September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (September 15, 1768).

“OBSERVING an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 2064.”

Paying for advertisements to appear in newspapers gave colonists access to public forums to air grievances and engage in disputes. Those disputes sometimes extended over several issues and included advertisements responding to other advertisements. Such was the case for Andrew Crawford and Robert Scott in 1768. The two placed an advertisement in the August 25 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette in rebuttal to “an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, No. 2064, setting forth that Andrew Crawford and Robert Scott, had escaped from the constable and gone off.”

The accused fugitives referred to an advertisement that first appeared in the July 14 edition and then again in the supplements that accompanied the July 21 and August 4 issues. It announced “TEN POUNDS Reward” for two men, Crawford and Scott, who had “ESCAPED from the Constables, some Weeks ago.” In addition to physical descriptions, the advertisement described the two as “Both apt to be drunk, ant to swear, generally work together, and commonly reside in London Britain Township, near Newark; but now are supposed to be gone to Maryland, to Harvest.” It concluded by promising a reward to “Whoever secures the said Fellows, and delivers them to Mr. JOSEPH THOMAS, Goal-Keeper, of Chester County, in Pennsylvania.”

Crawford and Scott took exception to that advertisement. In their response, they acknowledged the reward, but claimed the notice did not indicate any “person obliged to pay it, nor is there any signer to said advertisement.” The accused fugitives seemed to be perpetrating the eighteenth-century version of trolling the original advertiser. Even though the advertisement announcing their escape did not feature a final line listing the name of the advertiser, the final sentence made it reasonably clear that “Mr. JOSEPH THOMAS, Goal-Keeper, of Chester County, in Pennsylvania” sought to recover Crawford and Scott and would pay the reward.

Crawford and Scott, on the other hand, chose to ignore that plain reading of the notice. Instead, they insisted that “it must be the product of some secret, evil, and malicious mind.” They further taunted Thomas by stating that they resided “at the house of Joseph Ralston, near Newark, where any person may meet with, and take us if they please.” In an even more brazen move, they offered a reward of their own: “FIVE POUNDS, to any person or persons that will make evidence, or information, who was the author of the aforesaid advertisement.” In addition to its original appearance on August 25, their response ran in the supplements for September 1 and 15.

Apparently nobody successfully attempted to capture Crawford and Scott after they first announced their whereabouts, but Thomas did see their advertisement and published a response of his own. It first appeared in the supplement to the September 15 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, one column over and almost immediately beside Crawford and Scott’s advertisement. Thomas left the first half of his original advertisement alone, but revised the second half to take into account the new information that Crawford and Scott had published. He reported that “they generally make their home at one Ralston’s, near Newark.” He also adjusted the final line to include a signature, indicating that the reward would be “paid by JOSEPH THOMAS, Goaler.” He repeated the physical description without change and continued to describe the two as “apt to swear, and get drunk,” but he also added “very quarrelsome,” perhaps out of exasperation with their thick headed and impudent response to his first advertisement.

Although advertisements for runaway wives sometimes elicited responses from women who defended their actions in the face of abusive or overbearing husbands, very few runaways of other sorts – servants, slaves, prisoners – published responses to advertisements that offered rewards for their capture and return. They usually attempted to keep a low profile to evade detection. Crawford and Scott, on the other hand, were cheeky or stupid or both, choosing to place an advertisement intended to make Thomas appear foolish and incompetent. As an alternative to pursuing their dispute in person, the jailer and the fugitives resorted to advertisements in the public prints to antagonize each other.

September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (September 1, 1768).

“Under the inspection of Mrs. BROADFIELD, whose knowledge and experience in that branch of business is well known.”

Margaret Broadfield was not exceptional for having placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the late summer of 1768, though female entrepreneurs were certainly disproportionately underrepresented among advertisers in newspapers published throughout the colonies. Especially in bustling port cities, women pursued a variety of occupations but relatively few promoted their businesses in the public prints. Still, female shopkeepers, milliners, seamstresses, and others placed advertisements frequently enough that readers were accustomed to seeing women appearing alongside men among the paid notices in colonial newspapers, just as they were accustomed to encountering women working alongside men when they traversed the streets of cities and towns.

