What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A fresh Assortment of English and West-India Goods.”
The March 7, 1767, issue of the Providence Gazette included several advertisements already familiar to subscribers and other readers, including commercial notices from Joseph and William Russell “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle” and Benjamin and Edward Thurber at “the Signs of the Bunch of Grapes and Brazen Lion” as well as notices inserted by the printers. One of those peddled printed blanks and another encouraged readers to provide the Providence Paper Manufactory with “Linen Rags of any Sort.”
Among these familiar notices, newer advertisements from Knight Dexter, Samuel Chace, Nathan Angel, Nathaniel Jacobs, and the Proprietors of the Providence Library appeared. Not all of these were published for the first time in that issue, but each advertiser had only recently joined the Russells and the Thurbers in turning to the Providence Gazette to inform customers and patrons of the goods and services they provided. The dearth of advertising Sarah Goddard and Company experienced during the winter of 1766 and 1767 had been disrupted, at least temporarily. Guest curators from my Revolutionary America course will examine most of these newer advertisements, but Nathaniel Jacobs’ notice receives consideration today.
In just twelve lines, Jacobs pursued two goals. The first half of his advertisement did not market goods or services at all. Instead, it called on former customers who bought on credit and had not yet paid their bills “to make speedy Payment, that he may avoid the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them.” Shopkeepers, merchants, printers, and others regularly placed such notices in eighteenth-century newspapers. Extensive and generous credit practically made them a necessity. However gently or politely stated, readers knew that “the disagreeable Necessity of troubling them” amounted to more than posting letters or knocking on doors. Jacobs, like so many of his counterparts, was prepared to sue.
It was only in the second half of the notice that the shopkeeper turned to attracting customers for the merchandise he currently stocked. Other than naming “best French Indigo” and three popular beverages (coffee, tea, and chocolate), he offered few details beyond promising “a fresh Assortment of English and West-India Goods.” Still, in making allusions to consumer choice among that “Assortment” as well as pledging to “sell as cheap for Cash as any person in Providence” Jacobs utilized some of the most common strategies for marketing his wares even though his advertisement was relatively short compared to many others.