January 11

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

Jan 11 - 1:11:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (January 11, 1768).

“Whatever Tobacco is sold by the Subscriber, has only the Marks B.M. on the Papers.”

Blaze Moore, a tobacconist in New York, had created a reputation for himself among consumers in the city. He had done so well that a competitor attempted to horn in on his success, passing off other tobacco as Moore’s. This prompted Moore to insert an advertisement in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy to warn customers about the subterfuge perpetrated against him and, ultimately, against them as well.

Moore had practiced his trade in New York “for several Years past.” In that time, he had “acquired some Credit with his Tobacco,” establishing a reputation based on “his Care and Skill.” Proud of his work and not wanting it mistaken for that of any other tobacconist, he packaged it in tobacco papers marked with his initials, “B.M.” To some extent, he created a trademark intended to make it easy to identify his tobacco.

Yet that attempt to market tobacco that came from his workshop presented an opportunity for counterfeiting his product. Moore reported that other tobacconists had “manufactured and sold their Tobacco, with the Marks M.B.” and were “imposing it on the Publick” as his product. By switching the order of the initials, the counterfeiters devised nearly indistinguishable packaging that could easily confuse and fool customers who did not carefully examine it before making their purchases.

Moore suspected two possible motives. The unknown tobacconists may have been “envying his Success” and desired a boost to their sales with the fraudulent packaging. That would have been harmful enough to Moore’s business, but another explanation had the potential to be even more damaging. The counterfeiters could have been “coveting to take away his Bread and Credit.” The spurious tobacco not only deprived Moore of sales but also endangered his reputation. Acquiring an inferior product could convince duped customers not to obtain Moore’s tobacco when they made subsequent purchases. The harm to his reputation extended beyond losing out on a single sale; it imperiled his livelihood.

To combat the bogus tobacco distributed as his own, Moore used an advertisement to caution “all concerned” that his tobacco “has only the Marks B.M. on the Papers, and any other Mark with a Pretence of its being [Moore’s], is an Imposture.” He did what he could to warn customers, but depended on their care and vigilance as consumers to protect his interests while simultaneously protecting their own as they avoided unsavory competitors’ attempts to fool them.

October 13

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

Oct 13 - 10:13:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 13, 1767).

“THE famous new-invented STOMACH PILLS, prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN.”

Colonial shopkeepers and apothecaries frequently advertised a variety of imported remedies, especially patent medicines with names widely recognized by consumers. The “new-invented” pills for stomach ailments “prepared by JAMES SPEEDIMAN” did not have that advantage. Since they were mostly unfamiliar to local customers, William Williamson had to put special effort into marketing them in the fall of 1767.

He first established that patients in other places, especially England, had embraced Speediman’s “STOMACH PILLS.” The proprietor had been granted “HIS MAJESTY’S ROYAL LETTERS-PATENT.” In addition, Williamson assured potential customers that “those Pills are found effectual” by patients on the other side of the Atlantic. They had earned a positive reputation and were “approved of in Great-Britain.” Williamson mobilized both bureaucratic approbation and public consensus as endorsements of Speediman’s pills.

Yet local consumers did not need to trust solely William’s representation of how the pills had been received in England. He reported that he had brought a few boxes to South Carolina the previous year, “upon Trial” for his customers. After he distributed them, “they proved so beneficial to sundry Persons who used them” that patients wanted more of them and made “very frequent Applications” for them. This convinced Williamson to acquire a greater quantity, which had just arrived in port. Although Williamson did not provide testimonials, he did suggest that local consumers could verify that Speediman’s pills had worked for them.

In order to sell these stomach pills, Williamson also created a sense of exclusivity. He noted that Speediman made them available to him “by particular Appointment,” selecting him – “and him only” – to sell the pills in South Carolina. To substantiate the authenticity of the pills, Williamson delivered them with “printed Directions” that had been “signed with the Proprietor’s own Hand.” Advertisers sometimes indicated that other medicines came with printed directions and other marketing material, but rarely did they have such an immediate connection to “the Proprietor.” This also contributed to forging an aura of exclusivity.

William Williamson had a relatively new product, one not yet familiar to most consumers in his local marketplace. Colonists were already familiar with other patent medicines, with other brands, and their effects so he needed to convince them to give Speediman’s stomach pills a chance. To do so, he stressed that their effectiveness had made them popular in England, but emphasized that they were not yet widely available in South Carolina. Due to an exclusive contract, local consumers could obtain them only from him.

July 7

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

Jul 7 - 7:7:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (July 7, 1767).

“If any such Piece should break, he will mend the same Gratis.”

For many eighteenth-century artisans, making a living depended in part on establishing a creditable reputation, both for fair dealing and for skilled craftsmanship. Thomas You, a goldsmith in Charleston, devoted most of his advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to cultivating and maintaining his reputation, hoping to gain new clients as well as repeat business from previous patrons.

He reminded those who had employed him in the past of their “general Satisfaction” with his work, but he also suggested that this merited passing along “their kind Recommendation to others.” You did not believe that he could rely on word of mouth alone to promote his services to new clients; he apparently supposed that newspaper advertising could provoke word-of-mouth endorsements that would supplement notices in the public prints.

