August 30

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

Aug 27 - 8:27:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement.jpg
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (August 27, 1767).

“JOHN HOLLIDAY, TAYLOR … UNDERTAKES to make Clothes in the neatest and newest Fashion.”

John Holliday and his wife ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette throughout most of 1767. The Adverts 250 Project previously featured that advertisement, examining how the couple surreptitiously inserted information about “Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound” for removing unwanted facial hair at the end of an advertisement that, at a glance, focused primarily on John’s services as a tailor.

The Hollidays’ advertisement demonstrates one strategy female entrepreneurs used to promote their participation in the marketplace without independently publishing newspaper notices, yet the initial portion dedicated to John’s enterprise includes fairly rare commentary on attitudes about the effectiveness of advertising in eighteenth-century America. “Mr. Holliday humbly begs Leave to refer to those Gentlemen who have favoured him with their Commands, since the Commencement of this Advertisement, as their Approbation has been equal to his highest Expectation.” In other words, Holliday acknowledged that business had increased since first placing the advertisement and he attributed that development to his marketing efforts rather than other circumstances. Perhaps Holliday’s advertisement had been successfully because he did not merely announce that he had set up shop. Instead, he listed his qualifications, noting that he had previously been employed as “Foreman and Cutter-out to some of the most eminent Master-Taylors in London.” Such a pedigree likely caught the attention of status-conscious residents of the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the colonies!

Furthermore, Holliday attempted to use his new clients to incite additional demand for his services. Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia from London, he promised that “any Gentlemen that shall be pleased to favour him with their Commands … will not be disappointed” with the garments he made “in the neatest and newest Fashion.” According to this advertisement, several “Gentlemen” indeed “favoured him with their Commands” and thought so highly of the work he completed for them that other potential clients should consider that sufficient testimonial to also engage his services.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:15:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (June 15, 1767).

“Just arrived … Thomas Paul, TAYLOR from LONDON.”

George Senneff, “TAYLOR, from LONDON,” and Thomas Paul, “TAYLOR from LONDON” competed for clients in New York. In the process, they resorted to similar advertising campaigns. Senneff’s connection to London was central in his marketing efforts. Not only did he promote his place of origin, he also stressed his familiarity with current fashions in the cosmopolitan center of the empire and pledged to outfit his patrons in the same manner. He promised customers that he made a variety of garments “after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.” To drive the point home, he reiterated that he made riding habits for women “after the newest Fashions now worn in London.”

Thomas Paul deployed the same appeal in his advertisement. He noted his origins before stating that he produced “Mens Cloaths, both trim and plan, in the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.” To enhance this claim, he added an element not present in Senneff’s advertisement. Paul noted that he had “Just arrived in the Ship New-York, Capt. Lawrence.” Senneff, on the other hand, gave no indication of how long he had been in New York or how recently he had migrated from London.

This created an interesting tension between their advertisements, especially when they appeared in close proximity, as they did in the June 15, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette. Senneff’s notice was at the bottom of the first column on the first page and Paul’s notice two columns to the right. Through repetition, Senneff more forcefully asserted that his garments accorded to “the newest Fashions now worn in London,” but Paul’s recent arrival may have trumped that declaration since his familiarity with current tastes certainly derived from direct observation. Faced with a choice between Senneff and Paul, the latter’s recent residence and work in London may have been the deciding factor for some potential customers.

May 27

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

May 27 - 5:27:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 27, 1767).

DAVID GIONOVOLY, Taylor.”

David Gionovoly’s advertisement may have been short, but it was visually stimulating, especially compared to the other commercial notices that appeared on the same page of the Georgia Gazette. Amid a series of advertisements that consisted of dense blocks of text, the format of Gionovoly’s advertisement likely drew the attention of prospective clients. The visual aspects of the advertisement eclipsed the contents.

Most of the evidence suggests that advertisers submitted copy to printers who then determined the format, though negotiations took place and special requests were sometimes honored (perhaps for an additional fee). Gionovoly may have worked closely with James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, to create an advertisement with distinctive visual appeal. Alternately, he may have made a general request but offered no specifics. On the other hand, the format of the tailor’s advertisement may have been entirely due to the printer’s own initiative.

Regardless of who was responsible for each visual element of the advertisement, it effectively deployed varied fonts and sizes. It also included just enough white space to accentuate those variations. The headline of the advertisement – “DAVID GIONOVOLY, Taylor” – was set in the largest font used on that page (or anywhere else in the issue, with the exception of the masthead). Both capitals and italics further emphasized the tailor’s name, giving him an appropriate sense of style that anyone in the garment trades would have wanted to communicate to potential customers. The ornate font for the next line – “Gives this Publick Notice” – also appeared in other advertisements, but not so many that it did not seem novel in Gionovoly’s notice. The remainder of the advertisement had a standard format and incorporated the usual sorts of appeals – “work done after the best manner, and with the greatest dispatch” – but the lack of innovation in the copy may not have mattered as much as making sure that readers noticed the advertisement at all.

