January 3

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

Jan 3 - 1:1:1768 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (January 1, 1768).

A large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.”

As part of their efforts to entice potential customers to visit “their store in Broad street” in Charleston, Michie and Robertston emphasized consumer choice in their advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Extending approximately one-third of a column, their advertisement in the January 1, 1768, issue listed dozens of items in their inventory, from “German serges” to “rich black, white, blue and crimson sattin” to “mens, womens and boys cotton, thread and worsted hose.” In addition to textiles and garments, they also stocked housewares and grocery items.

On its own, this list of goods presented prospective customers with a multitude of choices available at Michie and Robertson’s shop, yet the shopkeepers supplemented an implicit appeal concerning their vast selection with explicit descriptions to shape readers’ assessment of their wares and the experience of shopping at their store. Before commencing the list of merchandise, Michie and Robertson first proclaimed that they had imported “a large and well sorted CARGO of GOODS.” Then they inserted further descriptions attesting to consumer choice as they cataloged their wares. For instance, they did not merely enumerate an array of fabrics, but instead promoted “a large sortment of shalloons, callimancoes, durants, camblets, queen’s stuff, harragon, black and blue everlasting, black russet, bombazeens and poplins.” Similarly, they sold “A Variety of very neat London dressed broad cloths with suitable trimmings,” “handkerchiefs of all sorts,” and “a compleat sortment of iron wares.” Their selection was not haphazard or random; customers were bound to find exactly what they needed or wanted among Michie and Robertson’s merchandise.

In taking this approach, Michie and Robertson adopted an advertising strategy that became increasingly popular as greater numbers of colonists participated in the consumer revolution. The length of such list-style advertisements dramatically increased in the second half of the eighteenth century, in part because of their capacity to incite sales. Listing an assortment of goods – informing potential customers of the vast array of possibilities – likely stimulated demand by prompting readers to imagine possessing items they may not have previously considered acquiring (especially when combined with appeals to price and fashion). It also encouraged them to examine the merchandise in person to select items that best suited their own tastes, allowing consumers to exercise their judgment in distinguishing among the many options available.

December 11

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

Dec 11 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (December 11, 1767).

“A LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE.”

Approximately two-thirds of the December 11, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette consisted of advertising. Among the dozens of advertisement in the issue, Jonathan Sarrazin’s notice had a feature that distinguished it from all others: an image of one of the products he sold at his shop on the corner of Broad Street and Church Street in Charleston.

Sarrazin’s advertisement was not the only one that included a woodcut, but it was the only one with an image, a teapot, created exclusively for the advertiser. Nine advertisements for freight and passage had images of ships. Despite some variation, several had woodcuts that replicated an image used elsewhere in the same issue, including three nearly identical ships on the same page as Sarrazin’s coffeepot. Three advertisements incorporated woodcuts of enslaved men, women, and children, while another three included images of houses and land for sale. One for a “FINE bay MARE” had an image of a horse that in another issue could have been used to advertise a steed “to cover.” For advertisements of the same genre – freight and passage, slaves, real estate, horses – these common images were inserted interchangeably in the eighteenth century. These woodcuts belonged to the printer, a necessary supplement to the type since they were used so often.

Some artisans and shopkeepers, however, commissioned their own woodcuts to accompany their advertisements exclusively. Sarrazin, a jeweler, did so, choosing an image that represented the “LARGE Sortment of JEWELLERY and PLATE” listed in his notice, an ornate teapot with a decorative bird’s-head spout. (For a similar teapot crafted in New York earlier in the century, see this example from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Unlike others who advertised consumer goods and services in the same issue, Sarrazin mobilized text and visual image simultaneously to market his wares to potential customers. On the pages of dense text in South-Carolina and American General Gazette, this set apart his advertisement from others. This strategy likely attracted increased attention from readers.

November 20

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

Nov 20 - 11:20:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (November 20, 1767).

“He keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

Donald Harper, a tailor, made a rather unique appeal to prospective customers in an advertisement in the November 20, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. Unlike most of his competitors, he mentioned the assistants who worked for him, acknowledging that he was not solely responsible for all the garments produced in his shop. In the process, he underscored that “he keeps neither negroes nor apprentices, but hires white journeymen.”

