June 25

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

Jun 25 - 6:23:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (June 25, 1769).

“He hereby offers, and assures a FREE PARDON.”

In late May 1769 Major General Alexander Mackay issued a pardon to “Soldiers who have deserted from His Majesty’s Troops quartered” in Boston, provided that they returned and surrendered by the last day of June. It was not, however, a blanket pardon; Mackay did exclude nearly twenty deserters who had committed other crimes. Instead of the promise of a pardon, he offered a reward for “apprehending and securing them in any of the public Goals [jails].” To get the word out about the pardons (and the rewards for the excluded soldiers), Mackay had one of his officers, “C. FORDYCE, Major of the Brigade,” insert notices in the public prints.

Dated May 23, the notice first appeared in the Boston Chronicle and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (published on the same broadsheet and distributed with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette) on May 25. Within a week, the same notice ran in all of the newspapers published in Boston, appearing in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy (published in the same broadsheet and distributed with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) at the first opportunity on May 29.

Over the next several weeks, publication of the notice concerning Mackay’s pardon radiated out from Boston. It next appeared in the Essex Gazette on May 30 and then the New-Hampshire Gazette and the New-London Gazette on June 2. The notice soon found its way into both newspapers published in Rhode Island, running in the Providence Gazette on June 3 and in the Newport Mercury on June 5. A week later, the same notice appeared in Hartford’s Connecticut Courant. With the exception of the Connecticut Journal, published in New Haven, the notice about the pardon ran in every newspaper in New England. (Copies of the Connecticut Journal for June 9 and 23 were not available for consultation. The notice may have appeared in one or both of those issues of the newspaper published at the furthest distance from Boston.)

At the same time that more newspapers featured the notice, most continued to include it in subsequent editions. It ran in every issue of the Boston Chronicle, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Weekly News-Letter, the Connecticut Courant, the Essex Gazette, the New-London Gazette, the Newport Mercury, and the Providence Gazette from the time of first insertion through the end of June. It appeared in most issues of the Boston Post-Boy and the New-Hampshire Gazette, though it quickly disappeared from the Boston Evening-Post after only two insertions. In total, the notice ran at least fifty-one times in at least eleven newspapers published in New England over the course of five weeks. It made sense to print the notice far and wide considering that deserters were likely to leave Boston to evade capture.

Although information about the pardon could have been considered news, in each instance the notice appeared among the advertisements in every newspaper that carried it. Purveyors of consumer goods and services sometimes published advertisements in multiple newspapers in their city, but a coordinated advertising campaign of this magnitude was extraordinary in 1769. Members of the book trade sometimes inserted subscription notices among the advertisements in as many newspapers as possible, but even their efforts did not usually match the campaign created by Fordyce. He harnessed the power of the press to spread news of the pardons throughout New England, depending on both distribution networks and subsequent word of mouth to inform deserters that they would receive forgiveness if they only returned to their posts.

June 24

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

Jun 24 - 6:24:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 24, 1769)

“All cheap for Cash, or West-India Produce.”

When John Fitton advertised several commodities in the Providence Gazette in the late spring and early summer of 1769 he did not specify any prices. In that regard, his advertisement did not differ from most others placed by merchants and shopkeepers in Providence and throughout the colonies. Purveyors of goods rarely listed prices in the eighteenth century, though they commonly made appeals to low prices to stimulate demand among potential customers. Fitton pledged to sell his wares “cheap for Cash” or barter for “West-India Produce.” He did not, however, reveal how much he charged for flour, pork, or peas. In a similar advertisement, Thomas Stelle advertised flour, ship bread, and bar iron without mentioning prices.

Readers gained a sense of how much they could expect to pay for most of those commodities from another portion of the newspaper. In the June 24 edition of the Providence Gazette, the compositor happened to position Fitton’s advertisement immediately above the “PRICE CURRENT in PROVIDENCE,” a list of prevailing prices for popular commodities in the local market. Although the price current did not include peas, it did indicate that pork sold at 66 shilling per barrel and flour at 16 shillings and 6 pence “By the Hundred Weight.” Before they finalized any transactions with Fitton, customers could consult the price current to determine if his prices actually qualified as “cheap” compared to what competitors charged. In turn, Fitton could also take advantage of the price current list, using it to set his own prices to offer bargains or to calculate the value of commodities that prospective clients offered in exchange for his flour, pork, and peas.

