February 16

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 16, 1769).

“Their love of liberty … will induce them to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.”

On February 16, 1769, readers of both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Journal encountered advertisements that called on them to save “CLEAN LINEN RAGGS” and turn them over to a local “Paper Manufactory.” John Keating’s advertisement largely reiterated a notice that he inserted in the New-York Journal more than six months earlier. In it, he advanced a political argument concerning the production and consumption of paper, made from linen rags, in the colonies, especially while the Townshend Act remained in effect. Colonists could outmaneuver Parliament and avoid paying duties on imported paper by supporting the “NEW-YORK Paper MANUFACTORY.”

William Bradford and Thomas Bradford made similar appeals in their advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. The “British Parliament having made” manufacturing paper “worthy the attention of every one who thinks his own interest, or the liberty and prosperity of this province and country worth his notice,” the Bradfords proclaimed, “it’s therefore hoped, that all those will consider the importance of a Paper Manufactory carried to its full extent.” They then explained that in the past year colonists had collected “a small quantity of fine rags,” but a sufficient supply to make nearly “a hundred reams of good writing paper” that “sold cheaper than English paper of the same quantity.” The Bradfords challenged readers to consider how much production could increase if colonists made concerted efforts to save their rags in support of the local “Paper Manufactory.”

To that end, the Bradfords envisioned a special role for women in this act of resistance to Parliament overstepping its authority. They noted that “the saving of rags will more particularly fall within the sphere of the Ladies.” Those ladies expressed “their love of liberty” in a variety of ways, including altering their consumption practices by participating in nonimportation pacts, producing garments made of homespun cloth, and drinking Labrador tea. Collecting rags, a seemingly mundane task, presented another means for women “to give their assistance in supporting the interest of their country.” The Bradfords outlined a method for efficiently incorporating this practice into the daily household routine. Given how easy that would be to accomplish, the Bradfords issued another challenge, this one directed explicitly to “those ladies who have a regard for their country.” Which women who purported to support the colonies in their clash with Parliament “would decline taking this inconsiderable trouble, to save the sums of money that will annually be torn from us to maintain in voluptuousness our greedy task masters?” The Bradfords concluded by underscoring how much women could achieve by sacrificing only a small amount of time in collecting rags. They would create jobs for “the industrious poor” who labored in the paper manufactory as well as serve “the public” as colonists continued to voice their opposition to the duties levied by the Townshend Act. Everyday tasks like shopping or disposing of rags took on political meaning during the imperial crisis; women vigorously participated in resistance to Parliament through their participating in those activities.

February 2

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 2, 1769).

The following large assortment of GOODS.”

Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to consumer choice when promoting their merchandise in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. In addition to using words like “assortment” and “variety,” they demonstrated the multitude of choices available to customers by listing their inventory. In so doing, they published catalogs of their wares. Their extensive lists encouraged readers to imagine the array of choices they would encounter upon visiting the shops and stores featured in the public prints each week.

In an advertisement that filled half a column in the February 2, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Philip Wilson adopted that marketing strategy. He listed scores of textiles, accessories, and housewares in stock at his shop. His advertisement, however, paled in comparison to the one inserted by Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow. Their list of the “large assortment of GOODS” on hand at their store at the corner of Arch and Second Streets filled an entire column. Given that the entire issue consisted of four pages with three columns each, their advertisement comprised a significant portion of the content of that issue. They commenced their catalog of goods with “BLUE, green, scarlet, claret, cinnamon, drab and copper coloured middling and low priced broadcloths,” making clear from the start that they did not merely carry some broadcloths. Instead, they offered several choices when it came to both color and price. Elsewhere in the advertisement they deployed the words “assortment” and “variety” to describe the choices associated with other merchandise, such as “a large assortment of common, London and Bristol shalloons” and “a great variety of low-priced striped and plain callimancoes.” Just in case their list of hundreds of items did not sufficiently entice prospective customers, they added “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for “etc. etc. etc.”) to the end. Finally, they previewed the arrival of additional merchandise as a means of informing readers that they would continue to offer choices to suit all tastes and budgets. In a nota bene, they proclaimed that they expected “a very large and compleat assortment of spring and summer GOODS” in vessels that would soon arrive from England.

