April 7

GUEST CURATOR: Bryant Halpin

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

Massachusetts Gazette [Draper] (April 7, 1769).

In this advertisement John Allman and Company sold tobacco pipes. Also in this advertisement they looked for people to employ in the pipe factory. Their business depended on a crop from the southern colonies: tobacco. For some of the southern colonies, especially Virginia, the tobacco business had been the economic lifeblood for much of the colonial period. With all this tobacco exported from the southern colonies, consumers also needed pipes to smoke the tobacco. According to Ivor Noël Hume, the manufacturers of those tobacco pipes made them out of a lot of materials, such as silver, brass, pewter, iron, and even lead. But the material they preferred to use most of the time was clay. Tobacco pipe makers used clay all the way until the nineteenth century. Unfortunately, clay pipes were easily breakable and usually broke almost as fast as they were made. Consumers continued to use them because they were much cheaper to make than silver, brass, and iron pipes.



When John Allman and Company advertised “TOBACCO PIPES made here, equal in Goodness to any imported,” in the April 7, 1769, edition of Draper’s Massachusetts Gazette, they joined a larger movement dedicated to promoting domestic manufactures in the colonies. In the late 1760s colonists decried a trade imbalance with Britain that sent too much of their specie across the Atlantic and made it increasingly difficult to conduct business. That prompted many to call for producing more goods locally rather than depending on imports. In the wake of the Stamp Act, colonists boycotted goods from Britain. Combined with other acts of resistance, such as petitions from colonial assemblies and public demonstrations, those boycotts convinced Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. Just a couple of years later, however, Parliament instituted the Townshend Acts. Colonists objected to paying duties on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. They once again resorted to boycotts and promoting domestic manufactures. This time far more colonists made calls for producing goods locally, both in editorials and advertisements.

Allman and Company did not need to invoke the Townshend Acts for readers to understand their intent in this advertisement. Their rhetoric made it clear that they tapped into continuing discourses about commerce, politics, production, and consumption. Allman and Company invited the patronage of “the Well wishers to our own Manufactories.” Even as they pursued their own livelihood, they depicted producing tobacco pipes as a public service, arguing that prospective customers should offer their “Encouragement” to both the Allman and Company and the welfare of “this Country.” To do their part, Allman and Company was determined “to carry on the above Business in an extensive Manner” in order to produce sufficient tobacco pipes to meet demand without any local consumers having to purchase imported alternatives. Prospective customers did not need to worry about price or quality; Allman and Company’s tobacco pipes were “cheap” and “equal in Goodness to any imported.” In addition, their production further supported the local economy. As Bryant notes, the partners aimed to hire more workers “in the Pipe Manufactory.” Given the competitive price and quality, how could conscientious colonists not choose to make a political statement by purchasing Allman and Company’s tobacco pipes over any others?

November 28

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

Massachusetts Gazette (November 28, 1766).

“Scotch Snuff.”

This advertisement showcased a public vendue held at an “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. J. Russell, the auctioneer, sold mainly clothing and household items, but what I found interesting was the “Scotch Snuff.” I know that tobacco was a major cash crop in the colonies, along with sugar, rice, and indigo, but I figured that tobacco was only smoked during this time.

As I researched this product I realized that there was an interesting history behind it. With the amount of trade that was flowing throughout the Atlantic, snuff thrived in the colonies and Europe. According to an exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American history, the labels on snuff packages even “reflected the trade links between Virginia and England.” Plantation owners who sold tobacco to be made into snuff prospered from this product. Since it became so popular in the colonies, by 1750 tobacconists changed the way it was produced. According to Edwin Tunis, author of Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry, initially tobacco was grounded into snuff by using had mortars by hand and was produced it small quantities. Later, tobacconists began “grinding it with water power, either between ordinary milestones, like flour, or in large mortars.”[1] Tobacco was a commodity that was high in demand in the colonies so it is no surprise that snuff also became popular.



