What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Other trimmings for hatters.”
Unlike many shopkeepers who advertised their wares almost exclusively to end-use consumers, James Nixon sold an array of imported textiles and ornaments wholesale as well as retail. To be competitive with merchants and other wholesalers, he offered discounts to those who made purchases with the intention of acquiring inventory to resell to consumers. “Great allowance will be made,” Nixon stated, “to town or country stores, taylors, stay-makers, hatters, &c. &c.”
On occasion advertisers made such appeals to potential customers who bought in volume, but rarely did they specifically address members of so many occupations. In his advertisement, Nixon constructed a network of business associates, promoting himself as a supplier to men and women who made and sold apparel. In addition to the “Great allowance” he made to tailors, staymakers, hatters, and others, he also attempted to draw the attention of particular customers to specific goods. For instance, he listed a “great assortment of all sorts of buttons” among the various “trimmings for hatters” in stock, as well as other sorts of “stay-maker’s and breeches-maker’s trimmings.”
Doing so may have had the added advantage of attracting the attention of end-use consumers. By implying that tailors and hatters, whose livelihood depended in part on acquiring the right materials, trusted him to supply a “neat assortment” of “Newest-fashioned” dry goods, Nixon created the illusion of an endorsement from his associates. In the absence of testimonials, he prompted potential customers to imagine that “his Store in KING-STREET” was a hub of activity for members of the clothing trades.
He also suggested an impressive market penetration for his wares, which he sold to both shopkeepers in New York and others who operated “country stores,” some of them in neighboring provinces. “Connecticut lawful mon[e]y will be taken,” he pledged, alerting customers near and far that he was flexible when it came to which sort of currency he would accept.
Although “taylors, stay-makers, hatters, &c. &c.” certainly purchased materials from merchants who imported them, very few advertisers addressed them as an occupational group or promoted their goods specifically to them. Many likely concluded that notices offering goods wholesale were sufficient for their purposes. James Nixon, on the other hand, experimented with addressing various sorts of potential customers, making it clear to those in the clothing trades that he wished to work with them (and offered discounts) in addition to supplying “town or country stores.”