September 11

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

Sep 11 - 9:8:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (September 8, 1768).

He has been mistaken for a Dancing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence.”

Peter Vianey needed to do some damage control. Rumors had reached the itinerant dancing master that he had been confused for another dancing master, one known for having previously committed some sort of transgressions toward his students. Realizing that hearsay could scare away prospective clients, Vianey opted to address this case of mistaken identity in the public prints. He published an advertisement that did not look much different from those of his counterparts, except for the final paragraph. “Having been informed,” Vianey fretted, “that he has been mistaken for a Dacing-Master, whose Behaviour to his Scholars gave just Offence in this City some Years ago, he takes the Liberty to inform those who are not acquainted with him, that he never was in this Country, till the Year 1764.” Exercising discretion, Vianey did not offer any further details about the unsavory behavior of the other dancing master, a decision further calculated not to have another’s infractions attached to his name. After all, his ability to attract clients depended on his ability to establish and maintain a good reputation. To that end, he requested that “all who know him, will do him the Justice to testify that his Conduct has ever been regular and unexceptionable.” The only specific detail that mattered was that Vianey had only recently arrived, not only in New York but also in the colonies. His arrival was too recent for him to have been the culprit of whatever scandalous deeds had taken place several years earlier.

In Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York, Serena Zabin notes that “[a]t any time a dancing master might become an object of suspicion” because of the ambiguous status they held in colonial society. Dancing masters taught genteel conduct to their clients – in Vianey’s case, music and fencing in addition to dancing – but they were not themselves members of the genteel ranks. As Zabin explains, dancing masters “had to tread a social tightrope,” exhibiting sufficient gentility to avoid being considered a disreputable fraud but not so much as to confuse the distinctions in status that separated the instructors who provided a service and the students that paid their fees.[1] Vianey, like any other dancing master, was already in a difficult position when it came to marketing his lessons, an enterprise that made his identity, character, and status just as much the center of attention as the skills “discoverable in his Scholars” that emerged via his tutelage. Resurrecting old gossip and attributing misconduct to him only compounded his difficulties. Rather than pretend that he had not heard the malicious tales, Vianey vigorously defended his reputation in newspaper advertisements, requesting that others confirm that he was not the scoundrel that some mistakenly imagined.

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[1] Serena Zabin, Dangerous Economies: Status and Commerce in Imperial New York (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 103, 105.

July 9

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

Jul 9 - 7:9:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (July 9, 1768).

“Doubts not to give full Satisfaction to all Gentlemen who please to employ him.”

In the process of announcing that he had moved his workshop to a new location, John Forrest, a tailor, traded on his reputation to attract an even larger clientele. For those who either had not yet employed him or were not yet familiar with his work, he trumpeted “his well known Ability in his Profession,” signaling to “the Public in general” and, especially, “Any Gentleman in City or Army” that they could depend on being well served at his shop.

Forrest pledged “to give full Satisfaction to all Gentlemen who please to employ him.” Yet he did not make general promises. Instead, he explained the various details that he considered essential in achieving customer satisfaction. This began with employing a skilled staff, “the best of Workmen.” He also adhered to deadlines and did not make promises he could not keep when setting dates for completing the garments he made or repaired. Exercising “particular Care that his Work shall be done to the Time limited” further enhanced his reputation since disgruntled clients would not have cause to express their frustration or disappointment on that count when discussing his services with other prospective customers.

At the same time, Forrest sidestepped any suggestions that work done on time might also be work done hastily. He advanced a bold claim about the quality of the garments produced in his shop; they were made “as well and neat as in any Part of Europe.” The tailor did not make comparisons to his competitors in the busy port or to his counterparts in the largest cities in the colonies. Instead, he made a much more expansive claim, one he hoped would resonate with both military officers and the local gentry. Among other markers of status, both constituencies depended on impeccable tailoring to distinguish them as the better sort.

Forrest aimed to please. He informed prospective clients that they “may have laced Work done in any Figure or Taste they please.” Along with his talented staff, his faithfulness to deadlines, and the superior quality of his work, he depicted customer satisfaction as his first priority. Such devotion to his clients may have produced the reputation he invoked in his advertisement, “his well known Ability in his Profession.”

June 1

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

Jun 1 - 6:1:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (June 1, 1768).

“His method of teaching children being well known in the town of Savannah.”

In anticipation of opening a school on the following Monday, Peter Gandy inserted an advertisement in the Wednesday, June 1, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette. Compared to many other advertisements placed by schoolmasters and –mistresses in the 1760s, Gandy’s notice was fairly sparse. He provided little information about the subjects he intended to teach, his methods of instruction, or the accommodations for students. Instead, he invoked his prior experience and the reputation he had already established in the community. He called on “those gentlemen and ladies who formerly favoured him with the tuition of their children” to enroll them once again. Addressing all parents of prospective students, whether they previously attended his school or not, he confidently stated that because “his method of teaching children being well known in the town of Savannah” it “therefore needs no farther explanation.”

