September 5

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

Sep 5 - 9:5:1768 Newport Gazette
Newport Mercury (September 5, 1768).

“He will clean a Clock and keep it in good Repair three Years for One Dollar.”

When Robert Proud turned to the Newport Gazette to advertise that he “cleans Clocks and Watches” late in the summer of 1768, he determined that he needed to do more than promote the low prices he charged for his services. After proclaiming that he performed his work “as cheap as any One in America,” he listed his prices and laid a service plan for prospective customers. That plan included an initial cleaning as well as keeping clocks and watches “in good Repair” for a specified period. For clocks set his rate at “three Years for One Dollar” and for watches at “Half a Dollar [for] for One Year.” Most clock- and watchmakers, like other artisans, did not publish their fees in their advertisements. Proud backed up his assertion about his low prices by putting them on display for prospective customers to assess as they made a decision about whether to visit his shop. Some of his competitors occasionally offered to undertake additional repairs if customers were not satisfied with their initial efforts, but they usually limited such guarantees to a single year. By comparison, Proud’s service plan – three years for clocks – was quite generous.

That was enough to distinguish Proud from others who cleaned and repaired clocks and watches, yet he further elaborated on the service prospective customers could expect to receive in his efforts to attract their patronage. He efficiently completed his work, completing most jobs in a single day. For items dropped off in the morning, Proud either had them ready that evening or “next Day at farthest.” Prospective customers could expect the work done in a timely manner rather than consigning their clocks and watches to linger in Proud’s workshop. Furthermore, they did not need to interact with him directly in order to receive quality service, an appeal that Proud made especially for “any Person in the Country [who] will favour him with their Work.” Anyone who chose to have their clocks and watches delivered to his workshop rather than visiting in person and interacting directly with Proud could still “depend on being as well used as if present.”

Proud concluded his advertisement with a very different sort of appeal: he noted that he had fallen on hard times. “The Business is now so small,” he lamented, “that without some Increase, he cannot a get a comfortable Subsistence for his Family.” The situation was so dire that even though he had served the Newport community for twenty years that “from Necessity, [he] must, in a short Time, leave this his native Place, to seek his Bread elsewhere.” Proud pivoted from laying out his innovative service plan to attempting to provoke sympathy from readers. It must have been difficult to acknowledge his financial insecurity in the public prints, but by pairing that disclosure with his detailed service plan Proud suggested that he did not make false promises. Instead, prospective customers could depend on him following through on efficiently repairing their clocks and watches and returning them in a timely manner. His livelihood and the “Subsistence for his Family” was at stake if he did not deliver on the services and service plan he described in his advertisement.

May 16

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

May 16 - 5:16:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (May 16, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY … MAKES and repairs all Kinds od Clocks and Watches.”

 

When it came to advertising, watch- and clockmaker Burrows Dowdney was industrious, advertising in more than one newspaper published in Philadelphia in the late 1760s. Although he deployed fairly standard language to describe his services, pledging “the utmost care and dispatch” in doing his work “after the neatest and best manner,” he adopted other means of distinguishing his advertisements from those placed by other artisans. In particular, Dowdney embellished his notices with visual images related to his occupation and his wares.

Yesterday the Adverts 250 Project examined one of those advertisements published in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It included a woodcut of an engraved clock dial with hours in Roman numerals and minutes in Arabic numerals as well as other decorative elements. Dowdney placed another advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle the same week that he advertised in the Gazette, repeating the copy almost exactly but with a different and even more impressive woodcut. It depicted an elegant dial with an arched top that denoted the phases of the moon. Readers could also view the day of the month on the dial. These additional elements further testified to the complexity of the clocks Dowdney constructed, proclaiming to prospective customers that they were not intended merely for keeping time. Instead, they were meant for display, to create genteel living spaces, to impress friends and visitors. Although not depicted in the woodcut, readers could expect the ornamentation of the cases to rival the engraved dials.

