August 4

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

Aug 4 - 8:4:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 4, 1769).

“Good Work … equal to any in Boston.”

The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century extended far beyond major metropolitan centers like London and into the provinces, both the English provinces and the colonies on the other side of the Atlantic. For colonists, participating in consumer culture became part of their identity and a marker of their membership in the vast British Empire. For many, acquiring goods also testified to their status. This sometimes prompted both anxiety and competition among consumers … and advertisers cultivated both for their own purposes. Some deployed an eighteenth-century version of “keeping up with the Joneses” to stimulate demand in their goods and services.

Consider the advertisement John Smith and Company placed in the August 4, 1769, edition of the New-London Gazette. Smith and Company introduced themselves as “Peruke-Makers and Hair-Dressers for Gentlemen and Ladies,” but before they specified their occupation they first proclaimed that they were “From BOSTON.” This inverted the usual order of information that commonly appeared in eighteenth-century advertisements. Most advertisers listed their occupation first and their place of origin or site of significant employment second, but Smith and Company made certain that their affiliation with Boston, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in New England, foregrounded everything else in their advertisement.

Smith and Company had recently opened a new shop at Norwich Landing, a much smaller town than the busy port of Boston. Despite the relatively bucolic setting, Smith and Company’s prospective clients could depend on “having good Work … equal to any in Boston.” This “good Work” presumably applied not only to the quality of the goods and services available from Smith and Company but also to the assistance they provided clients in demonstrating taste through adopting the latest styles, an important aspect of making wigs and dressing hair. Smith and Company encouraged readers of the New-London Gazette to consider current fashions and the services provided by wigmakers and hairdressers in Boston even though they lived at a distance from that busy port, much the same way that their counterparts in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia urged their prospective customers to look to London or Paris and promised to deliver the current styles from those places. No matter where consumers resided, according to advertisements in colonial newspapers, purveyors of goods and services could help them achieve the fashions currently en vogue in places they considered one rung up the cosmopolitan ladder.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:14:1769 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 14, 1769).

“Gentlemen and others … may depend on the greatest punctuality.”

As spring turned to summer in 1769, Robert Gray launched a new business in Savannah. The wigmaker and hairdresser marked the occasion by placing an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to inform the public that “he intends carrying on his business in this town.” Prospective clients could find him on Broughton Street, “Next door to Mr. Johnston’s.” He was conveniently located next door to the printing office operated by James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette. Yet Gray did not expect clients to visit his shop; instead, he offered to serve them “either at their lodgings or his shop,” catering to their convenience.

Gray used his advertisement to inform “the publick” of his new enterprise, but he also addressed “Gentlemen and others” when he pledged his “greatest punctuality” in serving his clients. This was a curious phrase, one that also appeared elsewhere on the same page in an advertisement placed by John Beaty, a tailor from London. Beaty proclaimed, “All gentlemen and others who may favour him with their commands shall be waited upon, and have their orders strictly obeyed.” Gray and Beaty attempted to peddle in exclusivity, but they also wanted to have it both ways. They encouraged prospective clients to think of themselves as genteel “gentlemen,” yet they did not want to position themselves as serving only the most elite residents of Savannah. In a small port with relatively few potential patrons compared to larger cities that may have been a practical strategy. The hairdresser and the tailor might have built their businesses around greater exclusivity in Charleston, New York, or Philadelphia, but they had to operate according to the realities of the market in Savannah. Gray and Beaty also implied that they recognized the distinctions between “gentlemen and others,” though neither would have given voice to clients that they considered them in one category or the other. As the consumer revolution gave colonists of various backgrounds greater access to goods and services previously reserved for the upper ranks, hairdressers, tailors, and others carefully presented their services to both the genteel and aspirants to gentility. The “others” might, over time, improve their social standing and become “gentlemen” if they used the services of hairdressers and tailors to their best advantage.

May 6

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

May 6 - 5:6:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 6, 1769).

“Will engage to make Wigs as can be had there.”

When Benjamin Gladding, a “PERUKE MAKER and HAIR-DRESSER,” advertised in the May 6, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, he made multiple appeals to prospective clients. He emphasized both his knowledge of the latest styles and the amenities available at his shop, but he also made a more common appeal to price.

