September 30

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

Pennsylvania Journal (September 30, 1772).

“WILLIAM SMITH, HAS removed his Medicinal Store from Front-street.”

In the fall of 1772, William Smith placed newspaper advertisements to inform the public that he recently moved yet “continues to carry on the Drug Business.”  He invited customers to visit his “Medicinal Store” at his new location, the Rising Sun on Second Street in Philadelphia.  He pledged that he was “determined always to pay particular attention to the quality of his medicines, and hopes by his care and fidelity to render full satisfaction to Practitioners in Physic, and others, who may please to favour him with their custom.”

In an effort to enlarge his share of the market, Smith placed the same advertisement in multiple newspapers.  On Wednesday, September 30, it ran in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Journal.  Later in the week, it also appeared in the Pennsylvania Chronicle on Saturday, October 3.  The advertisements in the three newspapers featured identical copy, though the compositors made different decisions about format, including font sizes and capitalization.

Smith did not choose to place his advertisement in the city’s remaining English-language newspaper, the Pennsylvania Packet, on Monday, October 5, nor did he insert it in the Wochentliche Pennsylvanische Staatsbote for the benefit of German-speaking residents in and near Philadelphia.  The printer, had a standing offer in the masthead that “AllADVERTISEMENTS to be inserted in this Paper, or printed single, by HENRY MILLER, Publisher hereof, are by him translated gratis,” but Smith did not avail himself of that service.  Perhaps the apothecary felt that advertising in three newspapers was sufficient.  Perhaps he spent as much as he considered prudent on marketing so opted to forego the other two newspapers.

Whatever the reason, Smith aimed for a greater level of market saturation than advertising in just one publication allowed.  That may have been especially important to him considering that he ran his shop from a new location.  He did not want customers to experience any frustration upon visiting his former location and then decide to visit competitors who continued to do business in familiar locations.  After all, Robert Bass and Townsend Speakman, both prolific advertisers, continued operating their own apothecary shops on Market Street.  Smith did not wish to lose customers to either of them, making his advertisements in three newspapers a sound investment.

December 17

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

dec-17-12171766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (December 17, 1766).

The advertisement concerning the sale of negroes … was printed in the last page of this paper by mistake.”

James Johnston, the printer of the Georgia Gazette, issued a retraction of one of the advertisements that appeared in the December 17 issue: “The advertisement concerning the sale of negroes, &c. belonging to the estate of Mr. William Smith, deceased, was printed in the last page of this paper by mistake.”

That advertisement by Matthew Roche, the Provost Marshal, would have looked familiar to readers of the Georgia Gazette. Dated “12 Nov. 1766,” it had appeared in previous issues in order to give interested parties sufficient advance notice that slaves, cattle, horses, and fifty acres of land that included a “handsome dwelling house, garden, tan-yard, and several other convenient buildings” would be auctioned “on Tuesday the 16th day of December, 1766.”

That’s right: December 16, the day before the issue was dated and distributed for public consumption. Johnston did not publish the retraction because the sale had been canceled but instead because it truly had been printed “by mistake,” a mistake made in the office of the printer.

That Johnston overlooked this advertisement, not noticing that the new issue included an outdated advertisement until after the broadsheet had already been printed on one side, raises some interesting questions about advertisements that ran for more than a few weeks. Did advertisers contract and pay to have those advertisements repeatedly inserted? Or, did some advertisements serve as filler, published gratis, when printers lacked other content?

Johnston may have been distracted with filling the final page with advertisements already set in type; that would explain how he overlooked the date of the auction of William Smith’s estate. The same issue included other advertisements that ran for months (not just for weeks): Donald Mackay’s advertisement for a runaway slave (dated “5th August, 1766”) and the sale of Baillie’s Island by the executors of Colonel Kenneth Baillie (first published in November 1766 and repeated well into 1767). Mackay and Baillie’s executors may very well have arranged for their advertisements to appear so many times.

If they did not, however, that suggests that printers sometimes used advertisements for their own purposes in constructing complete issues of their newspapers. While it may be tempting to argue that some advertisers repeated their notices frequently because they believed in the power of advertising (or, in the case of Mackay, because he really wanted to retrieve Maria, “a TALL SLIM LIKELY NEGROE GIRL”), it is also important to question whether the advertisers themselves were indeed responsible for how frequently their notices appeared.

October 29

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

oct-29-10291766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 29, 1766).

“A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.”

