June 16

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

Jun 16 - 6:16:1770 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 16, 1770).

They may depend on having their Commands executed after the newest and most genteel Fashions.”

When Daniel Stillwell, a tailor, placed an advertisement in the June 16, 1770, edition of the Providence Gazette, he made one of the most common and important appeals deployed by colonists who followed his trade.  He pledged that clients “may depend on having their Commands executed after the newest and most genteel Fashions.”  Tailors and others in the garment trades often made appeals to price, quality, and fashion in their advertisements.  Stillwell, like other tailors, believed that price and quality might not have mattered much to those who wished for their clothing to communicate their gentility if their garments, trimmings, and accessories did not actually achieve the desired purpose.  Reasonable prices and good quality were no substitute for making the right impression.  Stillwell’s work as a tailor required a special kind of expertise beyond measuring, cutting, and sewing.  He had to be a keen observer of changing tastes and trends so he could deliver “the newest and most genteel Fashions” to his clients.

To that end, Stillwell informed prospective customers that he “has had great Opportunities of seeing the different Methods of working.”  Although he did not elaborate on those experiences, this statement suggested to readers that Stillwell refused to become stagnant in his trade.  Rather than learning one method or technique and then relying on it exclusively, he consulted with other tailors and then incorporated new and different techniques, further enhancing his skill.  In so doing, he joined the many artisans who asserted that their skill and experience prepared them to “give Satisfaction” to those who employed them or purchased the wares they produced.  Stillwell was no novice; instead, he “carries on his Business in all its Branches,” proficiently doing so because of the care he had taken in “seeing the different Methods of working.” Simply observing current fashions was not sufficient for someone in his trade who was unable to replicate them.  Stillwell sought to assure prospective clients that he possessed two kinds of knowledge necessary for serving them, a discerning knowledge of the latest styles and a thorough knowledge of the methods of his trade that would allow him to outfit customers accordingly.

April 22

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

Apr 22 - 4:19:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (April 19, 1770).

“FENCING, WITH BROAD AND SMALL SWORDS.”

When fencing master P. Wallace arrived in Charleston, he placed an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette to inform prospective pupils that he offered lessons with “BROAD and SMALL SWORDS.”  Having just arrived from Philadelphia, he acknowledged that he was “a Stranger” in the colony, but he hoped that would not dissuade potential students from availing themselves of his services.  To that end, he asserted that “his Knowledge … will be sufficient to recommend him, and that he shall be able to give Satisfaction to those who may please to employ him.”  Whatever reputation he had earned in Philadelphia did not transfer to Charleston, so he relied on “Merit” to “find Encouragement” among prospective pupils.

In addition to addressing students, Wallace’s advertisement also served as an introduction to the entire community, especially those already proficient in fencing.  To demonstrate his “Knowledge in that noble Science.”  Wallace issued a challenge to “any Gentleman who professes being skilled in the Art of Defence,” proclaiming that “would be glad to have an Opportunity to be proved” by them.  The newcomer sought to orchestrate a spectacle that would not only entertain his new neighbors but also establish his reputation and create word-of-mouth endorsements of his skill, provided that he performed well when others accepted his challenge.

This strategy also had the advantage of securing introductions to men of status who had already cultivated their own skills in “that noble Science” of fencing and would likely know others who wished to learn.  To accept his challenge, “Gentlem[e]n who profess being skilled in the Art of Defence” had to seek out Wallace.  The fencing master likely anticipated that they would bring friends and acquaintances, some of them prospective pupils, to any demonstrations.  Following those demonstrations, both challengers and observers could sign up for lessons as well as recommend Wallace to others in the market for instruction with the sword.

Wallace exuded confidence in his advertisement.  To some, he might even have appeared overconfident or arrogant, but that very well could have been calculated to convince others to accept his challenge.  Creating a spectacle had the potential to generate additional opportunities for the newcomer.

