What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.”
Colonial merchants and shopkeepers frequently published lengthy lists of merchandise, demonstrating the range of choices they made available to consumers. Even then, they claimed that they did not have enough space in their advertisements to advise prospective customers of all the goods on hand at their stores and shops. In the June 28, 1771, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette, for instance, David Cutler and Joseph Cutler proclaimed that they carried a “fresh Assortment of GOODS” and enumerated more than one hundred items. The Cutlers identified all sorts of textiles as well as various dinnerware, housewares, hardware, and groceries, yet they also promised “many other Articles” that did not appear in their advertisement.
Robert Robertson adopted a similar approach, declaring that he sold “a general Assortment of English and West India GOODS.” He provided a shorter list than the Cutlers, though it still amounted to dozens of items, and concluded with “&c. &c. &c.” By repeating the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera, Robertson suggested that his advertisement mentioned only a fraction of his wares. William Cooper, Jr., refused to be outdone by his competitors. He composed an even more verbose description of his “neat and genteel Assortment of English and India GOODS” and then listed as many items as the Cutlers did in their notice. He also ended his advertisement with “&c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c. &c.” The exaggerated use of “&c.” underscored the vast array of choices awaiting customers at his shop.
Advertisements containing lists of goods with promises of “many other Articles” may have also signaled to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette that local merchants and shopkeepers provided them with as many choices in Portsmouth as consumers in Boston and other urban ports enjoyed. The consumer revolution extended beyond the cities and into towns, villages, and the countryside. Advertisements like those placed by the Cutlers, Robertson, and Cooper reassured colonists that they had full access to participate in the rituals of consumption.