Gladding addressed the public, but he made certain to acknowledge “those Gentlemen who have hitherto honoured him with their Favours.” Doing so made it clear to other prospective customers that Gladding already had an established clientele who placed their confidence in his attention to their hair and wigs. Gladding offered a service that should not be entrusted to some mere novice. To that end, he proclaimed that he “continues to execute the different Branches of his Profession in the most elegant and genteel Manner, and after the newest Fashion.” Experience, skill, and knowledge all played a role as Gladding positioned himself as the wigmaker and hairdresser of choice in Providence. He gained experience and developed skills over time, but maintain knowledge of “the newest Fashion” required constant and immediate attention. Gladding could not rely on what he had learned in years past because his clients certainly would not be satisfied with outdated styles.

Serving them “in the most elegant and genteel Manner” also depended on the setting. In this case, Gladding stressed that he had moved “to the commodious Shop” until recently occupied by his brother. He provided comfortable and spacious accommodation for his patrons. Having sufficient space was even more important because Gladding had a new employee. He reported that he had “procured a Hand from Boston” who assisted in serving his clients. Together, they made wigs “as cheap as can be had” in Boston or elsewhere. Striking a fashionable appearance did not need to be prohibitively expensive, not even in places beyond the largest port cities. Gladding may not have had as much local competition as his counterparts in Boston, but that did not mean that he raised the rates.

To attract existing and new clients to his shop, Gladding resorted to a variety of appeals in his short advertisement. In addition to highlighting his own skill and experience as a wigmaker and hairdresser, he balanced fashion and price as a means of making his services simultaneously exclusive and attainable.

December 21

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

Georgia Gazette (December 21, 1768).

“The gentlemen of this town would be so kind as to come to his shop to be dressed.”

In December 1768, John Roques, a wigmaker and hairdresser in Savannah, informed current and prospective clients that he wished to scale back one of the services he provided. Rather than visit “the gentlemen of this town” at their homes, he requested that they instead “come to his shop to be dressed.” Roques did not apologize or express apprehension about eliminating a service that clients previously found valuable. Instead, he offered an explanation that portrayed his business as thriving and justified his decision.

Roques asserted that he could no longer visit the homes of his clients due to “the great fatigue he was obliged to undergo every day.” The hairdresser was so popular, his services so in demand, that he was being run ragged all over town. He insisted that keeping such a routine had been “very pernicious to his health,” but that was not his primary reason for changing his terms of service. Being away from his shop meant that he “could not give satisfaction” to all of his clients; he did not mean that he provided shoddy assistance but rather that he had to decline to wait on some clients because they sent for him “three or four at once,” making it impossible for him to attend all of them in their homes. Instructing clients to visit his shop allowed Roques to focus his time and energy on dressing hair rather than traveling from home to home around Savannah.

His story of woe, whether or not exaggerated for effect, was also a story of success, one that implicitly testified to his skill. Clients would not have been sending for him “three or four at once” if he had not competently aided them. He did not make appeals to gentility or fashion, as many other wigmakers and hairdressers did in their advertisements. That so many clients simultaneously demanded his services suggested that he more than adequately fulfilled those requirements. In effect, Roques created a narrative about his services that served as an eighteenth-century equivalent of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Prospective clients should hire him because so many of their peers already did.

August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 15, 1768).

“I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London, of making Wigs.”

In the advertisements they placed in American newspapers in late colonial period, entrepreneurs in occupations tied to fashion often underscored their connections to London, the cosmopolitan center of the Britain’s empire. Tailors, milliners, and others who made apparel often proclaimed that they were “from London.” Hairdressers and wigmakers advanced similar appeals. Even shopkeepers did so when they thought that it might help them to sell imported garments, textiles, and assorted adornments.

John Lewis, a native of New York, could not claim to be “from London,” but his origins mattered less than the time he had spent in that city. The “HAIR-DRESSER, and PERUKE-MAKER” opened his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury by informing prospective clients that “after considerable Residence in London” he had returned to New York and set up shop. During the time that he had resided in London Lewis had worked with “the most eminent Masters in the above mentioned Branches of Business” and, as a result, had “acquired Abilities equal to any of my Brethren, in the Professions of Hair-Dressing and Wig-Making.” This made him particularly qualified to serve customers in New York and its environs.

