May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (May 16, 1769).

“His Want of a full Assortment arises … from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.”

As spring turned to summer in 1769, explicit references to the nonimportation agreements adopted by merchants and shopkeepers as a means of economic resistance to the duties on imported paper, glass, and other goods leveled by Parliament in the Townshend Acts appeared with greater frequency in newspaper advertisements for consumer goods. By then the boycott had been in effect for more then four months and had begun to take its toll on the inventories in many shops.

Consider John Appleton’s advertisement in the May 16, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Dated a day earlier, it began with the familiar “imported from LONDON in the last Ships,” but readers discovered on closer examination that the shopkeeper stocked very few items recently transported across the Atlantic, seemingly only those excluded from the boycott. Appleton also addressed the array of goods he usually carried and how his current selection compared. First stating that he “has also a good Assortment of English Piece Goods, suitable for the Season,” he then clarified that “he has not so full an Assortment as is usual for him at this Season of the Year.” He hoped that this would not deter prospective customers from visiting his shop. His diminished inventory resulted “not from any Neglect in him, but from his strictly adhering to the Agreement not to import Superfluities.” In other words, Appleton faithfully abided by the terms of the boycott. He asked for the understanding of prospective customers and, more generally, demanded the respect of all readers who supported the boycott.

To offset any inconvenience, Appleton also acquired alternate merchandise: “a Quantity of Germantown Stockings.” The shopkeeper explained that he now retailed those items “to encourage the Home Manufacture.” In so doing, he demonstrated that he supported another prong of the plan for overcoming the abuses of Parliament. Colonists realized that boycotts by themselves likely would not be enough; they also needed to become more self-sufficient, especially if they wished to correct a trade imbalance with Great Britain. Producing and consuming “domestic manufactures” had been part of the larger plan as soon as colonists began discussing nonimportation agreements. Once again, Appleton made certain that members of his community, especially prospective customers, knew that he had done his part to faithfully execute the plan.

Ordinarily, having a vast assortment of merchandise would have been a selling point for Appleton or any other shopkeeper. Running low on goods would not have been a point of pride. Yet in these circumstances Appleton turned a shortcoming into a virtue, arguing that customers should indeed patronize his shop precisely because he had less to offer than usual. By implication, doing so demonstrated their own patriotism.

March 27

GUEST CURATOR: Sean Duda

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
“TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen.”

Jolley Allen, a merchant from London, had been selling goods in Boston since 1755. In this advertisement he listed many things, from clothes to china to tea. I am interested in the man selling those goods. Allen was a known Loyalist. He had remained in Boston under the British occupation in 1775 and 1776. He planned to leave with his family on a private ship named Sally whose captain was Robert Campbell when the British and all of the other Loyalists planned to evacuate in March 1776. The Allens planned to leave on March 14, 1776. They boarded the ship for their voyage, planning to follow the British vessels to Nova Scotia. According to the New England Historical Society, on March 17 “it became clear just how inept Robert Campbell was. Over the next 24 hours, Campbell managed to collide with two other fleeing British ships, nearly capsize Sally and finally run it aground while the British ships sailed away for Nova Scotia.” The crew then anchored the ship near Provincetown, which was not under British control. Allen then lost all of his possessions to the residents of Provincetown. He later went back to his old home in Boston and found that his barber had taken up residence in his house. For a short time Allen rented a room in his former home. He eventually escaped to London in Febraury 1777, where he published “Account of the Sufferings and Losses of Jolley Allen, a Native of London” in hopes of being compensated for his losses during the American Revolution.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Almost without fail, Jolley Allen placed distinctive advertisements in Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. They were not distinctive so much for their contents. After all, Allen listed the same sorts of items stocked by shopkeepers throughout the city and throughout the colonies. Instead, his attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements distinctive. In most cases advertisers submitted copy to the printing office and compositors assumed responsibility for the format of newspaper advertisements. However, the consistency of graphic design elements in Allen’s advertisements across multiple newspapers, whether borders enclosing his lists of goods or ornamental type flanking his name in the headline, demonstrate that Allen negotiated with printers and compositors to have specific visual elements included in his advertisements. That made his advertisement in the March 27, 1769, edition of Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette particularly noteworthy, in addition to its size. Filling two of three columns on the final page, Allen’s advertisement dominated the page.

