November 18

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (November 18, 1772).

“I AM very sorry for advertising my Wife.”

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

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  In a notice dated November 2, he rescinded his previous statement.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

November 4

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

Pennsylvania Journal (November 4, 1772).

“MARGARET DUNCAN … has for sale, A LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE.”

Newspapers published in urban ports carried advertisements placed by female shopkeepers hawking their wares, though women were generally less likely to resort to the public prints to promote their businesses than their male counterparts.  Those female shopkeepers and “she merchants” who did advertise demonstrate that women participated in the marketplace in a variety of ways, not solely as shopkeepers.

Margaret Duncan was one of those women who ran newspaper advertisements.  On November 4, 1772, her notice appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  She advised current and prospective customers that she moved to a new location on Second Street, “three doors below the corner of Arch-street” and “four doors above where she formerly dwelt.”  Duncan stocked a “LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE, suitable to the season, imported in the last vessels from Europe.”  She declared that she sold her wares “on the lowest terms for cash or the usual credit.” In terms of substance and style, Duncan’s advertisement did not differ from those placed by other retailers.  She did not address women in particular as prospective customers, nor did she make any feminized appeals to consumers.  Duncan apparently understood that men were consumers as well as producers and retailers, just as women inhabited multiple roles in consumer society.

The shopkeeper did benefit from enhanced visibility the first time her advertisement appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal.  It ran in the middle of the second column on the front page, immediately below news items that began in the first column and overflowed into the next.  She was almost as fortunate with the placement of her notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In that publication, it also appeared in the middle of the second column on the first page, though in that instance it was the second advertisement.

Duncan was the only female shopkeeper to run an advertisement in either of those newspapers that week, but she was not the only woman in Philadelphia who was selling goods to consumers.  Despite their relative absence in the public prints, women running businesses were much more visible to colonizers as they traversed the streets of the busy port and went about their daily activities.  The prominence of Duncan’s advertisement on the front page of two newspapers only hinted at the visibility of women in the marketplace.

October 28

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 28, 1772).

“A catalogue of new and old books … is given away gratis.”

William Woodhouse, a bookseller, stationer, and bookbinder in Philadelphia, regularly advertised in the public prints in the early 1770s.  For instance, he ran an advertisement in the October 28, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, advising consumers that he had recently received a shipment of new inventory from London.  Woodhouse provided some examples to entice prospective customer, starting with stationery items.  He stocked everything from “a large assortment of the best writing paper in all sizes” to “round pewter ink stands” to “sealing-wax, wafers, quills, [and] black and red pencils.”  Woodhouse also listed some of the “variety of new books” at his shop, including “Baskerville’s grand family folio bible, with cuts,” “Pope’s Young’s Swift’s Tillotson’s, Shakespear’s, Bunyan’s. and Flavel’s works,” and “Blackstone’s commentaries, 4 vols. 4to.”  The abbreviation “4to” referred to quarto, the size of the pages, allowing readers to imagine how they might consult or display the books.  Woodhouse even had “Newberry’s small books for children, with pictures” for his youngest customers.

The bookseller concluded his newspaper advertisement with a nota bene that invited consumers to engage with other marketing materials.  “A catalogue of new and old books, with the prices printed to each book,” the nota bene declared, “is given away gratis, by said Woodhouse.”  That very well may have been the “CATALOGUE OF A COLLECTION OF NEW AND OLD BOOKS, In all the Arts and Sciences, and in various Languages” that Woodhouse first promoted six weeks earlier in another newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet.  That catalog also included “a large quantity of entertaining Novels, with the lowest price printed to each book.”  Most book catalogs, like newspaper advertisements, did not indicate prices.  Woodhouse apparently believed that stating his prices would help in convincing customers to purchase their books from him rather than from any of his many competitors in Philadelphia.  To draw attention to both the prices and his selection, he gave away the catalog for free.

