September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 23, 1768).

I have been informed that some of my customers have been displeased.”

Seth Wales had two purposes for placing an advertisement for his “clothier’s business” in the New-London Gazette in September 1768. He promoted the skills of the workman he now employed while simultaneously recanting and correcting an advertisement that appeared in the same newspaper a year earlier.

That advertisement originally ran in the September 11, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. In it, Seth Wales of Norwich and Nathaniel Wales of Windham announced that “every Part and Branch of the Clothier’s Business is carried on” in their towns “under the Direction and Management of one FRANCIS GILDING.” Having recently arrived from London, Gilding was unfamiliar to prospective customers so the Waleses assured them that he is “thoroughly skilled in the Art of a Scowerer and Dyer, and can imitate or strike any Colours (that are dyed in the English Nation).” The advertisement continued to extol Gilding’s skills and abilities at some length, adopting a marketing strategy frequently adopted by artisans in newspapers published throughout the colonies.

Seth Wales ultimately found himself dissatisfied with Gilding’s “Direction and Management” of the business. In an advertisement that first appeared in the September 16 (misdated 15), 1768, issue he implied that Gilding had placed the previous notice. Although Wales did not take responsibility for misleading the public about Gilding’s work, he did acknowledge that he had been “informed that some of my customers have been displeased with some of their work done at my mill.” He indicated that those customers had responded to “Gilding’s pretences” in the earlier notice, but that he had “found by experience he no ways answers to said advertisement.” Wales then savaged Gilding’s skills before declaring that he had “dismissed him.”

In the wake of Gilding’s termination, Wales hired a new “workman at the clothier’s business, that served an apprenticeship at said trade in Europe, and understands every branch of the business.” This new employee had been on the job for six months, sufficient time for Wales to confidently exclaim that his work “shall be done this year much better than it was last.” Perhaps Wales had learned a lesson about advertising the skills of an employee too soon. The trial period gave him better opportunity to assess for himself the abilities of his “present workman” before making promises in advertisements and then finding himself in the position of retracting them.

For his part, Gilding was not pleased with how Wales portrayed him. The following week he placed his own advertisement, which appeared immediately below the second insertion of Wales’s notice. He lamented that he had been “greatly Abused and Injured in my Reputation.” He considered the entire advertisement “a Piece of Malice and Detraction.” He then explained that any shortcomings in his work should be attributed to Wales for not providing proper supplies for the dyeing business. Furthermore, Gilding asserted that Wales attempted to hire him for an additional year. Gilding quit, despite Wales pretending otherwise. Finally, Gilding reported that his former employer and “the Workman he pretends to have had Six Months experience of” had parted ways, once again due to difficulties caused by Wales.

Artisans of various sorts often used newspaper advertisements to promote their skills and training in eighteenth-century America. In this incident, Wales and Gilding did that and more. Each turned to the public prints to defend their own reputation, inserting advertisements that constructed competing narratives. Airing their dirty laundry presented risks, but calculated that the rewards of presenting their own side of the dispute would result in rewards if prospective customers believed their version of events.

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 Dancing-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.

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.