The price current list provided an overview of the marketplace in Providence. It aided merchants in making decisions about when and where to buy, sell, and trade commodities, but it was also an important resource for consumers as they determined whether merchants, shopkeepers, and other purveyors of goods set fair prices. Just as readers could sometimes work back and forth between advertisements for consumer goods and the shipping news from the customs house to assess how recently merchandise had arrived in shops and stores, they could also consult another feature in the newspaper – the price current list – for additional information before making purchases.

June 17

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

Jun 17 - 6:17:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 17, 1769).

“The Art of curing, with God’s Assistance, all curable Disorders.”

Isaac Calcott, a healer, inserted an advertisement in the June 17, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette to announce his presence in the city as soon as he arrived from London, even though he was not yet ready to see patients. He aimed to stoke anticipation among residents, especially prospective patients who might benefit from the “Art of curing” that he had obtained during “several Years travelling abroad.” Calcott did not indicate where he had traveled, leaving it to others to imagine the faraway places where this “SEVENTH SON of a SEVENTH SON” had learned secrets for healing a variety of maladies, from “Rheumatism” to “Pleurisy,” “Venereal Disorder” to “Scurvy,” and “Dropsy” to “Consumption.” Calcott informed colonists who suffered from any of these that they could soon consult with him at Elizabeth Thurston’s house starting on the following Tuesday.

Many medical practitioners from London and other places in Europe tended to assert their credentials when they advertised upon their arrival in the colonies. They detailed their professional training at universities and the hospitals where they had worked alongside prominent physicians. Many reported that they had served members of the aristocracy, suggesting that having earned the trust of prominent clients demonstrated their competency. Calcott, however, was a different sort of healer. He did not trumpet his prior successes. Instead, he implied that those who adopted that strategy often reported on “Cures never performed.”

Calcott expected his work to provide sufficient testimonial over time: “let my Medicines and Practice merit your Applause.” This strategy did depend on attracting patients who could then speak favorably of the care they received. Prospective clients had little to lose, except for the shilling they paid for the consultation. Calcott promised that even “if he can do no Good” at least “he will do no Hurt.” Perhaps more significantly, Calcott repeatedly invoked the role that faith played in the care he provided to patients. His ability to cure all sorts of disorders flowed from “God’s assistance.” For colonists who had exhausted other options or could not afford to visit physicians who proclaimed their specialized training, this may have been an attractive alternative.

June 10

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

Jun 10 - 6:10:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 10, 1769).

“TO BE SOLD, (At a Distance from the Town of Providence only).”

Among the advertisements in the June 10, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, an unnamed colonist offered to sell an enslaved youth. The advertisement did not provide many details except that the “young NEGROE WOMAN” was approximately fifteen years old and had been “born in the Country” rather than surviving the middle passage from Africa. The advertiser claimed that the enslaved youth was “capable of any Work suited to her Age,” but did not specify any particular skills that she possessed. Interested parties were instructed to “Enquire of the Printer” for more information.

None of that deviated from typical advertisements that offered enslaved men, women, and children for sale in the 1760s. The advertisement, however, did include one unusual element. It specified an exception concerning the terms of sale, stating that the seller intended to deal with buyers “At a Distance from the Town of Providence only.” The advertisement did not elaborate on the reason. This suggested a deliberate effort to separate the young woman from someone else. It hints at a story that most likely will never be recovered.

“Enquire of the Printer” advertisements truncated the information provided to readers, but they also truncated the miniature biographies of enslaved men, women, and children contained in those advertisements. Filtered through the perspective of a slaveholder, the advertisement obscures what may have been one of the most significant relationships in the young woman’s life at the time. Perhaps the advertiser considered it necessary to sell her “At a Distance” in order to effectively separate her from family members who exercised too much influence over her. Perhaps friends encouraged her to engage in acts of resistance and the seller hoped that sending her away would correct such insubordination. Perhaps she had embarked on a new romance that made her difficult to manage. Perhaps she frequently participated in altercations with the advertiser or a member of the advertiser’s family. Perhaps she had been sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted by a member of the household and selling her “At a Distance” was a strategy intended to make it easier for members of the household to overcome the rifts in their relationships with each other that had resulted. What might this young woman have recorded had she written her own narrative rather than having her experiences voiced, mostly in the formulaic language of advertisements of the period, by an unnamed slaveholder? The advertisement insinuates so much more while denying the young woman her own voice and concealing her story from readers past and present.

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 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 27, 1769).

Practitioners, and others, in the Country, on sending a Line, may depend on being well used.”

