February 8

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 8, 1771).

“Parents and Masters may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”

Edward Emerson took to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette to advertise “ENGLISH and West India GOODS,” tea, coffee, sugar, spices, and tobacco available at his shop “Opposite the Town House in YORK,” a coastal town in the portion of Massachusetts that became Maine half a century later.  In 1771, fewer than thirty newspapers served the colonies that eventually declared independence.  Accordingly, most newspapers operated on a regional scale.  As a result, the New-Hampshire Gazette, printed in Portsmouth, was the local newspaper for Emerson and other residents of York.

Emerson emphasized both price and customer service in his advertisement, proclaiming that he was “determined to sell” his wares “at the lowest Cash price.”  He also anticipated receiving new inventory “which will be Sold as low as possible.”  When it came to customer service, consumers did not need to visit Emerson’s shops themselves.  Instead, they could send representatives, especially children and servants, to do their shopping without concern that Emerson would dismiss them or treat them unfairly.  “Parents and Masters,” the shopkeeper declared, “may depend upon being as well used by sending their Children and Servants, as if present themselves.”  That was a variation on promises that other shopkeepers sometimes made to prospective customers who preferred to place orders via the post.  Shopkeepers often served consumers who lived at a distance, offering assurances in their advertisements that they would be treated as well as if they visited in person.  This presumably applied to receiving both quality merchandise and the best prices.

Few eighteenth-century newspapers advertisements appeared flashy by today’s standards.  Emerson’s advertisement was not even flashy by the standards of the time, but perhaps that was not necessary in order to be effective.  Emerson sought to establish trust with prospective customers.  He offered low prices.  He allowed his clients to choose among a variety of quantities for most of his wares.  He promised to treat both customers and their representatives well rather than taking advantage of them.  If Emerson regularly perused the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette and other newspapers that circulated in the area, he certainly read advertisements with more sophisticated marketing strategies that he could have adapted for his own business.  Yet he did not.  Perhaps Emerson considered the appeals he did advance sufficient for establishing relationships with consumers seeking trustworthy purveyors of goods.

January 27

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (January 24, 1771).

“All Persons that now choose to encourage American Manufactures.”

On January 24, 1771, Robert Bell continued marketing an American edition of “Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth” with advertisements in both the New-York Journal and the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In the latter, the flamboyant printer, publisher, bookseller, and auctioneer announced publication of the second volume and promised that the “THIRD VOLUME of this celebrated History is now in the Press, and will soon be finished.”  Bell noted that the second volume was “now ready to be delivered to the Subscribers,” purchasers who reserved copies in advance.  In a nota bene, he advised “SUBSCRIBERS in the Jerseys” to visit Isaac Collins in Burlington or Dunlap Adams in Trenton to retrieve their copies.

Bell also invited those who had not yet subscribed to join the fellowship of their peers who “choose to encourage American Manufactures.”  Both before and, especially, after the American Revolution, Bell was one of the eighteenth-century’s leading proponents of creating a distinctly American literary market in terms of the production of books.  Printers and booksellers imported most of the books they offered for sale, a situation that Bell sought to modify.  In deploying the language of “American Manufactures,” he made this into a political project familiar to both producers and consumers as a result of nonimportation agreements enacted in opposition to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts.  Yet prospective customers had another reason to choose Bell’s American edition over an imported alternative:  price.  Bell charged one dollar for each volume of Robertson’s history.  In comparison, “the British Edition cannot be imported for less than Four Dollars each Volume.”  Bell’s customers enjoyed significant savings, acquiring the entire set of the American edition for less than a single volume of the British edition.

Bell concluded his advertisement with some of the verbose language that became a hallmark of his marketing efforts over the course of several decades.  Those who wished to become subscribers by sending their names to Bell or other booksellers “may depend upon Ebullitions of Gratitude.”  Bell’s advertisement incorporated several marketing strategies, including the politics of “American Manufactures,” the financial advantages for customers, and his colorful language and personality.

December 14

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 14, 1770).

“Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses.”

