May 26

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 26, 1773).

“He finds them too numerous to insert in a news-paper, and will therefore furnish the curious with proper catalogues.”

In an advertisement that appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on April 28, 1773, Nicholas Brooks promoted a “LARGE and curious collection of the most modern PRINTS and PICTURES” along with “stationary wares; jewellery, and dry goods.”  He pledged that “an advertisement of the particulars shall be inserted in a future paper.”  While he certainly preferred that prospective customers visit his shop and browse his inventory, Brooks also encouraged readers to look for that “advertisement of the particulars.”  An additional notice in the public prints gave him a second opportunity to entice consumers.

Three weeks later, Brooks placed a lengthy advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal.  A notation at the end, “3w,” indicated that he intended for it to run for three weeks.  Extending two-thirds of a column, the advertisement listed many of the items from the “curious Collection of various GOODS.”  Brooks stocked everything from “Scotch thread and sewing silk” to “silver plated and other tea urns” to “best London made pen-knives and scissors” to “cards of history and geography, with and without Morocco cases.”  He mentioned “general atlases, containing 36 new and correct maps,” as he had done in his previous advertisement, yet he still did not have space for “the particulars” of that “LARGE and curious collection of the most modern PRINTS and PICTURES.”

Instead, the shopkeeper appended a nota bene at the end of his advertisement, advising that since he “has a very large quantity of elegant pictures, maps, copper plate writing, and music &c. he finds them too numerous to insert in a news-paper.”   Instead, he “will therefore furnish the curious with proper catalogues.”  Perhaps Brooks sent those catalogs to “the curious” who requested them, but he likely hoped that some prospective customers would visit his shop to pick up catalogs and, as long as they were there, examine his selection.  Distributing catalogs had the potential to increase foot traffic in his shop.

What form did that catalog have?  Was it a broadside or handbill with a list of pictures, maps, and other items printed on a single sheet that gave prospective customers an opportunity to glimpse all of the items at once?  Or was it a pamphlet with multiple pages that prospective customers had to flip through?  In different ways, both formats testified to the range of choices that Brooks made available.  How were the contents organized?  Did they have headers to help direct prospective customers to items of interest?  Did the catalog include commentary or blurbs about any of the items to aid in marketing them?  These questions remain unanswered since no copy of the catalog has yet been identified.  That Brooks disseminated catalogs, however, testifies to the wider distribution of advertising in early American than what has been cataloged among the holdings of research libraries, historical societies, and private collections.

April 21

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

Pennsylvania Journal (April 21, 1773).

“A STAGE WAGGON, to go from Great-Egg-Harbour to Philadelphia.”

Newspaper advertisements kept residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands informed about transportation infrastructure that connected the busy port to other towns in the 1770s.  Shortly after Rensselaer Williams published his advertisement about the Royal Oak Inn adjacent to the Trenton Ferry and Charles Bessonett promoted his “FLYING MACHINE,” a stagecoach between Philadelphia and Princeton with connections to New York, William McCarrell ran his own advertisement to advise the public that he “has fitted a STAGE WAGGON, to go from Great-Egg-Harbour” in New Jersey “to Philadelphia once every week.”

McCarrell provided a schedule so passengers could plan their journeys.  The stage “set off from Ann Risleys, at Abseekam [Absecon], on Monday mornings” and passed by “Thomas Clark’s mill and the Forks” on its way to the Blue Anchor.  The stage likely stopped at that inn for the night before continuing to Longacoming and Haddonsfield and arriving at Samuel Cooper’s ferry on Tuesday afternoon.  After crossing the Delaware River via the ferry, the stage paused in Philadelphia until Thursday morning before retracing its route and returning to Absecon on Friday afternoon.

In addition to passengers, McCarrell’s stage also carried freight, such as “dry goods or other articles” as well as newspapers and letters, charging four pence each.  McCarrell sought to generate additional revenue with that ancillary service, declaring that “persons that live convenient” to the route “may have the news-papers regular” if they contacted him to make arrangements.  Although his advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Journal, McCarrell transported any of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time, including the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Packet.  Each of those publications owed some of its circulation beyond the city to post riders and stage operators.  As a result, McCarrell and his counterparts not only carried passengers and freight but also helped disseminate information throughout the colonies.

