December 19

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 19, 1770).

“ALL Persons indebted to CARNE & WILSON, are requested to discharge their respective Debts.”

Apothecaries Carne and Wilson advertised widely when they dissolved their partnership in the fall of 1770, calling on clients to “discharge their respective Debts” or else face the consequences.  They threatened that those who disregarded their notices would “have to settle with a Gentleman of the Law.”  They also expressed some exasperation, stating that they had inserted advertisement “in the several Gazettes” published in Charleston so none of their customers “may plead ignorance.”  Such notices were common in South Carolina and throughout the colonies.

Neither Carne nor Wilson retired, moved to another town, or ceased working as apothecaries when their partnership came to an end.  Instead, they each pursued other opportunities.  Wilson ran his own shop, while Carne embarked on a new partnership.  Both ran advertisements for their new endeavors, notices that overlapped with their advertisements instructing former customers to settle accounts.  In the December 19, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, a single column on the front page included advertisements representing all three enterprises.  Wilson’s advertisement for a “LARGE and compleat ASSORTMENT of DRUGS, CHEMICAL, GALENICAL, and FAMILY MEDICINES” appeared at the top of the column, followed immediately by Carne and Poinsett’s advertisement for a “Large Parcel of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”  Even though they were now competitors rather than partners, the proximity of their advertisements kept their names associated with each other.  Several other advertisements appeared in that column, with Carne and Wilson’s notice for customers to discharge their debts at the bottom.
The public prints featured reverberations of Carne and Wilson’s former partnership even as they launched and promoted new ventures.  The success of those new ventures may have depended in part on closing the books on the partnership, hence their stern warning that recalcitrant customers might have to deal with an attorney “as no longer indulgence can possibly be given, there being an absolute necessity for having every thing relative to that concern closed.”  Colonial entrepreneurs placed advertisements throughout the various stages of operating their businesses, announcing that they would soon open, promoting goods and services available at their shops, and informing the public when they closed.  The three advertisements that Carne and Wilson placed simultaneously in the South-Carolina and American General Gazetteencapsulated this cycle, telling a more complete story about their commercial activities.

December 5

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 5, 2020).

“Will sell by vendue … a neat assortment of CABINET-WORK.”

John Dobbins, a cabinetmaker, operated a shop on Tradd Street in Charleston in 1770.  As the year came to a close, he inserted an advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette to alert the public that he planned to leave the colony in the spring.  In preparation for his departure, he planned a vendue or auction for December 17.  His inventory consisted of “a neat assortment of CABINET-WORK,” including “chairs and tables of all kinds, china tables, carved and plain, mahogany bedsteads, neat double and half chests of drawers, French [c]hairs, brass nailed chairs,” and “many other articles not mentioned.”  Dobbins sought to liquidate his wares.  In effect, he ran a going-out-of-business sale.  Prospective customers stood to acquire better bargains by buying at auction.  The cabinetmaker faced improved prospects of finding purchasers for the array of furniture that remained in stock.

In his effort to attract bidders to the auction, Dobbins offered “Three months credit to any purchaser above Twenty Pounds.”  Providing such flexibility likely increased the number of prospective customers who considered attending the vendue.  After all, the cabinetmaker’s first goal was to get people through the door.  The number and amount of sales depended on the crowd that gathered, so announcing that he extended credit – and set the threshold at twenty pounds – was a savvy tactic for encouraging attendance and participation at the auction.

Dobbins also took the opportunity to express his appreciation to his customers for their patronage during the time he made and sold furniture at his shop on Tradd Street.  Although he was leaving the colony, the business would continue at the same location.  Dobbins endorsed his successor, John Forthet, asking “his friends … for their continuance as the business will be carried on at the same shop.”  As one last service to his customers, he offered a recommendation and a transition to another artisan who made and sold furniture.  As part of maintaining good relationships during the time that he remained in the colony, he prepared for a smooth departure that included bargains at auction, credit for preferred customers, an expression of gratitude, and recommending a successor.

November 20

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1770).

“DOUBLE BEER, fine ALE, TABLE and SMALL BEER.”

Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, had too much news and advertising to include all of it in a standard four-page issue on November 20, 1770.  Like other printers who found themselves in that position, he distributed a supplement with the surplus content.  Both news and advertising appeared in the standard issue, but the supplement consisted entirely of advertisements.

