June 16

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (June 13, 1771).

Advertisements … are by him translated gratis.”

When printer Henry Miller (Johann Heinrich Müller) moved to a new location in the spring of 1771, he placed advertisements in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal to alert current and prospective customers.  He also used the opportunity to advise them of specialized services he provided, proclaiming that he performed “all Manner of PRINTING-WORK, in English, German, and other Languages.”  In particular, Miller noted “English and German ADVERTISEMENTS done on the shortest Notice; and a German NEWS-PAPER published every Tuesday.”  A migrant from Germany himself, Miller granted prospective advertisers greater access to the sizable German community in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Miller commenced printing the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote in 1762, making it well established by the time he ran his advertisements in the colony’s English newspapers in 1771.  The final line of those advertisements in those newspapers echoed a note that appeared in the masthead of his own newspaper, usually the only portion printed in English rather than German.  “All ADVERTISEMENTS,” it read, “to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.”  In offering his services as a translator and not charging for it, Miller sought to generate revenue by increasing the number of advertisers who placed notices in the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote.

The printer also produced other forms of advertising.  Items “printed single” likely included broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, and catalogs.  Like their counterparts printed in English, those advertisements were ephemeral compared to the newspapers and almanacs that came off of Miller’s press.  Few survive today, but Miller’s newspaper advertisements and masthead suggest that various kinds of advertisements in German enhanced the vibrant advertising culture that emerged in Philadelphia in the decades before the American Revolution.  As newspapers, handbills, and other items printed by Miller circulated in Philadelphia and beyond, colonists encountered marketing in more than one language, underscoring global networks of commerce and migration in vast early America.

February 17

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

Wöchentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (February 12, 1771).

All ADVERTISEMENTS … translated gratis.”

Henry Miller (Johann Heinrich Muller) printed the Wochentliche Philadelphische Staatsbote from January 1762 through May 1779, serving the German-speaking community in Philadelphia and its hinterlands.  Reflecting the reach of the publication, Miller changed the name to the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote in January 1768.  The newspaper began as a weekly, like most others published in colonial America.  It temporarily became a semi-weekly from May 1775 through July 1776, but reverted to a weekly after that.

While intended primarily for German speakers, the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote also aided other colonists in disseminating information, including legal notices and advertisements for consumer goods and services, to broader audiences than they otherwise would have reached via the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Pennsylvania Gazette, Pennsylvania Journal, and other English-language newspapers published in Philadelphia.  Miller encouraged such submissions in the masthead with a nota bene in English, usually the only portion of the newspaper not in German.  “AllADVERTISEMENTS,” the printer proclaimed, “to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.” Placing the nota bene about translating advertisements in the masthead at the top of the first page made it much more visible than nestling it in the colophon at the bottom of the final page.  Miller wanted to increase the likelihood that prospective advertisers would become aware of this service.  To make it even more enticing, he did the translations for free rather than applying an additional charge.  Any advertisements “printed single,” such as broadsides, handbills, and trade cards, yielded even wider circulation of information among German-speaking colonists.

The Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote served a particular community, but not in an insulated fashion.  The printer offered a means for English-speaking colonists to share information and seek customers among the German-speaking community.  For purveyors of goods and services, this presented opportunities to enlarge the market for their wares.  This was good business for everyone involved, including German speakers who gained access to more information, English speakers who attracted customers to their businesses, and the printer who generated revenues from each advertisement he translated and published.

January 24

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

Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote (January 24, 1769).

All ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper … are by him translated gratis.”

The Adverts 250 Project does not often feature advertisements placed in the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote, not because they were any less prevalent in that newspaper than others but because I do not possess sufficient German language skills to incorporate that publication into the larger project. As a result, the overall project is indeed truncated because it rarely includes advertisements that ran in the newspaper published by Henry Miller (Johann Heinrich Müller) in Germantown, just outside of Philadelphia.

Miller sought to serve residents of the busy urban port and the surrounding region, whether or not they happened to speak or read German. He published the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote almost entirely in German, with the exception of the final line of the masthead: “ALL ADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single by HENRY MILLER, publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis.” Miller made it possible for English-speaking merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans to promote consumer goods and services to their German-speaking neighbors, as well as others to publish paid notices that covered a range of purposes, from legal notices to advertisements about stray livestock. In addition to inserting their notices into the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote, they could also have them “printed single” as broadsides, handbills, trade cards, billheads, or other ephemera that came off printing presses in eighteenth-century America. To better encourage prospective advertisers to take advantage of this opportunity, Miller did not charge for an important part of the service. He did all of the translations for free.

This presents a new trajectory that scholars of advertising in early America could examine: how many advertisers that placed notices in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and the Pennsylvania Journal inserted the same notices in the Wochentliche Pennsylvania Staatsbote? Were any types of notices most likely to appear in both English and German newspapers? For instance, did legal notices run in both English and German newspapers more frequently than advertisements for consumer goods and services? One of the pleasures of working on the Adverts 250 Project is that it often just as many new questions as existing questions that it answers.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:4:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (June 4, 1767).

“He will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts.”

William Fooks of Philadelphia was quite chatty in an advertisement offering his services as “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK, for the French and Spanish Languages” to the “Gentleman Traders of this City.” To counter the effusiveness of his advertisement, he assured potential clients that of the “Secrecy, Prudence, and Intelligence” that defined his character and how he pursued his occupation. Those qualities, he asserted, “render him worthy of the Confidence of those who please to employ him.”

Although the term “tabellion” has declined in use today, residents of England and its colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have readily recognized this description of the scrivener’s vocation, an occupation closely associated with (and sometimes overlapping) the duties performed by notaries. In taking on both titles – “NOTARY and TABELLION PUBLICK” – to describe his work Fooks underscored the level of expertise he possessed. This was particularly important given both his line of work and, especially, the differences in language and legal customs inherent in doing business in French and Spanish colonies. That may explain why he composed such an extensive advertisement. Special circumstances required that he underscore and reiterate his skill and experience as a means of convincing potential clients, those “Gentleman Traders,” that they could trust and depend on his work.

To that end, Fooks stated that “he will draw any French or Spanish Writing, Contracts, Letters, or Accounts, and state them in the most proper Methods and Uses of those Countries, and in the most mercantile and accurate Manner.” He repeated this promise later in the advertisement, again noting that he drew up documents “according to the Laws, Uses, and Customs, of those Nations.” He was particularly qualified to do so as a result of the experience gained through “his long Residence in those Colonies” (though the otherwise verbose Fooks did not elaborate on which colonies or the length of his residence).

Fooks provided very specialized services that could have had significant ramifications in the lives and fortunes of his clients. He may have believed that his turgid prose was necessary to convince prospective clients to entrust him with sensitive and substantial matters. They may not have viewed his notice as chatty but instead as reassuring about the professionalism Fooks brought to his occupation.