Even if they did not read the advertisement in its entirety, prospective customers could hardly have missed the appeal to consumer choice made by the Benezets and Bartow. Shoppers did not have to accept whatever may have been on the shelves. Instead, they could examine all sorts of different merchandise and make purchases according to their own tastes and desires.

January 26

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 26, 1769).

“Catalogues may be had of what Books will be sold this Night.”

An advertisement in the January 26, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal announced an “Auction of BOOKS” that would commence “THIS Evening at FIVE o’Clock … at the City Vendue-store” and continue the following Tuesday. This advertisement also promoted another piece of marketing ephemera intended to encourage sales, “Catalogues … of what Books will be sold.” Printers, booksellers, and auctioneers frequently distributed book catalogs in the eighteenth century, probably more often than the number of surviving catalogs indicates. On the other hand, historians of the book also note that some reference to book catalogs in advertisements and other sources may be ghosts for catalogs that never went to press. Whatever the case with the catalog mentioned in this notice, colonial readers would not have considered it out of the ordinary for auctioneers to print catalogs.

In his Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800, Robert B. Winans identifies only one surviving catalog that may have been related to the January 26 auction, even if it was not the catalog mentioned in this advertisement: Catalogue of books, to be sold, by public auction, at the City Vendue-Store, in Front-Street: notice of time of the sale will be given in the public papers. Divided into four columns, this broadside (or poster) listed 350 short author entries in no particular order, except for a group of law books at beginning. It lacks an imprint, but Winans attributes it to William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Based on the titles, he asserts that the catalog could not have been published before 1768 and probably no later than 1769.

The catalog identified by Winans may have been a precursor to the one mentioned in the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. It could have been posted around town or otherwise circulated to prospective customers. It could even have been the same catalog if some copies had been held in reserve to distribute on the day of the auction. The ephemeral nature of this advertising medium makes it difficult to know with any certainty. What is more certain is that book catalogs were a familiar form of advertising in colonial America’s largest urban ports by the 1760s. They only became more common as the century progressed.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“Will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE.”

Resorting to creative typography, the compositor for the Pennsylvania Journal managed to squeeze two additional advertisements into the November 17, 1768, edition by running them in the outer margins of the second and third pages. Running the length of the page, one proclaimed, “To be sold by WILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD—–BOHEA TEA by the Chest; PEPPER in Bales; CONGO TEA in Canisters; FRONTINIACK in Bottles; And a few Firkins of LARD.” The other advised readers that “BY AUTHORITY. By the American Company, at the Theatre in Southwark, TOMORROW, being FRIDAY, will be presented, a Comedy called the JEALOUS WIFE. To which will be added, By Desire, a PANTOMIME ENTERTAINMENT.”

The placement of these advertisements likely increased their visibility by prompting curious readers to investigate what sort of content merited being printed in the margins. Rather than being easier to overlook because they did not appear in the regular columns with the rest of the content, these advertisements may have benefited from the novelty of their position on the page. The advertisement for grocery items sold by the Bradfords ran along a column of other advertisements, perhaps immediately suggesting that it was yet another commercial notice, but the advertisement for the performance at the theater in Southwark appeared on a page devoted exclusively to news. Some readers may have engaged with the advertisement to confirm whether it offered a continuation or clarification of any of the stories from Europe and elsewhere in the colonies printed on that page.

The length of these advertisements facilitated their placement in the margins, but another factor likely played a part in selecting the Bradfords’ notice for such treatment. The Bradfords were not merchants or shopkeepers. They were the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal. Reserving their advertisement for the margins did not indicate that its inclusion was an afterthought. Instead, it may have been a deliberate strategy to differentiate it from others in the issue. As printers, they exercised certain privileges when it came to the format of their newspaper. That enhanced their ability to participate in commercial activities beyond job printing and publishing the Pennsylvania Journal.

