What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He will sell by Wholesale and Retail … at so cheap a Rate as he doubts not will give Satisfaction to every Purchaser.”
George Deblois inserted a lengthy advertisement in the November 30, 1773, edition of the Essex Gazette, the sort of advertisement that regularly appeared in newspapers from New England to Georgia. The merchant announced that he recently imported a “fine Assortment of ENGLISH and HARD-WARE GOODS” and provided a list of some of that merchandise to demonstrate the range of choices customers would encounter at his shop in Salem. Deblois carried everything from “check’d and stampt linen Handkerchiefs” and “men’s, women’s and boys worsted Gloves” to “a very large assortment of horn and metal coat and breast Buttons” and “brass and iron Candlesticks” to “steel and iron plate Saws of all sorts and sizes” and “Locks, Hinges, Latches, [and] Bolts.” Even those extensive lists did not exhaust Deblois’s inventory. He finished one paragraph with “&c. &c.” Repeating an abbreviation for et cetera suggested that he stocked much more. A nota bene at the end of the advertisement concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”
Drawing another paragraph to a close, Deblois promoted “a great Variety of other Articles, too tedious to mention in an Advertisement.” He also appended a note that “he assures his Customers and others, he will sell by Wholesale and Retail … at so cheap a Rate as he doubts not will give Satisfaction to every Purchaser.” What are the chances that anyone actually noticed those final appeals among the preponderance of prose, most of it cataloging Deblois’s inventory? Given eighteenth-century practices of intensive reading as well as consumers’ familiarity with standard advertising formats, many readers likely perused those final promises offered by Deblois, at least the first time they saw the advertisement. Consider that the Essex Gazette, like most other colonial newspapers, was a weekly publication that consisted of four pages. That limited the amount of content available to readers, increasing the likelihood that many would examine both news and advertisements carefully to glean information about what was happening in places far and near. In addition, lengthy advertisements listing goods became so common that readers likely learned that even if they did not wish to read every item – all of those “iron Coffee-Mills” and “silk knee Garters” – they should skip to the end of each dense block of text to see if an advertiser inserted anything else, like the appeals Deblois made in this advertisement. While such advertisements do not look especially attractive to modern eyes accustomed to other forms of marketing, eighteenth-century readers saw them so often that they learned to navigate them to identify the details they considered most important.