May 1

GUEST CURATOR: Patrick Waters

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

May 1 - 5:1:1769 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (May 1, 1769).

“A compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.”

On May 1, 1769, this advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury informed the public that there would be a public sale of household and kitchen items at the house of Nicholas Roosevelt, deceased. Roosevelt was probably a silversmith since the advertisements included “a compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” Silver was used to create many items like teapots, silverware, plates, and bowls. Silversmithing was a notable occupation in colonial America, often seen as more of an art than a trade, according to the historians at Colonial Williamsburg.

In order to create a simple silver bowl, a silversmith needed to heat silver to 2000 degrees in a graphite and clay crucible. This liquid silver was then be poured out into a large sheet which would be hammered and molded into the desired shape. This was a difficult process because the silver would be extremely fragile while in this cooling state. To keep the silver malleable the smith repeatedly heated it and then plunged into an acid bath while it was being worked. This was a long process that required many different hammers – a “compleat set” – to achieve a perfectly smooth bowl.

These silver items had to be perfect not only because of the expensive materials used, but because they were sold to elite buyers. Silver teapots, bowls, and other items were very expensive commodities that only the upper class could afford, which they would then use to show off their affluence to their guests.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

The same day that the advertisement concerning the sale of items from Nicholas Roosevelt’s estate appeared in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury it also ran in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. The copy was exactly the same, though the compositors for the two newspapers made slightly different decisions about the format. The executor certainly sought to achieve maximum exposure for this sale, having previously advertised in the New-York Journal on April 27. The copy for that advertisement, however, deviated from what appeared in the other newspapers. The first portion was consistent, but the notice did not include the second half that offered the tools of Roosevelt’s trade for sale.

What explained this difference? Usually when advertisers invested the time and expense in placing notices in multiple newspapers they submitted identical copy to the printing offices. Why did the executor expand on the original advertisement from the New-York Journal when it ran in other newspapers a few days later? Perhaps the circumstances for settling Roosevelt’s estate changed. Maybe the executor had arranged for a buyer for the tools but then the deal fell apart, prompting a revised version of the advertisement.

Whatever the reason for adding the tools to the second iteration of the advertisement, the executor did not consider it necessary to update the original advertisement when it made a subsequent appearance in the New-York Journal on May 4. It ran just as it had the previous week, without mention of the “compleat set of gold and silver smith’s tools.” With the revised advertisement slated for publication in the other two newspapers one more time on May 8, the executor may have considered that sufficient visibility for attracting buyers. Alternately, the executor may not have considered it worth the expense to tinker with the wording of the advertisement in the New-York Journal since the type had already been set. The executor may have already received special consideration when placing that advertisement. The colophon listed a fee to run advertisements for a minimum of four weeks with additional fees for each subsequent insertion, yet this advertisement ran only twice.

Collating advertisements that appeared in multiple newspapers sometimes produces fairly definitive conclusions. For instance, identical copy with variations in format strongly suggests that advertisers were responsible for generating copy and compositors responsible for graphic design. The variations in the advertisements concerning Roosevelt’s estate, however, raise questions about decisions made by advertisers and business practices in printing offices, questions that elude answers when examining only eighteenth-century newspapers. They may also elude answers when consulting printers’ records and other sources, but the questions themselves do provide direction for another stage of research on advertising in early America. As the guest curators in my Revolutionary America class reach the end of the semester, this is another important lesson: no matter who much we have learned in this process, there is still so much more to discover. Seeking answers sometimes leads us to far more questions.

August 16

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

Aug 16 - 8:16:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (August 16, 1768).

“CHARLES HARRIS, WORKING SILVERSMITH, FROM LONDON, (Last from Mr. JONATHAN SARRAZIN.”

Like many other artisans who advertised in colonial newspapers, Charles Harris, a silversmith, provided his some of his credentials in the notice he inserted in the August 16, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He first asserted his connections to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, as a means of assuring prospective customers that he was indeed aware of the current tastes and styles. Invoking his London origins gave the silversmith cachet while simultaneously suggesting his familiarity with “all sorts of new fashioned bottle-stands” and “cruet frames after a new fashion.” He paid attention to the smallest details, even when making “table spoons, feathered on the handle.”

Yet Harris had not just arrived in Charleston directly from London. His advertisement indicated that he had already spent some time in the colony, employed in another workshop before establishing his own. Even though he had migrated “FROM LONDON,” Harris informed readers that he was also “(Last from Mr JONATHAN SARRAZIN),” a jeweler who ran a shop at the corner of Broad Street and Church Street. Harris’s former employer, who had recently published a series of advertisements in all three newspapers published in Charleston, was now one of his competitors. Harris took advantage of their former affiliation to market his own wares. Prospective customers who had previously secured Sarrazin’s services had likely acquired items that Harris took a hand in producing. Rather than his work being completely unknown in the local marketplace, as was the case for artisans newly arrived from London, some of his wares had already found their way into the hands of local consumers. This allowed Harris to piggyback on the reputation that Sarrazin had cultivated among residents of Charleston.

Harris deployed his advertisement as his résumé. He included vital work history that allowed prospective customers to determine if they wished to consider availing themselves of his services. Establishing that he had already made contributions to his trade in the local marketplace gave Harris additional credibility in his pledge to potential clients that they “may depend on having their work done to their satisfaction, and with the quickest dispatch.”

