May 31

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

May 31 - 5:31:1770 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 31, 1770).

“The LIFE and CONFESSION of HERMAN ROSENCRANTZ; Executed in the city of Philadelphia.”

True crime!  James Chattin hoped to capitalize on interest in current events when he hired Joseph Crukshank to print The Life and Confession of Herman Rosencrantz.  An advertisement in the May 31, 1770, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, presumably placed by Chattin, provided an overview of Rosencrantz’s story.  Just a few weeks earlier he had been “Executed in the city of Philadelphia, on the 5th day of May, 1770, for counterfeiting and uttering the bills of credit of the province of Pennsylvania.”  To incite greater interest and achieve a greater return on his investment, Chattin declared that the Confession was “Taken from his own mouth, in one of the cells of the goal [jail], a short time before he was executed,” the words of a man condemned to die for his crimes.  Chattin also asserted that he published the Confession, a short pamphlet, at Rosncrantz’s request “as a warning to all others.”

While that may have been Rosencrantz’s motivation for dictating his Confession, Chattin likely hoped to earn a profit by publishing and distributing this story of the consequences of a life misled.  He proclaimed that it was “SOLD by the Booksellers in Philadelphia” and had already gained such popularity, the “sale of 2000 of this interesting piece,” to require “that a new impression should be struck off.”  Chattin intended that “Hawkers, Pedlars, and others that buy to sell again” would acquire and distribute the new edition of the pamphlet.  He offered “good allowance,” a discount for purchasing by volume, to retailers and peddlers.  Chattin’s claim that 2000 copies had already sold was most likely inflated to suggest to prospective customers that they stood to miss out on something that had enthralled a good portion of their community.

Chattin also traded on the spectacle of the entire affair, from Rosencrantz’s life that led to his conviction for counterfeiting to his confession delivered in jail to his execution.  The pamphlet also included “an Account [of] his CONFEDERATES,” though much of that part of the narrative was pure imagination.  In The Death Penalty: An American History, Stuart Banner notes that “in a last-minute effort to gain favor” the condemned man “named so many innocent people as his accomplices that the publisher of his confession felt compelled to clear their names in an appendix.”[1]  The false accusations, an attempt to buy time, added to the spectacle.

Chattin aimed to create the eighteenth-century equivalent of a bestseller, trumpeting that he already sold 2000 copies of the account of this extraordinary event.  He invited hawkers and peddlers to disseminate the pamphlet even further beyond the city of Philadelphia, spreading Rosencrantz’s “warning to others” while generating greater revenues.

**********

[1] Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 61.

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.

August 18

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

Aug 18 - 8:18:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 18, 1769).

“I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.”

The rivalry between watchmakers John Simnet (who regularly referred to himself merely as “SIMNET”) and Nathaniel Sheaff Griffith continued in August 1769. Their advertisements conveniently appeared next to each at the top of the second and third columns on the third page of the August 18, 1769, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. Perhaps a canny compositor sought to create a dramatic scene and increase their entertainment value via their placement on the page.

Griffith placed the more subdued advertisement. In the past, he had directly targeted Simnet, though he had never mentioned the newcomer to the colony by name. Griffith had previously impugned Simnet’s skills by calling him an itinerant and implying that his mobility facilitated theft of the watches he accepted from clients. His advertisement on August 18, however, deployed formulaic language that any watchmaker anywhere in the colonies would have used in the 1760s. Griffith advised prospective customers that he “WILL speedily and properly, repair and rectify any CLOCKS or WATCHES out of Order, in the best and cheapest Manner.” Furthermore, he pledged that “Any CLOCK or WATCH sent to said GRIFFTH, will be speedily re-fitted and expeditiously returned.” In the course of only a few lines, he made appeals to his skill, the quality of his work, price, and convenience. He did not make any overt jabs at Simnet. Perhaps Griffith decided that doing so was unseemly or had not served his purposes or enhanced his reputation in the wake of past attempts.

Simnet, on the other hand, launched another barrage of insults against Griffith in the process of promoting his own work. In particular, he mocked the appeals that Griffith made in his advertisement. “Now here’s a promising Youth,” Simnett taunted, “tells us, he is best, and cheap, & speedy.” In early advertisements Simnet underscored his quarter century of experience in London and Dublin; he leveraged the longevity of his career to suggest that Griffith was an inexperience youth. Calling him “promising” was backhanded, at best. Simnet warned that prospective clients should not even waste their time with Griffith, suggesting that he was one of those “pretenders” who “get well paid, for what they don’t or can’t do.” In contrast, Simnet trumpeted, “I will properly Repair, and Rectify, and Refit a WATCH, better by half, in half the Time, and for half his Price.” He possessed the skills and experience to do so, having served as “Finisher to all the best original Workmen in the old Country.” Griffith had toned down his advertisements, but Simnet still felt enmity toward his rival, voicing it clearly and creatively in yet another advertisement.

Griffith and Simnet made choices about the content of their advertisements, frequently inserting new and updated notices in the New-Hampshire Gazette over the period of several months in 1769. Most advertisers did not directly engage their competitors, but these two watchmakers experimented with pursuing a feud in the public prints as a strategy for garnering attention. That is not to suggest that they coordinated their efforts to create a spectacle; that seems to have happened organically as each made decisions about the copy for their next advertisement. Simnet, newly arrived in New Hampshire, apparently believed that the squabble served him well, but Griffith tired of making his competitor so prominent in his own advertisements. Still, he felt the pressure from Simnet. Griffith rarely advertised before the English watchmaker appeared on the scene, but regularly promoted his services once Simnet launched his barrage of advertising.