April 15

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

Maryland Gazette (April 15, 1773).

“For Neatness and Elegance … they are able to excel any of the Business ever arrived in Annapolis.”

When John Finlater and Company set up shop in Annapolis in the spring of 1773, they placed an advertisement that ran for six weeks in the Maryland Gazette.  Newcomers to the town, the wheelwrights explained that they were “Late fromEurope” and “propose carrying on the various Branches of the Business.”  They crafted “Wheels of all kinds” for a variety of carriages, including “Coaches, Berlins, Post-Chariots, Curricles, Sulkies, and single Horse Chaises.”  In addition, they made wheels for “Waggons, Carts, Ploughs, and Harrows,” promising “the neatest Construction” for all their work.  As an ancillary service, Finlater and Company also painted and varnished carriages and wheels “in the best Manner.”

Unlike other artisans who extolled their training and experience when they settled in the colonies after migrating across the Atlantic, Finlater and Company did not provide details about the work they had undertaken in Europe.  They did, however, extend some of the usual promises to prospective clients.  “Those who please to honour them with their Commands,” the wheelwrights declared, “may be assured, that a speedy Execution of their Work and Attention to Business will entitle them to their Favours.”  In turn, Finalter and Company intended that the quality of their work with their initial customers would help in cultivating a good reputation and “in some Measure recommend them to the Encouragement of the Publick.”  In other words, they hoped that satisfied customers would spread the word so others would seek out their services.

The wheelwrights concluded with a bold claim.  When it came to “Neatness and Elegance” of the wheels they constructed and the carriages they painted and maintained, Finlater and Company proclaimed that “they are able to excel any of the Business ever arrived in Annapolis.”  They were better wheelwrights than any who had previously labored in the town.  In making that claim, they challenged prospective customers to test that assertion for themselves.  As newcomers without an established reputation, Finlater and Company resorted to other means of attracting attention to their business and distinguishing themselves from the competition.

March 31

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (March 31, 1773).

“A Quantity of well made RIFLES.”

Thomas Palmer, a gunsmith, made several appeals to prospective customers in Philadelphia in the advertisement he placed in the March 31, 1773, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He declared that his inventory included a wide selection, a “Quantity of well made RIFLES, of different Lengths and Sizes of Bores.”  Palmer was so confident of the quality of those guns that he proclaimed that he “will insure to the Purchasers” that they were “as good and as handsomely fitted up as any made in America.”  Consumers would not find better in Philadelphia or anywhere else in the colonies.  In addition, the gunsmith “makes Fowling Pieces, of different Sizes, such as have been approved of by Gentlemen of this City.”  Short of publishing testimonials from his clients, Palmer suggested that men with good reputations endorsed the guns produced in his workshop.  In addition to making rifles and fowling pieces, he also “repairs old Guns in the most careful Manner.”

Palmer did not rely on advertising copy alone to market his services.  Instead, he incorporated a visual image into his notice.  A woodcut that may have replicated a sign that marked the gunsmith’s location adorned the advertisement, though the copy did not make reference to any sign at Palmer’s shop on “the North Side of Market-street, between Fourth and Fifth-streets.”  On the other hand, Palmer may have considered it unnecessary to mention a sign in copy that appeared immediately below an image of a rifle and the words “THO: PALMER Gun Smith” enclosed within a double border.  Residents of Philadelphia may have already been familiar with the sign and readers from beyond the city would have easily recognized it if they decided to visit Palmer’s shop.  Whether or not Palmer displayed a sign at his shop on Market Street, the woodcut helped distinguish his advertisement from other content in the Pennsylvania Gazette, likely making it worth the investment.  With the exception of the seal in the masthead, only one other image appeared in that issue.  A stock image of a house ran with a real estate notice, but that lacked the same level of customization as the woodcut in Palmer’s advertisement.  The gunsmith deployed text and image simultaneously in his efforts to engage prospective customers.

February 27

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

Providence Gazette (February 27, 1773).

“Those that please to favour him with their Custom, may have Yarn dyed at Half an Hour’s Notice.”

Nathaniel Jenks provided multiple services to residents of Smithfield, Rhode Island, and nearby towns.  According to an advertisement he placed in the Providence Gazette in February 1773, he “carries on the Wheelwright’s Business, and makes all Kinds of Carriage Wheels.”  He advised prospective customers that they did not need to worry that they might find better bargains in Providence or anywhere else because he made wheels “as cheap as any other of the Business.”  Jenks did not intend to be undersold by the competition.

In addition to working as a wheelwright, Jenks “carries on the Dying Business.”  Advertisers often placed newspaper notices with multiple purposes.  In this case, Jenks promoted more than one means of earning his livelihood.  As he had with the prices for his wheels, he engaged in superlatives about some aspects of dying textiles.  Jenks proclaimed that he “has an European Blue Dye, which he will warrant to dye as good a Colour as any in America.”  That he pursued his craft in a small town, Jenks informed the public, did not mean that he achieved inferior results.  Prospective customers would be just as satisfied with the color of textiles they sent to him as they would be if they sought the same services in Providence or Boston or New York or any other town or city.