March 24

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 24, 1773).

“I had not just cause to attack her reputation in the manner I have published.”

It was a rare retraction.  James Harding instructed William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, to discontinue an advertisement in which he advised the community against extending credit to his wife, Margaret.

James did not reveal the circumstances the prompted him to place his first advertisement in the March 3, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  In that notice, he succinctly declared, “LET no Person credit my Wife, MARGARET HARDING, on my account, for I will pay none of her debts, after this date.”  Throughout the colonies, aggrieved husbands regularly placed similar notices concerning recalcitrant wives.  In many instances, they provided much more detail about how the women misbehaved or even “eloped” or abandoned their husbands.  Without access to the family’s financial resources, controlled by each household’s patriarch, most wives could not publish rebuttals.  Those who did offered very different accounts of marital discord and who was really at fault.  For many women, running away was the most effective means of protecting themselves from abusive husbands.

Less than a week after placing the advertisement, James had a change of heart and sent instructions for the printers to remove the notice from subsequent issues.  “HAVING published an advertisement in your last Paper, prohibiting persons from crediting my Wife, MARGARET HARDING, on my account,” James stated, “I do hereby, in justice to my Wife’s character, declare, that I had not just cause to attack her in the manner I have published.”  Having reached that realization, he “therefore do forbid the continuance of said advertisement.”  Once again, James did not go into details, though friends, neighbors, and acquaintance – women and men alike – probably shared what they knew and what they surmised as they gossiped among themselves.

Pennsylvania Journal (March 24, 1773).

James intended for his initial advertisement to run for a month, according to the “1 m,” a notation for the compositor, that followed his signature.  In the end, that notice appeared just one before the Bradfords published his retraction in the March 10, 17, and 24 editions of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Someone in the printing office may have felt some sympathy for Margaret.  The retraction ran immediately below the “PRICES-CURRENT in PHILADELPHIA” on March 10, making it the first advertisement readers encountered as they transitioned from news items to paid notices.  That likelihood increased the chances of readers noticing the retraction, even if they only skimmed the rest of the advertisement.  Margaret did not share her side of the story in the newspaper, but it may have been some consolation that James’s acknowledgement that he erred in “attack[ing] her reputation” appeared repeatedly and the initial notice only once.  That was more satisfaction than most women targeted by similar advertisements received from their husbands in the public prints.

March 17

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 17, 1773).


Nicholas Brooks frequently promoted maps, prints, and other products in the pages of Philadelphia’s newspapers in the early 1770s.  In an advertisement in the March 17, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, he peddled “NOVELTIES” for the amusement of consumers.  Today, a headline for the same items might instead say “CARDS and GAMES” to attract the attention of prospective customers seeking leisure activities.

Brooks listed three games his notice, one board game and two card games.  In “THE Royal Geographical Amusement, or the European Traveller, designed for the Grand Tour,” players learned about geography as they moved their tokens around a map of Europe.  Brooks indicated that he sold the version of the game “by Doctor Nugent,” suggesting that he stocked a copy produced in 1770 by Carington Bowles in London rather than the original published by Thomas Jefferys in London in 1768.  This board game became the first known case involving maps and copyright infringement.  Copyright and Cartography provides an overview of the case as well as images of both maps/gameboards.  Robert Sayer produced another version, attributed to “Dr. Journey,” in 1774.  The game became popular enough that R.H. Laurie continued to produce it in 1823.  The Victoria and Albert Museum provides both the rules and an image of the map/gameboard. Players apparently read descriptions of each location as they moved their tokens around Europe.

In addition, Brooks sold “Geographical Cards, or a View of the principal Cities of the known World, designed for the recreation of young Gentlemen and Ladies” and “Cards of Antient History.”  John Ryland, who ran a boarding school in Northampton, created both games.  In the full title for the “Geographical Cards,” Ryland recommended their use in boarding schools.  Bowles printed the fifty-two “Geographical Cards” in 1770.  He presumably supplied Brooks with the “Cards of Antient History” as well, sending him several “NOVELTIES” to sell to colonizers in Pennsylvania.

