February 5

What was advertised in colonial America 250 years ago today?

Henry Knox, trade card, engraved by Nathaniel Hurd, Boston, ca. 1771-1774. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

“London Book Store.”

Earlier this week, the Adverts 250 Project featured an advertisement that bookseller Henry Knox placed in the Boston Evening-Post.  In addition to listing various genres of books available at the “LONDON BOOK-STORE, Opposite Williams’s Court, A little Southward of the Town-House in Cornhill,” the advertisement also informed readers that “A Catalogue … may be seen at said Store.”  Like many eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, Knox supplemented his newspaper advertisements with other marketing media.  He distributed at least three book catalogs in the early 1770s.  He also disseminated a trade card to capture the attention of prospective customers.

Measuring approximately four inches by five inches, the trade card gave Knox’s address, “London Book Store Cornhill, Boston” and announced that the bookseller “Makes & binds Waste Books, Journals Ledgers, and all other Sorts of Blank Books at the Shortest Notice.”  Knox offered those services in his newspaper advertisements as well, though he usually mentioned them at the end of his notice.  He reversed the order on his trade card, advising colonizers that he “ALSO Sells Books in all Languages, Arts, and Sciences, Stationary, &c. &c.”  Ending with “&c.” (a common abbreviation for et cetera) signaled that he stocked a variety of other writing supplies.  His newspaper advertisements mentioned “Quills, Sealing Wax, Wafers, very neat gilt and border’d Message Cards, [and] fine black Writing Ink.”

An ornate border surrounded the advertising copy on Knox’s trade card.  As a result, it resembled trade cards produced and distributed in London, but it bore the initials “NH.”  Nathaniel Hurd, an American artisan, did the engraving for Knox’s trade card and others.  For instance, he engraved a trade card that promoted “Sperma-ceti Candles Made by Joseph Palmer & Co. at Germantown Near Boston, & Sold at their Store in Boston New-England.”  He also engraved a trade card for Philip Godfrid Kast, an apothecary who “Hath Lately Imported from London, a Large Assortment of Drugs & Medicines.”  Hurd likely lent his skills to the production of other trade cards, contributing to a culture of advertising in early America that extended beyond newspaper notices.

June 6

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

Massachusetts Spy (June 6, 1771).

“The Estate of JANE EUSTIS, late of Boston, Shop-keeper.”

For several weeks in the spring of 1771 the Massachusetts Spy carried a notice requesting “all those persons who are indebted to the Estate of JANE EUSTIS, late of Boston, Shop-keeper, deceased, or that have any Demands on, or accounts open with the estate … settle such accounts with JOSEPH PEIRCE, merchant, in Boston.”  During her lifetime, Eustis ran advertisements in the public prints in order to promote her business, but that was not the only form of marketing that she deployed.  In the late 1760s, Eustis distributed an engraved trade card, known at the time as a shopkeeper’s bill, to supplement her newspaper advertising.

Jane Eustis’s Trade Card or Shopkeeper’s Bill, ca. 1769. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Surrounded by a rococo border, the text resembled a newspaper advertisement.  It opened with a familiar phrase, “Imported from LONDON,” before naming Eustis, giving her location, and listing a variety of “English and India Goods,” primarily textiles, “Millinary & Haberdashery.”  A brief note assured prospective customers that Eustis sold her merchandise “All Cheap for Cash.”  Although a significant number of female entrepreneurs in Boston and other towns placed newspapers advertisements, relatively few disseminated trade cards, billheads, broadsides, or other forms of advertising in eighteenth-century America.  Eustis’s trade card is also notable for being the earliest known shopkeeper’s bill distributed by a woman.  The copy in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society features a receipted bill for lace, gloves, and textiles dated April 17, 1769, on the reverse.  Merchants and shopkeepers tended to use the same design for years, so Eustis may have commissioned her trade card well before 1769.

The design, especially the ornate border, testified to genteel tastes that resonated with many consumers.  Merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans in London and other English cities distributed similar trade cards throughout the eighteenth century.  Eustis, like other American entrepreneurs who commissioned trade cards, replicated a common style, positioning her marketing efforts within transatlantic networks of commerce and consumption.  In so doing, she enhanced her appeal asserting connections to London and current fashions in the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire.  Commissioning and distributing an engraved trade card that resembled those passed out in London suggested that even though Eustis operated a shop on the other side of the Atlantic neither she nor her merchandise could be dismissed as merely provincial.

Receipted Bill Dated April 17, 1769, on Reverse of Jane Eustis’s Trade Card. Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

November 27

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

Essex Gazette (November 27, 1770).

“At the Sign of the Lion and Mortar.”

In the fall of 1770, Philip Godfrid Kast, an apothecary, placed an advertisement in the Essex Gazette to inform potential customers that he carried “a general Assortment of Medicines” at his shop “At the Sign of the Lion and Mortar” in Salem, Massachusetts.  Purveyors of goods and services frequently included shop signs in their newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century, usually naming the signs that marked their own location but sometimes providing directions in relation to nearby signs.  On occasion, they included woodcuts that depicted shop signs, but few went to the added expense.  Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements provide an extensive catalog of shop signs that colonists encountered as they traversed city streets in early America, yet few of those signs survive today.