This catalog may have been part of a larger advertising campaign that Woodhouse launched in the fall of 1772.  He might have also distributed handbills or posted broadsides.  In 1771, he circulated a one-page subscription proposal for “A Pennsylvania Sailor’s Letters; alias the Farmer’s Fall.”  A quarter of a century later, Woodhouse distributed a card promoting copies of “Constitutions of the United States, According to the Latest Amendments: To Which Are Annexed, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federal Constitution, with Amendments Thereto.”  It stands to reasons that Woodhouse used advertising media other than newspapers on other occasions, though such ephemeral items have not survived in the same numbers as newspaper advertisements.  I suspect that far more advertising circulated in early America than has been preserved and identified in historical societies, research libraries, and private collections.

October 7

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (October 7, 1772).

“A quantity of large and small silver work.”

In the fall of 1772, John David, a goldsmith, placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette to inform prospective customers that he recently imported a “Neat Assortment of JEWELLERY” as well as a “quantity of large and small silver work.”  To entice consumers, he provided some examples of the merchandise they would find at his shop near the drawbridge in Philadelphia.  The jewelry included “paste shoe, knee, and stock buckles,” “stone sleeve buttons, of different sorts,” “coral necklaces,” and “very neat paste and garnet ear-rings.”  He also stocked “silver soup and punch ladles” and “silver and steel top thimbles.”  He pledged that he would “dispose of” these goods “on the most reasonable terms,” leveraging price in his effort to attract customers.

David used an image of a silver teapot to draw attention to his advertisement.  The woodcut occupied the left third of his advertisement, accounting for a significant amount of the space he purchased in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In addition, he paid to have the image created for his exclusive use.  Of the fifty advertisements that appeared in the October 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, only four included an image. The other three all used stock images of ships at sea in notices that alerted readers of ships seeking passengers and freight.  The printer provided those familiar woodcuts.  In contrast, David made special arrangements for his image of a silver teapot, an image not previously seen by readers of any of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.

The use of images commissioned by advertisers seemed to accelerate in the early 1770s compared to their frequency in newspapers in earlier decades, especially newspapers published in major urban ports.  As merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and other entrepreneurs experimented with marketing strategies, a growing number decided that visual images augmented advertising copy.  Images commissioned for the exclusive use of particular advertisers remained relatively rare compared to the overall volume of advertising, due to both cost and technology, yet more advertisers decided to enhance their newspaper notices with images that replicated their shop signs or depicted their merchandise.

September 23

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 23, 1772).

“He hereby recommends to them, as a person qualified to serve them on the best terms.”

As fall arrived in 1772, Richard Humphreys took to the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette to inform prospective customers that he “now carries on the GOLDSMITH’s Business, in all its branches” at “the house in which PHILIP SYNG lately dwelt” near the London Coffee House in Philadelphia.  In an advertisement in the September 23 edition, he made appeals similar to those advanced by other artisans who placed notices in the public prints.  He emphasized the choices that he offered to consumers, asserting that he stocked a “NEAT and GENERAL ASSORTMENT of GOLD and SILVER WARE.”  Humphreys also highlighted his own skills, promising that customers “may be assured of his utmost ability to give satisfaction, both in the quality and workmanship” of the items he made, sold, and mended.

In addition to those standard appeals, Humphreys published an endorsement from another goldsmith, Philip Syng!  Syng reported that he recently relocated to Upper Merion.  In the wake of his departure from Philadelphia, he “informs his friends and former customers, that they may be supplied as usual, at his late dwelling, by the above-named RICHARD HUMPHREYS.”  Syng did not merely pass along the business to Humphreys.  He also stated that he recommended him “as a person qualified to serve” his former customers “on the best terms, and whose fidelity” in the goldsmith’s business “will engage their future confidence and regard.”  With this endorsement, Humphreys did more than set up shop in Syng’s former location.  He became Syng’s successor.  In that role, he hoped to acquire the clientele that Syng previously cultivated.  Syng’s endorsement also enhanced his reputation among prospective customers.

