October 18

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

“FOR SALE, THE FOLLOWING VALUABLE TRACTS OF LAND.”

South-Carolina Gazette (October 18, 1770).

This advertisement for “VALUABLE TRACTS OF LAND” offered for sale in South Carolina raises questions about its production and distribution.  Accessible Archives includes it as the fifth page of the October 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  Like most colonial newspapers, the South-Carolina Gazette consisted of four pages created by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  Peter Timothy, the printer, distributed one new issue each week, occasionally printing a supplement to accompany the standard four-page issue when he had sufficient content to justify doing so.

This advertisement deviates from several common elements of newspaper publication familiar to historians of eighteenth-century print culture.  Even though printers sometimes circulated supplements, they rarely distributed one-page supplements.  Instead, they created two-page or four-page supplements by printing on both sides of a sheet.  On rare instances did they print one-page supplements, an expensive venture given that paper was such a valuable commodity.  Blank space that could have been filled with news or, even better, advertising that generated revenues was wasteful.  Timothy included a short note on the final page of the October 18 edition that “ADVERTISEMENTS omitted this Week, will be in our next.”  It seems that he had additional content that could have been printed on the other side of the sheet promoting tracts of land for sale.

This suggests that Timothy did not consider the advertisement on the additional sheet part of the issue he published and distributed that week.  Like most newspaper printers, he did job printing as an additional revenue stream.  Orders included broadside advertisements, today known as posters, that could be handed out or hung up around town.  This advertisement was most likely a broadside printed separately.  How did it get associated with the October 18 edition of the South-Carolina Gazette?  It is possible that the advertisers made a deal with Timothy to distribute the broadside with the standard issue, though that was not a common practice.  More likely, at some point someone who acquired the newspaper and the broadside put them together.  Whether that person was a reader, collector, or librarian, their association of the two items took hold.  Accessible Archives replicated it when producing the digitized database of extant issues of the South-Carolina Gazette.

That is the most likely scenario, but certainly not a definitive answer.  The broadside’s inclusion with the October 18, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette in the digital archive suggests that it could have been part of that issue from the very start.  If so, that raises questions about innovation on the part of both the printer and the advertisers who deviated from standard practices.  It also raises questions about negotiations between the printer and the advertisers, especially in terms of cost and format.  That the broadside is now treated as the fifth page of the newspapers may be the result of an error introduced sometime after the two were printed.  Alternately, this may be evidence of creativity and innovation in the production and distribution of advertising in eighteenth-century America.

September 27

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

South-Carolina Gazette (September 27, 1770).

“Some Thousand Pairs of NEGRO SHOES.”

Simon Berwick and John Berwick had a variety of customers in mind when they advertised “MEN’s SHOES and PUMPS” in the September 27, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  They began their advertisement with footwear intended for white colonists, proclaiming that these shoes were “made in the neatest Manner” and cost fifty shillings per pair.  They also stocked “A great Quantity of strong black Shoes and Pumps” that cost between twenty-five and forty shillings.  The Berwicks presented those shoes “for House-Negroes and others.”  The “others” presumably included white colonists from more humble backgrounds than the customers who would purchase the more expensive shoes that led the advertisement.  The Berwicks also had in stock “some Thousand Pairs of NEGRO SHOES” that they described as “all fresh, and equal to any made in the Province.”

Were enslaved artisans involved in the production of these shoes?  Did the Berwicks enslave others who did not make shoes?  The answers to those questions are not apparent from their advertisement.  Yet the answers make little difference when it comes to disentangling the Berwicks from the commercial and economic web of slavery in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.  They pitched their advertisement to enslavers who need to outfit the men, women, and children they held in bondage.  They provided moderately-priced shoes for “House-Negroes” who would be seen by enslavers and their guests as well as less expensive “NEGRO SHOES” for those who labored beyond the house and thus relatively out of sight.  The Berwicks did not have to have enslaved people making shoes in their workshop or otherwise serving them in order to reap the benefits of slavery.  Instead, a significant portion of their business revolved around provisioning enslavers.  They sold shoes, while others, like Henry Rugeley, advertised “NEGRO CLOTH,” a rough and inexpensive fabric intended for clothing for enslaved people.  The business model developed by the Berwicks depended on enslavers engaging them as customers.

September 20

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

South-Carolina Gazette (September 20, 1770).

“Such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”

As summer turned to fall in 1770, Brian Cape advertised “a tolerable Assortment of Goods” for sale in the South-Carolina Gazette.  This unusual description, “a tolerable Assortment,” had at least two meanings.  Like their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the merchants of South Carolina enacted nonimportation agreements to protest duties imposed on certain imported goods by the Townshend Acts.  Cape assured prospective customers that he carried “such Articles as the Resolutions of the Inhabitants of this Province will admit of.”  In that sense, his merchandise was “tolerable” according to the standards adopted by the community.  It was also “tolerable” in the sense that it was as extensive as could be expected under the circumstances.  Consumers grew accustomed to vast arrays of choices in the eighteenth century.  Nonimportation agreements constrained those choices, but Cape suggested that the ability and pick and choose had not been eliminated at his shop.

He also vowed that prospective customers would not encounter exorbitant prices for his “tolerable Assortment of Goods” as the result of scarcity caused by the nonimportation agreement.  Indeed, scarcity may have been a relative term since many merchants and shopkeepers seized the opportunity to sell inventory that had lingered on their shelves and in their storerooms.  Cape asserted that he sold his wares “at moderate Prices” that were fair to consumers.  He also included a nota bene that offered a special bargain: “Ten per Cent will be discounted for ready Money.”  In other words, he rewarded customers who paid in cash rather than credit with significant savings.  Credit was one of the primary features that made the consumer revolution possible in the eighteenth century, yet it could be tricky to manage.  Merchants and shopkeepers frequently placed advertisements calling on customers to settle accounts or face legal action.  Cape presented an opportunity to avoid future troubles by paying with “ready Money” from the start.

Compared to modern marketing campaigns, eighteenth-century advertisements have sometimes been dismissed for being so straightforward as to be merely announcements of goods for sale.  That approach underestimates the appeals that advertisers worked into their notices in their attempts to entice customers to visit their shops.  Cape addressed both price and politics in his advertisement in 1770, incorporating issues that resonated with consumers at the time.