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.

June 19

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

Jun 19 - 6:19:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy (June 19, 1769).

“Elegant PICTURES, Framed and glazed in AMERICA.”

Late in the spring of 1769, bookseller Garrat Noel placed an advertisement in the New-York Gazette or Weekly Post-Boy to promote a “GREAT Variety of the most elegant PICTURES” available at his shop next door to the Merchant’s Coffeehouse. Like many other booksellers, he supplemented his revenues by peddling items other than books, magazines, and pamphlets. Booksellers sometimes included prints in their advertisements, yet Noel placed special emphasis on them when he placed a notice exclusively about them.

As part of his marketing effort, Noel tapped into discourses about politics and implicitly tied his prints to the nonimportation agreement currently in effect in response to the duties enacted by the Townshend Acts. He proclaimed that his prints were “Framed and glazed in AMERICA.” The success of nonimportation depended in part on encouraging “domestic manufactures” or local production of consumer goods. Yet Noel assured prospective customers that purchasing items produced in the colonies did not mean that they had to settle for inferior craftsmanship. He stressed that “in Neatness of Worksmanship” the frames that encased his prints were “equal [to] any imported from England.” Similarly, they had been glazed (the glass fitted into the frame) in the colonies by an artisan who demonstrated as much skill as any counterpart in England, though the glass itself may have been imported. Furthermore, his customers did not have to pay a premium when they considered politics in their decisions about which goods to purchase. Not only were the frames the same quality as those imported, Noel pledged to sell them “at a much lower Price.” The bookseller may have even hoped that the combination of price, quality, and patriotic politics would prompt consumers who had not already been in the market for prints to consider making a purchase as a means of demonstrating their support for domestic production and the nonimportation agreement.

Notably, Noel did not indicate that the prints or glass had not been imported, only that the frames had been produced and the glass fitted in the colonies. Drawing attention to the fact that they had been “FRAMED and glazed in AMERICA” provided a distraction from the origins of the prints and possibly the glass as well. Especially if the glass had been imported since the Townshend Acts went into effect, Noel attempted to tread a difficult path since glass was among the goods indirectly taxed. Still, this strategy allowed him to suggest that he did his part to support “domestic manufacturers” and provide opportunities for colonists to put their principles into practice by choosing to consume items produced, at least in part, in the colonies.

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Many thanks to Cortney Skinner for the clarification concerning glazing in the comments. I have updated this entry accordingly.

June 3

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

Jun 3 - 6:3:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 3, 1769).

“He will engage to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence.”

When he advertised “ European and East-India GOODS” in the Providence Gazette in early June 1769, Thomas Greene resorted to two of the most popular marketing strategies of the eighteenth century: an appeal to consumer choice and an appeal to price.

He did not elaborate much on the choices he made available to prospective customers, but he did promise a “General and compleat Assortment” to anyone who visited his shop “near the Great Bridge.” Other advertisers sometimes provided extensive lists of their inventory, but many settled for “General and compleat Assortment” or some variation as a means of signaling choice to consumers. Elsewhere in the same issue Jonathan Russell promoted a “compleat Assortment,” Clark and Nightingale described a “new and compleat Assortment,” and Thurber and Cahoon hawked a “large and general Assortment” of imported goods. Greene’s choice of “General and compleat Assortment” did not much distinguish his advertisement from others, but it did demonstrate his awareness that customers expected some sort of assurances about choice or else they were unlikely to patronize his shop.

Greene put more effort into distinguishing his low prices from those of his competitors. Each deployed some form of standardized language to make the point to readers. For Russell, it was “the very cheapest Rate,” while Clark and Nightingale opted for “the lowest rate” and Thurber and Cahoon edged them out with “the very lowest Rates.” In contrast to these general statements, Greene made a firmer commitment to win over prospective customers. He pledged “to sell as cheap … as any Person in Providence,” assuring readers that they would not find better deals anywhere else. In effect, Greene offered the eighteenth-century version of a price match guarantee. Prospective customers could do some comparison shopping around town, but in the end Greene vowed that he would match any deals when readers chose to make their purchases from him. In so doing, he stood to increase his share of the market while luring customers away from his competitors.

Greene’s appeal to choice may have been generic, but his appeal to price was not. It was an innovative and crafty way of setting his advertisement apart from others that ran simultaneously in the Providence Gazette.

May 7

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

May 7 - 5:4:1769 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (May 4, 1769).
“Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box.”

In the spring of 1769, Freer Armston,, a chandler and soap boiler in Norfolk, Virginia, attempted to enlarge his market by expanding his operations into Williamsburg. He placed an advertisement in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette to inform prospective customers that he had opened a new shop where he sold “TALLOW CANDLES as good as any on the continent.” With such a bold statement, Armston favorably compared his wares to any others that consumers could acquire.

