January 5

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

Boston Evening-Post (January 5, 1767).

“A general Assortment of English and India GOODS, consisting of the following Articles.”

William Palfrey’s lengthy list advertisement, which comprised almost the entire third column of the January 5, 1767, issue of the Boston Evening-Post, fulfilled a promise made in a much shorter advertisement inserted in the previous issue. Confined to a single “square” of advertising space, the earlier advertisement announced that Palfrey had just imported “A general Assortment of English and India GOODS, consisting of many Articles.” The final line of the notice indicated that “[The particular Articles will be in our next].” A week later the same short announcement appeared, though this time as a header for a list of dozens of items divided into two columns. The phrase “consisting of many Articles” had been updated to “consisting of the following Articles,” a more appropriate introduction for the list that followed, but otherwise the content and format for the header remained the same.

It would be reasonable to conclude that the printers of the Boston Evening-Post made a decision to truncate Palfrey’s lengthy advertisement in the interest of space. After all, colonial newspapers often included some sort of notice that due to space restrictions some advertisements that had been omitted would appear in the next issue. That could have been the case in this instance, but another explanation places the decision in the hands of the advertiser rather than the printers.

Perhaps Palfrey decided to insert the first advertisement with its promise of a lengthier catalog of merchandise to appear later as a means of inciting interest and anticipation among prospective customers. The advertisement invited readers to consult the pages of the Boston Evening-Post once again, prompting them to look for Palfrey’s advertisement specifically amid all of those from his competitors. Palfrey may have calculated this as a strategy to overshadow other advertisements, especially if he did not have sufficient time to draw up a list of merchandise that had been “just imported in the Brig Lydia, Captain Scott, from LONDON.” The shipping news supplied by the Customs House in the December 29 issue indicated that the Lydia had arrived only two days earlier. Palfrey likely did not have time to compile a complete inventory of his newly arrived merchandise, but did not want to wait a week to inform potential customers about his “general Assortment of English and India GOODS.” The shorter advertisement simultaneously allowed him to spread the word to eager customers and to encourage anticipation among curious readers who might choose to visit his shop only after previewing the merchandise listed in a subsequent advertisement.

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