January 30

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

“We can turn it out in our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America.”

Of the various appeals that artisans advanced in eighteenth-century newspapers, promoting their skill was perhaps the most significant. Skill testified to quality. Price hardly mattered if their work was not undertaken with skill. Neither did dispatch, the speed of serving customers. Skill was a necessary part of producing the goods and providing the services that colonial consumers desired from artisans.

Casey and Mathies, “SILK-dyers and scowerers, from London,” certainly considered that to be the case in the advertisement they inserted in the supplement to the January 30, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Skill was the centerpiece of their notice. They informed prospective clients that they could “scour, dye, and dress” silks and satins as well as clean brocades so skillfully that the colors would “look as well as when new.” Similarly, they cared for men’s garment “in the neatest manner … without any detriment to the cloth.” Furthermore, they also worked on cloaks of all sizes and colors, cleaning and dyeing them “to the utmost perfection.” This was a tricky business that demanded skill to undertake successfully.

So confident were Casey and Mathies in their skill that they made a bold pronouncement near the conclusion of their advertisement. They invited merchants with “any pieces of cloths to dye any colour” to bring them to their shop “at the sign of the Blue-Hand and Brush.” There they would “turn it out of our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America, or as well as in London.” Casey and Mathies did not merely make a claim about their own skill; they ranked it relative to their competitors in New York, throughout the region, and the throughout the colonies. They asserted that prospective clients could not find silk dyers and scourers with greater skill on that side of the Atlantic. In addition, their work equaled any done in London, the center of the empire where the most skilled artisans of all sorts plied their trades.

For Casey and Mathies, nothing mattered more than skill, but their advertisement suggests that colonial consumers shared that view when it came to silk dyers and scourers. Casey and Mathies expected that message would resonate with prospective clients; otherwise, they would not have built their entire advertisement around it.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 23, 1766).

“Having served a regular Apprenticeship to the Business, he flatters himself he cannot fail of giving general Satisfaction.”

“DALLAS, Silk Dyer and Scourer, from London” had a lot going for him and he wanted potential customers to know it. Being a “Silk Dyer and Scourer” required particular skills; novices or pretenders might end up ruining any garments turned over to their care, but Dallas had “served a regular Apprenticeship to the Business.” He had received the training necessary for his occupation. As a result, clients could trust the other claims he made in his advertisement. Dallas did not just market the services he provided or the products he sold. He also marketed himself, especially his expertise and training, much as many modern advertisers list their qualifications, certifications, or degrees when promoting their businesses.

Dallas “clean’d or dyed” a variety of textiles, sometimes seeming to work magic on them. No matter how damaged they happened to be when delivered to his shop “at the Sign of the Dove and Rainbow,” Dallas was able to remove spots and otherwise clean fabrics so “they shall look equal to any new imported.” He pledged that he did this work “to the greatest Perfection.” He was able to accomplish this in part because of his specialized training, but also because he learned during his apprenticeship that it was necessary to have the proper supplies and equipment. Accordingly, “he hath every necessary Dye-Stuff, and proper Utensils superior to any ever erected in America.”

Apparently Dallas was so skilled as a “Silk Dyer and Scourer,” a celebrity in his occupation, that he needed only one name!

March 13

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 13, 1766).

“BOLTON and SCOTLAND, At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

As soon as I saw this advertisement I knew that I had to select it. It didn’t matter what it said, only that it included a visual image, a woodcut of a (presumably blue) hand that likely replicated the “Sign of the Blue Hand” where Bolton and Scotland operated their business “in Race-street, between Front and Second-streets, Philadelphia.”

Most newspaper advertisements for goods and services did not include images of any sort during the eighteenth century. Unlike type that could be used repeatedly and for any purpose (set, broken up, and reset for a new job), images were often very specific to a particular advertiser’s business. This image of a hand would not have worked for any advertiser who did not happen to run a business “At the Sign of the Blue Hand.”

This is not to say that other kinds of advertisements were devoid of images. Printers usually had a small selection of woodcuts, especially ships, houses, and runaway slaves, that could be used interchangeably and generically in advertisements for vessels preparing to leave port, real estate, or seeking the return of runaways.

Shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants who wanted to spruce up their advertisements, however, had to commission their own woodcuts, but then those woodcuts belonged exclusively to them and did not appear in other advertisements. This may be obvious when looking at the Blue Hand, but it is worth keeping in mind that it applied to other sorts of woodcuts associated with particular shops. For instance, a woodcut of a spinning wheel that accompanied John Kean’s advertisements was used exclusively in his advertisements – as a brand of sorts – and was not inserted in other advertisements for textiles.

Today we are accustomed to advertisements that include stimulating visual images. In the eighteenth century, however, advertisements were typically comprised mostly of text. Images were an exception rather than the rule.