May 4

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

May 4 - 5:4:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (May 4, 1770).

“All American Manufactures.”

Thomas Shute’s advertisement occupied a privileged place in the May 4, 1770, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.  It appeared in the first column of the first page, immediately below the “PRESENTMENTS OF THE GRAND-JURORS.”  A separate headline, “New Advertisements,” introduced Shute’s notice.  Considering that Shute sold “All American Manufactures,” the placement of this advertisement may have been quite deliberate on the part of Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette.

Shute’s commercial activities addressed political concerns that had been widely reported in newspapers and discussed among colonists for several years.  When Parliament imposed duties on imported paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea, colonists responded by adopting nonimportation agreements for a vast array of goods as a means of exerting economic pressure to achieve political ends.  At the same time, they embraced “domestic manufactures” as alternatives to imported goods, also arguing that producing and purchasing such items provided a variety of benefits.  Producing domestic manufactures provided employment for colonists; purchasing those wares addressed a trade imbalance with Britain and kept specie in the colonies rather than sending it across the Atlantic.

Shute offered an assortment of “American Manufactures” to consumers in South Carolina, all of them imported from Philadelphia rather than from London and other ports in England.  Pennsylvania had long been a source for many of the agricultural items, such as flour, bread, and ham, but Shute also emphasized goods more often associated with manufacturers on the other side of the Atlantic, including “Sundry Kinds of CAST IRON,” “EARTHEN WARE,” and “HORSE COLLARS.”  Shute made a brief appeal to quality, stating that his inventory “may be depended upon as good,” to reassure prospective customers that investing in domestic manufactures did not require them to accept inferior merchandise.

By the time Shute’s advertisement appeared in the South-Carolina Gazette, a partial repeal of the Revenue Act had already been approved by Parliament on March 5 and received royal assent on April 12.  Duties on tea remained in place, but not the duties on other imported goods.  It took some time for word to arrive in the colonies.  Once it did, colonists withdrew from their nonimportation agreements.  For the moment, however, Shute deployed a marketing strategy that gained popularity throughout the colonies over the course of several years.

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.

April 4

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

Apr 4 - 4:4:1770 South-Carolina Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (April 4, 1770).

SHIP-CHANDLERY.”

William Price deployed typography to attract attention to his advertisement for “BEST Bridport CANVAS, and sundry other Articles” in the April 4, 1770, supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette.  A decorative border surrounded the headline for his advertisement, “SHIP-CHANDLERY,” making it one of only two advertisements in the supplement with that additional flourish.  The other announced “SALES by the Provost-Marshal,” an advertisement that was also a regular feature in the South-Carolina Gazette.  Its headline often appeared within a decorative border, which may have given Price the idea for enhancing his advertisement.  All of this suggests that Price made arrangements with the printer or compositor to spruce up his notice, though most advertisers merely supplied copy and left format to those who labored in the printing office.  Price may not have specified which printing ornaments should enclose his headline, but he most likely did offer some direction about the visual composition of his advertisement.

The border provided visual variation in a newspaper that consisted almost entirely of text.  Some advertisements included different fonts and font sizes to draw attention, as did Price’s notice, but consistencies among them suggest that compositors made such decisions, not advertisers.  Very few visual images appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers.  In the April 4 supplement, woodcuts accompanied only five of the thirty-five advertisements.  Three of those were real estate notices, two with woodcuts depicting a house and one with a woodcut showing a tree and a field.  An advertisement about a stray horse had a woodcut of a horse.  An advertisement describing an enslaved man who escaped featured a crude woodcut of a dark-skinned person that conflated characteristics associated with Africans and indigenous Americans.  All of those woodcuts belonged to the printer, as did woodcuts of ships at sea.  Price could have chosen one of those, but they were usually associated with vessels seeking freight and passengers, not ship chandlers looking to outfit ships before they departed from port.  He could have commissioned a woodcut depicting his merchandise, but he may not have considered that worth the expense, especially if he did not suspect that canvas or cordage would translate well via that medium.