February 22

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

Feb 22 - 2:22:1770 Maryland Gazette
Maryland Gazette (February 22, 1770).

“He has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”

While eighteenth-century artisans frequently promoted their own training and other credentials, relatively few devoted space in their newspaper advertisements to acknowledging the skill and experience of subordinates who worked in their shops.  William Faris, a clock- and watchmaker in Annapolis, however, incorporated several employees into the advertisement he placed in the February 22, 1770, edition of the Maryland Gazette.  Indeed, he said little about his own contributions to the business in favor of convincing prospective customers that he hired skilled artisans capable of executing their orders.

Faris opened his advertisement by announcing that “he has engaged Two exceeding good Workmen.”  He noted that one “has been a Finisher several Years to the celebrated Mr. Allen,” expecting that name to resonate with consumers familiar with clock- and watchmakers.  Faris leveraged the reputation of another artisan, perhaps even a competitor, to enhance the standing of his own business.  Having competent workmen in the shop allowed Faris to branch out.  He informed prospective customers that he also “executes any Orders he may be favoured with for Chair Work,” an endeavor made possible by hiring “a good Workman” who has produced “several Dozens of very neat black Walnut Chairs.”

In the midst of acquainting the public with his skilled staff, Faris also noted, though briefly, that “he still carries on” activities closely aligned with making clocks and watches.  He pursued the “Gold, Silversmiths and Jewellers Businesses,” doing that work “in the neatest and Best Manner.”  His own skill and experience made him qualified to assess the abilities of the workmen he employed.  By listing the several tradesmen who worked alongside him, Faris conjured images of a busy and bustling shop, one where customers could depend on the proprietor having sufficient assistance to see to their orders “faithfully” and “with the utmost Dispatch.”  At the same time, Faris assured them that they did not have to worry about inferior work undertaken by those he employed.  He vouched for their skill and experience.  Many colonial artisans disguised labor done by others in their shops when they advertised, but Faris sought to mobilize his workmen to his advantage when wooing prospective customers.

February 21

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

Feb 21 - 2:21:1770 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 21, 1770).

“The Taylor’s Business is carried on in all its branches.”

When Jonathan Remington, a tailor, moved to a new location early in 1770, he placed an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette so prospective clients would know where to find him.  Although he devoted much of the notice to giving directions, he also incorporated, though briefly, several marketing appeals.  “The Taylor’s Business,” he proclaimed, “is carried on in all its branches, in the genteelest manner, and with the utmost dispatch.”  Remington deployed formulaic language, though its familiarity to consumers may have been an asset.  Such brevity may have also allowed the tailor to keep down the costs of advertising while still promoting several aspects of his services.

In that single sentence, he communicated that he possessed a range of skills associated with his trade, declaring that he was qualified to pursue “all its branches.”  Prospective clients need not worry that they might present him with requests too difficult or beyond his experience.  He also made a nod to fashion, asserting that he did his work “in the genteelest manner.”  That appeal also implied the quality of his work.  Prospective customers would not look as though they had visited a second-rate tailor.  They could don his garments and confidently go about their daily interactions with other colonists without fearing that careful observation resulted in damaging judgments.  Remington’s pledge to tend to clients “with the utmost dispatch” testified to the customer service he provided.

Remington also attempted to attract new customers by leveraging his former customers as evidence of his abilities.  He expressed gratitude to “his friends and good customers for their past favours, and hopes for the continuance of them.”  In making that acknowledgment, Remington sought to maintain his current clientele while implicitly extending an invitation to new customers to visit him at his new location.  He reported that his services were already in demand, hoping to incite additional demand among readers of the Georgia Gazette who had not previously employed his services.  He played on consumer psychology that demand, or even the appearance of demand, could create additional demand.

Although not extensive, Remington’s advertisement delivered several marketing appeals intended to make his services attractive to prospective clients.  He relied on standardized language that allowed him to deliver messages grounded in the consumer culture of the period in relatively few words.