May 27 - Entire Page 5:27:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (May 27, 1767).

May 18

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

May 18 - 5:18:1767 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (May 18, 1767).

“Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.”

George Senneff adopted a marketing strategy commonly deployed by tailors and other artisans. To imbue his services with extra cachet, he included his origins in his introduction: “George Senneff, Taylor, from LONDON.” Colonists were preoccupied with the latest trends in England, especially London, when it came to both dress and adorning private and public spaces. They experienced anxiety that they might appear pretenders in provincial backwaters as they participated in transatlantic consumer culture that changed increasingly rapidly as the eighteenth century progressed. Tailors and others in the clothing trades, as well as hairdressers and cabinetmakers, offered reassurances that their goods and services were à la mode when they asserted their connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire.

Many considered announcing that they were “from LONDON” sufficient for the purpose, but Senneff treated that merely as an opening salvo in his bid to win clients concerned about wearing the latest fashions and demonstrating their awareness of the most current trends. Not only was he “from LONDON,” Senneff proclaimed that he made men’s garments of “plain and lac’d Cloaths, after the newest and genteelest Taste, as is now worn in London.” He reiterated this claim when he described the riding habits he made for women: “after the newest Fashions now worn in London.” Senneff had his finger on the pulse of changing tastes in the metropole. In turn, his clients in New York would exhibit that insider’s knowledge in their attire as they attended to business and socialized in the colonial outpost.

Senneff’s decision to repeatedly state that his garments conformed to “the newest Fashions now worn in London” may not have merely reassured customers. Instead, such intensive focus on the latest styles in that faraway city could have stoked anxiety among local consumers. Repetitively invoking current tastes in London may have prompted some potential customers to dwell on this aspect of their own apparel, encouraging them to seek out Senneff’s services since he seemed to be in the know and could provide appropriate guidance in outfitting them “after the newest and genteelest Taste.” Senneff craftily induced such uneasiness and simultaneously offered his services as an especially effective way to experience relief. His notice was no mere announcement but rather a clever attempt to manipulate potential customers into visiting his shop.

May 13

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

May 13 - 5:13:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Extraordinary
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal Extraordinary (May 13, 1767).

“A patern card of the above holes may be seen at his house.”

Robert Cripps, a tailor originally from London, used his advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal to draw attention to another form of marketing intended to entice potential clients to avail themselves of his services. After announcing that he “makes gold and silver plate holes, gold and silver slazy [holes],” he informed readers that “A patern card of the above holes may be seen at his house on the Bay.” Print culture accounted for much of the marketing in eighteenth-century America as advertisers distributed trade cards, billheads, and catalogs and inserted notices in newspapers and on magazine wrappers, but print was not the only – or even always the best – way to generate interest and incite demand. Material culture offered an attractive and viable alternative.

No matter how articulate or elaborate Cripps and other tailors could have been in describing their work in advertisements, doing so certainly could not have compared to allowing potential customers to examine finished work for themselves. Pattern cards provided a means of making this possible that had several advantages. Tailors and customers did not have to handle finished garments made for other clients, nor did tailors need to keep extensive inventory on hand. Instead, pattern cards allowed them to demonstrate an array of possibilities. Pattern cards presented consumers with an array of choices similar to the “assortment of goods” that commonly appeared in lengthy list-style advertisements placed by shopkeepers. In selecting the style of buttonholes that fit their taste and budget, clients asserted control over interactions with those they hired as well as, ultimately, their appearance rather than settling for whatever wares tailors might have otherwise foisted on them. Cripps could construct garments that were distinctive and special, but he did so at the direction of his clients who made a variety of choices about their apparel, including the type of buttonholes they selected from the pattern card. The pattern card was a useful tool, not only because it presented samples but perhaps more importantly because it excited potential clients’ imaginations and stoked their desire and demand for Cripps’ tailoring services.

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While the “plate holes” in this advertisement were familiar to eighteenth-century consumers, they are no longer part of the lexicon of most modern consumers when they purchase clothing. I turned to specialists in the histories of textiles and fashion for assistance in determining what Cripps meant. Kimberly Alexander, Gina Barrett, and the pseudonymous Scrapiana graciously and insightfully pointed me in the right direction via a conversation on Twitter last week.  Barrett drew my attention to both of the garments below.

May 13 - British Plate Hole
Button and plate hole from British waistcoat, 1740s. (Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

“Plate holes” referred to buttonholes created by stitching over flat metal plates on either side of the hole. See, for example, a British waistcoat from the 1740s now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum. For an even more elaborate example, see the circa 1760 French waistcoat at the Kent State University Museum. In contrast, “slazy” holes did not have metal plates.

May 13 - French Plate Hole
Buttons and plate holes from French waistcoat, ca. 1760s. (Courtesy Kent State University Museum.)

 

May 5

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

May 5 - 5:5:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 5, 1767).

“An entire new fabrick.”

