March 2

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

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

“NEW-YORK BEER.”

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.

December 14

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (December 14, 1770).

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 14

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

Maryland Gazette (October 11, 1770).

“From the Clergymens and Counsellors full Dress Wigs, down to the common cut Bob.”

In the late summer and early fall of 1770, Thomas Hewitt, a perukemaker in Annapolis, advertised wigs for gentlemen in the Maryland Gazette.  He carried a full inventory of “all Sorts of Wigs, made in the newest and most approved Fashions.”  He had everything from “Clergymens and Counsellors full Dress Wigs, down to the most common cut Bob” as well as “Dress Bag Wigs, Half Dress, and Scratch Cut Wigs.”  The distinctions may seem obscure to most modern readers, but eighteenth-century gentlemen who read Hewitt’s advertisement recognized the differences.  Hewitt concluded the list of wigs he made and sold with “&c. &c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera) to indicate an even greater variety available at his shop.

Hewitt aimed to make each prospective customer feel as though he was the wigmaker’s most important client.  He pledged that they “may depend on having their Wigs well made, and of the best Hair,” which he had recently imported along with other materials necessary for carrying on his business.  His clients could depend on their wigs being “as neatly and faithfully executed, as if each had been made for his best and most particular Customer.”  This was an appeal to quality, but it was also an appeal to customer satisfaction and consumer discernment.  Hewitt did not cut corners but instead crafted each wig with care and attention.  His clients would note that when they examined his wigs, as would their friends and acquaintances when Hewitt’s customers wore the wigs he crafted.

The wigmaker also served a market that extended beyond Annapolis.  He addressed “those Gentlemen who reside in the remote Parts of the Province, where they cannot be supplied with Wigs by Post” or a local wigmaker that he kept an extensive inventory on hand for their convenience when they visited Annapolis.  They did not need to make multiple trips to his shop over the course of days or weeks, first for measurements and placing an order and later to pick up wigs once Hewitt had a chance to make them.  Instead, they could select a wig on their initial visit to Hewitt’s shop and depart Annapolis when it suited them.  That was another reason for the perukemaker to emphasize the care that went into each and every one of the wigs he constructed.  He offered reassurances to those gentlemen who chose to purchase “off the rack” for convenience.

Hewitt deployed several appeals to incite demand for his wigs, from the materials that went into their construction and the quality of his work to his extensive inventory and the convenience it afforded to prospective clients who lived at a distance.  He did more than merely announce that he had wigs for sale.  Instead, he sought to convince consumers that they purchase their wigs from him.

 

 

September 3

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

Sep 3 - 9:3:1770 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (September 3, 1770).

“It is presumed preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here.”

As fall approached in 1770, the nonimportation agreement remained in effect in Boston.  Parliament had repealed most of the duties on imported goods, but taxes on tea remained.  Although New York already resumed trade with Britain, debates continued in Boston and Philadelphia about whether that partial victory was sufficient to return to business as usual.

It was in that context that Harbottle Dorr advertised nails and other items in the Boston Evening-Post, grounding his marketing appeals in politics.  Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, he listed the various merchandise available at his shop.  He prefaced his list, however, by noting that the items enumerated first were “manufactured in this Town” rather than imported from Britain.  Those goods included “choice hammered Pewter Dishes & Plates, Cod and Mackrel Lines, best Copper Tea Kettles, all sizes of Porringers, Quart Pots, [and] Basons,” yet he started with “10d.* and 20d. Nails, warranted tough.”  The asterisk directed readers to a short sermon that encouraged them to buy goods produced in the colonies that appeared at the end of the advertisement.  “*It is presumed,” Dorr lectured, “preference will be given to NAILS manufactured here, (not only on patriotic Principles, and to discourage the PRESENT Importers, –but) as they really are better in Quality than most English Nails, being far tougher.”  Dorr linked several appeals that supporters of the nonimportation agreement often combined.  Buying American goods, Dorr and others argued, was not merely a statement of political principles but also a smart choice when it came to quality.  Consumers did not need to worry about purchasing inferior goods, in this case nails, when they bought items made in the colonies.

Yet Dorr also stocked imported goods in addition to domestic manufactures, including “all sorts Pad & Door Locks,” “London Pewter Dishes and Plates,” and “good Combs.”  He emphasized, however, that those items “have been imported above THREE YEARS.”  In other words, Dorr acquired them before the nonimportation agreement went into effect.  He had not violated the pact and prospective customers could purchase those items with confidence that they did not act contrary to the nonimportation agreement.

Whether selling domestic manufactures or imported goods, Dorr made politics the focal point of his marketing efforts.  Even as some merchants, shopkeepers, and consumers advocated for following New York’s lead in resuming trade with Britain, he challenged them to consider “patriotic Principles” as they made their decisions about commerce.  Perhaps sensing that it was only a matter of time before the nonimportation agreement came to an end, he also made additional arguments in favor of nails produced in the colonies, noting their superior quality.

