December 17

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

Dec 17 - 12:17:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (December 17, 1767).

“He intends to keep an Auction of BOOKS and JEWELLERY.”

Shopkeepers who advertised merchandise for retail sale in colonial newspapers competed with vendue masters (or auctioneers) who provided a popular alternative means of acquiring consumer goods, both new and secondhand. Announcements for vendue sales, often accompanied by lists of items up for auction, appeared in some eighteenth-century newspapers nearly as frequently as advertisements placed by shopkeepers. Compared to retailers, however, many vendue masters did not devote as much effort to marketing goods soon to go up for bidding, perhaps because one of the most common appeals deployed by shopkeepers – low prices – was an inherent part of auction sales. Vendue masters could not guarantee bargains, but each and every sale promised the possibility of a great deal that could not be beat by haggling with shopkeepers. Although their advertisements did not go into as much detail as those placed by retailers, auctioneers also incorporated other popular appeals to attract potential customers, including quality, fashion, and consumer choice. Shopkeepers may have refined these strategies and created other innovative methods of marketing their wares as a means of competing with the deep discounts made possible by selling goods to the highest bidders.

That their newspaper notices differed from shopkeepers’ advertisements does not mean, however, that vendue masters were indifferent marketers. They invested their energy in other means of inciting demand and enticing potential customers to visit their action rooms. In December 1767, for instance, the “PUBLIC VENDUE MASTER” in Philadelphia announced that he “intends to keep an Auction of BOOKS and JEWELLERY.” He called on colonists “who have any to dispose of” to contact him with a list of items they wished to include in the auction. He requested that sellers contact him by the end of the month so their items “may be inserted in the first Catalogue.” In compiling and distributing auction catalogs, vendue masters added another genre to the extensive array of eighteenth-century printed advertising media that included broadsides, trade cards, billheads, furniture labels, magazine wrappers, and newspaper notices. Auction catalogs served many purposes. In contrast to relatively short advertisements in newspapers, they much more effectively invoked consumer choice by elaborating on the goods going up for bidding. Catalogs prompted potential customers to imagine possessing the items listed and to anticipate participating in the vendue. In addition to making purchases, that participation could include socializing with others who gathered for the sale before, during, and after the auction. Catalogs also guided consumers through vendues, operating as programs that they could follow or even annotate.

Philadelphia’s public vendue master alerted potential customers about an upcoming auction for books and jewelry, but publication and dissemination of an auction catalog allowed for targeted marketing of colonists most likely to participate in this sale. To that end, catalogs offered certain advantages over newspaper advertisements.

September 19

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

sep-19-9191766-virginia-gazette
Virginia Gazette (September 19, 1766).

“To be SOLD, by way of LOTTERY … SUNDRY Millinery Goods.”

Joseph Calvert operated a vendue (or auction) house, where he likely sold some of his own wares but also earned commissions for assisting other entrepreneurs to sell their merchandise. The latter appears to have been the case in this instance, considering that the advertisement directed potential customers interested in “SUNDRY Millinery Goods” to see “Mrs. King.” The advertisement listed a variety of goods, many of them certainly imported. Yet describing the “Millinery Goods” as “fresh made up, and in the newest fashion” suggested that King was not merely a shopkeeper who sold goods that arrived readymade. She likely also worked as a milliner herself, making or modifying “a variety of caps and fillets … with many other articles.”

The vendue master and the milliner advertised a scheme designed to liquidate King’s merchandise and guarantee revenues of £76. Rather than hold an auction that might yield lower bids, they instead sponsored a lottery. King’s inventory would be divided into 102 lots to be distributed as prizes for winners. Only 304 tickets were to be sold, thus guaranteeing participants that each ticket had approximately a one-in-three chance of winning a prize (rather than being one of the “Blanks”). Presumably, the merchandise had been divided into lots of varying values with certain prizes much more significant windfalls for winners than others.

Colonists regularly bought and sold goods by vendue in the eighteenth century. Auctions were often forms of entertainment, but Calvert and King introduced an additional layer of excitement and anticipation in their attempt to incite interest in the “SUNDRY Millinery Goods.” Selling these items “by way of LOTTERY” may have attracted buyers willing to gamble on huge rewards for a modest investment, buyers that may not have been interested or able to participate in bidding at a traditional auction.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 30, 1766).

“If not disposed of in 10 Days will be repacked.”

This advertisement announced the eighteenth-century version of a “limited time only” sale, a tactic meant to generate interest and prompt potential customers to make a purchase as soon as possible or else miss out on an opportunity.

