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.

February 24

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (February 24, 1772).

“A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF BOOKS … AN ASSORTMENT of CURIOUS HARD-WARE.”

John Sparhawk sold a variety of goods at the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” on Second Street in Philadelphia in the early 1770s.  He ran an advertisement in the February 24, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet to announce that he had in stock “A GENERAL ASSORTMENT OF BOOKS,” listing a dozen titles.  Like many other booksellers, he also carried “papers and stationary of all kinds” as well as patent medicines popular among consumers.

A good portion of the inventory he promoted in his advertisement, however, deviated from the sorts of ancillary merchandise that most booksellers sold.  Sparhawk devoted more space in his advertisement to “AN ASSORTMENT of CURIOUS HARD-WARE” than to “Blackstone’s commentaries,” “Kalm’s history of America,” and other books.  He had everything from “A variety of spectacle” to “An assortment of very neat pocket and horse pistols, brass and iron barrels, bolted, plain and silver mounted” to “Pinchbeck buckles of the best kinds” to “Knives and forks, from the best to the common kinds in wood boxes or shagreen cases.”  Shoppers encountered the same sorts of merchandise at the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” that they found at general purpose stores around town.

Even though his list of tea urns, gloves, scales, and other wares occupied more space than his catalog of books, Sparhawk did draw attention to two books in particular.  In a nota bene, he advised prospective customers about bargains for purchasing American editions of two medical texts.  They got a great deal on “TISSOT’S Advice to the People with regards to their Health, an American edition, at 10s. the London edition is 15s.”  Similarly, they could acquire “Dimsdale’s present method of Innoculation for the Small-pox, at 3s. 9d.” for an American edition, but “the London edition is 6s.”  Sparhawk also noted that he “has a few sets of the 12th, 13th and 14th volumes of Van Swieten’s Commentaries, to match the eleven preceding,” for those who wanted to complete their sets.

Booksellers often diversified their inventory with stationery, writing supplies, and “DRUGS AND MEDICINES” to generate additional revenues.  Most, however, did not advertise extensive selections of other kinds of merchandise.  Sparhawk made it clear that customers could browse far more than books when they visited the “LONDON BOOK-STORE,” yet he also made special appeals about some of his books to demonstrate that customers interested in that branch of his business would be well served.  In some ways, the diversification of merchandise available at many modern book stores resembles Sparhawk’s strategy for earning a living in eighteenth-century Philadelphia.

February 17

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

Pennsylvania Packet (February 17, 1772).

“The only true and genuine sort … is sealed with my seal and coat of arms.”

Beware of counterfeiters!  So warned Thomas Anderton in his advertisement for “TURLINGTON’s BALSAM OF LIFE; OR THE TRUE AMERICAN BALSAM.”  Anderton proclaimed that this patent medicine was recognized among Europeans, Americans, and “West-Indians” for its “true merit, of universal experience, utility and reputation,” superior to “all the other known Balsams.”  Continuing with the superlatives, Anderton trumpeted that Turlington’s Balsam of Life was “the best adapted in all cases, in every climate, to relieve the various ailments and diseases of the human body … that pharmacy, since the creation of the world, has produced.”  Tending to the quality of the product he marketed, Anderton asserted that he “faithfully prepared” the balsam “from a true copy of the original receipt, taken out of the Chancery-office, in London, where it is recorded on oath, when the patent was granted.”

Anderton claimed an exclusive right to produce and sell this extraordinary medicine in the colonies, yet that did not prevent others from distributing counterfeits.  He explained how consumers could distinguish the authentic balsam from imposters “which are to be met with every where.”  Those produced by Anderton were “sealed with my seal and coat of arms, and the direction bill given with each bottle is signed with my name in my own hand writing.”  Armed with that information, discerning customers could avoid being fooled by unscrupulous vendors who passed off inferior medicines as authentic Turlington’s Balsam of Life.  Some “very modest counterfeiters,” like Martha Wray and Mary Sopp, provided “direction bills” with the medicines they sold, but, according to Anderton, they “conscientiously avoid forging the proprietors names.”  Others, however, were more sophisticated in their efforts to hoodwink consumers.  They engaged in “forgery in a gross degree,” aided by “Printers and Engravers that have been employed to counterfeit the direction and seals.”  Anderton pledged to expose everyone involved, including “venders of such counterfeit rubbish,” at a later time, but for the moment warned consumers to be wary of products purported to be authentic Turlington’s Balsam of Life.  In exercising caution, consumers could safeguard their own purchases to their own benefit as well as prevent further injustices to the producer of the “TRUE AMERICAN BALSAM.”