Most advertisers of consumer goods and services extended open invitations for potential customers to visit their shops, examine their merchandise, and make purchases whenever they wished. Public vendues (or auctions) operated differently. In her recent work on auctions in early America, Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor underscores the importance of setting a specific time for public vendues and, as a result, gathering colonists together to socialize and be entertained during the sale. Purchasing consumer goods, Hartigan-O’Connor argues, did not occur solely in transactions between shopkeeper and customer. Instead, some purchases were on display as part of larger events.

By necessity, advertisements for auctions specified a time that the sale would be held. Such information was as critical as the location or the list of goods up for bid. When they advertised in newspapers, most colonists selling goods at auction ran their advertisements at least a week in advance and often much earlier. A successful sale depended on attracting as many potential customers as possible. Letting others know when an auction would occur was especially critical if it was a one-time-only or irregularly scheduled event.

Russell, however, regularly held public vendues in his “Auction-Room in Queen Street” in Boston. His frequent advertisements alerted readers to at least one auction a week. In the advertisement that Nicholas selected for today, the time of the auction received first billing. “THIS DAY” appeared in a larger font than anything else in the advertisement, signaling that the rest of the content merited attention immediately because it was so time-sensitive. The notice continued by specifying that the auction would take place “At ELEVEN o’Clock in the Morning, AND At THREE o’Clock Afternoon.” In addition to placing this advertisement, Russell may have displayed a red flag outside his “Auction-Room,” another method of announcing a sale would take place that day (but one that did not rely on print or the distribution of newspapers or other advertising media).

That Russell scheduled his auction for “THIS DAY” caught my attention because R. & S. Draper usually published the Massachusetts Gazette on Thursdays in 1766, but for some reason this issue was delayed and appeared on Friday, November 28, 1766, rather than Thursday, November 27. Considering the news items and dozens of advertisements, had the Drapers remembered to adjust the date accordingly from “TOMORROW” (what should have appeared if the newspaper had been published on the 27th, just as it appeared in Russell’s advertisement printed in the issue from the 20th) to “THIS DAY” instead? Did this advertisement actually appear the day after the announced sale took place?

Given how often Russell advertised in the Massachusetts Gazette, constantly updating his copy to reflect auction dates and times as well as merchandise, it seems likely that the Drapers would have given special attention to his advertisement for that week, realizing that it needed to be revised accordingly to fit the schedule of their newspaper’s delayed publication. Not inconsequentially, Russell’s advertisement appeared immediately below a notice that read, in its entirety, “New Advertisements. THE Committee of the House of Representatives, to consider the Difficulties of the Trade of the Province, will meet again this Afternoon at 3 o’Clock, at the Representatives Room.” Russell had some competition for his auction “At THREE o”Clock Afternoon” that day, but the proximity of the two advertisements suggests that the Drapers made any necessary adjustments to the copy when they decided to distribute the issue a day later than usual.

That Russell’s advertisement announced a sale to be held “At ELEVEN o’CLOCK in the Morning” on “THIS DAY” brings up an issue for consideration another time. How early in the day did the Massachusetts Gazette need to be distributed in order for this to be an effective advertisement? Even with delayed publication, it was not the first time that Russell placed a “THIS DAY” advertisement. He apparently believed the newspaper circulated with sufficient time for potential customers to read it or else he would not have invested in the advertisement.


[1] Edwin Tunis, Colonial Craftsman: And the Beginnings of American Industry (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1957), 52.

August 2

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

Virginia Gazette (August 1, 1766).

“Any Gentlemen may be supplied with the same … in Norfolk, and … in Williamsburg.”

Philip Watson sold “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” to customers in Shockoe, but that was not the only place in the colony that readers of the Virginia Gazette could purchase this product. Watson concluded his advertisement with a nota bene stating that “Any Gentlemen may be supplied with the same at Mr. Thomas Hepburn’s in Norfolk, and at Mr. James Southall’s in Williamsburg.”

The nota bene demonstrates two aspects of doing business in colonial Virginia. First, it points to the distribution of consumer goods, in this case “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” in particular. Watson knew that many readers of the Virginia Gazette would not find it practical to call on him in Shockoe, so he offered additional locations that carried the same product. In order to make as many sales as possible, Watson incorporated convenience as part of his customer service.

