March 13

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

Mar 13 - 4:10:1768 Pennsylvania Journal
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal (March 10, 1768).

“Tea pots and sugar-pots … Slop-bowls.”

Cornelius Bradford, a pewterer, operated a shop “At the sign of the dish in Second Street” in Philadelphia. According to an advertisement that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal, he made and sold “All Sorts of Pewter Ware,” including “Dishes and plates of all sizes,” “Half pint and gill tumblers,” “Porringers,” and “Saltcellars.” Like many other shopkeepers and artisans who placed advertisements in colonial newspapers, he provided a list of his wares. When it appeared in print, however, Bradford’s list had a fairly unique appearance, suggesting that either the advertiser or the compositor aimed to use typography to distinguish that notice from others in the same newspaper.

Advertisements that included a list of merchandise most commonly took the form of dense paragraphs that extended anywhere from five to dozens of lines. The shorter advertisements occupied the traditional square, often the unit that printers used when determining prices for paid notices, but others extended for half a column or more. Such dense advertisements demanded active reading on the part of prospective customers. In other instances, advertisements that listed goods also featured typography that made it easier for readers to peruse those items. Such advertisements sometimes divided the space to create narrower side-by-side columns within the column. Each line then listed only one or two items.

Two advertisements in the Supplement to the Pennsylvania Journal distributed on March 10, 1768, were designed with columns instead of dense paragraphs. Joseph Wood’s advertisement for textiles took the standard format: two columns of equal width. Cornelius Bradford’s advertisement, on the other hand, looked quite different from the side-by-side columns that usually appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal and other colonial newspaper. Rather than two columns of equal width, it had one wider column on the left and one narrower column on the right with the merchandise sorted accordingly.

This demonstrates that someone seriously contemplated the typography of the advertisement. Who? Ultimately the compositor set the type. Was it set exactly according to the copy submitted by Bradford? Or did the compositor revise the order of Bradford’s wares in order to create a more efficient and visually attractive use of space? What kinds of instructions did Bradford give when he submitted the copy? Did the advertiser and the compositor consult with each other at any point in the production of the advertisement? Bradford’s advertisement raises intriguing questions about the process for publishing newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century. It also testifies to the careful consideration that went into the visual elements of some advertisements. Although composed entirely of text, Bradford’s advertisement had a unique graphic design that set it apart from others of a similar format.

November 17

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

New-York Mercury (November 17, 1766).

“To be sold cheap by John Keteltas … pewter tea-pots.”

In this advertisement from the New-York Mercury, John Keteltas announced that he had an assortment of goods imported from London and Bristol to be sold “cheap” at his store located “in Queen-street.” I decided to focus on his listing for “pewter tea-pots.”

I first decided to do some research on pewter as a material. Pewter is an alloy metal that is made up of mostly tin. Pewter was often used for domestic items such as dishes and cups and even teapots. Pewterers often marked their pewter creations with a signature “touchmark” so people could identify who created the item. Consumers who purchased pewter items would also on some occasions put their own touchmark, often their initials, on their items. Some wealthy families would have their family crest stamped onto their pewter item as their touchmark.

In A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts, Joseph Bagley writes that pewter as a material flourished during the eighteenth century in Boston, but by the late 1700s, shortly after this advertisement was published, pewter saw a decline in popularity. “The eventual decline in the use of pewter happened in the late 1700s, when cheaply made English ceramics flooded the market, replacing the equally inexpensive pewter goods with whiter-colored wares and their sometimes colorful decorations.”[1] Pewter domestic wares were common, but other options became increasingly available and more popular.

Tea played an important role in the daily lives of colonial families. In Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America, Benjamin Carp notes that in the eighteenth century drinking tea was a regular event for families of all classes. He writes, “During the eighteenth century, tea became the drink of respectable British and colonial households everywhere.”[2]

John Keteltas advertised an essential item made of a common material. Considering he also promised his items to be sold at a cheap price, we can assume that a wide variety of people might respond to his advertisement in their search for a “pewter tea-pot.”



It is impossible to know from John Keteltas’ advertisement if the “pewter tea-pots” he sold had the sort of touchmarks that Mary described. Artisans of all sorts frequently marked their work in one way or another in the eighteenth century. While they did so out of pride in the items they had created, this practice served other purposes as well. Pewterers and others marked their wares as a means of permanently associating their skill and expertise with the goods they produced. In this manner, they branded the items that came out of their workshops. They transformed their creations, the goods that consumers would display and use in their households, into advertisements through the act of marking them. In one sense, such items never fully left the possession of artisans to become the property of their customers. Even when customers used a family crest or other means of personalizing their possessions, such marks competed with any touchmark that belonged to the creator. No matter how often they were used to serve the needs of consumers, marked items also continued to promote the work of the artisans who produced them. Every time a colonist used an item with a touchmark or other device he or she was exposed to a form of perpetual marketing.

