What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Goods of the best qualities, and newest patterns.”
George Fenner stocked a variety of textiles and clothing at his store on Broad Street in New York. In an advertisement that he inserted several times in both the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury and the New-York Journal in November and December 1770, he listed “PRINTED cottons and lines of the finest colours,” “handkerchiefs of all sorts,” “linen and cotton checks,” “men and boys ready made clothes,” “womens scarlet cardinals,” and “felt and castor hats” along with an array of other merchandise. Yet that was not an exhaustive catalog of his inventory. Fenner advised prospective customers that he also carried “many other articles in the linen and woollen draper, too tedious to insert.” If readers wanted to know what other items the merchant made available then they would have to visit his store. He whetted their appetites by mentioning only some of his wares.
Fenner directed his advertisement to shopkeepers and others who wished to purchase by volume. He noted that he sold his goods wholesale “at a very small profit.” In other words, his markup was low enough that his buyers could still charge competitive retail prices at their retail shops. He also attempted to incite interest in his merchandise by declaring that his customers “may depend upon having goods of the best qualities, and newest patterns.” He realized that retailers would reiterate such appeals to their own customers when they marketed clothing and textiles. To convince prospective buyers that he did indeed provide the “newest patterns,” Fenner opened his advertisement with a proclamation that he had “Just arrived from LONDON,” the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the empire. Accordingly, he had been on the scene to assess for himself which patterns were currently in fashion. Retailers who dealt with him could assure their own customers that they could choose from among the latest trends.
Fenner had several goals in constructing his advertisement. He sought to convince retailers that he had an impressive inventory that warranted a visit to his store to select among the clothing and textiles he offered at wholesale prices. At the same time, he needed to convince prospective buyers that these wares had good prospects for retail sales. In so doing, he made appeals to price, quality, and fashion to reassure retailers that they would be able to sell these items to consumers.