August 29

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

Aug 29 - 8:29:1767 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (August 29, 1767).

“He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage, to come and see for Love.”

John Mathewson opened a new shop “on the West Side of the Great Bridge” in Providence during the summer of 1767. To attract customers, he regularly inserted advertisements in the Providence Gazette in July and throughout August, deploying some of the most common marketing appeals yet also giving some of them his own twist in an effort to distinguish him form his competitors.

Prospective customers would have recognized Mathewson’s appeals to current styles and consumer choice within a transatlantic marketplace centered in Britain. To that end, he included formulaic language that could have been drawn from advertisements that appeared in any newspaper throughout the colonies: “a very fashionable and neat Assortment of English Goods.” He also made a standard appeal to price, following a recent trend among shopkeepers who advertised in the Providence Gazette to compare their own prices to others in the port city, colony, or region. Many local shopkeepers had moved away from merely stating that customers could acquire their merchandise at low costs in favor of making bolder pronouncements. Mathewson, for instance, asserted that he would “sell as cheap as are sold in New-England,” suggesting that prospective customers did not need to do any comparison shopping because he already offered the best bargains.

Yet Mathewson did not simply reiterate the language of standard marketing appeals or recent trendy updates. He infused his advertisement with some of his own personality as well. He extended a special invitation to potential customers: “He desires all Persons who want to lay their Money out to Advantage to come and see for Love, and buy for Money.” Mathewson did not depict just a commercial transaction, an exchange of money for goods. Instead, he encouraged readers to imagine the pleasures of shopping, the joys of sorting through the “neat Assortment” he made available to them. More explicitly than most of his competitors, Mathewson depicted a visit to his shop as an experience in and of itself, a pleasant outing that included being “genteely served” while selecting among the many options presented for their consideration. That they would “come and see for love” suggested the delights of window shopping even if customers did not ultimately purchase every item that caught their fancy. In addition, an invitation to “come and see for love” addressed critiques of excessive luxury that accompanied the consumer revolution. Mathewson signaled to potential customers that it was acceptable to entertain their desires without being deemed frivolous or irresponsible, especially since his low prices meant they could “lay their Money out to Advantage.”

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