What did make Broadfield’s advertisement exceptional was the authority she asserted over a male colleague. When women and men appeared together in eighteenth-century advertisements, the copy often suggested that women played subordinate roles to their male counterparts. Such advertisements implied that women in business labored under appropriate supervision by husbands, sons, or other male relations. That was not the case with Broadfield. She made it clear that she exercised authority over a male associate, Elijah Bond, at least when it came to preparing sturgeon for the market.

For many years Broadfield had “made it her business to cure STURGEON in North-America.” The quality of her product had been widely acknowledged. Local consumers, according to Broadfield, considered her sturgeon and its associated products “preferable to any manufactured by other persons.” Those products included pickled sturgeon, caviar, glue, oil, and isinglass (a gelatin used in making jellies and glue and for clarifying ale). Yet it was not just customers in the colonies who had recognized the quality of the various commodities she marketed. Broadfield had “obtained the first premium of Fifty Pounds sterling, from the society of arts and commerce in London” for her abilities in “manufacturing sturgeon in the several branches.”

Broadfield was preparing to leave the colonies. She advertised in hopes of finding a successor to take over her business permanently, either a “sober industrious person” or a family whom she could teach “the whole art, secret, and mystery of manufacturing sturgeon in the several branches.” For the moment, however, one of her suppliers, Elijah Bond, carried on her business in addition to operating his own fishery near Trenton. He did so “under the care and inspection of Mrs. BROADFIELD, whose knowledge and experience in that branch of business is well known.” It was Broadfield’s expertise that gave value to the sturgeon products offered for sale, whether purchased from Bond near Trenton or from shopkeepers in Philadelphia. Few advertisements depicted women exercising such authority over male associates in eighteenth-century America, but they were not completely unknown. Broadfield deemed her own skill and reputation the most important elements for selling her products and, ultimately, transferring her business to another entrepreneur.

August 28

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

Aug 28 - 8:25:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 25, 1768).

“Those Gentlemen who incline to take Copies, will leave their Names with THOMAS FOXCROFT.”

Alexander Purdie and John Dixon, the printers of the Virginia Gazette, regularly inserted notices in their own newspaper, yet they also understood the colonial book trade well enough that they did not limit their advertisements to their own publication, especially not when attempting to incite interest in a major new project from their press. During the summer of 1768 Purdie and Dixon set about publishing “A COMPLETE Revisal of all the VIRGINIA ACTS OF ASSEMBLY now in Force and Use.”

To aid in generating sufficient revenues to make this book a viable venture, Purdie and Dixon inserted a short subscription notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette, counting on learned men in the largest port city in the colonies to purchase copies for their libraries. They likely also calculated that the extensive distribution of the Pennsylvania Gazette would set their announcement before the eyes of many more potential customers throughout the mid-Atlantic revion and beyond. The placement of their subscription notice – among the many other advertisements in the August 25 issue rather than as an announcement adjacent to the news items – suggests that the printers or their local agent paid for its insertion; its appearance was not an in-kind courtesy by the printers of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

That being the case, Purdie and Dixon’s subscription notice occupied significantly less space than they could have allotted for themselves in their own publication. They briefly outlined the publication scheme, including the material aspects of the book: “a large Folio Volume, of about 600 Pages, neatly bound in Calf, and lettered, printed upon a new Type, and fine Paper.” In addition, they also indicated the cost: “the Price to Subscribers Forty Shillings Virginia Currency.” The publishers then invited “those Gentlemen who incline to take Copies” to contact their local agent in Philadelphia, “THOMAS FOXCROFT, at the Post-Office.” At some later time Foxcroft would send a list of subscribers to Purdie and Dixon at their printing office in Williamsburg.

Like many other printers and publishers in eighteenth-century America, Purdie and Dixon did not rely solely on local markets to support their major initiatives, not even when the publication under consideration seemed of interest primarily to residents of their own colony. Purdie and Dixon realized that lawyers, legislators, and a variety of other consumers would be interested in a new edition of the laws currently enacted in the Virginia colony. A small investment in advertising to them could significantly improve the prospects of a successful venture for the book.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 25, 1768).

