July 5

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

Jul 5 - 7:5:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 5, 1770).

“Manufactured at the MANHEIM GLASS WORKS, in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.”

The partnership of Brooks and Sharp injected patriotism into an advertisement for “AMERICAN GLASS WARE” they published in the Pennsylvania Journal for eight weeks in July and August 1770.  When colonists boycotted imported goods of all sorts in response to duties levied on imported glass, paper, lead, paint, and tea by the Townshend Acts, American entrepreneurs set about producing “domestic manufactures” to provide an alternative.  In their advertisements, they stressed the political benefits of acquiring goods made in the colonies, framing such consumption as patriotic duty.  Brooks and Sharp provided an overview of that argument, stating that during “this crisis it is the indispensable duty, as well as interest of every well wisher of America, to promote and encourage manufactures amongst ourselves.”  They were confident that consumers would do their part by purchasing products made at the Manheim Glass Works in Lancaster County, motivated by “the glorious spirit of patriotism at present voluntarily and virtuously existing here.”

Yet they realized that patriotism might not have been sufficient to convince some consumers to buy their wares, especially with the fate of the nonimportation agreement in doubt after the repeal of most of the Townshend duties a few months earlier.  Brooks and Sharp needed to make their glassware as attractive to consumers as imported alternatives now that political justifications for purchasing American manufactures did not have the same urgency.  To that end, they offered bargain prices, proclaiming that they sold their goods “on much lower terms, than such imported from Europe are usually sold.”  They also made an appeal to quality, assuring prospective customers that their glassware was not inferior to items imported from England.  The proprietors had engaged “some of the most ingenious artists in said manufacture, which is now arrived at great perfection.”  Consumers as well as “retailers in Philadelphia” and “country storekeepers” could have it all when buying and selling glassware from the Manheim Glass Works:  high quality, low prices, and the satisfaction of expressing a “glorious spirit of patriotism” in the marketplace.

June 3

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

Jun 3 - 5:31:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 31, 1770).

“At the sign of the Jolly Sailor.”

In an era before standardized street numbers, advertisers resorted to a variety of means of describing their locations.  Consider the various directions that appeared in the May 31, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Some were brief, such as John Willday’s invitation to visit “his store in Fourth-street, near Market-street.”  Willday believed that prospective customers who could locate the intersection of Fourth and Market could then easily locate his store.  Others provided more extensive directions.  John Day and Company, for instance, sold an assortment of remedies at “their Medicinal Store, next door to Jonathan Zane’s in Second-street, between Market and Chesnut streets.”  In addition to listing the cross streets on either side of their store, Day and Company also identified a nearby landmark to aid prospective customers.  Willday also invoked a landmark in giving the location of his second location, a store “near Christiana Bridge.”  Mrs. Bussiere, who sold starch and hair powder, gave extensive directions.  She sold her wares “in Mr. Fishbourn’s house, at the corner of Walnut and Water-streets, opposite Reese Meredith’s.”

To provide further aid in finding their businesses, some advertisers displayed painted or carved signs.  A notice about an upcoming sale of lots on Noble Street advised bidders to seek “the house of Benjamin Davis, in Northern Liberties, near the new Landing Place on Front-street, at the sign of the Jolly Sailor.”  The street and a nearby landmark directed bidders to the general vicinity, but the sign marked the specific location.  Duffield and Delany, druggists, adopted a similar strategy, instructing prospective clients to find them “At Boerhaave’s Head, the Corner of Second and Walnut streets.”  A sign depicting Herman Boerhaave, the Dutch physician and botanist, helped customers identify their shop once they arrived at the intersection.  Similarly, Robert Kenneday and Thomas Kenneday sold both prints and patent medicines “At their Print Shop, at West’s Head near the Bridge, in Second-street, below Walnut street.”  The streets and a landmark directed prospective customers to their neighborhood, but the sign depicting Benjamin West “of this city, now history painter to the King” clearly identified their place of business.