Shopkeepers frequently advertised that they stocked goods, especially materials for making apparel, which were “suitable to the season.” On occasion, they noted that they carried items especially appropriate for the climate of a particular region, whether the heat and humidity in southern colonies or the cold and chill in their northern counterparts.

Thomas Fell, a tailor in Charleston, expanded on that sort of appeal in an advertisement in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. He informed potential customers that he had just imported “A Compleat assortment of summer cloths and trimmings,” but he did not stop there. To incite curiosity and demand, he claimed that his wares were made “of an entire new fabrick, and the first of the kind ever imported into America.” Compared to more familiar textiles, this one was “much thin[n]er, and certainly fitter than any for a hot country.” As he made a pitch particular to residents of Charleston and its hinterland, the tailor neglected to name this wonderful new textile.

Lest his claims seem too good to be true, Fell resorted to other appeals to reassure customers. He described the fabric as “equal in fineness with the best superfine cloth.” His clients would not have to sacrifice quality for comfort. His inventory originated “from as good Manufactures as any in England.” He also underscored that this wonderful new material was not excessively expensive. Thanks to the relationships he cultivated with the producers, this “entire new fabrick” was as affordable as any other. Customers would not have to pay a premium for clothing materials “fitter than any for a hot country.”

Thomas Fell marketed a novelty product, but one that was exceptionally useful and suited to the clients he hoped to attract. His advertisement likely evoked both curiosity and skepticism; either reaction could draw potential customers into Fell’s shop to examine his “entire new fabrick” and decide for themselves the validity of his claims.

March 13

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 13 - 3:13:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1767).

“He makes all Sorts of Gentlemen’s Wearing Apparell.”

In this advertisement, “Richard Lowden, Taylor from LONDON, hereby informs the Public, that the Co-Partnership between him and Robert Patterson … was dissolved.” At the end of the advertisement, Lowden reassured “all Persons who favor him … may depend on being faithfully and punctually served”

The role and importance of tailors in colonial and Revolutionary America was different than today. According to Ed Crews, early Americans bought most of their clothing from tailors. Unlike today’s system of buying clothes, early Americans did not simply walk into stores and pick from a range of mass produced styles in predetermined standard sizes. Instead, people from all different social classes bought handmade clothing from tailors. However, tailors still produced different types of clothing for different people. The price varied, mostly dependent on the style and material used by the tailor. In addition, tailors made clothing to exact specifications for each customer.

Tailors played an important role in the everyday lives of all different sorts of Americans in the eighteenth century. According to Crews, even George Washington was self-conscious about what his fashion style represented. In “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” Kate Haulman further details the political and cultural importance of fashion in Revolutionary America.[1] Colonists were socially self-aware how they dressed reflected their values politically and culturally, furthering supporting the idea that tailors played an important role in colonial life.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In the process of researching and writing about today’s advertisement, Daniel grappled with a common misconception about clothing production in early America. Many people assume that colonists wore garments primarily produced in the colonies due to the efforts of women who worked at spinning wheels and looms in their homes and then made clothing from the textiles they produced. Such domestic production accounted for some of the clothing worn by colonists, but not all of it. Among the advertisements that filled newspapers in the decades before the Revolution, shopkeepers placed countless notices that listed a vast array of imported textiles and adornments for making clothing. As Daniel notes, tailors, seamstresses, mantuamakers, and others in the clothing trades transformed imported fabrics into garments, frequently advertising their services.

Compared to newspapers published in larger port cities, the New-Hampshire Gazette had less advertising. Still, the choices available to residents of Portsmouth and its hinterland found their way into the public prints. In the same issue that Richard Lowden advertised that he made “neat, cheap, strong and fashionable garments,” shopkeeper John Adams announced that he sold “A General Assortment of English GOODS.” Adams’ inventory almost certainly included textiles that Lowden hoped they would bring to him over “any Taylor in Town.”

Given the tensions and ongoing suspicion of Britain in the wake of the Stamp Act and its repeal, colonists sometimes made a point of opting for homespun fabrics, those produced by women as an alternative to imported English textiles. However, they also had other options. Andrew Nelson, a “WEAVER from SCOTLAND,” placed an advertisement announcing “that he has set up that Business” in Portsmouth. He promised that he “weaves all Sorts of Linnen” that customers could depend on being “equal to any imported.” Whether they acquired textiles from Adams the shopkeeper or Nelson the weaver, readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette likely visited Lowden the tailor or one of his competitors.

Today the process of purchasing clothing has been streamlined for the convenience of consumers. Custom made clothing is not a remnant of the past, but visiting a tailor or seamstress is no longer practically a necessity like it was in colonial and Revolutionary America. Daniel notes that Lowden concluded his advertisement by stating that customers would be “faithfully and punctually served,” a promise that might sound strange to modern consumers. In the eighteenth century, however, it was a means of offering some of the convenience that today consumers barely notice when they select readymade garments off the rack.

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[1] Kate Haulman, “Fashion and the Culture Wars of Revolutionary Philadelphia,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 62, no. 4 (October 2005): 625-662.