January 21

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

Jan 21 - 1:18:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“Every lover of his country will encourage … American manufactures.”

Benjamin Randolph, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent and successful cabinetmakers, was also a savvy advertiser. He inserted notices in the city’s newspapers, but he also distributed an elegant trade card that clearly demonstrated the influence of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). Known for his furniture, Randolph also promoted other carved items produced in his shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” including “a quantity of wooden BUTTONS of various sorts.”

Buttons often appeared among the extensive lists of imported merchandise published in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers. When consumers purchased textiles and trimmings to make garments, they also acquired buttons. At a time when colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, Randolph offered an alternative to buttons from England. He made it clear to prospective customers that purchasing his buttons served a political function; doing so signaled support for the American cause. Rather than depend on consumer’s familiarity with current events and popular discourse about the political meaning of goods, Randolph plainly stated, “[E]very lover of his country will encourage [his buttons by purchasing them], as well as all other American manufactures, especially at this time, when the importation of British superfluities is deemed inconsistent with the true interest of America.” Randolph encouraged colonists to reject the “Baubles of Britain,” as T.H. Breen has so memorably named the consumer goods produced on the other side of the Atlantic and sent to American markets. Randolph made a bid not only for support of the items he produced but also others made in the colonies, showing solidarity with fellow artisans as they did their part in opposition to Parliament.

Such efforts, however, did not depend solely on Randolph and other artisans. Ultimately, consumers determined the extent of the effectiveness of producing “American manufactures” through the decisions they made about which and how many items to purchase and which to boycott. Randolph had “a quantity” of buttons on hand, but producing more depended on the reception he received from the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands. He would “keep a general assortment of them” but only “if encouraged.” Consumers had to demonstrate that they would partner with him in this act of resistance once Randolph presented them with the opportunity.

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Today is an important day for specialists in early American print culture, for Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 (January 6, 1705, Old Style), in Boston. Among his many other accomplishments, Franklin is known as the “Father of American Advertising.” Although I have argued elsewhere that this title should more accurately be bestowed upon Mathew Carey (in my view more prolific and innovative in the realm of advertising as a printer, publisher, and advocate of marketing), I recognize that Franklin deserves credit as well. Franklin is often known as “The First American,” so it not surprising that others should rank him first among the founders of advertising in America.

benjamin-franklin
Benjamin Franklin (Joseph Siffred Duplessis, ca. 1785).  National Portrait Gallery.

Franklin purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In the wake of becoming printer, he experimented with the visual layout of advertisements that appeared in the weekly newspaper, incorporating significantly more white space and varying font sizes in order to better attract readers’ and potential customers’ attention. Advertising flourished in the Pennsylvania Gazette, which expanded from two to four pages in part to accommodate the greater number of commercial notices.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-19-161736
Advertisements with white space, varying sizes of font, capitals and italics, and a woodcut from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

Many historians of the press and print culture in early America have noted that Franklin became wealthy and retired as a printer in favor of a multitude of other pursuits in part because of the revenue he collected from advertising. Others, especially David Waldstreicher, have underscored that this wealth was amassed through participation in the colonial slave trade. The advertisements for goods and services featured in the Pennsylvania Gazette included announcements about buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children as well as notices offering rewards for those who escaped from bondage.

jan-17-pennsylvania-gazette-slave-19-161736
Advertisement for an enslaved woman and an enslaved child from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette (December 9-16, 1736).

In 1741 Franklin published one of colonial America’s first magazines, The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, for all the British Plantations in America (which barely missed out on being the first American magazine, a distinction earned by Franklin’s competitor, Andrew Bradford, with The American Magazine or Monthly View of the Political State of the British Colonies). The magazine lasted only a handful of issues, but that was sufficient for Franklin to become the first American printer to include an advertisement in a magazine (though advertising did not become a standard part of magazine publication until special advertising wrappers were developed later in the century — and Mathew Carey was unarguably the master of that medium).

general-magazine
General Magazine and Historical Chronicle, For all the British Plantations in America (January 1741).  Library of Congress.

In 1744 Franklin published an octavo-sized Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, including 445 entries. This is the first known American book catalogue aimed at consumers (though the Library Company of Philadelphia previously published catalogs listing their holdings in 1733, 1735, and 1741). Later that same year, Franklin printed a Catalogue of Books to Be Sold at Auction.

Franklin pursued advertising through many media in eighteenth-century America, earning recognition as one of the founders of American advertising. Happy 314th birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

January 7

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

Jan 7 1770 - 1:4:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 4, 1770).

“At the sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister.”