The border that enclosed “SALES by the Provost-Marshal” and decorative type often used to separate “New Advertisements,” “Advertisements,” and, sometimes, news items from the content that appeared immediately above it suggested an alternative to prospective advertisers who wanted some sort of visual component in their notices.  As they perused the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette they encountered various means of creating a distinctive format for their advertisements even when they consisted almost entirely of text.  The pages of eighteenth-century newspapers may look fairly uniform to twenty-first-century eyes, but contemporary readers surely noticed the many variations in type, especially in the advertisements.

April 1

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

Apr 1 - 3:29:1770 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (March 29, 1770).

“ASSORTMENT of GOODS, Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”

The partnership of Smith and Atkinson informed consumers in and around Boston that they stocked “A small Assortment of English Goods, (imported before the late Agreements of the Merchants)” in an advertisement in the March 29, 1770, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  On the same day, James McCall took to the pages of the South-Carolina Gazette to announce that he carried an “ASSORTMENT of GOODS” imported in the Sea Venturefrom Bristol “Agreeable to the RESOLUTIONS.”  This marketing strategy was less common in the newspapers published in Charleston than in Boston, but not unknown.

In both cities, purveyors of goods believed that asserting that they acquired their goods according to the terms of nonimportation agreements adopted in protest of import duties Parliament imposed on paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea would incite demand.  They offered colonists the opportunity to continue participating in the consumer revolution without violating the political principles that inspired the “RESOLUTIONS” or the “late Agreements.”  Yet their newspaper notices did more than reassure prospective customers.  McCall intended to safeguard his own reputation, as did Smith and Atkinson.  They wanted all readers and, by extension, the entire community to know that they abided by the nonimportation agreements.  Making such declarations not only amounted to good business sense but also aided in maintaining their status and relationships.

In Charleston and Boston, both advertisers and prospective customers spoke a common language of consumption that was inflected with politics.  T.H. Breen makes in this argument in The Marketplace of Revolution:  How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.  At the nexus of consumer culture and print culture, newspaper advertisements for consumer goods and services played an important role in developing and propagating the language of consumption.  This yielded what Benedict Anderson termed imagined communities – communities of readers and communities of consumers – that made colonists in faraway places like Boston and Charleston feel as though they shared a common identity.

December 10

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

Dec 10 - 12:7:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (December 7, 1769).

“LONDON MAGAZINE.”

Nicholas Langford, “Bookseller, on the Bay,” inserted an advertisement for the London Magazine in the December 7, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. At a time when many colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest taxes that Parliament imposed on imported paper, glass, lead, paint, and tea, most continued to seek redress of grievances rather than political separation from the most powerful empire in the world. Even as they came to think of themselves as Americans with unique concerns within that empire, most still embraced their British identity, not just politically but also culturally. Langford had a reasonable expectation that he would find subscribers for the London Magazine on the eve of the 1770s.

Commencing publication in 1731, the London Magazine had a long history and a notable reputation. According to Langford, the “present Proprietors … are resolved to spare no Cost to continue its Pre-eminence” by “collecting from their extensive Correspondence, such Pieces of Literary Knowledge and Amusement, as may best deserve the Public’s Notice.” They also composed original pieces, “each taking upon him that Department which best suits his Genius.” This sort of cultural production did not have a counterpart or competitor in the colonies. Lewis Nicola had recently tried to launch the American General Magazine, placing subscription notices in several newspapers throughout the colonies, but the magazine quickly folded. Like most other American magazine published before the Revolution, it lasted less than a year. The first issue appeared in January 1769 and the last in September. Nicola modeled the magazine after successful publications produced on the other side of the Atlantic, but did not manage to cultivate a roster of subscribers extensive enough to make the American General Magazine a viable venture. Consumers with the resources to afford magazines and the leisure time to read them had well-established alternatives, including the London Magazine with its “Copper-Plate Embellishments.” Langford also offered The Critical Review “for any Gentleman who may be desirous of having it with the Magazine.”

As colonists expressed their disdain for Parliament and its various abuses, many also continued to embrace their British identity. The politics of the period did not prevent them from marketing or consuming cultural productions that emanated from the center of the empire. For some, staying informed by reading the London Magazine did not seem incongruous with participating in acts of political resistance that included boycotting a vast array of consumer goods imported from Britain.

