July 5

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

Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy (July 5, 1771).

“William M’Crackan … hath to dispose of a general assortment of East-India and English Goods.”

When subscribers read the July 5, 1771, edition of the Connecticut Journal and New-Haven Post-Boy, they immediately encountered an advertisement placed by William McCrackan on the first page.  Advertisements could appear anywhere in eighteenth-century newspapers.  Thomas Green and Samuel Green, printers of the Connecticut Journal, filled most of the first page with news from Paris and London, reprinted from the July 1 edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  That coverage continued on the second page and onto the third.  The Greens then inserted news from Salem, Hartford, and Boston before devoting half a column to local events in New Haven.  Advertisements accounted for half of the third page.  The final page consisted entirely of news from Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, and New York, all of the items reprinted from other newspapers.  Except for that half column of local news, McCrackan’s advertisement and the other notices comprised the only original content in the issue.

This configuration of news and advertising deviated from the format usually preferred by the Greens.  They tended to place news on the first pages and reserve the final pages for advertising.  Some of their counterparts in other cities and towns did the same, but others rarely did so.  The larger the venture, the more likely advertisements appeared on the front page.  Hugh Gaine, for instance, regularly filled the first and final pages of the New-York Gazette with advertising and ran the news on the second and third pages.  Such was the case for the items from Paris and London in his July 1 edition that the Greens reprinted on July 5.  The process for producing newspapers explains the different strategies.  Printers created four-page issues by printing two pages on each side of a broadsheet and then folding it in half.  With far more advertising in the New-York Gazette than the Connecticut Journal, Gaine got an early start on the first and fourth pages by printing advertisements, most of them already set in type because they repeated from previous issues.  That meant breaking news ran on the second and third pages, the last part of the newspaper that went to press.  A busy port, New York was much more of a communications hub than New Haven.  Gaine ran news that arrived on vessels from throughout the British Atlantic world, including the news from Paris and London delivered on “the DUKE OF CUMBERLAND Packet, Capt.MARSHAM, in 6 Weeks and 4 Days from FALMOUTH.”  The Greens in New Haven rarely received news from Europe or the Caribbean that had not already arrived in New York, Boston, and other major ports.  They relied on reprinting news that first ran in other newspapers.  A different means of compiling content resulted in a different distribution of news and advertising in most issues compared to the New-York Gazette and other newspapers published in the largest cities.  On occasion, however, the Greens experimented with placing advertisements on the first page.  That did not look strange to eighteenth-century readers because they did not necessarily expect to find the most significant news immediately below the masthead on the first page.

December 25

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

Dec 25 - 12:25:1767 Connecticut Journal
Connecticut Journal (December 25, 1767).

“Dunstable Hats, being a new Fashion.”

In December 1767, shopkeeper William McCrackan began placing advertisements for “very neat Assortment of Winter Goods” in the Connecticut Journal, a newspaper founded just two months earlier. Almost as soon as it was established, colonial retailers used the advertising pages of the new publication to teach potential customers about consumer goods in order to incite demand and generate sales.

McCrackan operated his shop in New Haven in the midst of a consumer revolution. Prospective customers spoke the language of consumption. In particular, they could identify and distinguish among a variety of imported textiles – like “Callimancoes,” “Camblets,” and “Ratteens” – without descriptions from those who sold them. Some products, however, especially those recently introduced to the market, required at least some explanation. Such was the case for “Dunstable Hats” and consumers in New Haven and its hinterland. Realizing that some colonists might not be familiar with that particular item, McCrackan advertised them as “Dunstable Hats, being a new Fashion.” Almost simultaneously, shopkeeper Henry Wilmot advertised “Leghorne, Dunstable and Skelliton hats, trimmed in the newest fashion” in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy. Unlike McCrackan’s perspective on colonists in rural Connecticut, Wilmot assumed that residents of the busy urban port were already acquainted with Dunstable hats, yet he did make a point of asserting that the ones he stocked had been “trimmed in the newest fashion.” Even familiar accessories could be updated to reflect evolving tastes.

McCrackan provided no description of Dunstable hats beyond the short interjection that they represented “a new Fashion.” Still, that likely would have been sufficient to provoke curiosity among some prospective customers, drawing them into his shop to view and converse about the hats and other merchandise. For those who desired to imagine that they participated in the same culture of consumption as residents of cosmopolitan London, despite their distance from the metropole, McCrackan offered a helpful update about prevailing tastes, alerting them to the latest trends. His advertisement did more than merely announce the availability of goods. It encouraged an interest in the novel and the new in order to stimulate consumer demand.