These examples demonstrate that signs often did not replace the need to offer other sorts of directions, such as streets, intersections, and landmarks, yet in the absence of street numbers they provided a means of denoting a particular location.  They also served as landmarks themselves, aiding both residents and visitors in navigating the streets of bustling port cities.  Some advertisers who did not have signs of their own occasionally made reference to their location in relation to shop signs displayed by others.  The signs listed in advertisements and displayed throughout cities like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia helped people make sense of urban geography in eighteenth-century America.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:3:1770 Pennsylvania Journal Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (May 3, 1770).

“Carry on the business with the same head workman as manufactured for Jackson and Gibbons.”

At the beginning of 1770, William Norton and Company placed an advertisement for “MUSTARD and CHOCOLATE” in the Pennsylvania Journal and then continued to insert it on occasion over the next several months.  They advised prospective customers that they “fitted up a shop” on Front Street.  Buyers could visit them there or, if they lived “at a distance,” send orders to the company.  Norton and Company made both wholesale and retail sales of their mustard and chocolate.  To encourage others to purchase in bulk for resale, they offered a discount.  They also pledged good customer service.

Yet these were not the only appeals deployed by Norton and Company.  Their business may have been new, but the enterprise was not.  They built on a foundation that had already been established by Jackson and Gibbons, familiar names in Pennsylvania when it came to the production of mustard and chocolate.  Jackson and Gibbons previously ran their own advertisements, complete with a woodcut depicting their seal flanked by a bottle of mustard and a brick of chocolate, in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  Norton and Company opened their own notice by proclaiming that they had “purchased the mills, late Benjamin Jackson’s, and carry on the business with the same head workman as manufactured for Jackson and Gibbons.”  They assumed that for many consumers it mattered less whose names appeared at the top of the advertisement and oversaw the business and more who actually produced the mustard and chocolate for Norton and Company.

They sought to benefit from the reputation Jackson and Gibbons already earned.  In prior advertisements, their predecessors proclaimed, “The said JACKSON is the Original, and indeed only, proper Manufacturer on this Continent … and has brought his Machines to greater Perfection than any other even in England.”  Having acquired Jackson and Gibbons’s mill and head workman, Norton and Company were prepared to provide the same quality products to consumers without interruption.

March 22, 1770

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

Mar 22 - 3:22:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 22, 1770).

My customers are therefore requested to be upon their guard against such deceptions.”

Counterfeit hams!  In an advertisement that ran in the March 22, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Joseph Borden warned consumers against purchasing hams that unscrupulous retailers passed off as his product.  That warning comprised half of his advertisement.

Borden opened his notice by advising prospective customers that he supplied the “best Salt-peter’d HAMS, flitch BACON, or JOWELS.”  He did not give his location, only that he raised hogs outside of Philadelphia.  Francis Hopkinson in Front Street accepted orders on his behalf and then communicated them to Borden.  In turn, Borden delivered the hams, bacon, and jowls to customers “as soon as the distance will permit.”

Below his signature, Borden inserted a nota bene to advise consumers to beware of counterfeit hams.  “I have not this year, not any preceeding year,” he asserted, “sent Hams to Philadelphia to be stor’d and retail’d.  Whoever, therefore, offers any for sale as mine, would impose upon the public – my customers are therefore requested to be upon their guard against such deceptions.

Borden’s notice suggests two possibilities.  Others may have been trafficking in counterfeit hams, hoping to benefit from Borden’s reputation.  If that was the case, Borden sought to protect both his reputation and his share of the market by insisting that consumers accept no substitutes.  Alternately, neither Borden nor consumers had been victims of such trickery.  Instead, Borden may have invented the tale of hams being sold as his, intending to enhance his reputation and incite demand by suggesting that his hams were so widely recognized for their quality that his business became a casualty of counterfeiters.  Borden did not actually accuse any merchants and shopkeepers in Philadelphia of attaching his name to their hams, but he did present the scenario for consumers to contemplate.