November 17

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

Nov 17 - 11:17:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (November 17, 1768).

“JULIET BONTAMPS, French Millener … MICHELLE BONTAMPS, Fencing master.”

Juliet Bontamps, “French Millener,” placed an advertisement for her services in the November 17, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. In it, she declared that she did “all kinds of millenery work, after the best and newest fashion,” making an appeal to prospective customers who would have been anxious not to appear that they had fallen behind when it came to current styles. At a glance, the milliner was the center of attention in this advertisement. On closer examination, however, Michelle Bontamps may have upstaged her in a theatrical nota bene at the conclusion of the notice. Take notice, it proclaimed, “MICHELLE BONTAMPS, Fencing master, teaches the use of the small sword, at home or abroad, in the most expeditious, approved and easy method, and in order that his abilities may be known, offers himself to fence with any gentleman, or fencing master, either in a public or private place.”

Most likely Juliet’s husband, but perhaps a male relation of another sort, Michelle quite likely created the more lasting impression in an advertisement that promoted the services offered by both. Often when men and women placed joint advertisements for goods or services, the man received top billing and any discussion of the woman’s activities in the marketplace received secondary consideration. The Bontampses upended that convention, making her name and occupation the headline for the advertisement. It may have been a calculated strategy to place Juliet’s “millenery work” first in the notice, a decision intended to make it less likely that Michelle’s sweeping challenge to duel “any gentleman, or fencing master” would eclipse her services. The Bontampses did not present Juliet’s contributions to supporting their household as subordinate; instead, they positioned her as a full partner whose work, distinct from Michelle’s, was not merely ancillary to the family business. The daring of the fencing master may have been flashy compared to the standard appeals made by milliners, but the format and order in which they listed their services made it less likely that Michelle would completely overshadow Juliet.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:21:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (July 21, 1768).

“PROPOSALS For Re-printing by SUBSCRIPTION.”

In the summer of 1768 James Adams, a printer in Wilmington, Delaware, advertised a product that was not yet available for sale, one that might not ever hit the market. He wished to reprint a book originally published in London, William Bates’s Harmony of the Divine Attributes in the Contrivance and Accomplishment of Man’s Redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet taking on this enterprise would be a significant investment for the printer, so he first sought to gauge interest and incite demand by issuing a subscription notice.

Printers throughout the colonies regularly distributed subscription notices before committing to publishing books. In them, they described the proposed publication, both the contents and the material aspects, and asked prospective customers interested in purchasing the book to become subscribers who paid a portion in advance and the remainder upon delivery. For instance, the extensive subtitle of Harmony of the Divine Attributes provided a general outline – “How the WISDOM, MERCY, JUSTICE, HOLINESS, POWER and TRUTH, of GOD are glorified in that Great and Blessed Work” – for the twenty-three sections of the book. Furthermore, it included an index to guide readers to specific topics. In terms of the material qualities of the book, Adams stated that it “shall be printed on a good letter and paper, and will be contained in one large volume octavo, making upwards of five hundred pages.” Adams invited potential subscribers to contact him for even more information, stating that “a plan or contents of the work may be had gratis.” The printer had generated additional marketing materials to supplement the subscription notices that appeared in newspapers.

Adams’s subscription notice was not the only one in the July 21, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal. Two others sought subscribers for John Thompson’s Explication of the Shorter Catechism and John Warden’s System of Revealed Religion. Each listed subscription agents in more than one town. In addition to accepting subscriptions in Wilmington, Adams had agents in two much larger cities, Philadelphia and New York. Not all subscription notices resulted in publications, but Adams’s reprint of Harmony of the Divine Attributes eventually went to the press in 1771. A variety of challenges may have slowed down the production process, but the amount of time that lapsed between Adams issuing his subscription notice and finally printing the book suggests that attracting sufficient subscribers was among those challenges. Distributing subscription notices helped the printer incite sufficient demand to publish an American edition of Harmony of the Divine Attributes, but those notices did not guarantee success. All the same, responses to the subscription notices provided valuable information about whether and when Adams should move forward with the proposed project.

