August 26

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Newport Mercury (August 26, 1771).

“(Too tedious to insert in an Advertisement.)”

Merchants and shopkeepers offered colonial consumers abundant choices, inviting them to make selections among their merchandise according to their own tastes and finances.  In the August 26, 1771 edition of the Newport Mercury, for instance, Thomas Green declared that he had on hand at his shop a “very neat and general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS.”  Similarly, Christopher Champlin proclaimed that he imported a “general Assortment of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS.”  He then listed several items, concluding with “&c. &c. &c.” (an abbreviation for et cetera commonly used in the eighteenth century) to indicate that he carried an even greater variety of merchandise.  Imanuel Case, John Hadwen, and Edward Wanton all went to even greater lengths to advise prospective customers of the many choices available at their shops.  Each placed advertisements extending half a column, filling most of the space with extensive lists of their inventory.  Case concluded with a promise of “many other articles.”

Some advertisers acknowledged that strategy but claimed it did not do justice to the choices they made available to consumers.  Gideon Sisson trumpeted his “GRAND ASSORTMENT OF ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” that he sold for prices as low as at “any shop or store in the colony.”  He did not, however, include even a brief list; instead, he almost seemed to mock his competitors and their methods by asserting it would have been “Too tedious to insert [a list] in an Advertisement.”  John Bours took a similar approach, promoting a “very handsome Assortment of English & India GOODS, Too many to be enumerated in an Advertisement.”  Like Sisson, he also made an appeal to price, pledging to sell his wares “at the lowest rates.”  Bours and Sisson likely benefited from Case, Hadwen, and Wanton whetting consumers’ appetites for the many different kinds of goods they listed in their advertisements, all while seeming to promise even more since an accounting of their inventory supposedly would not fit within the pages of the Newport Mercury.  By adopting that strategy, they saved on advertising expenses while piggybacking on the marketing efforts of their competitors.

Leave a Reply