What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Public Vendue, At the Auction-Room in Queen street.”
Colonial consumers encountered advertisements for all sorts of goods when they perused the pages of the Boston Evening-Post and other newspapers. In the September 2, 1771, edition, for instance, Samuel Austin advertised “A large and compleat Assortment of English, India and Scotch Goods” recently imported from London. Similarly, Joshua Gardner hawked “A fine Assortment of Fall and Winter Goods” received in vessels from London and Bristol. Several other merchants and shopkeepers placed advertisements for new merchandise available at their stores and warehouses.
Consumers, however, had other options for acquiring goods. Some preferred to purchase at vendue or auction where they might get better bargains than buying retail. Joseph Russell, proprietor of “the Auction-Room in Queen street,” regularly placed advertisements in the Boston Evening-Post and other local newspapers to advise consumers of items soon up for bids. In a notice that ran next to Austin’s advertisement, Russell promoted “A great Variety of English GOODS.” He listed several different kinds of textiles as well as “Silk & linen Handkerchiefs” and “Mens & Womens worsted Hose,” many of the same items that Austin, Gardner, and others enumerated in their advertisements. He concluded that litany with a promise of “a variety of other Goods,” encouraging prospective bidders to check out his auction before shopping elsewhere.
Russell also facilitated the market for secondhand goods, advertising an upcoming auction “At the House of Mr. Benjamin White.” In particular, that auction featured “A Variety of HOUSE FURNITURE belonging to a Gentleman moved into the Country,” including a clock, a mahogany bureau, and looking glasses. The inventory also included housewares, such as “a compleat Set of Burnt China for Tea-Table” and brass kettles. Purchasing secondhand goods at auction or estate sales provided consumers an alternate means of participating in the consumer revolution. Collectively, advertisements placed by merchants, shopkeepers, and auctioneers alerted colonists to the many options available to them and the multiple trajectories for shopping and obtaining goods of all sorts.