William Winter offered his services as a notary in an advertisement in the December 14, 1770, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  He declared that he drew up various kinds of legal documents “with Fidelity and Dispatch” and “at a reasonable price.”  In addition, he was “also a Public AUCTIONEER.”  Although William’s name appeared as the headline for the advertisement, in a font larger than any on that page, he was not the only member of the Winter household who contributed to the family’s income.  The advertisement included a nota bene that outlined Mrs. Winter’s entrepreneurial activities.

William asked readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette to take note that “Mrs. Winter, makes and sells, silk Purses, Ladies silk, worsted, and thread Mitts.”  In addition, she also made “silk and thread Cauls for Wigs, as neat and good as any made in England.”  Furthermore, she sold them “cheaper for the Cash, than they can be bought in the Government.”  Did Mrs. Winter compose that portion of the advertisement?  Did William?  Did they collaborate on it?  Whoever was responsible for the content incorporated marketing strategies that did more than merely announce that Mrs. Winter made and sold purses, mitts, and linings for wigs.

Appeals to quality were common in eighteenth-century advertisements for goods and services.  In the era of the American Revolution, producers of goods made in the colonies and retailers who sold them increasingly compared the quality of those goods to imported alternatives.  In the wake of nonimportation agreements adopted in response to the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, comparing the quality of “domestic manufactures,” good made in the colonies, to imported items had a political valence.  Such appeals underscored to consumers that their choices in the marketplace had consequences in the dispute with Parliament.

Appeals to price were also common in advertisements of the period.  The Winters did not make generic statements about Mrs. Winter’s prices.  As they had done with the appeal to quality, they also embellished this appeal by proclaiming that she charged the lowest prices that could be found “in the Government” or in the entire colony.  In the same issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, James Haslett and Matthew Haslett, leather dressers who made and sold breeches and gloves, asserted that they set prices as low “as any in New England.”  Most advertisers usually were not so bold when comparing their prices to their competitors.  In these instances, the Winters and the Hasletts made significant claims about their prices in order to distinguish their goods from others.

Mrs. Winter’s portion of the advertisement did not benefit from the same prominence on the page as the segment in which William offered his services as notary and auctioneer.  It did not, however, lack substance.  The Winters devised a sophisticated advertisement that did more than rely on common marketing strategies.  When it came to both quality and price, they enhanced the standard appeals that appeared in other advertisements.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (July 9, 1770).

All which he will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”

In the summer of 1770, Nathaniel Tucker advertised a “large Assortment of DRUGS & MEDECINES, Chymical & Galenical,” for sale at his shop across the street from the Old South Meeting House in Boston.  His notice in the Boston Evening-Post listed several popular patent medicines, including Turlington’s Balsam of Life, Squire’s Original Grand Elixir, Fraunces’s Female Strengthening Elixir, and Dr. Bateman’s Golden Spirits.  These nostrums were so familiar to colonial consumers that Tucker did not elaborate on their efficacy.

He did, however, promote his low prices.  Tucker concluded his advertisement with a proclamation that he sold all of these items “as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston.”  He did not name any prices, but he did suggest to prospective customers that they would not find better bargains anywhere in the bustling port city.  Like the readers of the Boston Evening-Post, Tucker realized that consumers had many options for purchasing Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Dr. Walker’s Jesuit’s Drops, and the rest.  Apothecaries stocked them, but such specialists were not alone in making them available. Shopkeepers who sold all sorts of goods also carried patent medicines.  Even printers and booksellers frequently advertised that they sold patent medicines in addition to books, pamphlets, and stationery, a side hustle that supplemented revenues from activities more often associated with their trade.

In addition to offering low prices, Tucker implied that he would adjust those prices to reflect the local market.  Although he did not explicitly state that he matched the prices of his competitors, his assertion that he “will sell as reasonable as can be afforded in Boston” suggested that his prices were flexible rather than fixed.  In addition to not having to worry about being overcharged, prospective customers likely had opportunities to haggle with Tucker; such encounters were opportunities for him as well, opportunities to make sales that might otherwise have gone to other purveyors of patent medicines.  Rather than simply listing the medicines at his shop, Tucker deployed price as the primary means of inciting demand for his wares.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 23, 1770).