You also pursued another means of cultivating his reputation: he was so confident in the quality of his work that he offered a guarantee. “Any Piece of Plate worked up in his Shop,” the goldsmith pledged, “he will warrant as good as Sterling; and if any such Piece should break, he will mend the same Gratis.” In making this promise to fix defective work for free, You offered a blanket guarantee that covered not only the work done by his own hand but also any tasks undertaken by others who labored in his shop, whether journeymen, apprentices, or enslaved artisans.

You incorporated other appeals into his advertisement, including low prices and punctual service on orders sent by mail, but he saved those for after his endeavors to secure his reputation. He revealed what he thought was most important to his customers. Low prices or quick responses hardly mattered if they accompanied inferior work. The goldsmith first needed to establish the quality of his work, reflected in both his existing reputation and a guarantee on future jobs, in order to convince potential customers of the value of the other appeals he advanced.

June 14

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

Jun 14 - 6:11:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (June 11, 1767).

“He is so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts.”

Recently arrived in Philadelphia from Saint Domingue, surgeon-physician Louis Colin did not place an advertisement in search of patients, though that may have been his ultimate goal. For the moment, two obstacles prevented him from offering his services to the residents of Philadelphia. He did not speak English fluently, nor had he cultivated a reputation for skill and expertise in his profession. He placed a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette to set about overcoming both.

Colin realized that many readers were likely to be skeptical of any new medical practitioner who arrived in town. Too many itinerant doctors made promises and did not deliver. Too many peddlers sold patent medicines that had no effect. To allay suspicions of those sorts, he asserted that he was “so far from being a Quack Doctor, or Dealer in mysterious Receipts, that he utterly despises all Charlatanry.” He did not conjure preposterous diagnoses, prescribe ludicrous treatments, or hawk potions to desperate customers. Instead, his work with patients was grounded in years of training in Europe followed by years of experience in the Caribbean. He offered his credentials to make the point, noting that he studied “in one of the greatest Hospitals” in Paris for nine years before migrating to Saint Domingue. There, Count d’Estaing, the governor general of the colony, “had great Confidence in him, and placed him at the Head of the Hospital of Cape Francois.” Unfortunately for Colin, the climate did not agree with him, so he opted to migrate once again, this time to Philadelphia.

Readers did not need to merely trust that Colin accurately related his credentials. Rather than seeking patients, he placed his advertisement in hopes of making acquaintance with “the Gentlemen Physicians and Surgeons of this City,” provided that they could speak Latin or French. In the course of their conversations with Colin, other medical professionals could assess whether he truly possessed the knowledge and skills he claimed. If he had made false claims, surely local physicians and surgeons already known and trusted by the community would expose him as a fraud, the sort of “Quack Doctor” he disdained. In the course of socializing with his professional peers, Colin could also further develop his ability to speak English, though he assured readers he “assiduously applies himself” to studying the language.

As a newcomer to Philadelphia, Colin made an astute decision about what sort of advertisement to place in the local newspaper. He was not yet ready to solicit patients, but he realized that he would benefit in the long run by introducing himself to the community, especially fellow physicians and surgeons, as a means of gaining familiarity and building his reputation. This would only make recruiting patients that much easier when the time came.

December 29

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

Newport Mercury (December 29, 1766).

“Dentifrice … will preserve the Teeth.”

John Baker, a surgeon dentist, had recently arrived in Newport. Since potential local clients did not know him, he offered a variety of assurances and references in his advertisement. To demonstrate his qualifications, he noted that he had “given sufficient Proof of his superior Judgment, in this Art, to the principal Nobility, Gentry, and others, of Great-Britain, France, and Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe; also to some Hundreds in the Town of Boston.” In his bid to attract clients among “the Gentry” of Newport, he underscored that the better sort in cities throughout Europe had already entrusted him and been pleased with the results. Still, any charlatan might make claims about his vaunted clientele on the other side of the Atlantic. Boston, on the other hand, was nearby, making it much more difficult to exaggerate the reputation he had earned there.

Baker’s concern for his reputation extended to a product he sold, a patent medicine “called Dentifrice,” in addition to the services he offered. The itinerant surgeon dentist made several claims about what his “infallible” Dentifrice would accomplish. Because it was “quite free from any corrosive Preparation,” the Dentifrice “will restore the Gums to their pristine State; will preserve the Teeth, and render them perfectly white; will fasten those that are loose, and prevent them from further Decay.” To protect his reputation and to make sure that customers purchased the correct product, Baker and his agent in Boston provided “proper Directions” along with each pot of the Dentifrice. Each pot was “seal’d up with his Coat of Arms” to prevent tampering or fraud. Baker’s coat of arms was also printed “in the Margins of the Directions” so customers could compare it to the seal and verify the authenticity of the product for themselves.

John Baker offered several services – cleaning and filling teeth and making and repairing artificial teeth – but the surgeon dentist realized that merely advertising those services might not be sufficient to attract clients when he arrived in Newport. In the absence of having established a reputation locally, he promoted the reputation he had earned in other cities and provided other means for certifying the products that he sold.