Artisans frequently stressed their skill and experience in their advertisements.  Some detailed their training or their previous employment to assure prospective customers of their abilities and competence.  Such appeals required readers to trust the claims made by the advertisers.  Endorsements also required trust, but they did not rely solely on the word of the advertisers themselves.  In this instance, another goldsmith, one known to “friends and former customers” in Philadelphia, verified the claims that Humphreys made in his advertisement.  Syng staked his own reputation by endorsing Humphreys, a marketing strategy intended to give prospective customers greater confidence in the goldsmith who now ran the shop near the London Coffee House.

September 9

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (September 9, 1772).

“POOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1773.”

When Isaac Collins published the Burlington Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord, 1773, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  His advertisement in the September 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet may have been the first extensive notice about an almanac for 1773 to appear anywhere in the colonies.  Collins, however, did not long remain the only printer occupying a considerable amount of space in the public prints to promote an almanac for the coming year.  When the same advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Packet two days later, it appeared with a notice for another almanac, a much more familiar title with a significantly longer publication history.

David Hall and William Sellers, printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette and successors to Benjamin Franklin, announced that they “Just publishedPOOR RICHARD’s ALMANACK, for the Year 1773.” That advertisement followed a brief notice, just three lines, from the previous issue. Like Collins, they deployed a longer advertisement that listed a variety of contents “besides the usual astronomical Observations,” hoping that useful and entertaining material would attract buyers.  Poor Richard’s Almanack included, for instance, schedules for “Friends Yearly Meetings, Courts, [and] Fairs,” an essay on a “Way of preventing Wheat Crops, sowed on dunged Land, from being over-run with Weeds,” “Tables of Interest, at six and seven per Cent,” “An Antidote against mispending Time,” and “Wife Sayings.”

Hall and Sellers exercised their prerogative as printers to place their advertisement for Poor Richard’s Almanack at the top of the center column on the first page of the September 9 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, making it one of the first items readers encountered.  Collins’s advertisement for the Burlington Almanack appeared immediately below it.  Hall and Sellers could have instead opted to place the notice about the Burlington Almanack among other advertisements on another page rather than giving it such visibility on the first page.  Positioning the two advertisements one after the other, however, allowed for easy comparison.  It also eliminated the possibility that, if separated, prospective customers might notice only the advertisement for the Burlington Almanack and overlook the one for Poor Richard’s Almanack.

Hall and Sellers realized that the Burlington Almanack served a market in New Jersey, but they also knew that the many and varied contents of almanacs had value far beyond their places of publication.  Colonizers in and near Burlington had experience purchasing and consulting Poor Richard’s Almanack and other almanacs published in Philadelphia, especially prior to Collins launching the Burlington Almanack in 1771.  Similarly, some readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette, especially those in towns beyond Philadelphia, may have considered the Burlington Almanack just as useful as Poor Richard’s Almanack.  In placing their advertisement for Poor Richard’s Almanack immediately above Collins’s advertisement for the Burlington Almanack, Hall and Sellers increased the chances that consumers were aware of the available options.  Some may have considered the contents complementary, convincing them to purchase both.

August 26

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 26, 1772).

“Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

In the summer of 1772, John Dunlap informed the public that he “JUST PUBLISHED … POEMS on SEVERAL OCCASIONS, with some other COMPOSITIONS; by NATHANIEL EVANS.”  He called on subscribers who previously reserved copies to collect them from his printing office on Market Street in Philadelphia while also encouraging others “who design to become Purchasers … as there are but few Copies thrown off above those subscribed for.”  In addition to promoting the author as a former “Missionary (appointed by the Society for propogating the Gospel) for Gloucester County, in New-Jersey; and Chaplain to the Lord Viscount Kilmorey, of the Kingdom ofIreland,” Dunlap asserted that the book was “Beautifully printed on a fine American Paper, and with elegant Types.”

That short advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette reiterated several of the appeals that Dunlap previously deployed in marketing the book.  He distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that gave prospective buyers a chance to examine both the paper and the type.  At the beginning of a lengthy description of the project on one side, Dunlap declared that the book would be “printed on the same Pennsylvania manufactured Paper as this Advertisement, and the same Type as the Poem annexed.”  During the imperial crisis, many colonizers express their appreciation for domestic manufactures, items produced in the colonies, making “Pennsylvania manufactured Paper” an attractive alternative to imported paper.  The printer devoted the other side of the broadsheet to “AN ODE, Written by the AUTHOR on compleating the Twenty-First Year of his Age” that doubled as a “A SPECIMEN OF THE TYPE.”  That preview of the content simultaneously allowed buyers to see what they could expect in terms of the material qualities of the book.

