May 8

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

May 8 - 5:5:1768 New-York Journal Supplement
Supplement to the New-York Journal (May 5, 1768).

“He likewise cleans gentlemen and ladies clothes … in as neat a manner as those done in London.”

Like many other artisans, Henry Brabazon, a “Silk-dier and Dry-scourer,” emphasized his skill in his newspaper advertisements.  Deploying formulaic language, he announced that “his customers may depend upon having their work done with dispatch and fidelity” in a notice he inserted in the supplement that accompanied the May 5, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal.  Yet Brabazon did not resort merely to standardized language that appeared in countless other advertisements placed by artisans of all sorts.  He promoted his skill by favorably comparing the results of his efforts to the work undertaken by his counterparts in England.

For instance, Brabazon proclaimed that he “cleans gentlemen and ladies clothes … in as neat a manner as those done in London.”  In addition to asserting his credentials as a dry scourer, he provided further commentary about his skills as a silk dyer, declaring that he “dies cotton velvet as fine a black, and to as good perfection, as those in Manchester.”  He expected that prospective customers in the colonies were capable of making distinctions when it came to associating specific products with particular places in England.  Note that he introduced himself as “from Europe,” but did not make general comparisons to silk dyers and dry scourers on the other side of the Atlantic.  Instead, he made targeted comparisons that associated dying with Manchester and scouring with London.

Brabazon attempted to cultivate a clientele among colonists who were savvy consumers.  Even though they resided far from the places of production in England, his prospective customers knew the market and distinguished among goods and services based on their place of origin.  Brabazon also knew that colonial consumers did not want to feel as though they had to settle for inferior goods and services merely because they resided far from the center of the empire.  They imported textiles, housewares, and other goods to keep up with fashions in England, but they also wanted services that rivaled the quality available there.  As a dyer and scourer, Brabazon skillfully assisted his customers in maintaining their textiles and garments so they would not appear second best compared to their counterparts in England.

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!

April 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 13 - 4:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 11, 1766).

“John Hickey, SILK-DYER and SCOWERER … continues to carry on his Business.”

In this advertisement John Hickey advertised his silk-dying business to the public. It seems that his shop has been set up for some time “near the Canoe-Bridge in Portsmouth.” This advertisement focuses on the color blue as one of the silk-dyer’s colors that he could dye. As I mentioned in February when I guest curated, the use of indigo allowed for textiles to be dyed blue.

For a period of time, fabrics used to make clothing and other items were imported from Europe. In 1750 however, Americans moved toward becoming more independent and self-sufficient by starting to produce their own fabric on a larger scale. Silk-dying in colonial America was part of the vast textile field that existed at the time. Unlike wool fabric, which was made of thread spun from the wool of sheep, silk was a fabric that had to be imported. For this reason, it was more of a luxury textile. Silk was produced much differently from wool, as it was spun by silk worms. In the eighteenth century, silk was imported mostly from China, where the silk worms are naturally found, but it was also imported from the English, who had ventured into the silk-production trade during the thirteenth century. England’s climate was not as ideal as China’s for the worms and, as a result, they often produced less. For information about how silk was produced, read this article from the Mansfield Historical Society.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kathryn has chosen an advertisement that offers glimpses of the production and use of different sorts of textiles in colonial America. In listing his occupation as “SILK-DYER and SCOWERER,” John Hickey announced to potential customers that he was capable of working with fabrics made of both silk and wool. As Kathryn indicates, silk was most often imported, though colonists experimented with cultivating silkworms from the earliest days of settlement. Over time, as Americans gained political independence, they also increased their efforts to achieve commercial and economic independence through producing silk in the late eighteenth century.

Hickey did not work exclusively with silk. In his advertisement he underscored that as a “SCOWERER” he “takes in Cloth, to Full and Dress, and does all other Branches of his Business.” In so doing, he emphasized his extensive expertise and experience. Rather than scowerer, Hickey might have listed his occupation as fuller, tucker, or walker. All of these referenced the fulling business, the part of the process of making woolen cloth that involved cleansing the cloth to eliminate oils and dirt. As a result of fulling, woolen cloth also became thicker. Fullers often operated mills that used water wheels, which helps to explain why Hickey “carr[ied] on his Business near the Canoe-Bridge.”

By stating that “does all other Branches of his Business,” Hickey assured potential customers of his skill and competence in working with both silk and woolen fabrics.