In late 1769 or early 1770, Robert Levers opened a shop on Second Street in Philadelphia. There he sold “a large and general assortment of GROCERY GOODS,” many of which he listed in an advertisement in the January 4, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette. His inventory included “raisins and currants, figs, pepper and ginger, alspice, nutmegs, cloves, mace, cinnamon, [and] rice.” He also stocked Portuguese wines, French brandy, rum distilled in the colonies, and other spirits.

Yet those were not the items that received top billing Levers’s advertisement. His list commenced with “HYSON green and bohea teas, loaf and lump sugar, muscovado sugars, by the barrel or pound, [and] coffee and chocolate.” Levers likely chose to place those items first because they were so popular with consumers, but they also happened to correspond to the wares depicted in his shop sign. Before making his pitch – an appeal to consumer choice, an appeal to price, a catalog of goods to demonstrate consumer choice, a statement of appreciation to former customers, an appeal to quality, and another appeal to price – Levers first informed readers that he was located at “the sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister.” That sign conjured an evocative image of some of the most popular commodities in Philadelphia and throughout the colonies.

Like most signs that marked eighteenth-century shops, Levers’s sign no longer exists except in newspaper advertisements. Those advertisements constitute a partial catalog of the iconography deployed to mark retail shops, taverns, and artisans’ workshops. They also hint at the visual landscape colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns. The “sign of the Sugar-loaf, Pound of Chocolate, and Tea Cannister” helped Levers direct customers to his shop in an era before standardized street numbers. It suggested to passersby what kind of merchandise they could expect to find within the shop. It also aided colonists in navigating the streets of the bustling port city. One need not have any business with Levers to use his shop sign as a landmark in giving or following directions.

Levers noted that he had “lately opened shop.” His newspaper advertisement helped achieve visibility for his new enterprise, but so did his shop sign. He did not limit his marketing efforts to the public prints. Instead, his sign served as a visual invitation for colonists to visit and remember his shop.

December 21

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

Dec 21 - 12:21:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (December 21, 1769).

“A servant, that from Ireland came, / Catherine Waterson her name.”

Advertisements concerning runaway indentured servants as well as advertisements concerning runaway apprentices and enslaved people who escaped from those who held them in bondage often comprised a significant portion of the notices that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The December 21, 1769, edition and its supplement included several such advertisements. A “servant boy, named RICHARD LITTLE, about 19 years of age,” ran away from Thomas Renick. An “English convict servant man, named JONATHAN STICKWOOD” ran away from William Goodwin. An “Apprentice lad, a German, and speaks but broken English, named GEORGE THOMAS GERHARD” ran away from Matthias Folk. Several other aggrieved masters described servants and apprentices who departed without their permission. Each offered rewards for apprehending and returning the rebellious servants and apprentices.

James Gibbons, an innkeeper, was among those who placed an advertisement in hopes of recovering a runaway servant. To attract more attention to his notice, he composed it in verse. A series of rhyming couplets transformed what otherwise would have been a mundane description of Catherine Waterson, an indentured servant from Ireland, into an amusing piece of entertainment for readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Its format alone distinguished it from the other advertisements on the page, each comprised of dense blocks of text.

Gibson provided the same information that appeared in other advertisements for runaways, but in a manner intended to make the details more memorable. He offered a physical description of Waterson, “Of a down look; complexion dark, / In her face much pock mark’d,” and described her clothing, including “Two handkerchiefs about her neck, / One a flag, the other check.” Waterson, who was “Very apt to swear and lie,” could not be trusted. Gibbons underscored that she “is very artful to deceive, / And an answer quick will give” (relying on a near rhyme to complete the couplet). He noted an encounter Waterson had with “one / Who stop’t her as away she run,” exclaiming that “by a cunning craft wile / She did him so much beguile.” Waterson had a talent for talking her way out of difficult situations; anyone who interacted with her needed to be wary of trusting anything she said. Gibbons suspected that Waterson would attempt to pawn a pincushion and a “very large silver spoon” that she had stolen, presenting perhaps the best opportunity to identify and apprehend her. In that case, he requested that prospective buyers think of him rather than completing the transaction “And safe secure her in some Goal [Jail] / That I may have her without fail.” In return, Gibbons would pay “reasonable charges” and “SIX DOLLARS Reward.”

In the course of thirty rhyming couplets, Gibbons presented a lively tale of runaway servant Catherine Waterson. Although the general narrative did not much differ from those in any of a half dozen other advertisements concerning runaway servants and apprentices in the same edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the innkeeper likely made his tale more memorable, increasing the likelihood that an observant reader would recognize the wayward Waterson. The clever poem was not a great work of literature, but it served its purpose by distinguishing his advertisement from the other notices for runaways.

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.