September 14

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

Pennsylvania Packet (September 14, 1772).

“The curious in books … are requested to call for the Catalogue.”

An advertisement in the September 14, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet invited readers to visit “the Book-Store of WILLIAM WOODHOUSE” to receive a free copy of “A CATALOGUE OF A COLLECTION OF NEW AND OLD BOOKS, In all the Arts and Sciences, and in various Languages.”  The advertisement indicates that the lengthy title of the catalog included “Also, as large quantity of entertaining Novels, with the lowest price printed to each book.”  At a glance, it appears that Woodhouse was responsible for compiling and promoting this catalog, but closer inspection reveals that Woodhouse almost certainly collaborated with another bookseller, Robert Bell.

Ten months later, Bell distributed a catalog that replicated the title of the catalog advertised in September 1772, with the exception of adding his name: “ROBERT BELL’s SALE CATALOGUE Of a COLLECTION of NEW AND OLD BOOK, In all the Arts and Sciences, and in various Languages, Also, a large Quantity of entertaining NOVELS; with the lowest Price printed to each BOOK; NOW SELLING, At the BOOK-STORE of WILLIAM WOODHOUSE, Bookseller, Stationer, and Bookbinder, in Front-street, near Chestnut-street, Philadelphia.”  Woodhouse apparently provided retail space for Bell in both 1772 and 1773.

Yet more than merely identical titles testify to Bell’s role in producing and marketing the catalog.  The newspaper advertisement concluded with a nota bene that declared, “In this Collection are many uncommon BOOKS, seldom to be found;—therefore, the curious in books—the Directors of Libraries—and all others, that delight in the food of the mind, are requested to call for the Catalogue at said WOODHOUSE’S, as above.”  Those flourishes, especially “the curious in books” and “food of the mind,” echoed the language that the flamboyant Bell deployed in other advertisements.  For instance, he previously marketed “ROBERTSON’S celebrated History of CHARLES the Fifth” to “ALL Gentlemen that possess a sentimental TASTE.”

Bell was one of the most innovative and influential American booksellers and publishers of the eighteenth century.  Inserting the “lowest price” in the entry for each book in the catalog distinguished it from other catalogs that merely listed authors, titles, and, sometimes, sizes ranging from folio to quarto to octavo to duodecimo.  In addition, Bell supplemented newspaper advertisements and catalogs with broadsides and subscription notices, creating savvy marketing campaigns that incorporated multiple media to entice colonizers to become consumers of the books that he hawked.

September 7

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

Pennsylvania Packet (September 7, 1772).

“THE BURLINGTON ALMANACK … IS JUST PUBLISHED.”

As they perused the September 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, readers encountered a sign that fall would soon arrive.  Isaac Collins announced that the Burlington Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord, 1773 “IS JUST PUBLISHED, and to be SOLD” at his printing office in Burlington, New Jersey.  Hoping to entice customers, Collins provided a list of the “entertaining and useful” contents “Besides the usual Astronomical Calculation.”  It was one of the first advertisements for almanacs for 1773 that appeared in colonial newspapers, an early entry in an annual ritual for printers throughout the colonies.

Publishing almanacs generated significant revenues for printers.  Some produced several titles in their printing offices, catering to the preferences and brand loyalty of customers who purchased these handy reference manuals year after year.  Marketing began late in the summer or early in the fall, often with printers declaring their intentions to print almanacs.  In such instances, they encouraged readers to anticipate the publication of their favorite titles and look for additional advertisements alerting them when those almanacs were available to purchase.  Collins dispensed with the waiting period.  He made the Burlington Almanack available immediately, perhaps hoping to attract customers whom he suspected would choose more popular and familiar alternatives when other printers began marketing and printing them. After all, he first published the Burlington Almanack two years earlier, but others had annual editions dating back decades.  Just five days before Collins’s advertisement ran in the Pennsylvania Packet, David Hall and William Sellers ran a brief advertisement about the popular “POOR RICHARD’S ALMANACK for 1773,” just three lines, in their own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  They announced that copies would go on sale the following day.

The number and frequency of advertisements for almanacs increased throughout the fall as printers shared their plans for publishing them and informed customers when they went to press.  Some printers inserted brief notices about popular titles, as Hall and Sellers did.  Other adopted the same strategy as Collins, disseminating lengthy descriptions of the “entertaining and useful matter” between the covers of their almanacs.  Such material became even more important in marketing almanacs after the arrival of the new year.  Printers often had surplus copies that they advertised in the winter and into the spring, the number and frequency tapering off.  The “Astronomical Calculations” became obsolete with each passing week and month, but the essays, poetry, remedies, and other contents retained their value throughout the year.

