  Violet first liberated herself in October 1762.  In 1764, she was spotted “in company with one James Lock, somewhere on the Susquehanna.”  That led to her capture and imprisonment at the jail in Fredericks-Town (now Frederick), Maryland, “on suspicion of having runaway.”  Violet escaped and for seven years managed to elude detection by those who sought to return her to bondage.  In the spring of 1771, however, she “was discovered about fifteen miles from Ball-Fryer’s ferry” in Maryland.

According to Kearney, Violet now had three children.  He wished to enslave the entire family, including children who had only known freedom in the wake of their mother liberating herself.  According to the law, children followed the condition of the mother, and the law still considered Violet a slave.  When Kearney purchased Violet from the executors of Edward Bonnel’s estate, he also acquired any of her children born after the transaction.  Kearney offered ten pounds as a reward for the capture and return of Violet and fifteen pounds for Violet and her children.  Kearney was determined to re-enslave Violet, but she was equally determined to preserve her liberty and protect her children.  Kearney warned that anyone “who may take her up must secure her strictly, or she will certainly escape again, being remarkably artful.”  That artfulness already resulted in nearly a decade of freedom.  With three children, Violet now had even more reason to outwit anyone who attempted to capture her.  Kearney’s advertisement had the potential to bring Violet’s liberty to an end, but it may have also alerted her, her friends, or sympathetic members of her community that she and her children faced new danger.

As the American colonies experienced an imperial crisis that ultimately culminated in a war for independence, Violet seized freedom for herself, repeatedly.  In 1771, colonists did not know the significance that July 4 would gain five years later, but they did discuss liberty and lament their figurative enslavement to Parliament.  Violet, in contrast, experienced literal enslavement before liberating herself.  More than a decade prior to the first shots at Lexington and Concord, she waged her own fight for freedom, an ongoing battle that she might lose at any moment despite the many victories she won.  While certainly not Kearney’s intention, his advertisement told a story of hope and resistance … but it was an unfinished story because the enslaver most certainly aimed to enslave a family who experienced freedom as a result of a woman’s steadfast determination.

On Independence Day, the Adverts 250 Project commemorates the complicated history of the founding of the nation, the grand ideals and the unfulfilled promises, by recounting the experiences of enslaved people who liberated themselves during the era of the American Revolution.  Newspaper advertisements that offered rewards for their capture and return told incomplete stories of freedom, for each a tenuous liberation that brave men and women sought to make permanent but without any guarantee.  Violet and so many others waged their own battled for liberty, as countless advertisements from the early eighteenth century through the late nineteenth century demonstrate.

For other stories of enslaved people liberating themselves originally published on July 4 during the era of the American Revolution, see:

June 30

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 27, 1771).

“THE CARPENTERS ARMS.”

The woodcut that adorned the upper left corner of Samuel Caruthers’s advertisement demanded attention from readers, perhaps making it well worth the investment.  Three compasses appeared within an ornate cartouche, itself enclosed within a simple square border with “THE CARPENTERS ARMS” across the top.  In the advertising copy, Caruthers advised readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette that he no longer operated a hardware shop but instead returned to making tools for carpenters.

The visual image made his advertisement unique among those in the June 27, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Only five advertisements included woodcuts of any kind; the other four all featured images of ships at sea, each announcing the upcoming departure of one vessel or another and seeking passengers and freight.  The printers, David Hall and William Sellers, supplied those woodcuts to the advertisers, drawing from stock images that most colonial printers kept on hand.  Those images could be used interchangeably.  It did not matter whether a ship set sail for Charleston, Dublin, or London.  Similarly, most printers also had woodcuts depicting houses (but not any particular house), horses, indentured servants running away (but not any particular indentured servant), enslaved people for sale (but not any particular enslaved person), and enslaved people liberating themselves (but not any particular fugitive from slavery). Each generic image corresponded to a common kind of advertisement that ran in colonial newspapers; the lack of specific details made these woodcuts appropriate to accompany any advertisement from the genre they represented.

