What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“To enumerate all the Articles would be … too expensive to the Advertiser.”
William Jackson sold an array of imported goods at his “Variety-Store … At the Brazen-Head” in Boston in the early 1770s. He regularly placed advertisements in local newspapers, including a notice in the supplement that accompanied the December 12, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Unlike some of his competitors who published extensive lists of their inventory to demonstrate choices available to prospective customers, Jackson opted to name only a few items. He still made appeals to consumer choice, while also providing an explanation for his decision.
Jackson declared that he carried an “Assortment of Hard-Ware and English Piece Goods.” He listed less than a dozen items, concluding with assurances that he also had in stock “all other kinds of Goods suitable to any Season.” Most other advertisers who deployed similar language stated that they carried goods suitable to “the” season rather than “any” season. Even the name that the merchant gave his business, “Jackson’s Variety Store,” testified to consumer choice.
In addition, he added a nota bene to assure “Country Shopkeepers” that they “will see the best Assortment of Goods of any Store in the Town.” Jackson trumpeted that his inventory rivaled any in the bustling port of Boston. He also explained that “to enumerate all the Articles would be too tedious to the Reader.” Seeing his merchandise by “calling at the Store” would be much more satisfying. Jackson made one more comment about why he did not insert a lengthy list of goods, asserting that doing so would have been “too expensive to the Advertiser.” Rarely did advertisers acknowledge in print the reason they made a choice between cataloging their goods or not. Jackson may have done so to suggest that he made savvy decisions about how to spend his advertising budget. He also benefited from a significant number of competitors listing all kinds of goods, provided that prospective customers would accept his invitation to see for themselves that he carried “the best Assortment … of any Store in the Town.”