“Supplied with genuine Medicines, very cheap.”

In the summer of 1770, Amos Throop sold a “compleat Assortment of MEDICINES” at his shop in Providence, appropriately identified by “the Sign of the Golden Pestle and Mortar.”  His inventory included a variety of popular patent medicines imported from London, including “Hooper’s, Lockyer’s, and Anderson’s genuine Pills,” “Stoughton’s Elixir,” and “Hill’s Balsam of Honey.”

In an advertisement in the Providence Gazette, the apothecary addressed different sorts of prospective customers.  He informed “Country Practitioners” that he could fill their orders “as cheap as they can be served in Boston, or elsewhere.”  Throop competed in a regional market; druggists in other port towns also imported medicines from London.  Prospective customers could send away to Boston, Newport, or even New York if they anticipated bargain prices, but Throop sought to assure them that they did not need to do so.  Throop may have anticipated particular benefits from cultivating this clientele.  “Country Practitioners” were more likely than others to purchase by volume.  Their patronage indirectly testified to the efficacy of Throop’s medicines and his standing as a trusted apothecary.

Those factors may have helped him attract other customers who did not practice medicine.  Throop also invited “Families in Town and Country” to shop at the Golden Pestle and Mortar.  He promised them low prices, but he also emphasized customer service, stating that they “may depend on being used in the best Manner.”  In addition, he also attempted to allay concerns about purchasing counterfeit remedies.  Throop pledged to supply his customers “with genuine Medicines,” putting his own reputation on the line as a bulwark against bogus elixirs and nostrums.  When it came to patent medicines, the fear of forgeries merited reiterating that his inventory was “genuine” when he listed the choices available at his shop.

The neighborhood pharmacy is ubiquitous in the twenty-first century, but that was not the kind of business that Throop operated in Providence in the eighteenth century.  Instead, he served both local residents and “Country Practitioners” and “Families in Town and Country,” competing with apothecaries in Boston and other towns.  To do so effectively, he had to depict the many advantages of choosing the Golden Pestle and Mortar, from low prices to authentic medicines to good customer service.

June 4

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

Jun 4 - 6:4:1770 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (June 4, 1770).

The following BOOKS.”

Lathrop and Smith made a significant investment in their advertisement that ran in the June 4, 1770, edition of the Connecticut Courant.  Divided into four narrow columns, it filled the space usually devoted to two of the three columns on the final page of the newspaper.  Overall, it comprised one-sixth of the content (two out of twelve columns) delivered to readers.  Listing just over 250 individual titles, it was a book catalog distribute via alternate means.  Lathrop and Smith could have just as easily arranged for handbills or broadsides to inform prospective customers of the assortment of books they sold at their store in Hartford.

That they stocked these books in a relatively small town did not mean, however, that their customers should expect to pay higher prices.  Lathrop and Smith proclaimed that they sold their books “at as low a rate as they are usually sold inBoston or New-York,” the major urban ports in the region.  Furthermore, they encouraged readers to spot special bargains, asking them to take note that “Those articles marked thus [*] are to be Sold for very little more than the Prime Cost.”  In other words, the local booksellers charged only a small markup on several volumes, including Van Swieten’s Commentaries on Boerhaave’s Aphorisms, Winslow’s Anatomy, Moral Tales, and Vicar of Wakefield.

Lathrop and Smith also aided prospective customers in finding titles of interest by separating them according to genre and inserting headers, such as “DIVINITY,” “LAW,” “PHYSIC, SURGERY, &c.,” “SCHOOL BOOKS,” “HISTORY,” and ‘MISCELLANY.”  Within each category, the books were alphabetized by author or title, with the exception of four titles appended to the books on divinity (though they were also alphabetized).  When it came to writing copy, Lathrop and Smith attempted to make their catalog accessible and easy to navigate.