On the other hand, Caruthers published an advertisement with an image specific to his business, making his notice both more visible on a page that consisted almost entirely of text and more memorable for the uniqueness of the image.  Caruthers incurred additional expense in commissioning a woodcut for “THE CARPENTERS ARMS,” but the image testified to his skill in creating all sorts of planes, saws, and other edged tools.  The rococo cartouche, reminiscent of those that appeared on trade cards that circulated in London and, to a lesser extent, Philadelphia and other major American port cities, enhanced his claims to “long experience” by presenting him as an accomplished craftsman rather than a mere mechanic.  Associating such a genteel image with tools suggested quality and a positive reputation, characteristics that Caruthers likely believed would resonate with fellow artisans.  Incorporating baroque images into advertisements was not a strategy reserved for merchants, shopkeepers, tailors, and milliners marketing their wares and services to the better sorts.  Instead, advertisers like Caruthers suspected that such images engaged customers from other backgrounds looking to purchase tools for earning a living.

June 16

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 13, 1771).

Advertisements … are by him translated gratis.”

When printer Henry Miller (Johann Heinrich Müller) moved to a new location in the spring of 1771, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal to alert current and prospective customers.  He also used the opportunity to advise them of specialized services he provided, proclaiming that he performed “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK, in English, German, and other Languages.”  In particular, Miller noted “English and German ADVERTISEMENTS done on the shortest Notice; and a German NEWS-PAPER published every Tuesday.”  A migrant from Germany himself, Miller granted prospective advertisers greater access to the sizable German community in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Miller commenced printing the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote in 1762, making it well established by the time he ran his advertisements in the colony’s English newspapers in 1771.  The final line of those advertisements in those newspapers echoed a note that appeared in the masthead of his own newspaper, usually the only portion printed in English rather than German.  “All ADVERTISEMENTS,” it read, “to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.”  In offering his services as a translator and not charging for it, Miller sought to generate revenue by increasing the number of advertisers who placed notices in the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote.

The printer also produced other forms of advertising.  Items “printed single” likely included broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, and catalogs.  Like their counterparts printed in English, those advertisements were ephemeral compared to the newspapers and almanacs that came off of Miller’s press.  Few survive today, but Miller’s newspaper advertisements and masthead suggest that various kinds of advertisements in German enhanced the vibrant advertising culture that emerged in Philadelphia in the decades before the American Revolution.  As newspapers, handbills, and other items printed by Miller circulated in Philadelphia and beyond, colonists encountered marketing in more than one language, underscoring global networks of commerce and migration in vast early America.

May 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (May 2, 1771).

“They manufacture and sell as usual at Frederick-Town.”

According to their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Hamilton and Leiper sold tobacco and snuff at several locations.  For consumers in Philadelphia, they listed their location as “Second-street, between Market and Arch-streets.”  The primary purpose of their advertisement in the May 2, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, however, was to inform customers in Maryland that they had “established a MANUFACTORY in Market-street, Baltimore.”  At that location, they sold “the various kinds of manufactured TOBACCO and SNUFF (of the best quality) on the most reasonable terms.”  In addition, the tobacconists declared that they “manufacture and sell as usual at Frederick-Town” in western Maryland.  Altogether, Hamilton and Leiper sold tobacco and snuff in three towns in two colonies, their multiple locations providing for “the conveniency of their customers.”

Their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette also testified to the reach of that newspaper in the early 1770s.  Baltimore would not have its own newspaper until August 1773.  Fredericktown (now Frederick) did not have a newspaper until after the American Revolution.  For half a century, the Pennsylvania Gazette served as a regional newspaper for readers in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey.  Although most of the advertisers who promoted consumers goods and services in its pages were located in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Gazette also carried notices from Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore and Frederick, Maryland; Burlington and Trenton, New Jersey; and several other towns in those colonies.  Similarly, the Pennsylvania Gazette carried legal notices and advertisements about runaway apprentices and indentured servants and enslaved people who liberated themselves submitted by colonists throughout the region.  In the same column as Hamilton and Leiper’s advertisement, Henry Wells, a jailer, described a runaway servant who made his escape from William Anders or Andrews in Joppa, Maryland, but had been taken into custody and confined in Dover, Delaware.

