April 7

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

Apr 7 - 4:7:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (April 7, 1768).

“MARY SYMONDS, MILLENER, Is now removed from her late Shop.”

The advertisement that Mary Symonds, a milliner, inserted in the April 7, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazettedid not look any different than others promoting consumer goods and services, but that belies her role as an extraordinary advertiser in early America.

What made Symonds extraordinary?  It was not merely that she was a female entrepreneur who advertised her wares in the public prints.  True, women were disproportionately underrepresented among newspaper advertisers in eighteenth-century America, especially in busy urban ports like Philadelphia where they comprised anywhere from a quarter to a third or more of shopkeepers.  Despite their numbers, relatively few ran newspaper advertisements.  Yet enough did that Symonds could not be considered extraordinary – then or now – for placing an advertisement that promoted the “very large and neat Assortment of MILLENERY GOODS for Sale” at her new shop on Chestnut Street.

In addition to regularly running notices in newspapers, Symonds resorted to at least one other form of advertising, one that male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans dominated even more than newspaper advertisements.  By 1770 she distributed a large trade card to incite demand among prospective customers.  Trade cards circulated widely in England, especially in London.  The practice made its way across the Atlantic to the colonies, but relatively few women adopted this method of advertising.  Those that did tended to commission rather simple designs that did not rival the engraved images that graced the trade cards passed out by their male counterparts.

Fewer than half a dozen trade cards distributed by American women in the eighteenth century have survived, indicating that even fewer women resorted to trade cards than placed newspaper advertisements.  That made Symonds an extraordinary advertiser.  Her trade card stands out as an example not of what was probably in the eighteenth-century marketplace but instead what was possible.  The milliner devised an advertising campaign that incorporated one of the most innovative methods deployed by male entrepreneurs, supplementing her newspaper advertisements with engraved trade cards for current customers and prospective clients.  In so doing, she made a major investment in her marketing efforts, expecting it to pay off by attracting more business to her shop.

Colonists encountered a visual landscape of advertising every day.  By distributing her trade card, Mary Symonds claimed a place in that visual landscape of circulating ephemera just as she physically occupied a space in the marketplace by operating a shop on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

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).


April 10

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar

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

Apr 10 - 4:10: 1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 10, 1767).

“Wm Jackson at the Brazen Head.”

Bang Bang: Bad Business in Boston! In reading this advertisement and delving deeper into who exactly “Wm Jackson” was, I discovered that he was a very controversial merchant in Boston. He owned a store and sold a variety of imported British products ranging from gun powder (as seen in this advertisement) to linens and silk to brass and iron hardware. The store “at the Brazen Head” was conveniently located next to the Old State House in Boston, making it a prime location for consumers, but also a place of heightened revolutionary fervor. After a successful career prior to the Revolutionary era, Jackson, a Loyalist, was in for a contentious atmosphere with patriotic local merchants and consumers.

At the time this advertisement was posted, Jackson was on the verge of causing controversy with his business. The Townsend Acts were passed in 1767, resulting in boycotts made by other businessmen in Boston. This reflected poorly on Jackson, who decided not to take part in these political statements and continued his store’s importation of British goods. This strategy did not benefit Jackson in the end. After attempting to flee Boston at the beginning of the American Revolution and getting captured by an American privateer, he was brought back to city and jailed. Later, he was banished for the rest of his life.



William Jackson regularly advertised in Boston’s newspapers in the 1760s and 1770s, but, like many other colonial merchants and shopkeepers, he did not confine his marketing efforts to newspaper advertising alone. Industrious entrepreneurs distributed various advertising ephemera in eighteenth-century America, including trade cards, billheads, broadsides, catalogs, and circular letters. In striking contrast to the newspaper advertisement Shannon chose to feature today, Jackson commissioned an elaborate trade card that listed the “General Assortment” of merchandise that he imported from London and Bristol.

Apr 10 - William Jackson Trade Card
William Jackson distributed this trade card engraved by Paul Revere.  Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Jackson’s trade card resembled many others popular in London, other English cities, and urban ports in the colonies in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. A vignette of a bust and pedestal made of brass – a brazen head – appeared in a decorative cartouche at the top of the card. An ornate Chippendale border enclosed the list of goods Jackson sold. Although some American advertisers ordered engraved images of this sort from artists in London, a local artisan engraved Jackson’s trade card. That artisan was none other than the famous patriot, Paul Revere. Jackson and Revere may not have agreed on much when it came to politics, but the two men managed to put aside their differences at least long enough to produce one of the most stunning examples of pre-Revolutionary advertising ephemera that has survived into the twenty-first century.