Such attention to graphic design made Allen’s advertisements easy for prospective customers to recognize. Multiple iterations of his advertisements, especially over extended periods, also suggest that after initially agreeing with the printer and compositor on the format that Allen simply submitted a copy of an earlier advertisement cut from the newspaper, along with revisions marked or attached, when he wished to revive his marketing campaign. His advertisement from March 27, 1769, replicated almost exactly an advertisement that he previously ran nearly nine months earlier in the July 3, 1768, edition of the Boston Weekly News-Letter. The new version included a slightly altered headline, “TO BE SOLD BY Jolley Allen” rather than “Now ready for Sale, at the most reasonable Rate, BY Jolley Allen,” but the shopkeeper’s name still appeared in a much larger sized font than anything else in the newspapers with the exception of the masthead. Decorative ornaments forming diamonds flanked his name. The list of goods he offered for sale was almost exactly the same in terms of both content and order. For the few items missing from the previous version, he likely crossed them off the copy he submitted to the printing office. A limited number of new items appeared at the bottom of the first column and the top of the second, perhaps written in the margins or on a separate sheet by Allen. A final note to “Town and Country Customers” ran across both columns at the bottom, replicating the format of the earlier advertisement. In addition, manicules appeared in all the same places in both advertisements, including three printed upside down at the end of lines rather than at the beginning. This suggests that the compositor faithfully followed the graphic design elements present in the earlier advertisement.

Note the manicules enclosing Allen’s money back guarantee for tea. Massachusetts Gazette [Green and Russell] (March 27, 1769).
Allen likely had to invest some time in working with printers and compositors to achieve the format he desired for his advertisement the first time it ran in any of Boston’s newspapers. That facilitated the process for subsequent insertions since he could simply submit a copy from a previous publication with any revisions marked, trusting the compositor to replicate a design already established.

January 23

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

Boston-Gazette (January 23, 1769).

“John Nazro, At his Shop in Cornhill, BOSTON.”

To increase the chances that prospective customers would see his advertisement for a “Fresh Assortment of English and India GOODS,” John Nazro inserted it in more than one newspaper during the week of January 23, 1769. His options included the Boston Chronicle, the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, the Boston Post-Boy (co-published with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette) and the Boston Weekly News-Letter (co-published with Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette). Occasionally advertisers sought to maximize the exposure for their advertisements by placing them in all or nearly all of the newspapers printed in Boston in the late 1760s, but Nazro was more modest in his approach. He selected only two, the Boston-Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy.

Finances may have played a role in his decision. Once he determined to limit the number of publications he likely took into account his impression of the circulation of each newspaper as well as the day of the week they were published. The Evening-Post, the Gazette, and the Post-Boy were all published on Mondays. The Weekly News-Letter was published on Thursdays. Earlier the month the Chronicle had moved to semi-weekly publication, expanding from Mondays to both Mondays and Thursdays. Nazro did not spread his advertisements throughout the week by choosing one newspaper published on Monday and another on Thursday. Perhaps he considered Monday the best day to introduce consumers to his merchandise. Alternately, he may have considered the circulation of the Gazette and the Post-Boy so superior to any of the newspapers published on Thursday that he would receive a better return on his investment by advertising in them.

Due to the culture of reprinting in eighteenth-century America, many newspapers often featured the same content when it came to news items. For instance, on January 23, the Evening-Post, the Gazette, and Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette (co-published with the Post-Boy) all included “The Humble Address of the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled” from November 8, 1768, as well as “The Humble ADDRESS of the HOUSE of COMMONS to the KING.” By then, those items had already appeared in the January 19 edition of Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette (co-published with the Weekly News-Letter). Only the Chronicle did not run them.

As these news items and Nazro’s advertisement demonstrate, colonial readers often encountered the same content in multiple newspapers, though for different reasons. Printers reproduced news items that appeared in other newspapers or arrived by ship, but advertisers paid to have their notices populate the pages of colonial newspapers.

December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”

November 7

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

Nov 7 - 11:7:1768 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (November 7, 1768).

“A large Assortment of the following Goods.”

William Scott operated a store on the “North Side of Faneuil Hall, next Door to the Sign of General Wolfe” in Boston. There he sold “a large Assortment” of goods, including “Manchester Cotton Checks and Handkerchiefs,” “Forest Cloths, Plains and Kerseys,” and “Irish Linens” of various widths.

To attract customers to his store, Scott inserted advertisements in every newspaper published in Boston. On Monday, November 7, 1768, his advertisement appeared in the Boston Chronicle. On the same day it simultaneously ran in the Boston Evening-Post, the Boston-Gazette, and the Boston Post-Boy, a joint publication with Green and Russell’s Massachusetts Gazette. On Thursday of that week, it ran in Richard Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, a publication printed on the same broadsheet and distributed with the Boston Weekly News-Letter. No matter which newspapers they read, residents of Boston and the surrounding area encountered Scott’s advertisement. He made a significant investment in advertising in his efforts to saturate the local print media with his notices.