To make his candles even more attractive, he took the unusual step of naming their price in his advertisement: “by the box 11 d. paying freight from Norfolk.” Advertisers rarely listed prices in eighteenth-century newspapers, though many often made general appeals to low or reasonable prices. Readers likely knew what to expect to pay for a box of tallow candles from other chandlers and shopkeepers in Williamsburg. As a newcomer, Armston attempted to stimulate interest in his merchandise by allowing prospective customers to assess on their own whether he offered a deal. He did the same for his “Best HARD SOAP at 6d. by the box, or 7d. halfpenny [sic] small quantities.” He was not as verbose about the quality of his soap, simply describing it as “Best,” and instead emphasized the price and potential savings by buying in bulk. Customers saved twenty percent when they purchased an entire box of hard soap.

Armston also sought to establish that he was a careful and responsible entrepreneur. In addition to selling candles and soap, he asked readers to provide him with supplies, especially “good WOOD ASHES” used in the production of soap, for which he offered “goods or money.” He was vigilant when it came to accepting ashes from Black men and women, assuming that some did not acquire them by legitimate means. Armston instructed that “all persons that send by or give their ashes to Negroes” must also send a note specifying that they had done so or else he would not accept them. The chandler and soap boiler was not about to give “goods or money” to Black people who could not demonstrate how they came into possession of ashes they delivered to his shop. In addition to offering quality goods at low prices, Armston depicted himself as a good neighbor who attended to maintaining proper order in his business dealings.

April 9

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (April 7, 1769).

Garden Seeds.”

In this advertisement from the New-Hampshire Gazette, shopkeeper John Adams promoted garden seeds imported from London to potential customers. Customers throughout the colonies, including Virginia, purchased seeds from shopkeepers. According to Wesley Greene, a garden historian in the Landscape Department at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, “All of the stores in eighteenth-century Williamsburg offered vegetable seeds for sale, so there were certainly a number of fine gardens in town that were nost likely vegetable gardens.” Greene states that vegetables in those gardens were considered “luxuries rather than staples.” Vegetables were expensive, took a long time to grow, could only be grown in season, and did not last long. Colonists in Williamsburg who did have vegetable gardens showed off their higher status to their fellow colonists. As Greene explains, “In the eighteenth century, a gentleman made a statement about who he was by how his table was set. Vegetables such as Cauliflowers and Articholes conveyed an important merssage that guest were dining at the home of a person of taste and consequence.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In the spring of 1769, shopkeeper John Adams of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, aimed to supplement the livelihood he earned by selling “a general Assortment of English GOODS” at his shop on Queen Street by also peddling “a fresh Assortment of Garden-Seeds” imported from London. He likely was not the only purveyor of “Garden Seeds” in town, but he was the only local entrepreneur who devoted a lengthy advertisement to listing dozens of varieties of seeds.

Adams acknowledged that he had competition, especially from more than half a dozen women who advertised seeds for sale in the several newspapers published in Boston and distributed throughout the region. Four days before his advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Elizabeth Clark, Abigail Davidson, Lydia Dyar, Elizabeth Greenleaf, Susanna Renken, and Rebeckah Walker each published similar advertisements in the Boston-Gazette. That same day, Sarah Winsor placed an advertisement in Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette, as did Greenleaf and Renken. In an attempt to capture as much of the market as possible, the appropriately named Greenleaf also advertised in the Boston Evening-Post on that day. For some reason, Richard Draper circulated the Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Gazette a day later than usual that week. On April 7, the same day that Adams’s advertisement ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette, Anna Johnson and Bethiah Oliver added their voices to the chorus of seed sellers, accompanied by Clark and Greenleaf, with list of seeds in Draper’s newspapers.

As these lists of advertisers demonstrate, prospective customers interested in purchasing garden seeds had many options … and Adams knew it. To prevent competitors in Boston from infringing on his share of the market in Portsmouth and its environs, Adams proclaimed that he sold his seeds “at the same Rate … as those sold in Boston” even before he listed the many varieties on offer. In so doing, he cautioned local consumers that they did not need to send away for their garden seeds. Instead, he offered them the convenience of visiting his shop and enjoying the same prices they would encounter in Boston, saving time and hassle in the process.

March 11

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Newport Mercury (March 11, 1769).

“JOSEPH BELCHER … makes and sells Pewter Ware.”

