September 7

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

Sep 7 - 9:7:1769 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 7, 1769).

At the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.”

In an advertisement that ran in the September 7, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, boot- and shoemaker James Kedmon reported that he had “lately arrived from Europe” and opened a shop on Water Street in Philadelphia. The newcomer certainly knew how to make his presence known in the public prints. His advertisement featured a woodcut depicting a boot flanked by two shoes. The woodcut occupied approximately the same amount of space as the copy for Kedmon’s advertisement, representing a significant expense. In addition, the shoemaker had to commission the woodcut in the first place, but he apparently anticipated a return on his investment.

After all, this visual image distinguished his advertisement from all of the others that ran on the same page. None of them included visual images. Only two other images appeared elsewhere in the same issue. An advertisement on another page included a smaller woodcut that depicted a ship at sea, a stock image that would have belonged to the printers rather than being created for the exclusive use of an advertiser. Eighteenth-century readers regularly encountered multiple variations of such images of ships in a single issue of a newspaper. The masthead also included a familiar image inspired by William Penn’s coat of arms; it appeared in every issue. The September 7 edition, like every other, consisted almost entirely of text. As a result, readers’ eyes would have been drawn to the woodcut of the boot and shoes, a unique feature, when perusing the Pennsylvania Gazette.

A border enclosed that boot and shoes, transforming the woodcut into a depiction of a shop sign rather than just the merchandise Kedmon offered for sale. The shoemaker informed prospective customers that they could find him “at the Sign of the Boot and Shoe.” The woodcut may have faithfully replicated the sign that marked Kedmon’s shop; even if it did not, it suggests the type of images colonists would have seen as they traversed the streets of Philadelphia and other cities and towns. The consistent use of text and images invoking “the Sign of the Boot and Shoe” represented an eighteenth-century attempt at branding. Kedmon sought to make his presence in a new location known not only through newspaper advertisements but also through careful coordination with the images he displayed at his ship on Water Street. His newspaper advertisement with a striking woodcut was part of a larger campaign to attract customers.

August 19

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

Aug 19 - 8:19:1769 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 19, 1769).

“He constantly keeps a Stock of ready-made Shoes.”

Half a dozen new advertisements appeared in the August 19, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, including a notice from Benjamin Coates. The shoemaker took to the public prints “to inform the Public, that he carried on his Business in all its Branches, just above the Great Bridge, and will engage to suit Gentlemen and Ladies with Shoes made in the best Manner and the most elegant and genteel taste.” Coates incorporated two of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century into his brief notice. He promised quality, which also reflected his own skill as an artisan, and he invoked fashion, especially the notion that purchasing his wares provided a path to gentility.

Coates also drew attention to yet another appeal through a separate nota bene, a commonly used device that advised readers to “take note.” The shoemaker stated that in addition to producing custom-made shoes “to suit Gentlemen and Ladies” that he also “constantly keeps a Stock of ready-made Shoes” on hand at his shop. Coates marketed convenience to prospective customers who did not have the time, funds, or inclination to be fitted for a pair of shoes constructed specifically for them. This was a separate branch of his business that perhaps deserved to be listed separately in his advertisement solely for that reason. Yet in creating the nota bene Coates gave his “Stock of ready-made Shoes” even greater significance. Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes listed shoes among the many goods they carried, but they usually did not single them out for particular notice. Their marketing strategies often emphasized price and consumer choice, inviting prospective customers to consider an array of inventory. Coates’s narrower focus allowed him to contrast, though implicitly, the benefits of custom-made shoes with the benefits of ready-made shoes. He presented prospective customers with both options, prompting them to imagine which better suited their means and needs. He provided all the services colonists expected from shoemakers, “carr[ying] on his Business in all its Branches,” yet also offered convenience to those who wished to streamline their visit to his shop.

May 31

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

May 31 - 5:31:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 31, 1768).

“Will sell two or three Negro Shoemakers.”

John Matthews, a cobbler, placed a variation of the same advertisement in all three newspapers published in Charleston, South Carolina, for several weeks in the spring of 1768. In each, he announced that because he was “intending to decline Shoemaking” he wished to sell “two or three Negro Shoemakers.” These enslaved artisans already had significant experience. Matthews explained that “they have done all my business for nine Years past.” Apparently the cobbler took on the role of manager of the workshop while the “Negro Shoemakers” labored on his behalf. To further enhance their value for potential buyers, Matthews boasted that in terms of skill they “are at least equal to any Negroes of the Trade in this Province.” In so doing, he implicitly made an unfavorable comparison to white shoemakers even as he credited the abilities of the enslaved artisans who had “done all [his] business” for nearly a decade. Matthews indicated that the “eldest of them” was only twenty-two, suggesting that they had been working in his shop since their early teens.

Slaveholders in South Carolina and beyond frequently associated particular skills with the enslaved men and women they advertised for sale. Another advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in the spring of 1768, for instance, listed “sawyers, mowers, a very good caulker, a tanner, a compleat tight cooper, [and] a sawyer, squarer and rough carpenter” among “A PARCEL of valuable SLAVES.” In addition, that advertisement included an enslaved woman who was “a washer, ironer and spinner.” Beyond agricultural labor, enslaved men and women possessed a variety of specialized skills. Many of them were artisans whose skills rivaled their white counterparts (even if slaveholders could not quite acknowledge such expertise). In urban centers and on plantations, slaves practiced a variety of trades. As a result, they contributed far more to colonial economies than just their labor. Slaveholders benefited from the knowledge and skill possessed the “Negro Shoemakers” and other artisans they held in bondage.

June 22

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

Jun 22 - 6:22:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (June 22, 1767).

“She undertakes to make and mend Men’s Leather Shoes.”

Elizabeth Shaw, “Shoe-Maker, from Europe,” was not the only woman who placed a newspaper advertisement for consumer goods and services in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today. Mary Hill also inserted a commercial notice in the Boston Post-Boy, informing potential customers that she sold a “Variety of Millinary.” Priscilla Manning informed readers of the Boston Evening-Post that she carried a “Variety of English & India GOODS” at her shop. In other colonies, Mary Maylem’s advertisement for a “neat Assortment of fashionable GOODS” appeared in the Newport Mercury. The Widow Hays hawked “ALL Sorts of PICKLES … with several Sorts of SWEET MEATS” in the New-York Gazette while Margaret Collins and Elizabeth Bevan each placed her own advertisement for “Gentlemen Lodgers” in the New-York Mercury. Mrs. Adams did not place a separate advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette, but writing master William Adams indicated near the end of his notice that “Mrs. Adams will teach young ladies to sew” and planned to acquire “a compleat assortment of millinary” to retail on her own.

Shaw joined the ranks of other women who entered the marketplace by inserting an advertisement in the public prints, but the nature of her business differed from the other women who advertised on the same day. Among those who sold goods, Manning and Maylem operated shops where they sold all kinds of imported goods, but especially textiles and housewares. Hill specialized in selling millinery and also made her own hats to sell to other women. Hays provided food to her customers. Collins, Bevan, and Adams extended their domestic responsibilities into business endeavors, the first two taking in boarders and Adams teaching girls to sew. Although they all entered the marketplace, these women followed occupations deemed appropriate to their gender. Shaw, on the other hand, practiced a trade more often associated with men, though not their exclusive domain. She did not limit herself to predominantly female clients, but instead made and repaired “Men’s Leather Shoes” as well. The other female advertisers demonstrated what was probable when it came to women’s occupations in colonial America, but Shaw’s advertisement testified to what was possible.