The Adverts 250 Project focuses primarily on newspaper advertisements, though other forms of printed marketing materials (such as trade cards, broadsides, catalogs, and billheads) are sometimes featured. Yet not all advertising in colonial America was printed. Some of it was verbal, delivered by word of mouth, town criers, auctioneers, or street hawkers. Or, in the case of the “pewter tea-pots” sold by John Keteltas and other items made by artisans, material goods themselves could serve as advertisements. Furniture with paper labels affixed combined printed advertising and material goods, as did books with labels of various sorts. In such cases, commodities became advertisements for more commodities.


[1] Joseph M. Bagley, A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts (Hanover: University Press of New England, 2016), 95.

[2] Benjamin L. Carp, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 55.

November 2


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

Providence Gazette (November 1, 1766).

“A Variety of English, East and West-India GOODS, … to be sold at the cheapest Rate for CASH.”

In this advertisement in the Providence Gazette, Samuel Nightingale, Jr., sold an assortment of goods from England, as well as both the East and West Indies, in his “new Shop, near the Great Bridge” in Providence.

Since this advertisement mentions earlier issues that included the actual information about what was being sold, I went in search of them. In issue 145, published on October 25, 1766, I found a much larger advertisement with a vast list of goods. The majority of the items on the list were linens and other sorts of textiles, but it also included other things, such as “Ivory and buckling combs,” “Pewter dishes, plates and basons,” and “Flat irons. English Steel.”

Providence Gazette (October 18, 1766).

Pewter was very popular in the eighteenth century. James A. Mulholland notes that “[a]ll but the poorest families owned at least one or two pewter items, and wealthier families accumulated substantial inventories of pewterware, including porrigngers, tankards, coffeepots, and candlesticks.”[1] He also noted that the majority of pewter came from England.



I was very excited when Ceara selected this advertisement. When guest curators are participating in this project I leave the decisions about which advertisements to feature to them, provided they follow the project’s methodology. That means that they sometimes pass over advertisements that I find either interesting or significant, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes when working on a collaborative project. After all, the guest curators can learn something interesting or significant about colonial America from any advertisement.

Why was I so excited when Ceara submitted this advertisement for approval? She mentioned the reason in her own analysis. Samuel Nightingale, Jr., instructed potential customers to “[see No. 144 and 145 of this Gazette]” for a list of the “Variety of English, East and West-India GOODS” that he sold. When she noticed this, Ceara did the sort of historical detective work that I consider an enjoyable part of this project: she consulted the earlier issues (October 11 and 18, 1766) of the Providence Gazette to find out more about those advertisements. In the process, she discovered an advertisement that resembled others by Thompson and Arnold and Benjamin Thurber and Edward Thurber, both previously featured by the Adverts 250 Project.

In the course of a few weeks, Nightingale published two advertisements with rather extraordinary features. His first advertisement borrowed innovations from competitors, but those innovations had not been so widely adopted that Nightingale’s advertisement blended in with others. With a decorative border and spanning two columns, Nightingale’s earlier advertisements dominated the pages on which they appeared.

Providence Gazette (October 18, 1766).

Today’s advertisement did not have the same visual impact, but it did incorporate one rather unusual feature. It instructed readers to consult another newspaper to see the original advertisement. Nightingale assumed a high level of interest among potential customers. At the very least, he hoped to incite interest by offering a brief description and then challenging readers to find the original advertisements in earlier issues.

This tells us something about how colonists used newspapers. Nightingale’s directions to “[see No. 144 and 145 of this Gazette]” only worked if readers still had access to those issues. It suggests that subscribers held on to newspapers for at least several weeks to consult the news, advertisements, and other items they contained. Newspapers were not immediately ephemeral in the eighteenth century. In turn, that means that the advertisement printed in colonial newspapers had longer lives than the week that passed before the publication of the next issue.

Running his lengthy advertisement for two weeks may have been a significant investment for Samuel Nightingale, Jr., but it may also have been a risk worth taking if he could depend on it to keep circulating for quite some time after that. To shore up his bet, today’s brief notice directed potential customers back to the impressive original advertisement.


[1] James A. Mulholland, History of Metals in Colonial America (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1981), 95.