According to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog record for Jackson’s trade card, it dates to 1769. By then Jackson’s political leanings were certainly known, especially since he refused to sign a nonimportation agreement in protest of the Townshend Acts that most of his competitors in Boston had signed in August 1768. Like others who distributed trade cards, Jackson doled his out to customers over several years. The trade card in the Paul Revere Collection at the American Antiquarian Society has a receipted bill signed by Jackson and dated August 20, 1773, on the reverse. By that time, given the events that had unfolded in Boston during the past four years, Jackson and Revere may have refused to undertake any more business with each other. That did not stop the loyalist Jackson, however, from promoting his own business by continuing to distribute the beautiful trade card engraved by the patriot Revere.

In Which the Materiality of Texts Shapes Research Methodologies

This week’s extended commentary post is scheduled to publish as a virtual text just as my panel, “Beyond the Book,” commences at the Early American Material Texts conference in Philadelphia. I will be speaking about “Eighteenth-Century Advertising Ephemera: Paratexts that Framed Early American Magazines.” The material that follows below is an excerpt from my pre-circulated paper, the portion that discusses the challenges of conducting archival work on magazines as material texts whose form changed dramatically, both in the eighteenth century as the result of interventions by the original subscribers and throughout subsequent centuries as the result of archival and digitization practices.

Many scholars have examined the cultural, political, and intellectual content of the late-eighteenth-century magazines that poured off the presses in the major port cities of the new United States, yet they have placed little emphasis on the magazine as a commercial medium, in part because almost no advertising appeared within the pages of those magazines and in part because most magazines are today found preserved in bound volumes without the supplementary media, including wrappers and inserts, that featured each issue’s advertising. Here it is important to underscore that the magazines we encounter in digitized form in the American Periodical Series and, indeed, even most that are preserved in archives no longer take the material form they had when they first came into the possession of eighteenth-century readers. A variety of factors have contributed to this. For instance, many subscribers typically took multiple issues, most often six months at a time, to a bookbinder to be bound into a single volume. In the process, ancillary materials were removed, leaving magazines that were largely sanitized of commercial notices, even when they included essays on commerce and economics. As a result, most of the eighteenth-century magazines examined by modern scholars look quite different, take starkly different material form, and, as a result, transmit very different messages than when they were first issued more than two centuries ago.

American Museum Wrapper
An intact wrapper accompanying The Universal Asylum, and Columbian Magazine, For April, 1790 (Philadelphia:  William Young, 1790).  William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

To what extent were they different? Although commercial notices were largely absent from the body of the issue for any given week or month, those few magazines that are intact demonstrate that contemporary subscribers typically received issues that were delivery systems for advertising. Many of them arrived enclosed in wrappers made of blue paper that featured between two and seven pages of advertising as well as the magazine’s title page, accompanying notes about how to subscribe, and a list of booksellers who sold the magazines. Usually the title and related information took up only one page; sometimes they spread out over two pages, but rarely did they extend onto a third. This typically left three pages for advertising in most magazines but as many as six or seven pages of advertising in each issue of those publications that doubled up the number of sheets used as wrappers and devoted to advertising, including some of the century’s most successful magazines, such as the Columbian Magazine and the American Museum. Although the lack of advertising interspersed with articles does not reflect current strategies, in other ways the material forms of eighteenth-century magazines were not much different from their modern counterparts that overflow with subscription cards and other materials that flutter out when flipping through the pages. Printers and publishers stuffed a variety of inserts, trade cards, book catalogues, and subscription notices inside those blue wrappers that accompanied each monthly issue. Subscribers may have purchased magazines for the edification they provided concerning history, economics, and belles lettres, but those magazines still extant in their original form suggest that printers and other providers of goods and services used literary magazines for their own purposes of making a living and generating revenues.

This argument depends on identifying and examining eighteenth-century magazines still extant in their original form, sometimes a difficult task that merits a few words about both modern methodology and the power of archives over time. First, however, consider how the material circumstances of magazines were transformed almost immediately after publication and distribution to subscribers. Printers and publishers did not intend for supplementary advertising materials that accompanied magazines to remain with the bodies of the magazines indefinitely or even for more than a few months. Publishers and subscribers both understood that once an entire volume, typically six issues over that many months, had been published that the separate issues would be gathered and bound together. Some advertising wrappers included explicit instructions for bookbinders to remove all the supplementary material before binding the volume. Wrappers, trade cards, subscription notices, and book catalogues were out, but title pages, tables of contents, and other materials were added. The final product that ended up on subscribers’ shelves – and in modern archives – did not much resemble the original material form eighteenth-century magazines took when first delivered.