Several colonies constituted a single media market for the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers published in Philadelphia before the revolution.  Enterprising entrepreneurs like Hamilton and Leiper also recognized the potential to create larger markets for their wares rather than serve only a single town and its hinterlands.  In the early 1770s, they branched out from locations in Philadelphia and Frederick to a third location in Baltimore.  Advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette alerted consumers in and near all three places about the tobacco and snuff that Hamilton and Leiper sold at their several convenient locations.

February 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 28, 1771).

”All Persons … who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette … are requested to send the Money with them.”

Advertisements accounted for an important revenue stream for early American printers … when advertisers opted to pay for the notices they inserted in newspapers.  Printers regularly called on their customers to settle accounts.  In most instances, they addressed subscribers, advertisers, and others, but on occasion they singled out advertisers.  Such was the case when David Hall and William Sellers directed a missive to prospective advertisers in the February 28, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

“NOTICE is hereby given,” Hall and Sellers proclaimed, “to all Persons, living at a Distance from this City, who may incline to have their Advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, that they are requested to send the Money with them.”  Apparently, the printers experienced particular frustration with advertisers who lived far from Philadelphia. In the era of the American Revolution, newspapers served entire colonies or regions rather than just the cities in which they were printed.  The same issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette that included this notice from the printers also carried real estate notices from other parts of the colony and advertisements offering rewards for apprentice and convict servants who ran away from masters in Maryland and Virginia.  In their efforts to convince customers to pay their bills, Hall and Sellers had more difficulty contacting faraway advertisers than their local counterparts.  Another issue exacerbated the situation.  The printers asked advertisers “also to pay the Postage of Letters in which they may be contained,” warning that “otherwise they will not be inserted.”  Colonists often sent letters with the expectation that the recipients would pay for postage upon receiving them.  That cut into the revenues gained by printing advertisements.  Hall and Sellers lamented that they had “already been great Sufferers in that Respect.”

This notice ran among the other advertisements in the February 28 edition.  The printers placed it at the top of a column, perhaps to give it greater visibility.  Beyond the stories told in ledgers and account books, this notice and others inserted by printers in newspapers from New England to Georgia reveal eighteenth-century business practices and some of the challenges of running printing offices.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 24, 1771).

“All Persons that now choose to encourage American Manufactures.”

On January 24, 1771, Robert Bell continued marketing an American edition of “Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth” with advertisements in both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In the latter, the flamboyant printer, publisher, bookseller, and auctioneer announced publication of the second volume and promised that the “THIRD VOLUME of this celebrated History is now in the Press, and will soon be finished.”  Bell noted that the second volume was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers,” purchasers who reserved copies in advance.  In a nota bene, he advised “SUBSCRIBERS in the Jerseys” to visit Isaac Collins in Burlington or Dunlap Adams in Trenton to retrieve their copies.

Bell also invited those who had not yet subscribed to join the fellowship of their peers who “choose to encourage American Manufactures.”  Both before and, especially, after the American Revolution, Bell was one of the eighteenth-century’s leading proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market in terms of the production of books.  Printers and booksellers imported most of the books they offered for sale, a situation that Bell sought to modify.  In deploying the language of “American Manufactures,” he made this into a political project familiar to both producers and consumers as a result of nonimportation agreements enacted in opposition to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  Yet prospective customers had another reason to choose Bell’s American edition over an imported alternative:  price.  Bell charged one dollar for each volume of Robertson’s history.  In comparison, “the British Edition cannot be imported for less than Four Dollars each Volume.”  Bell’s customers enjoyed significant savings, acquiring the entire set of the American edition for less than a single volume of the British edition.

Bell concluded his advertisement with some of the verbose language that became a hallmark of his marketing efforts over the course of several decades.  Those who wished to become subscribers by sending their names to Bell or other booksellers “may depend upon Ebullitions of Gratitude.”  Bell’s advertisement incorporated several marketing strategies, including the politics of “American Manufactures,” the financial advantages for customers, and his colorful language and personality.