GUEST CURATOR: Trevor Delp
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Just Imported from LONDON … A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the Season.”
Joseph Bass’s advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette is intriguing because of the diversity of goods he was selling. The advertisement suggests that he was trying to target as many different audiences as possible, while spending the least amount of money. In the world of advertising this is a very basic concept but one that can prove difficult. During this time, businesses operated on a face-to-face level of interaction that has been lost in todays culture. People chose who they bought their goods from based on the foundation of who they trusted and supported.
I also find it interesting that some of the goods advertised were seasonal. The first thing advertised was “A fine assortment of Bedding suitable for the season.” Seasons in New Hampshire are very different than those of England, especially during the end of winter to the beginning of spring. The “Bedding suitable for the season” then exemplifies the demand of the colonial market in comparison to England’s market.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Many scholars of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America have demonstrated that colonists demonstrated their connections to the larger British Empire by purchasing and using the same goods as their cousins in London and the English provinces. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen demonstrated a rapid expansion of consumer choice in colonial America, accompanied by increasing standardization of consumer behavior and Anglicization of the consumer market.
Some English observers, upon visiting the colonies, commented on how quickly fashions en vogue in London could be seen in British mainland North America. Residents of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and smaller towns like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, may have resided in some of the empire’s distant outposts, but that did not mean that they lacked taste. Perhaps because they were so far from the metropole they desired to demonstrate that they did not lack sophistication. Consumer culture gave them a means for doing so.
Trevor’s commentary challenges us to update, but not overturn, the narrative of Anglicization of American markets by reminding us that consumers (and advertisers!) often contended with very local concerns, including the changing of the seasons. Some of the goods included in Bass’s advertisement adhered to the current fashions in London, but that did not deprive colonists of the ability to make decisions independently of consumers on the other side of the Atlantic.
Today’s advertisement may look familiar. A variant was previously featured five weeks ago, at which time I commented on the layout. I found the layout awkward as a result of the pilcrows forming a line to divide the columns. The graphic design has been improved for this advertisement, which features many of the same goods.
The entire first column of today’s advertisement was listed in the earlier one. This one inserts “black walnut and mahogony fram’d looking Glasses ; brass Nails ; choice cannon powder ; Shot ; black Pepper by the doz. or smaller quantity” before returning to the list included in the earlier version. The nota bene running across the bottom is new as well.
This and similar examples undercut claims that goods had been “Just Imported from LONDON.” Savvy consumers, especially those who paid attention to the shipping news elsewhere in newspapers, likely calibrated how much they weight they wished to give such appeals, just as modern consumers assess the advertising that assails them.
 T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.