May 27 - Trade Card
Joseph Anthony’s trade card, inserted in the American Museum (Philadelphia:  Mathew Carey, August 1789).  Society Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

This creates challenges for researchers interested in paratexts as much as (or more than) the essays, poems, and other items that appeared in the bodies of magazines. To compound the difficulty, best practices among an earlier generation of librarians and catalogers sometimes called for dismantling single issues that had not been bound. They sought to better organize an institution’s collections by housing various components with others of their genre – book catalogues with other book catalogues or trade cards in the trade cards collection, for instance – rather than leaving them intact. Such practices did not anticipate the modes of paratextual analysis undertaken by scholars at work today. Even in instances that eighteenth-century magazines and their supplementary materials have remained intact, the companies that have produced digital surrogates have sometimes neglected to photograph and reproduce the ancillary materials, incorrectly assuming that anybody who wished to examine, say, the American Museum would be interested in only the body of that publication and not other materials delivered with it. As Kenneth Carpenter and Michael Winship cautioned in their keynote address at the American Antiquarian Society’s Digital Antiquarian Conference last May, digital surrogates should be consulted as complements to, rather than replacements for, original documents. As we increasingly consult virtual texts we must remember that material texts sometimes tell unique stories that are not always captured in the digitization process.

We must keep eighteenth-century practices and circumstances in mind as we examine magazines in modern libraries and archives. Occasionally, the original subscribers or their bookbinders neglected to remove the advertising materials or overlooked a wrapper or insert here or there. As a result, looking at one supposedly “representative” issue of a magazine usually does not reveal the material circumstances of the original publication. Tracking down the advertisements that accompanied eighteenth-century magazines requires examining as many copies as possible to discover advertising paratexts inadvertently left behind, in both bound volumes and, when they survive, single issues. Indeed, it is often the single issues that include advertising media and testify to the original form of these publications. I have been exceptionally fortunate that curators, librarians, and other staff at several research institutions have generously allowed me to examine every issue, page by page, of eighteenth-century magazines in their collections once they have become familiar with my project and understand why this methodology is imperative. For good reason, archival staff often prefer to limit access to original materials in order to preserve it. When an institution possesses more than one copy of a magazine, for instance, one is often designated for use by researchers in order to preserve the others in their original condition as much as possible. Increasingly, researchers are asked to consult digital surrogates, which also present a “representative” copy, whenever possible. Such sources are often flawed due to the circumstances already described or, in some instances, incomplete because vendors unilaterally decided not to film or digitize ancillary materials because they did not understand the value of these paratexts for researchers. Eighteenth-century magazines exist in a variety of material and digital forms that in and of themselves shape our understanding of their original formats and purposes, sometimes misleading scholars because we do not see, touch, or read the same texts as the early Americans who originally subscribed to these magazines.

April 22


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

Apr 22 - 4:22:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 21, 1766)

“SpermaCeti Candles of the best Manufacture, warranted pure.”

In today’s advertisement spermaceti candles were being sold. Spermaceti candles are candles made out of headmatter from sperm whales. Massachusetts history is rich with whaling culture. According to the Nantucket Historical Association, “Candles were considered a specialized element of the whale-oil trade and were priced as a luxury item.” Spermaceti candles burned brighter and also were odorless. This made them a very attractive commodity and far more expensive than the traditional tallow candles.

In the early eighteenth century colonists first started coming across pods of sperm whales, but it was not until the 1750s that spermaceti oil refining started taking place. According to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, sperm whales were difficult to hunt because they have the ability to dive upwards of three thousand feet, deeper than any other marine animal, and hold their breath for up to ninety minutes. This made hunting them with the rudimentary seafaring technology of the eighteenth century both impressive and lucrative, an endeavor that also came with great danger. These candles were pivotal to life before electricity.

Although the major boom of whaling in New England would not come until the nineteenth century, I still found it interesting that Boston newspapers were advertising spermaceti candles in the 1760s. Patty Jo Rice of the Nantucket Historical Association says, “By 1763 there were as many as twelve manufacturers in the colonies and accusations of pricing violations was commonplace.” This points to development of the whaling market that was not completely documented at the time and that can be hard trace. Today’s advertisement helps to demonstrate that whaling and whale products were becoming increasingly popular in colonial America.



Testaments to quality were among the most common appeals made in eighteenth-century advertisements. Henry Lloyd mobilized such an appeal more than once in today’s advertisement, first when he described the pork he sold as “choice” and again when he assured potential customers that his “SpermaCeti Candles” were both “of the best Manufacture” and “warranted pure.”