Jabez Bowen, Jr., advertised “A large and general Assortment of the most valuable Drugs and Medicines” in the May 27, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette. His inventory included familiar patent medicines, such as “Turlington’s Balsam of Life,” “Godfry’s Cordial,” “Bateman’s and Stoughton’s Drops,” and “Daffy’s Elixir.” In addition, he stocked several spices sometimes compounded into remedies. He testified to the authenticity of the various remedies and also made an appeal to price.

Bowen invited potential customers to visit his shop “fronting the Great Bridge” in Providence, but he did not confine his clientele only to those who resided in town. In a note at the end of his advertisement, he advised that “Practitioners, and others, in the Country, on sending a Line, may depend on being well used.” In other words, he offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of ordering through the mail. Bowen provided a service that advertisers often promoted, though apothecaries tended to do so more often than those who followed other occupations. They usually identified two sorts of clients, colleagues who practiced medicine in one capacity or another and the general public. Cultivating relationships with the former had the potential to generate significant additional sales if country doctors, apothecaries, and others decided to purchase large quantities in order to avoid running short on supplies. Customer service was an important aspect of first attracting and then maintaining relationships with any and all correspondents. To that end, Bowen did not merely state that he accepted orders from the country. Instead, he pledged that customers who sent their orders “may depend on being well used.” Others sometimes added the phrase “as if present” to underscore that they devoted the same care and attention to customers who submitted orders via the post or messenger as they did to those they served in person in the shop. Such reassurances may have helped some clients feel more comfortable placing orders from afar, more willing to give that method a chance to decide themselves if the quality of the service matched the convenience.

May 20

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

May 20 - 5:20:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 20, 1769).

“Coy and Waterman do all Manner of Painting, Gilding, Drawing, and Writing upon Signs.”

Like many others who advertised in eighteenth-century newspapers, Coy and Waterman helped prospective customers locate their shop both by identifying a landmark and a describing their sign. They advised that they could be found “At their Shop, the Sign of the Painter’s Arms, opposite Moses Brown’s, Esq; in Providence,” where they sold “A Compleat Assortment of Painters Colours.”

Their sign, the Painter’s Arms, served not only as an advertisement for their wares but also as a testament to the quality of a service they also offered. After listing the several varieties of “Painters Colours” in stock, Coy and Waterman stated that they “do all Manner of Painting, Gilding, Drawing, and Writing upon Signs, in the most neat and genteel Manner.” They invited shopkeepers, merchants, artisans, tavernkeepers, and others to commission signs to mark their places of business, promote the goods and services they provided, and distinguish them from their competitors. Posting a sign played a part in creating a memorable identity for practically any enterprise. For instance, John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette, gave his location as the “PRINTING-OFFICE, the Sign of Shakespear’s Head” in the colophon of every issue.

Coy and Waterman’s advertisement suggests that the market for producing and maintaining signs in the late 1760s was vibrant enough that they needed to address the competition. The painters pledged to “work as cheap for Cash, or Country Produce, as any Person in Town, Newport or Boston.” Apparently prospective clients had several choices in a regional market.

Print played an important role in eighteenth-century marketing, but newspapers, trade cards, catalogs, and other printed media were not the only means for promoting commerce and consumption. Shop signs became synonymous with purveyors of goods and services, a precursor to creating brands, logos, and trademarks consistently associated with particular businesses. They have not survived in nearly the same numbers as eighteenth-century newspapers, but many of the advertisements in those newspapers suggest that colonists regularly glimpsed “the Sign of the Painter’s Arms,” “the Sign of Shakespear’s Head,” and many other shop signs as they navigated the streets of Providence and other cities and towns.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:13:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (May 13, 1769).

“The Printer of the PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE … is very desirous to extend its Utility.”