Collins concluded his advertisement with a note that he “performs Printing in its various branches” and sold a “a variety of Books and Stationary, Drugs and Medicines.”  Publishing almanacs accounted for only one of several revenue streams at his printing office, but an important one.  Especially with effective marketing, printing almanacs could be quite lucrative for colonial printers.

August 17

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

Pennsylvania Packet (August 17, 1772).

“He came on redemption, and was disappointed in meeting his expected friend.”

James Gordon found himself in an unanticipated situation when he migrated from Londonderry to Philadelphia in the summer of 1772.  The “WRITING-MASTER AND ACCOMPTANT” declared that he “came on redemption, and was disappointed in meeting his expected friend.”  In other words, he did not pay his passage in advance, nor did he sign an indenture and agree to work for a set number of years in exchange for transportation across the Atlantic.  Instead, Gordon became a redemptioner.  Compared to indentured servants who signed contracts that outlined their commitments in advance of departing European ports, redemptioners were “redeemed” by colonizers who paid their passage upon arrival.  Many redemptioners arranged in advance for family and friends to redeem them.  Others, however, sailed without knowing who might redeem them, sold into indentured servitude after crossing the Atlantic.  That system was especially popular with German-speaking migrants.  Newspapers published in Philadelphia ran the greatest numbers of advertisements offering redemptioners for sale.

Gordon apparently thought that a friend would redeem him when he arrived in Philadelphia, though the friend may not have been aware of that arrangement.  Whatever the circumstances, he placed an advertisement seeking a patron to redeem him by paying for his passage and hiring him “as a Clerk or Schoolmaster.”  Gordon expressed his willingness to work for “any Gentleman, Merchant, Farmer, or other, in any part of the province of Pennsylvania, or New-Jersey.”  If no one who wanted to hire him as a clerk or schoolmaster were to “pay his redemption,” he could be redeemed by someone who had him do other kinds of work that Gordon likely would have found much less agreeable.

To avoid that possibility, Gordon added a nota bene in which he attempted to promote the qualities that made him a good schoolmaster and clerk while simultaneously not scaring off prospective employers by overselling himself.  Perhaps most importantly, he wanted to impress them with his honesty.  “As the generality of advertisers are pleased to embellish their abilities with the most exalted encomiums,” he declared, “the above Gordon, as to that point inclines to be silent, only, that by his behaviour, method of teaching, (or clerkmanship) and assiduity, flatters himself of meriting the kind approbation of any employer.”  Gordon hoped that his advertisement would convince someone would hire him as a schoolmaster or clerk.  Otherwise, he faced the prospects of the owner or captain of the vessel that carried him across the ocean would allow others to “pay his redemption” and employ him as they saw fit.  Gordon may have thought that he had a deal in place when he left Londonderry, but redemption turned out to be a gamble for the writing master and clerk.

August 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 5, 1772).

“Probably will endeavour to pass for a freeman.”

Jem, a “Mulattoe SLAVE,” made his escape during the night of July 15, 1772, liberating himself from Thomas May in Elk Forge, Maryland.  In his efforts to capture Jem and return him to enslavement, May ran an advertisement in which he described Jem as a “cunning ingenious fellow” who “probably will endeavour to pass for a freeman.”  Jem possessed several skills that may have helped him elude May, but those skills also made him even more valuable to the enslaver.  In addition to being able to read “pretty well” and speak Dutch, Jem was a “good workman in a forge, either in finery or chafery, can do any kind of smith’s or carpenter’s work, necessary about a forge, [and] can also do any kind of farming business.”  May also described the clothes that Jem wore when he liberated himself.  No doubt Jem would have offered other details had he been given an opportunity to publish his own narrative.  Even in Jem’s absence, May exerted control over his depiction in the public prints.

Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (August 4, 1772).