What was Harper attempting to communicate to potential clients? From the distance of a quarter millennium, the racial aspect of this appeal may seem most prominent. It might be tempting to assume that since being fitted for clothing could be a rather intimate experience that required close personal contact that Harper suspected some customers would prefer not to interact with enslaved assistants. Yet other newspaper advertisements, as well as all kinds of other sources from the period, indicate that colonists had little objection to sharing spaces, even close quarters, with enslaved men, women, and children, provided that contact was temporary and that everyone behaved according to the expectations of prevailing social and racial hierarchies. The same issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, for instance, included advertisements for enslaved domestic servants, including seamstresses, cooks, and other “house wenches.” In serving white colonists, slaves became invisible and unremarkable, which would have made Harper’s marketing strategy out of place had his intention been exclusively to promote a workshop free of enslaved workers.

The advertisement might better be understood by noting that Harper relied on the labor of “neither negroes nor apprentices.” Instead, he “hires white journeymen,” an aspect of his business that he connected to clients “being served to their satisfaction” because the journeymen did their work “with the greatest dispatch and in the genteelest manner.” Seen through the eyes of eighteenth-century readers, Harper made an appeal to quality. He did not resort to untrained or barely trained workers, whether enslaved or apprenticed, but instead hired artisans who had demonstrated some level of skill and competence in order to achieve journeyman status. As a result, customers could depend on a certain level of quality when they chose to acquire garments from Harper’s workshop.

October 30

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

Oct 30 - 10:30:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 30, 1767).

“Ravens Duck, German Stripes, Holland Shirting.”

It may appear that I have made an error in posting the image of today’s advertisement, but that is not the case. Rather than rotate it ninety degrees counterclockwise to make it easier to read, I have instead chosen to retain its original orientation from the October 30, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. A closer look at E. Pierce’s advertisement for “GERMAN Osnaburghs” and other textiles reveals important lessons about both eighteenth-century printing practices and modern remediation projects.

Pierce’s advertisement appeared on the fifth page of the October 30 issue. Although most issues of eighteenth-century newspapers consisted of only four pages (a single broadsheet printed on both sides and folded in half), sometimes printers issued a two-page supplement when they had sufficient news and advertising. Robert Wells took that approach with this issue, though he did not include a masthead that denoted a supplement. Instead, he continued the consecutive page numbering of the issue, indicating that he conceived of the contents of the extra sheet coming after the news and advertising from the standard issue. If the additional sheet had been tucked into the broadsheet to form the third and fourth pages of a six-page issue (which was quite likely, especially considering the lack of a masthead designating a supplemental issue), the page numbers did not match that format. The pages for the broadsheet ran from 213 to 216. The pages on the half sheet were 217 and 218, indicating Wells thought of them as coming after the other content. Otherwise, they would have been pages 215 and 216, the numbers associated with the third and fourth pages of the six-page issue. The numbering suggests that Wells may not have initially intended to issue a six-page issue but instead made that decision only after some of the sheets had been printed.

Oct 30 - South-Carolina and American General Gazette Page 5
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 30, 1767).

Yet this does not explain the odd orientation of Pierce’s advertisement. In order to fit as much content as possible on the pages of the additional sheet, Wells rotated several advertisements to print in short columns that ran perpendicular to the three columns that ran from the top to bottom of the page. Given the scarcity of paper, this also resulted in maximum efficiency in using his resources.

That being the case, it would be helpful to know more about the dimensions of the extra sheet. From the digitized images of the newspaper, the extra sheet appears to be a different size than the standard issue. The broadsheet featured four columns of text, while the additional pages had only three and the narrow column of rotated advertisements. When printing the images on each page on office paper (once again remediating them to 8.5 x 11 inches), the type on the extra sheet appears much larger than the type from the broadsheet, though it all would have been the same type of a consistent size throughout the entire issue read by colonists in the eighteenth-century. Both the digitized images and hard copies of those images hide the original dimensions of the pages of the original newspaper. That aspect of the materiality of the text has been lost because the database that includes these images does not provide sufficient metadata about the size of each page. As an historian with significant experience investigating these sorts of discrepancies, I realize that if I want to learn more about the dimensions of the original broadsheet and additional sheet, which in turn will tell me more about newspaper production in colonial South Carolina, that I must consult an original copy of the newspaper.