An excerpt from the “PREFACE,” including a history of collecting and preparing the poems for publication following the death of the author, appeared on the other side of the broadsheet.  Dunlap appended a note that “the List of Subscribers will be committed to the press,” instructing “all who are desirous of encouraging this Publication, and who may not yet have subscribed [to] send their names.”  He also advised “those who have taken subscriptions of others” to send their lists as quickly as possible so he could include all subscribers in the list and print enough copies to match the advance orders.  In the newspaper advertisement, Dunlap promised that non-subscribers who bought any of the surplus copies would have their name “printed in the List of Subscribers to the 2d Edition.”  They would eventually be recognized among the ranks of those who supported the project.

Dunlap did not rely solely on newspaper advertisements in marketing his edition of Evans’s Poems.  Instead, he printed and distributed a broadsheet subscription notice that incorporated excerpts to entice prospective subscribers.  He also promised public recognition in the form of a printed subscription list.  Unlike newspaper advertisements, the broadsheet utilized the paper and the type for the project, allowing prospective customers to assess the material conditions of the proposed book when they decided if they wished to subscribe.  Although newspaper notices accounted for most advertising in eighteenth century America, entrepreneurs circulated many other kinds of marketing media, including trade cards, catalogs, and subscription notices with excerpts and type specimens.

John Dunlap, Type Specimen from Subscription Notice (Philadelphia, 1772). Courtesy Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

August 19

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 19, 1772).

“The FULLING BUSINESS, in all its branches.”

Joseph Blackwood operated a fulling mill “on the north branch of Raccoon creek, in the county of Gloucester,” New Jersey, in the early 1770s.  In an effort to cultivate customers for this enterprise, he ran an advertisement in the August 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Blackwood confidently informed readers that he pursued “the FULLING BUSINESS, in all its branches, in as extensive a manner and at as cheap rates, as at any Mill in New-Jersey or Pennsylvania.”

To convince prospective customers that was the case, the fuller declared that he possessed “all necessary tools and conveniences” for processing any cloth delivered to him.  In addition, he was able to operate the mill throughout the year because it had been “so commodiously constructed, with all the works inclosed in a large stone house, in order to avoid being retarded in the winter season.”  Blackwood believed that the equipment combined with his skill and experience would result in customers “having their cloth dressed in the neatest and best manner, and with the greatest expedition.”  He promised quality as well as a quick turnaround on his services.  Blackwood also made it convenient for prospective customers to hire him by establishing a network of local agents in several towns in New Jersey.  Those associates collected “CLOTH for the Mill” and instructions.  The fuller visited each local agent once a week to collect cloth for new orders and deliver processed cloth.

Blackwood made a variety of appeals, yet he did not rely on advertising copy alone.  A woodcut depicting equipment at the fulling mill occupied nearly half the space he purchased in the Pennsylvania Gazette, making his advertisement the only one adorned with an image not supplied by the printers.  Throughout the remainder of the issue, only two other images appeared, the ornate shield with three balls, the crest of the Penn family, in the masthead and a vessel at sea, a stock image, in an advertisement for a ship departing for South Carolina.  The image of the equipment at the fulling mill likely caught the attention of readers, further enhancing an advertisement that incorporated a variety of marketing strategies.  The woodcut encouraged readers to learn about Blackwood’s low prices, speedy service, notable equipment, and network of local associates.  The image likely prompted some readers to examine the dense text in the fuller’s advertisement more closely than they would have without an image to engage their curiosity.

August 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 12, 1772).

“He proposes to affix his Name on the Heads of all his Bolts, rolling Screens, and Fans.”

