August 13

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

Aug 13 - 8:13:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 13, 1768).

“A handsome second-hand CHAISE.”

Colonists devised multiple ways to participate in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Many purchased new good directly from merchants and shopkeepers, but others stole the items they desired or bought stolen goods at lower prices through an informal economy that made goods more accessible. Some also acquired secondhand goods at discounted prices that made them affordable. Advertisements for auctions, especially estate sales, frequently appeared in newspapers published throughout the colonies, presenting an array of goods to consumers looking for bargains. Other advertisements, however, announced the sale of particular used items, such as notice in the August 12, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette that informed readers of a “handsome second-hand CHAISE” for sale. Interested parties were instructed to “Enquire of the Printers” for more information.

The chaise was one of the many sorts of wheeled carriages familiar to colonists. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the “exact application … varied from time to time,” but offers this general definition: “A light open carriage for one or two persons, often having a top or calash; those with four wheels resembling the phaeton, those with two the curricle; also loosely used for pleasure carts and light carriages generally.” In the absence of a more complete description in the advertisement, the flexibility of the term “chaise” encouraged prospective buyers to contact the printers for additional information.

Carriages of all sorts were markers of status, expensive to acquire and maintain. Opportunities to purchase secondhand carriages made them more affordable, but those with the means to purchase used carriages did not have to wait for private individuals to sell them. Some coachmakers, including Adino Paddock in Boston, incorporated sales of secondhand carriages into their marketing, selling those they received as trade-ins from customers who purchased new carriages. Regardless of who sold secondhand chaises and other sorts of carriages, their availability in the colonial marketplace indicates that they retained resale value after the initial sale. Colonists bought and sold used carriages long before the practice became a common aspect of the modern automobile industry.

January 27

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

Jan 27 - 1:27:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (January 27, 1768).

To be sold … ALL the PERSONAL ESTATE of said BENJAMIN GOLDWIRE.”

Some colonial newspapers seemed to overflow with advertisements places by merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans seeking to sell consumer goods. This was especially true of newspapers published in the largest urban ports, including Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia. Many newspapers from those cities frequently issued supplements devoted entirely to advertising. Other newspapers, however, featured far fewer advertisements for the wholesale or retail sale of consumer goods. Such was the case for the Georgia Gazette, published in Savannah by James Johnston. Even given the smaller population of the colony, shopkeepers placed relatively few advertisements in the Georgia Gazette. Perhaps the smaller population and fewer shops meant that the proprietors had less need to resort to the public prints rather than worrying about familiarity and word of mouth to promote their businesses.

The January 27, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette, for instance, did not include any advertisements placed by shopkeepers. That did not mean, however, that it lacked evidence of participation in the vibrant consumer culture of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Several advertisements encouraged colonists to acquire goods at venues other than shops and warehouses in Savannah. Instead of purchasing new items at those locations, consumers could get similar items at bargain rates at estate sales and auctions. In four of the thirty-one advertisements in that issue, executors announced such sales. Each of them included either “Household Furniture” or “HOUSEHOLD GOODS” in addition to slaves and livestock. Unlike advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers, these notices did not incorporate any of the most popular marketing strategies, although the appeal to price was implicit when it came to the possibility of low bids at auctions. In the absence of appeals to quality, fashion, or consumer choice, advertisements for estate sales and auctions stimulated the market for secondhand goods, expanding the realm of consumer culture for greater numbers of colonists who may not have had the means to acquire solely new goods from merchants and shopkeepers.

March 24

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 24 - 3:24:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 24, 1767).

“SUNDRY houshold goods, plate, several dozen bottles of old arrack.”

Even though eighteenth-century America was built on drinks – the social and often political drink of tea and the economic production of rum – some colonists also enjoyed more expensive choices of drinks. The commodity that drew me to this advertisement was the “several dozen bottles of old arrack.” From the context, I gathered that it was some form of drink, most likely alcoholic. According to Chuck Hudson’s explanations of “Beverages in the Georgian Era,” Arrack is a form of alcohol from Indonesia which was distilled from sugarcane. It was first popular in London, and through Anglicization, it became popular in the colonies. This was the type of drink one would get if one “could afford better than the basic.” Since England wanted to control trade with the colonies, the Arrack was “shipped from the East Indies to England before it could be trans-shipped to America.” This also made it quite expensive.

This brings me back to the advertisement itself. The previous owner, the late Robert Hume, must have been a wealthy man with what was being sold. He had several bottles of Arrack, which was a feat in it of itself. This was also shown with how much land Mr. Hume seemed to own.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans who promoted new goods placed most advertisements for consumer goods featured on the Adverts 250 Project, yet early Americans acquired goods a variety of ways. In addition to imported items recently arrived on ships from London and other ports in the British Atlantic world, secondhand goods circulated widely in eighteenth-century America. Colonists willingly sold or passed on some of their possessions for a variety of reasons, but other goods reentered the marketplace via theft or estate sales.

In addition to “several dozen bottles of old arrack,” the executors of Robert Hume’s estate also advertised “SUNDRY houshold goods,” likely a more affordable option for some colonists than purchasing new wares from South Carolina’s merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans. Another advertisement in the same issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal announced an auction for “SOME HOUSHOLD FURNITURE, WEARING APPAREL, and sundry other Articles, lately belonging to a Person deceased.” Surely readers could find some bargains there as well!

Elsewhere in the same issue, Alexander Caddell announced that he had “STOPT from a Negro who offered them for sale, a pair of very good Buck-skin Breeches, almost new.” Caddell indicated that he ran a “breeches-maker’s shop in Broad-street.” Presumably the “Negro” approached Caddell with an opportunity to supplement his inventory, hoping that the breechesmaker would not much care about the origins of the breeches. Advertisements for runaway slaves and indentured servants often listed clothing they had taken with them, which could be used for disguises or sold or exchanged. On a fairly regular basis, shopkeepers placed notices indicating that thieves had stolen multiple items, not just a single article of clothing. Black and white colonists frequently colluded in what Serena Zabin has called the “informal economy” of stolen and secondhand goods.

John Davies advertised an assortment of textiles and other wares “Imported in the Minerva, from London” in the March 24 issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He informed potential customers of his inventory not only because he competed with other merchants and shopkeepers but also because colonists acquired some of their possessions through the market for secondhand goods.

May 24

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

May 24 - 5:23:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 23, 1766).

“He continues to do business in the commission way.”

Thomas Hepburn was a broker who sold goods on consignment or, as he put it, he did “business in the commission way.” Rather than purchase and maintain his own stock, he sold merchandise that others supplied to him under an agreement that he would keep a portion of the proceeds from every sale. This minimized the risk of becoming overextended within the networks of credit that accompanied the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century; Hepburn did not lose any investment required to procure his merchandise.

What might Hepburn have sold? While it’s possible that he carried new merchandise, it seems more likely that he carried secondhand or used goods that colonists decided that they no longer wanted or needed for whatever reasons. Selling such items on commission facilitated a secondhand economy that permitted a greater number of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution that was taking place on both sides of the Atlantic. The “baubles of Britain” that found their ways into the possession of so many colonists did not always take a direct path from British merchant to colonial shopkeeper to colonial consumer. Sometimes they passed from person to person or household to household, making detours through shops that did “business in the commission way.”