Digitization of eighteenth-century newspapers is wonderful for delivering content. The process makes historical sources much more widely accessible to scholars and the general public. The Adverts 250 Project is possible because of digitization. Yet digitization, especially digitization without extensive metadata, only produces surrogates for the original sources, sometimes hiding certain aspects (such as the size of the page or type of paper) even while revealing others (the contents). Robert Wells found it necessary to print two extra pages to accompany the October 30, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The digitized images, however, obscure elements of the printing process and the actual appearance of the newspapers that subscribers and other readers encountered in the eighteenth century.

October 9

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

Oct 9 - 10:9:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (October 9, 1767).

“ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES.”

Each issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a colophon that ran across all three columns at the bottom of the final page. Most colonial newspapers included a colophon on the final page, though they differed in length and content. The colophon for the October 8, 1767, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette simply stated “Printed by Richard Draper.” On the same day, the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy included a longer colophon: “New-York: Printed by JAMES PARKER, at the NEW PRINTING-OFFICE in Beaver-Street where Subscriptions, and Advertisements, &c. for this Paper are taken in.” Parker used the colophon as an advertisement for his own newspaper. One of his local competitors did the same in a more elaborate colophon for the New-York Journal, but also promoted job printing and offered relatively rare information concerning prices for newspaper advertisements. “NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN HOLT, at the Printing-Office near the Exchange, in Broad Street, where all Sorts of Printing Work is done in the neatest Manner, with Care and Expedition. Advertisements of a moderate Length are inserted for Five Shillings, four Weeks, and One Shilling for each Week after.”

Among this variation, Robert Wells devised one of the most elaborate colophons that graced the pages of colonial newspapers in the 1760s. Had the type been set in a single column and inserted among the advertisements in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette, the contents of the colophon would have been indistinguishable from the paid notices inserted by colonial entrepreneurs. It first indicated Wells’s location, “at the Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY,” and then mentioned specific services related to the newspaper, “Subscriptions and ADVERTISEMENTS.” To entice potential advertisers to choose his newspaper rather than either of the other two printed in Charleston at the time, Wells underscored that the South-Carolina and American General Gazette “circulated through all the SOUTHERN COLONIES.” Advertisers could reach broad markets of prospective consumers.

Yet Wells did not conclude the colophon there. He inserted two more lines about his work as a bookseller and stationer, invoking common appeals to prices, quality, and choice found in advertisements placed by retailers of all sorts. He also hawked bookbinding services, making the “Old Printing-House, Bookseller’s and Stationer’s Shop on the BAY” a location for convenient one-stop shopping. Wells accepted “ORDERS for BOOKS and STATIONARY WARES,” but also promised that “a large Stock is constantly kept up.” He did “all Kinds PRINTING and BO[O]K-BINDING Work … executed with Accuracy and Expedition, at the most reasonable Rates.”

Robert Wells took advantage of the space allotted in his newspaper for a colophon by inserting what amounted to an advertisement for the goods and services he provided. Such was the privilege of operating the press that every issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette concluded with a message to colonial consumers.

September 4

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

Sep 4 - 9:4:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (September 4, 1767).

“PIKE’s DANCING SCHOOL.”

Mr. Pike, a dancing and fencing instructor, was well known to the residents of Charleston, especially readers of the South-Carolina and American Gazette and other local newspapers who regularly encountered advertisements for his “DANCING SCHOOL.” The dancing master cultivated an aura of mystery by never using his first name in his newspaper notices, neither in Charleston in the 1760s nor in Philadelphia in the 1770s. Pike considered himself enough of a celebrity that he did not find it necessary to offer much information about the lessons he taught during daytime hours except to note that he did so “upon the same terms as usual.” He expected that the public, at least those most likely to partake of his services, was already familiar with the “terms” for youth who wished to attend his dancing school.

Many dancing masters targeted young people in their advertisements, but colonists of any age benefited from lessons. Adults could further refine their skills or learn new and unfamiliar steps as they became popular. To that end, Pike offered lessons for “GROWN GENTLEMEN … every evening from six to nine.” He realized that most men had other responsibilities during the day so scheduled his lessons for when they were more likely available to visit his school. Similarly, he offered instruction in the “use of the SMALL-SWORD” in the early morning.