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Packet (January 27, 1772).

“GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE, At the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’s HEAD.”

Much of the content of George Bartram’s advertisement in the January 27, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Packetresembled what appeared in notices placed by other merchants and shopkeepers.  Bartram informed prospective customers that he “Just imported … A very large Assortment” of textiles “from BRITAIN and IRELAND.”  He then listed a variety of fabrics to demonstrate the choices available to consumers.

In addition to providing an overview of his merchandise, Bartram deployed other means of making his business memorable.  For instance, he marked it with a sign that featured a distinctive device, advising prospective customers to visit “the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’S HEAD” on Second Street.  Some colonial entrepreneurs used similar signs, but many did not.  Among the other advertisers in the January 27 edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, John Carnan, a jeweler, ran a shop “AT THE GOLDEN LION,” but Joseph Carson, Francis Hopkinson, William Miller, Alexander Power, John Sparhawk, Mary Symonds, and James Wallace did not mention signs that marked their locations.  Bartram further enhanced his advertisement with an image of a golden fleece’s head that may have replicated his shop sign.  Most advertisers who called attention to their signs did not make the additional investment in woodcuts.  Bartram apparently made the investment only once.  He ran an advertisement with the same copy, but no image, in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on the same day.

Bartram also gave his business a name, another marketing strategy adopted by relatively few advertisers in the eighteenth century.  Some merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans used their shop signs as the names for their businesses, but most advertisers did not give their businesses any sort of name.  Printers and booksellers were the most likely to name their businesses.  Although he did not have a sign with a distinctive device, Sparhawk called his shop the “LONDON BOOK-STORE” in his advertisement.  John Dunlap, printer of the Pennsylvania Packet, advertised books available at the “NEWEST PRINTING-OFFICE.”  Among advertisers from other occupations, Bartram distinguished his shop from others by calling it “GEORGE BARTRAM’s WOOLLEN DRAPERY AND HOSIERY WAREHOUSE, At the Sign of the GOLDEN FLEECE’s HEAD.”  He incorporated his own name, a sign, an image depicting that sign, and a name for his business into his advertisement, distinguishing it from others and making his endeavor more memorable.

January 1

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 30, 1771).

“JOHN CARNAN … AT THE GOLDEN LION.”

In its exploration of advertising and daily life in colonial America, the Adverts 250 Project features an advertisement originally published in an American newspaper 250 years ago that day … on most days.  It is not always possible, however, to select an advertisement from the exact date.  Two factors play significant roles.  First, no printers produced newspapers on Sundays, which means that once a week the Adverts 250 Project instead features an advertisement published sometime during the previous week 250 years ago.

Second, most newspapers were weekly publications.  Even though printers staggered the dates they distributed new issues (with clusters on Mondays and Thursdays), at least one newspaper appeared somewhere in the colonies every day of the week (Sundays excepted) throughout most of the late 1760s and early 1770s, the period covered by the Adverts 250 Project.  (I say most of the late 1760s and early 1770s because several newspapers ceased publication while the Stamp Act was in effect in late 1765 and early 1766.  As a result, fewer newspapers appeared on fewer days of the week for several months.)  Even though printers published and disseminated newspapers every day except Sundays, copies of those newspapers have not necessarily survived in research libraries, historical societies, and other collections.  Those still extant have not all been digitized, making them difficult to access for inclusion in the Adverts 250 Project.

January 1, 1772, is one of those days without any digitized newspapers to consider.  The first day of 1772 fell on a Wednesday, a day that printers did indeed publish newspapers.  Yet no newspapers for January 1, 1772, are available in any of the several databases that I consult in producing the Adverts 250 Project.  James Johnston printed the Georgia Gazette on Wednesdays, but that newspaper has not been part of the Adverts 250 Project since May 23, 2020, because the May 23, 1770, edition was the last one digitized.  According to Edward Connery Lathem’s Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, no copies of the Georgia Gazette are extant from 1771 and very few have survived from 1772 and 1773.  Complete or extensive coverage exists for 1774 and 1775, but no copies published after 1770 have been digitized.