January 12

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

Jan 12 1770 - 1:12:1770 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (January 12, 1770).

“SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country.”

Watchmaker John Simnet returned to the pages of the New-Hampshire Gazette early in 1770, placing a short advertisement in the January 12 edition. Brief but bold, Simnet’s newest notice proclaimed, “WATCHES. SIMNETT, only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country. —- Parade, PORTSMOUTH.” Simnet reminded readers of the services he provided, but left it to them to fill in the details.

Considered alone, this advertisement may not seem particularly interesting. Simnet did boast of his skill, declaring himself the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country,” but he did not do much else to promote his business and attract clients … or so it would seem at a glance. This advertisement, however, must be considered in the larger context of an advertising campaign that Simnet had waged for the past year and his ongoing feud with rival watchmaker Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith. Regular readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette would have been very familiar with both Simnet’s previous advertisements, those placed by Griffith in response, and the professional (and seemingly even personal) animosity between the two watchmakers. That animosity likely manifested itself in interactions beyond the public prints, so colonists did not necessarily need to read all of the advertisements to know that Simnet and Griffith did not get along and regularly denigrated each other.

Simnet’s assertion that he was the “only perfect Watchmaker ever in this Country” was more than bravado about his skill. It was also an insult intentionally directed at Griffith. Simnet had migrated to New Hampshire after more than two decades working as a watchmaker in London. He received his training and served clients in the largest city in the empire. He frequently suggested that other watchmakers, especially Griffith, could not match his skill, insinuating that Griffith often did more harm than good when tasked with repairing clocks and watches. In turn, Griffith accused the newcomer of being an itinerant who was just as likely to steal watches from the residents of Portsmouth as repair them.

Simnet’s advertisement communicated far more than its eleven words might suggest to casual readers unfamiliar with his prior marketing efforts. The watchmaker did more than invite prospective clients to hire his services; he also perpetuated a feud with a rival by trumpeting his own skill and, by implication, demeaning the abilities of his primary competitor.

February 24

GUEST CURATOR: Chloe Amour

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (February 24, 1769).

“Watches repair’d or clean’d.”

In late February 1769, the New Hampshire Gazette featured an attractive advertisement for John Simnet’s watchmaking services, including repairs and cleaning. The advertisement points out that Simnet was an experienced watchmaker who had moved to America from London. Colonists still felt connected to the mother country so readers may have appreciated Simnet’s ties to Britain. In fact, most colonists identified as British and emphasized English culture, especially fashion and consumer goods. The colonists looked towards London, where taste and style were set. T.H. Breen has called this the Anglicization of consumer culture in the colonies.[1]

Readers may have been enticed by the price of Simnet’s repair and cleaning services. He appealed to the general public by offering the best deal, promising customers “less Expence than usual in this Country.” Breen states, “Consumer demand was the driving engine of economic change. Knowledge of the availability of these goods sparked desire, and though humble buyers obviously could not afford quality items, they purchased what they could.”[2] Simnet’s advertisement assured readers that his price was affordable for a greater number of customers, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In her first entry as guest curator for the Adverts 250 Project, Chloe has focused on some of the appeals that watchmaker John Simnet made to prospective customers. Price was a popular marketing strategy throughout the colonies, but Chloe also points out that colonists continued to emphasize their cultural connections to London and the rest of the empire even as they contended with Parliament over the Townshend Acts and other measures after the Seven Years War.

Simnet also incorporated other appeals in his advertisement. Deceptively short, it presented a multitude of reasons that anyone who needed watches “repair’d or clean’d” should call on Simnet at his shop across the street from Staver’s Tavern. Like many artisans, Simnet promoted both his skill and experience. For instance, he informed readers that he had worked at his trade for twenty-five years. As Chloe mentions, he had spent that time in London. That likely had a double resonance for colonial consumers. Not only did it establish a connection to the cosmopolitan center of the empire, it also suggested that Simnet had acquired greater expertise than many colonial watchmakers for having operated his business in such a competitive environment for so long. Simnet came right out and said so when he proclaimed that he performed his services “in a neater manner … than usual in this Country.” Many artisans, especially those who had migrated from London like Simnet, attempted to convince potential customers that they had the skills to deliver services equal to their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. With his declaration that he cleaned and repaired watches better than others in New Hampshire, Simnet opted for a slightly different approach, one more aggressive toward his local competitors.

