July 22

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

Jul 22 - 7:22:1768 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (July 22, 1768).

“John Astle, Stay-Maker, & Taylor, directly from London.”

When John Astle, a tailor and staymaker, set up shop in New Haven in the summer of 1768, he placed an advertisement in the Connecticut Journal to inform prospective clients that he made and repaired all sorts of garments, including “Cloaks, and Huzzas,” “Riding-Habits for Ladies,” and corsets (stays). He also pledged to deliver exemplary customer service: “Whoever will be kind enough to favour him with their Custom, may depend upon the best Usage in his Power.”

In the process of introducing himself to readers he hoped would become customers, Astle also noted his origins. He stated that he had arrived in New Haven “directly from London.” (The tailor may have requested that “London” appear in italics to garner more attention, but more likely the compositor made this decision without consulting the advertiser.) In so doing, he adopted a common marketing strategy, one that was especially popular among members of the garment trades. The frequency of styles changing dramatically accelerated in the eighteenth century as part of the consumer revolution. Colonists looked to London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, for the latest fashions. Some advertisers explicitly stated that they made or sold garments, housewares, and other goods according to the most current tastes. Others asserted connections to London or other places in England or continental Europe as a means of suggesting that they had acquired both skill in crafting apparel and knowledge of the newest fashions.

Stating that they were “from London,” however, left room for interpretation. That description did not specify how recently advertisers had worked in London or migrated to the colonies. Astle apparently realized that some prospective clients would be skeptical. To answer any objections, he modified the standard phrase “from London” to “directly from London,” communicating to readers that he had not been working in the English provinces or other colonies immediately prior to arriving in New Haven. Months or years had not passed since he had actively made garments in the city at the center of the empire. Instead, potential customers could depend on him having knowledge of current styles and outfitting them accordingly. Many eighteenth-century advertisements deployed formulaic phrases, but advertisers like Astle sometimes modified them to suit their needs and deliver better marketing appeals.

June 23

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

Jun 23 - 6:23:1768 New-York Journal
New-York Journal (June 23, 1768).

“Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents.”

Richard Norris, a “Stay-Maker, FROM LONDON,” followed many of the usual conventions in the advertisement he placed in the June 23, 1768, edition of the New-York Journal, but he also included one significant innovation. After informing prospective clients of the variety of stays and other garments he made, he also noted that “Any ladies uneasy in their shapes, he likewise fits without any Incumberances.” Furthermore, “Young ladies and growing misses inclined to casts or rises in the hips or shoulders, he likewise prevents by methods approved of by the society of stay-makers in London.” Staymakers regularly offered implicit commentary about women’s appearances in their advertisements, but Norris explicitly named reasons that women might feel uncomfortable about their bodies. He purposefully attempted to induce anxiety about their physical features among female readers as a means of attracting clients.

He gave priority to that marketing strategy before turning to more common appeals made by staymakers and others in the garment trades. He asserted that he produced apparel as fashionable as any currently worn in London, rather than lagging behind the styles en vogue in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Prospective patrons could be confident this was the case because Norris “acquires the first fashions of the court of London by a correspondent he has settled there.” Norris realized some sort of research was necessary and cultivated a relationship to make sure he received the most current information about the fashions currently popular among the most influential women in England. In addition, he had previously served prominent women of taste, having “had the honour of working for several ladies of distinction both in England and in this city.” Not only had he made stays and other garments for the elite, his efforts had earned him “universal applause” among his clients.

Like many artisans, Norris emphasized skill and quality in addition to his extensive experience. He pledged that he made garments “after the neatest and best manner,” but in addition to invoking that familiar phrase he proclaimed “his work preferable to any done in these parts for neatness and true fitting.” In other words, Norris considered himself the best staymaker in New York – and encouraged readers of the New-York Journal to adopt that attitude as well.

Norris combined several common appeals with an innovative marketing strategy designed to cause or enhance uneasiness among women by explicitly mentioning various qualities of their bodies. He offered the standard appeals as a remedy to those concerns. Like many modern advertisers, especially advertisers of products intended primarily for women, he attempted to create anxiety among prospective customers and then conveniently provided consumption of his goods and services as the remedy.

April 4

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

Apr 4 - 4:4:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 4, 1768).

“M’QUEEN continues as usual, to make all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.”

How effective were the advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers?  This is a difficult question to answer, especially from the perspective of consumers. From the perspective of the advertisers, however, their persistence in running newspaper advertisements suggests that they believed those advertisements effectively generated more business than if they had instead chosen not to advertise.  This speaks to attitudes about advertising in eighteenth-century America.