Lewis highlighted his familiarity with current fashions and the most advanced methods of his trade, both acquired during his time in London. To that end, his advertisement served as a primer to newspaper readers about some of styles currently popular on the other side of the Atlantic. “I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London,” he proclaimed, “of making Wigs that shall not need dressing for six Months, preserving their Shape and first Appearance during that Time.” For those who were unaware, he firther explained that “This fashion is much esteem’d at present in England [for] its Usefulness and Convenience.” Since such wigs were new to the American marketplace, Lewis proposed another means of helping prospective clients become more familiar with them. In addition to describing the wigs in advertisements, he made several “Specimens” or samples that “Gentlemen” could examine before engaging his services.

Lewis leveraged his connections to London in his advertisement. He not only claimed familiarity with the current styles but also asserted that he was in a position to educate potential customers about new tastes and methods that they had not yet encountered in the colonies. He provided extensive detail in hopes that these factors would distinguish him from local competitors who either had never traveled to London or had not done so recently.

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 21, 1768).

“Will now undertake to make Kinds of Wigs.”

Convenience!  That was the hallmark of Benjamin Gladding’s advertisement in the May 21, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette.  The peruke (wig) maker and hairdresser acknowledged that some of his potential clients had not previously had access to all the goods and services they desired in the local marketplace.  In particular, he noted that some “Gentlemen … have heretofore been at the Trouble of sending to Boston for their Wigs.”  That, Gladding proclaimed, was no longer necessary because “he has lately engaged a Journeyman” to assist in his shop.  Together, they could meet the needs of prospective clients in Providence. Gentlemen no longer needed to resort to the inconvenience of having wigs shipped from Boston.

In case prospective clients were as concerned about quality as convenience, Gladding offered additional commentary about the skills and expertise of his new journeyman, describing him as “a compleat Workman.”  Together, they labored “to make all Kinds of Wigs, in the neatest and best Manner, and in the most genteel Taste.”  In making this assertion, Gladding underscored that he offered potential customers more than just convenience.  He implicitly compared the wigs produced in his shop to those that came from Boston, stressing that they were not inferior in any way.  They possessed the same quality, having been made “in the neatest and best Manner,” and they were just as fashionable, following “the most genteel Taste” currently in style in the colonies and the British Atlantic world.  Gladding further emphasized his familiarity with the latest trends when he promoted his services as a hairdresser.  Since he set hair according to “the newest Fashions,” his clients did not need to worry that friends and acquaintances would critique them as ignorant or outdated, at least not as far as their tonsorial choices were concerned.

Gladding concluded his advertisement by pledging that “his constant Endeavour will be to render every Satisfaction.”  By then he had demonstrated what this promise meant:  prospective clients could depend on attention to convenience, quality, and fashion when they patronized his shop.

February 5

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

Feb 5 - 2:5:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (February 6, 1768).

Williams & Stanwood Peruke Makers, Hair Cutters and Dressers.”

In eighteenth-century America wigmakers and hairdressers like Williams and Stanwood did not restrict their attempts to incite demand for their services to the better sorts who resided in the largest port cities. Their advertisement in the February 5, 1768, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed prospective clients in Portsmouth and its hinterland that “they carry on their Business together at the lower end of Queen Street.” Rather than cultivating a clientele of the local elite, they sold gentlemen’s wigs “suitable for all Ranks in Life.” In addition, they served “Ladies who live in the Country, or at a distance from a Hair Dresser,” accepting orders for wigs submitted by post or messenger. Whether potential customers lived in a busy port city or a quiet village did not matter: wigmakers and hairdressers insisted that they must keep up with current fashions by enlisting their services.

Williams and Stanwood also used their advertisement to instruct the ladies about products that might not have been familiar to them previously, including “new invented rough TOUPEES.” Such merchandise needed some explanation to help prospective clients understand their value and convenience. Sold “with or without Powder,” such wigs “preserves their Form, and want no dressing.” They made it that much easier for women to prepare themselves to receive guests in their homes or to appear in public since these wigs were “so easily fixed that Ladies may Dress themselves in five Minutes Time, fit for any Company.” Customers did not, however, benefit from this ease and simplicity by sacrificing the quality or style derived from sitting with the hairdressers at their shop. Williams and Stanwood proclaimed that their toupees “excel the finest Hair Dressing now in Practice.” Ladies did not necessarily need the advantage of leisure time to appear smartly coiffed, especially if they acquired “new invented rough TOUPEES” from Williams and Stanwood.

