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.

February 4

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

Providence Gazette (February 4, 1769).

“They CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.”

In their advertisement in the February 4, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, Ebenezer Thompson and Company deployed two of the most popular advertising appeals of the eighteenth century. They promoted price and consumer choice.

The partners informed prospective customers, especially their “COUNTRY FRIENDS” who might not spend enough time in Providence to go from store to store comparison shopping, that “their Goods are always laid in on the very best Terms.” That prompted Thompson and Company to make an extraordinary claim: “they CAN, DO, and WILL, sell as cheap for Cash as any Merchant or Shop-keeper in New-England.” If that was indeed the case, then there was no need to do any comparison shopping! Advertisers usually wrote the copy but left it to compositors to determine the format of their advertisements, but the assertion that Thompson and Company “CAN, DO, and WILL” sell their goods for prices as low as any to be found in New England suggests that they may have provided some instructions about the appearance of their notice.

In addition to price, Thompson and Company also promised an array of choices for their customers. They stocked a “COMPLEAT and UNIVERSAL Assortment of European and East-India GOODS.” Many advertisers would have considered such language sufficient, but Thompson and Company further elaborated. Their inventory consisted of “a GREAT VARIETY of Articles,” so many that they were “too numerous to be comprized within the Limits of an Advertisement.” That was a clever approach, especially considering that many advertisers did attempt to list as many items as possible in their newspaper advertisements. Some notices included dozens, scores, or even hundreds of items, extending as much as an entire column or, in some cases, filling an entire page. Readers certainly would have been familiar with such advertisements, making it all the more compelling that Thompson and Company proclaimed that even making such an attempt was futile.

Although Thompson and Company selected two of the most common advertising appeals of the era, they added an innovative touch to both. They did not merely reiterate the standard language of price and choice found in so many advertisements in newspapers printed throughout the colonies. Instead, they started with strategies that advertisers already considered effective and reworked them to make them even more enticing for prospective customers.

January 28

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

Providence Gazette (January 28, 1769).

“He determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.”

Thomas Greene’s advertisement for “A fresh Assortment of DRY-GOODS” ran in the Providence Gazette for the first time on January 28, 1769. In it, he listed twenty different kinds of textiles, including “kerseys, serges, cotton velvets, Scotch plaid, Irish linens, garlix, dowlas and checks.” He also carried stockings, handkerchiefs, and shoes as well as “a great number of other articles in the dry-good way.” Greene supplemented this merchandise with imported grocery items, including “tea, chocolate, raisins, … rum, sugar and melasses.” While not as extensive as other advertisements that sometimes appeared in the Providence Gazette, Greene’s notice enumerated sufficient items to suggest to customers that they could choose from among an array of merchandise at his store “just below the Great Bridge.”

In addition to consumer choice, Greene also made an appeal to price. When he concluded his list of wares, he proclaimed that “he determines to sell as cheap for cash as any in Providence.” In so doing, he indicated his willingness to participate in a price war with other purveyors of dry goods located in the city. Although not unknown, such forceful language was not as common as more general invocations of low prices. Samuel Chace’s advertisement for “A NEW and general Assortment of English and Indi GOODS” in the same issue, for instance, stated that he would “sell cheap,” but did not make any implicit comparisons to the prices charged by any of his competitors. Samuel Chace’s advertisement had been running in the Providence Gazette for three months; William Chace, on the other hand, had inserted a new advertisement the previous week. In it, he declared that “he is determined to sell” his “good Assortment of DRY GOODS” for prices “as cheap, if not cheaper, than any of their Kind are to be sold in Providence.” Furthermore, he assured prospective customers that he “doubts not but they may lay out their Money to their Satisfaction” as his shop, also located “Just below the Great Bridge.”

Greene and Chace were nearby neighbors and competitors. Only a week after Chace launched an advertisement that made exceptional claims about the prices he charged, Greene published his own advertisement to inform prospective customers that they were just as likely to enjoy the same bargains at his store. Their notices appeared in the same column, with two short advertisements appearing between them, making it easy for readers to compare their appeals and place them in conversation with each other. Savvy consumers already sought out the best prices, but these competing advertisements further encouraged comparison shopping.