The promise that theses candles were “warranted pure” merits additional investigation. Drawing once again from the Nantucket Historical Association, we know that “headmatter, sperm oil (oil from the blubber of the sperm whale), and whale oil (from all other whales) became separate products in the marketplace with headmatter commanding an average of three times the price of standard whale oil.” When shipping these products to England, whaling merchants sometimes mixed whale oil and headmatter together to avoid the higher duties on headmatter. That being the case, colonial consumers could be justifiably suspicious when purchasing spermaceti candles. If headmatter and whale oil could be combined to lower the duties when exported, why not combine them to raise the price of candles made and sold in the colonies? In an era with far fewer regulations than the modern business environment, Henry Lloyd gave his word that customers who purchased relatively expensive spermaceti candles were not being duped or cheated.

Lloyd was not alone in doing so. “Warranted Pure” was a standard assurance offered to consumers in advertisements for spermaceti candles in the decade before the American Revolution. A Boston manufactory issued a trade card circa 1770 that announced “Sperma-ceti candles warranted pure; are made by Joseph Palmer & Co.” The collections of the John Carter Brown Library include this trade card, circa 1764, from Nicholas Brown and Company in Providence. It also promised that customers could purchase spermaceti candles that were “Warranted Pure.” Note the whale in the center and the whalers in the cartouche at the top.

Apr 22 - Spermaceti Trade Card
Nicholas Brown & Co. trade card for spermaceti candles, ca. 1764 (John Carter Brown Library.)

In Which Advertising Ephemera Became Paratexts for Material Culture

A couple of months ago I examined binder’s labels and trade cards, arguing that when they were affixed to books they became paratexts that transformed goods that were purchsed for use by consumers into advertisements that continued to promote further consumption long after the initial purchase took place. Such instances represented a particular case of a wider practice in eighteenth-century America. An assortment of artisans, retailers, and merchants attached labels to a variety of goods they made or sold. Sometimes these labels had been created expressly for that purpose. Other times they were trade cards or broadsides adapted for new use. On occasion they supplemented newspaper advertisements, even reiterating the text that appeared in the public prints.

When printers, booksellers, and bookbinders inserted their labels in the books they printed, sold, or bound, those labels rightly became paratexts, additional printed materials that framed the main text and potentially altered the reception of the text by readers. How should such labels be described when attached to other goods – items that were not printed, such as furniture or containers? Is it possible to have a paratext without a text? Or should we conceive of texts in different ways? Historians “read,” analyze, and interpret a variety of primary sources, from printed and manuscript texts to visual images to material culture artifacts and architecture. In one way or another, don’t all of these qualify as texts, even if they did not come off a printing press or flow from a pen?

Let’s take a closer look at some examples. In the eighteenth century, Americans who made and sold a variety of goods devised ways to transform their products into advertisements that would associate their name with their goods long after their wares left the shop. Many items, especially those purchased from artisans, came with labels or other marks denoting their source. Pewterers and silversmiths stamped their creations with unique marks. Cabinetmakers and other woodworkers signed, stamped, impressed, or branded the furniture they created, and others affixed labels to the bottoms of drawers, the backs of mirrors, and underneath chair seats. For example, Simon Edgell, a pewterer active in Philadelphia between 1713 and 1742, stamped many of his works with his name and city and the outline of a bird.[1] During the final decade of the century, Benjamin, Jr., and Joseph Harbeson imprinted their pewter goods with two concentric circles with the words “HARBESON PHILADA:” situated between them.[2] At the end of the 1790s, Parks Boyd marked his work with his name and city and an eagle, apparently attempting to associate himself and his products with patriotism.[3] In the 1770s, Burrows Dowdney, a clockmaker, engraved his name and city in a banner on the clock dials he produced, directly below the axis on which the hands spun, making it difficult to glance at the clock without being reminded of who had constructed it. Other clockmakers also engraved at least their names and their city on the faces of their clocks.[4]

Early American cabinetmakers and other artisans also advertised their work by marking or branding it. Although cabinetmakers, like other artisans, did so partly out of a sense of pride, they also wanted to make sure that potential customers would know where to buy their goods. Their paper labels often closely resembled newspaper advertisements and handbills: not content with a simple identifying mark, they promoted their products by attaching full-fledged advertisements to them. Jonathan Gostelowe’s label from circa 1783 was typical.[5] It advertised his cabinets and chairs, notified his customers of his location, and featured an ornate border. At least seventy of Philadelphia’s cabinetmakers marked their furniture in the eighteenth century.[6] Sometimes they stamped their furniture or even simply signed their name with chalk. Many affixed paper labels of varying degrees of complexity. Of the seventy known Philadelphia cabinetmakers who marked their furniture, two used handwritten labels and twenty-six used printed labels of varying degrees of ornateness. Even a handwritten label could do more than simply identify an artisan, as Henry Rigby’s partial label suggests. A federal-style walnut card table most likely constructed between 1780 and 1790 bears a partial handwritten label: “Henry Rigby Cabinetmaker on Front Street one door above the …” It is suggestive that Rigby at least wanted to list his address so anybody who saw or used the card table and found it pleasing could visit his workshop to order more furniture.[7] Similarly, sometime around 1790 saddler Jesse Sharples adapted his broadside to serve as a label by pasting it inside the lid of trunks he made and sold. He positioned the label such that anybody opening one of his trunks would be sure to see the advertisement.[8]

