July 21

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

Jul 21 - 7:21:1766 New-York Mercury
New-York Mercury (July 21, 1766).

“James Daniel, Wig-Maker and Hair-Dresser … Also Operator for the Teeth.”

This advertisement first caught my attention because of the odd combination of occupations that James Daniel pursued. Not only was he a “Wig-Maker and Hair-Dresser,” he also marketed himself as an “Operator for the Teeth.” Today we would be very suspicious of anybody who included both in a single advertisement.

Though these occupations involved very different skills and responsibilities, they both emphasized the importance of personal appearance. As regular readers are aware, eighteenth-century newspapers overflowed with advertisements for imported textiles and accouterments for making clothing. These goods were often described as stylish or corresponding to the latest fashions in London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire. Tailors and seamstresses also marketed their services by promising that they were cognizant of the latest fashions. As colonists consciously constructed outward appearances intended to testify to their character, demonstrate their affluence, and mark them as refined, they needed to take their hair, as well as their clothes, into account. Note that Daniel stated that he did wigs and hair “in the genteelest Manner,” indicating that his work communicated fashion, status, and good graces. Colonists also needed to care for their teeth, including “Scurvy in the Gums” that made them an unattractive white and sometimes loosened them or caused them to fall out, as they focused on images they presented to others.

Another of Daniel’s appeals suggests that the distance between colonial New York and London may not have been all that wide, not even in the eighteenth century. In offering his credentials as an “Operator for the Teeth,” he noted that he had “practised these Operations in London, under Marsh, the Surgeon Dantist, a Man so eminent in this Profession.” Daniel expected colonists in New York to be familiar with the “eminent” Marsh from London, whose reputation was supposed to augment Daniel’s own training, expertise, and experience. Marsh may have achieved transatlantic fame as a surgeon dentist as letters, newspapers, and people crossed the ocean in the 1760s. Alternately, even if Marsh was not a celebrity of sorts, Daniel may have assumed that prospective clients would not admit they were not familiar with his career. After all, such ignorance would reflect on them. Whether Marsh was famous or not, Daniel relied on colonists claiming to know of “the Surgeon Dantist, a Man so eminent in this Profession.”

May 4

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

May 4 - 5:2:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (May 2, 1766).

“William Godfrey, PERUKE MAKER, ACQUAINTS the publick that he has opened shop/”

What was a peruke maker? Once again we discover that eighteenth-century consumers often spoke a language that would become unfamiliar to modern readers. “Peruke” is another name for “periwig” or “wig.” William Godfrey made wigs! When he stated that “he proposes carrying on his business in all its branches,” he most likely meant “making wigs, shaving, cutting and dressing men’s hair and, presumably, dressing wigs,” according to historians from Colonial Williamsburg.

Although his advertisement was relatively short, Godfrey’s occupation opens up an entire world of colonial fashion, a culture of consumption, and the commerce and labor that fueled both. For instance, although Godfrey made his wigs in Virginia, he most likely imported hair and other materials from England. In 1751, William Peale advertised that he had “Just IMPORTED from BRITAIN, A CHOICE Assortment of the best Hairs, and all other Materials proper for Wigmaking.”

May 4 - 7:25:1751 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 25, 1751).

Other scholars have created a variety of resources about peruke makers for various audiences, including:

I find the use of advertisements from eighteenth-century Virginia in “Wigmaking in Colonial America” especially interesting. With only one extant account book from a  wigmaker in colonial Virginia, much of what we know about their wares and services in that colony derives from newspaper advertisements. The original intention of those advertisements may have been to incite demand and attract customers, but, just as language has shifted over time, our purpose in examining those advertisements and what we expect to learn from them has changed as well.

January 5

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

Jan 5 - 1:2:1766 Massachusetts-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette (January 2, 1766)

“LEMMONS, by the Box or smaller Quantity,” “Grocery and other Wares,” “Wiggs of all sorts,” and “a Number of other Articles not herein mentioned.”

John Goldsmith offered a variety of imported goods for sale “at the Corner of John Hancock, Esq’s Wharff” in Boston.  What was Goldsmith’s role in making these items available in the colonial marketplace?  Was he a merchant or a shopkeeper?  Residents of Boston who read the Massachusetts-Gazette likely would have known, but the advertisement does not answer this question definitively for twenty-first century readers.  Given that Goldsmith offered “choice LISBON LEMMONS, by the Box or smaller Quantity,” he may have operated as both wholesaler and retailer, depending on the needs of his customers.

Both his location and list of wares (“LEMMONS” and “Seamen’s Cloaths,” in particular) suggest that he often did business provisioning ships and their crews in Boston’s busy harbor.  How, then, did “Wiggs of all sorts” relate to the rest of his merchandise?