What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Owner will stay but a Fortnight in Town.”
Henry Appleton and Richard Champney placed advertisements in the New-Hampshire Gazette frequently. Members of their community likely knew where to find Appleton “At his shop in Portsmouth” and Champney “At his shop near Mr. John Beck’s, Hatter.” In the small port, both their faces and their shops would have been familiar. One of their competitors, however, was not nearly as familiar to the residents of Portsmouth and the surrounding area. An advertisement that appeared in the August 19, 17678, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette listed many wares quite similar to those stocked by Appleton and Champney, but it did not specify the name of the seller.
Instead, it announced that “THE undermention’d GOODS were lately IMPORTED, and will be SOLD on very reasonable terms at Mr. STAVERS’s Tavern in PORTSMOUTH.” The unnamed advertiser stated that he “will stay but a Fortnight in Town.” From all appearances, Appleton and Champney found themselves in competition with a peddler. They likely did not appreciate his brief interlude in the local marketplace. Peddlers were disruptive. They diverted business away from the shops where customers usually acquired goods. In this case, the advertisement encouraged potential customers to head to a tavern to examine ribbons, gloves, fans, necklaces, and a variety of other “Baubles of Britain” (to borrow the evocative phrase from T.H. Breen’s examination of the consumer revolution in America in the eighteenth century). Those “incline[d] to buy … will find it to their Advantage in dealing with” the unnamed itinerant. Local shopkeepers like Appleton and Champney were probably none too pleased about this alternative means for their prospective customers to obtain many of the same trinkets they sold, especially not when the peddler implied that he offered lower prices than residents would otherwise encounter in Portsmouth.
Itinerant hawkers who traversed the roads from town to town in the late colonial period provided an alternate means of distributing many of the goods that were at the center of the consumer revolution. They complemented the shops and auctions that otherwise placed an array of merchandise in the hands and households of customers, usually to the chagrin of local entrepreneurs who did not appreciate the intrusion.