It was not necessary for an advertiser to have made an item in order to place a label on it. In addition to the skilled artisans who marked their teapots and highboy chests, enterprising retailers also had labels printed and attached them to the goods they sold. For instance, the silversmith Joseph Richardson imported boxes of English weights and scales in the 1750s, affixing his own label to the inside lid of the box where it would be protected from damage yet easily viewed every time the purchaser and his associates opened the box to use the scales. His label also drew merchants’ attention by including a list of the exchange rates for a dozen currencies that merchants and others mightencounter.[9] (Richardson complemented these labels with a short advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in September 1770: “To be SOLD by JOSEPH RICHARDSON, Goldsmith, A Parcel of Money Scales & Weights.” Martha Gandy Fales, a Richardson biographer, reports that the silversmith began placing similar advertisements a quarter century earlier.) In addition, John Elliott, Jr., ran a shop where, according to the labels on them, he sold “by Wholesale and Retail, Looking Glasses In neat Mahogany Frames of American Manufacture,” and also a wider selection of goods and services, including “Painters’ Colours,” varnishes, and even “a general Assortment of Drugs and Medicines.” [10] His label even stated that “Old Glass” could be “new quicksilvered and framed as usual” in his shop.

Just like trade cards, billheads, and other stand-alone advertisements circulating in early America, labels and maker’s marks continued to operate as advertising long after purchases took place. In fact, by attaching labels to frequently used items, advertisers likely increased the chances that they would be seen regularly. Consumers purchased more than goods that caught their interest. Those goods often doubled as advertisements that artisans, retailers, and merchants managed to insert into the daily lives of their customers, sometimes into their most private spaces away from the public commerce of the marketplace.  Advertisements were not confined to the pages of newspapers.  Instead, early Americans encountered a rich visual landscape of advertising all around them.


[1] Carl Jacobs, Guide to American Pewter (New York: McBride Company, 1957), 88.

[2] Jacobs, American Pewter, 106.

[3] C. Jordan Thorn, The Handbook of American Silver and Pewter Marks (New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1949), 243.

[4] Burrows Dowdney, clock dial, (Philadelphia: ca. 1770), plate 43 in Morrison H. Heckscher and Leslie Greene Bowman, American Rococo, 1750-1775: Elegance in Ornament (New York: Henry N. Abrams for Metropolitan Museum of Art and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1992).

[5] This label can be dated between 1783 and 1789 since Gostelowe worked at the Church Alley address during that period. Cliveden, NT75.1.1, Gostelowe Chest. See also William C. Ketchum with the Museum of American Folk Art, American Cabinetmakers: Marked American Furniture, 1640-1940 (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995); and Edward Stratton Holloway, American Furniture and Decoration: Colonial and Federal (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1928), plate 42.

[6] I compiled a list of Philadelphia cabinetmakers active during the eighteenth century from Ketchum, American Cabinetmakers.

[7] Henry Rigby, Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Library; and Ketchum, American Cabinetmakers.

[8] For the Sharples broadside, see Jesse Sharples, Jesse Sharples, Takes this Method of Informing trhe Public in General, and His Friends in Particular, that He Continues to Carry On the Saddling Business, as Usual, in All Its Various Branches, at his Saddle Manufactory, in the North-West Corner of Chesnut and Third-Streets, Four Doors from the Bank, and Opposite the Cross-Keys (Philadelphia: Joseph James, 1790). For the Sharples broadside pasted in a trunk, see Jesse Sharples, Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Library.

[9] Martha Gandy Fales, Joseph Richardson and Family: Philadelphia Silversmiths (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1974), fig. 31.

[10] John Elliott, Jr., Decorative Arts Photographic Collection, Winterthur Library.

March 26

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 26 - 3:24:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (March 24, 1766).

“A General Assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.”

In this advertisement, Philip Godfrid Kast sold something a little different. Imported from the last ships from London (which is a way to guarantee their freshness), he sold “a general assortment of the freshest and best of DRUGS and MEDICINES.” I have never seen a pharmaceutical advertisement when looking through colonial newspapers for the Adverts 250 Project, which is why I chose this advertisement for today.

