What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The above articles all in the newest and genteelest taste.”
Milliners and shopkeepers often promoted their merchandise by noting that it had been imported from London or other English ports, suggesting that this gave their wares special cachet in terms of both taste and quality. They frequently named both the ship and the captain that transported their goods across the Atlantic, which allowed savvy newspaper readers to recognize vessels recently listed in the shipping news elsewhere in the newspaper. In this way, potential customers could assess for themselves that an advertiser stocked the most current fashions.
In most instances, milliners and shopkeepers relied on networks of correspondence involving faraway merchants and producers to obtain the goods they sold to colonists. American retailers – and the customers they served – had to trust that they had indeed received merchandise currently fashionable in metropolitan London, though many suspected that the distance that separated them from the capital allowed correspondents to pawn off leftover or undesirable goods that otherwise would not have been sold.
In this advertisement, however, Ann Pearson stated that she had “Just returned from London” and had imported a vast array of textiles and accouterments for personal adornment. Rather than accept whatever goods distant correspondents dispatched, she had an opportunity to select which items she wished to offer to her customers. She concluded her advertisement with an assurance that the “above articles [were] all in the newest and genteelest taste.” Unlike most other milliners and shopkeepers who sold imported English goods, Pearson was in a unique position to make this claim, having witnessed current styles in London herself rather than relying on the good will of intermediaries and middlemen.