What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WHITE, green, and blue plains, London duffils, shags, white and striped flannels, striped linsies.”
In the fall of 1768, Rae and Somerville promoted their “Compleat ASSORTMENT of EUROPEAN and EAST-INDIA GOODS” in an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette. The partners listed dozens of items in a notice that extended approximately one-third of a column. Compared to list-style advertisements that appeared in newspapers printed in other cities, especially the busiest ports, this advertisement may have seemed relatively short. Compared to other advertisements for consumer goods in the Georgia Gazette, however, Rae and Somerville’s notice was extensive.
Advertisements of a similar length did appear in the colony’s only newspaper, but they usually had other purposes. Many fell in the category of legal notices. Elsewhere in the same issue, advertisements of a similar length included a notice from the provost marshal concerning the sale of lands taken “under execution” and a notice from the surveyor general warning against fraudulent methods of delineating boundaries. Estate sales, especially when they included real estate, also tended to occupy as much space in the Georgia Gazette.
The length of Rae and Somerville’s advertisement made it particularly noticeable, especially considering that the Georgia Gazette featured only two columns per page. That meant that the extensive list of merchandise accounted for one-sixth of a page in the standard four-page issue. It was twice the length of any other advertisement for consumer goods in the same edition, with only one exception. Inglis and Hall once again inserted their advertisement for goods recently imported on the Industry and the Georgia Packet. Longer than most, it was not as lengthy as Rae and Somerville’s notice, neither by the number of items listed nor by the column inches. Inglis and Hall had listed only one item per line rather than a dense block of text that crowded as many items as possible into the space Rae and Somerville had purchased.
In addition, Inglis and Hall frequently advertised in the Georgia Gazette. When it came to presenting notices to local consumers via the newspaper, Inglis and Hall were the colony’s most prominent merchants. Readers were accustomed to seeing their lengthy advertisements. Rae and Somerville, on the other hand, had not previously made the same investment in advertising in the public prints. That made their extensive advertisement all the more noteworthy to those who regularly read the Georgia Gazette. In the range of newspaper advertisements for consumer goods published throughout the colonies in the 1760s, Rae and Somerville’s notice fits somewhere in the middle in terms of the number of items listed and how much of a column it occupied. Compared to others in the Georgia Gazette, the barometer most readers would have used, it was an exceptionally extensive advertisement. Its intended impact must be considered relative to experiences of the audience who would have read it.