I chose this advertisement because it dealt with a material whose impact on society I did not know a lot about overall: leather. This short advertisement attempted to sell “A PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” I did realize that throughout history leather played a role, but did not fully understand its importance in the colonial world. Obviously there was demand for it. But why was leather in demand? I engaged in some research to find out more about it. According to Colonial Williamsburg, leather was used for myriad of items: equestrian equipment, fashion items and storage products. It even was used for luxury items like “ fur and leather hand muffs” and “razor cases.”

The importance of equipment used in harnessing horses cannot be overstated. During the colonial period the primary mode of travel, other than walking, was horseback or a horse drawn vehicle. There would have been thousands of colonists using horses to travel across towns or colonies. None of that travel would have been possible without bridles, saddles, harnesses, and other leather goods. That is one of the main reasons leather was a commodity that was worth selling. It was a necessary component of colonial travel, as well as a resource used in fashion. A colonist reading this advertisement would have recognized the value of leather goods.

**********

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Megan has selected an advertisement that differs from many other advertisements for consumer goods and services in one significant aspect: “MATT. ROCHE, Prov. Mar.” signed this notice. Roche was not a producer, supplier, or retailer. Instead, he was a local official, a provost marshal (a law enforcement officer roughly equivalent to a sheriff). As part of their own institutional history, the U.S. Marshals Service states that “as soon as the colony of Georgia was founded in 1733, the office of provost marshal was established.” Other colonies, including Virginia, also had provost marshals. Their duties included collecting fines, apprehending and transporting criminals, and, most significantly for the purposes of understanding this advertisement, “taking inventory of a deceased person’s estate.”

Roche did not seek to sell his own goods or make a profit from transactions with customers. That was not his way of earning a living. Instead, in his official capacity he participated in settling the estate of “the late Mr. William Smith.” Note that Roche did not have his own shop, auction house, or warehouse for dispersing the “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER.” Instead, those interested in purchasing this commodity needed to seek it out at “Joseph Pruniere’s store adjoining his house.” Notice as well that Roche did not announce an ongoing sale. The “PARCEL” had been divided into lots that were to be sold on a specific date (“Tuesday the 4th of November, 1766”) at a specific place. This was an auction intended to quickly and efficiently liquidate the deceased Smith’s inventory of sole leather in order to move forward with settling his estate. Roche inserted an announcement of the sale in the Georgia Gazette, but he did not attempt to incite demand by resorting to any particular appeals to entice buyers, unlike shopkeepers whose livelihoods depended on attracting customers.

Most likely many colonists eventually wore shoes constructed from this “PARCEL of TANNED SOLE LEATHER,” but the path from producer to consumer took unanticipated turns along the way.

July 31

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

Jul 31 - 7:31:1766 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (July 31, 1766).

“He is to be spoke with at the London, Coffee-House, at the usual Hours.”

William Smith was a busy businessman. He sold an assortment of goods at his star on the “North Side of Market-street Wharff” and also “acts in the Capacity of a Broker, and will assist any Person in the Purchase or Sale of all Sorts of Merchandise” as well as a variety of other services.

Smith concluded his advertisement by informing potential customers and clients that “He is to be spoke with at the London Coffee-House, at the usual Hours, or at his Store aforesaid.” Rather than conduct business exclusively at his store, Smith spent time at the London Coffee House, an establishment where merchants and others gathered to make deals and settle accounts. Auctions of all kinds of merchandise (including slaves) took place just outside the coffeehouse. The proprietors provided newspapers printed in Philadelphia and other cities for patrons to keep up on political events and follow the shipping news. Men gathered at the London Coffee House to do business, talk politics, and gossip. It was Philadelphia’s exchange.

Philadelphia’s entrepreneurs so regularly gathered at the London Coffee House that Smith did not need to specify when he would be present beyond stating “at the usual Hours.” A dozen years after William Bradford first opened it in 1754, the London Coffee House was an integral part of the commercial landscape in colonial Philadelphia. More than two hundred merchants had contributed funds toward its construction, but an even greater number of people gathered there regularly over the next several decades. Smith did not need to specify that the London Coffee House was the corner of Front and High (present-day Market) Streets. Everybody in Philadelphia knew where it was, and visitors to the city could easily locate it by asking any local they encountered.

Jul 31 - London Coffee House
London Coffee House (lithograph by W.L. Breton:  Philadelphia, 1830).  Library Company of Philadelphia.