August 5

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

Aug 5 - 8:2:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 2, 1770).

“For CHARLESTOWN … the Sloop SALLY.”

In many ways, these brief advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770 looked very much like others that appeared in that newspaper.

“CANARY SEED, Sold by DAVID DESHLER, in Market-Street.” (July 26)

“For CHARLESTOWN, (South-Carolina) the Sloop SALLY, JOSPEH BLEWERS, Master.  For Freight or Passage apply to said Master; who has for Sale, Carolina PINE-ROOT, SAIL-CLOTH, &c.” (August 2)

“WANTED, A CORK CUTTER.  For further Particulars enquire of the Printers.” (August 9)

“WANTED, A Pair of well match’d HORSES.  Enquire of the Printers.” (August 16)

The format of these advertisements set them apart from others in the Pennsylvania Journal.  Each appeared on the third page in the margin on the right.  The compositor rotated the text perpendicular to the other contents of the page and set each of these advertisements in a single line.  Apparently, their length rather than their purpose qualified these particular notices for such treatment.

In laying out the page in this manner, the compositor relied on a common means of squeezing a little more content onto a crowded page.  While this was not an aspect of early American newspapers that appeared in all or even most issues, it was a common enough strategy that it would have been familiar to readers throughout the colonies.  Sometimes compositors used this trick to insert time-sensitive advertisements received too late to integrate into columns of type already set.  For the advertisements that ran in the margins of the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770, however, that does not appear to have been the case.  Instead, their length made them candidates for this format.

Placing advertisements in the margin benefited printers who generated revenue regardless of where in their newspapers paid notices appeared.  This likely also accrued benefits to the advertisers as well.  Their notices became more visible as a result of their placement on the page, perhaps drawing the eyes of curious readers.  Such notices seemed to take up more space; had they been printed in one of the standard columns they would have occupied two or three lines, easily skipped by readers who skimmed the page.  Running down the side of a column, however, made them much more difficult to ignore.

Drawing additional attention to these advertisements by placing them in the margin does not seem to have been the primary goal of this format but rather an unintended consequence.  Still, this decision by the compositor likely yielded benefits for the advertisers.

July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:19:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 19, 1770).

“A LARGE quantity of PATENT and FAMILY MEDICINES.”

Sometimes the advertisements in colonial American newspapers gave the impression that just about every purveyor of goods sold patent medicines.  Apothecaries ran advertisements devoted almost exclusively to the drugs they stocked, including various patent medicines.  Retailers listed patent medicines among the array of merchandise they sold.  Even printers and booksellers advertised patent medicines in efforts to create additional revenue streams for their businesses.  Most listed the names of the patent medicines they carried but did not elaborate on them.  For instance, in the July 19, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Duffield and Delany, “Druggists; At Boerhaave’s Head,” stated that they sold “a variety of patent medicines, such as Godfrey’s cordial, Bateman’s drops, Anderson and Hooper’s pills.”  William Richards peddled “Chemical and Galenical Medicines” wholesale and retail.  In a short paragraph, he named fifteen familiar medicines, but did not describe the use of any except “Greenough’s tincture for preserving the teeth and gums.”

In contrast, Robert Kennedy and Thomas Kennedy ran an advertisement for “A LARGE quantity of PATENT and FAMILY MEDICINES” that almost filled an entire column.  They listed eight patent medicines and provided short descriptions of the uses and effects of each.  Most were so familiar that advertisers usually did not consider it necessary to offer so much detail.  The Kennedys stocked all of the nostrums that Duffield and Delany named but did not describe; the “Druggists; At Boerhaave’s Head” expected that consumers already knew the purpose of each.  For instance, Duffield and Delany merely listed “Bateman’s drops,” but the Kennedy’s created a headline for “BATEMAN’s DROPS” and followed it with this description:  “The only remedy that some of the best judges make use of in severe vomitings and purges; given with greatest success in all kinds of fluxes, spitting of blood, consumptions, agues, smallpox, measles, colds, coughs and pains of the limbs and joints; they put off the most violent fever if taken in time, and gives present ease in the most racking torment of the gout, cholic and rheumatism, and what is wonderful, in all sorts of pains they give ease in a few minutes after taken.”  The Kennedys devised an even longer description for Cook’s Worm Powders, introducing consumers to a “medicine never before imported” yet “at present in the highest esteem” in England.