That Watson listed three locations in three towns also testifies to the reach of newspaper distribution in the 1760s in Virginia and other colonies. Newspapers did not serve just the city or town in which they were printed. They passed through networks of subscribers and other readers throughout the city or town’s hinterland and beyond. Even in colonies with multiple newspapers, they tended to be printed in just one city. As a result, advertisements reached far beyond the places where newspapers were printed. Philip Watson could confidently place an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette, printed in the colony’s capital, and know that it would reach readers in Shockoe and Norfolk as well as Williamsburg.

As an aside, this advertisements also points to some of the difficulty using eighteenth-century names for towns. Where was Shockoe? Did Watson mean the relatively remote area that is currently an unincorporated community in Pittsylvania County? Probably not. It’s much more likely that he sold “POOLE’s best Scotch SNUFF” in what became Richmond – on the James River, the colony’s main waterway and means of transporting tobacco and other goods – which now contains the neighborhoods of Shockoe Hill, Shockoe Slip, and Shockoe Bottom. As with many other aspects of eighteenth-century advertisements, contemporary readers needed no explanation of the location of Shockoe.

August 1

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

Aug 1 - 8:1:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 1, 1766).


When Neal M’Intyer advertised that he sold an assortment of goods “Cheap for Cash or short Credit” he made a standard marketing appeal that would have been familiar to potential customers in the eighteenth century. Appeals to price and quality were the most common means of attracting attention throughout the eighteenth century; both remain popular today.

In marketing the tobacco he sold, however, M’Intyer elaborated on the standard appeal of low prices. After naming nearly a dozen varieties he announced “ALL WHICH WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.” Most wholesalers and retailers did not mention specific prices in their advertisements, just as M’Intyer neglected to do here. Although he did not lock in a specific low price, he did challenge potential customers to engage in comparison shopping, visiting other shops around Portsmouth to find out how their prices for “Ladies superfine Pigtail” or “Best inspected Virginia Leaf.” Once potential customers had a sense of what M’Intyer’s competitors charged for tobacco they might feel even more enthused about the price he named at his store.

Some modern retailers promise that they will match or beat the prices of their competitors. M’Intyer did not explicitly make that pledge in his advertisement; that bit of wording was a further advertising innovation that waited for another time. Yet the offer he made in his advertisement may have amounted to the same practice once customers reminded him that he had publicly announced that his tobacco “WILL BE SOLD CHEAPER THAN CAN BE BOUGHT IN TOWN.” If M’Intyer did not beat his competitors’ prices, customers could accuse him of breaking his word. Even worse, such news could spread, damaging M’Intyer’s reputation. Advertisements were (and are) designed to shape consumer behavior, but they also set up expectations and obligations for the advertisers themselves.

June 15

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

Jun 15 - 6:13:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

“The unwary purchaser may make use of this to prevent their being taken in.”

Throughout the eighteenth century many advertisers emphasized their own virtues, especially their good character. As urban centers increased in size, residents did not necessarily always know all the merchants and retailers who lived in their area. In addition, mobility and migration were common. People were constantly coming and going in colonial America: arriving from Europe, moving from colony to colony, seeking new opportunities wherever they could find them. Many commercial exchanges began with the parties not knowing each other. Accordingly, advertisers frequently assured potential customers of their good character.

This anonymously placed advertisement, on the other hand, warned readers of the Virginia Gazette against trusting Robert Bolling. Less than two weeks earlier “an examination of the weights at Robert Bolling’s warehouse” were “found to have lost, from 2 and half per cent. to 5 per cent. or more.” Bolling, “the designing seller” was cheating his customers.

Maintaining a good reputation played an important role in inaugurating and continuing commercial exchanges in eighteenth-century America. According to this advertisement, Bolling had taken advantage of “unwary purchaser[s]” who bought tobacco at his warehouse, calling his character into question.

Had Bolling intentionally adjusted the weights? Was he even aware that they were off? The advertisements suggest that was the case by describing him as a “designing seller.” However, it’s also possible that a competitor, disgruntled employee, or unhappy customer placed this advertisement as a means of undermining Bolling’s reputation, though it seems that “the designing seller” might have tracked down the author of this advertisement fairly easily with a visit or letter to the printer of the Virginia Gazette.

