What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The following large assortment of GOODS.”
Merchants and shopkeepers frequently made appeals to consumer choice when promoting their merchandise in eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements. In addition to using words like “assortment” and “variety,” they demonstrated the multitude of choices available to customers by listing their inventory. In so doing, they published catalogs of their wares. Their extensive lists encouraged readers to imagine the array of choices they would encounter upon visiting the shops and stores featured in the public prints each week.
In an advertisement that filled half a column in the February 2, 1769, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal, Philip Wilson adopted that marketing strategy. He listed scores of textiles, accessories, and housewares in stock at his shop. His advertisement, however, paled in comparison to the one inserted by Daniel Benezet, John Benezet, and Thomas Bartow. Their list of the “large assortment of GOODS” on hand at their store at the corner of Arch and Second Streets filled an entire column. Given that the entire issue consisted of four pages with three columns each, their advertisement comprised a significant portion of the content of that issue. They commenced their catalog of goods with “BLUE, green, scarlet, claret, cinnamon, drab and copper coloured middling and low priced broadcloths,” making clear from the start that they did not merely carry some broadcloths. Instead, they offered several choices when it came to both color and price. Elsewhere in the advertisement they deployed the words “assortment” and “variety” to describe the choices associated with other merchandise, such as “a large assortment of common, London and Bristol shalloons” and “a great variety of low-priced striped and plain callimancoes.” Just in case their list of hundreds of items did not sufficiently entice prospective customers, they added “&c. &c. &c.” (the eighteenth-century abbreviation for “etc. etc. etc.”) to the end. Finally, they previewed the arrival of additional merchandise as a means of informing readers that they would continue to offer choices to suit all tastes and budgets. In a nota bene, they proclaimed that they expected “a very large and compleat assortment of spring and summer GOODS” in vessels that would soon arrive from England.
Even if they did not read the advertisement in its entirety, prospective customers could hardly have missed the appeal to consumer choice made by the Benezets and Bartow. Shoppers did not have to accept whatever may have been on the shelves. Instead, they could examine all sorts of different merchandise and make purchases according to their own tastes and desires.