Commissioning not one but two woodcuts represented a significant investment for Dowdney, but he may have considered it a necessary expense as he commenced his own business “in the Shop lately occupied by Mr. Emanuel Rouse” on Front Street. As a newcomer, he needed to attract a clientele for his shop quickly to avoid failing before even having a chance to get started. Commissioning woodcuts that featured much more detail than most of the images that appeared in colonial newspapers demonstrated his commitment and attention to detail, reassuring prospective customers that he did not merely reiterate the usual marketing pitches but did indeed construct clocks “after the neatest and best manner.” The woodcuts certified the quality and elegance associated with clocks made by Burrows Dowdney.

May 15

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

May 15 - 5:12:1768 Pennsylvania Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Pennsylvania Gazette (May 12, 1768).

“BURROWS DOWDNEY, Clock and Watch Maker, in Front-street.”

Relatively few advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers included visual images. Those that did tended to feature stock images that belonged to the printer and could be inserted interchangeably in advertisements from the appropriate genre, such as woodcuts of horses, houses, slaves, and ships. Woodcuts of houses could be used in any real estate notice. Woodcuts depicting runaway slaves could be used in any notice alerting colonists about fugitives that might be in their midst.

Some advertisers, however, did invest in woodcuts to enliven their advertisements, distinguishing them from others that consisted solely of text or that were decorated with generic images readers were accustomed to seeing in the pages of the public prints. Unlike the stock images, these woodcuts belonged to advertisers rather than printers. Even if the image happened to match the contents of other advertisements, such woodcuts appeared only in connection to those who had commissioned them. For instance, clock- and watchmakers regularly advertised in the pages of the Pennsylvania Gazette, yet the woodcut depicting the face of a clock appeared solely in notices placed by Burrows Dowdney. That unique image made his advertisements distinctive and memorable for potential customers, especially since it was sometimes the only image on a page otherwise composed of text (as was the case on the final page of the supplement that accompanied the May 12, 1768, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette).

Many of the woodcuts commissioned by advertisers dominated the notices in which they appeared, but that was especially true for Dowdney’s advertisement. The image of the clock dial accounted for approximately half of the space his notice occupied on the page. Readers would have been able to identify his occupation and wares at a glance, even if “CLOCKS” and “WATCHES” had not been listed in all capitals in the copy that appeared to the right of the image. Printing technologies of the period did not particularly facilitate including images in advertisements, yet some advertisers still invested both money and energy in experimenting with woodcuts that would set their advertisements apart from others that flooded the pages of eighteenth-century newspapers.

December 21

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

Dec 21 - 12:21:1767 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (December 21, 1767).

John M’Lane stop’d last Wednesday Night a Large Silver Spoon.”

Watchmaker John McLane advertised his services in the Boston Post-Boy for several weeks in December 1767. He relied on two marketing strategies to attract potential clients, one commonly used by artisans and the other a clever innovation that testified to his character in addition to his credentials.

McLane opened his advertisement with a recitation of his training to assure customers that he was qualified to work as a watchmaker. He had completed an apprenticeship, having “serv’d his Time in Dublin to one of the best Finishers there.” On its own, this might have impressed prospective clients, but McLane also reported that he received additional training when he “work’d in London for improvement.” Artisans who migrated across the Atlantic frequently asserted their connections to the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the empire, often providing details about their previous training and work.

McLane’s second strategy, however, deviated from colonial artisans’ usual marketing practices. He appended a nota bene that reported he had “stop’d last Wednesday Night a large Silver Spoon.” In other words, a man that McLane deemed untrustworthy had attempted to sell him a spoon, but the watchmaker suspected stolen goods. He confiscated the spoon and advertised descriptions of both the spoon and the man who attempted to sell it to him. The owner, upon recognizing the monogram or “Marks of the Spoon,” could contact McLane to have it returned.

When he “stop’d” the silver spoon, McLane prevented it from circulating in an informal economy or black market, an alternative means for many colonists to participate in the consumer revolution. Less scrupulous artisans would have purchased it at a bargain price and not questioned how the stranger who presented the spoon had acquired it. By taking this action, McLane demonstrated his character to potential customers in a manner they might remember longer than they would recall his training in Dublin and additional experience in London. Not only was he skilled, he was also trustworthy.

