September 19

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

Sep 19 - 9:19:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (September 19, 1769).

“At the Sign of the Green Dragon.”

When Henry Sanders opened a “House of Public Entertainment” in Marblehead, Massachusetts, late in the summer of 1769, he inserted an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to invited “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to experience his hospitality. He informed prospective patrons that they could find the tavern “near the Wharf of the Hon. Robert Hooper, Esq.” In addition to naming a landmark he assumed readers found familiar, Sanders noted that “the Sign of the Green Dragon” marked the precise location.

Like many other colonial tavernkeepers, as well as a good number of shopkeepers and artisans, Sanders adopted a device to represent his business and then displayed it on a sign and incorporated it into his newspaper advertisements. Over the years, those advertisements have become the sole evidence of the existence of some of the signs on display in the streets of colonial cities and towns. Although some were memorialized in letters or diaries and others mentioned in news items when they were connected to momentous events, newspaper advertisements provide the most complete catalog of eighteenth-century shop signs.

Such signs served several important purposes in early America. Standardized street numbers had not yet been developed in the late 1760s, though some of the largest cities would begin to institute them in the final decade of the eighteenth century. Sanders did not have the option of directing “Gentlemen, Strangers and others” to a particular number on a specific street. As we have seen, he instead relied on landmarks, a wharf already familiar to prospective patrons to get them to the general vicinity and a sign that marked his exact location. Once the sign had been erected for sufficient time, locals could incorporate it into the directions they gave for finding other people and businesses. The sign also doubled as the name of his establishment and likely became a logo that visitors and passersby associated with the tavern. Whether the sign depicted a dragon that was fierce or friendly the advertisement does not reveal, but it does hint at the visual culture colonists encountered as they traversed the streets of cities and towns in the eighteenth century. Almost certainly even more signs marked all sorts of businesses than those that appear in newspapers advertisements from the period.

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:6:1768 Boston Weekly News-Letter
Boston Weekly News-Letter (October 6, 1768).

“Strong and Small Malt Beer and Spruce, by the Barrel.”

In the fall of 1768 John Coleman advertised the several varieties of beer he sold at “his Brew House [at] the sign of the Green Dragon and Free Masons Arms, near the Mill Bridge” in Boston. He advised “Gentlem[e]n, Masters of Vessels, House keepers” and others that he brewed spruce beer and two sorts of malt beer, strong and small. His spruce beer may or may not have contained alcohol. Many consumers, including “Masters of Vessels,” purchased it as a means of warding off scurvy. His small beer contained less alcohol than strong beer. A safer alternative to water, some customers likely served small beer to children, servants, and other members of their households. Coleman marketed his beers in several quantities – “by the Barrel, half Barrel, Ten Gallons or Six” – and allowed his customers to choose according to their needs.

The brewer made many of the most common appeals that appeared in advertisements throughout the eighteenth century. He made an appeal to price, stating that he sold his beer “at the lowest Prices.” He also made an appeal to quality, stating that he brewed “as good Beer of both Kinds as the Country affords.” His beer was equal to any other produced in the colonies. In another regard, however, Coleman deviated from the marketing strategies deployed in most other advertisements of the era. For the convenience of his customers, he provided delivery service. He concluded with these instructions: “By leaving a Line mentioning the Kind, Quantity and where to be delivered” customers will have their beer “conveyed with the greatest Care and Speed.” Coleman provided an alternate address for placing such orders, “the sign of General Wolfe, the North Side of Faneuil Hall” rather than at “his Brew House.” Presumably customers could have also submitted orders at the latter as well; the additional location compounded the conveniences offered to them.

Coleman had previously advertised in the Boston Weekly News-Letter.   Just two months earlier he announced that his former partner, Benjamin Leigh, was so busy with his new enterprise running an “Intelligence Office” that Coleman now operated the brewery on his own. He called on prior customers to settle accounts and briefly mentioned the price of a barrel of beer. In this subsequent advertisement, however, he incorporated several new appeals intended to market his beer more effectively. Having assumed sole responsibility for the business, he may have determined that attracting customers demanded greater innovation.