Scott likely exercised little influence over where his advertisement appeared in each newspaper. The compositors made those choices. Still, his advertisements occupied a privileged position in the Boston Chronicle, appearing as one of only three advertisements on the final page, and in the Boston-Gazette, appearing on the first page above a news item. This increased the chances that readers of those newspapers would notice Scott’s advertisement.

The format of the advertisements provides further evidence of the role played by compositors in presenting them to the reading public. Scott apparently submitted identical copy to each printing office, but the compositors made unique decisions when it came to typography. For instance, the list of merchandise had one item per line in the Boston Evening-Post iteration while the Boston Post-Boy version grouped all the items together into a single paragraph. Although Scott carefully planned for widespread distribution of his advertisement, he entrusted the compositors with its final format in each publication. He oversaw certain aspects of his marketing campaign – copy and distribution – while yielding others – format and placement on the page – to the printing offices. He considered some, but not all, of the opportunities made possible by print.

November 6

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

Nov 6 - 11:3:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon] (November 3, 1768).
“All the above are fashionable, new, and good.”

Like her male counterparts, shopkeeper Catherine Rathell ran lengthy advertisements that listed all sorts of goods, especially textiles, adornments, apparel, and accessories, that she “Just imported from London” and sold at low prices. In the process of enumerating her inventory, Rathell also offered further descriptions of several items. For instance, she stocked “a large and fashionable assortment of ribands [ribbons], caps, egrets [decorative feathers], plumes, feathers, and fillets [headbands]” as well as “a neat assortment of garnet and paste, hoop, and other rings.” As these examples make clear, Rathell emphasized variety and consumer choice in her marketing efforts. Her customers did not have to be content with a narrow range of options shipped across the Atlantic. Instead, they could choose which items they liked best, even when it came to accessories like fans. Rathell sold “a very neat and genteel assortment of wedding, mourning, second mourning, and other fans.” In addition, visitors to her shop would encounter “many other articles too tedious to insert” in a newspaper advertisement.

Yet choice was not the only appeal this shopkeeper made to prospective customers. After concluding her list she underscored that “all the above goods are fashionable, new, and good.” Quality was important, but when it came to the sorts of wares that Rathell peddled fashion may have been even more important. Her customers did not have to choose from among castoffs that had lingered on shelves and not sold in London. Rathell’s merchandise was “new” as well as “fashionable.” Note that she described her assortment of fans as “genteel.” She offered the most extensive description for “breast flowers, equal in beauty to any ever imported, and so near resemble nature that the nicest eye can hardly distinguish the difference.” Here Rathell combined appeals to quality and fashion into a single description of artificial flowers intended to adorn garments according to the latest styles.

In making appeals to choice, fashion, and quality, Rathell advanced some of the most popular marketing strategies deployed by shopkeepers throughout the colonies in the middle of the eighteenth century. T.H. Breen has argued that colonists from New England to Georgia experienced a standardization of consumer culture in terms of the goods available to them. They also often experienced a standardization of advertising. Although some advertisers did introduce innovations into their marketing efforts, many relied on the most familiar means of promoting their goods to the public. Rathell’s advertisement was more than a mere announcement that she had goods for sale, but she reiterated the sorts of appeals known far and wide in colonial America.

November 4

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

Nov 4 - 11:4:1768 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 4, 1768).

“Said BARRELL having an utter Abhorrence of Law Suits.”

In the fall of 1768, William Barrell placed an advertisement in advance of departing New Hampshire on a voyage. He did not indicate where he was going, how long he planned to be away, or whether he intended to return to the colony. He did make it clear, however, that he wished to settle accounts, especially with those who owed him money. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently extended credit to customers, one of the factors that contributed to the widespread consumer revolution during the eighteenth century. Their advertisements for all sorts of imported goods often included or ran alongside calls for settling accounts.

Barrell made an investment in recovering what he was owed. His notice ran in the New-Hampshire Gazette for six consecutive weeks, commencing in the September 30 edition (the same date that appeared on the final line of the advertisement each time it appeared) and appearing for the last time on November 4. He advised that he planned to depart “within six or eight weeks at farthest.” He gave those who had done business with him plenty of opportunities to spot his notice, as well as time to make arrangements for payment. He “begs they wou’d be so obliging as to wait on him at his Store for that Purpose, any Day within the said Time.”