In this advertisement Joseph Belcher attempted to sell “Pewter Ware” as cheap as he possibly could. Belcher mentions his business and how he is trying to keep it operating at a high capacity alongside managing his “Brazier and Founders Business.” He was a very busy artisan. I think that Belcher may have been selling his goods at such a good price in an attempt to convince colonists to buy American goods and not British goods while the Townshend Acts were in effect. The colonists wanted to boycott British goods and attempt to hurt the British economy and force them to weaken their grip on the colonies. They thought that the British would recall their taxes if colonists did not buy their goods and purchasing local items was the best way to do it. Consider the amount of pewter imported into the colonies: three hundred tons of pewter in the 1760s. Between 1720 and 1767 the value of pewter imported to the colonies “was greater than that of all silver, tinware, and furniture imported in the same years.” Many colonists may have considered the pewter that Belcher “makes and sells” preferable to imported goods.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In his advertisement in the March 11, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Joseph Belcher of Newport positioned himself as a regional purveyor of “Pewter Ware.” Belcher inserted the same advertisement in the March 6 edition of the Newport Mercury, calling on local customers to patronize his shop. When they had the option of advertising in one or more newspapers printed in their own towns, most merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans chose to confine their marketing efforts to those publications. Belcher’s decision to place his advertisement in both the Newport Mercury and the Providence Gazette deviated from the common practice of the period.

As Luke notes, Belcher made appeals to both price and quantity. He sold his wares “Wholesale and Retail,” indicating that he welcomed customers who planned to stock his pewter in their own shops as well as end-use consumers who selected items for their own homes. He not only offered low prices but also pledged that his customers could acquire his products “as cheap as can be bought in Boston, or elsewhere.” His prices were not low merely in comparison to those charged by local competitors in Newport, nor in comparison to competitors throughout Rhode Island. Instead, Belcher placed himself in competition with suppliers of pewter in Boston and, presumably, New York. Entrepreneurs who placed advertisements in newspapers published in Rhode Island and Connecticut sometimes made comparisons to both cities, assuring their prospective customers that they did not need to send away to the much larger port cities to gain access to the best deals.

Like other colonial newspapers, both the Providence Gazette and the Newport Mercury circulated far beyond the towns where they were printed. From his shop on Thames Street in Newport, Belcher encouraged consumers in Providence and other places to submit orders by letter, stating that they “may depend on being as well used as if present.” Commerce and consumption did not require face-to-face interactions; instead, advertisements and letters facilitated the acquisition of goods in colonial America. Combining low prices, orders by letter, and advertising in newspapers published in more than one town, Belcher created a marketing strategy designed to extend his share of the market for pewter far beyond the town where he operated his shop.

February 24

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 24, 1769).

“Watches repair’d or clean’d.”

In late February 1769, the New Hampshire Gazette featured an attractive advertisement for John Simnet’s watchmaking services, including repairs and cleaning. The advertisement points out that Simnet was an experienced watchmaker who had moved to America from London. Colonists still felt connected to the mother country so readers may have appreciated Simnet’s ties to Britain. In fact, most colonists identified as British and emphasized English culture, especially fashion and consumer goods. The colonists looked towards London, where taste and style were set. T.H. Breen has called this the Anglicization of consumer culture in the colonies.[1]

Readers may have been enticed by the price of Simnet’s repair and cleaning services. He appealed to the general public by offering the best deal, promising customers “less Expence than usual in this Country.” Breen states, “Consumer demand was the driving engine of economic change. Knowledge of the availability of these goods sparked desire, and though humble buyers obviously could not afford quality items, they purchased what they could.”[2] Simnet’s advertisement assured readers that his price was affordable for a greater number of customers, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In her first entry as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, Chloe has focused on some of the appeals that watchmaker John Simnet made to prospective customers. Price was a popular marketing strategy throughout the colonies, but Chloe also points out that colonists continued to emphasize their cultural connections to London and the rest of the empire even as they contended with Parliament over the Townshend Acts and other measures after the Seven Years War.

Simnet also incorporated other appeals in his advertisement. Deceptively short, it presented a multitude of reasons that anyone who needed watches “repair’d or clean’d” should call on Simnet at his shop across the street from Staver’s Tavern. Like many artisans, Simnet promoted both his skill and experience. For instance, he informed readers that he had worked at his trade for twenty-five years. As Chloe mentions, he had spent that time in London. That likely had a double resonance for colonial consumers. Not only did it establish a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, it also suggested that Simnet had acquired greater expertise than many colonial watchmakers for having operated his business in such a competitive environment for so long. Simnet came right out and said so when he proclaimed that he performed his services “in a neater manner … than usual in this Country.” Many artisans, especially those who had migrated from London like Simnet, attempted to convince potential customers that they had the skills to deliver services equal to their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. With his declaration that he cleaned and repaired watches better than others in New Hampshire, Simnet opted for a slightly different approach, one more aggressive toward his local competitors.

Simnet did not require a lot of words or a lot of space in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, he deployed multiple marketing strategies in just a few lines. In addition to his purported skill as a watchmaker, he demonstrated his familiarity with the most common appeals artisans made in advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 497.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 476.