Jenks also emphasized convenience for local customers who visited his shop.  He asserted, “Those that please to favour him with their Custom, may have Yarn dyed at Half an Hour’s Notice.”  Prospective customers with other business to do in Smithfield could drop off their undyed yarn, see to their other tasks, and pick up their newly-dyed blue yarn before returning home.  Jenks intended that the combination of quality and convenience would convince colonizers to avail themselves of his services.  At a glance, his advertisement, like so many others in early American newspapers, may look like dense text with little of interest to modern readers, but eighteenth-century readers, accustomed to closely reading those notices, encountered several marketing pitches designed to capture their attention and distinguish Jenks and his services from his competitors.

February 13

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

Providence Gazette (February 13, 1773).

“Gibbs makes plated Buckles in the newest Fashions, warranted tough and good.”

John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette, limited the number of advertisements in the February 6, 1773, edition in order to make room for political news from Massachusetts.  A week later, the final page of his newspaper once again consisted entirely of advertising.  Other advertisements appeared on the first and third pages as well.  Collectively, paid notices accounted for nearly half the space in the February 13 edition.

Those advertisements included one from John Gibbs.  The notice ran for the first time, perhaps delayed by a week when Carter made the editorial decision to focus on the politics of the imperial crisis in the previous issue.  Whatever the particulars of the timing, Gibbs, wished to inform prospective customers that he opened a new shop “where he carries on the Goldsmith’s and Jeweller’s Business, in all their various Branches.”  In other words, he possessed the skill to undertake any sort of order he received.

In addition to promoting his abilities, Gibbs made other appeals commonly deployed by artisans in their newspaper advertisements.  He promised exemplary public service, stating that “Ladies and Gentlemen that please to favour him with their Custom, may depend on being served with Fidelity and Dispatch.”  He also promised low prices, declaring that he charged “as low Rates as any can work for in this Colony, or elsewhere.”  According to Gibbs, those were not just reasonable prices but the lowest prices that consumers would find in Rhode Island or anywhere else.  He also emphasized current trends and quality.  In a nota bene, he exclaimed that he “makes plated Buckles in the newest Fashions, warranted tough and good.”

Gibbs purchased a square of advertising, yet in that small amount of space in the Providence Gazette he incorporated multiple appeals intended to entice prospective customers to visit his shop and give him their business.  He demonstrated his familiarity with advertising culture by including so many appeals commonly used in notices published by goldsmiths, jewelers, and other artisans during the era of the American Revolution.  Given the prevalence of newspaper advertising in the second half of the eighteenth century, both Gibbs and readers recognized the standard elements of such advertisements.

October 4

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

New-York Journal (October 1, 1772).

“The surest Means to acquire a speedy Sale … is to make them of full Quality, at a moderate Charge, and good Attendance.”

Richard Deane, “DISTILLER, from “LONG-ISLAND,” considered experience one of the best markers of quality for the spirits that he sold in New York.  He stocked “a Quantity of neat Brandy, Geneva, Spirits of Wine, and Cordials of different Sorts” as well as “the very best Quality” shrub and New York rum.  In an advertisement in the October 1, 1772, edition of the New-York Journal, he attempted to leverage a precursor to name recognition or brand recognition, stating that the “good Quality of said DEANE’s Brandy, Geneva, and Cordials, has for several Years past been well experienced” by satisfied customers.  In turn, he redoubled his efforts “to excel in that particular Branch of Business” to further enhance his distillery’s reputation.

Deane elaborated on his business philosophy in a note that concluded his advertisement, confiding that he was “fully convinced by long Experience, that the surest Means to acquire a speedy Sale of the above Articles, is to make them of full Quality, at a moderate Charge, and good Attendance, which, with every other Endeavour to give Satisfaction, will be the constant Study, of the Public’s very obliged humble Servant.”  A manicule drew attention to the distiller’s promise to combine high quality, reasonable prices, and excellent customer service.  In many ways, Deane’s marketing strategy anticipated those deployed by breweries and distilleries today.  Many modern companies link their beers and spirits to traditions that date back to previous centuries, invoking a heritage their founders passed down through generations.  They invoke “long Experience” to encourage consumers to feel as though they participate in customs of significance when they imbibe beverages from their breweries or distilleries.  That “long Experience” also testifies to quality.  After all, breweries and distilleries would not remain in business so long if generations of customers did not appreciate their beers and spirits.  The philosophy that Dean expounded at the conclusion of his advertisement in the New-York Journal is the type of historical record that modern advertising executives would love to exploit in connection to the products they market.