Johnston likely published a new edition of the Georgia Gazette on January 1, 1772.  It likely included at least a page of advertisements, including multiple notices about enslaved people for sale and others offering rewards for the capture and return of those who liberated themselves from their enslavers.  Yet no copy is available for examination and inclusion in the Adverts 250 Project, a reminder of one of the many factors that makes the curation of this project incomplete despite efforts to be as extensive as possible.  In addition, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project does not include every advertisement about enslaved people originally published in American newspapers 250 years ago, only those in newspapers that have been digitized.  Such advertisements were even more ubiquitous than the Slavery Adverts 250 Project demonstrates.

All of this means that the Adverts 250 Project does not begin 2022 with an advertisement from 1772.  Instead, I have selected an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Packet on December 30, 1771.  Regular visitors to the Adverts 250 Project will recognize John Carnan’s notice with its distinctive woodcut depicting a golden lion, an image that has appeared on the project’s homepage since its inception.  I previously examined another advertisement placed by Carnan, that one in the Pennsylvania Gazette on August 1, 1771, the first time he included the image in one of his notices.  Tomorrow the Adverts 250 Project will feature its first advertisement from 1772, one selected by a student in my Revolutionary America class in Fall 2021.  We’ll get 1772 and 2022 started with an advertisement seeking a “Journeyman COMPOSITER” that Isaiah Thomas inserted in his own newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy.

December 30

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 30, 1771).

“I am so rejoiced at my own good fortune, that I had almost forgot to thank you for curing my wife of hardness of hearing.”

When Dr. Graham, an “oculist and auralist,” arrived in Philadelphia in the fall of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the November 11, 1771, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet to inform “the inhabitants of British America in general, that he may be consulted … in all the disorders of the eyes, and in every species of deafness.”  Like many other physicians who migrated across the Atlantic, he presented his credentials, stating that “after several years study at the justly celebrated University of Edinburgh, he has travelled and attended upon the Hospitals and Infirmaries in London, Edinburgh, [and] Dublin.”  He acknowledged that many “practitioners in physic and surgery, gentlemen eminent in their profession,” already provided their services in Philadelphia, but nonetheless asserted that he “had more experience as an oculist and auralist, than, perhaps, any other Physician and Surgeon on this vast Continent.”  At the end of his advertisements, Graham inserted five short testimonials from patients in towns in New Jersey.

By the end of the year, his advertising strategy consisted almost entirely of publishing testimonials in the Pennsylvania Packet.  The December 30 edition included a “(COPY)” of a letter that the doctor received from John Thomas, a resident of Race Street in Philadelphia.  Thomas explained that he had been “afflicted with the unspeakable misfortune of total deafness in both ears” for thirty years.  He sometimes resorted to “a large trumpet, which assisted my hearing considerably in one ear.”  Upon seeing Graham’s advertisement “in this useful paper,” Thomas sought his services.  As a result of the doctor’s care, he no longer had “the least occasion for the trumpet” because he could “hear ordinary conversation” and could “conduct my business with a satisfaction, that for 30 years past I have been an utter stranger to.” In a postscript, Thomas also revealed that Graham cured his wife of “hardness of hearing, which she had been afflicted with for above fourteen years.”

An editorial note appeared at the end of the advertisement, almost certainly inserted by Graham rather than by the printer.  “As it is impossible for us to insert the great number of cures Dr. Graham has performed since his arrival in this city,” the note declared, “we must therefore refer the public for further information to the Doctor, at his apartments.”  This note seemed to give another third-party recommendation of Graham’s abilities to treat “all the disorders of the eye or its appendages; and in every species of deafness, [and] hardness of hearing,” but John Dunlap, the printer of the Pennsylvania Packet did not sign it.  Rather than a referral from the printer, Graham devised the note to bolster an advertising campaign centered on endorsements from others.  Having introduced himself in previous notices, he disseminated testimonials from local residents to bolster his reputation among prospective patients.

December 4

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

Pennsylvania Packet (December 2, 1771).

“To be Sold on the cheapest Terms.”

When John Dunlap commenced publication of the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771, he quickly gained advertisers.  From the very first issue, he distributed two-page supplements because the standard four-page issue could not contain all of the notices submitted to his printing office.  Many merchants and shopkeepers who placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Packet replicated a style more common in newspapers published in Boston and New York rather than those that appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal.  A substantial number of advertisements in Dunlap’s newspaper featured extensive lists, naming dozens or even hundreds of items and occupying a significant amount of space.  Perpendicular lines ran down the center of each, creating two columns within those advertisements.  Rather than dense paragraphs of text, one or two items ran on each line, making it easier for readers to navigate the contents.  Many of these catalogs of merchandise extended half a column or more.  Philip Benezet’s advertisement filled an entire column.

