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.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:18:1768 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 18, 1768).

“No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office.”

John Gerrish had a bone to pick with Elias Dupee. Gerrish operated the North-End Vendue-Office. Dupee, his rival, ran the New-Auction Room. The two competed for both clients who supplied merchandise and bidders who purchased those wares.

On February 15, 1768, Dupee placed advertisements impugning Gerrish’s reputation in two newspapers, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy. Gerrish was so concerned about the accusations leveled against him that he did not wait a week to respond in the publications that originally ran Dupee’s advertisement. Instead, he published his own rebuttal just three days later in the Massachusetts Gazette. After devoting just a few lines to promoting his upcoming auction, Gerrish addressed Dupee’s allegations at length. Though he never mentioned his rival by name, Gerrish did closely paraphrase a portion of Dupee’s advertisement.

Dupee had offered a reward “to be paid to any Body, who shall bring to Justice, one John Taylor, who Stole out of the New Auction Room, the Night the Fire was, a blue Surtout Coat, and had it Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Anyone who resided in Boston would have know that John Gerrish was the auctioneer at the North-End Vendue-Office, especially anyone who regularly read any of the local newspapers. Gerrish, like Dupee and Joseph Russell from the Auction-Room in Queen Street, advertised regularly in several newspapers.

In his advertisement, Dupee explicitly accused Taylor of being a thief, but he also implicitly alleged that Gerrish was Taylor’s fence when he stated that the stolen coat had been “Sold at the North-Vendue Office.” Such allegations had the potential to do significant damage to Gerrish’s reputation, scaring away bidders who did not wish to obtain stolen merchandise as well as suppliers who did not want their own names or ware associated with illicit business practices. Gerrish answered Dupee’s charges with a detailed timeline. The “Coat Sold for Taylor” had entered the North-End Vendue-Office ten days before the fire at Dupee’s New Auction Room, therefore it could not have been the same coat stolen the night of the fire. In addition, Gerrish identified discrepancies between the quality and price of the coat auctioned at his establishment and the one stolen from Dupee. Furthermore, the coat had been on display and “every Day exposed for Sale,” suggesting that many witnesses could attest to having seen it at the North-End Vendue-Office. Some of them could confirm the quality and value of that coat.

Gerrish acknowledged the possibility that Taylor had stolen a coat from Dupee, but if he had it was not the one that Gerrish auctioned. “Taylor may be a Thief,” he stated, “but verily he did not look more like one, than the Advertiser.” Dupee had attacked Gerrish’s reputation. Gerrish responded in kind. He also underscored, just in case readers had not followed all the complexity of his timeline, that “there is not the least probability, that the Coat Advertised, is the same that was Sold at the North-End Vendue-Office.”

Gerrish concluded with a message for prospective clients and potential bidders. “No Man can be more careful, and vigilant, than the Master of said Office, in endeavouring to detect suspected persons, –he has detected several, –let others beware.” Many colonists participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century via an informal economy that included secondhand and stolen goods. Newspaper advertisements frequently alerted readers about stolen goods. In addition, court records show that theft and fencing regularly occurred. That being the case, Gerrish devoted significant effort to demonstrating that he conducted a legitimate business that did not truck in stolen wares. He needed buyers and sellers, as well as the community more generally, to trust in his character if he wished to continue his business and compete against the rival auction houses in Boston.

Feb 21 - 2:15:1768 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 15, 1768).

February 9

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

Feb 9 - 2:9:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (February 9, 1768).

“Greatful thanks for the encouragement he has had for eighteen years past in Charles-Town.”

Experience matters. That was the central theme James Lingard presented in his advertisement in the February 9, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. In the process of announcing that he had moved to a new location at the east end of Queen Street, Lingard expressed his appreciation to his former customers, noting that he had served the residents of Charleston for the past eighteen years. While merchants and shopkeepers occasionally referred to their years of experience in their attempts to entice customers, artisans most commonly made such appeals. Lingard, a blacksmith and farrier, continued a common practice among eighteenth-century artisans who placed newspaper advertisements.

Lingard enhanced his professional reputation by promoting his experience and expressing “his greatful thanks for the encouragement” he had received from those who had previously engaged his services. It would not have been possible for him to operate a shop in the busy port for nearly two decades had it not been for his skills in “the smiths and farriers business, in all its branches.” Still, it did not hurt to inform potential customers that he had honed those skills over the years and now possessed significant experience. For those who had resided in Charleston for quite some time, Lingard’s advertisement served as a reminder that he had been operating his shop for years. For newcomers to the city, however, Lingard seized an opportunity to inform them of his long history working with local customers.

Lingard likely attracted some of his business via word-of-mouth referrals built on his reputation. Turning to print could have been a strategy to prompt more referrals, presenting himself for consideration among members of “the public in general” who had not previously hired him but who might ask others if they had any experiences dealing with Lingard. In such situations, his appeals to skill and experience in his advertisement set the tone for conversations among customers.

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.