August 15

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

Aug 15 - 8:15:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Mercury
New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (August 15, 1768).

“I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London, of making Wigs.”

In the advertisements they placed in American newspapers in late colonial period, entrepreneurs in occupations tied to fashion often underscored their connections to London, the cosmopolitan center of the Britain’s empire. Tailors, milliners, and others who made apparel often proclaimed that they were “from London.” Hairdressers and wigmakers advanced similar appeals. Even shopkeepers did so when they thought that it might help them to sell imported garments, textiles, and assorted adornments.

John Lewis, a native of New York, could not claim to be “from London,” but his origins mattered less than the time he had spent in that city. The “HAIR-DRESSER, and PERUKE-MAKER” opened his advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury by informing prospective clients that “after considerable Residence in London” he had returned to New York and set up shop. During the time that he had resided in London Lewis had worked with “the most eminent Masters in the above mentioned Branches of Business” and, as a result, had “acquired Abilities equal to any of my Brethren, in the Professions of Hair-Dressing and Wig-Making.” This made him particularly qualified to serve customers in New York and its environs.

Lewis highlighted his familiarity with current fashions and the most advanced methods of his trade, both acquired during his time in London. To that end, his advertisement served as a primer to newspaper readers about some of styles currently popular on the other side of the Atlantic. “I am Master of the new Mode, lately invented in London,” he proclaimed, “of making Wigs that shall not need dressing for six Months, preserving their Shape and first Appearance during that Time.” For those who were unaware, he firther explained that “This fashion is much esteem’d at present in England [for] its Usefulness and Convenience.” Since such wigs were new to the American marketplace, Lewis proposed another means of helping prospective clients become more familiar with them. In addition to describing the wigs in advertisements, he made several “Specimens” or samples that “Gentlemen” could examine before engaging his services.

Lewis leveraged his connections to London in his advertisement. He not only claimed familiarity with the current styles but also asserted that he was in a position to educate potential customers about new tastes and methods that they had not yet encountered in the colonies. He provided extensive detail in hopes that these factors would distinguish him from local competitors who either had never traveled to London or had not done so recently.

November 5

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

Nov 5 - 11:5:1767 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (November 5, 1767).

“He has been over to London for Improvement.”

In their advertisements, artisans who had migrated across the Atlantic frequently asserted their origins as part of their attempt to attract customers. For instance, Joseph Beck promoted himself as a “Stay-Maker, from LONDON” in the November 5, 1767, edition of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Establishing a connection to London laid the foundation for making other appeals to consumers. It often suggested some sort of specialized training in a trade (and some artisans explicitly noted that they had served out an apprenticeship with a master in London). It also signaled familiarity with the current fashions in the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Artisans sought to allay anxieties that the items they made and sold in the colonies were inferior in quality or taste when compared to the wares available in London.

Not all colonial artisans, however, could proclaim that they migrated “from LONDON” in their advertisements. Many had been born and received their training in the colonies. Such was probably the case for Thomas Perry and Mervin Perry, “Watch-Makers in the Fly” in New York.  Like many of their competitors in New York and their counterparts in other cities and towns, the Perrys not only made and repaired watches but also imported them from London. Yet they realized they could acquire more cachet among consumers if they established other connections to London. It was not sufficient merely that they acquired their merchandise from London.

To that end, the watchmakers inserted a nota bene that informed potential customers that Marvin Perry had “been over to London for Improvement, and has had Instructions from the most eminent Masters.” Although he did not undertake a complete apprenticeship in London, Perry had supplemented his training and presumably improved his skills. He implied that readers could expect that the “Instructions from the most eminent Masters” improved the quality of Perry’s work. This additional training also confirmed that he performed his work “in the neatest Manner.”

May 12

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

May 12 - 5:12:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 12, 1767).

“Gilding and all the branches of house and furniture carving.”

John Lord earned his living as a carver and gilder, but he also sold imported looking glasses, “either with or without frames, at his shop in Meeting-street” in Charleston. He likely constructed, carved, and gilded some of those frames in his own shop, replicating styles currently popular in London.

By his own account, Lord was skilled at his craft. He was capable of “gilding and all the branches of house and furniture carving, in the Chinese, French, and Gothic tastes.” In the same way that shopkeepers presented potential customers with an array of choices, Lord also catered to potential clients’ desire to express themselves through the types of ornamentation they selected for their furniture and homes. His invocation of “Chinese, French, and Gothic tastes” also echoed styles for exotic housewares, including decorative arts and imported porcelain tea sets and dishes, popular among eighteenth-century consumers who participated in increasingly global circuits of trade. Potential customers who already possessed imported Chinese porcelain, for instance, could commission looking glass frames or tables or sideboards with similar or matching elements to achieve a sense of cohesion and style.

In contrast to many other artisans who advertised in colonial newspapers, Lord did not indicate his origins. See, for example, the notice placed by “WHITING, SADLER, FROM LONDON,” that appeared immediately below Lord’s advertisement. Still, the carver and gilder asserted a connection to cosmopolitan center of the empire, reporting that because of “the many advantages he received from the best shops in London” that he was “capable of executing any ornaments in the above tastes, to the satisfaction of those gentlemen and ladies who please to employ him.” Lord suggested that he completed an apprenticeship in London or that he had worked alongside skilled artisans in notable workshops before migrating across the Atlantic. He had not learned his trade in the colonies; instead, he benefited from the cachet accrued by hinting that he had superior training compared to his provincial competitors. Closer connections to workshops in London could also mean that he developed better understandings of current fashions.

Charleston was one of the largest cities in Britain’s North American colonies, yet its residents still looked to London as they participated in consumer culture, adopted new fashions, and decorated their homes. In that context, John Lord took advantage of his previous experience working in “the best shops in London” to market his services as a carver and gilder.