“Superior to any imported from Europe, for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.”

Consumers in Philadelphia had access to vast arrays of imported goods in the late 1760s, but Abraham Shelley, a “THREAD-MAKER, in Lombard-street, near the New-Market,” sought to convince readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette to purchase thread produced in his workshop. He offered a variety of merchandise: “all sorts of fine coloured threads, housewife and stocking ditto.” Prospective buyers did not need to fear that Shelley’s thread lacked in quality when compared to imported alternatives. Instead, he proclaimed, his thread was “superior to any imported from Europe” in a variety of ways: “for strength, evenness, fineness and cheapness.” This was due in part to the skill of the hands who worked in Shelley’s shop; they had been “bred to the business,” acquiring knowledge and experience of the trade over time.

As evidence of the quality of his thread, Shelley informed prospective customers that unscrupulous characters had attempted to pass off other threads as his own, an attempt to benefit from his reputation that had the potential to damage it by distributing inferior goods. He reported “that formerly some persons in this city bought threads at vendue, and sold them as [Shelley’s] manufacture.” To prevent further deceptions, he clarified that “all his sewing threads are made up 18 threads in each skane, and 65 inches round.” Those purchasing from third parties could confirm the specifications for themselves.

This was especially important since Shelley did not intend to undertake retailing the thread produced in his workshop himself. Instead, he invited “merchants and shopkeepers of this city, and towns adjacent” to purchase his thread in volume for resale in their stores and shops. His commentary on the “character of his goods” targeted not only end users but also middlemen and –women who distributed consumer goods to their own customers. Their livelihoods depended on stocking wares that those who visited their shops found satisfactory. Shelley assured them that they would not experience difficulty selling his threads or complaints after making sales. When it came to thread, retailers were accustomed to dealing in imported goods that arrived in shipments with textiles, ribbons, buttons, and other adornments for apparel, but Shelley encouraged them to invest in locally produced threads instead. The high quality of the thread from his shop minimized the risk of purchasing it for retail.

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (August 18, 1768).

“Carpenters, joiners, sadlers and others, may expect they will be sold on the lowest terms.”

In the late 1760s James Eddy operated a hardware store on Second Street in Philadelphia. His lengthy advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette promised a “large and neat assortment of IRONMONGERY.” To demonstrate that was the case, he listed dozens of items available at his shop, everything from nails to “dovetail and key-hole saws” to “files of various sorts and sizes” to “brass H hinges for book cases” to “sundry kinds of brass and iron wire.”

Although everyday consumers would have purchased many of his wares, Eddy understood that artisans comprised a customer base particularly important to his business. As a result, he catered to them by drawing attention to specific tools, including “taylors and womens shears,” “A large assortment of chapes for silver smiths,” “carpenters hammers,” “A large and very neat assortment of clock and watchmakers tools,” and “sundry other tools, suitable for carpenters, ship carpenters, joiners, &c.” Eddy supplied artisans with the tools they needed to practice their trades. That endeavor likely accounted for a substantial portion of his business.

Even if it did not, Eddy’s advertisement suggests that he envisioned a special relationship with artisans as a means of generating revenues. He appended a nota bene that made general appeals about price and quality for all potential customers but then targeted artisans for their prospective patronage. “Carpenters, joiners, sadlers and others,” Eddy proclaimed, “may expect they will be sold on the lowest terms.”

In the eighteenth century advertisers only occasionally addressed their notices to members of particular occupations. Eddy apparently sensed an opportunity to establish a sense of community with artisans who did not merely desire his wares but actually needed them to pursue their own livelihoods. He cultivated that relationship by stocking a wide assortment of tools and underscoring that those who used them could depend on outfitting their own workshops with quality tools sold at low prices. His particular concern for the artisans of Philadelphia may have won him some customers who appreciated that he was sensitive to the costs of the tools they needed to operate their own businesses, a part of his business model that distinguished him from many other shopkeepers in the city.

