What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Those who favor him with their custom, either personally or by letter, may depend on the best treatment.”
When John Jenkins advertised his “Store and Shop … near the Great Elm-Tree” in the Providence Gazette in the late summer and early fall of 1771, he hoped to attract customers from towns throughout the countryside. As one of only two newspapers published in Rhode Island at the time, the Providence Gazette, like the Newport Mercury, circulated far beyond its place of publication. As a result, consumers in norther Rhode Island as well as portions of Connecticut and Massachusetts encountered the advertisements it carried, including Jenkins’s advertisement for an “assortment of English and India goods,” groceries, and “many articles suitable for the ladies.”
Patrons did not need to visit his shop and warehouse to purchase his merchandise. Instead, Jenkins offered the eighteenth-century equivalent of mail order service, requesting that customers contact him “by letter” to place orders. In turn, he pledged that he made no distinction between local customers who visited in person and those who instead sent letters. Everyone received the same low prices and everyone could “depend on the best treatment, with thanks.” That likely included prompt and courteous attention as well as access to the newest and most fashionable wares.
Jenkins incorporated convenience and customer service into his marketing efforts. Other advertisers did so as well in the eighteenth century, but not to the same extent as they pursued other strategies that Jenkins also included in his advertisement. Purveyors of goods often made appeals to price, as Jenkins did when he described his merchandise as “Very cheap,” and consumer choice, as he did in listing broad categories that ranged from “Stationary ware” to “Brasiery and hardware” to “Earthen ware.” With a few lines promising “the best treatment” and providing an option to order “by letter,” Jenkins enhanced his advertisement, distinguishing it from otherwise similar notices than ran alongside it in the Providence Gazette.