November 26

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

Nov 26 - 11:23:1769 South-Carolina Gazette Additional Supplement
Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette (November 23, 1769).

“New Advertisements.”

In the fall of 1769 Peter Timothy did good business when it came to publishing advertisements in the South-Carolina Gazette. Consider the November 23 edition. Advertising appeared on every page. Indeed, the space devoted to advertising eclipsed the space for news items. A headline directing readers to “New Advertisements” appeared at the top of the first column of the first page. The other two columns consisted of news items. The second page also delivered news, but two “New Advertisements” ran at the bottom of the last column. Timothy divided the third page evenly between news items (including a list of prices current in Charleston and the shipping news from the customs house, branded as “Timothy’s Marine List”) and more “New Advertisements.” The final page consisted entirely of advertisements. Overall, paid notices compromised half of the standard issue, which likely suited Timothy just fine since advertising usually generated greater revenue than selling subscriptions.

Yet even giving over that much space to advertising in the standard issue did not allow Timothy to disseminate all of the advertisements submitted to his printing office. A two-page Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette accompanied the November 23 edition. Except for the masthead, it consisted entirely of advertisements, though the “New Advertisements” headline that ran three times in the standard issue did not appear in the supplement. Timothy may have made a concerted effort to give new content, whether news or advertising, a privileged place in the standard issue. Still, even by publishing the supplement Timothy did not gain sufficient space to include all of the advertisements for the week. He went to the extraordinary step of printing and distributing an Additional Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette. Printed on a smaller sheet, this two-page supplement featured only two columns per page. It still allowed Timothy to circulate an additional sixteen advertisements. The “New Advertisements” headline ran at the top of the first column on the first page, though the notices were repeats from previous editions. Did Timothy deploy that headline indiscriminately? Or did he use it strategically in an attempt to draw readers weary of advertisements into the Additional Supplement rather than dismiss it as content they had already perused in recent weeks?

Timothy very nearly had more advertisements than he could publish in the South-Carolina Gazette. Assuming that advertisers actually settled accounts in a timely manner, Timothy operated a booming business at his printing office. The volume of paid notices testified to both the extensive circulation of the newspaper and colonists’ confidence in the effectiveness of advertising. Some colonial newspapers, such as the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, the New-York Journal or General Advertiser, the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser, and the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, positioned their purpose as twofold right in the masthead. Timothy very well could have billed the South-Carolina Gazette as an Advertiser.

November 19

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

Nov 19 - 11:16:1769 Advert 1 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 16, 1769).

No Subscriber can purchase any NEGROES, or OTHER GOODS, or MERCHANDIZE WHATEVER.”

On July 22, 1769, colonists who attended “a GENERAL MEETING of the Inhabitants of Charles-Town, and of the Places adjacent … unanimously agreed” to an “ASSOCIATION” for the purpose of “encourage[ing] and promot[ing] the Use of NORTH-AMERICAN MANUFACTURES” as an alternative to imported goods. They did so in protest of “the abject and wretched condition to which the BRITISH COLONIES are reduced by several Acts of Parliament lately passed.” In particular, residents of Charleston had the Townshend Acts in mind, objecting to attempts to regulate trade and impose duties on imported paper, tea, glass, and other products. Like their counterparts in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, they adopted several resolutions that disrupted trade, seeking to use commerce as a toll to achieve political ends. In one resolution, they proclaimed that they would not “import into this Province any of the Manufacturers of GREAT-BRITAIN.” The Association and its resolutions received front page coverage in the August 3, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette.