May 20

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

May 20 - 5:17:1770 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (May 17, 1770).

“Their ware is equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”

Odgens, Laight, and Company, proprietors of the Vesuvius Air Furnace in Newark, New Jersey, placed an advertisement in the May 17, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to inform prospective customers that they produced and sold “all kinds of hollow ware, and other castings.”  Their inventory included forge hammers and anvils, pots, kettles, griddles, “iron stoves for work-shops and ships cabins,” and a variety of other items.  Descriptions of some of their wares testified to their quality, such as “jamb and hearth plates neatly fitting each other,” yet Odgens, Laight, and Company made more extensive appeals to quality as well.

The partners proclaimed that “their metal is of the best quality” and underscored that “the construction of their furnace” as well as “manner of working and moulding” was “the most improved.”  Accordingly, they could claim that the items they manufactured at the Vesuvius Air Furnace were “equal if not superior to any made in America or imported.”  The comparison to imported goods held particular significance.  As colonists adopted nonimportation agreements to protest duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea that Parliament levied via the Townshend Acts, they also advocated supporting “domestic manufactures” as an alternate means of acquiring goods they needed and desired.  Even though colonists declared their support for goods made in the colonies, newspaper advertisements suggest that consumers experienced some skepticism that those goods matched imported wares in terms of quality.  Artisans and other who promoted domestic manufactures in the late 1760s and early 1770s frequently reassured prospective customers that they would not have to sacrifice quality in service to following their political principles.  In addition to asserting that their wares were “equal if not superior” to imported goods, Ogdens, Laight, and Company singled out their hammers and anvils, explaining that “the metal … is excellently well tempered, and found on repeated trials to be in general superior English hammers.”  They did not elaborate on who conducted those “repeated trials.”  That claim echoed marketing strategies frequently invoked by other artisans:  proclaiming that others with specialized knowledge of the product vouched for it.

Ogdens, Laight, and Company offered consumers an opportunity to demonstrate their support for the American colonies in their altercation with Parliament by purchasing goods made in the colonies rather than imported from England.  In so doing, they joined other advertisers in the New-York Journal and throughout the colonies who offered domestic manufactures to prospective customers.  The appeals they made in their advertisements resonated with the news that appeared elsewhere in the newspapers.

April 20

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1770 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (April 20, 1770).

“He makes and sells all Kinds of FELT HATS.”

In the late 1760s and early 1770s the New-London Gazette carried fewer advertisements than most other newspapers printed in the colonies, in large part due to being published in a smaller town than most of its counterparts.  Those advertisements that did appear in the New-London Gazette, however, tended to replicate the marketing strategies deployed in advertisements published in other newspapers.  T.H. Breen asserts that colonists experienced a standardization of consumer goods available for purchase from New England to Georgia.[1]  They also encountered a standardization in advertising practices when they read the notices in colonial newspaper.

Consider an advertisement that Abiezer Smith, “HATTER, at NORWICH-LANDING,” placed in the April 20, 1770, edition of the New-London Gazette.  He informed prospective customers that he had “served a regular Apprenticeship to the FELT MANUFACTURE.”  Artisans frequently listed their credentials, especially upon arriving in town from elsewhere or opening a new business.  Since they did not benefit from cultivating a reputation among local consumers over time, they adopted other means of signaling that they were qualified to follow the trade they advertised.  In addition to consumers, Smith addressed retailers, the “Merchants and Shopkeepers in the Country” that he hoped would stock his hats.

Smith also made an appeal to quality and connected it to contemporary political discourse, just as advertisers in Boston and New York were doing during at the time.  The hatter at Norwich Landing proclaimed that his hats were “equal in goodness to any manufactured in this Country.”  Yet that assurance of quality was not sufficient.  He also declared his wares were preferable to any imported from Europe or elsewhere.”  Although the duties on most imported goods had been repealed, news had not yet arrived in the colonies.  For the moment, Smith stood to benefit from nonimportation agreements that prompted consumers to purchase “domestic manufactures” instead, provided that he made prospective customers aware of his product.  For retailers, he offered a new source of merchandise.  Even though his appeal would have less political resonance in the coming months, the quality remained consistent.  Many colonial consumers tended to prefer imported goods, but Smith offered an alternative that did not ask them to sacrifice the value for their money.

Smith’s advertisement could have appeared in any other newspaper in the colonies.  Indeed, given the scarcity of advertising in the New-London Gazette, he very well may have consulted (or at least had in mind) newspapers from other towns and cities when he wrote the copy for his advertisement.  His appeals that invoked his training, the quality of his wares, and the political significance of purchasing his hats made his advertisement resemble others placed by American artisans in the late 1760s and early 1770s.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (1988): 81-84

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.