Kast did not incorporate an image of the Sign of the Lion and Mortar into his newspaper advertisements in the fall of 1770, but four years later he distributed a trade card with a striking image of an ornate column supporting a sign that depicted a lion working a mortar and pestle.  Even if the signpost was exaggerated, the image of the sign itself likely replicated the one that marked Kast’s shop.  Nathaniel Hurd’s copperplate engraving for the trade card captured more detail than would have been possible in a woodcut for a newspaper advertisement.  Absent the actual sign, the engraved image on Kast’s trade card provided the next best possible option in terms of preserving the Sign of the Lion and Mortar given the technologies available in the late eighteenth century.  Trade cards, however, were much more ephemeral than newspapers and the advertisements they contained.  That an image of the Sign of the Lion and Mortar survives today is due to a combination of luck, foresight (or accident) on the part of Kast or an eighteenth-century consumer who did not discard the trade card, and the efforts of generations of collectors, librarians, catalogers, conservators, and other public historians.  Compared to woodcuts depicting shop signs in newspaper advertisements, trade cards like those distributed by Kast even more accurately captured the elaborate details.  Those shop signs contributed to a rich visual landscape of marketing in early America.

Philip Godfrid Kast’s Trade Card, Engraved by Nathaniel Hurd, Boston, 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

May 5

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

May 5 - 5:5:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (May 5, 1768).

“A LARGE ASSORTMENT of Bath, Mecklin, Brussels and Buckinghamshire laces.”

Mary Symonds, a milliner, placed a short advertisement in the April 28, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette to announce that she now stocked “A VERY large and neat Assortment of MERCHANDIZE” imported from London via the Mary and Elizabeth. The ship had just arrived in port, so Symonds had not yet had time to compose a complete list of her new inventory, but she promised more information about the “Particulars” in the next issue of the Gazette.

The following week Symonds’s lengthy advertisement did indeed appear, occupying a prominent place on the front page, making it difficult for readers to miss. Yet the Pennsylvania Gazette and other newspapers were not the only places where Symonds published this impressive assortment of millinery wares and other goods. Symonds was one of very few women who distributed trade cards in eighteenth-century America. With an elegant cartouche containing her name and location and a decorative border enclosing her list of merchandise, Symonds’s engraved trade card was unparalleled among any extant examples belonging to American women.

Careful comparison of her trade card and her advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette reveals that the former almost exactly paralleled the latter. All of the items appear in the same order, though sometimes the spelling and capitalization varied or descriptions changed slightly (such as “quantity of trimmings for ladies clothes” becoming “assortment of trimmings for ladies clothes”). Occasionally the trade card deployed the word “ditto” or its abbreviation, “Do,” rather than repeating words that appeared in the previous clause. A small number of items listed in the newspaper advertisement disappeared from the trade card, but no new items were listed. Symonds eliminated “Scotch handkerchiefs” (but listed many other varieties), “gentlemens silk and thread gloves” (but, again, listed other options), and “basket” buttons. The removal of basket buttons caused a slight revision in Symonds’s description of the variety of buttons she stocked: “a very large quantity of the best death-head, basket and gilt buttons” became “a large Quantity of the best Death-head and Gilt Buttons.” The trade cared even included the nota bene that appeared as its own line at the conclusion of the advertisement: “N.B. Fans neatly mounted.” For the most part, Symonds’s trade card replicated her newspaper advertisement.

This prompts reconsideration of when Symonds commissioned and began distributing her trade card to current and prospective customers. Previously it has been dated to circa 1770 because the only known copy, part of the Cadwalader Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, has a receipted bill on the reverse. That bill lists five occasions in October and November 1770 that “Mrs. Cadwalader” made a series of purchases from Symonds, who received payment in full on November 20, 1770. The similarities between the trade card and the newspaper advertisement, however, suggest that Symonds first distributed the trade card more than two years earlier.

That seems particularly appropriate since, regardless of the other content of her newspaper advertisements, Symonds regularly stressed that she was “now removed from her late shop, the corner of Market and Second-streets, to her new shop in Chestnut-street, the sixth door from Second-street.” This corresponds to the address listed on her trade card: “the South Side of Chesnut Street between Front and Second Streets, the Sixth Door from Second street.” Having recently moved to a new location, Symonds may have considered it particularly imperative to enhance her marketing efforts to direct existing and prospective clients to her new shop. The occasion of her move may have justified branching out to an additional form of advertising media. This also suggests that Symonds’s use of her trade card may have changed over time. She may have distributed beyond her shop when it was new and the contents accurately represented her current inventory, but over time she may have reserved the outdated remaining copies for use as receipted bills within her shop, presenting her best customers with a memento of their shopping experience.

Mar 23 - Mary Symonds Trade Card
Trade card (with receipted bill on reverse) distributed  by Mary Symonds in 1770 (Historical Society of Pennsylvania:  Cadwalader Collection, Series II: General John Cadwalader Papers, Box 5: Incoming Correspondence: Pa-Sy, Item 19: Su-Sy).