Jun 15 - 6:13:1766 response Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (June 13, 1766).

At any rate, Bolling seems to have offered a response that suggested the original advertisement was nothing more than subterfuge designed by competitors who had “a great many ships to load” and wanted to prevent planters from selling their tobacco through Bolling’s warehouse. Empty or partially loaded ships diminished revenues. This advertisement suggested that the accusations against Bolling were nothing more than an attempt to direct business to another warehouse.

This was not the first time that commercial rivalries found voice in newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, nor would it be the last.

March 31

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

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

Mar 31 - 3:31:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (March 31, 1766).

“Augustus Deley, … CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

I find it interesting that this advertisement starts by stating that the advertiser “CONTINUES to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO, in all its Branches.” This makes me wonder if something happened to cast doubt in the minds of his customers about whether they would be able to continue purchasing their tobacco from him or not. This advertisement has the air of someone reassuring his customers that he was indeed still in business.

The fact that Deley mentioned that he needed sufficient notice from those wishing to purchase large quantities of tobacco makes me think that he was not a minor tobacconist. To have customers purchase large amounts of tobacco must have occurred often enough for him to specifically ask those who wished to purchase those amounts to let him know beforehand. It must have been inconvenient for him to have a customer come in and take most of his supply because afterward he would have to potentially turn other customers away while he waited for a new shipment.



Augustus Deley certainly wanted residents of Hartford and its hinterland to know that he continued to sell tobacco, that he was still in business, but his advertisement also alluded to a notice that he posted in the Connecticut Courant nearly three months earlier. Perhaps Deley had recently moved to Hartford and was settling in. After all, his earlier advertisement announced that he was a “Tobaconist (from New-York),” but he dropped that description in his updated advertisement. He may have become an increasingly familiar face in Hartford, but he likely wanted to let potential customers not yet aware of his shop or uncertain of its success that he did indeed “CONTINUE to carry on the Business of manufacturing TOBACCO.”

Among the various updates to his advertisement, Deley listed a location: “At the Sign of the Black Boy, Near the North Meeting-House in Hartford.” It was no coincidence that a tobacconist set up shop “At the Sign of the Black Boy.” After all, slaves provided the labor involved in cultivating tobacco in the Chesapeake colonies. Just as many trade cards or tobacco wrappers from the era featured images of enslaved men and women at work on plantations or interacting happily with white masters and overseers, Deley selected a shop sign that reduced a “Black Boy” to the colonial equivalent of a mascot or a brand to market his product.

January 7

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

Jan 7 - 1:6:1766 Connecticut Courant
Connecticut Courant (January 6, 1766)

“Augustus Deley, Tobaconist (from New York) … keeps constantly for Sale, ALL Sorts of TOBACCO.”

I suggested that yesterday’s advertisement for Yorkshire muffins (Yorkshire pudding) used words to evoke some of the smells of a colonial port city.  This advertisement does so as well.  It also prompts readers to imagine other goods that consumers needed to purchase or possess.  Just as sugar nippers were necessary for consuming the sugar loaves featured earlier this week, “Chewing, or Smoaking” tobacco required various accoutrements.

Daley notes he supplies “Hog-Tail, Pig-Tail, and Shagg in Papers.”  These wrappers were likely unadorned, marking a significant deviation from tobacco advertising on the other side of the Atlantic.  By the turn of the eighteenth century, as Catherine Molineux notes, “Tobacconists and other tradespeople began commissioning local artisans to engrave or etch trade cards, billheads, and what the British Museum characterizes as tobacco papers, or wrappers.” [1]  Although trade cards and billheads became increasingly common among other occupational groups in America as the eighteenth century progressed, either tobacconists did not provide wrappers that advertised their wares or such printed ephemera has not survived.

If you have encountered eighteenth-century tobacco wrappers distributed by American tobacconists, I would very much appreciate knowing about them!

An eighteenth-century tobacco advertisement from the collections of the British Museum, London.

[1] Catherine Molineux, “Pleasures of the Smoke:  ‘Black Virginians’ in Georgian London’s Tobacco Shops,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd. ser., 64, no. 2 (April 2007): 343.