In general, their advertisement was just as sophisticated as those published by their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  The Connecticut Courant ran much less advertising than newspapers in those port cities, but that did not necessarily mean that advertisers did not adopt the same methods and strategies for appealing to consumers.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:7:1770 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 7, 1770).

“Mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city.”

Upon the occasion of moving to a new location, jeweler and goldsmith James Bennet placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He informed former and prospective customers that he no longer ran a shop on Maiden Lane.  Instead, the “public in general” could find him at his new shop at “the house next to Mr. Peter Goelet’s, the sign of the Golden Key, near the Old-Slip Market, Hanover-Square.”  In an era before standardized street numbers, Bennett provided plenty of landmarks to help customers find his new location.

He opened his advertisement by expressing appreciation for “those ladies and gentlemen who have been so kind as to favour him with their custom.”  He hoped that they would continue as customers.  Acknowledging their prior support for his business also alerted prospective new customers that even though he set up shop at a new location this was not a new endeavor.  Bennett already had experience pursuing his trade in New York.  In thanking former customers, he also sought to demonstrate demand for his services among readers who had not yet visited his shop at any location.

To further capture their interest, he briefly described his services, stating that he continued “to make, mend, [and] sell … all sorts of jewellery and goldsmith’s work.”  He embellished that rather plain overview with a much more enticing offer, claiming that he “makes mourning rings cheaper than has ever been done in this city, and with the greatest expedition.” An advertisement for a jeweler and goldsmith moving from one location to another was pretty standard fare among the notices that ran in colonial newspapers.  A declaration about the lowest prices possible for a popular piece of jewelry, on the other hand, challenged consumers to visit his shop to see for themselves.  If that managed to get customers through the door, it gave Bennett opportunities to secure other sales.  Even if readers were skeptical of his claim, they could not know for certain unless they investigated on their own.  Rather than merely announce that he moved to a new location, Bennett enticed prospective customers with a bold claim intended to grab their attention.

April 15

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

Apr 15 - 4:12:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (April 15, 1770).

“Chisels … superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain.”

Abeel and Byvanck sold ironmongery and cutlery in New York in the early 1770s.  They listed an array of merchandise in their newspaper notices, but they did not merely inform prospective customers of the goods they offered for sale.  In an advertisement in the April 12, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, Abeel and Byvanck noted the various ways that their business bolstered the nonimportation agreement adopted to protest duties imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea in the Townshend Acts.

For instance, their inventory included chisels “superior in Quality to those imported from Great Britain, and at a less Price.”  The partners did not explicitly state that the chisels were produced in the colonies, but the implication was clear.  In presenting the chisels for consideration, Abeel and Byvanck made appeals commonly advanced by others who marketed “domestic manufactures” as alternative to imported goods.  They assured consumers that they did not have to sacrifice quality for political principles.  While some artisans and shopkeepers declared their merchandise produced in the colonies equal to any imported, Abeel and Byvanck made an even bolder statement when they asserted their chisels were “superior.”  Yet customers did not have to pay a premium for that quality.  Instead, they could acquire chisels produced in the colonies for lower prices than imported ones.  Everything about these chisels seemed to work to the advantage of both consumers and the American cause.

Those chisels may have come from “the Manufactory in this Province.”  Abeel and Byvanck noted that they would soon stock “a large Parcel of Sithes [Scythes]” currently under production there.  Like the chisels, those scythes were “superior in Quality to those imported.”  The partners did not comment on the price, but they had previously framed their entire advertisement in terms that favorably compared the prices they charged in April 1770 to what they charged prior to the nonimportation agreement going into effect.  They declared that they set prices “Upon as reasonable Terms, as they sold before the Agreement for not importing Goods from Great Britain.”  In other words, Abeel and Byvanck did not engage in price gouging after merchants and shopkeepers ceased replenishing their inventories with imported goods.

Nonimportation agreements ratified in New York and other colonies were the subject of press coverage in the 1760s and 1770s, but that coverage was not confined to news items and editorials.  Instead, advertisements for consumer goods and services also endorsed and promoted nonimportation agreements, encouraging colonists to understand the connections between consumption and politics.