December 11

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

Pennsylvania Journal (December 11, 1766).

“Philip Coleman peddler, my husband; for some time past has eloped from me.”

Many colonists experienced geographic mobility during the eighteenth century. Even as some used their ability to move from place to place to seize opportunities and improve their lot in life, others found such mobility problematic, especially in the cases of slaves and indentured servants who ran away from their masters.

While advertisements for unfree laborers constituted the vast majority of runaway advertisements in the eighteenth century, advertisements for wives who had “eloped from” (rather than with) their husbands appeared with such frequency that no one would have considered them extraordinary in any particular way. In the larger urban ports newspapers sometimes featured multiple advertisements concerning runaway wives in a single issue, usually following a set formula announcing that a woman had “eloped from” her husband, that she had behaved poorly before her departure, and, perhaps most importantly, that merchants, shopkeepers, and others were not to extend her credit or otherwise allow her to make purchases on her husband’s account.

Advertisements for runaway husbands, on the other hand, were much more rare. Elizabeth Coleman published her advertisement about “Philip Coleman peddler, my husband,” only after he had “eloped from” her. That would have been bad enough, but he also made efforts to publicly damage her reputation “by inserting in the publick paper an advertisement very much to my prejudice.”

Elizabeth Coleman was not in a position to replicate the standard advertisement for a runaway wife; as a married woman, a feme covert, she could not instruct others not to trust her husband on her account. Instead, she resorted to defending herself in no uncertain terms. She lamented that her husband’s advertisement “scandalously vilified my character.” It presented accusations “contrary to my known character.” As a feme covert, Elizabeth would not have owned property independently of her husband; her reputation – her character – was her most valuable possession. Given the very public aspects of the rupture in the Coleman household, Elizabeth may have needed an unsullied reputation more than ever just for her everyday survival.

Just as her husband had used the power of the press to level accusations against her, Elizabeth Coleman published a counter advertisement as her means of “justifying myself.” Unlike advertisements for runaway wives that relied solely on the word of the husband, Elizabeth relied on her community to affirm her declarations concerning her character and her relationship with her husband. Philip’s advertisement was “villanous and false, which is well know to al- my neighbours.”

N.B. I am examining newspapers printed in Philadelphia in the summer and fall of 1766 in hopes of identifying Philip Coleman’s original advertisement.

August 7

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

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).

“HAVING lately seen and advertisement … which not only aims at discrediting certain Anchors …”

William Hawxhurst of New York placed an extensive advertisement in response to the charges Daniel Offley made about the anchors sold in Philadelphia in an equally extensive advertisement that appeared in an earlier issue of the Pennsylvania Journal.

Hawxhurst reiterated some of the claims Offley made and then set about dismantling them via a point-by-point rebuttal. He did so not only to defend his own reputation and the quality of the product he sold, but also as “a piece of justice I owe to the public.” Potential customers, Hawxhurst asserted, would benefit once he set the record straight; they deserved to be as well-informed as possible by the producers and suppliers of the goods they contemplated purchasing.

Hawxhurst addressed the process of making anchors, especially forging the necessary iron, in some detail, perhaps exceeding the technical knowledge of most readers of the Pennsylvania Journal (but maybe not that of those most likely to purchase anchors). On the other hand, he then mobilized appeals that any reader would understand.

Rather than choose between “assertions” made by either advertiser, Hawxhurst preferred “to appeal to experience, as a more satisfactory voucher to the public.” To that he end, he proclaimed, “Certain it is, that my iron has gained a high reputation for its purity, both in England and America.” Furthermore, the smith who made Hawxhurst’s iron into anchors had been at the trade longer than Offley. Experience mattered. In addition, Hawxhurst’s ironworks had “furnished anchors for sale at Boston, New-Hampshire, Bermuda, South-Carolina, Virginia, and Jamaica” in addition to New York. Furthermore, he had received no complaints but instead had “heard much of their goodness and superior excellency.” Finally, Hawxhurst had always offered the same sorts of guarantees that Offley promoted, so customers would not gain any advantage by purchasing from them.

Offley had publicly stated that he would refuse to repair any anchors purchased from competitors. Hawxhurst made it clear what he thought of that ploy: “I give the public assurance, that in case of any such accident, my friend in Philadelphia, has orders upon the return of the anchors so failing, or such part of it as remains, to supply another in its stead; so that Mr. Offley may not only be saved the trouble of amending them, but deprived of the pleasure of refusing it.”

Hawxhurst stated that he had “no design to injure” Offley, but found it necessary to “remove the objections and difficulties, which [Offley] has thrown out, with more art, perhaps, than truth.” Both his reputation and his business were at stake, warranting a response that filled approximately two-thirds of a column. Most eighteenth-century advertisers promoted their own products without mentioning competitors, but occasionally some advanced their own businesses by disparaging others.

BONUS: Daniel Offley published a response of a similar length. In the August 7, 1766, issue of the Pennsylvania Journal, Offley’s advertisement appeared on the first page and Hawxhurst’s on the final page.

Aug 7 - 8:7:1766 Offley Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (August 7, 1766).