March 10

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

Mar 10 - 3:10:1768 Virginia Gazette Purdie and Dixon
Virginia Gazette [Purdie & Dixon] (March 10, 1768).
“SAGATHIES, duroys, grandurells.”

In March 1768, John Carter advertised dozens of items in stock at his store in Williamsburg, placing identical notices in the Virginia Gazette published by Alexander Purdie and John Dixon and the Virginia Gazette published by William Rind. His inventory included an array of textiles, among them “SAGATHIES, duroys, grandurells, … black silk satinet, black velverets, black and coloured jennets, silk damascus, … nankeen, India dimity, … [and] warpt and stript hollands.” The names of fabrics on this list seem incomprehensible to most twenty-first-century readers, but they would have been quite familiar to eighteenth-century readers and consumers throughout the British Atlantic world. Merchants and shopkeepers from New England to Georgia published similar lists in the advertisements they inserted in local newspapers.

Wholesalers and retailers distributed such lists with full confidence that their prospective customers understood this language of consumption. They knew that readers possessed such familiarity with imported textiles that they could make distinctions between, for instance, duroys and jennets, without needing additional explanation in the advertisements. They expected that consumers could assess the relative cost and quality of certain fabrics from the names alone. In turn, both sellers and prospective customers conceived of a hierarchy of textiles tied to the status of those who most often purchased or donned them. For example, they associated certain textiles, such as osnaburgs, with laboring and enslaved people, fully aware that middling sorts and the gentry had the means to avoid such coarse fabric.

Phrases like “blue cambrick handkerchiefs” and “yellow flowered serges for table covers” might not conjure particularly vivid images for modern readers, but they would have for the colonists who read Carter’s advertisement in the 1760s. Colonial consumers would have been able to imagine not only the appearance of these and other items but also how they felt to touch or to wear. This testifies to how actively colonists participated in the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century, acquiring both goods and knowledge of an extensive assortment of items available in the marketplace.

October 25

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

Oct 25 - 10:22:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (October 22, 1767).

“A NEAT assortment of coarse, fine and superfine broadcloths.”

Readers of the Pennsylvania Gazette would have recognized Magdalen Devine’s advertisement at a glance even if it had not featured her name in capital letters. Why? Devine used a woodcut that depicted some of her merchandise. In so doing, she successfully branded her business, repeatedly inserting it along with extensive lists of the merchandise she stocked.

The Adverts 250 Project previously examined another advertisement Devine placed in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1767. The content changed significantly. Then, Devine announced that she had imported a variety of goods in the Carolina from London and the Peggy from Glasgow. In her new advertisements, she hawked goods that had recently arrived via the Mary and Elizabeth from London as well as “the last vessels from Liverpool and Glasgow.” Both advertisements listed hundreds of items potential customers would find among her inventory; although the types of goods were similar, she enumerated different items in each.

Some aspects of Devine’s advertisements remained consistent. In May and October she gave her address, “In Second-street, between Market and Chestnut-streets, the fourth door from the Quaker meeting-house,” and concluded by assuring readers that “she will sell at the lowest terms, for cash or short credit.” Yet the most significant feature of her advertisements had to have been the woodcut that appeared at the top, a woodcut that occupied as much space as some of the shorter advertisements in the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Devine deployed the woodcut as a brand to identify her business and distinguish it from others, but it also illustrated some of her merchandise. The shopkeeper sold all kinds of imported textiles; her advertisements filled half a column because she listed so many different styles, colors, and qualities of fabrics. Her woodcut provided visual affirmation of her inventory. It showed two rolls of patterned cloth (suggesting quantity) flanked by swatches that revealed distinctive patterns (suggesting fashion).

Commissioning a woodcut would have been an additional expense for Devine, but the length and frequency of her advertisements indicate that she was willing to invest in advertising. She likely considered the woodcut a good investment since it immediately identified her advertisements whenever they appeared in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, the newspaper that usually included more advertising (including a two-page supplement) than any other newspaper printed in the American colonies in the 1760s. Devine relied on standard marketing appeals throughout her advertisements, but her woodcut attracted attention and distinguished her marketing efforts.

September 27

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

Sep 27 - 9:24:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (September 24, 1767).

“A Variety of other Articles suitable for this Market, and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.”

As spring turned to fall and colonists anticipated the arrival of winter in 1767, Philip Livingston inserted an advertisement for “A Very neat Assortment of Woollens, suitable for the Season” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. In placing this notice, Livingston did not seek the patronage of end-use consumers; instead, he acted as a wholesaler in distributing imported textiles to retailers to sell to customers in their own shops throughout the colony. After listing a variety of fabrics (most of them in an array of colors), he described them as “suitable for this Market and especially for Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony.” The merchant wanted potential customers to know that if they acquired his woolens and “other Articles” that the merchandise would not just sit on the shelves.