Shopkeepers often included playing cards among the merchandise they listed in their advertisements.  Brooks attempted to distinguish these games from “the depredations daily committed upon all the finest feelings of humanity by the common gambling Cards.”  He presented the history and geography games as an “elegant and chaste invention” that would preserve the “innocence” of those who played them.  As an added bonus, these games educated players as they entertained them.  Given the critiques of luxury and leisure aimed at those who too enthusiastically participated in the transatlantic consumer revolution, Brooks sought to help prospective customers justify purchasing and playing these games.

March 10

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 10, 1773).

“Made it their particular study to encourage their own manufactures.”

Today, collectors consider precious glassware produced in the eighteenth century by Henry William Stiegel at his American Flint Glass Manufactory, but during his own lifetime the German-American glassmaker did not achieve the same renown.  Like many other artisans, he published newspaper advertisements in an effort to entice consumers and improve his prospects.

In many of those advertisements, Stiegel attempted to convince prospective customers to support “domestic manufactures” by purchasing goods produced in the colonies, especially glassware he made at his manufactory in Manheim in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, rather than imported alternatives.  Artisans and others launched “Buy American” campaigns during the imperial crisis, suggesting to colonizers that they had a civic responsibility to practice politics through the decisions they made in the marketplace.  In an advertisement in the March 10, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Stiegel and his broker in Philadelphia, William Smith, made the case that the “friends and well-wishers to America have, on all laudable occasions, shewed a spirit of patriotism worthy of themselves, and made it their particular study to encourage their own manufactures in preference to all others.”  Stiegel and Smith reiterated an appeal that Stiegel made in another advertisement in November 1771.

The glassmaker and his broker challenged consumers to take part in “so noble a resolution” to purchase “their own manufactures,” yet that was not the extent of their sales pitch.  They also emphasized price, stating that they sold glassware “on as good terms” as imported goods, and quality, asserting that the “ELEGANT ASSORTMENT” of items was “as neat in their kinds” as “any imported from Europe.”  Prospective customers did not have to take their word for it.  Instead, Stiegel and Smith confidently asserted that if “impartial judges” inspected works from the American Flint Glass Manufactory that they would reach the same conclusion.

Stiegel and Smith presented decisions about consumption as political acts, yet they recognized that politics alone would not motivate some consumers, especially during a lull in tensions between colonizers and Parliament.  That being the case, they assured prospective customers that when they purchased glassware produced by Stiegel that they acquired merchandise equal in quality to items imported from Europe and at the same prices.  They hoped that the combination of appeals would convince consumers to support “their own manufactories” in the colonies.

March 3

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

Pennsylvania Journal (March 3, 1773).

“ALL kinds of ribbons, which he will sell for cash at 65 per cent, on sterling cost.”

David Shakespear marketed “ALL kinds of ribbons” and “sundry other dry Goods, hardware, jewellery,” and other merchandise in advertisements that ran in the Pennsylvania Journal in February and March 1773.  He did not, however, invite consumers to browse his wares and make purchases.  Instead, he made clear that he restricted his commercial activities to wholesale transactions.  He addressed “City and Country Shopkeepers” in his notice.

In promoting his selection of ribbons, an especially popular accessory for enhancing garments, millinery, and women’s elaborate hairstyles, Shakespear informed prospective buyers that he “will sell for cash at 65 per cent, on sterling cost.”  He apparently believed that such transparency would entice “City and Country Shopkeepers” to do business with him, provided that they had the cash to take advantage of the bargain prices he charged.  Given the discount, it made sense that Shakespear wished to sell by volume to retailers rather than deal directly with consumers who made smaller purchases.

He outlined his business model, stating that he “purposes to continue importing to sell by wholesale only” and “hopes that the small advance put on [his wares], will recommend him to the custom of the City and Country Shopkeepers.”  Shakespear envisioned distributing his inventory throughout Philadelphia, a bustling urban port and the largest city in the colonies, and towns in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.  He provided an alternative to doing business with English merchants in London, positioning himself as a middleman who offered deals that allowed retailers who made wholesale purchases from him to pass along the savings to their own customers.