April 27

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

Apr 27 - 4:27:1767 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (April 27, 1767).

“I will work for the following prices.”

Charles Oliver Bruff, “Gold-smith and Jeweler,” was in a price war with “three different Silver-smiths” in New York. Bruff frequently advertised in the New-York Mercury, but he departed from his usual description of his merchandise and promises to provide good service to “the Gentlemen and Ladies of this city and country” to address a problem created by some of his competitors. He accused those “three different Silver-smiths” of undervaluing his work, making it seem as though he charged unreasonable prices.

To protect his reputation and avoid losing more business to his unscrupulous competitors, Bruff went to the rather extraordinary measure of listing his prices for the entire community to see, assess for themselves, and compare to the rates charged by other “Gentlemen of the trade.” He specified nine prices, including “For making a silver tankard, 3s. per ounce,” and “For making a soop-spoon, 20s.”

Bruff may not have been the innocent victim that he tried to portray himself. His initial prices may have been inflated, but he could not admit to that in his advertisement. Instead, he offered an alternate narrative that depicted his competitors as lacking in sound judgment when it came to assessing the quality of his work and the value of products in their trade more generally. At the same time, he lowered his own prices, seemingly forced to do so in order to continue to attract clients. As a result, new customers would receive quite a bargain since Bruff did not wish to “hurt myself for others” by charging full value for his workmanship only to be undercut by competitors. He concluded his advertisement by stating definitively that he would “work as cheap as any in this city.” Even if Bruff had overcharged in the past, intentionally or not, potential patrons need not worry about that happening if they now chose to deal with him.

December 16

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

dec-16-12161766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 16, 1766).

“Sucking Nipples, which has been the Means of raising many an Infant.”

Thomas You, a “WORKING GOLD-SMITH, SILVER-SMITH, JEWELLER and ENGRAVER,” made and sold a variety of items that men in his occupation commonly listed in their newspaper advertisements, including shoe buckles, punch bowls, coffeepots, teapots, and silverware. He also offered a device rarely mentioned by other smiths: “sucking Nipples, which has been the Means of raising many an infant.” You did not offer explanations or justifications of any of his other merchandise, which suggests that he felt the “sucking Nipples” merited additional promotion. After all, most colonists considered breastfeeding the best and most effective means of nourishing infants.

Indeed, You’s advertisement for “sucking Nipples” put him in competition with women who offered their services as wet nurses. Very few employment advertisements concerning women appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, either by women seeking jobs or by employers interested in hiring women. When employment advertisements involving women were inserted in newspapers, they most often fell in two categories: domestic servants and wet nurses. One such advertisement appeared on the previous page of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal: “A Woman, with a good young Breast of Milk, who has lately lost her Child, would be willing to take one to suckle. Her character will bear the strictest examination. Apply to the Printer.”

You’s “sucking Nipples” provided conveniences that hiring a wet nurse did not, especially eliminating exposing infants to women from outside the household. That the woman who advertised her services as a wet nurse found it necessary to state that “Her character will bear the strictest examination” demonstrates that she understood the concern potential employers might have when it came to putting their infants in such close contact with strangers. In England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Fred Weinberg notes, “[m]any people believed that a wet nurse might transmit ‘her evil passions and vicious inclinations’ to the infant through her milk.”[1] Even if such fears had faded in the English colonies by the 1760s, “sucking Nipples” still had several advantages over wet nurses. They were likely less expensive, available upon immediate demand once purchased, and did not introduce an outsider into the household.

By underscoring that “sucking Nipples” had been “the Means of raising many an Infant” You simultaneously sought to expand the market for a product he sold while competing with one of the few occupations for women that regularly appeared in newspaper advertisements.

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[1] Fred Weinberg, “Infant Feeding through the Ages,” Canadian Family Physician 39 (September 1993): 2016.

August 3

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

“LEFT by the subscriber at Mr. Bennett White’s … a neat assortment of JEWELLERY.”

Aug 3 - 8:1:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (August 1, 1766).

James Geddy “became Williamsburg’s best-known colonial silversmith,” according to the entry detailing his silversmithing and retail business by Colonial Williamsburg. His advertisement in the Virginia Gazette did not offer much by way of introduction, but Geddy may have believed that he could rely on the reputation he had established and did not need to promote his “neat assortment of JEWELLERY, with GOLD and SILVER WORK” beyond selling it “at the lowest rates.”

It appears that Geddy placed this advertisement as part of an effort to expand his business and gain customers in a new market beyond Williamsburg, up the James River in New Castle in Hanover County (the vicinity of Richmond today). He did not set up a shop or workshop of his own in that town; instead, he “LEFT” his wares “at Mr. Bennett White’s, who keeps a publick house of good entertainment in Newcastle.” In addition, Geddy also accepted orders via White, either to repair damaged items or create new ones to specification. In choosing a partner in New Castle, Geddy likely valued the high volume of patrons who frequented White’s tavern. Rather than attempt a partnership with a local smith or retailer (neither of which would have appreciated a competitor from Williamsburg attempting to siphon off potential customers), Geddy chose an establishment that likely had greater foot traffic, both locals and travelers. White may have earned commissions on his sales and orders, making the arrangement mutually beneficial to the silversmith and the tavern keeper.

Learn more about Geddy and his business by visiting the original James Geddy House and the reconstructed James Geddy Foundry at Colonial Williamsburg.