Kast characterizes his drugs as “Chymical” (which is the historical spelling of “chemical”) and “Galenical” (which is a medicine made from natural ingredients – plant or animal components – rather than synthetic components). Most prescription medications made today are of the chemical sort, since over time they have been proven to help more, and can be developed further to help more people.

What else further interested me was that this was a “dual” advertisement almost. Philip Godfrid Kast advertised for himself in Salem as well as for Dr. Stephen Huse in Haverhill, Maassachusetts. This is interesting because those towns are around twenty miles apart. Is it possible that these were the only two shops on the North Shore of Massachusetts that sold pharmaceuticals other than the port of Boston? Also, I noticed that Huse had the label of “Dr.” whereas Kast did not. This makes me wonder if they could possibly have been business partners or maybe Kast was more like a pharmacist today and Huse was more like a doctor today. Or maybe colonial Americans did not care as much about getting their medicines from such an official.



I intended to feature this advertisement (from a previous issue of the Boston Post-Boy) last week before my Public History students resumed their guest curator duties, but when Elizabeth submitted her list of proposed advertisements for this week I held off for a bit. I figured it would be much more interesting to see what each of us thought was interesting and important about this advertisement.

What originally drew me to this advertisement? In early January I included another advertisement from Kast in my analysis of the featured advertisement of the day. The Kast advertisement I used, however, was a trade card rather than a newspaper advertisement. I posted it because the trade card included an image of Kast’s “Sign of the Lyon & Mortar.” Most colonial shop signs have been lost to time, but trade cards provide an alternate form of preservation of the image if not the material object.

Philip Godfrid Kast Trade Card
Philip Godfrid Kast’s trade card engraved by Nathaniel Hurd in Boston in 1774 (American Antiquarian Society).

All of the advertisements that Elizabeth examined this week have told us something about consumer culture and life in eighteenth-century America, but in at least one aspect some of her advertisers themselves were extraordinary. Recall that Mary Symonds, the milliner from Philadelphia, also issued a trade card for her business. (Elizabeth also included a trade card from William Breck, whose shop “at the Golden Key” was located near the shop promoted in the featured advertisement on another day.) Very few retailers, merchants, producers, or suppliers distributed trade cards in colonial America. Only a small fraction of newspaper advertisers experimented with advertising campaigns that utilized multiple media. I’ve been hoping that some of my students would have an opportunity to examine some of those advertisers, but I never would have guessed at the outset of this project that any of them in any single week would encounter two or more advertisers who used trade cards to supplement their newspapers advertisements.

March 23

GUEST CURATOR:  Elizabeth Curley

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

Mar 23 - 3:20:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (March 20, 1766).

“She makes up goods in the millinery way.”

Mary Symonds owned a corner shop and placed a very lengthy advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette.   Symonds was a milliner, which is “a person who designs, makes, trims, or sells women’s hats.”

Symonds describes the different materials and trimmings she sold, such as “a great variety of printed calicoes and cottons” and “A great variety of figured and plain ribbons” along with “sattins of different colours.” Unfortunately, I could not identify a lot of descriptive words, but I could tell that all those paragraphs were different trimmings, fabrics, and their descriptions.

In the 1760s all types of people – from the rich to the poor – wore hats. The difference, however, was the material and how much detail was put into them. Hats could be extremely detailed, depending on how much money the colonist could pay. Milliners could add ribbons and other trimmings like the ones in Symonds’ advertisement if customers so chose. Like today, how people dressed was a status symbol that was very important to American colonists. Whether her customers had enough money to wear a different hat every day or wore the same hat every day, they could keep Symonds in business for years to come.

I was curious about how hats in America and England looked in the 1760s. These paintings all show women with hats during the period.

Mar 23 - Copley Portrait of Mary Clarke
John Singleton Copley, Portrait of Mary Clarke, Mrs. Samuel Barrett (Boston, Massachusetts, ca. 1765-1770).


Mar 23 - Boucher Portrait of Madame Bergeret
Francois Boucher, Madame Bergeret (French, possibly 1766).


Mar 23 - Collett - High Life
John Collett, High Life Below Stairs (London, England, 1763).



There’s so much going on in this advertisement that it’s hard to know where to begin. Indeed, an entire chapter or more could be devoted to teasing out the various aspects of this advertisement. As Elizabeth notes, average readers today do not recognize the various kinds of textiles and trimming that Symonds listed. Material culture specialists, on the other hand, have written entire books about the quality and characteristics, production and consumption, and social and cultural meanings of these fabrics and accoutrements.