August 14

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

Aug 14 - 8:11:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Postscript to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 11, 1768).

“He has of late stamped his name on his brushes.”

John Hanna made and sold all sorts of brushes “At the corner of Chestnut and Second-streets” in Philadelphia in the late 1760s. He produced brushes intended for every sort of purpose, from “sweeping, scrubbing, hearth and white-wash brushes” to “weavers, tanners, hatters, painters and furniture brushes of all kinds.” In his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette he emphasized price and, especially, customer satisfaction. In making an appeal to price, the brushmaker proclaimed that he “sells by wholesale or retail, as low, if not lower, than any in this city.”

He expended much more effort on convincing potential customers that they would be satisfied if they purchased their brushes from him. He began with standardized language about quality, noting that he made brushes “in the neatest and best manner.” Hanna then backed up this pronouncement by offering a return policy should any of his brushes not meet the expectations of his customers. To that end, he asserted “that if the bristles come out in any reasonable time, with fair usage, he will give new ones for nothing.” This guarantee depended in part on the honesty of customers, but it did offer some sort of recourse should any of Hanna’s brushes fall short of the quality he promised.

The return policy likely extended to consumers who obtained Hanna’s brushes from other retailers. In a nota bene he explained that he “has of late stamped his name on his brushes, so that if they should fail, people may know where to bring them to be exchanged.” This removed retailers from having to address potential complaints about customer satisfaction. Instead, they could point out Hanna’s name on the brushes at the time of sale and instruct their own customers to contact the manufacturer directly with any concerns, anticipating a policy widely adopted in the twenty-first century.

Like many other artisans and shopkeepers, Hanna pledged that “Those who are pleased to favour him with their custom, may depend on being supplied to their satisfaction.” He enhanced his advertisement, however, with a mechanism for following through on those assurances. Stamping his name on his brushes not only branded them to encourage additional sales; it also marked them as eligible for the return policy he devised to cultivate customer satisfaction.

June 26

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

Jun 26 - 6:23:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 23, 1768).


When Josiah F. Davenport opened the Bunch of Grapes inn and tavern in Philadelphia in the late spring of 1768 he placed advertisements in newspapers published in both New York and Philadelphia, alerting travelers and local residents alike to the many entertainments and amenities he provided. Davenport’s first advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle included a woodcut that presumably depicted the sign that marked the location of his establishment: a bunch of grapes suspended from a signpost. Such a specialized woodcut, specific to Davenport’s business, certainly enhanced the advertisement and increased the probability that it would attract the attention of potential patrons, but it was also an additional expense. Unlike the woodcuts of horses, houses, ships, and slaves that were part of any newspaper printer’s collection of type, other woodcuts that appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements belonged to the advertisers who had commissioned them.

Such was the case with Davenport’s woodcut that replicated his sign. He likely considered it an important investment when it came to building his brand, especially since the Bunch of Grapes occupied an inn “for some time known by the name of the BULL’s HEAD.” The success of his new enterprise depended in part on those previously familiar with the former tavern now associating the same location with the Bunch of Grapes. Both the sign and the woodcut aided in strengthening his brand recognition among residents of Philadelphia he hoped would visit his “genteel HOUSE of ENTERTAINEMNT … for the best fare and civilest treatment,” whether they gathered for “business or recreation.”

Yet there were limits to how much Davenport considered necessary to invest in visual representations of his brand. He did not commission separate woodcuts to accompany his advertisements that appeared in newspapers published in Philadelphia. Instead, he had one woodcut that first accompanied his advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle before reappearing in advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette. A notch or indentation in the upright portion of the signpost confirms that Davenport shuttled a single woodcut between printing offices. He was not the only advertiser who made that choice. In New York, Gerardus Duyckninck inserted his elaborate woodcut in multiple newspapers, one after the other in succession. Although an effective means of making advertisements distinctive, woodcuts incurred additional expenses. Some advertisers who commissioned them attempted to maximize the returns on their investments by rotating them through several newspapers.