December 4

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

Dec 4 - 12:1:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 1, 1768).

“David Nelson returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC.”

When David Nelson opened “his new STORE, next door but one to the Rose and Crown, in High-street, Wilmington,” he placed an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Although published in Philadelphia, that newspaper served both local and regional audiences. Colonists in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and cities and town in Pennsylvania beyond the busy port read the Pennsylvania Gazette and inserted advertisements in it. Nelson most likely did not anticipate gaining any customers from Philadelphia, but he knew that the Pennsylvania Gazette was one of the newspapers that residents of Wilmington and the surrounding area regularly read, in the absence of any printed locally.

Like many other merchants and shopkeepers, Nelson provided a short list of merchandise he sold. His “VARIETY OF GOODS” included textiles (“velvets and velverets, serges, flannels, camblets, shaloons, tammies, durants, calimancoes,” and others), adorments (“knee and shoe buckles, mohair and metal buttons”), and groceries (“sugar and melasses”). Yet Nelson offered only a preview of his inventory, enticing prospective customers with a promise that he also stocked “a variety of other GOODS, too tedious to enumerate.” Those who visited his store would encounter many other wonders.

In addition to promoting his wares, Nelson inserted a nota bene that expressed his appreciation for those who had already patronized his new store. He “returns his sincere thanks to the PUBLIC, for the encouragement he has already had, and hopes for their further favours.” Many colonial merchants and shopkeepers acknowledged their customers in their advertisements. Doing so served two purposes. It encouraged those who had already made purchases to return, but it also communicated to others that their friends and neighbors shopped at that store. Especially since Nelson operated a “new STORE,” providing early indications of its success may have helped to convince other prospective customers to make a visit and examine the goods on offer. Even if Nelson had not yet done much business at that location, he attempted to make his store seem popular to the public. His expression of gratitude suggested that customers already appreciated the “variety of GOODS, too tedious to enumerate,” that he “sold at the lowest prices.”

Announcement: Adverts 250 Featured by The Exchange

I am excited that The Exchange:  The Business History Conference Weblog included the Adverts 250 Project in its most recent issue of Over the Counter, a monthly roundup of projects, programs, and papers with a business history component, as well as other news of interest to the business history community.  This issue also included a link to “Lottery Mania in Colonial America” from the American Numismatic Society, which I mention because lotteries were frequently advertised in the colonial newspapers (though I have not yet included an advertisement for a lottery in this project).

The Business History Conference is “a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization devoted to encouraging all aspects of research, writing, and teaching of business history and the environment in which business operates.”

Many thanks to The Exchange and the Business History Conference for “advertising” the Adverts 250 Project.

Announcement: Adverts 250 Project Featured by Two Nerdy History Girls

I am honored and delighted that bestselling authors Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott (sometimes known as Isabella Bradford) featured the Adverts 250 Project among their most recent compilation of “Breakfast Links” on their wonderful blog, Two Nerdy History Girls.  You can also find them on Twitter.  Who are Chase and Scott?  In their own words, one of them “writes historical romance” and the other “writes historical novels” and, using a nom de plume, also “writes historical romance.”

I realize that a tenure and promotion committee might not find this as impressive as being linked by the American Antiquarian Society or the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, but I am just as excited and I believe that this is just as significant.  I founded the Adverts 250 Project to be a public history and digital humanities project.  I aimed to engage wide audiences, including specialists in my field, other scholars within and beyond the academy, self-proclaimed history buffs, and the general public more broadly.  In comparing their own work to each other, Chase and Scott state, “There’s a big difference in how we use history.”  There’s also a big difference in how I use history in my career, including a very different route to publication, compared to either of them, but the most important things are that all three of us use history and all three of us want others to be as fascinated by history as we are and to learn about the past.

As I noted above, the Adverts 250 Project is a public history project.  Chase and Scott have helped to bring this project to the attention of the public, for which I am extremely grateful.  The day after they included the Adverts 250 Project among their “Breakfast Links” the site received nearly four times as many visitors and nearly five times as many page views as any previous day.  Their blog has directed visitors from twenty-two countries (Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Luxembourg, Mexico, Myanmar (Burma), the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States) to the Adverts 250 Project, bringing this public history project to a much broader public.  (I don’t know how many people visit their blog on a daily basis, but every time they retweet an announcement that a new advertisement has been posted here — which they have already done today! — they reach more than 10,000 followers, compared to the relatively paltry 250 I have amassed during my short time on Twitter.)

Later this week students in my Public History course will be reading and discussing an essay about some of the tensions that have traditionally cropped up between historians within the academy and those who pursue history professionally beyond employment at colleges and universities, an antagonism that need not exist and that I like to think has decreased in recent years (though from my position within the academy I may have a different perspective on this than public historians do).  Though I am not aware that Chase and Scott describe themselves as public historians, their novels and their blog certainly place them somewhere within the fold.  Their spirit of generosity demonstrates the benefits of all who love history acting cooperatively rather than competitively.

Thank you, Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott, for your support of the Adverts 250 Project.

Announcement: Adverts 250 Linked via The Octo

The Adverts 250 Project is currently featured on The Octo:  Blogging Early America.  The Octo, curated by Joseph M. Adelman, assistant editor for digital initiatives at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, is a rotating lineup of “feeds from popular blogs.”

The Octo features eight (get it:  The Octo!) blogs.  The current cohort includes:

This is very fine company to be keeping!  The Adverts 250 Project should remain in the tentacles of The Octo for a few weeks before being released to The Octo Archive, a permanent list linking all the blogs about early American history and culture previously ensnared by The Octo.

In related news, Karin Wulf, director of the Omohundro Institute, recently included The Adverts 250 Project in a tweet about the Institute’s new #VastEarlyAmerica initiative.  You can read more about Vast Early America here.

Announcement: Adverts 250 Linked via American Antiquarian Society

The Adverts 250 Project is now listed among the Digital Humanities Projects Using AAS Materials on the American Antiquarian Society‘s website.

The vast majority of eighteenth-century sources in America’s Historical Newspapers (distributed by Readex) derive from the AAS’s collections.  Although I use digital surrogates to pursue this project, it would not have been possible without the curatorial, preservation, conservation, and cataloging work of the AAS and their willingness and enthusiasm in pursuing digitization projects to make their collections more accessible to scholars, students, and the general public.

Many thanks to the American Antiquarian Society for supporting the Adverts 250 Project!