What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
Samuel Partridge offered many choices to consumers at his shop on Marlborough Street in Boston. In an advertisement in the February 6, 1772, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, he demonstrated the extent of choices available, listing dozens of items from an “assortment of superfine and low prized Broad-Cloths” and “an assortment of womens and childrens black Cloth coloured and crimson worsted Gloves and Mitts” to “large printed cotton Handkerchiefs” and “a compleat assortment of fashionable Ribbons” to “Cambricks” and “Calamancoes of all colours.” His inventory was so extensive that his advertisement filled almost an entire column on the final page of the newspaper.
Partridge deployed a marketing strategy common among merchants and shopkeepers in Boston and other colonial cities and towns. He encouraged prospective customers to imagine themselves purchasing and wearing, displaying, or using his merchandise by presenting them with many options. Repeatedly inserting the word “assortment” underscored the number of choices. However, he also differentiated his advertisement from others by using headings to categorize his wares and direct readers to items that most interested them. He incorporated six headings, each of them in all capitals and centered. At a glance, readers identified sections for “CLOTHS,” “HOSIERY,” “MANCHESTER GOODS,” “SILKS,” “INDIA GOODS,” and “STUFFS.” Following a heading for “ALSO,” Partridge named additional items, that part of the advertisement resembling the format of most others placed by his competitors. He listed most items, however, under the various headings.
Though enmeshed within newspapers rather than printed separately, such advertisements served as catalogs. For Partridge’s advertisement, the headings made that even more the case. Those headers helped readers navigate the contents. Such an innovation suggests that Partridge did not merely announce that he had imported goods for sale but instead consciously considered how to most effectively engage consumers in hopes of inciting demand and convincing them to make their purchases at his shop.