What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Spades … black plain sattin … chintzes and callicoes … brown Manchester velvit … the best French pearl earings and necklaces … tapes and bobbins … pen-knives … darning and sewing needles … and table beer by the barrel.”
Abraham Remsen stocked a variety of merchandise to be sold “Wholesale or Retale, at his Shop in Clark-Street” in Newport. Reading through his list advertisement, which certainly testifies to the assortment of goods so many shopkeepers promoted in eighteenth-century America, can be a bit disorienting. In response to an advertisement featured a short while ago, one correspondent on Twitter remarked that colonial Americans must have had longer attention spans than their modern counterparts, considering the length, density, and lack of visual images common in many newspaper advertisements of the period.
This prompted me to think about reading habits in the eighteenth century. Historians have long argued that early Americans read newspapers intensively, that they were read aloud in public spaces (like taverns and coffeehouses) and passed around until they became dog-eared. Consider that American newspapers in the 1760s were published once a week. Consider also that each issue was typically a single broadsheet, folded in half to create a four-page newspaper. It makes sense that subscribers and others would read the news items carefully and perhaps multiple times.
But what about the advertisements? Would they have been read as intensively as other items? How would an early American reader have approached this advertisement?