Today’s advertisement played on scarcity in more than one way. It claimed that the “Beautiful variety of Chinces” that had just arrived from London were “never before exposed to Sale.” This appeal served more than one purpose. It reassured buyers that these printed textiles were not castoffs that did not sell in other markets, but it also made clear that colonists who bought from this shipment would gain something unique. They would be able to make garments and other items that were distinctive. They would be able to set themselves apart from other consumers participating in the same marketplace.

To maintain this sense of uniqueness and scarcity, the seller promised to sell these chintzes for a limited time. Any overstock would not linger; instead, it would be “repacked” and not available for sale. Don’t hesitate, this advertisement warned, or else risk missing out. The sense of urgency may have helped to get potential customers through the door just to see the patterns on the textiles that merited this special treatment.

April 15

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 15 - 4:14:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (April 14, 1766).

“A parcel of HOUSEHOLD AND KITCHEN FURNITURE.”

 

This advertises goods, more specifically, household furniture and kitchen items from the home of the late Captain Morley Harison. This “public Vendue” was different from some others due to the fact that an individual had passed away, which contrasts with “public Vendue” of goods in the scenario when people were moving away. This advertisement does not provide a complete listing of the “HOUSEHOLD AND KITCHEN FURNITURE” that would be sold, unlike the advertisement from February 10 for “House Furniture” that I previously featured.

Both modern-day and eighteenth-century kitchens contained tools that can be used to prepare food and aid in cooking. Modern technologies have changed the nature of kitchens and changed the processes involved in food preparation, meaning that unlike in the eighteenth century, women are not forced to spend all day in the kitchen to provide meals for the family. Innovations such as ovens, crockpots, and microwaves mean that food can be heated up and ready to serve without someone having to stir a pot all day.

Instead of having a stove to cook the meals, boil water, and heat things up, eighteenth-century kitchens were outfitted with a hearth for cooking. The hearth was a recess in the wall that was placed at the bottom of a chimney. Colonists used a contained fire in the hearth to cook food. A spit, a tool that held a pot or tea kettle over a fire, aided in boiling water. Flavor could be added to foods because of the mortar and pestle, a tool comprised of a sturdy bowl and a heavy stick that was used to crush and grind dried herbs and corn for meal preparation.

To share this information with young historians, here’s a lesson plan that outlines how to make historically-accurate comparisons between colonial and modern-day American kitchens.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I appreciate the way that Kathryn uses a brief reference to “HOUSEHOLD AND KITCHEN FURNITURE” to explore how kitchens have changed since the colonial period, in terms of both the types of equipment found in them and the labor involved in meal preparation. As she notes, a variety of technologies have reduced the amount of time we devote to preparing food.

We should not assume, however, that modern Americans hold a monopoly on devising ways to save time and reduce labor in the kitchen. Colonists also relied on a variety of technological innovations, though some of them seem quite antiquated or quaint to us today. Every time I have visited Fortress Louisbourg I have been mesmerized by the eighteenth-century spit jack in the kitchen of one of the homes in the village – and I was not only the one. Many visitors seemed as interested by everyday life and the tools used by settlers as they were excited to explore the military aspects of the fortress.

Apr 15 - Spit Jack
Spit Jack from the Collections of Colonial Williamsburg.

So, what is a spit jack? Meat was often cooked on a spit, but the spit had to be turned constantly in order to evenly cook the meat. (Think of rotisserie cooking today). This involved a fair amount of labor. Somebody from the household – the wife, a child, or a servant or slave – had to spend hours turning the spit. Mechanization made this unnecessary, freeing up that labor to be directed elsewhere. A mechanized spit turner – known as a spit jack – used a system of pulleys and weights to accomplish what otherwise would have done manually.

 

To see a spit jack in action, watch this video from Thomas Ironworks.

April 10

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 10 - 4:10:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (April 10, 1766)

“Public Vendue. This Day, the 10th April, Will be Sold … A Great Variety of ENGLISH GOODS.”

This advertisement is obviously much shorter than many of those that were featured last week, but it should not be overlooked because its mention of selling goods that were imported to Boston from England is worth exploring. Settlers from England first occupied American soil in the sixteenth century, though it was not until the seventeenth century that the first successful English colonies were established in the parts of America that are known today as the Chesapeake (in 1607) and New England (in 1620).