Although Shakespear mentioned the discount only in relation to ribbons, he may have anticipated that prospective customers would associate bargain rates with his other merchandise.  Even if those deals for dry goods, hardware, and other items were not as generous as his prices for ribbons, some of those “City and Country Shopkeepers” may have anticipated that they could negotiate with Shakespear for favorable prices.  His advertisement signaled that he was open to such overtures.

February 24

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 24, 1773).

“A weekly NEWS-PAPER … differing materially in its plan from most others now extant.”

James Rivington’s efforts to launch a new newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer; or, the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, continued in the February 24, 1773, editions of the Pennsylvania Gazetteand the Pennsylvania Journal.  Although published in New York, Rivington intended circulation far beyond the city and sought subscribers in distant towns.  His first efforts to promote the proposed newspaper in the public prints appeared as advertisements in the Newport Mercury, a shorter notice, and the Pennsylvania Chronicle, a much more extensive notice, on February 22.

Despite its length, the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not give any particulars about how readers could subscribe to Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer.  The advertisement in the Newport Mercury concluded with a note that “Subscriptions are taken in by MOSES M. HAYS, of Newport, and the printer hereof,” but readers of the Pennsylvania Chronicle did not have access to similar information.  The advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal remedied that, advising that “Subscriptions are received by Mr. Nicholas Brooks, near the Coffee-House in Philadelphia.”  Given how often printers served as brokers of information that did not appear in their newspapers, prospective subscribers could have also enquired at any of the printing offices of the newspapers that carried Rivington’s advertisements.

In addition to naming a local agent, the advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journalincluded the same appeals that Rivington made in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Although readers in Philadelphia and its hinterlands already had access to four newspapers in English and two in German, Rivington asserted that he would supply something different when he entered “this Periodical Business.”  He planned to publish the usual sorts of news about current events, politics, and commerce, yet he also aimed to supplement that material with items often associated with magazines imported from London.  That meant his readers would encounter the “best modern essays,” a “review of new-books … with extracts,” and “new inventions in arts and sciences, mechanics and manufactures, [and] agriculture and natural history.”  Rivington, known for his Loyalist sympathies, offered a selection of reading material that he may have believed emphasized cultural connections within the empire as a means of counteracting what he saw as an American press that too often stoked tensions during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s.

February 10

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

Pennsylvania Journal (February 10, 1773).


“Just published … an ADDRESS … upon SLAVE-KEEPING.”

When John Dunlap published An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-keeping in 1773, he advertised widely.  He promoted the pamphlet in his own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet, before taking it to press, hoping to incite interest and demand among prospective customers.  Before and after publication, he inserted advertisements in other newspapers as well.  For instance, he ran a brief advertisement in the February 10 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  Consisting of only four lines, it advised readers that the pamphlet was “Just published, and to be sold by JOHN DUNLAP.”

Printing a pamphlet that critiqued slavery did not prevent Dunlap from generating revenues from newspaper advertisements that perpetuated the slave trade.  On January 18, for instance, he ran a lengthy advertisement about the pamphlet, one that included an excerpt from the conclusion, and several notices offering enslaved people for sale or promising rewards for the capture and return of enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers.

Similarly, William Bradford and Thomas Bradford, printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, ran the advertisement for the pamphlet and advertisements about enslaved people.  Two advertisements in the February 10 edition, one for a “NEGRO woman eighteen years old, and six months gone with child” and another for a “NEGRO MAN, About 27 years old,” instructed prospective enslavers to “Enquire of the printers” for more information.  The Bradfords acted as slave brokers in addition to disseminating those advertisements.  Dunlap’s advertisement for the Address … upon Slave-keeping appeared immediately below an advertisement about a “NEGRO BOY, about 19 Years old,” for sale as part of the estate of Thomas Rogers.  Did the Bradfords recognize the dissonance inherent in the two advertisements?  Did a compositor exercise some editorial discretion in placing one advertisement after another, making a point to both the printers and readers?

Whatever the case, the Pennsylvania Journal gave much more space to perpetuating slavery on that day, made all the more noteworthy by the news item that filled the first two pages of that edition.  The Bradfords reprinted the response to Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s speech from a committee appointed by the Massachusetts assembly, a response that vigorously defended the liberties of English colonizers.  That response, first published by Isaiah Thomas as an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Spy, made its way from newspapers to newspaper, first in New England and then in other regions.  Each of those newspapers also ran advertisements that perpetuated slavery, demonstrating the limits of how many colonizers conceived of liberty.  The Address … upon Slave-Keeping presented a more expansive view.  Despite the excerpt that Dunlap published in his own newspaper, however, that pamphlet did not have such extensive coverage.