Livingston’s advertisement also demonstrates the wide distribution of newspapers in the late colonial period. He inserted his notice in a newspaper printed in New York City, confident that “Shop-keepers in the Northern Parts of the Colony” would see it. At the time, printers in the busy port published four newspapers: the New-York Gazette and the New-York Mercury on Mondays and the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy and the New-York Journal on Thursdays. Livingston placed the same advertisement in all four publications, realizing that was the most efficient way to communicate with shopkeepers in towns beyond the city. After all, the four newspapers printed in New York City were the only newspapers published in the colony in 1767. Livingston did not have the option of buying advertising space in hometown publications because the four newspapers emanating from New York City were the local newspapers for residents throughout the entire colony! Subscribers beyond the city received copies delivered by post riders. After delivery, issues passed from hand to hand. Individual retailers “in the Northern Parts of the Colony” might not have access to each of New York’s newspapers during any given week, but Livingston knew that they likely would see at least one.

In distinguishing among the various components of colonial newspapers it might be tempting to view the news items as general interest for any reader but advertisements as limited to local markets. That, however, would not be an accurate assessment of many of the advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers. Many advertisers – both wholesalers and retailers – sought to cultivate customers in towns beyond the cities where newspaper were published. The extensive distribution networks for colonial networks made that possible.

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 30

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

Mar 30 - 3:30:1767 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (March 30, 1767).

“Coarse & fine Broad Cloths, Bearskins, … German Serges, … Shalloons, … Checks, … Paper for Rooms.”

Elias Dupee planned to sell a variety of goods to the highest bidders at the “New Auction Room in Royal Exchange Lane” in Boston. A dozen or so different kinds of textiles accounted for half of the items he listed in his advertisement, but he also had everything from footwear to furniture on offer for curious consumers, including “Paper for Rooms.” What did Dupee mean by this strange entry? He promoted an item that we now know as wallpaper.

Imported “Paper for Rooms” (or paper hangings, as they were also known in the colonial and Revolutionary eras) entered the American marketplace in the seventeenth century, but wallpaper became increasingly popular during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. In many ways it was quite appropriate for Dupee to sell “Paper for Rooms” alongside an assortment of textiles, especially given that the production of textiles and wallpaper were closely linked. In Wallpaper in America, Catherine Lynn states, “By the early eighteenth century, specialists in block-printing, many of whom had learned their craft decorating textiles, took over wallpaper production from book printers, and textile patterning came to dominate wallpaper design.”[1] An emerging wallpaper trade drew on the expertise of textile designers who had mastered techniques for repeating elements in their patterns. Further facilitating this development, “the same blocks could be used to print on papers as well as on woven fabrics.”[2]

Like the textiles in Dupee’s advertisements, the “Papers for Rooms” would have been imported. Lynn notes that “English styles … dominated the pre-revolutionary wallpaper market in America.”[3] Although the Acts of Trade and Navigation played a role, they probably were not the final or most important factor. English paper hangings were better quality than those produced elsewhere in Europe. Not until the late eighteenth century did French wallpaper equal those produced in England. In the 1780s and 1790s, American advertisers disputed the relative merits of English and French paper hangings compared to those produced in the fledgling United States. For Dupee’s customers in 1767, however, fashion and quality dictated purchasing “Papers for Rooms” produced in England.


[1] Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America: From the Seventeenth Century to World War I (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), 30.

[2] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 30.

[3] Lynn, Wallpaper in America, 25

March 16

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 16, 1767).

“Baizes, Duffels, Shalloons, Tammies, Calimancoes.”

William Cornell placed this advertisement for the array of textiles he sold. By today’s perspective the list seems foreign. However, in colonial America any person reading this advertisement would have known each material, including what style, how expensive, and common uses.

One textile on the list that may seem unfamiliar is baize. The Oxford English Dictionary describes baize as “A coarse woollen stuff, having a long nap, now used chiefly for linings, coverings, curtains, etc., in warmer countries for articles of clothing.” The OED also states it was used for shirts and petticoats. Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband, John Adams, and refered to a “Green Baize Gown,” making a recommendation to keep him warm during the cold nights: “I would recommend to you the Green Baize Gown, and if that will not answer, You recollect the Bear Skin.” This suggests baize could be heavy enough to be used for warmth during cold winter nights, just as warm as a “Bear Skin.” (Today, baize is most famously used to cover pool tables.)