Several months later, the “General Committee” charged with oversight of the resolutions published reminders in the South-Carolina Gazette, inserting their own notices alongside the multitude of advertisements that regularly appeared in that newspaper. Peter Timothy, the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, showed his support from the start by making subscription papers available “to be signed” at his printing office. As various deadlines specified in the resolutions passed, he further aided the cause by giving one of the notices from the General Committee a privileged place in the November 16, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette. Under the headline “New Advertisements,” it was the first to appear in that issue, serving as a reminder and setting the tone for the other advertisements on the following three pages. The General Committee proclaimed that it gave “Notice that agreeable to the Resolutions entered into by the Inhabitants of this Province on the 22d of July last, no Subscriber can purchase any NEGROES, or OTHER GOODS, or MERCHANDIZE WHATEVER, of or belonging to any resident that has REFUSED or NEGLECTED to sign the said Resolutions within ONE MONTH after the Date thereof: Of which it is expected all Persons concerned, will take due Notice.” This particular measure put pressure on colonists who did not join the movement.

Nov 19 - 11:16:1769 Advert 2 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 16, 1769).

The General Committee posted another notice on the following page. This time, Timothy positioned it in the middle of the page, surrounded by other advertisements. In it, the General Committee asserted “that the time is expired, during which the Subscribers, to the Resolutions of this Province, could purchase any Kind of European or East-India Goods, excepting COALS and SALT, from any Master of Vessel, transient Person, or Non-Subscriber: And that the time is also expired, for purchasing or selling NEGROES from any Place except such as may arrive directly from the Coast of Africa: And it is hoped, that every Person concerned, will strictly adhere to the Resolutions.” The final line was both reminder and threat. Merchants and shopkeepers as well as consumers needed to exercise care in their commercial transactions. Advertisers who promoted merchandise “just imported … from BRITAIN” (as William Simpson stated in his advertisement on the same page) faced a new commercial landscape in which they needed to demonstrate when they had ordered and acquired their goods or else face consequences for not abiding by the resolutions adopted by the Association. The inventory in shops and the goods colonists wore and used came under new scrutiny, but so did advertisements for those items since anything inserted in the public prints allowed for easy surveillance by concerned colonists interested in whether merchants and shopkeepers violated the nonimportation resolutions.

November 16

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

Nov 16 - 11:16:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 16, 1769).

“He will sell at the lowest Advance, and allow ten per Cent. discount for CASH.”

In the late 1760s James Courtonne operated a jewelry shop on Broad Street in Charleston. In an advertisement in the November 16, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, he promoted a variety of his wares, including an “Assortment of Sterling PLATE and JEWELS, of the newest Fashions, most elegantly finished,” “Silver and double gilt Swords,” and “a great Variety of MARCASITE and COQUE-DE-PEARL Ear-Rings.” In addition to selling these imported items, the jeweler also offered several services, noting that the “continues to make and mend Diamond and mourning Rings, and Ear-Rings and Lockets enamelled in the neatest Manner.”

Not surprisingly, Courtonne advanced an appeal to fashion when describing his wares, yet that was not his only means of marketing his jewelry and the array of silver coffeepots, spoons, and spurs available at his shop. He also lowered his prices under circumstances, proclaiming that he would “allow ten per Cent. discount for CASH.” He would allow credit for these purchases, but he saw a definite advantage to dealing in cash. In turn, he sought to make paying in cash attractive to prospective customers as well.

Credit helped fuel the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Merchants and shopkeepers extended credit to consumers while also drawing on transatlantic networks of credit that connected them to merchants, producers, and suppliers in Britain and other places. This system depended on trust and the ability to make savvy decisions. It was risky. Merchants, shopkeepers, and others frequently placed newspaper advertisements calling on customers who made purchases on credit to settle their accounts or face legal action, sometimes in the same advertisements that they marketed their wares to other prospective customers.

Rather than make threats, Courtonne offered an incentive for prospective customers to pay in cash at the time of purchase. Everyone benefitted. Customers paid less. The jeweler received payment in a timely manner. In addition, Courtonne and those clients cultivated relationships with each other that did not have the specter of credit looming over them.

November 12

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

Nov 12 - 11:9:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 9, 1769).

Advertisements, &c. not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement.”

Peter Timothy, printer of the South-Carolina Gazette, inserted a brief note in the November 9, 1769, edition to inform readers that “The European Intelligence, received by Captain Carter from Bristol, Charles-Town News, Advertisements, &c. not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement, on Tuesday next.” In so doing, he simultaneously provided a preview for subscribers and assurances to advertisers that their paid notices would indeed appear in print shortly. The South-Carolina Gazette, like most other colonial newspapers, was a weekly, but Timothy pledged to distribute a supplement five days later rather than asking subscribers and advertisers to wait an entire week for the content he did not have space to squeeze into the November 9 issue.