January 17

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

Essex Gazette (January 17, 1769).

“Will be sold greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.”

CLEARANCE SALE!!! Robert Alcock did not deploy a striking headline when he placed an advertisement in the January 17, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette, but his marketing strategy did indeed amount to throwing a clearance sale. He announced that his inventory included “AN Assortment of Checks” (or textiles woven with a checked pattern) in various widths as well as “Breeches Patterns, and Hose of all Prices, with a Variety of other Articles.” Yet the abundant choices he made available to consumers was not the primary focus of his advertisement. Instead, he made the sale he was sponsoring the centerpiece of his marketing efforts.

John Appleton advertised in the same issue of the Essex Gazette. His comment on price was typical of advertisers who mentioned how much prospective customers could expect to pay for their merchandise. Appleton asserted that he was “determined to sell very low,” but in doing so may not have garnered particular attention from readers. He adopted such formulaic language that it likely communicated to prospective customers that his prices were competitive rather than inflated but perhaps not bargains that could not be found in other shops.

Alcock’s appeal to price, on the other hand, deviated significantly from the standard language that appeared in newspaper advertisements throughout the colonies. He proclaimed that he offered his wares “greatly under the usual Prices, to clear off his Stock.” Unlike Appleton’s “determined to sell low,” this vocabulary stood out. It did promise better deals than consumers would encounter in other shops around town. Politics may have played a role in shaping Alcock’s advertising. If he had stockpiled imported goods in advance of nonimportation agreements enacted to protest the Townshend Act going into effect, he may have found himself in a position that he needed to devise an innovative marketing strategy. Whatever the reason, Alcock determined that his inventory was too large and that he needed to drastically reduce it. His efforts to “clear off his Stock” by selling it “greatly under the usual Prices” was an eighteenth-century clearance sale that lacked much of the hoopla that later accompanied such sales as part of modern marketing campaigns.

December 24

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

Providence Gazette (December 24, 1768).

“PATRICK MACKEY … has opened a Skinner’s Shop.”

When Patrick Mackey arrived in Providence from Philadelphia, he set about establishing himself in a new town and building a clientele for his business by placing an advertisement in the December 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. He announced that “he has opened a Skinner’s Shop near the Hay-Ward, on the East Side of the Great Bridge, between Mr. Godfry’s and the Sign of the Bull,” offering familiar landmarks to aid customers in navigating to his location. Realizing that prospective customers were unfamiliar with his work, Mackey underscored that “he has worked in the principal Parts of Europe and America.” As a result, he “doubts not of gaining the Approbation of his Customers” once they gave him the opportunity to provide his services. He offered further assurances that his leather and skins were “dressed in the best Manner.” In case skill and quality were not sufficient to draw clients to the newcomer’s shop, Mackey also promoted his prices, proclaiming that he sold his wares “as cheap as any in Town.” In his first introduction to Providence in the public prints, Mackey deployed several of the most common advertising appeals used by artisans in eighteenth-century America.

Yet Mackey went beyond the expected methods of encouraging prospective customers to patronize his business. He also invoked his collaboration with colleagues who enhanced the services available at his shop. In addition to selling materials, he also had a “Breeches-maker, who learned his Business in Europe” on staff to transform his leathers and skins into garments for “Any Gentlemen who may please to employ him.” In addition, Mackey reported in a nota bene that Benjamin Coates, a cordwainer, “carries on his Business at the same Place.” Clients interested in Mackey’s services could also “be suited in the best Manner with all Kinds of Boots, Spatterdashes, Shoes, Slippers, &c.” at the same location. In his efforts to build his customer base, Mackey offered convenience in addition to quality and low prices. His clients did not need to visit other artisans at other locations after acquiring materials at his shop. Instead, they could consult directly with a cordwainer and a breechesmaker on the premises. All three artisans stood to benefit from such an arrangement. Increased patronage for one of them likely yielded additional business for the others.

