October 7

GUEST CURATOR: Elizabeth Curley

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

oct-7-1071766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (October 7, 1766).

“MAHOGANY Furniture … GLASSWARE … HOSIERY and HABERDASHERY.”

This advertisement has different kinds of letters throughout, and that is originally what made me pay attention to it. I am sure that the middle of the page placement and the large “M” of Mahogany would have caught consumers’ eyes as well. Reeves and Cochran start their advertisement by politely addressing consumers and noting the exact location of their shop. This seems to have been a common practice in the colonial American marketplace. Another common practice in advertisements from the 1760s was to let customers know where goods came from. In this case Reeves and Cochran’s goods came from London on board the Queen Charlotte.

“Furniture of the best workmanship” could be hard to come by in colonial America. Artisans did build fine furniture in the major cities, but mahogany furniture was commonly built in Ireland and imported.[1] Many of the other goods that had just finished unloading from the Queen Charlotte came from different English colonies throughout the world as well as other faraway places. Reeves and Cochran sold “India and Barcelona silk handkerchiefs,” “French trimmings,” and “Manchester velvet.” By naming the origins of the goods that they sold, they made everyday items seem exotic and exciting.

This is not much different than what companies do today to market to twenty-first-century consumers. From the placement of the advertisement to the different kinds of letters to the wording, it is fair to say that colonial merchants and shopkeepers planned their marketing strategies.

Earlier in the week I talked about John Taylor and how he had multi-newspaper marketing technique.   This strategy is not much different than what multiple companies do today, such as placing radio, newspaper, and online advertisements.   As for Reeves and Cochran, their advertisement was designed to catch and keep the eye of consumers. Colonial merchants may have lived and worked 250 years ago, but they used and possibly developed marketing strategies that are still used today.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Elizabeth expresses interest in the layout and graphic design of Reeves and Cochran’s advertisement. While it may seem strange to suggest that this dense advertisement consisting exclusively of text with no woodcuts or ornamental type does indeed have graphic design elements, recall that it must be compared to the hundreds of other advertisements for consumer goods and services that appeared in colonial newspapers during the same week in 1766.

Many of those advertisements were disambiguated lists of goods, often grouped in a single paragraph. Sometimes similar types of goods were listed together, such as mentioning all the textiles before moving on to all the hardware, but in other instances the lists seemed to have no organization at all.

This advertisement listed a great variety of goods, but Reeves and Cochran constructed an advertisement easy for potential customers to navigate, not a hodgepodge favored by some of their competitors. Note that the advertisement was divided into several short paragraphs, each devoted to a different sort of merchandise stocked at Reeves and Cochran’s “STORE on the BAY.” (The final paragraph did revert to the dense list form. Why didn’t Reeves and Cochran divide it into two shorter paragraphs based on the different sorts of goods listed in the first and second halves?) Each paragraph included a key word or phrase in all capitals: “GLASS WARE” or “PEWTER and TIN WARE” or “HOSIERY and HABERDASHERY.” This would have made it easy for potential customers to find the sorts of goods that interested them, but it may have also attracted attention to items readers previously had not realized they might like to purchase.

I have suggested before that most of the evidence indicates advertisers generated the copy but printers had primary responsibility for layout as they set the type. In the manner it deviates from most others of the period, this advertisement seems to be an exception. Quite likely Reeves and Cochran included instructions when they submitted both copy and design specifications to the printer of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.

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[1] James Peill and John Rogers, Irish Furniture: Woodwork and Carving in Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2007).

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