Whether Timothy did print a supplement on November 14 remains unclear. Accessible Archives includes issues for November 9 and 16, consecutively numbered 1782 and 1783, but not a supplement issued any time during the week between them. The November 16 issue does not, however, include news from Europe received from Captain Carter that had been delayed by a week, suggesting that it could have appeared in a supplement no longer extant. Advertising filled nearly three of the four pages of the November 16 edition. The headline “New Advertisements” appeared on two pages. While this might suggest that Timothy did not print “European Intelligence, received by Captain Carter, from Bristol” and simply delayed publishing the advertisements, the several newspapers printed in Charleston in 1769 regularly overflowed with advertising. Timothy very well could have printed overdue advertisements in a supplement and still had plenty more advertisements for the standard weekly edition.

While it is quite possible that the promised supplement never materialized, Timothy’s reputation was on the line. He promised certain content to his subscribers who had other options for receiving their news from papers printed in Charleston, including the South-Carolina and American General Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Whether or not Timothy issued a supplement on November 14, Robert Wells did publish the South-Carolina and American General Gazette that day, complete with two extra pages devoted exclusively to advertising. The most important European news received from Captain Carter would have spread by word of mouth by the time it appeared in any supplement distributed by Timothy, but the printer needed to be wary of disappointing advertisers, not just subscribers. After all, those advertisers also had other options. Advertisements accounted for significant revenue for colonial printers. Timothy’s notice that “Advertisements … not inserted in this Sheet, will be published in a Supplement” very well could have resonated with advertisers more than subscribers. After all, they paid for that service and each expected a return on their investment, a return that could not manifest as long as the printer delayed publication of their advertisements. Although listed third in his notice, advertisements may have been the most important content that Timothy sought to assure readers would soon appear.

November 2

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

Nov 2 - 11:2:1769 South-Carolina Gazette
South-Carolina Gazette (November 1, 1769).

“His printed CATALOGUE may be had.”

In an advertisement that ran on the front page of the November 2, 1769, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette, Nicholas Langford, “BOOKSELLER From LONDON,” informed prospective customers that he had just imported a collection of “CHOICE AND USEFUL BOOKS.” Calhoun Winton has documented Langford’s activities as a bookseller (and advertiser) in Charleston, noting that in January 1769 he advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette and the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal that “he was departing for London to secure” new inventory.[1] Eleven months later, he returned and once again turned to the public prints to promote his entrepreneurial activities.

This advertisement served as a preview since Langford was not yet ready to offer the books for sale. In a nota bene, he informed readers that “the earliest Notice will be given in all the Papers, when and where the [books] will be ready for Sale.” He offered another sort of preview, instructing interested parties to obtain copies of his “printed CATALOGUE” from several local merchants and artisans. As Winton explains, Langford “established a network … to assist him in purveying his books.”[2] The bookseller indicated that each of his associates accepted orders in addition to distributing his catalog.

The success of this network depended in large part on that catalog since it served as a substitute for browsing through the books themselves. It is not clear from Langford’s advertisement if he had the catalog printed in London before returning to the colonies or if he arrived in Charleston with a manuscript list of titles and had one of the local printers produce it. Either way, the catalog represented additional advertising revenue accrued to at least once printer. In addition to paying to have his advertisements inserted in Charleston’s newspapers, Langford also paid for job printing when he took this special order to a printing office. The catalog itself demonstrates that eighteenth-century advertisers utilized multiple forms of marketing media, not just newspaper advertisements, but it also testifies to the expenses that many entrepreneurs incurred in the process of promoting their wares.

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[1] Calhoun Winton, “The Southern Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century,” in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, ed. Hugh Amory and David D. Hall, vol. 1. A History of the Book in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press in association with the American Antiquarian Society, 2007).

[2] Winton, “Southern Book Trade.”