July 2

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

Jul 2 - 7:2:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 2, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”

In an advertisement in the July 2, 1767, issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, Philip Wilson announced that he sold “A NEAT assortment of Merchandize” at his store on Front Street, just three doors down from “the Tea-pot, at Chestnut-street Corner.” He listed more than a dozen specific items, but also indicated that he carried “a Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”

This note near the end of the Wilson’s advertisement suggests how he imagined colonial consumers interacted with advertisement in their local newspapers. Most likely he did not expect readers to remember the particulars of his advertisements published two months earlier, not given that during that time the Pennsylvania Gazette regularly included a four-page supplement devoted exclusively to advertising in addition to all of the advertising in each standard issue. In addition, residents of Philadelphia were also exposed to advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle and the Pennsylvania Journal. The proliferation of newspaper advertising that occurred in Philadelphia by the 1760s made it unlikely that readers would remember Wilson’s original notice unless it included especially noteworthy or innovative appeals to distinguish it from others. (It did not.)

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Pennsylvania Gazette (May 14, 1767).

Instead, Wilson assumed that his potential customers were active readers – very active readers – who had access to issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette published and distributed weeks earlier. In mentioning that he had previously advertised and listed a greater assortment of merchandise, he offered directions for locating a more complete accounting of his wares, anticipating that at least some readers would take the time and make the effort to do so. In turn, Wilson’s reference to his advertisements in previous issues suggests that some subscribers held onto their newspapers for some time before discarding them. Some of those subscribers may have included proprietors of coffeehouses, establishments known for providing newspapers among the many amenities offered to patrons.

Wilson was not alone in making assumptions that readers would look for advertisement inserted in previous issues.  Samuel Nightingale, Jr., deployed a similar technique in the Providence Gazette the previous November, though he directed readers to specific issues by number.

The masthead of the Pennsylvania Gazette proclaimed that it “Contain[ed] the Freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic,” but some subscribers and coffeehouses likely created small archives of what was becoming old news (and advertisements), at least going back a few months, for perusal and reference. Philip Wilson assumed potential customers had some way to access a list of the “Variety of other Articles (advertised in the May Papers).”

November 2

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

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Providence Gazette (November 1, 1766).

“A Variety of English, East and West-India GOODS, … to be sold at the cheapest Rate for CASH.”

In this advertisement in the Providence Gazette, Samuel Nightingale, Jr., sold an assortment of goods from England, as well as both the East and West Indies, in his “new Shop, near the Great Bridge” in Providence.

Since this advertisement mentions earlier issues that included the actual information about what was being sold, I went in search of them. In issue 145, published on October 25, 1766, I found a much larger advertisement with a vast list of goods. The majority of the items on the list were linens and other sorts of textiles, but it also included other things, such as “Ivory and buckling combs,” “Pewter dishes, plates and basons,” and “Flat irons. English Steel.”

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Providence Gazette (October 18, 1766).

Pewter was very popular in the eighteenth century. James A. Mulholland notes that “[a]ll but the poorest families owned at least one or two pewter items, and wealthier families accumulated substantial inventories of pewterware, including porrigngers, tankards, coffeepots, and candlesticks.”[1] He also noted that the majority of pewter came from England.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I was very excited when Ceara selected this advertisement. When guest curators are participating in this project I leave the decisions about which advertisements to feature to them, provided they follow the project’s methodology. That means that they sometimes pass over advertisements that I find either interesting or significant, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes when working on a collaborative project. After all, the guest curators can learn something interesting or significant about colonial America from any advertisement.

Why was I so excited when Ceara submitted this advertisement for approval? She mentioned the reason in her own analysis. Samuel Nightingale, Jr., instructed potential customers to “[see No. 144 and 145 of this Gazette]” for a list of the “Variety of English, East and West-India GOODS” that he sold. When she noticed this, Ceara did the sort of historical detective work that I consider an enjoyable part of this project: she consulted the earlier issues (October 11 and 18, 1766) of the Providence Gazette to find out more about those advertisements. In the process, she discovered an advertisement that resembled others by Thompson and Arnold and Benjamin Thurber and Edward Thurber, both previously featured by the Adverts 250 Project.

In the course of a few weeks, Nightingale published two advertisements with rather extraordinary features. His first advertisement borrowed innovations from competitors, but those innovations had not been so widely adopted that Nightingale’s advertisement blended in with others. With a decorative border and spanning two columns, Nightingale’s earlier advertisements dominated the pages on which they appeared.

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Providence Gazette (October 18, 1766).

Today’s advertisement did not have the same visual impact, but it did incorporate one rather unusual feature. It instructed readers to consult another newspaper to see the original advertisement. Nightingale assumed a high level of interest among potential customers. At the very least, he hoped to incite interest by offering a brief description and then challenging readers to find the original advertisements in earlier issues.

This tells us something about how colonists used newspapers. Nightingale’s directions to “[see No. 144 and 145 of this Gazette]” only worked if readers still had access to those issues. It suggests that subscribers held on to newspapers for at least several weeks to consult the news, advertisements, and other items they contained. Newspapers were not immediately ephemeral in the eighteenth century. In turn, that means that the advertisement printed in colonial newspapers had longer lives than the week that passed before the publication of the next issue.

Running his lengthy advertisement for two weeks may have been a significant investment for Samuel Nightingale, Jr., but it may also have been a risk worth taking if he could depend on it to keep circulating for quite some time after that. To shore up his bet, today’s brief notice directed potential customers back to the impressive original advertisement.

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[1] James A. Mulholland, History of Metals in Colonial America (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1981), 95.