For genteel colonists – and those who aspired to gentility – Pike’s lessons supplemented the education they received from schoolmasters and tutors that placed their own advertisements that described other sorts of lessons and curricula. The better sort believed that true gentility manifested itself not only in intellectual pursuits, such as reading and discussing classical texts, speaking French, and participating in conversations with others who appreciated belles lettres, but also in physical activities that demanded physical discipline and proper comportment of the body, especially dancing and, for men, fencing.

July 24

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

Jul 24 - 7:24:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (July 24, 1767).

“REBECCA WOODIN … CONTINUES to teach young ladies.”

Although women placed newspaper notices advertising goods and services in eighteenth-century America they were disproportionately underrepresented in the public prints compared to how actively they participated in the marketplace as retailers, suppliers, and producers rather than merely as consumers. Sometimes women’s enterprises made their way into the advertising section because male relations mentioned them in passing in notices that much more extensively promoted their own endeavors. Such was the case in writing master William Adams’s advertisement repeatedly published in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal in the summer of 1767. He described his curriculum in detail before briefly noting that “Mrs. ADAMS, makes children’s gowns, slips, and teaches them to sew, mark, &c. She clear-starches, and washes silk stockings in the best manner.” Mrs. Adams’ participation in the marketplace was practically hidden in plain sight, appended to an advertisement that featured her husband’s name in all capitals and a larger font as its headline.

This was not always the case, however, when male and female relations shared advertising space. Rebecca and Thomas Woodin (presumably husband and wife, but perhaps siblings or parent and child) informed potential patrons of the services they offered in an advertisement that gave primacy to Rebecca’s school. Her description of “the different branches of Polite Education” and promise “to give satisfaction to all who place their children under her care” comprised approximately two-thirds of the advertisement. Rebecca’s enterprise came first, with Thomas, a carver and cabinetmaker, adding that he taught drawing and sold a variety of furniture. Not exactly an afterthought, Thomas did not appear first in the advertisement, usually the privileged place reserved for men when they shared advertising space with women. The structure of the advertisement recognized Rebecca Woodin’s labors as those of a partner who contributed to the household economy, especially compared to the cursory treatment Mrs. Adams received in her husband’s notice.

Each portion of the advertisement could have stood alone, yet the compositor did not insert a line across the entire column to indicate that one advertisement had ended and another began. Instead, a much shorter line allowed the two portions to flow together visually. This may have been the result of the Woodins pooling their resources to purchase a single advertisement rather than pay for two separate notices for enterprises pursued within the same household. The layout of the advertisement also suggested that the schoolmistress was subject to at least some level of masculine oversight. The depiction of Rebecca’s occupation was mediated by her connection to Thomas, yet he did not overshadow her.

June 28

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

Jun 28 - 6:26:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (June 26, 1767).

“Guerin & Williamson … will dispose of their remaining STOCK of Goods.”

Guerin and Williamson published this understated advertisement in the June 26, 1767, issue of the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. The partners announced that, “INtending to decline the DRY GOOD BUSINESS, they will dispose of their remaining STOCK of Goods on hand, by wholesale or retail, on reasonable terms.” Their entire notice barely exceeded the number of characters contained in today’s tweets, yet their advertising did not otherwise anticipate modern marketing efforts. They posted this brief advertisement in only one of the three newspapers published in Charleston at the time, limiting its market penetration. Guerin and Williamson were going out of business and wished to liquidate their remaining inventory. They offered attractive prices (“reasonable terms”) but did not pursue flashy techniques that eventually became associated with going out of business sales.