May also made decisions about how widely to disseminate advertisements describing Jem and offering “FIVE POUNDS REWARD” for capturing him.  His advertisement appeared in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal on August 5.  Of the newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time, those had the longest publication history.  That likely gave May confidence that those newspapers circulated to many readers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.  Apparently, however, he did not consider that sufficient.  May was so invested in capturing and returning Jem to enslavement at the forge that he also placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on August 8 and the Pennsylvania Packet on August 10.  Considering the skills that Jem possessed, May probably thought it well worth the fees to place notices in all four English-language newspapers published in Philadelphia at the time.  He even took advantage of the translation services that Henry Miller, printer of the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote, offered to advertisers in a nota bene that appeared at the bottom of the masthead.  May’s advertisement describing Jem ran in that newspaper on August 4, further increasing the number of colonizers who might read it, carefully observe Black men they encountered, and participate in capturing the fugitive seeking freedom.  Thomas May expended significant money and effort in attempting to re-enslave Jem, using the power of the press to overcome the various advantages Jem sought to use to his own benefit.

June 17

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (June 15, 1772).

“Sweeping brushes as 19 s. per dozen, and lower by the half or whole gross.”

John Hannah described himself as a “WHOLESALE AND RETAIL BRUSHMAKER” in an advertisement that appeared in the supplement that accompanied the June 15, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet.  Although he stocked “a good assortment of painting brushes” and “a general assortment of bone brushes” that he “imported in the last vessels from England and Holland,” he focused on the items that he produced in his own shop “AT THE HOG, … At the north-east corner of Second and Chestnut Streets” in Philadelphia.  A woodcut depicting a boar, the bristles on the crest of its back evident, adorned his advertisement.

Hannah declared that he “made and manufactured” all kinds of brushes “in the best manner” at his shop, assisted by “the best hands in the city.”  The quality of his brushes derived from both the materials, “a large and general assortment of Bristles” imported from Europe, and the skills of those who worked in his shop.  In addition to quality, Hannah promoted low prices, especially for wholesale transactions.  He proclaimed that he “can sell on as reasonable terms as any manufacturer in the province,” challenging prospective customers to compare his prices to those set by his competitors. To demonstrate that he did indeed offer good bargains, he listed some of his prices.  Hannah sold a dozen sweeping brushes for nineteen shillings.  He offered discounts to buyers who purchased in greater volume.  Similarly, he charged four shilling for a dozen “weavers brushes” and “lower by the half or whole gross.”  That he did not specify how deeply he discounted such purchases suggested that customers could negotiate the prices.

Hannah incorporated several appeals into his advertisement.  He emphasized the quality of his finished product as well as the skills of the workers who labored in his shop.  He promoted the range of choices available to customers.  He also promised the lowest prices in the colony, listing his prices and offering discounts to retailers and others who purchased large quantities of brushes.  To draw attention to his advertisement, he included a woodcut that resembled the sign that marked the location of his shop, a rudimentary form of branding his business.

June 8

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (June 8, 1772).

“JOSEPH STANSBURY, Hath just imported … GLASS AND EARTHEN WARES.”

Molly Torres, a student in my Revolutionary America class in Fall 2021, selected this advertisement that Joseph Stansbury placed in the June 8, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet.  It prompted a conversation about the many trajectories for learning about the past presented by each advertisement.  In most instances, I encouraged students to focus on a particular item, such as tea, and how it helped us understand commerce, politics, or daily life in the era of the American Revolution.  I cautioned that examining individual advertisers would usually be more difficult, especially for students with limited experience undertaking research that integrated primary and secondary sources.  Many advertisers left behind few traces beyond their newspaper notices.  Some advertisers, however were so famous … or infamous … that more information about them was readily available to novice researchers.

Such was the case with Joseph Stansbury, infamous as the “main intercessory between Benedict Arnold and John André.”  According to an online exhibit about “Spy Letters of the American Revolution” sponsored by the William L. Clements Library, Stansbury held a variety of positions, including commissioner of the city watch, during the British occupation of Philadelphia.  He remained in the city when the British withdrew, though Stansbury traveled to New York “specifically to meet with André about Arnold.”  He did not stay in the city long, not wanting to raise suspicions about his loyalties upon returning to Philadelphia.  Upon his return, he received a letter with instructions from the British officer and then became “the mediator between the communications of Arnold and André.”  They corresponded in cipher, using identical copies of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England as keys for decoding their letters.