Mary Symonds operated her shop in the same location as William Symonds, but this advertisement suggests that they operated their businesses independently of each other. Although William’s business appeared first in the advertisement, Mary’s list of wares comprised a significantly lengthier section. Mary also noted that she had once been in partnership with “her sister Ann Pearson,” a milliner who ran her own advertisements in Philadelphia’s newspapers. The two sisters ran a series of advertisements in previous weeks announcing that they were dissolving their partnership and dividing the merchandise in anticipation of running separate shops. Such advertisements help to demonstrate that some colonial women operated businesses independently or in partnership with other women. Male relations, including William Symonds, did not necessarily oversee women who acted as retailers.

There’s another reason I was excited when Elizabeth selected this advertisement. I’ve identified only a handful of eighteenth-century trade cards and billheads distributed by women. Mary Symonds is the only female advertiser from Philadelphia with a trade card still extant (as part of the Cadwalader Collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Her trade card, listed a broad range of millinery supplies similar to what appeared in her newspaper advertisements, circulated in 1770 and perhaps even earlier. It included a border and her name in a rococo-style cartouche. Overall, it was less ornate than some of the trade cards distributed by male advertisers, but it was the most impressive trade card known to have been used by a female advertiser. It appears that Symonds took pride in her business and invested in it accordingly.

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).

The copy at the HSP has been dated to 1770 because a receipted bill appears on the reverse. On five different occasions in October and November 1770, somebody – probably Symonds herself – recorded more than a dozen purchases made by “Mrs. Cadwalader” (including “White Gloves,” a “Lace Cap,” and several yards of satin and muslin) amounting to more than £20. This receipted bill indicates that Symonds “Recevd the Contents in full” on November 22, 1770.

Binder’s Labels and Trade Cards: Or, Paratexts that Transformed Books into Advertisements

Readers who visit regularly know that I usually post extended commentary about methodological issues on Fridays, but I would like to depart from that today. It has been a while since I featured any marketing materials other than the day’s featured advertisement. When I expanded this project from Twitter to a blog I intended to use the “extra” space available to incorporate posts exploring other aspects of advertising in eighteenth-century America more regularly. After all, my handle on Twitter is @TradeCardCarl, so let’s see some trade cards!

In addition, in the course of my research I have identified more than a dozen forms of printed ephemera that circulated as advertising in eighteenth-century America, including trade cards, magazine wrappers, billheads, furniture labels, catalogues, and broadsides. I would like the Adverts 250 Project to explore all of those, even as it remains faithful to its primary mission, a “new” newspaper advertisement featured every day.

As I include diverse advertising media in the coming weeks and months, much of it will come from decades other than the 1760s. For today, however, I have chosen two items that would have been in circulation at the same time as the newspaper advertisements featured throughout the week: trade cards issued by bookbinder Andrew Barclay in the mid 1760s.

The first, according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1764 through 1767. It measures 11 cm x 12 cm (or 4¼ in x 4¾ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 1
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1764-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

(Let’s take a little digital humanities detour here. As I have stated repeatedly, digital sources are wonderful and have revolutionized the work done by scholars and opened up new levels of access to historic sources for scholars and general audiences alike. But digital sources are not without their shortcomings. Viewing original sources on screens tends to standardize them. They appear to “be” whatever size the screen happens to be. As a result, all sources take on the same size. Others with much more digital humanities experience have commented on this at great length, but it bears repeating here, especially since I will be returning to the actual size, rather than the virtual size, of today’s featured trade cards later.)

The second, again according to the American Antiquarian Society’s catalog, dates to approximately 1765 through 1767. It measures 6 cm x 9 cm (or 2½ in x 3½ in).

Feb 26 - Barclay Trade Card 2
Trade card distributed by bookbinder Andrew Bradford (ca. 1765-1767).  American Antiquarian Society.

Both trade cards list the same address, but use slightly different language: “Next Door but one to the sign of the Three KINGS … in Cornhill Boston” and “next Door but one North of the three KINGS, in Cornhill Boston.” Thomas Johnston (1708-1767) engraved both. (Johnston’s death explains why both cards have been dated to 1767 at the latest.)

Unlike most of the newspaper advertisements for goods and services printed in the 1760s, these trade cards used both text and images to make appeals to potential customers. In addition to giving Barclay’s location, both announced that he bound and sold books, “Gilt or plain.” Consumers were accustomed to making choices and selecting goods that corresponded to their rank and stature. Offering “Gilt or plain” bindings allowed customers to choose features that corresponded to other decisions they made about how to present themselves to others.

Each trade card included an image of man leaning over a bookbinding press, hard at work. Shelves stocked with books are on display in the background. The books, bookbinding press, and assorted tools were testaments to Barclay’s trade. Both images also suggested an important quality that Barclay wanted past and potential customers to associate with him: industriousness. In both images, a bookbinder wearing an apron could be seen busily at work. Benjamin Franklin did not begin writing his famous Autobiography until 1771 (and it was not published until 1791, after his death), but other eighteenth-century artisans certainly knew the value of industry and the appearance of industriousness that Franklin extolled in his memoir.