August 12

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (August 12, 1772).

“He proposes to affix his Name on the Heads of all his Bolts, rolling Screens, and Fans.”

In the summer of 1772, John Sellers of Darby placed advertisements promoting “VARIOUS Kinds of Wire Work” in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He made and sold “rolling Screens for cleaning Wheat,” “rolling Screens for cleaning Flaxseed from the yellow or wild Seed,” “small Bolts for separating the Cockle from the Flaxseed,” and “common Dutch Fans” for separating wheat from chaff.

Sellers presented a variety of reasons that readers in need of any of those devices should purchase them from him.  He promised that customers who “favour him with their Orders, may depend on their Work being done with Care,” reiterating a description of his products as “made in the neatest and best Manner.”  He also offered a guarantee, stating that “the Work [is] Warranted.  Furthermore, Sellers drew on long experience as an artisan who met the expectations of his clients.  He was “not pretending to perform that which he has not, in a great Number of Instance, given the utmost Satisfaction.”  Over time, he made “upwards of 50 rolling Screens for Wheat, and upwards of 70 for Flaxseed,” establishing his reputation.

Sellers did not expect prospective customers to visit his workshop in Darby, six miles away from Philadelphia, to examine his products or purchase them.  Instead, “for the Conveniency of his Customers,” he arranged to have them on display “in Plumsted’s Stores, in Philadelphia.”  Sellers instructed to customers to ask for John Brown to handle sales.  For those who wished to confer with the artisan directly, he advised that he “attends generally twice a Week, in Philadelphia.”  Anyone interested in contacting him directly could do so by “leaving a Line at the Conestogoe Waggon, in Market-street, or sending by the Post.”

To attract notice to the various appeals he deployed in the copy of his advertisement, Sellers adorned it with a woodcut depicting one of the rolling screens he constructed.  He commissioned that image at least five years earlier, having included it in an advertisement that ran in the Pennsylvania Gazette in September 1767.  Just as sellers aimed to make his newspaper notice distinctive, he also marked the items he made in his workshop.  He informed his customers that he “affix[ed] his Name on the Heads of all his Bolts, rolling Screens, and Fans.”  That demonstrated pride in his craft while also marketing his products every time someone encountered his name on this equipment after it left his workshop. Sellers did not limit his marketing strategy to describing his products.  Instead, he used distinctive marks to draw attention, both an image in his newspaper advertisement and his name branding his bolts, screens, and fans.

March 2

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (March 2, 1772).


Benjamin Williams, a brewer, touted his skill and experience when he placed an advertisement in the March 2, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He invited both “Gentlemen in Town” and “Captains of Vessels” to purchase beer at his “Store-Cellar, upon HUNTER’S-QUAY.”  To convince them to choose his beer over others, Williams informed the public that through “great Experience and Application, in Brewing, Managing, and Bottling NEW-YORK BEER” he “brought it to that Perfection, which, with Pleasure, he can boast superior to any Attempt of the Kind in this, or in any other Colony on the Continent of North-America.”  That was a bold claim!  Today, brewers continue to promote the quality of their products and, in many instances, the years of experience and tradition associated with their breweries. When they do so, they echo marketing strategies already deployed by brewers during the era of the American Revolution.

Williams encouraged local consumption of his “NEW-YORK BEER,” informing “Gentlemen in Town” that they could acquire it for ten shillings for a dozen bottles.  If they returned the bottles, consumers enjoyed a discount of three shillings.  The brewer also sought customers among “Captains of Vessels” headed to ports in other places, including the Caribbean.  He assured them that “Repeated Trials have prov’d” that his beer “will stand the West Indies” rather than go bad during transport.  Here again, Williams’s “great Experience and Application” played a role in marketing his product to prospective customers.  He also promoted another product, “Fine Cyder, of a peculiar Quality and Flavour,” for consumers interested in beverages beyond beer.  In the 1770s, he diversified his line of products in much the same way that many breweries have recently done by offering ciders and, especially, seltzers and other flavor-infused malt beverages.  Both Williams and his modern counterparts hoped that familiarity with the quality and reputation of one beverage would lead to purchasing others from the same brewer.

February 15

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

Providence Gazette (February 15, 1772).

“Choice Bohea Tea, which for Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”

Joseph Russell and William Russell were among the most prominent merchants in Providence in the era of the American Revolution.  The brothers were so successful that in 1772 they built what is now the “earliest extant and most impressive of the cubical, three-story houses that symbolized wealth and social standing in Providence for several generation beginning at the eve of the Revolution,” according to the Providence Preservation Society’s Guide to Providence Architecture.  The building stands at 118 North Main Street (formerly King Street), though its original interiors were removed and installed in several museums a century ago.  In addition, the building “was raised to insert a storefront” in the middle of the nineteenth century, resulting in the original entrance, “taken from the English architectural pattern book Builder’s Compleat Assistant (1750) by Battey Langley,” appearing to adorn the second floor rather than opening onto the street.