Simnet did not require a lot of words or a lot of space in the New-Hampshire Gazette. Instead, he deployed multiple marketing strategies in just a few lines. In addition to his purported skill as a watchmaker, he demonstrated his familiarity with the most common appeals artisans made in advertisements in eighteenth-century America.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 497.

[2] Breen, “Empire of Goods,” 476.

January 30

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (January 30, 1769).

“We can turn it out in our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America.”

Of the various appeals that artisans advanced in eighteenth-century newspapers, promoting their skill was perhaps the most significant. Skill testified to quality. Price hardly mattered if their work was not undertaken with skill. Neither did dispatch, the speed of serving customers. Skill was a necessary part of producing the goods and providing the services that colonial consumers desired from artisans.

Casey and Mathies, “SILK-dyers and scowerers, from London,” certainly considered that to be the case in the advertisement they inserted in the supplement to the January 30, 1769, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Skill was the centerpiece of their notice. They informed prospective clients that they could “scour, dye, and dress” silks and satins as well as clean brocades so skillfully that the colors would “look as well as when new.” Similarly, they cared for men’s garment “in the neatest manner … without any detriment to the cloth.” Furthermore, they also worked on cloaks of all sizes and colors, cleaning and dyeing them “to the utmost perfection.” This was a tricky business that demanded skill to undertake successfully.

So confident were Casey and Mathies in their skill that they made a bold pronouncement near the conclusion of their advertisement. They invited merchants with “any pieces of cloths to dye any colour” to bring them to their shop “at the sign of the Blue-Hand and Brush.” There they would “turn it out of our hands better than any person that ever attempted it in America, or as well as in London.” Casey and Mathies did not merely make a claim about their own skill; they ranked it relative to their competitors in New York, throughout the region, and the throughout the colonies. They asserted that prospective clients could not find silk dyers and scourers with greater skill on that side of the Atlantic. In addition, their work equaled any done in London, the center of the empire where the most skilled artisans of all sorts plied their trades.

For Casey and Mathies, nothing mattered more than skill, but their advertisement suggests that colonial consumers shared that view when it came to silk dyers and scourers. Casey and Mathies expected that message would resonate with prospective clients; otherwise, they would not have built their entire advertisement around it.

December 24

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

Providence Gazette (December 24, 1768).

“PATRICK MACKEY … has opened a Skinner’s Shop.”

When Patrick Mackey arrived in Providence from Philadelphia, he set about establishing himself in a new town and building a clientele for his business by placing an advertisement in the December 24, 1768, edition of the Providence Gazette. He announced that “he has opened a Skinner’s Shop near the Hay-Ward, on the East Side of the Great Bridge, between Mr. Godfry’s and the Sign of the Bull,” offering familiar landmarks to aid customers in navigating to his location. Realizing that prospective customers were unfamiliar with his work, Mackey underscored that “he has worked in the principal Parts of Europe and America.” As a result, he “doubts not of gaining the Approbation of his Customers” once they gave him the opportunity to provide his services. He offered further assurances that his leather and skins were “dressed in the best Manner.” In case skill and quality were not sufficient to draw clients to the newcomer’s shop, Mackey also promoted his prices, proclaiming that he sold his wares “as cheap as any in Town.” In his first introduction to Providence in the public prints, Mackey deployed several of the most common advertising appeals used by artisans in eighteenth-century America.