December 6

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

Dec 6 - 12:6:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 6, 1768).

“A List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.”

According to their advertisements, eighteenth-century printers and booksellers often carried at least some merchandise not related to the book trades. Throughout much of 1768 Charles Crouch, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, attempted to supplement the revenues gained from subscriptions, advertisements, and job printing by also selling a patent medicine he imported from Long Island, New York, “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM.” He placed lengthy advertisements about this patent medicine in the summer; as winter arrived, he inserted shorter notices to remind readers that they could purchase this elixir “at his Printing Office in Elliott-street.”

In case prospective customers suspected that Crouch sought to clear out leftovers that had been sitting on the shelves for several months, he proclaimed that he had “A FRESH SUPPLY.” That was only the first of several appeals he made in the abbreviated version of his advertisement. He also offered a bargain, pledging that customers could acquire the nostrum for “Five Shillings cheaper than any yet sold here.”

The price did not matter, however, if the patent medicine was not effective. Crouch assured consumers that “EDWARD JOYCE’s famous GREAT American BALSAM” was “superior by Trial, for its Use and Efficacy, to any imported from Europe.” Readers did not even need to consider any of those more familiar remedies produced in London and other places on the far side of the Atlantic, not when they had access to a product produced in the colonies that was even better. Crouch did not expect prospective customers to simply take his word that others had found the potion “superior by Trial.” Instead, he reported on “surprising Cures” in both New York and South Carolina, stating that “a List of the Person’s Names may be seen affixed to the Directions.” Even if local customers did not recognize the names of any of the patients cured in New York, they were likely to be familiar with colonists from South Carolina who had benefited from “this very famous BALSAM.” In providing directions that also listed satisfied customers, Crouch deployed printed materials beyond newspaper advertising to market this patent medicine to consumers.

November 27

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

Nov 27 - 11:24:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 24, 1768).

He does not Doubt but their Cheapness will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.”

Like many other advertisements in the New-York Journal and other newspapers published throughout the colonies, John Thurman’s notice listed “a large Assortment of Goods” that he imported and offered for sale. Shopkeepers who dealt directly with end-use consumers placed many of those advertisements, but merchants who sold wholesale placed similar notices. Advertisers sometimes made it clear whether they parted with their wares wholesale, retail, or both, but not always. Abeel and Vynack, for instance, explicitly stated that they sold “wholesale and retale,” but Edward Laight did not mention which methods he practiced. Laight was not alone. Many eighteenth-century newspaper notices did not indicate what types of buyers the advertisers sought, though that may have been considered unnecessary since many readers already would have been familiar enough with local merchants and shopkeepers to distinguish between them when perusing their advertisements.

Even under those circumstances, some advertisers did address particular sorts of customers, especially in the process of advancing other appeals intended to make their merchandise more attractive. Thurman, for instance, believed that the low prices he set for his goods “will be sufficient Recommendation to Traders and Shop Keepers to become his Customers.” He explained that he sold textiles, adornments, and other wares “at the lowest Rates.” He was able to do so because “he purchased the Goods himself from the Manufactories.” In other words, he bypassed English merchants, the middlemen notorious for passing along higher prices to colonial consumers. By dealing directly with the producers, Thurman kept prices down for both retailers and, ultimately, their customers.

Given the distribution of the New-York Journal and other colonial newspapers, advertisers like Thurman addressed “Traders and Shop Keepers” in towns and villages as well as retailers in busy port cities. Those who did not live in the vicinity of Thurman’s “Store in Wall-Street” in New York may not have been as familiar with his status as a wholesale rather than retailer. Making it clear that he sought customers who wished to buy in volume for resale may not have been necessary as far as his neighbors were concerned, but essential in cultivating a wider market for his merchandise. Explaining that he kept prices low by eliminating English merchants from the distribution chain may have made his wares more attractive to country “Traders and Shop Keepers” looking to acquire inventory from merchants in the city. Thurman certainly made more effort to entice them with his explanation of his supply chain than Abeel and Vynack did when they simply stated that “they prose selling reasonably, wholesale and retale.”

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.