What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A great Variety of European & India Goods.”
Many advertisers sought to convince prospective customers that they offered an array of choices to meet their tastes and budgets. In the June 22, 1772, edition of the Boston Evening-Post, Timothy Newell promoted his “general Assortment of Hard Ware Goods.” John Nazro hawked a “general Assortment of English, India, Irish and Scotch GOODS” and a “great Variety of Cutlery & Braziery Wares; with all Sorts of West-India Goods, Spices and other Groceries.” Smith and Atkinson announced that they carried a large and very general Assortment of Piece GOODS.” William Jackson even named his shop “Jackson’s Variety Store.”
Among the merchants and shopkeepers who made appeals to consumer choice in that edition of the Boston Evening-Post, William Scott published the lengthiest advertisement in an effort to demonstrate many of the different kinds of merchandise available at his “IRISH LINNEN Store.” He listed dozens of items, from “Strip’d and flower’d bordered Aprons and Handkerchiefs” to “a variety of Ebony and Ivory paddle-stick & Leather Mount Fans” to “blue and white, red and white, green & white Furniture Checks with Nonesopretties to match” to “a variety of plain and striped and sprigg’d Muslins, such as Jaconets, Mull-Mulls, Mainsooks, Golden Cossacs, strip’d Doreas, and Book Muslins.” The names of some textiles may seem unfamiliar to modern readers, but colonizers immersed in the consumer revolution readily identified Scott’s merchandise. For some of these items, Scott offered an even larger selection, using descriptions like a “variety,” a “large assortment,” a “great variety,” and an “elegant assortment” to indicate that he often listed categories of goods rather than individual items.
In their advertisement, Smith and Atkinson declared it “would be equally tedious and unnecessary to enumerate” their inventory. Scott disagreed … and he was willing to pay for the additional space necessary to transform his newspaper advertisement into a miniature catalog that accompanied the news in that issue of the Boston Evening-Post. That did not stop him from adapting the strategy deployed by Smith and Atkinson. Scott proclaimed that in addition to those items that he listed in his advertisement he also had “too great a Variety of small Goods to be inserted in this Advertisement.” Where Smith and Atkinson signaled exasperation with lists of goods, Scott expressed disappointment that he could not provide an even more elaborate accounting of his merchandise for his customers.
Scott apparently considered this strategy worth the investment. He ran the same advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter and the Massachusetts Spy, thus placing it in three of the five newspapers published in Boston at the time. He presumably expected an appropriate return on his investment or else he would have followed the lead of competitors who composed much shorter advertisement. Scott encouraged consumers to imagine the many and varied choices that awaited them at his store, but he did not leave it solely to their imaginations. He prompted them with a catalog of his wares in hopes that they would visit his shop to see for themselves.