The Russells frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette in the 1760s and 1770s.  Perhaps their marketing efforts contributed, at least in part, to their mercantile success.  As they embarked on building their new house in 1772, the brothers advertised a variety of commodities on February 15.  They focused primarily on grocery items in that notice, though in others they promoted a vast array of textile, housewares, hardware, and other goods imported from England.  Among the groceries they offered to consumers, the Russells listed “Nutmegs, Cinnamon, Mace, and Cloves” as well as “Pepper by the Bag” and “Chocolate by the Box.”  They concluded their advertisement with “Choice Bohea Tea.”  Most advertisers did not offer much commentary about that popular commodity, but in this instance the Russells elaborated on what made their tea “Choice” for consumers.  They proclaimed that the “Smell and Flavour exceeds almost any ever imported.”  In conjuring such associations with their tea at the conclusion of their advertisement, the Russells may have incited greater interest in all of the groceries they sold.  Sales of “Choice Bohea Tea” and so many other goods helped finance the house they built in 1772.  The Russells almost certainly enjoyed “Choice Bohea Tea” in the parlor of their new home, partaking in popular social rituals with family and guests.

January 18

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

Providence Gazette (January 18, 1772).

“He has likewise procured an European Blue-Dyer.”

In January 1772, John Nichols placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to remind the community that “he carries on the Weaving Business, as usual,” at his house on Broad Street.  He devoted most of his advertisement, however, to promoting an ancillary service he recently added to his business.  Nichols informed readers that he “procured an European Blue-Dyer, who will warrant his Colours to be equally durable with those from that Country.”  Nichols made that appeal to quality in hopes of convincing prospective customers to support services provided in the colonies rather than resort to imported goods.  When they did so, the weaver suggested, customers would also save money and reap other benefits.  In particular, he pledged that items committed to the care of his dyer would not become saturated with “the (generally detested) Smell of a common Dye-Pot.”  Customers could enjoy vivid colors without having to tolerate the unpleasant odors often associated with dyes.

On behalf of his dyer, Nichols also offered advice to prospective customers to help them achieve and maintain those vivid colors.  “Those who intend bringing Yarn to dye,” he instructed, “are requested to have it well cleaned.”  If they did not, the yarn “will not take the Dye so well.”  This made it easier for the dyer, but it also contributed to the quality that Nichols promised.  Colors had a tendency to fade over time, so producing colors “equally durable” as imported textiles required careful attention of both the dyer and the customers who delivered yarn for processing.

When it came to textiles, Nichols and his dyer offered alternatives to some of the imported good promoted by other advertisers.  Like many others who engaged in domestic manufactures, they attempted to make goods produced in the colonies attractive to consumers by emphasizing both price and quality.  Customers would actually pay less, Nichols declared, without sacrificing quality.  Consumers still clamored for the imported goods that so many other advertisers hawked in the Providence Gazette, but some may have considered seeking out the services of Nichols and his dyer rather than favoring imported goods over items produced locally.

June 7

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 7, 1771).

“As neat, as good, as handsome, as cheap, as ever was, or can be fabricated in New England.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, James Haslett and Matthew Haslett occasionally placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette.  Originally from Boston, the Hasletts relocated to Portsmouth.  They set up shop as leather dressers, making breeches, jackets, gloves, and other garments.  They also sometimes stocked tea, coffee, and other grocery items, their efforts as shopkeepers supplementing the revenues they generated as artisans.  Some of their advertisements were quite notable for featuring woodcuts depicting the “Sign of the BUCK and GLOVE.”  Other advertisements were more modest in appearance, though not in content.

Such was the case for an advertisement that ran in the June 7, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  It extended only five lines, taking up much less space than some of the Hasletts’ more elaborate advertisements, but its brevity did not mean that it lacked appeals intended to entice consumers to hire the Hasletts to make breeches and other leather items.  The Hasletts proclaimed that they made and sold their wares “As neat, as good, as handsome, as cheap, as ever was, or can be fabricated in New England.”  The unique cadence of their message to prospective customers may have caught the attention of readers.  In just a few words, they made several claims about the price, quality, and appearance of their breeches and other leather goods.  They also envisioned a regional marketplace rather than a local one, declaring that consumers would not acquire superior goods or better bargains in Boston or any other town in New England.

Visually, the Hasletts’ advertisement, like so many others in eighteenth-century newspapers, may seem unremarkable, especially compared to modern graphic design standards.  The copy, however, advanced multiple appeals intended to engage consumers.  The Hasletts did not merely announce that they made and sold leather breeches and other items.  Instead, they made a series of assertions about why prospective customers should select them to provide their services, incorporating many of the most popular appeals made in advertisements of the period.