In the summer of 1772, John Sellers of Darby placed advertisements promoting “VARIOUS Kinds of Wire Work” in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He made and sold “rolling Screens for cleaning Wheat,” “rolling Screens for cleaning Flaxseed from the yellow or wild Seed,” “small Bolts for separating the Cockle from the Flaxseed,” and “common Dutch Fans” for separating wheat from chaff.

Sellers presented a variety of reasons that readers in need of any of those devices should purchase them from him.  He promised that customers who “favour him with their Orders, may depend on their Work being done with Care,” reiterating a description of his products as “made in the neatest and best Manner.”  He also offered a guarantee, stating that “the Work [is] Warranted.  Furthermore, Sellers drew on long experience as an artisan who met the expectations of his clients.  He was “not pretending to perform that which he has not, in a great Number of Instance, given the utmost Satisfaction.”  Over time, he made “upwards of 50 rolling Screens for Wheat, and upwards of 70 for Flaxseed,” establishing his reputation.

Sellers did not expect prospective customers to visit his workshop in Darby, six miles away from Philadelphia, to examine his products or purchase them.  Instead, “for the Conveniency of his Customers,” he arranged to have them on display “in Plumsted’s Stores, in Philadelphia.”  Sellers instructed to customers to ask for John Brown to handle sales.  For those who wished to confer with the artisan directly, he advised that he “attends generally twice a Week, in Philadelphia.”  Anyone interested in contacting him directly could do so by “leaving a Line at the Conestogoe Waggon, in Market-street, or sending by the Post.”

To attract notice to the various appeals he deployed in the copy of his advertisement, Sellers adorned it with a woodcut depicting one of the rolling screens he constructed.  He commissioned that image at least five years earlier, having included it in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette in September 1767.  Just as sellers aimed to make his newspaper notice distinctive, he also marked the items he made in his workshop.  He informed his customers that he “affix[ed] his Name on the Heads of all his Bolts, rolling Screens, and Fans.”  That demonstrated pride in his craft while also marketing his products every time someone encountered his name on this equipment after it left his workshop. Sellers did not limit his marketing strategy to describing his products.  Instead, he used distinctive marks to draw attention, both an image in his newspaper advertisement and his name branding his bolts, screens, and fans.

August 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 5, 1772).

“Probably will endeavour to pass for a freeman.”

Jem, a “Mulattoe SLAVE,” made his escape during the night of July 15, 1772, liberating himself from Thomas May in Elk Forge, Maryland.  In his efforts to capture Jem and return him to enslavement, May ran an advertisement in which he described Jem as a “cunning ingenious fellow” who “probably will endeavour to pass for a freeman.”  Jem possessed several skills that may have helped him elude May, but those skills also made him even more valuable to the enslaver.  In addition to being able to read “pretty well” and speak Dutch, Jem was a “good workman in a forge, either in finery or chafery, can do any kind of smith’s or carpenter’s work, necessary about a forge, [and] can also do any kind of farming business.”  May also described the clothes that Jem wore when he liberated himself.  No doubt Jem would have offered other details had he been given an opportunity to publish his own narrative.  Even in Jem’s absence, May exerted control over his depiction in the public prints.

Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (August 4, 1772).

May also made decisions about how widely to disseminate advertisements describing Jem and offering “FIVE POUNDS REWARD” for capturing him.  His advertisement appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on August 5.  Of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time, those had the longest publication history.  That likely gave May confidence that those newspapers circulated to many readers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.  Apparently, however, he did not consider that sufficient.  May was so invested in capturing and returning Jem to enslavement at the forge that he also placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on August 8 and the Pennsylvania Packet on August 10.  Considering the skills that Jem possessed, May probably thought it well worth the fees to place notices in all four English-language newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  He even took advantage of the translation services that Henry Miller, printer of the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, offered to advertisers in a nota bene that appeared at the bottom of the masthead.  May’s advertisement describing Jem ran in that newspaper on August 4, further increasing the number of colonizers who might read it, carefully observe Black men they encountered, and participate in capturing the fugitive seeking freedom.  Thomas May expended significant money and effort in attempting to re-enslave Jem, using the power of the press to overcome the various advantages Jem sought to use to his own benefit.