John McQueen sold made and sold stays (or corsets) in New York in the 1760s.  He repeatedly placed advertisements in the local newspapers (including advertisements in March 1766 and February 1767), an indication that he considered them effective for stimulating demand among prospective customers. At the very least, he saw advertising as a necessity for informing readers of the various kinds of stays he stocked.  Neglecting to advertise might have resulted in surrendering his share of the market to competitors.  Such an interpretation implies that McQueen merely attempted to direct existing demand to his establishment.  The contents of the advertisements, however, suggest that he considered advertising more powerful than that.  After all, he did not merely announce that he sold stays; the staymaker also formulated appeals to fashion that he expected would resonate with potential customers.

For instance, McQueen underscored that he sold “all Sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions, worn in London.”  This echoed appeals that he made in previous advertisements:  “all sort of Stays for Ladies in the newest Fashions that is wore in London” and “all Sorts of Stays, in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.”  In addition to invoking current tastes, McQueen linked his stays to European fashions, especially those in the metropolitan center of the empire.  New York was a relatively small city compared to London, but “Ladies” who purchased McQueen’s stays could trust that they were not less cosmopolitan than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic. McQueen reinforced this appeal when he also applied it “neat polished Steel back Shapes, and Collars, much used in London.”  He continued by asserting that these items were “necessary for young Ladies, at Boarding and Dancing Schools.”  He bound fashion and gentility together, seeking to convince prospective customers that they needed the stays he made and sold, especially if they intended to comport themselves appropriately at certain venues where the better sorts gathered.

McQueen considered these appeals effective enough that he consistently incorporated them into newspaper advertisements over the course of several years.  He did more than announce that he made and sold stays.  He offered reasons why readers should purchase his wares, attempting to stimulate demand.  Had he not believed that this would yield a return on his investment then he likely would have scaled back or discontinued his advertisements rather than continue to pay for notices that had no effect on consumers.

March 1

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

Mar 1 - 3:1:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (March 1, 1768).

“He makes jumps and stays … in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.”

John Burchet presented himself to consumers in Charleston as a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER, from LONDON and PARIS.” He established his former places of residence and employment not merely by way of introduction but also to strengthen one of the appeals he advanced in his advertisement. Burchet announced to prospective clients that he made garments “in the newest fashion, either in the English or French manner.” Although he did not elaborate on his time in the English and French capitals, he leveraged the connection to assure customers that they could rely on him to outfit them in “the newest fashion” rather than trends that already declined in popularity. He implied that he had special insight into la mode on the other side of the Atlantic.

Keeping up with the current styles in England and France was important to residents throughout the colonies, but perhaps especially to the gentry and middling sorts aspiring to join their ranks in the largest urban ports. Although the size of Charleston, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia paled in comparison to the metropolis of London, the better sorts in those cities wished to imagine themselves as cosmopolitan as their peers across the ocean. Anxious that they would be seen as backwater provincials, they adopted new fashions – both clothing and housewares – at a speed that often surprised European visitors to the colonies. Some shopkeepers and members of the garments trade emphasized their correspondence with counterparts in England as a means of keeping abreast of the newest trends. Burchet, however, suggested that he offered something even better: why settle for an American staymaker who imitated the styles popular in Europe when it was possible to hire one “from LONDON and PARIS” who had direct knowledge from his time in those cities? This marketing strategy did rely on both the staymaker and the customer suspending their disbelief to some extent. After all, having once lived and worked in London and Paris did not give Burchet immediate access to fashions there. He relied on transatlantic correspondence, just like his competitors. Yet he marshaled the cachet of his origins, prompting clients to imagine visiting his shop for measurements and fittings and ultimately wearing garments made by an artisan “from LONDON and PARIS.” Burchet’s stays and other wares might have yielded the same appearance as those made by others, but his personal narrative added value to the clothing he made.

December 29

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

Dec 29 - 12:29:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Supplement
Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 29, 1767).

“Fechtman undertakes to make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.”

Christopher Fechtman, a “STAY and MANTUA-MAKER from LONDON,” promoted his services in an advertisement in the supplement to the December 29, 1767, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. After noting his change of address, he launched several appeals intended to incite demand for his services and instill a preference for obtaining stays, mantuas, and other items from him rather than his competitors.

Fechtman offered a guarantee of sorts, pledging to “give entire satisfaction to those who favour him” with their patronage. He did so with confidence, underscoring his own “knowledge of the business.” Yet Fechtman did not labor alone in his shop. He also employed “some experienced hands, who understand their business to the utmost dexterity.” Artisans commonly noted their skill and expertise in eighteenth-century advertisements. Fechtman assured potential customers that his subordinates who might have a hand in producing their garments were well qualified for the task. He staked his own reputation on that promise.