Taking into account the number of advertisements that did not make it into the standard issue, Wells used a smaller sheet for the supplement.  That decision led to an unusual format for the supplement.  Each page of the standard issue featured four columns, but each page of the supplement had only three columns.  Two of those ran from top to bottom of the page, as usual, but Wells printed the final column perpendicular to the others.

Why such an awkward format?  It saved time while also maximizing the amount of content Wells could squeeze onto the page.  Most of the advertisements ran in previous issues.  The type had already been set.  Wells wished to use it again rather than investing time in resetting type to fit a page of a different size.  The smaller sheet allowed him to insert two columns of the usual width.  With the remaining space, he rotated the advertisements and formed columns that ran perpendicular to the others.  Wells managed to fit three of these perpendicular columns, but that left a small space at the bottom of the page.

Rather than waste that remaining space by leaving it blank, Wells finally opted to set type for a narrower column.  On one side of the page this permitted him to include two more short advertisements, one for beer and ale and the other for candles.  On the other side he inserted a notice from the Charleston Library Society calling on members to return books.  Engaging with these advertisements required active reading and further manipulation of the page by subscribers.

Wells was simultaneously ingenious and frugal in designing the format for the advertising supplement that accompanied the November 20 edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  His competitor, Charles Crouch, found himself in a similar position when it came to supplements for the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, choosing to eliminate white space between columns in order to make the content fit the page without having to reset the type.  Publishing advertisements generated important revenues for newspaper printers, but they were not so lucrative to prevent printers from carefully managing the additional expenses of producing advertising supplements.

November 6

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 6, 1770).

“AN ELEGY on the Reverend GEORGE WHITEFIELD.”

Following the death of George Whitefield, one of the most influential ministers associated with the eighteenth-century religious revivals now known as the Great Awakening, news radiated out from New England.  Brief reports first appeared in Boston’s newspapers the day after the minister died.  Other newspapers then reprinted the news, first in other colonies in New England and then in New York and Pennsylvania and eventually in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina.  (The Georgia Gazette presumably carried the news as well, but few copies from 1770 survive.)  Coverage of Whitefield’s death also included poems written in his memory, reprinted from newspaper to newspaper, and advertisements for commemorative items, all of them printed materials that ranged from broadsides to pamphlets to books.

The widespread marketing of that memorabilia amounted to the commodification of Whitefield’s death as printers and others sought to capitalize on the event.  That does not mean that expressions of mourning among producers and consumers were not sincere.  They were, however, mediated through acquiring goods that allowed consumers to experience a connection to the minister and feel as though they were participating in current events alongside others who mourned.  Even as producers and sellers of the commemorative items facilitated that process, they also strove to generate revenues from Whitefield’s death.

The commodification began in New England almost as soon as newspapers published the news.  In its first article about Whitefield’s death, published four days later, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter noted that a “FUNERAL HYMN” that the minister wrote several years earlier was for sale at another printing office in Boston.  Not long after that, freestanding advertisements began appearing in all of the newspapers published in that city as well as in newspapers from other towns in New England.  As news spread to other colonies, printers and booksellers in New York and Pennsylvania also ran advertisements that marketed Whitefield memorabilia.  Due to the distance, it took more than three weeks for the news to reach South Carolina.  Just two weeks after that, an advertisement for a commemorative item ran in the November 6, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

That advertisement offered a short history of Whitefield’s death.  Coverage had not been as extensive that far from New England, so the advertisement likely helped prospective customers recall the key details that Whitefield “departed this Life ay Newbury-Port in New-England, on the Morning of the Lord’s-Day, September 30th 1770, in the 56th Year of his Age.”  The advertisement promoted an “ELEGY” in memory of the minister as well as “A HYMN, composed by the Rev, Mr. WHITEFIELD to be sung over his own Corpse.”  By then the hymn had already been widely marketed in New England and additional advertisements ran in other colonies.  The advertisement in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette indicated a different method of distributing the memorabilia than in most advertisements in other newspapers, stating that “CARRIERS of this GAZETTE” sold the elegy and hymn.  A couple of advertisements published in New England offered discounts for shopkeepers and peddlers who bought large numbers for resale, but this was the first advertisement that specified that those who delivered newspapers also sold Whitefield commemorative items.  Opportunities to purchase memorabilia in South Carolina apparently were not confined to the urban port of Charleston but instead available in places removed from the busy city.