Researching this advertisement about a “LARGE AND CAPITAL ASSORTMENT OF GLASS AND EARTHEN WARES of the most approved kinds” took Molly in unexpected directions.  Neither of us anticipated that working on this project would lead to learning more about espionage during the American Revolution or the nation’s most infamous traitor and his accomplices.  Examining the Clements Library’s online exhibition also gave us an opportunity to discuss archives, special collections, and the process of conducting more sustained research.  As I’ve previously written, one of my favorite parts of inviting students to serve as guest curators of the Adverts 250 Project is discovering where their research will take us once they select which advertisements to feature.  That is so much more interesting than if I unilaterally set the syllabus at the beginning of the semester and we did not deviate from it.

June 3

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

Pennsylvania Packet (June 3, 1772).

“FOR KINGSTON, IN JAMAICA, THE SHIP POLLY AND PEGGY.”

Readers frequently encountered advertising on the front page of eighteenth-century newspapers.  Printers did not relegate that content to other sections.  Some filled all or most of the front page with advertising, as Hugh Gaine did in the June 1, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  Others divided the space between advertising and news. William Goddard devoted the first two columns of the June 1 edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advertisements, reserving the third column for news.  John Dunlap, on the other hand, gave priority to news on the front page of the Pennsylvania Packet published that day, but that did not prevent him from including some advertisements.  The first two and a half columns contained news.  Four advertisements filled the remainder of the final column.

Those advertisements delivered news of a different sort.  One notice informed the public that the Polly and Peggy sought passengers and freight for a voyage to Jamaica.  Another let travelers know that Martin Delany opened a tavern “at Appiquimany Bridge (commonly called Cantwell’s Bridge) on the great road from Philadelphia to Dover.”  He encouraged them to lodge there, promising “the best usage,” “a variety of the first wines, [and] spirits,” and “completely refitted” stables.  In another advertisement, Robert Mack called on “James Pearce, of George-Town” and “David Foset of Snowhill” to “pay charges” and “take away” Jack and Charles, enslaved men in his custody at the jail in New Castle.  In addition, White and Montgomery reported that “just opened [a] store on the north side of Market-street wharf.”  A note at the bottom of the column advised, “FOR MORE NEW ADVERTISEMENTS SEE THE FOURTH PAGE.”  Dunlap suggested that readers would be just as interested in the information relayed in the paid notices that appeared on the last page as the news from Europe, the shipping news from the custom house, and the prices current in Philadelphia on the second and third pages.

Printers did not adopt uniform practices about where advertisements should appear in relation to other content, though they usually reserved some or all of the final page for paid notices.  Advertisements could appear just about anywhere in the newspaper, including on the front page, with the arrangement within any newspaper changing from week to week. Printers did not classify advertisements as content that could not appear on the front page.  As a result, advertisements often accounted for some of the first news or information that readers encountered when they perused eighteenth-century newspapers.

March 30

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (March 30, 1772).

“Prevail upon our LADIES to grant us a little of their industry and assistance.”

Women played a vital role in supporting the early American press.  So claimed John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, in a notice calling on colonizers to exchange “CLEAN LINEN RAGS” for “READY MONEY” at his printing office on Market Street in Philadelphia.  What was the connection between rags and newspapers?  Printers produced their publications on paper made from linen.  The papermakers who supplied them needed “CLEAN LINEN RAGS” to transform into paper for printing items of “Instruction and Amusement” for the public.

Dunlap commenced his notice by addressing “the Public in general, and his Fellow-citizens in particular,” suggesting that colonizers had a civic responsibility to support the press by participating in the production of paper through collecting rags.  He claimed that until recently papermakers in Pennsylvania not only produced enough “Printing-Paper” to serve that colony “but likewise had the glory and emolument of furnishing some of the other Colonies, and West India Islands” with a significant amount of their “Printing-Paper.”  Recently, however, the “Paper-Mills about this city are almost idle for want of RAGS,” thus putting printing offices in danger of a similar fate.

He then pivoted to addressing the “LADIES,” the “FAIR READERS” of the Pennsylvania Packet, imploring them “to grant us a little of their industry and assistance” by collecting rags to recycle into paper.  Dunlap reminded that that paper “was a main article in the late unconstitutional Taxes, which have been so nobly parried by the AMERICANS.”  Readers, both women and men, needed little reminder that Parliament imposed duties on imported paper and other goods in the Townshend Acts.  In response, American merchants and shopkeepers coordinated nonimportation agreements, leveraging commerce into acts of protests.  At the same time, colonizers promoted “domestic manufactures,” including paper, to replace imported goods they refused to consume.  Such protests played a role in convincing Parliament to repeal most of the import duties.