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:2:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 2, 1768).

“JOHN BOYD, Druggist, Has just imported, and now sells, at BALTIMORE TOWN.”

John Boyd placed an advertisement for “A Neat and general assortment of Drugs, and Medicines” in the June 2, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Unlike many others who advertised consumer goods and services in the Journal, Boyd did not operate a business in Philadelphia.  Instead, he sold his array of remedies “at BALTIMORE TOWN” in neighboring Maryland. Residents of Philadelphia were not the intended audience for Boyd’s advertisement, especially since several druggists and shopkeepers who stocked medicines among their general merchandise served that busy port city.  Some of them, including Nathaniel and John Tweedy and John Sparhawk, advertised in the same issue that carried Boyd’s notice.

Instead, Boyd sought the patronage of other residents of “BALTIMORE TOWN” as well as colonists who lived in the hinterlands between Baltimore and Philadelphia.  He depended on the wide distribution of the Pennsylvania Journal as a regional newspaper that served readers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and beyond. He expected that readers outside Philadelphia would at least skim the advertisements for local content in addition to reading news items that reported on events throughout the colonies, Europe, and the Atlantic world.  Yet he also realized that other advertisers, especially direct competitors who specialized in medicines, often provided mail order services. Accordingly, he assured potential customers that “The Prices will be the same, or as low as in Philadelphia.” Henry Stuber, a druggist in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made the same promise in his own advertisement that ran once again in the supplement that accompanied the June 2 edition.

Boyd in Baltimore and Stuber in Lancaster vied for local and regional clients by advertising in a newspaper published in Philadelphia, seizing the best option available to them in the middle of the eighteenth century.  Yet that would not be the case for much longer.  Throughout the years of the imperial crisis and the American Revolution the number of newspapers printed in the colonies and the new nation fluctuated yet expanded over time, a trend that only intensified in the final decade of the eighteenth century as printers in an increasing number of cities and towns published local newspapers.  After all, the fate of the republic, an experiment with an uncertain outcome, relied on educated and informed citizens.  Both before and after the Revolution, the revenues from advertisements contributed to the publication and dissemination of the news, even though conceptions of what counted as a local newspaper for the purposes of advertising changed over time.

June 2

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

Jun 2 - 6:2:1768 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (June 2, 1768).

“For a more particular description I refer to my printed catalogue.”

In the spring of 1768 William Semple advertised “A LARGE assortment of MERCHANDIZE” recently imported from Glasgow and Liverpool.  Although he enumerated a few of those items, such as “Silk gauzes of all kinds” and “Scotch threads,” he devoted most of the space in his advertisement to listing dozens of titles from among “a great collection of BOOKS.”  He concluded by inviting prospective customers to consult his “printed catalogue” for “a more particular description” of his inventory of books.

Semple did not rely on newspaper advertisements alone to promote the books he sold.  Like many other eighteenth-century printers and booksellers, he distributed a catalog intended to entice prospective customers by informing them of the various books, pamphlets, plays, and other printed items available.  A reading revolution took place in the eighteenth century:  habits shifted from intensive reading of the Bible and devotional materials to extensive reading from among many genres.  Book catalogs played a role in fueling that reading revolution by drawing attention to titles that consumers might not otherwise have considered purchasing.

In this case, Semple offered few details about his catalog other than noting that it was printed rather than a manuscript list.  Some booksellers advised that they sold their book catalogs for nominal fees, but Semple did not indicate that was the case.  He may have distributed his catalogs gratisin hopes that doing so would yield a higher return on his investment. His advertisement also does not reveal if his catalog was a broadside or a pamphlet.  He simply stated that a “printed catalogue” existed as a supplement to his newspaper advertisements.