Gandy did not commence promoting his school in the public prints much in advance of the first day of classes. His advertisement first ran in the May 25 edition of the Georgia Gazette, less than two weeks before he planned to “OPEN SCHOOL.” It appeared again the following week in the June 1 edition, allowing Gandy only two opportunities to attract students via the only newspaper published in the colony. On June 8, Gandy published a slightly revised version of the advertisement, announcing that he had indeed “OPENED SCHOOL” earlier in the week. Beyond notices in the Georgia Gazette, he almost certainly relied on other means, including word of mouth and speaking directly to the parents of former pupils, to inform prospective students and their families that he offered lessons at “Mrs. Cuningham’s house.”

Though Gandy did not offer many particulars in his advertisement, expecting that readers were already aware of many of the details, he did extend some general promises to those who entrusted their children to his tutelage. He declared that parents could “depend upon sobriety, due care, diligence, and constant attendance” toward their children at his school. Parents who previously enrolled their children in Gandy’s school would have been aware of these aspects of his instruction, but the schoolmaster sought to reassure others who may not have been as familiar with his methods as he suggested earlier in his advertisement. He realized that he needed to do more than merely rely on his reputation to attract a sufficient number of students to “OPEN SCHOOL” in Savannah.

May 17

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

May 3 - 5:3:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 17, 1768).

“He has removed from Dorchester to Charles-Town.”

William Proctor, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal when he relocated from the small town of Dorchester on the Ashley River to the bustling urban port of Charleston. He addressed his notice to both “his Friends in particular, and the Public in general,” a strategy intended to maintain any clients who wished to patronize him at his new location as well as introduce him to the residents of Charleston.

Given that Dorchester, a town already in decline and abandoned after the American Revolution, was eighteen miles from Charleston, Proctor probably had few existing customers in his new city. After all, residents could choose from among many tailors and others who worked in the garments trades in one of the largest ports in the American colonies. Still, acknowledging “his Friends in particular” in his advertisement served an important purpose. It signaled to prospective clients that he had experience pursuing his trade, that he had previously cultivated a clientele in Dorchester and thus deserved their consideration now that he set up shop in Charleston.

He enhanced that appeal by underscoring that “he continues to make it his Study to carry on the Business to the Satisfaction of all who please to favour him with their Commands.” Proctor provided his own testimonial about the quality of the garments he made and the level of customer satisfaction he previously achieved, promising that new clients would not be disappointed if they engaged his services. In case some prospective customers remained skeptical about the clothing he produced, the tailor proclaimed that he constructed garments “in the newest Fashion, and genteelest Manner, not inferior to any in America.” In so doing, he cautioned readers not to dismiss him as a backwoods amateur merely because he had lived and worked outside the colony’s largest city. Instead, he pledged that he was as familiar with current trends – and capable of replicating them – as tailors from Charleston as well as Philadelphia and New York. That he made such a claim at all suggested that he was prepared for prospective clients to assess his efforts and reach their own conclusions, realizing that word of his ineptitude would spread if he did not manage to achieve “the Satisfaction of all who please to favour him with their Commands.” Proctor’s advertisement established a narrative about his skills and the types of garments he created, but consumers possessed the power to verify or discredit the reputation he attempted to construct.

April 30

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

Apr 30 - 4:30:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (April 30, 1768).

“Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.”

For quite some time John Baker, “SURGEON DENTIST,” had advertised his services to the better sorts and others and other residents of Boston in the newspapers published there, but in the spring of 1768 he migrated to New York and informed “the gentry” that “he will wait on receiving their commands.” He announced that he “cures the scurvy in the gums” and “makes artificial teeth,” just a few of the many aspects of dental hygiene and health he addressed in the lengthy notice he inserted in the New-York Journal.

In addition to those various services, the itinerant surgeon dentist also hawked a product that readers could purchase with or without undergoing any of the procedures he performed. A manicule drew attention to Baker’s “Dentrific … for preserving the teeth and gums.” Here Baker used an alternate spelling for “dentifrice,” a precursor to toothpaste described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a powder or other preparation for rubbing or cleansing the teeth.” Baker provided “proper directions,” presumably a printed sheet or pamphlet, with each purchase.

