GUEST CURATOR: Jordan Russo
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“TIcklenburgs and Oznabrigs.”
Two words in larger type near the top of this advertisement caught my interest: “Ticklenburgs and Oznabrigs.” They were words that I had not seen before. Both of these items are textiles; the majority of the items listed in the advertisement were textiles. As I mentioned earlier this week, clothing was an important way for colonists to indicate their position in society. The list of items is very long and diverse; there were many types of items all different types of people would have wanted.
T.H. Breen indicates that the volume of consumer goods imported into the colonies allowed prices to decrease. Samuel Cutts’ advertisement states that he sold his goods “at lowest Rate.” Cutts was making sure his potential customers knew that he had the lowest prices and they could have the best deals for all these items. We could compare this to today’s consumer culture; stores are always advertising that they are having sales and have better deals than other stores. Modern customers are always attracted to being able to purchase something for the least amount of money.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
In her work as guest curator so far, Jordan has identified some of the most significant aspects of eighteenth-century advertising. In one sense, she has returned the Adverts 250 Project to its origins, examining the most common appeals that appeared in early American advertisements. Today we take such appeals — price, choice, fashion — for granted, but that was not the case during the consumer revolution of the eighteenth century. Those appeals were the building blocks of the first generation of advertising for consumer goods and services in American newspapers and magazines, but not all advertisers deployed one or more of those most basic appeals.
As the eighteenth century progressed, appeals to price, choice, and fashion became increasingly common. Some advertisers experimented with incorporating two or all three into their advertisements. In one form or another, each of those appeals appeared in the advertisement Jordan selected for today. Samuel Cutts explicitly made an appeal to price. As Jordan notes, he offered his wares “at the lowest Rate.” Several aspects of his advertisement suggested that customers had many choices in his store, from the extensive list of merchandise to the repetition of the word “variety” to concluding the advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c.” Indeed, inserting the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera would have been sufficient to signal that he carried other goods, but repeating it so many times underscored that customers could examine many more items if only they visited his store. Cutts’ appeals to fashion were more subtle, but colonial consumers would have had the ability to classify which textiles were intended for which consumers. Those who wished to attire themselves in the finer textiles, for instance, would not have purchased “Oznabrigs,” a coarse fabric commonly used for clothing for slaves.
In examining some of these most common appeals, Jordan identifies some of the concerns that were most important to eighteenth-century advertisers and consumers. In the process, she also demonstrates that in some regards colonists were not that much different from modern Americans participating in the marketplace.