What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He hopes his kind Cust’mers will once again call, / And for their past Favours he thanketh them all.”
Benoni Pearce, a shopkeeper, frequently advertised in the Providence Gazette. His commercial notices usually incorporated some of the advertising strategies most popular in eighteenth-century America, including appeals to price, quality, and consumer choice. Such was the case in a new advertisement that first appeared in the final week of December 1767, though Pearce gave the method of delivery a twist that surely attracted notice from readers of the Providence Gazette. A series of rhyming couplets and a final tercet comprised the advertisement.
Pearce certainly was not the first or only advertiser to promote his wares or his business in verse, but such efforts were infrequent enough that they retained a novel quality when they appeared in newspapers or on broadsides. Their format likely garnered greater attention from prospective customers who would have merely glanced through a list of familiar merchandise but instead carefully examined Pearce’s rhymes. The short poem entertained even as it sought to stimulate consumption, making it – and Pearce’s shop – all the more memorable.
In just half a dozen couplets, Pearce moved through a series of appeals. After reminding readers of his location “upon the West Side,” he announced that he stocked “fresh Goods” selected with care. He made nods toward quality (“the best Kind”) and price (“as cheap as any you’ll find”), before thanking former customers and encouraging them to “once again call.” He concluded by lightheartedly addressing two aspects of commerce and consumer culture that colonists increasingly associated with contemporary political debates.
While other shopkeepers starkly stated that they sold their wares “For CASH” (as Thompson and Arnold did in the advertisement immediately below), Pearce pledged “To take the March Money* for what it was made.” A note at the end of the advertisement, the only portion not in verse, clarified that the “March Money” had been issued in 1762. Paper currency tended to depreciate, so Pearce indicated the current rate: “6 s. equal to a Dollar.” This method of naming a particular currency then in circulation in Rhode Island cleverly addressed the same issue that J. Mathewson raised in the advertisement immediately above. Mathewson plainly stated that he “takes lawful Money, of any Date, equal to Dollars.” Discussions of how to pay could be troublesome, but through his witty rhyme Pearce attempted to make that awkward part of potential transactions at least somewhat amusing.
Finally, in the tercet that concluded the advertisement Pearce weighed in on questions about what kinds of goods should be bought and sold in order to best serve the political and economic welfare of the colonies. An imbalance of trade between Britain and the colonies contributed to a recession. The imposition of new taxes on certain imported goods when the Townshend Act went into effect in November 1767 further exacerbated tensions. Residents of Boston, followed by other towns in New England, had pledged to limit their consumption of imported goods in favor of purchasing local products instead. Pearce endorsed these efforts and indicated that he did his part when he acquired merchandise to sell to his customers because “the Good of his Country doth near his Heart lie.”
Benoni Pearce made several appeals to customers in his advertisement. He had previously made the same appeals in a series of advertisements in the Providence Gazette, but a creative new format – a short poem – enticed readers to take note of this particularly memorable advertisement. Once he had their attention, Pearce increased his chances of making sales.