March 2

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

Mar 2 - 3:2:1770 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (March 2, 1770).

“For SALE at William Neilson’s Store.”

In addition to advertising his wares in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, and the New-York Journal, William Neilson also inserted a notice in the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy.  Yesterday I examined the iteration of the advertisement that appeared in the March 1, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, focusing on the nota bene about his prices remaining the same as before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  The version that ran in the Connecticut Journal listed many of the same goods, but did not deploy copy identical to the advertisement in the New-York Journal.  Most significantly, it did not include the nota bene about prices.  Why not?

After further investigation, I discovered that the nota bene was not part of the advertisement when it first appeared in any of newspapers printed in New York.  It first ran in the February 22, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal without the additional note offering assurances that Neilson did not take advantage of the nonimportation agreement to engage in price gouging.  The advertisement did not appear in the new issues of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy, published four days later.  Instead, it made its next appearance in the March 1 edition of the New-York Journal, now with the nota bene.  On March 5 the advertisement – identical copy, including the nota bene – did appear in the other two New York newspapers.  The staggered appearance of the advertisements and the addition of the nota bene suggest that Neilson felt some urgency to inform prospective customers and the rest of the community that he did not jack up his prices.  Perhaps he had heard rumors or been confronted directly, prompting him to advertise more widely than he originally intended.  By the time he made that determination, it may have been too late to update the copy he sent to the Connecticut Journal.

Rather than merely noting a benefit to his customers, the nota bene that eventually appeared at the conclusion of Neilson’s advertisements may very well have been an exercise in reputation management.  Rarely did merchants and shopkeepers update their advertisements in the 1760s and 1770s.  They usually submitted copy that ran for weeks or even months.  Yet Neilson made an addition to his advertisement and then published the revised version in its entirety in two more newspapers, increasing the funds he expended on advertising.  If his reputation was at stake, he may have considered doing so a necessity well worth the additional expense.

September 15

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

Sep 15 - 9:15:1769 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 15, 1769).

Some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.”

As summer turned to fall in 1769, Christopher Smieller took to the pages of New-London Gazette to defend his reputation and mitigate damage already done to his business. The baker had become aware of a vicious rumor about his bread. In a lengthy nota bene at the conclusion of even lengthier advertisement, he expressed his outrage that “some evil minded Person or Persons have wickedly and falsely spread a Report, that I put Soap Suds and Pot-Ash in my Bread.” Smellier could not let this slander pass unremarked. Instead, he offered “a Reward of Two Dollars to any Person who will inform me of such Defamers that they may be prosecuted according to law.” In order to rehabilitate his standing in the community, he also made provision for witnesses to observe him as he went about his business: “I will permit any two or three honest Men to stay with me 24 Hours, who may inspect every Article put into my Bread.”

Combatting gossip circulating about unsavory additions to his bread may have prompted Smieller to insert other aspects of his lengthy advertisement. It opened like many other advertisements for consumer goods, listing his wares. Smieller also advanced an appeal to price, stating that he sold loaf and ship bread, gingerbread, cakes, and pies “as cheap as in any of the neighbouring Governments.” In other words, his prices in New London were as good as prospective customers could find in Massachusetts, New York, or Rhode Island. He doubled down on this assertion later in the advertisement, proclaiming the he baked ship bread “as good and as cheap as in any Part of America.”

Smieller tied the prices he charged for bread to the prevailing prices for flour. He made allusion to “sundry Persons who call themselves Bakers” who had been overcharging the residents of New London and making it unaffordable for them to buy bread. To demonstrate that he charged fair prices, Smieller specified how much a loaf of bread weighed and the corresponding price at the current price for flour. He explained that he would adjust the price per loaf as his own costs for flour fluctuated, but that he would hold his profit consistent. He hoped current and prospective customers would patronize his business out of appreciation for his commitment to keeping prices low by earning “so very small” profits on his bread. Smieller might not otherwise have outlined the expenditures and profits for his business, but defending himself against the rumor that he put soap and potash in his bread may have motivated him to devise other methods of convincing the people of New London to purchase from him.