Yet Barrell anticipated that he might need to make an additional investment to “discharge any Ballances.” He confided that he had “an utter Abhorrence of Law Suits.” To that end, he pleaded that no one would “lay him under the painful Necessity of impowering an Attorney” to pursue payment. After all, everyone would be much happier if they voluntarily settled accounts “with but little Trouble, and no charge.” In other words, his customers would find their purchases much more expensive, despite having received credit to acquire them initially, if they found themselves in the position of paying legal fees as well as the price of the merchandise. Like other merchants and shopkeepers, Barrell was polite but firm in making this point. Given his “utter Abhorrence of Law Suits,” those found themselves prosecuted to make payment would have only themselves to blame.

August 31

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

Aug 31 - 8:31:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle Postscript
Postscript to the Pennsylvania Chronicle (August 31, 1768).

“James Gordon Is removed from his store in Third-street.”

When he moved his shop from Third Street to Chestnut Street in the summer of 1768, James Gordon placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle to advise former and prospective customers where to acquire the array of goods he offered for sale. One insertion of his advertisement did not, however, appear in a standard issue distributed on Mondays, nor in a supplement that accompanied such an issue. Instead, Gordon’s advertisement and a handful of others appeared in a Postscript to the Pennsylvania Chronicle published on Wednesday, August 31. The Pennsylvania Chronicle was usually a counterpoint to the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal, both distributed on Thursday, but subscribers and other readers gained access to this special issue just a day before the publication of the other two newspapers printed in Philadelphia.

William Goddard, the printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, explained the purpose of distributing the Postscript midway between issues instead of keeping to the usual schedule. “By the Earl of Halifax, arrived at New-York, from Falmouth, we have the following fresh Advices,” Goddard trumpeted, “which we now issue out in an extraordinary Half Sheet, as a Proof that we have as good Intelligence as our vigilant Neighbours, and are as willing to exert ourselves in the Service of the Public.” In other words, when it came to reporting the news from abroad the Pennsylvania Chronicle had the connections to keep its readers informed in a timely manner. That newspaper’s efforts rivaled those of its local competitors, both of which had been established for much longer. Indeed, by issuing the Postscript Goddard scooped the Gazette. The following day Hall and Sellers issued a Postscript to the Pennsylvania Gazette (in addition to the regular issue and the advertising supplement that usually accompanied it) that delivered the same news received “By the JULY PACKET, arrived at New-York from Falmouth.” That special edition also carried several advertisements.

Goddard issued the Postscript not only to keep readers informed but also to promote his newspaper. He hoped to increase circulation and, in turn, revenues from subscriptions and advertising. Compared to the Gazette and the Journal, the Chronicle carried fewer advertisements, but Goddard knew that he could attract more advertisers, like James Gordon, by increasing distribution. Prospective advertisers would be more willing to make that investment if the Chronicle increased its readership. Goddard’s note introducing the special edition was directed to advertisers as much as to readers.

August 12

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

Aug 12 - 8:12:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (August 12, 1768).

“Last Night the shops of the subscribers in said Middletown was broke open.”

Many advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers listed all sorts of consumer goods as a means of encouraging readers to visit shops, examine the merchandise, and make purchases. Other advertisements, however, demonstrate that not all colonists acquired goods through those means. Some colonists instead resorted to theft.

Such was the case in Middletown, Connecticut, at the end of July in 1768. On the morning of the final day of the month, George Philips, Asal Johnson, and Francis Whitmore all awoke to discover that their shops had been “broke open” during the night and several items stolen. The thief or thieves grabbed “about 6 dozen barcelona handkerchiefs, of which 2 dozen were black, the rest shaded various colours; 1 dozen black cravats, 3 or 4 pieces of black ribbons, 1 paper of white metal buckles, 1 castor hat a little moth eaten, 2 or 3 penknives,” and currency in several denominations from Philips. Similar items went missing from the shops of Johnson and Whitmore. The volume of stolen goods suggests that the thieves may not have intended these items solely for their own use. Instead, they may have attempted to fence them or otherwise distribute them through what Serena Zabin has termed an informal economy that allowed greater numbers of colonists to participate in the consumer revolution.

Philips and Johnson offered a reward to “Any person who will seize the thief or thieves with any or all of said articles, and secure them so that they shall be brought to justice.” The penalties could be quite severe for those convicted. Two years earlier in Rhode Island, for instance, Joseph Hart became a convict servant, sold into servitude “for the term of three years to satisfy the damages and costs of his prosecution and conviction, for stealing sundry goods.” Colonists who chose to gain access to the consumer revolution via extralegal means weighed the risks and rewards of acquiring goods that might otherwise have remained beyond their reach.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:25:1768 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (July 25, 1768).

“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”

Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”

Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.

The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.