May 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 7

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

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


The masthead of the Pennsylvania Gazette declared that it “Contain[ed] the Freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic.” Readers expected a variety of news updates from Europe, especially England, the Caribbean and other locales in the Atlantic world, and neighboring colonies. The Pennsylvania Gazette also carried some local news, but when it came to local affairs word of mouth often scooped newspapers published only once a week.

Readers also expected to encounter a variety of advertising. The Pennsylvania Gazette, like its counterparts in the largest colonial port cities, attracted so much advertising that the printers frequently issued a half sheet supplement devoted exclusively to paid notices of various sorts. Doing so shifted the relative balance of news items and advertising, though sometimes the supplement resulted from the regular issue including more news than usual.

Such was not the case with the May 7, 1767, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette and the accompanying Supplement. News items appeared on only two of the four pages of the standard issue. Instead of two pages, a half sheet, Hall and Sellers created a four-page supplement, an entire broadsheet filled entirely with advertising. This doubled the number of pages in the May 7 issue. It also underscored the newspaper’s roles as a delivery mechanism for advertising. Paid notices covered three-quarters – six out of eight – pages.

Even with the supplement, space was at a premium. The paid notices were composed primarily of text with little variation in font size. Hall and Sellers incorporated few woodcuts into the advertisement: none of the houses or fleeing figures that accompanied real estate and runaway slave advertisements, respectively, and only one ship in a brief notice about “Accommodations for Passengers” aboard a ship departing “For KINGSTON, in JAMAICA,” in three weeks. Four advertisers drew attention to their notices by including woodcuts specific to their businesses that they commissioned. William Dawson, cutler, presumably replicated his shop sign, “the Scythe and Sickle,” as did dyers Joseph Allardyce and Company “at the Sign of the Blue Hand.” John Young, Sr., a saddler, and Richard Truman, who made “Dutch FANS and SCREENS,” each included images of the products they constructed.

Rather than examine a single advertisement published 250 years ago today, consider the entire issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Doing so underscores the importance of advertising in the dissemination of some of the most successful and widely circulated early American newspapers. It also demonstrates the extensive culture of consumption in port cities, practices of purchasing and display that filtered out to the provinces as merchants and shopkeepers distributed goods from their point of entry to customers throughout the colonies.

March 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (March 5, 1767).

“Quilted or plain Carrying Saddles.”

“JOHN YOUNG, senior, SADLER,” operated a workshop “In Second-street, opposite the Baptist Meeting, and next Door to Mr. Alexander Huston’s,” in Philadelphia. Elsewhere in the city “JOHN YOUNG, jun. Saddler,” ran his own shop “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE, at the corner of Market and Front-streets, and opposite the LONDON COFFEE-HOUSE.” The younger Young likely learned his trade from the elder Young. Which one taught the other about the power of advertising? Was that also passed down from one generation to the next? Or did the senior Young eventually adopt marketing strategies on the recommendation of his son (or perhaps even to compete with him)?

Pennsylvania Chronicle (March 9, 1767).

Both Youngs advertised in newspapers printed in Philadelphia in early March 1767, the elder Young in the established Pennsylvania Gazette and the junior saddler in the new Pennsylvania Chronicle. Although both included woodcuts of saddles in their notices, the younger Young seems to have been the more sophisticated marketer when it came to mobilizing an image to identify his products. Note that Young Sr. merely listed directions to aid potential customers in finding his workshop, yet Young Jr. created a brand for his business that operated at “the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE.” Score one for the younger Young’s innovative marketing.

The saddlers offered almost identical appeals concerning quality, price, and fashion. Young Sr. stated that “he makes in the neatest and most Fashionable Manner, and sells at the most reasonable Rates” a variety of saddles and other riding equipment. In turn, Young Jr. announced that “he makes in the best and most fashionable manner, and sells at the most reasonable rates” a similar array of leather goods. Both indicated that they had sufficient inventory “ready made” that they could sell in quantity, though the elder saddler edged out his son by offering “proper Abatement to those who buy to sell again.” In other words, retailers received a bulk discount. Score one for the elder Young’s innovative pricing.