January 20

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 20, 1773).

“I accused her wrongfully, and beg her pardon for the same.”

Newspaper advertisements delivered many kinds of information in eighteenth-century America.  Some described consumer goods and services offered by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans.  Legal notices and estate notices supplemented news articles about local events.  Advertisements about enslaved people who liberated themselves by running away from their enslavers and indentured servants who ran away before their contracts ended provided descriptions and promised rewards for their capture and return.  Notices about wives who “eloped” from their husbands and, as a result, no longer had access to credit kept readers informed about some of the gossip in their community.

Other advertisements carried other kinds of gossip.  In the January 20, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, for instance, Mary Doyle inserted a notice in which she confessed that she mistakenly accused an acquaintance of stealing her pocketbook, realized her error, and asked for forgiveness.  “I MARY DOYLE,” she stated, “having mislaid my Pocket-Book, and missing it in the Market place, most injustly charged Mrs. Mary M’Clean, (wife of Hugh M’Clean, Stone-cutter,) with taking the same.”  Doyle apparently found her missing pocketbook and realized her error, prompting her to published the advertisement.  “I therefore think myself bound to inform the public,” she continued, “that I accused her wrongfully, and beg ger pardon for the same.”

Like most advertisements about recalcitrant wives who vexed their husbands, this advertisement did not include all the juicy details about what happened at the market.  Readers could imagine the scene that unfolded.  Some may have already been aware of what transpired, having witnessed it themselves.  Others may have already heard gossip about an altercation between the two women.  Those learning about the confrontation for the first time may have wanted to learn more and decided to ask their friends and acquaintances about what occurred.  Rather than quiet the gossip about Doyle’s missing pocketbook and the accusations she made against McClean, the advertisement may have helped in inciting more gossip.  New chatter, however, had a conclusion in which Doyle set the record straight by restoring McClean’s reputation.  She shifted the story away from a possible theft to her own mistake in making an erroneous accusation.  Doyle sought to repair her relationship with McClean, though publishing a newspaper advertisement also facilitated gossip about a recent argument in the market.

January 6

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

Pennsylvania Journal (January 6, 1773).

“RUN AWAY … an Irish servant man, named Michael Nugent.”

James Riddle’s advertisements concerning an indentured servant who had “RUN AWAY” shortly before the new year received a privileged place in January 6, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  It was the only advertisement on the first page of the newspaper.  As readers perused an “Extract of a letter from a Gentleman in London,” “Extracts from the Minutes of the House of Burgesses in Virginia,” and news from Warsaw, they encountered a notice that described Michael Nugent, “an Irish servant man, … by trade a taylor,” and offered a reward for capturing and imprisoning him or delivering him to Riddle on Shippen Street in Philadelphia.  The advertisement appeared at the bottom of the middle column of the first page.

That an advertisement appeared on the front page of a colonial newspaper was not uncommon.  Printers frequently ran paid notices on the first page, often as a practical matter.  Newspapers consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Some printers placed advertisement, which ran for multiple weeks, on the first and last pages, printed those first, and reserved the second and third pages for the most recent news that arrived in the printing office.  Even when they did not devote the entire first page to advertising, printers tended to cluster notices together in complete columns.  The front page of a newspaper, for instance, could feature two columns of news and one column of advertising or one column of news and two columns of advertising.

A single advertisement, especially one that did not promote some aspect of the printer’s own business, was unusual.  In this instance, the printers placed all other advertisements in the final column of the third page and filled the final page with notices, segregating news from advertising except for the lone notice about a runaway indentured servant on the front page.  Its placement may have also been a practical matter since it was just the right length to complete the column that included news from Virginia before starting a new column of news from Warsaw.  Riddle’s advertisement generated revenue for the printers of the Pennsylvania Journal, but it served another purpose as well.  It functioned as filler when laying out the first page of the newspaper.