He also realized the potential for counterfeits to circulate in a marketplace with little regulation of medicines. To that end, the inserted a nota bene to announce that “Each pot is sealed with his coat of arms, as in the margin of the directions, to prevent fraud.” Whether Baker actually anticipated spurious dentifrices attributed to him, this proclamation enhanced his marketing efforts. It implied that his dentifrice was so effective that others would indeed attempt to peddle substitutes that they passed off as authentic. It also allowed him to assert that he possessed his own coat of arms, which now doubled as a trademark to readily identify his product. Earlier in the advertisement he declared that he had provided his services “to the principal nobility, gentry, and others of Great-Britain, France, Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe.” Invoking his own coat of arms accentuated that claim, suggesting that his treatments were so effective that clients of means and influence had obtained his services and been satisfied with the results. As a newcomer to New York, Baker could not rely on a reputation built over time through extended interactions with local residents as a means of attracting new patients. Instead, he used his dentifrice, his coat of arms, and his own reports concerning his previous clients to achieve recognition and encourage prospective patients to engage his services in a new city.

March 28

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

Mar 28 - 3:28:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (March 28, 1768).

“Whoever Employs the said GERRISH may depend upon his Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY.”

John Gerrish was one of several auctioneers who sold goods “by PUBLIC VENDUE” in Boston in the late 1760s. He regularly advertised in the city’s newspapers, as did Elias Dupee and Joseph Russell. Residents recognized their establishments by name: Gerrish ran the “PUBLIC VENDUE-OFFICE, NORTH END,” Russell operated the “Auction-Room in Queen-Street,” and Dupee sold goods at the “NEW AUCTION ROOM.” In their competition for clients and bidders, all three inserted notices concerning upcoming auctions in the March 28, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. Each offered a short description of items coming up for sale within the next couple of weeks, but Gerrish supplemented his brief overview with an additional appeal to prospective clients who wished to place items up for bidding.

“Whoever Employs the said GERRISH,” he proclaimed, “may depend upon his Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY to the Highest Bidders – and remitting the Neat proceeds immediately, after they are Sold, deliver’d, and paid for.” Gerrish’s clients “shall be faithfully served by him.” Dupee, Russell, and Gerrish periodically offered such assurances in their advertisements, but Gerrish made a point of it in the spring of 1768 since he and Dupee had recently been involved in a public dispute, waged in their newspaper advertisements, that highlighted the potential for disreputable behavior by vendue masters who might not always act in the best interests of their clients.

In stressing his “Faithfulness in Selling their Goods FAIRLY to the Highest Bidders,” Gerrish addressed suspicions of collusion. His clients did not need to worry that he would attempt to rig sales to benefit his friends and associates looking to acquire goods for even better bargains than auctions might otherwise yield. The typography underscored this point: an examination of other advertisements in the same issue suggests that the compositor did not choose to capitalize “FAIRLY” or use italics for “Faithfulness” and “Highest Bidders” (as well as “Trustees” in a list of potential clients that included “Gentlemen Strangers, Passengers, [and] Factors”).

Consigning goods to an auctioneer required trust. Gerrish encouraged potential clients to deliver items they wished to sell to the Public Vendue Office in the North End rather than the Auction Room in Queen Street or the New Auction Room by pledging that he conscientiously worked to garner the highest proceeds and remitted them in a timely manner. He did not just offer a service; he built relationships that also enhanced his reputation.

March 11

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

Mar 11 - 3:11:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (March 11, 1768).

The Cutler’s or Whitesmith’s business is still carried on at my shop, and in a much steadier and careful manner than usual.”

As spring approached in 1768, Benjamin Butler, a cutler, needed to do some damage control or risk losing business to his competitors. A journeyman employed in his workshop had tarnished Butler’s reputation by producing inferior goods, causing Butler to take out an advertisement in the New-London Gazette to explain the situation. He hoped to convince prospective customers to give his workshop another chance now that he had remedied the problem.

After announcing that “the Cutler’s or Whitesmith’s business is still carried on at my shop,” Butler declared that work currently undertaken in the shop was completed “in a much steadier and careful manner than usual.” Here he already acknowledged that quality had been lacking for some time, but he then provided an explanation. For several months he had turned over the operation of the shop “to a journeyman, that was great part of his time incapable of performing good work.” Butler did not pull any punches about the reason the journeyman produced shoddy work: “strong drink.” Having made this confession, the cutler petitioned prospective customers to wipe clean the slate. He had resumed doing the jobs that came into the workshop himself. That being the case, he assured “Those who will favour me with their custom” that they could “depend upon being served in the best manner.”

Butler addressed his advertisement to “the public” rather than his former customers. Although he may have contacted some of them individually to make amends, he wanted the entire community to know that he was aware of the problem in his workshop and had addressed it. After all, customers could spread news of their discontent via word of mouth. In case that had happened, Butler harnessed the power of print in his efforts to dispel any lasting harm to his image. By issuing a mea culpa in a newspaper advertisement distributed far and wide in the colony, he encouraged prospective customers not to dismiss his workshop when they had need of a cutler’s services in the future. In this case, Butler advertised not only to incite demand but also to rehabilitate the reputation associated with the goods that came out of his workshop.