The staymaker also proclaimed that he would “work at a lower rate than any heretofore,” hoping to entice prospective clients with lower prices. High quality garments produced by skilled workers did not necessarily have to be exorbitantly expensive. Quite the opposite: Fechtman indicated that his prices beat any his competitors had ever charged.

Finally, Fechtman offered his services to women who resided in Charleston’s hinterland, widening his market beyond those who could easily visit his shop on Union Street while they ran other errands around town. To that end, he played up the convenience of procuring his services, noting that he could “make stays and negligees, gowns and slips, without trying, for any lady in the country.” His female clients did not need to visit his shop for a fitting. Presumably they forwarded their measurements when submitting their orders from a distance; tailors and others who made garments sometimes included instructions to send measurements with orders in their advertisements.

Fechtman competed with other stay- and mantua-makers in Charleston, a busy port city. To distinguish his garments and services from the competition, he resorted to several marketing strategies in his advertisement. He emphasized skill and expertise, both his own and that of the “experienced hands” who labored in his shop. He also offered low prices as well as convenience to clients unable to visit his shop for fittings. In the process, he encouraged prospective clients to imagine acquiring “stays and negligees, gowns and slips” from him, stoking demand and desire for his wares.

November 5

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

Nov 5 - 11:5:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (November 5, 1767).

“He has been over to London for Improvement.”

In their advertisements, artisans who had migrated across the Atlantic frequently asserted their origins as part of their attempt to attract customers. For instance, Joseph Beck promoted himself as a “Stay-Maker, from LONDON” in the November 5, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Establishing a connection to London laid the foundation for making other appeals to consumers. It often suggested some sort of specialized training in a trade (and some artisans explicitly noted that they had served out an apprenticeship with a master in London). It also signaled familiarity with the current fashions in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Artisans sought to allay anxieties that the items they made and sold in the colonies were inferior in quality or taste when compared to the wares available in London.

Not all colonial artisans, however, could proclaim that they migrated “from LONDON” in their advertisements. Many had been born and received their training in the colonies. Such was probably the case for Thomas Perry and Mervin Perry, “Watch-Makers in the Fly” in New York.  Like many of their competitors in New York and their counterparts in other cities and towns, the Perrys not only made and repaired watches but also imported them from London. Yet they realized they could acquire more cachet among consumers if they established other connections to London. It was not sufficient merely that they acquired their merchandise from London.

To that end, the watchmakers inserted a nota bene that informed potential customers that Marvin Perry had “been over to London for Improvement, and has had Instructions from the most eminent Masters.” Although he did not undertake a complete apprenticeship in London, Perry had supplemented his training and presumably improved his skills. He implied that readers could expect that the “Instructions from the most eminent Masters” improved the quality of Perry’s work. This additional training also confirmed that he performed his work “in the neatest Manner.”

May 21

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

May 21 - 5:21:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (May 21, 1767).

“Such Work as is not executed in the best Manner, he does not expect to be taken.”

Joseph Beck made “all Kinds of Stays for Ladies and Misses” at his shop on Queen Street in New York. In marketing his corsets one of the city’s newspapers, he utilized several of the most common appeals in eighteenth-century advertisements for consumer goods and services. He claimed that his stays were fashionable (“in the newest Taste”) and that potential customers could not find a better deal (“at the lowest Prices”). Like many others in the clothing trades, he also underscored that he had migrated “from LONDON,” establishing a connection to the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.

To distinguish his advertisements from others, Beck added one more element: a guarantee, of sorts, concerning the quality of the stays he made. This testified to the staymaker’s confidence in his own skills and the value of the goods he produced for the market. In a separate nota bene, he advised prospective clients that “Such Work as is not executed in the best Manner, he does not expect to be taken.” Customers not satisfied with the quality of his work had the option from the very start to reject it. Refusing to accept work deemed inferior may not have seemed especially novel to most readers. After all, customers and those who provided services haggled all the time in the regular course of their interactions and transactions. Yet this sort of guarantee was not yet widely stated in advertisements. By including it, Beck further transformed what some might consider a mere announcement into a notice that actively marketed Beck’s services. This advertisement did not simply inform the residents of New York that Beck made and sold women’s stays. Instead, it worked to incite demand along multiple trajectories: fashion, price, connections to London, and, especially, an explicit promise about the quality of the work. Like many other eighteenth-century advertisers, Beck sought to incite demand rather than just reacting to pre-existing consumer desires.

February 2

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

feb-2-221767-new-york-gazette
New-York Gazette (February 2, 1767).

“Said M‘Queen, continues his Business as usual, to make all sorts of Stays for Ladies.”