Yet readers of the Pennsylvania Packet still had a responsibility in maintaining the press.  “FAIR READERS” acted as “Fellow-citizens” when they gave their “kind attention” to Dunlap’s “complaint” about the scarcity of rags.  Women could attend to “the welfare of their country,” Dunlap asserted, by heeding his request.  Just as decisions about consumption became political acts for women during the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution so too did mundane chores like collecting rags.  Women’s work in that regard became imperative to the continued operation of American presses in the era of the American Revolution.

March 16

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 16, 1772).

“Proposes to engage his performance for one year, provided the owners do not abuse the same.”

When Thomas Morgan, a watch- and clockmaker, relocated from Philadelphia to a shop on Gay Street in Baltimore in the early 1770s, he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, published in Philadelphia.  Why did he advertise in a newspaper published in the town he left rather than one published in his new town?  Baltimore did not yet have its own newspaper.  Colonizers in Baltimore and the surrounding area depended on the Maryland Gazette, published in Annapolis, and several newspapers published in Philadelphia, including the Pennsylvania Packet, as regional newspapers.  When he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet, Morgan anticipated that prospective customers in Baltimore would see it.

In addition, he deployed other marketing strategies.  He marked his new location in Baltimore with “THE SIGN OF THE ARCH DIAL,” a visual statement to all passersby about what kind of business he operated.  He also offered a guarantee for repairing and cleaning watches and clocks, stating that he would “engage his performance for one year, provided the owners do not abuse the same.”  In other words, the guarantee remained in effect only if customers treated their clocks and watches well.  That included not subjecting their timepieces to “unskilful hands” who did more harm than good.  Morgan lamented that “many good watches are greatly abused for want of experience” by artisans who purported to possess skills that they did not.  In so doing, Morgan made appeals similar to those that John Simnet, a watchmaker in New York, included in his newspaper advertisements.  He also offered guarantees of his work, contingent on how customers treated their clocks and watches, and warned against trusting inexperienced watch- and clockmakers who damaged the timepieces entrusted to them.

Morgan invited “Any Gentleman” to visit his new location in Baltimore, promising that they may “have new Watches and Clocks made after the neat and best construction.”  To encourage those previously unfamiliar with his work, he indicated that he already attracted new clients and “most gratefully acknowledges the many favours received from the Public, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  Morgan hoped that advertising in the Pennsylvania Packet would further ease the transition after setting up shop in a new town.

March 11

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

Pennsylvania Packet (March 9, 1772).

“Said EVITT prints Advertisements.”

In the early 1770s, William Evitt regularly placed advertisements in several newspapers published in Philadelphia to announce that he “PERFORMS PRINTING IN ALL ITS BRANCHES, With the utmost CARE and EXPEDITION.”  He did not provide much more detail in an advertisement in the March 9, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, though he did include a nota bene about one of the “BRANCHES” of the printing business.  “Said EVITT,” he explained, “prints Advertisements, &c. at two hours notice, as usual.”  The “&c.” (an eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera) likely referred to printed blanks such as indentures, bills of lading, and other forms for legal agreements and commercial transactions.

Evitt did not print a newspaper, but he assisted colonizers in disseminating other kinds of advertising media.  The advertisements he printed “at two hours notice” probably included handbills, broadsides (or posters), trade cards (a combination of a handbill and business card), and billheads (a trade card with space for writing receipts by hand).  Each of those items consisted of a single sheet.  At the direction of his customers, Evitt may have embellished the advertising copy with ornamental type of the sort that ran across the top of his newspaper notice or woodcuts with visual images that he supplied.  To produce advertisements in such a short time, he quickly set the type and then worked with employees in operating a manual press.

In declaring that he printed advertisements “as usual,” Evitt suggested that handbills, broadsides, trade cards, billheads, and other items constituted a regular part of his business.  Marketing materials flowed off of his press into the hands of advertisers and, eventually, to colonizers in Philadelphia and beyond.  Compared to eighteenth-century newspapers and the advertisements that appeared in them, however, relatively few handbills, broadsides, trade cards, and billheads survive today.  I believe that historians have underestimated the extent that advertising media circulated in early America, especially in bustling port cities, as a result.  Evitt’s advertisement about printing advertisements suggests that colonizers encountered an array of marketing media on a daily basis.