What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“He constantly keeps a Stock of ready-made Shoes.”
Half a dozen new advertisements appeared in the August 19, 1769, edition of the Providence Gazette, including a notice from Benjamin Coates. The shoemaker took to the public prints “to inform the Public, that he carried on his Business in all its Branches, just above the Great Bridge, and will engage to suit Gentlemen and Ladies with Shoes made in the best Manner and the most elegant and genteel taste.” Coates incorporated two of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century into his brief notice. He promised quality, which also reflected his own skill as an artisan, and he invoked fashion, especially the notion that purchasing his wares provided a path to gentility.
Coates also drew attention to yet another appeal through a separate nota bene, a commonly used device that advised readers to “take note.” The shoemaker stated that in addition to producing custom-made shoes “to suit Gentlemen and Ladies” that he also “constantly keeps a Stock of ready-made Shoes” on hand at his shop. Coates marketed convenience to prospective customers who did not have the time, funds, or inclination to be fitted for a pair of shoes constructed specifically for them. This was a separate branch of his business that perhaps deserved to be listed separately in his advertisement solely for that reason. Yet in creating the nota bene Coates gave his “Stock of ready-made Shoes” even greater significance. Merchants and shopkeepers sometimes listed shoes among the many goods they carried, but they usually did not single them out for particular notice. Their marketing strategies often emphasized price and consumer choice, inviting prospective customers to consider an array of inventory. Coates’s narrower focus allowed him to contrast, though implicitly, the benefits of custom-made shoes with the benefits of ready-made shoes. He presented prospective customers with both options, prompting them to imagine which better suited their means and needs. He provided all the services colonists expected from shoemakers, “carr[ying] on his Business in all its Branches,” yet also offered convenience to those who wished to streamline their visit to his shop.