The two saddlers seemed to address slightly different clientele. Although both asserted they made saddles “in the most fashionable Manner,” Young Jr. placed more emphasis on serving elite customers. He listed “GENTLEMEN’S English hunting” saddles first among his wares (and the format of the advertisement directed readers’ eyes to the word “gentlemen”) and underscored that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.” On the other hand, Young Sr. thanked gentlemen and merchants for their previous patronage, but he included appreciation for “Shallopmen, and others” in the same sentence. One saddler traded on exclusivity for elite customers, while the other made his workshop more accessible to clients from all backgrounds. In the end, which marketing method yielded greater revenues by attracting more business? For now, that should be considered a draw.

Whether the Youngs competed or cooperated with each other, they devised advertisements that shared some of the most common appeals deployed in commercial notices printed in newspapers throughout the eighteenth century. Each other advanced unique and innovative marketing strategies, demonstrating that advertising in early America amounted to more than mere announcements that particular vendors sold certain goods.

February 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (Februar 12, 1767).


Yesterday I questioned whether an advertisement for an escaped slave appeared regularly in the Georgia Gazette for six months because the aggrieved master wanted his human property returned so badly or because the printer needed content to fill the pages of the newspaper. Recently I have been contrasting the volume of advertising that appeared in newspapers published in major urban ports compared to those published in smaller cities and towns, usually noting how little advertising appeared in the latter.

Today I am featuring a newspaper at the other end of the spectrum. The Pennsylvania Gazette, founded in 1728 by Samuel Keimer but transformed into one of the most important and influential newspapers in the colonies after Benjamin Franklin in the decades after purchased it in 1729, often served as a vehicle for delivering advertising, sometimes at the expense of other content (including news items),

Consider the issue published 250 years ago today. David Hall and William Sellers, the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1767, placed at least some advertising on every page of the newspaper. Advertisements accounted for a quarter of a column on the second page and column and a half on the front page. Except for the colophon at the bottom of the last page, only advertisements appeared on the third and fourth pages. Nearly sixty advertisements of varying lengths filled just shy of eight columns, out of twelve total, in the February 12, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

But wait: there’s more! A half sheet supplement accompanied the issue. Hall and Sellers granted a little space for the masthead. Otherwise, advertising filled all six columns of the two-page supplement. Many, but not all, were shorter than those in the regular issue, which allowed Hall and Sellers to squeeze in nearly sixty more paid notices. Unlike their counterparts in other cities, the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette did not to insert advertisements about the goods and services they provided just to fill the page.

First page of Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (February 12, 1767).

Historians of print culture in early America have long argued that any profits derived from printing a newspaper in the colonies derived from advertising revenue rather than subscriptions. By that measure, Hall and Sellers seemed to be doing very well for themselves as they published the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1767, presumably content to let advertisements sometimes crowd out other content. On the other hand, their decision to do so might also explain why William Goddard underscored that he intended “to give his readers a weekly relation of the most remarkable and important occurrences, foreign and domestic, collected from the best magazines and papers in Europe and America” when he issued his proposals for printing the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a competitor to the Pennsylvania Gazette. Perhaps Goddard suspected that some readers of the Gazette sometimes felt shortchanged when it came to reading actual news, rather than advertising, in their newspaper.

February 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 5, 1767).

“Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound.”

Women actively participated in the colonial marketplace as retailers of imported goods and sellers of other wares, especially in the major port cities. Historians have estimated, for instance, that as many as four out of ten shopkeepers in Philadelphia were women. Yet an overview of advertising from the period does not testify to the extensive presence of women as sellers, producers, and suppliers (as opposed to merely taking on the role of consumers) in the eighteenth century. Although some female entrepreneurs did advertise in newspapers, they were disproportionately underrepresented in that medium. Women were even less likely to distribute other forms of advertising – trade cards, billheads, broadsides, notices on magazine wrappers – in the eighteenth century, despite some notable exceptions.

