What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“GOODS, consisting of every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements.”
Gilbert Deblois frequently advertised in Boston’s newspapers, sometimes at great length. On May 4, 1767, he inserted the same advertisement in both the Boston Evening-Post and the Boston Post-Boy. Several days earlier the same notice appeared in the extraordinary that accompanied the current issue of the Massachusetts Gazette. Compared to some of his other marketing efforts in the public prints, this notice was considerably shorter. Still, extending over almost one-third of a column, it occupied significantly more space – about three times as much – compared to advertisements placed by some of his competitors.
Deblois seemed less concerned about those advertisements than the much lengthier list advertisements placed by other competitors, including John Appleton and John Barrett and Sons (two-thirds of a column), Clement Jackson and John Gore, Jr. (three-quarters of a column), and Frederick William Geyer (an entire column and one-fifth of another). Those advertisements listed scores of items stocked by local shopkeepers.
Deblois devised a way to make those lengthy list advertisements (paid for by his competitors) work to his own advantage. After inserting the standard language about “A complete fashionable Assortment of English & India Piece GOODS,” he proclaimed that he carried “every Article that has been mentioned in the most lengthy Advertisements and many others not usually imported.” (The italics appeared in the advertisements in all three newspapers that carried this advertisement, indicating that Deblois gave specific instructions to the printers rather than leaving it to their discretion to make decisions about that particular aspect of formatting the notice. On the other hand, the three advertisements had other variations in format, but not copy.)
Considering the variety of consumer goods imported and advertised by Boston’s merchants and shopkeepers, readers probably greeted this pronouncement with some skepticism. As a frequent advertiser who sometimes placed lengthy list notices, however, Deblois may have previously amassed some credibility. He did not need to enumerate all of his wares in every advertisement. Invoking his competitors’ advertisements provided a means of listing his merchandise without actually listing it – or paying to do so. This also initiated a challenge to potential customers to visit his shop and assess for themselves the validity of his claim, generating foot traffic that could result in additional sales.