Mourning, celebrating the life of a prominent minister, and business were intertwined as colonists reacted to the death of George Whitefield.  His celebrity helped to make possible the commodification of his death and the appearance of newspaper advertisements hawking broadsides, pamphlets, and books.  Although concentrated in New England, that commodification also occurred as far away as South Carolina.  Colonists experienced print culture that informed them of the minister’s death, but they also participated in consumer culture that helped them to make meaning of it while simultaneously generating revenues for the producers and sellers of Whitefield commemorative items.

October 31

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 31, 1770).

“MRS. SWALLOW begs Leave to inform the Publick.”

Newman Swallow and Mrs. Swallow, presumably husband and wife, both ran newspaper advertisements in late October and early November 1770.  Newman advised prospective clients that he “proposes carrying on the FACTORAGE BUSINESS,” serving as a broker in Charleston.  Mrs. Swallow planned to open a boarding school for “young Ladies” at a new house “next Door to his Honour the Lieutenant-Governour’s” in Broad Street.  Their advertisements first appeared, one above the other, in the October 30, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.  The following day both advertisements also ran, again one above the other, in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The November 1 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included both notices, once again one above the other.  In the course of three consecutive days, the Newmans disseminated their advertisements in all three newspapers published in Charleston, maximizing exposure for their enterprises among readers throughout the busy port and the rest of the colony.

Careful examination of their advertisements reveals differences in format but not content.  The Newmans submitted the same copy to the three printing offices in Charleston, but the compositors who set type for the newspapers exercised discretion over typography and other aspects of graphic design.  Variations in font sizes, font styles, words appearing in all capital letters or italics, and the use of ornaments all testified to the role of the compositor in making decisions about how each advertisement would look on the page.  In two of the newspapers, “NEWMAN SWALLOW” and “MRS. SWALLOW” served as headlines, but not in the third.  Similar examples appeared in newspapers published in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Williamsburg during the era of the American Revolution.  In towns large enough to support more than one newspaper, advertisers frequently placed notices in two, three, or more publications.  The copy remained consistent across newspapers, but the graphic design varied.  This demonstrated an important division of labor in the production of newspaper advertisements in eighteenth-century America.  Advertisers dictated the contents, but usually asserted little control over the format.  Compositors exercised creativity in designing how the copy appeared on the page, influencing how readers might engage with advertisements when they encountered them in the public prints.

October 23

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 23, 1770).

“The newest and most fashionable Taste.”

In the fall of 1770, John Brown, a hairdresser, informed “the Ladies in particular” and “the Gentlemen” as well as that he had set up shop in Charleston.  In an advertisement that ran in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, he announced that he had “Just arrived from LONDON.”  This was a common marketing strategy among advertisers from a variety of occupations, from doctors to artisans to tailors to hairdressers.  They listed their place of origin as part of their credentials, suggesting to colonists that those who had trained and worked in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire possessed greater skill and a better understanding of taste and fashion than their counterparts from the colonies.

Brown stated that he “was regularly bred to the Business,” invoking a common phrase that indicated extensive training, but he also made the claim to superior circumstances more explicit by clarifying that he learned his trade “in one of the genteelest Shops in London.”  Unlike other hairdressers in Charleston, Brown had not yet established a reputation among current and prospective clients.  As an alternative, he used his connections to the urban sophistication of London to encourage residents of Charleston to associate additional cachet with his services.

Brown also emphasized his recent arrival in South Carolina.  Many advertisers deployed the phrase “from London” in their notices, some after living and working in the colonies for years.  That made it significant for Brown to proclaim that he “Just arrived from LONDON.”  His experience working in one of those “genteelest Shops” was recent.  He possessed a familiarity with tastes and trends in the metropole that was current.  Other hairdressers relied on travelers and correspondents to keep them apprised of new styles, but Brown brought that knowledge with him when he crossed the Atlantic and set up his own shop in Charleston.  He pledged to dress hair according to “the newest and most fashionable Taste,” a common appeal that had greater resonance when deployed by a coiffeur who had “Just arrived from LONDON.”

October 3

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 3, 1770).

“He proposes teaching COTILLONS in the newest taste.”