Whether or not counterfeit hams were circulating in Philadelphia in the late 1760s and early 1770s, Borden apparently believed that consumers would consider such a scheme plausible.  After all, manufacturers of patent medicines sometimes warned against imitations in their advertisements.  Artisans occasionally did so as well.  Borden followed their lead in declaring that pork was also a product subject to counterfeiting.

March 4

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

Mar 4 - 3:1:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (March 1, 1770).

“MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store.”

The colophon on the final page of the Pennsylvania Journal stated that the newspapers was “Printed and Sold byWILLIAM and THOMAS BRADFORD, at the Corner of Front and Market-Streets” in Philadelphia.  Like other eighteenth-century printers, the Bradfords cultivated multiple revenue streams.  They sold subscriptions and advertising space in the Pennsylvania Journal, did job printing, and sold books and stationery wares.  They also peddled patent medicines, another supplementary enterprise undertaken by many printer-booksellers.  An eighteenth-century version of over-the-counter medications, patent medicines likely yielded additional revenue without requiring significant time, labor, or expertise from those who worked in printing offices and book stores.

In a brief advertisement in the March 1, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, the Bradfords informed prospective customers that they carried patent medicines: “A few Bottles of MAREDAUNT’s DROPS, May be had at the Book Store of William and Thomas Bradford.”  Once again, the Bradfords followed a precedent set by other eighteenth-century printers, exercising their privilege as publishers of a newspaper to use it to incite demand for other goods they offered for sale.  Yet they did not merely set aside space that might otherwise have been used for either news for subscribers or notices placed by paying customers.

It appears that the Bradfords may have engineered the placement of their advertisement for patent medicines on the page.  It ran immediately below a lengthy advertisement for “YELLOW SPRINGS,” a property for sale in Chester County.  The notice proclaimed that the “Medicinal virtues of the springs … for the cure of many disorders inwardly and outwardly are so well known to the public, that it is thought unnecessary to mention them here.”  The advertisement than offered descriptions of the springs and the buildings and baths constructed to take advantage of their palliative qualities.

That advertisement primed readers of the Pennsylvania Journal to think about health and their own maladies.  Most were unlikely to travel to Yellow Springs, much less purchase the property, yet patent medicines were within easy reach.  Compositors often placed shorter advertisements for other goods and services offered by printers at the bottom of the column, filling in leftover space.  That the Bradfords’ advertisement appeared in the middle of a column, immediately below the advertisement for Yellow Springs, suggests that someone in the printing office made a savvy decision about where to place the two advertisements in relation to each other.

June 18

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

Jun 18 - 6:15:1769 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 15, 1769).

“ROBERT AITKEN, Bookseller, From Glasgow.”

Robert Aitken, a bookseller, kept shop in Philadelphia only briefly in 1769. In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal, he announced that he had “just now arrived” from Glasgow and “opened his store” on Front Street. His inventory consisted of “a valuable variety of books,” including literature, history, law, medicine, and divinity as well as novels, plays, songs, and ballads. Aitken offered something agreeable to the tastes of practically any reader.

To stimulate sales, the bookseller advised “Such who intend to furnish themselves with any of the above articles” to make their purchases as soon as possible or else miss their chance because he did not intend to remain in Pennsylvania long. Indeed, he did make “but a short stay” in Philadelphia, returning to Scotland before the year ended. Yet he must have been encouraged by the prospects available in Philadelphia. He returned two years later and remained in the city until his death in 1802.

In his History of Printing in America, Isaiah Thomas offers an overview of Aitken’s career. Born in Dalkeith, Scotland, Aitken apprenticed to a bookbinder in Edinburgh. After his initial sojourn as a bookseller in Philadelphia in 1769, he returned in 1771 and “followed the business of bookselling and binding, both before and after the revolution.”[1] In 1774, he became a printer. In January 1775 he founded the Pennsylvania Magazine, one of only seventeen magazines published in the colonies before the American Revolution.[2] It survived for a little over a year, ending its run in July 1776. He earned some renown for publishing an American bible in 1802, though Thomas contests the claim that it was the first printed in America.