John McQueen pursued multiple branches of the staymaking business at his shop “At the Sign of the Stays … in Smith-Street” in New York. He sold stays (or corsets) recently imported from London, but stated that he made “all sorts of Stays” as well. McQueen described himself as a “Stay-Maker” rather than a shopkeeper, although he also engaged in retailing “every Article for Stay-Makers” to others who practiced the trade. He sold textiles and accessories, like many shopkeepers, but the landmark that identified his shop, “the Sign of the Stays,” testified to his primary occupation and merchandise.

Even though he possessed the skills “to make all sorts of Stays,” McQueen may have considered it necessary to stock and advertise inventory imported from London. In addition to keeping up with demand that might have exceeded the number of garments he could produce in his shop, this also allowed him to assert that customers who purchased his stays could be certain that they made stylish choices that kept with those made by genteel women who resided across the Atlantic in the metropolitan capital of the British empire. McQueen had a habit of concluding his advertisements with declarations that he made stays “in the newest Fashions that is wore in London,” as he did in a nota bene that accompanied today’s advertisement. In an advertisement published nearly a year earlier, he resorted to even more grandiose language, proclaiming that he made stays “in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France, &c. &c.” In that case, he also reported that he imported stays “directly from London.”

Which merchandise comprised the bulk of McQueen’s business? Imported Stays or those he made in his own shop? Either way, he needed to establish some sort of connection – some sort of awareness of – current fashions in London and other cosmopolitan cities in Europe to help move any of his inventory made in his own shop. In the coming years many colonists would increasingly turn to homespun and look askance at goods and styles transported across the Atlantic for England, but for the moment most were still invested in expressing British identity through the Anglicization of the goods they purchased and clothing they wore.

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:17:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (May 17, 1766).

“Ladies in the Country may be supplied by sending measures.”

It was not necessary to visit William Harvey’s shop for a fitting. He made “WOMEN’s and children’s stays, … women’s riding dresses, cloaks and cardinals, vests and tunicks” for “Ladies in the Country” who sent their measurements to him. Mail order and catalog shopping became especially popular at the end of the nineteenth century, but this service offered by a “STAY-MAKER and TAYLOR” in eighteenth-century Philadelphia” could rightly be considered a precursor of those methods of marketing and selling goods.

In addition to capturing a greater portion of the market, there were other advantages to conducting portions of the staymaking business solely through letters. Taking measurements required close personal contact between the staymaker and the customer. Harvey could avoid potential accusations of impropriety, at least as far as his patrons “in the Country” were concerned, by eliminating face-to-face encounters.

That Harvey acknowledged “Ladies in the Country” also demonstrates the reach of colonial newspapers and the advertisements in them. Newspapers did not serve only the city in which they were printed. Instead, they were distributed throughout a vast hinterland, in part because there were so few newspapers. In 1766, only four newspapers were printed in the entire colony of Pennsylvania, three in Philadelphia (two English and one German) and one in nearby Germantown (in German). That meant that the Pennsylvania Journal was a “local” newspaper for colonists who lived outside Philadelphia and William Harvey was a “local” staymaker and tailor. He advertised accordingly.

May 14

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

May 14 - 5:12:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 12, 1766).

“The whole are made from Patterns of the newest Fashion.”

Last week I argued that when Stephen Hardy introduced himself as “TAYLOR from LONDON” that he suggested to potential customers that they could depend on him to outfit them in the latest fashions from the cosmopolitan center of the British Empire. Joseph Beck, “STAYMAKER, from LONDON,” deployed the same strategy, though he did so much more explicitly. Rather than expect readers to make the connection on their own, he stated that the stays (eighteenth-century undergarments similar to corsets) he made were of a fashion “now preferred by Ladies of the first Distinction in London.”

An ocean separated Beck and other New Yorkers from London, but the staymaker assured potential customers that all of his wares were “made from Patterns of the newest Fashion.” This was possible because he remained in contact with others who pursued his occupation in the empire’s largest city: the patterns were “constantly sent him by some of the most eminent Staymakers in London.” Beck had connections. Those connections gave him access to the latest fashions and, in turn, gave cachet to the stays he made and sold.

After establishing that his stays were quite fashionable, Beck made an interesting pivot. He combined a “Buy American” appeal with his promises of London cosmopolitanism. Not only did he sell his stays at a lower price than those imported from England, since they were “made in this City, and the Stuff mostly of the Product of America, it’s hoped the Ladies will give the Preference on that Account.”

American colonists did not smoothly break away from Britain, politically, economically, or culturally. Beck’s advertisement transmitted competing messages about the economic independence of the colonies while shoring up British identity and fashion.