What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“A large Assortment of … GOODS.”
Frederick William Geyer advertised regularly in several of Boston’s newspapers in the late 1760s. The shopkeeper deployed a variety of strategies to promote his wares, including appeals to price and consumer choice. Both appeared in a notice he placed in the July 25, 1768, edition of the Boston-Gazette. In it, he announced that he had just imported a “large Assortment of English, India and Scotch Peice [sic] GOODS.” Not only did he proclaim that he offered low prices, he also asserted that he was “determined to sell … as cheap as can be bought in Parts of America.”
Geyer devoted more effort – and space – to developing an appeal to consumer choice. In addition to introducing his merchandise as a “large Assortment,” he reiterated the word “assortment” several times to describe particular kinds of items he sold: “A large assortment of Irish linens,” “An assortment of superfine, middling and low pric’d Broad Cloths,” “An assortment of Ribbons,” “A large assortment of plain and painted Ebony Fans,” “a very pretty assortment of black and coloured paddlestick Fans,” “A pretty assortment of plain & flower’d Lawns,” “A large assortment of white Threads,” “a large and neat Assortment of Mettle Buttons immediately from the Makers,” and “a large Assortment of Glass Necklaces.” These descriptions appeared among an extensive list that included hundreds of items in his inventory, indicating to prospective customers that he carried wares to suit practically any taste or budget.
The space that Geyer’s advertisement occupied on the page also played a role in communicating that message to consumers. It more than filled an entire column on the front page of the July 25 issue, spilling over into a second column. A competitor, William Gale, advertised his own “General Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” in a notice that appeared on the same page, but it looked paltry printed next to Geyer’s advertisement. Indeed, Gale’s entire notice was similar in length to the portion of Geyer’s advertisement that required an additional column. They may have carried similar merchandise, but the space on the page consumed by Geyer’s notice suggested that customers would encounter so much more when they visited his shop on Union Street. Twice the length of any other advertisement in the same issue, Geyer’s notice dominated the page, part of a strategy of overwhelming his competitors by vividly presenting prospective customers with the many choices he made available to them.