During the colonial period, goods were sent by ship to ports in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, or New York from England. America’s dependence on imports from England and throughout the British Empire helped bolster England’s trade-based mercantilist economy. Tea was one example of an imported item commonly sold in colonial America. In response to the 1765 Stamp Act colonists threatened to stop importing items from England.

Check out this video to learn more about the economic developments of the thirteen colonies and overseas trade. (You will have to register for a free trial to watch the entire video.)

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kathryn has selected an advertisement that allows us to explore colonial commerce along multiple trajectories. The reference to “ENGLISH GOODS” prompts modern readers less familiar with mercantilism and trading patterns throughout the early modern Atlantic world and beyond to gain better familiarity with the networks of commerce and exchange that crisscrossed the Atlantic and the globe, as well as the policies to regulate such trade enacted by the English government. In and of itself, this is an important topic for students just learning about colonial America to explore.

For others with more familiarity with the contours of trade and commerce in early America, this advertisement offers an interesting glimpse of the intersections of print culture, marketing goods, and “Public Vendue” sales. This advertisement seems especially timely given that I discussed eighteenth-century book catalogues just two days ago. (That post featured John Mein’s advertisement that filled almost an entire page in the April 3, 1766, issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. It appeared again in the April 10 issue, from which Kathryn selected today’s advertisement.)

Note that today’s advertisement promises that “Printed Catalogues will be timely dispersed by J. Russell, Auctioneer.” Rather than publish a list of goods up for sale in a newspaper advertisement, Russell turned to another printed medium. I wonder about the means of “dispers[ing]” these catalogues. I am also curious about how consumers would have read and used them. Like many other advertisements, this one raises as many questions about print culture and consumption as it answers.

Occasionally I see references to these sorts of catalogues, but not enough to make me believe they were standard practice for vendue sales in colonial America. Since they were ephemeral items not many seem to have survived. (Once the semester ends and I have more time to spend in the archive, I plan to do a more systematic search for such items. Here’s another interesting example of how this collaborative project with my students has helped to shape my research agenda.)

I think it is also worth noting that the “Public Vendue” was scheduled to take place “at the Store under Green & Russell’s Printing Office.” John Green and Joseph Russell were the printers of the Massachusetts Gazette. This advertisement also indicates that “J. Russell” served as “Auctioneer.” I suspect that printers who also ran vendues were more likely than other auctioneers to create and disperse “Printed Catalogues” to promote their sales. I have devoted an entire chapter of my book manuscript to arguing that printers were the vanguard of advertising innovation in eighteenth-century America. Here we see one more example.

March 14

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1766).

“Pink Lutestrings, blue Taffity, white Tabby, Velvets, purple Satten.”

I chose yesterday’s advertisement because it included a visual image, a woodcut of the Sign of the Blue Hand, that helps us to imagine what we might have seen on the streets of a colonial city. Today’s advertisement does not include an image, but it is so descriptive that we can envision the fabrics on display at “the Vendue-House, lower Room, near the Parade,” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We can also imagine the garments that many of these textiles eventually became.

Although the list of items for sale seems relatively short compared to other advertisements, it was packed with details that helped potential customers assess the fabrics and distinguish among them. Eighteenth-century readers would have instantly recognized lutestrings and taffity (taffeta) as types of silks, whether they happened to be pink, blue, or striped. Similarly, they would have known the difference in the texture and appearance of tabby weave (also known as plain weave) and satin weave (with a glossy surface and a dull back).

We continue to “speak” a language of textiles (and associate images with them) in the twenty-first century, but not nearly to the same extent as the average colonist did 250 years ago.

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In preparing this entry, I was delighted to come across Burnley & Trowbridge Co., a modern enterprise that “specializes in historically accurate fabrics, notions, patterns, research materials, and related items.” They work with historic sites, museums, and re-enactors. Not surprisingly, they’re located in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I enjoyed exploring their website, where I was able to browse images of reproduction textiles similar to those described in today’s advertisement and view a variety of patterns for making historically accurate garments. I was also interested in one of their education endeavors, the Historic Fashion Workshop Series,” which includes hands-on workshops for “Short Cloak, Pelisse, Mantle or Mantelet” and “The Belted Waistcoat.”

February 10

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

Feb 10 - 2:10:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 10, 1766).

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

“Will be Sold by PUBLIC VENDUE … A variety of genteel House Furniture, belonging to a Gentleman going out of the Province, viz. Mohogony Desk and Book-Case.”