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.”

September 24

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

Sep 24 - 9:24:1767 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (September 21, 1767).

“Good, sound, and neat silver watches.”

Advertisements for imported goods – textiles, housewares, hardware – filled the pages of colonial newspapers. In most instances, artisans and manufacturers in England made items colonists either could not produce on their own or that surpassed the quality of similar items made by colonial crafters. As the eighteenth-century progressed, however, greater numbers of skilled artisans participated in transatlantic migrations, bringing their expertise to colonial cities and towns. They set up shop in their new places of residence; their skills and experience contributed to improving the reputation associated with domestically produced goods.

By the 1760s, residents of Philadelphia and major urban ports worried that observers in England, especially London, might look down on them as backwater provincials since they were so far distant from the center of the empire. Some advertisers in Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia attempted to allay these anxieties with assurances that they made and sold goods of the highest quality and most recent fashions. Yet concerns about cosmopolitanism were not confined to the largest and busiest port cities. In Lancaster, more than fifty miles west of Philadelphia, Thomas Skidmore opened a workshop where customers interested in purchasing expensive watches “may be here supplied as in London.”

In an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Skidmore, a “WATCH-FINISHER, from London,” insisted that local consumers were no longer “under the necessity of importing good watches from England or Ireland.” For only £12, he made “good, sound, and neat silver watches” in the town of Lancaster. Skidmore did not work alone; instead, he employed two assistants, “the one a movement-maker, and the other a motion-maker,” both of whom had previously followed their trade in England. Working together, the three produced “good watches” that Skidmore asserted rivaled any imported from Britain. Skidmore was so certain of the quality of the work done in his shop that he offered a guarantee that his watches would not require repairs in the first three years. He made appeals that would have been familiar to residents of Philadelphia, the largest city in the American colonies in the decade before the Revolution. His location in Lancaster, however, demonstrates that desire to participate in consumer culture extended beyond urban centers, far into the hinterland.

June 20

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

Jun 20 - 6:20:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (June 20, 1767).

“For further Particulars inquire of EDWARD SPALDING, in Providence.”

Edward Spalding (sometimes Spauldin in other advertisements) had two purposes when he took an advertisement in the Providence Gazette in the spring of 1767. First, he wished to sell a farm in Coventry. As long as he was purchasing space in the newspaper, he also opted to promote his business. He reminded readers that he “still carries on the Business of cleaning and repairing CLOCKS and WATCHES” at his shop across the street from the printing office. In the past, Spalding advertised fairly regularly. He was one of the first advertisers to insert commercial notices in the Providence Gazette when it resumed publication the previous year. He must have considered it a good return on his investment since he decided to include commercial marketing at the end of his notice concerning real estate.

Spalding’s hybrid advertisement presents a conundrum for conducting any sort of quantitative study of advertising in eighteenth-century America. Newspapers of the era did not have classifieds. They did not organize advertisements in any particular order or by categories that suggested the general purpose of the notices. Sometimes, as seen here, individual advertisements had multiple purposes. Spalding and the printers of the Providence Gazette did not classify this advertisement. How should historians do so? It would not be appropriate to categorize it solely as a real estate notice or solely as marketing consumer goods and services. More appropriately, it should count as both, but that sort of double counting does not address another issue. Together or separately, both halves of Spalding’s advertisement were relatively short compared to many others for both real estate and consumer goods and services inserted in eighteenth-century newspapers. This suggests that tabulating column inches devoted to advertisements (or portions of advertisements) might produce more accurate data for assessing the proliferation of advertising in relation to news and other content as well as comparing the quantity of advertising space utilized for various purposes. This, however, would be extremely labor intensive. It also requires access to the original newspapers rather than digital surrogates. Working with digitized sources allows for examining other sorts of questions concerning advertising in early America.

Earlier in my career I was much more enthusiastic about incorporating quantitative analysis into my study of advertisements for consumer goods and services in eighteenth-century America. Over time, however, I have determined that identifying general trends rather than hard numbers provides a sufficiently accurate portrait of the expansion of advertising in the era that the colonies became a nation.