Classifying and cataloging early American advertising media is as much art as science. Such items often defy strictly defined categories. I have described both of these items as “trade cards.” In the AAS catalog, however, both are described as “advertising cards” in the genre/form field. That seems like an appropriate description. Although I have heard curators and other staff at the AAS refer to such items as “trade cards,” there are a variety of reasons why catalogers would choose the alternate (and perhaps broader) “advertising cards” to classify these items.

One of these trade cards was featured in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, the first volume of the impressive History of the Book in America. There it is described as a “binder’s label.” That is a much narrower category than either “trade card” or “advertising card.” It is likely more accurate for its specificity (but I believe that fewer researchers would find it in the AAS catalog if it were classified only as “binder’s label” rather than “advertising card”).

This is where the size of these items becomes important. Most trade cards were larger, making them easier to pass from hand to hand, but also significant enough that they would not be misplaced easily. Many also tended to be large enough that vendors could record purchases and write receipts on the reverse (transforming them into billheads, of sorts).

These relatively small items, on the other hand, would have much more easily gotten lost in the shuffle or discarded … unless they were secured inside a book. Andrew Barclay likely pasted one of these labels inside some of the books he bound for his patrons. In the process, he transformed both the service he provided and the goods he sold into advertising media. When that happened, colonial consumers did not possess their books exclusively; instead, they shared ownership with an artisan who left his mark on a material object that happened to be in their possession. Some readers pasted their own bookplates in the volumes they owned, but Andrew Barclay’s binder’s label pre-empted that practice. Consumers could still place a bookplate in books bound by Barclay, but unless they pasted their own bookplate over his label, their act of taking possession competed with, rather than negated, Barclay’s label.

In the end, readers who took their books to Barclay to be bound ended up purchasing an advertisement that they would later encounter every time they used the item they had purchased from him.  Every time they opened a book bound by Barclay consumers were once again exposed to his binder’s label advertisement.

Bonus: Edward Pole’s Advertising Campaign

Yesterday evening I discovered that the American Antiquarian Society included a newspaper advertisement in its Instagram feed earlier in the day, a delightful surprise made even better by a generous reference to the Adverts 250 Project.  Please visit the AAS Instagram feed to see the advertisement and their commentary.

I was also excited because I recognized the advertiser, Edward Pole, a “Fishing-Tackle-Maker” who also operated a wholesale and retail grocery store in Philadelphia in the 1770s and 1780s.  Unlike most newspaper advertisements featured in the Adverts 250 Project so far, Pole’s advertisement (from fifteen years later, June 1781) included a woodcut to catch readers’ attention:  a striking image of a fish, certainly appropriate for an entrepreneur who peddled fishing tackle.  Woodcuts accompanying newspaper advertisements became more common during the last third of the eighteenth century.  Some advertisers, like Pole, used them as brands for their products and businesses.

Pole’s woodcut probably looked familiar to consumers in Philadelphia in 1781.  It appeared regularly in the Pennsylvania Packet (at least as early as May 1774), but that was not the only newspaper that included a woodcut of a fish with Pole’s commercial notices.  Pole placed advertisements for fishing tackle, including a very similar fish (this time with a decorative border), in the Freemen’s Journal in 1784.

Pole Newspaper Advert
Advertisement from the Freemen’s Journal (March 24, 1784).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition,the savvy Edward Pole made use of multiple advertising media.  He distributed an engraved billhead for his receipts as early as the 1770s.  The billhead’s elaborate engraving featured a triptych logo in the upper left corner of the sheet, complete with rococo-style frames surrounding casks, crates, and scales on the left and right and the words “Edwd Pole’s GROCERY STORE Wholesale & Retail” in the center.  This billhead, with manuscript notations from 1771, is part of the Norris Papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Sometime in the late 1770s or early 1780s, he also distributed engraved trade cards featuring a rectangular vignette of two gentlemen fishing in a stream above a description of the wares stocked in his shop.  Pole eventually resorted to broadsides (or, in modern terms, posters) for his business ventures.

Edward Pole Trade Card
Edward Pole’s Trace Card (ca. 1780).  Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

In addition to trade cards, billheads, and broadsides, Pole most prolifically advertised in several of Philadelphia’s newspapers, often distinguishing his advertisements from others on the page by including a woodcut of a fish, as we have seen.  Pole’s use of multiple media allowed him to publicize his wares widely.  Most advertisements relied exclusively on newspapers for their marketing, but Pole took an innovative approach by experimenting with other forms as he encouraged potential customers to visit his shop.

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.