Urban ports like Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia may have been the cosmopolitan centers of colonial life, but wigmakers and hairdressers did not allow the gentry to dictate that they be the only beneficiaries of their services. Instead, wigmakers and hairdressers encouraged much broad swaths of the colonial population to engage their products and services, portraying them as simultaneously stylish and convenient. Williams and Stanwood sold their wigs to customers of “all Ranks in Life” from city and countryside alike. To that end, they explained new products to prospective clients, training them to desire the most recent creations available in the marketplace.

December 30

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

Dec 30 - 12:30:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 30, 1767).

“GEORGE NORMAN, PERUKE-MAKER and HAIR-DRESSER … has opened a shop.”

When he opened a new shop in Savannah in 1767, George Norman placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette to offer his services as a “PERUKE-MAKER and HAIR-DRESSER” to readers in town and throughout the countryside. Although the term “peruke” has fallen into disuse today, colonists knew that it referred to wigs.

In their examination of “Wigmaking in Colonial America,” Thomas K. Bullock and Maurice B. Tonkin, Jr., summarize the activities of Norman and his counterparts in cities and towns throughout the colonies: “The work of the wigmaking craft in Colonial America consisted primarily of three types of activities; making and selling wigs and false hair pieces for men and women, cutting and dressing ladies’ and gentlemen’s hair, and shaving men.”[1] Individual wigmakers engaged in each of these activities to varying extents. Although Norman did not mention shaving in his advertisement, it may have been an ancillary service he provided for male clients who visited his shop.

The presence of Norman’s advertisement in the Georgia Gazette testifies to the growth of Savannah in the second half of the eighteenth century. According to Bullock and Tonkin, the “wig custom … was primarily an urban practice” in colonial America. Although small in comparison to busy urban ports like Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia, the largest town in Georgia achieved a sufficient “concentration of people and wealth [to create] a society in which the wig was considered a social or economic asset.” Whether they resided in town or country, planters, merchants, and clergy commonly wore wigs, but the practice was not always limited to elites. Bullock and Tonkin indicate that “certain craftsmen, small shopkeepers, and other skilled workers and artisans, whose jobs brought them in contact with the public, found it advantageous to wear wigs.”[2] More than a mere fashion accessory, wearing a wig served as a symbol of respectability in colonial society.

Bullock and Tonkin also comment on the significance of newspaper advertisements in examining the production and sale of wigs in colonial America: “There is a general scarcity of material relating to the practice of the wigmaking craft in America. Newspaper advertisements constitute the bulk of available information, and it is on this we must rely for an insight into the conduct of the craft.”[3] For more on the tools, methods, and processes involved, consult Colonial Williamsburg’s “Wigmaking in Colonial America.”

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[1] Thomas K. Bullock and Maurice B. Tonkin, Jr., “Wigmaking in Colonial America,” (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, 1957), 11.

[2] Bullock and Tonkin, “Wigmaking,” 9.

[3] Bullock and Tonkin, “Wigmaking,” 10.

May 4

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

May 4 - 5:2:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 2, 1766).

“William Godfrey, PERUKE MAKER, ACQUAINTS the publick that he has opened shop/”

What was a peruke maker? Once again we discover that eighteenth-century consumers often spoke a language that would become unfamiliar to modern readers. “Peruke” is another name for “periwig” or “wig.” William Godfrey made wigs! When he stated that “he proposes carrying on his business in all its branches,” he most likely meant “making wigs, shaving, cutting and dressing men’s hair and, presumably, dressing wigs,” according to historians from Colonial Williamsburg.

Although his advertisement was relatively short, Godfrey’s occupation opens up an entire world of colonial fashion, a culture of consumption, and the commerce and labor that fueled both. For instance, although Godfrey made his wigs in Virginia, he most likely imported hair and other materials from England. In 1751, William Peale advertised that he had “Just IMPORTED from BRITAIN, A CHOICE Assortment of the best Hairs, and all other Materials proper for Wigmaking.”

May 4 - 7:25:1751 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 25, 1751).

Other scholars have created a variety of resources about peruke makers for various audiences, including:

I find the use of advertisements from eighteenth-century Virginia in “Wigmaking in Colonial America” especially interesting. With only one extant account book from a  wigmaker in colonial Virginia, much of what we know about their wares and services in that colony derives from newspaper advertisements. The original intention of those advertisements may have been to incite demand and attract customers, but, just as language has shifted over time, our purpose in examining those advertisements and what we expect to learn from them has changed as well.