May 10

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

Pennsylvania Journal (May 7, 1772).

“JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer from London.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Journal and other colonial newspapers did not have to rely solely on the list of vessels “Entered In” that appeared in the shipping news from the customs house to learn which ships recently arrived in port.  Advertisements often carried that information as well.  Consider, for instance, the first advertisement in the May 7, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal.  It included a standard introduction that named the ship that transported the goods offered for sale before naming the purveyor of those goods or listing the merchandise.  Richard Bache began his advertisement for an assortment of textiles with “JUST IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt, Falconer from London.” His notice appeared on the first page, two pages before the shipping news.

Even if readers skipped over that advertisement, it would have been difficult for them to miss every reference to the arrival of the Britannia from London.  Several other advertisements included introductions nearly identical to the one in Bache’s notice.  George Fullerton began his advertisement (on the third page, one column to the right of the shipping news) with “IMPORTED in the ship Britannia, Capt. Falconer, from London.”  The fourth and final page featured four more advertisements that mentioned the Britannia.  Mark Freeman and Townsend Speakman both opened their advertisements with that introduction, while John White and the partnership of Duffield and Delany listed their names first and then credited “the Britannia, Captain Falconer, from London” for delivering their “FRESH” merchandise.  On the first page, Daniel Roberdeau hawked “A COMPLEAT EDITION of the GENUINE LETTERS of the Late Rev. Mr. GEORGE WHITEFIELD … Received from his Executors, per Capt. Falconer.”  He did not need to provide more information since other advertisements provided context about Falconer.

Prospective customers likely found such notes helpful as they perused newspaper advertisements, especially when merchants and shopkeepers ran advertisements for weeks or even months.  Noting which vessel transported the merchandise in an advertisement helped readers determine if it was still “FRESH” or if other shops carried textiles, garments, housewares, and other goods that arrived more recently and, as a result, might include more recent fashions and styles.  This standard introduction to so many advertisements thus yielded its greatest advantage for advertisers when their notices first appeared in the public prints, but contained to provide useful context for consumers throughout the entire run of those advertisements.

February 9

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

feb-9-291767-pennsylvania-chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

“A neat Assortment of DRY GOODS, which he will sell cheap.”

Today the Adverts 250 Project features its first advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and Universal Advertiser. Likewise, the Slavery Adverts 250 Project includes its first advertisement from that newspaper. William Goddard had been publishing proposals for the Pennsylvania Chronicle in Philadelphia’s newspapers (and even the Providence Gazette) for weeks before it commenced publication on January 26, 1767. The third issue, published February 9, 1767, is the first included in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers database, though copies of the first two issues are extant in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.(*)

Goddard’s proposal included a call for advertisers to submit notices they wished to appear in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. In addition, the colophon advised readers that Goddard “gratefully received” all sorts of submissions for his newspaper, including advertisements, articles, and letters of intelligence. He achieved early successes attracting advertisers, devoting nearly half (seven of sixteen columns) of the third issue to thirty-five paid notices of varying lengths. Most promoted consumer goods and services, but some offered real estate for sale or called on debtors to settle accounts. One even offered a reward upon the return of “a young DOG of the Spaniel Breed” that had strayed from its master.

Compared to newspapers published in some smaller towns, the new Pennsylvania Chronicle overflowed with advertising, especially advertisements for consumer goods and services. The third issue even included advertisements from two entrepreneurs who branded their businesses with woodcuts that presumably replicated the shop signs that marked their locations: saddler John Young, Jr., “At the sign of the ENGLISH HUNTING SADDLE” and druggist Nathaniel Tweedy “At the GOLDEN-EAGLE.”

feb-9-291767-tweedy-detail-pennsylvania-chronicle
Detail of Nathaniel Tweedy’s advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle (February 9, 1767).

This stands in stark contrast to other newspapers, such as the Providence Gazette that seemed to struggle to attract advertisers in late 1766 and early 1767. Goddard appears to have experienced no difficulty generating advertising from entrepreneurs in the busy urban port of Philadelphia. The third issue of the Pennsylvania Chronicle offered dozens of advertisements to its readers. A quarter of a millennium later, I am simultaneously excited by the range of advertisements that could potentially be incorporated into the Adverts 250 Project and disappointed to choose only one at a time.

I am also frustrated to skip over so many interesting and significant advertisements, though I continue to affirm the methodology that requires doing so. Part of this disappointment stems from the dearth of advertisements available at other times during the week. For instance, since the Providence Gazette was the only newspaper published on Saturdays in 1767 and no newspapers were published on Sundays, each week the Adverts 250 Project gives disproportionate attention to advertisements from the Providence Gazette in the process of featuring advertisements published exactly 250 years ago that day or as close to that day as possible. As a result, the Providence Gazette is overrepresented and other newspapers with much more advertising remain underrepresented. On the other hand, this means that marketing efforts in at least one smaller city are subject to examination alongside the copious newspaper advertisements published in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Again, I stand by the project’s methodology, but recognize that both researchers and readers must take into account both its strengths and limitations.

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(*) Although this project relies primarily on digitized primary sources, I also examined original copies of the first two issues of the Pennsylvania Chronicle. From the very first issue William Goddard managed to attract advertisers.  A total of twenty-two advertisements spread over five (out of sixteen) columns appeared in the first issue (January 26, 1767), including an advertisement by Nathaniel Tweedy (without the woodcut).  The second issue (February 2, 1767) included thirty-three advertisements amounting to nearly seven columns, including advertisements by John Young, Jr., and Nathaniel Tweedy (both with woodcuts).