In preparing each entry for the Adverts 250 Project, I often argue that many modern marketing practices had their precursors in the eighteenth century. Rather than merely announcing that they had goods and services to sell, advertisers sought to incite demand and influence potential customers long before the rise of Madison Avenue. The road from eighteenth-century advertising to twentieth- and twenty-first-century marketing was not as long as often assumed. Guerin and Williamson’s advertisement, on the other hand, illustrates the distance between some of the practices common 250 years ago and today. Given the simplicity of their notice, it’s easy to understand why we so often focus on how much advertising has changed in the last two centuries rather than recognize similarities. In addition to enhancing marketing appeals over time, technological change and new media have played a role as well. What would Guerin and William’s advertisement sound like if it had been a radio or television commercial played on local markets? What would it look like as an email or a banner advertisement on a webpage? The stark contrast between those methods of delivering Guerin and Williamson’s advertisement and the newspapers that came off printing presses more than two centuries ago amplify the differences between modern marketing practices and those of the eighteenth century. Advertisements like this one from Guerin and Williamson seem to further confirm how significantly marketing has changed, making it all the more imperative to acknowledge the innovations and appeals in many other advertisements published in the eighteenth century in order to develop a better understanding of the state of marketing in the era.

June 21

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

Jun 21 - 6:19:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (June 19, 1767).

“Will be sold 10 per cent. under the common advance.”

John Davies paid attention to quality and, especially, price in his advertisement for imported Irish linens and other textiles in the South-Carolina and American General Gazette. He encouraged customers to buy in volume as a means of lowering prices as he targeted retailers who needed “to supply themselves … to sell again.” Although he did not specify specific rates for most of his goods, he did offer some numbers that would have been attractive to potential customers looking to acquire inventory and turn a profit themselves.

For instance, he stated that he “sold 10 per cent. under the common advance.” He assumed that potential customers already had a general sense of the going rates for the various sorts of textiles he sold, enticing them with the savings he offered compared to what they otherwise expected to pay. To sweeten the deal, he also promoted “the advantage of 5 per cent. being allowed in the purchase of them for prompt payment.” In other words, as he stated later in the advertisement, those “who purchase with cash” rather than credit stood to enjoy an additional discount that made his prices even more competitive. Davies implied further discounts for buying in bulk – “still greater allowance that will be made in taking a quantity” – although he did not offer specifics. The size of the subsequent discount may have been tied to the quantity purchased, subject to negotiations between Davies and his customers at the time of sale.

How was Davies able to offer low prices and significant discounts? He had cultivated relationships directly with the manufacturers, sidestepping English merchants who usually supplied American wholesalers and retailers. There had been “no charge of commissions” to other parties to drive up Davies’s prices. He also kept costs down by making his own purchases in cash rather than credit that accumulated interest. He passed his savings on to his customers in Charleston.

April 24

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

Apr 24 - 4:24:1767 South-Carolina and American General Gazette
South-Carolina and American General Gazette (April 24, 1767).

“He has room … for ten day and three evening scholars more.”

In recent weeks the guest curators of the Adverts 250 Project have examined advertisements placed by some of Savannah’s schoolmasters in the Georgia Gazette. Both schoolmasters promoted the subjects they taught, which were limited mostly to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic (though one also provided instruction in Latin). Meanwhile, Osborne Straton, a schoolmaster in Charleston, took a different approach in advertising his school. He did not discuss his curriculum at all, but instead noted the location – “on the Green” – and described the surroundings as a “pleasant, healthy situation.”

Most schoolmasters and schoolmistresses placed advertisements to attract pupils they expected to pay tuition. Such was the case with Straton, who indicated that he had slots to accommodate ten more “scholars” in the classes he offered during the day and three more for evening classes. One fortunate student, however, might have qualified to attend Straton’s classes on a scholarship: “one youth may be qualified for business gratis, on a private benevolence.”

Straton did not reveal the identity of the benefactor, but it might have been a civic organization mentioned earlier in his advertisement. He implied that moving his school to a new location “on the Green” had been done “by the consent and approbation of the South-Carolina Society.” Perhaps the members sponsored his school, formally or informally. The society or one of its members may have provided for the “private benevolence” as a means of bolstering the futures of the student, the city, and the colony. Alternately, someone else may have provided the funds to offer an education to a youth who otherwise might not have afforded it. The schoolmaster himself may have opted not to charge tuition of one of his charges, leveraging the decision into a public relations opportunity.

Regardless of the source of the “private benevolence,” Straton possessed a means to distinguish his school from others when he advertised for students. His association with a philanthropic venture positioned him as an instructor capable of overseeing the moral development of his students as well as their academic work.