Aitken Broadside
Robert Aitken, Advertising Broadside (Philadelphia: 1779). Courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia.

Like other eighteenth-century printers, Aitken contributed to the culture of advertising in early America. His ledger, now in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, lists several broadsides, billheads, and other printed materials distributed for the purposes of advertising that are otherwise unknown since, unfortunately, copies have not survived. He delivered the Pennsylvania Magazine enclosed in advertising wrappers; these are also rare, though some can be found among the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia. He also printed broadsides listing books he printed in Philadelphia. One also advised prospective clients that Aitken bound books and “PERFORMS All KINDS of PRINTING-WORK, PLAIN and ORNAMENTAL.” The ornamental printing on that broadside was a model of the advertising that Aitken could produce for his customers.  Aitken’s first newspaper advertisements in 1769 barely hinted on the influence he would exert over early American advertising, both as an advertiser of his own goods and services and as a producer of advertising for others who enlisted him in printing broadsides, handbills, magazine wrappers, trade cards, and other media intended to stimulate consumer interest.

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[1] Isaiah Thomas, History of Printing in America with a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (1810; 1874; New York: Weathervane Books, 1970), 401.

[2] See “Chronological List of Magazines” in Frank Luther Mott, A History of Americasn Magazines, 1741-1850 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1939), 787-788.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:18:1769 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 18, 1769).

“Particular care will be taken to do Advertisements, Blanks, &c. on very short notice.”

When Joseph Crukshank opened a printing office in Philadelphia in 1769, he attempted to attract clients by placing an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal. He pledged that his customers “may depend on having their work done in a neat and correct manner.” Crukshank anticipated that his job printing would include producing “Advertisements, Blanks, &c. on very short notice.” In that regard, he emphasized some of the same services as some newspaper printers regularly promoted in the colophons of their publications. The colophon on the final page of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, stated, “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c. printed at the shortest Notice.” Similarly, the colophon for the Pennsylvania Chronicle concluded with “Blanks and Hand-Bills in particular are done on the shortest Notice, in a neat and correct Manner.”

Printers generated revenue by printing handbills and other advertisements. For those who published newspapers, this revenue supplemented what they earned from subscriptions and advertisements inserted in the newspapers. For those who did not publish newspapers, like Crukshank, advertisements were an especially important component of their business. Handbills accounted for some of that work, but a variety of other sorts of advertising media came off of eighteenth-century printing presses, including trade cards, billheads, broadsides, furniture labels, catalogs, subscription notices, and magazine wrappers. Crukshank even promoted a catalog of the books he sold, inviting prospective customers to visit his shop to pick up their own copies.

All advertising could be considered ephemeral, but these other forms of advertising proved to be even more ephemeral than newspaper advertisements. Printers and others created repositories of eighteenth-century newspapers at the time of their creation, but handbills, trade cards, and other printed media deployed as advertising did not benefit from the same systematic collection and preservation. As a result, the sources for reconstructing the history of advertising in the colonial and revolutionary eras are skewed in favor of newspaper advertisements. Certainly newspaper advertisements were the most common form of advertising and merit particular attention, but they do not tell the entire story. The scattered billheads found among household accounts, labels still affixed to furniture, and other relatively rare eighteenth-century advertising media in modern libraries and archives belie their original abundance, according to the frequent references to “Hand-Bills, Advertisements, &c.” and “catalogues” in newspaper advertisements and colophons. Printers’ ledgers and correspondence also include references to advertisements with no known extant copies. These various sources indicate that, especially in the second half of the eighteenth century, Americans encountered a rich visual and textual landscape of advertising as they went about their daily lives.

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.