November 16

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

Providence Gazette (November 16, 1771).

“The Articles are too many to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement.”

Nicholas Tillinghast and William Holroyd stocked their store on King Street in Providence with “a Variety of well assorted GOODS … just imported in the last Ships from London.”  Their inventory included “a fine Assortment of Queen’s Ware,” but the partners declined to list other items, stating that the “Articles are too many to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement.”  They made an appeal to consumer choice by suggesting that the choices were too extensive to do justice to them in a newspaper notice.  Prospective customers would have to visit their store to see for themselves what might strike their fancy.

Tillinghast and Holroyd were not the only advertisers who adopted that strategy in the November 16, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Nicholas Brown and Company informed readers that “[t]o enumerate the particular Articles” among their “compleat Assortment of English, India and Hard Ware GOODS” would “require much more room than can well be afforded in a News-Paper.”  They sweetened the deal by asserting that their inventory included “a great Number [of goods] not usually imported into this Town,” another means of leveraging curiosity to draw prospective customers into their store.  Stewart and Taylor selected a couple of dozen items from their “Variety of ENGLISH and INDIA GOODS” to list in their advertisement, but insisted that they carried “a variety of other articles, too tedious to mention.”  Jabez Brown cataloged an even greater number of items from his “neat Assortment of Fall and Winter GOODS,” bit concluded with “&c. &c. &c.”  He repeated the eighteenth-century abbreviation for et cetera three times to underscore the range of choices available.

Such advertisements gave the Providence Gazette a different appearance than many of the newspapers published in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia that same week.  Publications in those cities included many advertisements that incorporated extensive lists of merchandise, many of them extending half a column or more.  Similar advertisements sometimes ran in the Providence Gazette, but, at least for the moment, the merchants and shopkeepers in town opted for an economy of prose.  In general, advertising practices were not regionally distinctive in eighteenth-century America, but the number of merchants and shopkeepers who declared they sold “too many [items] to be particularly mentioned in an Advertisement” represents a trend toward a particularly strategy in Providence in the fall of 1771.  It suggests that advertisers did take note of the methods deployed by their competitors and adjusted their own notices accordingly.

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