What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A good Assortment of GOODS, / suitable for the Season, lately imported, / from Great-Britain and Ireland.”
When John McMasters and Company “removed from Col. Wallingford’s, to Mr. David Moore’s Store, North-End” in Portsmouth in the spring of 1772, they placed an advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette to inform current and prospective customers of their new location. They incorporated a variety of marketing appeals into their notice. They promoted their “good Assortment of GOODS,” suggesting plenty of choices for consumers, and then listed several of the items they imported from Great Britain and Ireland, including “Broad Cloths of different Prizes; A great Variety ofRIBBONS, Irish Linnens of all Prizes, Shalloons, Tammies, and Callamancoes.” McMasters and Company set low prices and offered “short Credit.” They also emphasized customer service, pledging that “their Customers in Town and Country … may depend on being as well used as they could be at any Warehouse in BOSTON.” In making that assertion, McMasters and Company acknowledged that they operated in a regional marketplace rather than competing solely with local merchants and shopkeepers. They realized that consumers looked to the bustling port of Boston for extensive selections of merchandise at bargain prices, but assured them that they did not need to travel or send away for the goods they wanted.
McMasters and Company made familiar appeals in their advertisement. Purveyors of goods and services consistently mentioned consumer choice and low prices in their newspaper notices. Many also highlighted customer service. As a result, the format of McMaster and Company’s advertisement was its most distinctive feature. Decorative type embellished John McMasters’s name, drawing attention to the advertisement. Very few visual images appeared in the New-Hampshire Gazette, especially compared to newspapers published in larger port cities. A crude woodcut depicting an enslaved man who “Deserted from his Master” adorned another advertisement in the May 8, 1772, edition, but otherwise no other notices included images or decorative type. Each advertisement had a standard paragraph format, with the exception of McMasters and Company’s notice. They opted to divide their copy into shorter lines and center each line to create a unique shape compared to the blocks of text in the news and other advertisements. The innovative use of white space in combination with the decorative type likely attracted attention, increasing the chances that consumers saw McMasters and Company’s appeals to price, choice, and customer service. Graphic design enhanced their marketing efforts.