The South Carolina Newspapers collection available via Accessible Archives is an invaluable resource for producing the Adverts 250 Project and the Slavery Adverts 250 Project.  The collection includes digitized images of three newspapers published in Charleston in 1770, the South-Carolina Gazette, the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.

Transcriptions of the newspapers accompany the images.  In many cases, those transcriptions make it easier to decipher the contents of advertisements and other items that appear illegible for a variety or reasons.  Perhaps the original printing did not produce a clear impression in 1770 or the document suffered damage over time or poor photography resulted in a remediation that does not accurately the original.  Sometimes more than one of these factors influence the quality of digital surrogates.

Transcriptions, whether undertaken by people or technology, must be consulted with care.  Consider an advertisement for “PIKE’s DANCING and FENCING SCHOOLS” that ran in the October 3, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  The digital image is not easily legible, though an experienced research familiar with the language and contents of eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements can piece together the contents.  The transcription, on the other hand, leaves out words, such as “Ladies” in the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen,” and does not accurately reproduce others, such as “he proposes trashing COTILLONSisa new first” for “he proposes teaching COTILLONS in the newest taste.”

Flawed Transcription of Pike’s Advertisement

While this is obviously an error in the transcription, the interface created by Accessible Archives does correct an error that the compositor made when setting the type for the issue that contained Pike’s advertisement.  That issue consisted of six pages, four pages created by printing two on each side of a broadsheet and folding it in half and two additional pages of advertising printed on either side of a smaller sheet.  That supplement has the wrong date at the top, “Sept. 24 – Oct. 2” instead of “Sept. 24 – Oct. 3” at the top of the pages for the rest of the issue.  The page numbers for the supplement, 183 and 184, run continuously with the pages printed on the larger sheet.  The date 1770 appears in the title (an abbreviated masthead): “THE SOUTH-CAROLINA AND AMERICAN GENERAL GAZETTE, for 1770.”  Dates in some of the advertisements also make it clear that the supplement was printed in 1770.

Yet manuscript additions indicate that at some time the supplement was separated from the rest of the issue.  The first page includes a notation, either incomplete or partially illegible, that states, “Sup in 177[x],” with a missing digit at the end of the year.  Similarly, the supplement has a notation, not entirely legible, that declares it “does not belong in this [state].”  Most likely the “Oct. 2” error resulted in the supplement being cataloged or even bound with another issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette from another year, but an archivist noted the other discrepancies and context clues.  In the end, Accessible Archives arranged the digital images of all six pages of the issue together and in the correct order, despite an error made by the compositor in 1770.

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 3, 1770).

Human error and technological error sometimes creep into sources at every stage of their production, preservation, and remediation.  Such errors introduce miniature mysteries that can be entertaining to solve, but they also challenge researchers to constantly assess their sources to recognize any features that seem out of place or inconsistent with what they know about the period they are investigating or the subsequent collection and treatment of primary sources that make them accessible.

September 26

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

South-Carolina and American General Gazette (September 24, 1770).

“Sundry other Articles, allowed to be imported by the Resolutions.”

Several merchants and shopkeepers placed lengthy advertisements in the September 24, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Alexander Gillon’s advertisement on the front page listed dozens of items for sale, as did Isaac Motte’s advertisement.  Elsewhere in the newspaper, Benjamin Mathewes, Thomas Walter, and Radcliffe and Shepheard all ran similar notices.  In addition to “mens fine beaver hats,” “bordered handkerchiefs,” “gold and silver basket buttons,” “parrot and bird cages,” and a variety of other items that he did name in his advertisement, Mathewes also indicated that he had in stock “a number of other article[s] needless to enumerate.”  The purpose of enumerating so many of them was to demonstrate to consumers the wide array of choices available to them.  Like their counterparts who advertised in other newspapers in other towns and cities, these merchants and shopkeepers sought to incite demand by inviting prospective customers to imagine the many and varied options available to them.