On May 13, 1769, William Goddard published “PROPOSALS For continuing and improving the PENNSYLVANIA CHRONICLE AND UNIVERSAL ADVERTISER” not in that newspaper but instead in the Providence Gazette. At the same time, he inserted the same advertisement in the Newport Gazette (May 8), the New-York Journal (May 18), Connecticut Journal (May 19), and the Connecticut Courant (May 22). While it was unusual for printers to advertise their newspapers in faraway markets, Goddard’s vision for his publication explains why he thought colonists in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and other places beyond Philadelphia and its hinterlands would be interested in subscribing to the Pennsylvania Chronicle. He billed it as both “a REGISTER of the BEST INTELLIGENCE” and “a Repository of ingenious and valuable Literature, in Prose and Verse.” He aimed to collect news and editorials concerning current events from correspondents in the colonies, Europe, and other locales, newspapers he received via exchange networks created by fellow printers, and political pamphlets published on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yet the Pennsylvania Chronicle delivered more than just news and editorials. “Literature, in Prose and Verse,” was such a significant component of the publication that Goddard hoped “to incite Persons to preserve their Papers, which will grow into a Family Library of Entertainment and Instruction.” As part of that plan, Goddard promoted the size of the sheets, the quality of the paper, and the “beautiful” type. He also promised that subscribers would annually receive “two elegant Copper Plates … executed by the most ingenious Artists; one to serve as a Frontispiece and the other to close the Volume,” as well as an attractive title page and “a copious and useful INDEX.” After they gathered the issues, the plates, the title page, and the index, Goddard encouraged subscribers to have them bound together into a single volume to become an important part of home libraries.

Individual issues of the Pennsylvania Chronicle were not ephemeral; instead, they were part of a larger publication with value that endured beyond delivering the “freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic.” The Providence Gazette, which carried Goddard’s subscription notice, incorporated that phrase into its masthead, as did many other newspapers printed in the American colonies. The masthead for the Pennsylvania Chronicle, however, advised that it contained “the freshest Advices, both Foreign and Domestic; with a Variety of other Matter, useful, instructive, and entertaining.” The inclusion of that “other Matter” transformed the Pennsylvania Chronicle into more than just a vehicle for delivering news and advertising. It explained why Goddard believed he could cultivate a market for this publication beyond Philadelphia and the surrounding area. This was not merely a publication that fellow printers could scour for material to reprint or merchants could peruse for political and economic news and then lay it aside in coffeehouses. It was an anthology that merited preservation for the continued edification and entertainment of subscribers and their families.

May 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 29

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

Providence Gazette (April 29, 1769).

“He also carries on the BOOK-BINDING Business.”

Edward Jones took out an advertisement in the Providence Gazette on April 29, 1769. His advertisement was for “A VARIETY of useful and entertaining BOOKS” as well as his specialty in bookbinding. Bookbinding was a very interesting career choice because it was far from a simple job. In order to become a practicing bookbinder Jones had to go through years of apprenticeship that required “hard work, dexterity, attention to detail, and a willingness and ability to handle painstaking tasks,” according to Ed Crews. However, it was a great trade to have because books were so popular and seen as a status item since they were typically expensive and demonstrated that the owner was wealthy and educated. Yet there was one book that many colonists owned that would go through quite a bit of wear and tear, the Bible. It is likely that there was a large demand for repairing bibles, as they were used frequently.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When customers purchased many of Jones’s “useful and entertaining BOOKS,” they likely did not acquire items that consumers would recognize as books today. In many cases they did not buy bound volumes but instead purchased books still in sheets. They then delivered those sheets to a bookbinder’s shop, where they could make decisions about the binding to fit their tastes and budget. In other words, customers who purchased Brady’s Psalms or Watts’s Hymns did not end up with matching volumes in their homes. They did purchase the same printed material, but their own decisions about binding resulted in different final products.

Ed Crews describes assembling books as akin to “constructing a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.” Broadly speaking, the process required two steps: forwarding and finishing. Forwarding, Crews explains, “generally involved arranging pages so they could be turned and examined.” Recall that customers purchased books in sheets. That meant that many pages were printed out of order on each side of large sheet that, when folded, ended up with the pages in the correct order. Once the pages had been folded in these closed signatures, bookbinders stitched them together and then “put a protective cover on them, typically fashioned of leather from calves, sheep or deer. At this point, the signatures (or folded pages) were cut open so readers could view every page. Already the decisions about the leather cover produced different appearances for volumes that contained the same text, but the decoration that comprised the finishing further distinguished them from each other. Finishing “could include lettering as well as design work” created with heated tools that stamped or imprinted designs into the leather covers. Bookbinders had a lot of responsibility. Not only did their work require artistry, it also required that they produce durable products. Crews notes the many ways that colonists handled their books: the structure “had to allow for repeated openings and closings, page fanning and tugging, falls to the floor, and being pulled from a shelf by a finger hooked on a spine.”

Today most consumers put little thought into the bindings of most books they buy, beyond choosing between hardcover and paperback editions. Colonial consumers, however, faced far more choices. They interacted not only with booksellers but also often with bookbinders who transformed the printed sheets they purchased into unique volumes according to consumers’ wishes.