Why did notices with this particular format appear in great numbers in the Pennsylvania Packet in the fall of 1771 but not in other newspapers published in Philadelphia?  Did price play a role?  Dunlap included the costs for subscriptions and advertising in the proposals he distributed prior to launching his newspaper.  “The Price to Subscribers will be Ten Shillings per year,” he stated.  In addition, “Advertisements, of a moderate length, will be inserted at Three Shillings each for one week, and One Shilling for each continuance.”  Benezet’s advertisement certainly was not “a moderate length.”  In such instances, Dunlap asserted that he published “those of greater length at such proportionable prices as may be reasonable.”  David Hall and William Sellers did not include the price for subscriptions or advertisements in the colophon for the Pennsylvania Gazette, but William Bradford and Thomas Bradford indicated that “Persons may be supplied with” the Pennsylvania Packetat Ten Shillings a Year.”  William Goddard also charged ten shilling for an annual subscription to the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  None of the printers, however, included prices for advertising in the colophons of their newspapers.

Dunlap set the same rate for subscriptions as his competitors, but did he attempt to undercut them when it came to advertising?  If so, was that strategy only temporary, intended to come to an end once he felt his newspaper had been firmly established?  His proposals included other savvy marketing strategies.  He listed local agents in more than a dozen towns, from Boston in New England to Charleston in South Carolina, demonstrating that he planned for wide dissemination of the Pennsylvania Packet.  He also distributed the first issue “gratis” in hopes of cultivating interest and leveraging commitments from prospective subscribers.  Dunlap may or may not have charged lower rates for advertising as a means of jumpstarting his newspaper, but doing so was certainly within the realm of possibility in Philadelphia’s competitive media market.

November 20

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

Supplement to the Pennsylvania Packet (November 18, 1771).

“I am no servant.”

As soon as the Pennsylvania Packet commenced publication in late October 1771, William Henry Stiegal placed advertisements to promote the American Flint Glass Manufactory at Manheim in Lancaster County.  That advertisement ran for several weeks.  Stiegal soon supplemented it with another notice, that one offering “FIVE PISTOLES REWARD” for “a certain servant man, named FELIX FARRELL, by trade a Glass Blower” who ran away from the factory.  Stiegal described Farrell and promised the reward to whoever “secures him in any of his Majesty’s [jails].”  It was one of many advertisements for runaway servants that ran in newspapers printed in Philadelphia that fall.

Most went unanswered, but Felix Farrell published a response to set the record straight.  Readers encountered both Stiegal’s notice claiming Farrell ran away and Farrell’s response in the November 18 edition.  Farrell acknowledged Stiegal’s advertisement, but warned that he was “no way desirous of having any person plunge himself into an expensive law-suit.”  He then filled in details that Stiegal overlooked in his notice, stating that he and other men migrated to Pennsylvania “to pursue the business of making glass-ware.”  They were “pleased with the civility” that Stiegal demonstrated to them when they first arrived, especially since they were “strangers in America.”  Stiegal convinced them “to enter into articles of agreement with him.”  The relationship, however, turned sour, at least according to Farrell.  He reported that Stiegal “forfeited the covenant on his part” by not paying the promised wages.  That meant that Farrell had “a right to leave his employ and to bring action against him” rather than “drudge and spend my whole life and strength” upholding a broken contract.

Most significantly, Farrell declared, “I am no servant.”  He did not reach that conclusion on his own, but had instead “taken the opinion of an eminent gentlemen of the law” who examined the articles of agreement between Stiegal and Farrell.  Furthermore, Farrell warbed that “no person can be justified in apprehending me.”  Anyone who attempted to do so “will subject himself to an action of false imprisonment.”  Farrell retained a copy of the articles of agreement, asserting his willingness to publish them for consideration in the court of public opinion as well as pursue more formal legal proceedings if Stiegal continued to harass him.

The power of the press usually operated asymmetrically when it came to runaway advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Wives who “eloped” from their husbands usually did not publish responses.  Enslaved men and women who liberated themselves did not place notices, nor did most indentured servants.  Felix Farrell was one of those rare exceptions, someone who had both the resources to pay for an advertisement and firm enough standing not to place himself in further jeopardy by calling additional attention to himself.