Yet Mackey went beyond the expected methods of encouraging prospective customers to patronize his business. He also invoked his collaboration with colleagues who enhanced the services available at his shop. In addition to selling materials, he also had a “Breeches-maker, who learned his Business in Europe” on staff to transform his leathers and skins into garments for “Any Gentlemen who may please to employ him.” In addition, Mackey reported in a nota bene that Benjamin Coates, a cordwainer, “carries on his Business at the same Place.” Clients interested in Mackey’s services could also “be suited in the best Manner with all Kinds of Boots, Spatterdashes, Shoes, Slippers, &c.” at the same location. In his efforts to build his customer base, Mackey offered convenience in addition to quality and low prices. His clients did not need to visit other artisans at other locations after acquiring materials at his shop. Instead, they could consult directly with a cordwainer and a breechesmaker on the premises. All three artisans stood to benefit from such an arrangement. Increased patronage for one of them likely yielded additional business for the others.

September 23

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

Sep 23 - 9:23:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (September 23, 1768).

I have been informed that some of my customers have been displeased.”

Seth Wales had two purposes for placing an advertisement for his “clothier’s business” in the New-London Gazette in September 1768. He promoted the skills of the workman he now employed while simultaneously recanting and correcting an advertisement that appeared in the same newspaper a year earlier.

That advertisement originally ran in the September 11, 1767, edition of the New-London Gazette. In it, Seth Wales of Norwich and Nathaniel Wales of Windham announced that “every Part and Branch of the Clothier’s Business is carried on” in their towns “under the Direction and Management of one FRANCIS GILDING.” Having recently arrived from London, Gilding was unfamiliar to prospective customers so the Waleses assured them that he is “thoroughly skilled in the Art of a Scowerer and Dyer, and can imitate or strike any Colours (that are dyed in the English Nation).” The advertisement continued to extol Gilding’s skills and abilities at some length, adopting a marketing strategy frequently adopted by artisans in newspapers published throughout the colonies.

Seth Wales ultimately found himself dissatisfied with Gilding’s “Direction and Management” of the business. In an advertisement that first appeared in the September 16 (misdated 15), 1768, issue he implied that Gilding had placed the previous notice. Although Wales did not take responsibility for misleading the public about Gilding’s work, he did acknowledge that he had been “informed that some of my customers have been displeased with some of their work done at my mill.” He indicated that those customers had responded to “Gilding’s pretences” in the earlier notice, but that he had “found by experience he no ways answers to said advertisement.” Wales then savaged Gilding’s skills before declaring that he had “dismissed him.”

In the wake of Gilding’s termination, Wales hired a new “workman at the clothier’s business, that served an apprenticeship at said trade in Europe, and understands every branch of the business.” This new employee had been on the job for six months, sufficient time for Wales to confidently exclaim that his work “shall be done this year much better than it was last.” Perhaps Wales had learned a lesson about advertising the skills of an employee too soon. The trial period gave him better opportunity to assess for himself the abilities of his “present workman” before making promises in advertisements and then finding himself in the position of retracting them.

For his part, Gilding was not pleased with how Wales portrayed him. The following week he placed his own advertisement, which appeared immediately below the second insertion of Wales’s notice. He lamented that he had been “greatly Abused and Injured in my Reputation.” He considered the entire advertisement “a Piece of Malice and Detraction.” He then explained that any shortcomings in his work should be attributed to Wales for not providing proper supplies for the dyeing business. Furthermore, Gilding asserted that Wales attempted to hire him for an additional year. Gilding quit, despite Wales pretending otherwise. Finally, Gilding reported that his former employer and “the Workman he pretends to have had Six Months experience of” had parted ways, once again due to difficulties caused by Wales.

Artisans of various sorts often used newspaper advertisements to promote their skills and training in eighteenth-century America. In this incident, Wales and Gilding did that and more. Each turned to the public prints to defend their own reputation, inserting advertisements that constructed competing narratives. Airing their dirty laundry presented risks, but calculated that the rewards of presenting their own side of the dispute would result in rewards if prospective customers believed their version of events.

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.