June 27

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

New-York Journal (June 24, 1773).

“Carrying on his Business of Stay-making … in the neatest Taste, wore by the Ladies of Great Britain and France.”

John McQueen continued making and selling stays in New York in 1773.  He had been living, working, and advertising in the city for many years.  Similar to a corset, a pair of stays, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, consisted of a “laced underbodice, stiffened by the insertion of whale-bone (sometimes of metal or wood) worn by women (sometimes by men) to give shape and support to the figure.”  Furthermore, the “use of the plural is due to the fact that stays were originally (as they still are usually) made in two pieces laced together.”  John White included a woodcut depicting a pair of stays and lacing in his advertisement in the September 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.

When he advertised in the New-York Journal in June 1773, McQueen emphasized his role as a supplier of “WHALE BONE” of “THE VERY BEST SORT” to other staymakers.  In addition, he stocked a “very neat and fashionable Assortment of STAYS, for Misses of three to fourteen Years of Age.”  Apparently, both staymakers and consumers did not believe that girls were ever too young to deploy these devices to shape their figures.”  Richard Norris, another staymaker in New York, regularly placed newspaper advertisements addressed to “young Ladies and growing Misses” as well as “Any Ladies uneasy in their shapes.”  Cultivating and preying on such anxieties was not invented by the modern beauty and fashion industries.

McQueen also resorted to another familiar refrain, declaring that he had on hand a “very neat Assortment of Goods for carrying on his Business of Stay-making, as usual, in the neatest Taste, wore by the Ladies of Great Britain and France.”  He often made such transatlantic connections, suggesting to prospective customers that he could assist them in demonstrating the sort of sophistication associated with cosmopolitan cities in Europe.  In 1766, he declared that he made stays “in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.”  In another advertisement from 1767, he confided that he made “all sorts of Stays for Ladies, in the newest Fashions that is wore in London.”  Encouraging anxiety about the female form and making comparisons to fashionable elites became standard marketing strategies for McQueen and other staymakers in the eighteenth century.

September 19

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

Pennsylvania Chronicle (September 19, 1772).

“John White Stay-Maker”

Most advertisements in colonial newspapers did not feature visual images.  Those that did usually used a stock image provided by the printer, such as a ship at sea, a house, a horse, or an enslaved person liberating him- or herself by “running away.”  Never elaborate in the scenes depicted, such woodcuts could be used interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre.  Some advertisers, however, commissioned images that corresponded to the shop signs that marked their locations or illustrated one or more items available among their merchandise.

Two such images appeared in the September 19, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Chronicle.  Robert Parrish once again included the woodcut depicting a “ROLLING SCREEN for cleaning wheat and flaxseed,” though he did not use a woodcut showing a Dutch fan or winnowing fan that previously appeared with it.  Perhaps he did not wish to incur the additional cost for the space required to publish two images.

Another entrepreneur, John White, adorned his advertisement with an image of a stay (or corset), the body and holes for the laces on the left and the laces on the right.  Readers would have easily recognized the garment and understood how it wrapped around and confined a woman’s body.  The words “John White” and “Stay-Maker” flanked the woodcut.  The image accounted for half of the space for the advertisement, an additional investment beyond commissioning the woodcut.

White announced that he moved to a new location where “he continues to carry on the Staymaking business as usual.”  He pledged “to give satisfaction to all who are pleased to employ him.”  He also solicited “orders from any part of the country” and provided mail order service, making it unnecessary for clients to visit his shop in Philadelphia.  Instead, they could send measurements “in respect to length and width of the Stays, both at top and bottom exactly, in the front and back parts.”  The staymaker warned that customers who opted for that convenience needed to pay postage for such orders rather than expect him to take responsibility for those charges.

The woodcut depicting a stay, its body and laces unfurled, almost certainly helped attract attention to White’s advertisement, his promises of customer satisfaction, and the option for submitting orders “by the post” rather than visiting his shop.  Most newspaper advertisements consisted solely of text, so any sort of visual enhancement, whether an image or decorative type, distinguished those advertisements from others.

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.

February 2

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

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.

March 10

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

Mar 10 - 3:10:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (March 10, 1766).

“To be sold by JOHN M”QUEEN, At the Sign of the WHITE STAYS.”

Staymaker John M”Queen was concerned with fashion – and from start to finish his advertisement suggested that his potential customers should be as well. He opened with a summary of his wares (“A Neat Assortment of Women and Maid’s Stays, the very newest Fashion, directly from London”) and concluded with a reassurance (“all sorts of Stays, in the newest Fashion that is wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France”). What is a stay? Colonial Williamsburg offers “A Glossary of Terms” describing women’s clothing in the colonial era: stays were the eighteenth-century version of what became corsets in the nineteenth century, but visit the glossary for a much more complete examination.

New York was one of the largest cities in the colonies in the 1760s, but it was a provincial outpost. M”Queen incited anxieties that residents did not want to be seen as inhabitants of some backwater village. Instead, his advertisement suggests, they wanted full membership in British (and European) fashion and culture. His stays were not merely of the “newest Fashion” in the colonies. Instead, they had arrived “directly from London” and were the same style as those “wore by the Ladies of Great-Britain or France.” Not just an importer, M”Queen was a staymaker himself, but as he produced stays locally he kept his eyes on changing fashions in London.

As an aside, it is worth mentioning that this advertisement linking consumption and fashion was aimed at female customers, but that should not be misinterpreted as evidence that eighteenth-century women placed more emphasis on fashion than men. Given the nature of the product he marketed, M”Queen addressed women, but advertisements for men’s garments during the period were just as likely to invoke a language of fashion and cosmopolitan connections to European metropolitan centers.