Not all advertisers took this approach, but that did not mean that their notices lacked appeals meant to engage consumers.  In the same issue, Robert Porteous and Company and William and James Carsans placed advertisements that asserted they offered a similar array of choices without listing their inventory.  Porteous and Company stated that they sold “AN Assortment of such GOODS as are allowed by the Resolutions,” while the Carsanses similarly promoted textiles, nails, and “sundry other Articles, allowed to be imported by the Resolutions.”  Both incorporated consumer choice yet placed as much emphasis on the circumstances of acquiring their merchandise.  The merchants and traders in South Carolina adopted “Resolutions” or nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on certain imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts.  Some items, however, were excluded from those resolutions.  Porteous and Company and the Carsanses assured prospective customers and the general public that they abided by the agreement, keeping themselves in good standing in the community.  Their marketing efforts addressed politics as well as consumer choice.

July 25

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

Jul 25 - 7:25:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 25, 1770).

“JOHN HATFIELD, TALLOW-CHANDLER and SOAP-BOILER … CARRIES on the said Business as usual.”

Among the three newspapers published in Charleston in 1770, readers encountered far more advertising than news in the final week of July.  On Wednesday, July 25, Robert Wells distributed the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Like most newspapers published in eighteenth-century America, it consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Wells divided each page of his newspaper into four columns, yielding sixteen columns of content for subscribers and other readers.  Advertising comprised eleven of those sixteen columns, slightly more than two-thirds of the issue.  Three of the four columns on the first page contained news.

Yet it was the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that delivered the most news that week.  The following day, Peter Timothy published the weekly edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  It also consisted of four pages, but featured only three columns per page.  Of the twelve columns in the July 26 issue, advertising comprised ten.  Timothy devoted just two columns to news, including “Timothy’s Marine List,” the shipping news from the customs house.  The first item on the first page was a proclamation from the acting governor calling the colonial assembly into session on August 14.  Otherwise, news items appeared on pages two and three, though that was not an uncommon format for newspapers of the period.

Readers of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal discovered the same proportion of advertising and news in the issue that circulated on Tuesday, July 31.  Charles Crouch published two and half columns of news and editorials, confined entirely to the second page.  Paid notices filled the first page.  The contents of the newspapers published in South Carolina in the early 1770s were not always so lopsided in favor of advertising over news, but the issues from the final week of July 1770 underscore that newspapers were vehicles for disseminating advertising just as much as (and sometimes more than) delivering the news.

July 18

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

Jul 18 - 7:18:1770 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 18, 1770).

“Valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen.”

An advertisement for the March edition of “THE FREEHOLDER’s MAGAZINE; Or Monthly CHONRICLE of LIBERTY,” published in London, appeared in the July 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette.  Who placed the advertisement was not clear.  The advertisement attributed the magazine to “a PATRIOTICK SOCIETY” and declared that it was “Printed for ISAAC FELL, No. 14, in Pater-noster Row.”  Fell may have arranged with Robert Wells, the printer of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, to insert the advertisement or Wells may have independently done so.  The advertisement concluded with a note that “Some of the Numbers, as a Specimen of the Work, may be seen by applying to ROBERT WELLS, Bookseller and Printer in Charlestown, South-Carolina.”  Wells may have acquired copies of the Freeholder’s Magazine and reprinted an advertisement from a London newspaper as part of his effort to make sales in his local market.

Either way, a publisher in London or a bookseller in Charleston believed that they could incite demand for the Freeholder’s Magazine in South Carolina given current events and public discourse.  After all, the “Magazine contains many curious and valuable pieces, professedly written in defence of the Liberties of Englishmen; and highly proper to be perused at this important juncture.”  The March issue included a frontispiece depicting “LIBERTY presenting MAGNA CHARTA to BRITANNIA.”  The advertisement stated that the April edition would feature “a curious Engraving of the Arms of John Wilkes,” a noted defender of the liberties of Englishmen who resided on both sides of the Atlantic, continuing the theme of the publication via images as well as print.  (The May edition included an engraving of “The Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston” pirated from Paul Revere’s print.)  Fell or Wells or both likely believed that the tone of the magazine would resonate with readers in South Carolina.  Most who lamented the abuses of Parliament and condemned the Boston Massacre had not settled on demanding independence.  Instead, they valued being part of the British Empire and expected that they would enjoy “the Liberties of Englishmen” in the colonies.  By selling the Freeholder’s Magazine, Wells contributed to the print and visual culture that shaped debates about the position of the colonies in the British Empire.  In turn, consumers who read and viewed the contents of the Freeholder’s Magazinebecame better informed and better able to participate in the discourse of liberty as it evolved during the imperial crisis that led to the American Revolution.