Some female entrepreneurs resorted to roundabout means of promoting their business endeavors in the public prints. John Holliday’s wife, identified only as “Mrs. Holliday,” appended an announcement about her “new-invented curious Compound” to her husband’s advertisement for his tailoring shop. Throughout the eighteenth century, some women took that means of injecting their own marketing messages into a public discourse of commerce dominated by men. In addition to husbands and wives, sometimes fathers and daughters or brothers and sisters or widows and close family friends or business associates issued joint advertisements that first detailed the goods and services offered by a man and then turned to another enterprise conducted by a woman. Only on exceptionally rare occasions did shared newspapers advertisements first promote a woman’s business endeavors before turning to her male counterpart.

Certainly some of the decision to place joint advertisements resulted from minimizing expenses devoted to marketing. The pattern of privileging husbands and other male relations or associates over women, however, suggests that some female entrepreneurs felt a bit of apprehension about too boldly making their business activities visible to the general public, even as they needed to attract customers from among that public. Appending their own advertisements to those placed by men who presumably oversaw their dealings to some extent or another had the effect of providing implicit masculine endorsement as well as suggesting that female entrepreneurs operated under appropriate male supervision.

January 22

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 22, 1767).

“All those who may be pleased to favour him with Advertisements for the first publication … to send them to the Printing-Office.”

William Goddard published proposals for a new newspaper, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and Universal Advertiser, in Philadelphia’s other newspapers for several weeks in late December 1766 and early January 1767. He pledged “to give his readers a weekly relation of the most remarkable and important occurrences, foreign and domestic, collected from the best magazines and papers in Europe and America, as well as from other sources, having a particular regard to such matters as shall most intimately relate to the welfare of the Colonies.”[1]

In addition, he offered space for advertisements, though the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal already featured extensive advertising, sometimes extending to half-sheet supplements devoted exclusively to commercial and other notices. “The Rates of the paper and advertisements,” Goddard promised, “shall be the same … with those heretofore and now printed in this city.—All advertisements shall be punctually inserted, in order as they come in, and be neither delayed or displaced, but shall appear in a fair and conspicuous manner.”

Readers of the newspapers already printed in Philadelphia encountered Goddard’s proposal, dated December 23, 1766, for nearly a month before he published an update that he expected to commence publication of the Pennsylvania Chronicle on January 26. In that shorter notice, he requested that “all those who may be pleased to favour him with Advertisements for the first publication, which will be very extensively circulated, to send them to the Printing-Office … as soon as possible.”

Goddard had experience with publishing newspapers, having previously printed the Providence Gazette for several years. He knew that profits from such an endeavor usually did not arrive from subscriptions but rather from the additional revenues generated by selling advertising space. He also knew that advertisements drew readers. As attractive as those “most remarkable and important occurrences, foreign and domestic” may have been to prospective subscribers, colonists also desired the news and marketing appeals delivered via advertisements. Assorted legal notices kept citizens informed. Notices about runaway servants, slaves, and wives kept residents cautious of strangers they encountered. Notices promoting consumer goods and services kept potential customers aware of current fashions and the availability of products that were part of the ongoing consumer revolution.

Goddard’s proposal also revealed how advertisers could expect the notices they purchased to be handled by the printer: no privileges or preferences when it came to when or how they were inserted in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Although Goddard’s promise about the timing for printing advertisements may have been accurate, the requirements for laying out columns and pages within any issue almost certainly prohibited publishing advertisements in the same order that they arrived in the printing office. In his advertisement to solicit advertisements, Goddard engaged in his own sleight of hand that savvy consumers expected from any sort of marketing.


[1] For Goddard’s original proposal, see Pennsylvania Gazette (January 8, 1767).