This advertisement features a series of household goods for sale, listing both the type of items and how many of the items are available.  This particular advertisement was placed by an individual who was leaving the ‘province,’ which, for all intents and purposes, meant the same thing as the colony.  Today, we might look at this ad as an eighteenth-century version of an advertisement for a yard sale of a homeowner who was leaving the state. It is always interesting to look at something from history and see it through a modern lens. When a person moves, they sometimes sell their possessions to make some funds for the move and get rid of possessions that will not be needed or wanted for their journey elsewhere.

One item featured in the advertisement that I find intriguing is the mahogany desk.  Desks of the Colonial period were sometimes ornate, featuring far more details and far more lavish woods than what is utilized in today’s desks.  To a large extent, furniture helped to designate a family or individual’s social class.  Wealthier families would have the most ornate woods and intricately-carved pieces in their homes, while middling individuals would have pieces that were far more basic.

Other items also caught my attention: the “porringers” and “salver.”  A porringer was a special type of bowl that featured one or two decorated handles and were often made out of silver or pewter.  They were often used for serving soup or porridge. (Check out this modern recipe for perfect porridge from BBC Good Food magazine.) Once again, the more ornate the dishes were, the more wealth that a family had. Silver was a sign of elite status, while pewter was a sign of the middling and lower sorts.  A salver, on the other hand, was an eighteenth-century tray.  These also could be made of silver or pewter, with the same connotations for their worth. Check out this silver salver crafted by Ebenezer Coker of London.

Feb 10 - Silver Salver
Silver Salver (Ebenezer Coker, London, 1766).

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

One of the reasons I founded the Adverts 250 Project was to use advertisements to open up the daily lives of colonists. I anticipated that some advertisements would be featured because they were simply mundane, what colonists expected to see, rather than exceptional or extraordinary in some way.

Kathryn has chosen an advertisement and offered commentary that illuminates the daily lives of colonists in several ways, some of them demonstrating a continuity with our modern lives and others demonstrating how much has changed. I confess that I never thought of this kind of “Public Vendue” notice as an eighteenth-century “garage sale” advertisement, but Kathryn makes a valid comparison that I will incorporate into my own classroom explanations in the future.

I also appreciate the way she worked through some of the language in the advertisement. Porringers? Salvers? Those would have been housewares encountered by many early Americans on a daily basis. The words they used to describe them would have been part of their everyday lexicon. Yet the words sound strange to most of us today. The uses, to some extent, seem archaic. Who needs a porringer to serve soup or porridge when there’s a bowl in the cupboard?!

The household goods this gentleman sought to sell included one more item much less common today. His “Case containing 12 Knives and Forks, [and] 12 Spoons” also included a spoon “for Marrow.” That’s not a standard piece of many silverware sets sold today, reflecting a change in dining habits since the colonial era.

February 3

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

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

Feb 3 - 2:3:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766)

“A Silver Sugar Chest and Quart Can, Gold and Silver Lace …”

A variety of the items to be sold in this new public auction room seem like the type of items that wealthier families during the eighteenth century would purchase. Goods such as horse whips and saddles would appeal more to wealthier classes because they were more likely to own many horses, as they were a symbol of wealth in the eighteenth century (and in some cases they remain a symbol of wealth to this day). Also, fancier fabrics like gold and silver lace would appeal to upper classes because they tended to dress in a more stylized manner than more common people.

Likewise, a variety of items appeal to the general public. Items such as buttons, blankets, hinges, and household furniture were things that that everybody needed to have. The advertisement demonstrates the flexibility of the vendor and his desire to reach a wide audience of customers. This colonial vendor had a vast number of clients and the knowledge of their necessities and desires.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

What an assortment of goods up for sale at “PUBLIC VENDUE” on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings! I agree with Maia’s assessment that this advertisement includes merchandise intended to appeal to many different kinds of potential customers. A consumer revolution was taking place in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic world, a transformation in consumption habits experienced not only by the elite but, as the century progressed, increasingly by the middling sort and, to the alarm of some critics, the lower sorts as well, though some colonists were able to participate to greater extents than others.

Some of the goods on offer here would have permitted the better sort to demonstrate their affluence by engaging in conspicuous consumption that others would easily recognize as markers of their social and economic stature. Yet, as Maia suggests, many of the other items likely ended up in the possession of colonists from more humble backgrounds. Some may have even purchased unexpected items in hopes doing so might contribute to their social mobility.

This advertisement also hints at a much larger assortment of merchandise for consumers and retailers to purchase. Note that “&c.” (the eighteenth-century method of writing “etc.”) was included twice, suggesting too much inventory to include in the small space available.