Why did the Kennedys choose to publish such elaborate descriptions for such familiar patent medicines?  With the exception of Cook’s Worm Powders, the general public already knew which patent medicines to take for various maladies.  The length of the advertisement would have certainly attracted attention.  It appeared on the same page as the notices placed by Duffield and Delany and William Richards, yet demanded more attention from readers.  The Kennedys’ occupation may have also played a part in their decision to describe these patent medicines in so much detail.  They sold them at “their Print Shop,” by which they meant a shop for purchasing prints to decorate homes rather than a printing office.  They concluded their advertisement with a paragraph about “PICTURES” they also offered for sale.  When it came to dispensing medicines, the Kennedys were not the same specialists as Duffield and Delany or William Richards.  The descriptions may have been an attempt to justify their participation in that corner of the marketplace, a statement that they did not merely peddle patent medicines but also understood their uses and could aid customers in selecting the most appropriate remedies.  They concluded the portion of the advertisement with a note that acknowledged they stocked patent medicines “in conjunction with their usual business” and pledged to sell “warrantable and well authenticated” items that they “import[ed] from the best hands only.”  The Kennedys pledged to guard against frauds and counterfeits, selling only “what is genuine and the best of their kind.”  They promised that “none need be afraid of their attempting to adulterate in these matters, especially so much out of their province.”  The Kennedys acknowledged that selling patent medicines was different than selling prints, but consumers could trust them in those transactions.  The offered the descriptions of the various patent medicines as a performance meant to demonstrate their knowledge about those products and their competence in offering the elixirs to customers.

July 19

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

Jul 19 - 7:19:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (July 19, 1770).

“Ah—Liberty!  …. An empty sound alone remains of thee.”

John Mason, an upholsterer, did not merely seek to sell paper hangings (or wallpaper) and bedding materials when he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal in the summer of 1770.  His entire advertisement was a short sermon about the current political crisis and the fate of the nonimportation agreement adopted by the merchants of Philadelphia in response to the duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  All of those duties had been recently repealed, with the exception of the duty on tea, prompting merchants in New York to bring an end to their nonimportation agreement and begin trading with English merchants once again.  Residents of other cities and towns debated whether they would continue their own boycotts.  The nonimportation agreement in Philadelphia was on the verge of collapse.  It came to an end on September 20.

Mason apparently did not agree with the direction he saw the merchants and traders in his city heading.  He used his advertisement to encourage the continuation of the nonimportation agreement as well as condemn the merchants in New York for so hastily resuming trade as soon as they heard about the repeal of most of the duties.  The nonimportation agreements were intended to stay in effect until Parliament repealed all the duties, yet the duties on tea remained.

Mason began his advertisement with a play on words, stating that he “STILL prays for liberty to inform the public, that he would be glad to dispose of his property.”  He implied that all liberty was at stake, not just his ability to hawk goods in the marketplace.  He deployed the same turn of phrase in another advertisement that doubled as a political lecture a year earlier.  In his new epistle, he informed prospective customers that he sold papers hangings “not lately imported,” making clear that he continued to abide by the nonimportation agreement, as well as variety of bedding materials that he presumably made in his upholstery shop.  “The utility of these beds,” he proclaimed, “is not duly attended to, as they say, by sleeping on them.”  If the purpose of beds was not for sleeping then what was it?  Mason believed his bedding materials served a more important purpose as symbols of American liberty.  Consumers should purchase them to demonstrate their own commitment to the cause, especially during “this crisis, when our Liberty is tottering, like our Neighbour’s Resolutions*.”  Just in case readers missed his meaning, an asterisk confirmed that he critiqued recent actions in “*NEW YORK.:”

To underscore his point, he inserted a short poem for the edification of both merchants and consumers in Philadelphia:

Ah—Liberty!  How loved, how valued once, avail thee not
To whom retail’d, or by whom begot,
An empty sound alone remains of theee,
And its all thy one pretended Votaries‡ shall be—

Mason contended that liberty had been valued for a time, but all that remained of it was an “empty sound” because its “pretended Votaries,” the merchants in New York, prematurely abandoned the cause by withdrawing from the nonimportation agreement before all the duties had been repealed.  He inserted two more lines of commentary about those “pretended Votaries‡.”  Mason accused them of a “sad blunder, never to be mended” and accused them of causing the entire enterprise to fail.  “This one bad step, the contest ended,” he lamented.  Merchants in New York and other cities saw the repeal of most of the duties on imported goods as a victory.  They believed their nonimportation agreement had served its purpose (or at least well enough to return to business and resume trading).  Mason disagreed.  Until Parliament repealed the duties on tea, bringing an end to the boycotts was nothing more than capitulation.  Parliament had not met the terms that stated the nonimportation agreements would remain in effect until all the duties were repealed.  Mason took a harder line than many other colonists, using a newspaper advertisement to express his views to the general public.

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.