In A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800, Robert B. Winans has compiled a list of 286 extant American book catalogs published before the nineteenth century. Booksellers’ catalogs and publishers’ catalogs accounted for just over half, with social library catalogs, auction catalogs, circulating library catalogs, and college library catalogs comprising the remainder.  In addition to the 286 book catalogs with at least one surviving copy, Winans includes entries for others identified from newspaper advertisements and other sources. He suspects, however, that “many if not most of them may be bibliographic ghosts.”  He also reports, “Many other newspaper advertisements could just as legitimately form the basis for additional entries.  But I have not included such entries since I have grave doubts about their validity.”[1]  He does not further explain his skepticism.

Winans includes an unnumbered entry for a “Catalogue of books in history, divinity, law, arts and sciences and the several parts of polite literature, to be sold by Garrat Noel, bookseller” advertised in the August 3, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette, although no extant copy has been located.[2]  He does not include any entry for Semple’s catalog among those published the following year.  Winans’s annotated bibliography of extant book catalogs documents an impressive array of marketing materials distributed in eighteenth-century America.  Despite his skepticism about some that appeared in advertisements yet have not survived (which hardly comes as a surprise that such ephemeral items either no longer exist or have not yet been identified), these advertisements indicate that colonists had an expectation that booksellers and publishers did indeed print and distribute book catalogs as an alternate means of marketing their wares.

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[1]Robert B. Winans, A Descriptive Checklist of Book Catalogues Separately Printed in America, 1693-1800 (Worcester:  American Antiquarian Society, 1981), xvi.

[2]Winans, Descriptive Checklist, 43

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:21:1768 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (April 21, 1768).

“NATHANIEL and JOHN TWEEDY, Druggists, near the Court-House, Philadelphia.”

Druggists Nathaniel Tweedy and John Tweedy advertised frequently in the late 1760s.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Journal.  They advertised in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  They spread their marketing efforts across multiple publications to increase the likelihood that colonists in Philadelphia and its hinterlands would encounter their notices.

The Tweedys also varied the content of their advertisements.  Some listed an extensive assortment of “DRUGGS and MEDICINES” as well as surgical instruments and other medical supplies.  Others focused exclusively on the Baume de Vie, a patent medicine.  The Tweedys proclaimed that they had been “appointed the sole vendors … in America by the patentee.”  To further convince potential customers of the efficacy of the Baume de Vie they sold “a narrative of the extraordinary effects of said medicine, and the book of observations” for one shilling and six pence.  For those who did not wish to make such an investment, the druggists also offered to “lend them to those who will be kind enough to return them after perusal.”  Even though the Baume de Vie was the primary focus of some of their advertisements, they still devoted nearly half of the content in those notices to marketing their shop more generally.  In both newspapers and pamphlets, the Tweedys used print to promote their wares.

Compared to most other advertisers, the Tweedys were particularly savvy when it came to one aspect of newspaper advertising.  Rather than running one advertisement at a time and eventually replacing it with an updated or new advertisement, they simultaneously published several advertisements at the same time.  On occasion they even inserted multiple advertisements into a single issue of a newspaper, perhaps believing that each would enhance the effectiveness of the others.  Vendue masters in Boston frequently adopted this strategy, but their turnover in merchandise at each auction explains their decision to do so.  The Tweedys, on the other hand, operated a shop with a fairly constant inventory. Given the length of many of their advertisements, they certainly could have combined listing their wares and promoting the Baume de Vie into one advertisement.  Yet they chose instead to saturate newspapers with greater numbers of advertisements, increasing the likelihood that readers who perused the notices would encounter and remember their shop and the goods and services they offered.  Readers of the April 24, 1768, edition of thePennsylvania Journal, for instance, would have seen the Tweedys’ advertisement for the Baume de Vie on the second page of the supplement as well as a lengthier advertisement listing their merchandise on the fourth page.  By the end of the eighteenth century inserting multiple advertisements into a single newspaper became common practice, but the Tweedys experimented with the technique decades earlier, demonstrating its potential to other advertisers.