October 9

GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo

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

oct-9-1091766-boston-news-letter
Massachusetts Gazette (October 9, 1766).

“A large and general Assortment of silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.”

This advertisement caught my eye because Jolley Allen ran a store in Boston. I live nearby in Medway, Massachusetts. Allen probably thought the items he sold would be bought mostly by women. His advertisement lists many items that women would want to look more fashionable, including “silver and other Ribbons, Necklaces, Earings and Pendants.” As Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, explains, “Like us, eighteenth-century people needed clothing for warmth and comfort, but they quickly abandoned those needs if fashion or the occasion dictated.”

Another reason Allen directed his advertisement towards women was because “the exercise of choice in the marketplace may have been a liberating experience” for women.[1] The choice of where to shop and what to purchase allowed women to bring business where they wanted. Jolley Allen probably knew this was the case and listed so many items to attract women to his store.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

This advertisement may look familiar to readers who visit the Adverts 250 Project regularly. Guest curator Nicholas Commesso selected an advertisement by Jolley Allen to feature and analyze on September 29, less than two weeks ago. Doesn’t this advertisement deviate from the methodology established for the project, a commitment to feature a new advertisement every day? Why did I allow Jordan to choose this advertisement instead of sending her back to the Massachusetts Gazette or either of the other two newspapers printed in colonial America on October 9, 1766?

I could justify that decision by noting that Allen’s extensive advertisement merits attention more than once. It possessed features commonly found across advertisements during the colonial period, such as the implicit emphasis on female consumers that Jordan examined today. Allen also incorporated a variety of distinctive features into his advertisement, such as the money-back guarantee that Nick examined or the unique decorative border that was the focus of my analysis. This single advertisement included a multitude of significant aspects that tell us about colonial culture and commerce and the development of marketing techniques in eighteenth-century America. Considering how much was “going on” in Allen’s advertisement, no short analysis by a guest curator (nor my own slightly extended additional commentary) could do this advertisement justice.

Still, that was not the deciding factor when Jordan submitted this advertisement for my consideration and I approved it and told her to move forward with research and writing. After all, I did not know at that time that she would take a different approach than Nick did in his analysis. Although this advertisement looks familiar, it is actually a different advertisement than the one Nick examined on September 29. The copy was almost identical, though today’s version added an additional sentence after the nota bene. In addition, careful analysis reveals that the type was set differently, both for the body of the advertisement and the decorative border, which should come as no surprise considering that today’s advertisement was printed in the Boston News-Letter, but Allen’s advertisement featured on September 29 came from the Boston Evening-Post. While this might seem like a technicality (after all, Allen composed only one advertisement but submitted it to multiple newspapers), that the “same” advertisement appeared in more than one publication tells us something interesting about colonial entrepreneurs attempting to maximize exposure for their advertisements, as guest curator Elizabeth Curley demonstrated with John Taylor’s advertisements last week.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “An Empire of Goods: The Anglicization of Colonial America, 1690-1776,” Journal of British Studies 25, no. 4 (October 1986): 489.

 

October 1

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Commesso

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

oct-1-1011766-georgia-gazette
Georgia Gazette (October 1, 1766).

“MARY HUGHES, Takes this Method to inform the Ladies.”

My final post as guest curator introduces the first advertisement by a female entrepreneur I saw in the newspapers I read through. In the Georgia Gazette, Mary Hughes “Takes this Method to inform the Ladies” that she offered an extensive list of goods specifically for women, notably wax and pearl earrings, garnet necklaces, ribbons, “stomachers” (which were “the early ancestors of the corset” and “essential part of a woman’s wardrobe”), and much more. Despite other advertisements catering primarily to men, with a few products aimed for women included, Mary Hughes’ advertisement was aimed solely at women.

This short advertisement ended with Hughes explaining that “she proposes to carry on the millenary business.” A milliner specialized in making women’s hats. Based on the goods listed in her advertisement, it seemed she had all the imported materials necessary to become a continued success! To make that happen, she needed customers. Hughes’ message went on to explain that she would be “very much obliged to those ladies who will grant her their favours.” To me, it seems that this last invitation had a sense of desperation. Perhaps that was not the case; perhaps it is just the formal language that makes it so much different from modern advertisements. Today, I believe this would sound more like a request for charity rather than generating business for her shop.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

I’m both surprised and not surprised that this was the first advertisement for consumer goods and services that Nick encountered during his week as guest curator. I’m not surprised because such advertisements by female entrepreneurs were often rare. They certainly appeared in disproportionately low numbers compared to the number of women that historians know operated their own shops or provided other services in eighteenth-century America, especially in urban ports.

On the other hand, advertisements placed by women were present in colonial newspapers. That Nick did not encounter any others earlier in the week says something about what often comes down to serendipity in the research process. Women did place newspaper advertisements in the 1760s, but they were less likely to do so than their male counterparts. As a result, some issues occasionally featured greater numbers of advertisements by women, while others were completely devoid of marketing efforts conducted by women. Chance, as much as any other factor, explains why Nick did not encounter advertisements by women in any of the other newspapers he consulted this week.

Historians have to work with the sources available to us. We tell the stories that the documents allow us to tell, not always the stories that we would like to tell or that we wish the documents would allow us to tell. Uncovering the history of women in the colonial marketplace and, especially, the history of women in eighteenth-century advertising requires special attention and effort. As often as possible, I select advertisements placed by women to feature on the Adverts 250 Project, both as a matter of principle and as an informal part of my methodology. Women’s participation in the marketplace as producers and retailers was already underrepresented in the public prints in the eighteenth century. I do not wish to compound the problem by overlooking their commercial notices when they did appear.

As a result, I especially appreciate that Nick selected Mary Hughes’ advertisement to feature and analyze. He certainly had other choices for today, but by telling a story that he had not yet told he joined other historians in the endeavor to include women in our narratives of the past.