Tammies were another textile Cornell sold that may seem unfamiliar. According to the Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820, tammy is a lightweight fabric, but because of its simple weaving the material is also strong. Due to its durability but light weight it was utilized for linings, children’s garments, or curtains. Tammy was also often dyed yellow, a color that quickly faded when exposed to light. Yellow tammy may have been chosen for linings that would have been less exposed and thus less likely to fade.



When Daniel and I met to discuss William Cornell’s advertisement, we considered several aspects to examine in greater detail. Daniel ultimately opted to investigate some of the unfamiliar textiles, but during the research and writing process he also contemplated what this advertisement told us about colonists’ understanding of urban geography and how to navigate port cities.

In an era before standardized street numbers and addresses, colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to give directions. Advertisers frequently assumed that potential customers, especially in towns and smaller cities, were familiar with both local places and people. For instance, Cornell offered nothing by way of directions except noting that his shop was “Adjoining to Captain Robert Stoddard’s.” Apparently Stoddard was sufficiently known among residents of the port city that Cornell considered this sufficient for directing potential customers to his own business.

Some advertisers relied on their names alone, neglecting to offer any other sort of directions. Such was the case for Samuel Sanford (who advertised “A few Puncheons of Jamaica Rum”), Gideon Wanton, Jr. (who carried “Ticklenburgs [and] Osnaburgs,” textiles that did not appear in Cornell’s notice), and Joseph West (who sold “A Quantity of dry Cod Fish”).

Others provided a street name, a landmark, or a combination of the two to aid potential customers in locating them. John Hadwen, for instance, peddled his wares “At his Shop in Thames Street,” while Napthali Hart, Jr. sold a similar array of goods “At his Store on Mr. GEORGE GIBBS’s Wharf.” George Cornell maintained “Batchelor’s Hall,” presumably a boardinghouse, “IN Mill-Street, near the Ferry Wharf.”

Two other advertisers offered more complex directions. Christopher Smieller, a baker, announced that he “has removed from Mr. William Gyles’s Bakehouse, to that of Mr. Joseph Tillinghast.” Francis Skinner, a bookbinder, provided the most complicated – or perhaps the most exact – set of directions. Customers could find him “at his House the third below Trinity Church, on the East Side of the Street leading to the Neck.”

Regardless of how many or how few words any of these advertisers used, each expected readers and potential customers could make their way to their respective businesses based on the information they provided. Even the largest American cities were not yet so large in the 1760s to necessitate street numbers and standardized addresses to facilitate commerce. That changed by the end of the eighteenth century: advertisements increasingly included street numbers and a new kind of publication, the city directory, listed standardized addresses for residences and businesses alike. Both innovations transformed how early Americans, both locals and visitors, thought about navigating city streets.

July 26

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

Jul 26 - 7:26:1766 Connecticut Gazette
Connecticut Gazette (July 26, 1766).

“LUKE BABCOCK, At his Shop in New Haven, has to sell … Nails, … Irish Linnens, … Raisins.”

Shopkeeper Luke Babcock’s list-style advertisement would have looked very familiar to colonial consumers. It did not elaborate much on the merchandise he stocked, except to not that Babcock sold his wares “at the most reasonable Rate.” The variety of goods – everything from “Brass Knobs” to “genuine black Barcelona Handkerchiefs” to “Lisbon Wine by the Quarter Cask” – comprised the advertisement’s primary marketing appeal, promising potential customers an assortment of choices. So many advertisers used this method of promoting their goods in eighteenth-century America that at a glance this advertisement appears indistinguishable from so many others.

On closer examination, however, it appears that Babcock introduced an innovation not readily apparent in advertisements published by many of his counterparts and competitors. His advertisement was carefully organized. Similar types of products were grouped together rather than appearing in an undifferentiated and disorienting list. Babcock first named hardware items, then textiles, and, finally, groceries. To make it even easier to navigate the advertisement, each major category had its own paragraph.

While this may seem like such common sense today that it should merit no comment, the format of this advertisement must be considered in the context of other eighteenth-century advertisements and the printing practices that shaped them. Babcock’s marketing may not have been flashy, but he attempted to make it more effective by helping readers better grasp the extent of his offerings and find merchandise that most interested them. It’s even possible that such careful organization on the printed page helped potential customers to imagine the layout of his shop, envisioning themselves examining the merchandise available in the section where hardware was stocked or in another area of the shop where textiles were displayed. Where other list-style advertisements often presented chaos, Babcock brought order to his goods, guiding consumers to the items they wanted or needed.